Thursday, October 31, 2013

Repost: Happy What Could Have Been Day!

October 31st is often celebrated as "Reformation Day", especially in local gatherings more in tune with the Reformation and confessional Christianity. October 31st, 1517 was the day that Martin Luther (in)famously nailed the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, "officially" launching what is known as the Protestant Reformation.

I used to look forward to this day as an exciting day in the church, a day when we should redouble our focus on the "Five Solas of the Reformation" and cherish the memory of the giants of the faith who came before us and laid the foundation for the Reformed, confessional wing of the church: Calvin, Luther. Zwingli.

Now? Now I look back with regret at this time, regret over what might have been. In those days when the shackles of Rome were first cast off there was a very real chance to reform the church in practice as well as in doctrine. Instead institutional inertia won the day. The doctrine got better (at least some of it) but the practice stayed the same. Pastors replaced priests but the machinery of organized religion kept chugging along. When a group of Christians started to ask questions and reject Protestantized Roman Catholic practices like infant baptism they were met with essentially the same response that the Roman Catholic church gave to the Reformers: persecution, imprisonment, torture and murder.

Today is as always an important day in the history of the church but rather than looking back at the Reformation as a golden era in the church to be emulated, let us instead use that period as a launching point to go even further back, all the way back to when the apostles were leading the church through service, sacrifice and imitation. Our foundation for church practice and doctrine in not found in the 16th century, it is found in the 1st.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Some Links I Like (Or At Least Found Interesting)

First up one from Eric Carpenter just today on the Confederate flag, Christians Should Not Fly This Flag.

Let's return to the Confederate Battle flag. Why would any Christian fly it? Because it offends so many people, it could easily get in the way of any sort of gospel proclamation to those offended. That is enough of a reason to jettison any connection with this particular flag.

The insistence of flying a flag that was the banner of the Confederacy makes no sense to me. Like Eric points out it seems that a large portion of our country doesn't seem to realize that the Civil War ended a long time ago and the South lost. Thanks to the South losing millions of black Americans, many our brothers and sisters in Christ, are not forced to work in inhumane conditions for whites, many who claimed to be Christians. Perhaps even worse the Civil War put the idea of Federalism, states rights and limited government on trial for the worst possible reason and the aftermath was the ever increasing monstrosity called the Federal government. We never got to have the states rights debate and never will because those two words. "states rights" has become inexorably linked with slavery.

I might take Eric one further and suggest a few more flags that Christians should never fly:

The next link is a twofer because it covers the same topic, the state of the church. One is from Ed Stetzer, The State of the Church In America: Hint: It's Not Dying. Ed argues something that I have for a while, namely that the church is fine, it is American religion that is dying and in doing so the church will be able to break out and be distinctive.

Yes, the church in the West—the United States included—is in transition right now. But transitioning is not the same as dying, particuarly if you hold the belief that Christianity is represented by people who live for Christ, not check "Christian" on a survey form.

While I believe we need to understand reality inside our ranks, I don't believe the situation is quite as dire as many are making it out to be. Actually, no serious researcher believes Christianity in America is dying. Not one.

Instead, I believe this current cultural shift is bringing clarity that will assist in defining who we are as Christians, and that is a good thing in some ways.

I agree with Ed, this is a transition away from Christendom and toward a more legitimate expression of the church. The second essay is from Mark Tooley and I think he is dead wrong, if interesting. His essay in the Washington Post, Christianity Is Not Going Away, argues that not only is Christendom alive and well, it has been a great thing for the world.

So America often feels more secular even if Americans are not.  But all of us, however unknowingly, still swim in the cultural and moral waters warmed by Christendom.  Even arch-secularists, in their constant demands for ever greater rights and self autonomy, speak in the language Christendom created.

Today’s reputedly secular Western society in some ways is a victory for Christendom.  Across the nations once described as Christendom, there is unprecedented social peace, political stability, legal equality, amelioration of poverty, and historic domestic tranquility.  Many champions of Christendom across history, such as the Christian Democrats who struggled to rebuild post-WWII Europe, would be amazed by their success.

No less significantly, Christendom is now no longer the West but much if not most of the world.  It is felt not just where churches are growing dramatically, in Africa and Asia, but everywhere that lawful government, free markets, legal equality, human rights and wide prosperity have reached.

Religious liberals need to reconsider their hostility to Christendom, remembering that the original Social Gospel, with its thirst for justice, was unabashedly Christendom-centered.  And religious conservatives, without reducing their passion for needed moral reforms, should be mindful of their blessings and position of unrealized strength.

I agree that in the nations of Christendom secular life is better in most respect than in non-Christendom countries but for purposes of the church it is without question in my mind that the church has languished where Christendom is strongest. 

How about a couple of political links. The first is It's Time Free Market Populism and this essay by Timothy Carney writing for Intercollegiate Review argues that neither the Obama model for America or the Romey model that has been the party line for Republicans works for most Americans. This was the money quote re: the extraordinarily wealthy suburbs of Washington D.C.:

Those northern Virginia counties are clue to what’s going on. Seven of the ten wealthiest counties in America are bedroom communities of the nation’s capital. The wealthiest zip code in Maryland, 20854 in the town of Potomac with a $140,000 median household income, is 72 percent Democrat by registration, according to real estate website “Sperling’s BestPlaces.”

The high pay and exorbitant benefits of federal employees is a small part of that. It’s the government contractors, the congressmen-turned lobbyists, regulators-turned-consultants, and other remoras riding on the back of the federal leviathan that have turned the Beltway region into Lifestyles of the Rich and Connected.

Liberals blame GOP policies for growing inequality, but the pattern has persisted through the Obama years, too. Median incomes have stagnated and unemployment stays stubbornly high. Corporations, meanwhile, are sitting on record stockpiles of cash after making record profits. Small business, is not living so high on the hog: New business formation has reached an all-time low.

If you’re connected to power or big enough to afford a lobbyist who is, you can do well. If not, you’re out of luck.

Turns out that the rich and connected vote Democratic because they want to keep the Federal gravy train flowing. Meanwhile old guard Republicans keep feeding tax breaks and subsidies to corporations because that is where their bread is buttered. Meanwhile the average American is struggling by week to week and no one seems to care.

Then there is this post from the American Conservative, 70 Years Of "New Isolationism", a look at the history of the charge of isolationism that is made every time someone suggests that we might want to not get into a new war or intervention.

Actually, Americans should beware those who conjure up phony warnings of a “new isolationism” to advance a particular agenda. The essence of that agenda, whatever the particulars and however packaged, is this: If the United States just tries a little bit harder—one more intervention, one more shipment of arms to a beleaguered “ally,” one more line drawn in the sand—we will finally turn the corner and the bright uplands of peace and freedom will come into view.

This is a delusion, of course. But if you write a piece exposing that delusion, don’t bother submitting it to the Times.

By and large little good has come from U.S. interventionism. Sure there was the trump card of World War II but that came about in part because we intervened in the first World War. Just look at the last decade. Once we leave Afghanistan the Taliban will take back over, girls won't be able to go to school and Al Qaeda will move back in, a decade of billions spent and lives wasted for nothing. Iraq is teetering. Libya saw four American murdered and tortured by an Al Qaeda fueled mob, something that wouldn't have happened under Qaddafi, the guy we helped kick out. In Egypt Christians are being persecuted and women are raped for showing up in public, something that wouldn't have happened under Mubarak, another dictator we helped kick out. Meanwhile people are calling for us to do the exact same thing in Syria when any rational person knows it will end up being another Libya or Egypt. It is high time we stop intervening around the world because it generally just makes things worse.

A couple of others. Check out this look at the new head of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore: Evangelical Leader Preaches Pullback From Politics, Culture Wars.

When Mr. Moore took over in June as the Southern Baptists' top public-policy advocate, he startled some in the church by declaring as dead and gone the entire concept of the Bible Belt as a potent mix of Jesus and American boosterism. "Good riddance," he told thousands of the faithful at the group's annual convention in Houston in June. "Let's not seek to resuscitate it."

Amen to that!I think the switch from Richard Land who I never cared much for to Russ Moore is a very positive move.

Another great story from Dirty Jobs Mike Rowe on the need for people willing to gain work skills rather than just going to college because that is what they are expected to do, Mike Rowe on How Many Are Following the ‘Worst Advice in the History of the World’.

Of the roughly three million jobs that companies are struggling to fill, Rowe said only 8 to 12 percent require a college degree.

“That’s not me saying don’t go to college. I’m saying, to start your life [$150,000] in the hole, [$80,000] in the hole with your art history major…that’s why you’ve got a trillion dollars in debt. These kids can’t find a job that they’ve been trained for, and the expectation is, it should be waiting for me. It ain’t.”

I agree wholeheartedly. We have made blue collar skilled work into something akin to working at McDonalds and we need a lot more people who have taken courses on manufacturing technology and diesel mechanics instead of random liberal arts courses that teach nothing of use. I am not anti-learning for learning's sake but for crying out loud you can go to a library and borrow the great works of literature for free. I have learned a lot more since I have been out of school than I did when I was in, and man do I wish that I had learned something useful for the work world when I was 19 instead of taking classes on American cultural studies or Geologic History of Dinosaurs (real class I took).

Finally an essay on the lies of feminism, Feminism and the Razing of the Village. No revelation here, I think feminism as it is understood in our culture is a massive con job that has led to unhappier women and disengaged men, creating a culture that perversely empowers men to not work and not take responsibility instead giving us millions of households where women work and care for the children and often men are completely absent. According to the author, Leslie Loftis, in a shot at Hillary Clinton's It Takes A Village, we have traded the village we already had of extended family for a "village" that is mostly the government. Husbands have been replaced by Uncle Sam, stay at home moms have been replaced by daycare warehouses and women get the short end of the stick on every level. As she points out, ironically the idea of staying home is rapidly becoming a luxury good affordable only for the most wealthy. The elite get what the middle class used to have. Gee thanks for that!

Anyway, those are some links I have found interesting, Give them a read!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Time To Get Out Of The Marriage Business

This morning ran an article about polyamorous couples, or couples with more than two intimate partners. It is a pretty broad term and seems to include all sorts of relationships, two couples in a semi-permanent relationship with another couple, a couple "plus one" and a dizzying and potentially endless array of permutations. It is interesting to note the tentative "coming out"of the individuals involved in polyamory parallels and sounds an awful lot like the tentative coming out of more garden variety homosexuals. So what does this new love that dare not speak its name mean for the church? It is not outside of the realm of possibility, and is in fact completely plausible, that polygamy/polyamory will be extended the same legal recognition as same sex and traditional marriage.

I would like to propose once again that it is high time that the church get out of the legal marriage business entirely.

The largely political struggle to preserve the traditional definition of marriage in a secular society has been an unmitigated disaster for the church. Not only did "our side" lose, we lost a lot of credibility in the meanwhile and expended enormous effort and resources that could have and should have been used to advance Kingdom causes rather than paying for court costs and supporting Republican candidates. We have alienated the very people we are supposed to be reaching, i.e. lost sinners, and have nothing to show for it. Now that doesn't mean that same sex "marriage" is more legitimate because it carries tax preferred status in certain states. It isn't and is a perversion of the meaning of marriage as a picture of the created order for man and woman and the imagery of the church united in Christ. It is an unhealthy and deviant lifestyle seeking official sanction and approval, so two men or two women or three men and six women or whatever declaring themselves married doesn't make it a marriage in the eyes of God. What I am saying is that if Caesar wants to bless certain relationships with tax breaks and beneficiary benefits that has little to do with the church other than our continued insistence on being Caesar's agent in officiating marriages.

My proposal is this. The church should oversee covenantal marriages between believing couples. The church should decline to serve as an officiating agent for non-believers and should likewise decline to administer legal civil unions for purposes of governmental recognition even among believers.

So what would that look like? Other than removing the "by the power vested in me..." part, probably a lot like what it looks like today. The church would have a ceremony for the believing couple in whatever form that takes based on their tradition. If couples want the legal recognition from Caesar for tax and benefit purposes they ought to go to the Justice of the Peace or whatever legally recognized means people can avail themselves of. It takes just a few minutes to do. The church would sever a link between the government and one aspect the visible Body of Christ. Caesar would have no say over what we do and we would have little interest in what Caesar does.

When the church is entangled with Caesar, Caesar doesn't become more holy. What possible benefit to the church is there in being an agent of the state and letting the state dictate the rules for marriage? Marriage is the sole domain of God and should remain distinct from the interference or cooperation of Caesar. Marriage among Christians should be a picture of the church and Christ and a witness to the world, not a political issue that leads to the church being unequally yoked with the Republican party. Let's get out of the business of acting as Caesar's agent in civil unions and keep marriage where it belongs, in the church

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Future Of Mission Boards

Eric Carpenter blogged about 25 Things That Will Occur in the American Church During the Next 25 Years. I think it is a good list and the kind of conversation we need to be having. Ministry in the next 25 years will look very different from ministry in the last 25 and the church needs to be thinking about it now, rather than after everything has changed,

I looked his list over and agreed with a lot of what he wrote. One point that I really liked (actually two) had to do with missions programs. Here they are:

11. Because of cost the USA will send fewer missionaries overseas.
12. American churches will fund an increasing number of national missionaries in their home countries.

I agree in part with that. Definitely 11, as church giving continues to shrink as fewer and fewer religious people attend "church" and give to religious groups, I think you will see the average local church turn even more inward and that means cutting missionary funding (in terms of sending American missionaries to foreign countries) in favor of spending to sustain the local religious organization, keeping the lights on and the clergy paid. It is the second part that I thought was interesting. I am not sure many local churches are down with paying local, indigenous missionaries and evangelists although they should be. I think there is a subtle, or maybe not so subtle, notion of the American version of Christendom that sees America as the pinnacle of the Christian experiment. We often seem to be exporting American religion more than Christianity. When I see pastors in third world countries sporting Western style suits and ties I see that we seem just as concerned with expanding the American religious culture as we are in spreading the Gospel. It is a matter of control. American missionaries with connections in the U.S. are more easily controlled than an evangelist or church planter in Ethiopia that is supported from afar. So I am not as optimistic that the future will see more indigenous mission support but I also don't see a great future for groups like the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.

In spite of my skepticism I am hoping that Eric is right and I think that the new world of post Christendom in American Christianity will be fertile ground for a new type of cooperative "mission board" that is not based on denominational affiliation but perhaps based on nations or regions. As the church changes I agree with Eric that we will see a "barbell" shape in American Christianity with a group of really large "churches" on one end and a lot of very small, simpler churches on the other with very few of the medium sized churches many people are used to in the middle. Those smaller churches will lack the critical mass to support missionaries on their own and likely will be unaffiliated with a denominational missions board. This creates a new opportunity for cooperative missions groups that transcend denomination. Perhaps 7-8 small church groups that have an affinity for Haiti or Vietnam or Ecuador can pool their resources together to support a local missionary in those nations. Indigenous missionaries, especially in third world nations, are far more "affordable" because they don't bring American lifestyle expectations with them. They know the people they are ministering to and lack the "noble American coming to save you" stigma. I think indigenous missionaries and church planters are the way to go and I think there is a real opportunity for this model in the post-Christendom world. The question will come down to whether our American pride will allow us to trust our brothers in another country to "get it right" without the "benefit" of an American church upbringing.

Someone should write a polemic about the indigenous missionary model. Paging Dave Black!

Itty Bitty Future Bacon Makers

We bought a couple of young gilts (unbred female pigs) this weekend. Unlike most of their predecessors on our farm they are not being raised to eat but rather for breeding. We have a building that we use for storage (i.e. junk) right now but it is perfect for a small hog operation, a low building with concrete floors, set up with electricity, a heater, windows for ventilation and a faucet for water right inside. The darker piglet is a Berkshire, a fairly uncommon breed known for their higher quality meat compared to the traditional industrialized factory farmed breeds. The lighter girl is a cross between a Berkshire and a Yorkshire, a more common production breed that you would likely see in 4-H shows. Our older gilt (a Hampshire) is at another farm being bred by a Berkshire cross boar. Hopefully this can be another source of revenue as hogs are generally considered to be a very efficient animal for converting feed into muscle rapidly. Besides, how cute are those piglets?!

A Season of Consummation and Melancholy

As October swiftly winds down here in Indiana I am reminded anew of the uniqueness of autumn in the Midwest. There is just something special when you live here out in the country that isn't replicated in other places we have lived around the nation . Sure New England has the fall colors and "Up North" Michigan has hunting season in the brilliant fall hues of seemingly endless forests. More southerly states have delightful weather, the fall in Kentucky was a wonderful relief from the oppressive summer heat. I am sure other regions of our fair nation have their own charms in autumn but none match the Midwest for me. Perhaps it is just the natural affinity for the place one grew up. Whatever it is nowhere we have lived can match the fall in the Midwest. It is something that is a part of what makes us who we are.

While suburbs mark the changing of the season from summer to fall with going back to school, curbside piles of leaves to picked up and the beginning of the Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday season (a shopping season that is starting to blur together into one massive frenzy of shopping and consumption), autumn in the Midwest means the harvest. Not the harvest in the sense of "Harvest festivals" and a few corn stalks in your yard. I mean real harvest. All around us for the past few weeks the quiet fields of corn and soybeans went from the passive state of green to a frenzy of activity. Combines mowed down acre after acre of crops while trucks and tractors hauled away what is estimated to be the largest corn harvest in American history. It is incredible to watch fields of beans and corn disappear into the maw of a combine and turn into rivers of golden corn and beige soybeans.

In a unique and jarring contrast we also have the local Amish harvesting their crops. In one field you have a state of the art John Deere combine, a machine that will set you back in excess of half a million dollars, with the ability to cut up to 18 rows of corn at a time sweeping through fields, casting the discarded husks and stalks behind before emptying into huge tractor trailer trucks, trucks often lined up three deep because a modern combine can fill a tractor trailer faster than they can get to the grain elevator to dump the crop before rushing back. The pinnacle of American agricultural progress and innovation on display. In the next field you might have a team of four Belgian draft horses plodding slowly but surely through a field of corn, pulling a corn picker that harvests two rows at a time. Instead of corn that has been plucked from the stalk, husk removed and shaken and sifted through screens leaving just the kernel behind, the Amish fill their wagons with corn still on the cob. Rather than ending up in giant concrete silos, their corn often ends up in corn cribs at their home. While they have some modern conveniences, they harvest their corps in much the same way that farmers did in those same fields 100 years ago. Reminiscent of an agricultural John Henry versus the steam powered hammer, the Amish thrive using methods that seem quaint to our eyes and yet they prosper, often beyond their "English" counterparts.

The harvest is a season of accomplishment and consummation but it is also a wistful and melancholy time. The promise of harvest, just a whisper and a hope in spring as bare fields sit seemingly dormant while the seeds beneath the soil stir and grow unseen, has come to fruition. In normal years all the worry and fretting of impotently watching the weather to catch a window between the time the crops are ready and the fall rains vanishes as the crops come off as they almost always do. Farming makes for a powerful dichotomy, on the one hand farmers today have unimaginable technology at their fingertips. Precision farming, super efficient machinery, hybrid crops that produce unnatural yields, chemicals of all sorts to increase productivity and eliminate weeds and pests, all work together to squeeze every possible bushel out of an acre of land. Yet in spite of all the technology the farmer still spends most of the year on the sidelines, completely helpless waiting on the weather. Is it warm enough to plant but dry enough to get in the field? Is it hot and sunny but not too dry in the summer? Are the crops mature and dry enough to harvest but has the rain held off so we can get those green, red and orange behemoth machines in the field to harvest? I can't think of another economic endeavor that is so critical to our national economic security, so ancient and yet driven by technology, that is still dependent on something as fickle and primal as the weather.

There is something sad about the vast fields bereft of crops. Where once there were acres of tall, green corn softly rustling in the win there is now only stubble. In one field near our home the corn is all gone except for the solitary stalk standing all alone, sole sole survivor of the combine. I know that empty fields mean successful harvests and that those fields are testament to overflowing grain silos holding the American treasure from the breadbasket of our nation. I know that many farm families are smiling as they get their checks, the reward for a year of hard work and worrying. Still they make me sad. Empty bean and corn fields mean that winter is coming, just around the corner. The days will grow shorter and the extra darkness each day that I dread is also on the horizon. The joy of spring with new life in budding plants, fields being planted, lambs and foals being born, it all seems so far away, a distant and unattainable dream. I know that the winter is but a brief interlude and soon enough the horse drawn planters will be working the fields alongside massive tractors but that certainty is not enough to offset the melancholy that invariably settles on me each year at this time.

It is all part of the love-hate relationship so many of us have with the Midwest. Ours is a region that is sneered at by other parts of the country, derided as "fly over" country, an obstacle to fly over going from one fabulous place to another. It is a vast, flat landscape that is so awful to drive through but for many of us it is home, something deeply connected with who we are. So many of us strive for relevance and hipness but choose to live in a decidedly un-hip and in the eyes of many irrelevant region. In spite of the melancholy I feel in fall, the humid summers, muddy springs and freezing winters there is nowhere else that we feel so at home. This is where we belong, amid the generally simple people who make their living building stuff, moving stuff and of course farming. It is not glamorous, just like our football teams in the Big Ten are not glamorous (and not very good right now) but it is home.

Autumn in the Midwest. There is nothing else quite like it.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Which Is The Greater Disservice?

Driving this morning and listening to NPR they had a section on the new "restrictive" abortion regulations in Texas that have led to some abortion clinics closing, Clinics Close As Texas Abortion Fight Continue. It was a pretty typical story from NPR. I always find it sadly ironic that the same crew that wants more and more regulation and government interference in every aspect of our lives, and especially in health care, cries foul whenever anyone tries to regulate abortion.  Anyway, about halfway through the piece NPR included an interview with a young woman who had an abortion at a clinic that was going to stop performing abortions. (emphasis is mine)

Across the vast Texas plains, more than 300 miles from Fort Worth, is the city of Lubbock, in the northwest part of the state. It's just an hour from the New Mexico border, and it's home to a much smaller Planned Parenthood clinic. The facility recently stopped scheduling appointments.

Annie Jones recently had an abortion. She's a single mother working and going to school in Lubbock, and she has a 2-year-old daughter, Molly.

Jones, who is 28 years old, says she decided to have an abortion because it was best for her family.

"I knew that if I decided to have the second child, I would be doing it a disservice," she says. "I'd be doing my daughter a disservice because I wouldn't be able to care for them in the way that they deserved."

That just chilled me to the bone. The logic here is that it is better to kill a child rather than offer a potentially less fulfilling life. I guess a death in the womb is preferable to a possibly lower quality of life? Somehow mothers for thousands of years have managed to care for multiple children without giving each child a lower quality of life.

This mindset is not all that rare in our world today. In the religion of Choice the convenience of parents trumps the right to life of a child. Women are fed the lie that they are incapable of caring for a child by the same people who force feed them sex as a recreational sport with no consequences. We need to tell a different story, the truth which is that every child conceived deserve the chance to make their own way in the world rather than being condemned as a failed life before they draw their first breath. I weep for Annie Jones and I weep for the child she conceived and carried for a short time before a "doctor" slaughtered that tiny life.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Of Course Jesus Is Not A Pansy And No One Is Saying He Is: More Adventures In The Comedic Stylings Of Mark Driscoll

I don't know why I inflict this sort of stuff on myself but I made myself read Mark Driscoll's risible post, Is God A Pacifist? and got exactly the sort of juvenile school yard reasoning I have come to expect. This is a problem because for some reason Mark Driscoll has a wide audience and he is often portrayed as representative of several traditions I am sympathetic toward so someone needs to call out his ridiculous arguments.

First and foremost it is a ridiculous thesis. Is God a pacifist? That is like asking "Is God a member of the Elks Club?". God is God. He transcends our simplistic definitions and He is also perfect in knowledge, love, power, justice, etc. where we are not. When you ask a dumb question it is unlikely that the answer you offer up is going to be anything other than equally dumb. That may sound harsh but I have zero respect for Mark Driscoll given his general clownish behavior that is an embarrassment to the church and to many serious and sober brothers who get lumped in with him.

Second and almost as bad it is incredibly poor exegesis. His argument boils down to "The Sixth Commandment only deals with murder and war/self-defense is not murder so therefore God is not a pacifist". The examples he provides all have several things in common, they are in the Old Testament and they are specific commands from God for specific situations that are completely irrelevant to any discussion of "just war". God commanded His people to go to war in very specific and limited ways, He did not command America to invade Afghanistan or to enter the First World War or to kill one another over a dispute about slavery. There have been no wars commanded or sanctioned by God this side of the cross so to try to lump all "good" wars (i.e. the wars America was involved in) with the conquests of the Old Testament are such grotesque abuses of the text that Driscoll should be ashamed.

Third his argument makes no sense when grounded in reality. What is war if not murder? When you drop a bomb knowing full well non-combatants are going to die you can dress it up by calling it "collateral damage" but what it really is can only be called murder. When a scared 18 year old pulls a trigger and kills another scared 18 year old because he wears a different uniform you can dress it up as heroism and "doing his duty" but it is still murder, the intentional taking of another life.

Fourth, no surprise,  Driscoll is guilty of exactly what he accusses pacifists of doing, namely being selective in interpretation. Notice this quote:

Those who want to portray Jesus as a pansy or a pacifist are prone to be very selective in the parts of the Bible they quote.

How clever of you Mark! Create the strawman of the limp-wristed wuss who says that Jesus is a "pansy". Of course no one who is an even semi-serious thinker actually suggests anything of the sort. Someone who has the power to retaliate, to respond to violence with even more violence, especially on the scale of Christ who could have His Father "at once send me more than twelve legions of angels" (Matt 26:53) to defend Him, but chooses not to do so is not a "pansy". He is a far greater man that those who like to beat their chest and brag about their favorite cage fighting hero. Jesus demonstrated and taught throughout His earthly ministry of the power of love over hate, that peacemaking is central to the reconciling ministry of the Gospel. Recognizing the counter-cultural example of Jesus that He repaid evil with good and also that we as His people ought to do the same doesn't mean those of us who espouse non-resistance (a better term than the culturally loaded label "pacifist") think that Jesus was a "pansy". It does however redefine for us what it means to be a man, and that redefinition of our cultural notion of masculinity is the goad that those who want to have their Jesus and their American "tough guy" image at the same time kick against.

What is also completely and predictably absent is any interaction with the Sermon on the Mount, the teaching of Jesus on the sword, the contrast between the way of Christ at the end of Romans 12 and the way of Caesar at the beginning of Romans 13. Mark just goes from the Old Testament to the triumphant return of Christ in Revelation as if Jesus just sat around in the Gospels waiting to go the cross without teaching or modeling anything pertinent to a serious discussion of Christians employing violence.

This is the sort of foolish and silly empty bravado and pseudo-machismo that Driscoll specializes in and it is the sort of garbage that gives ammunition to people like Rachel Held Evans in her Quixotic crusades against those mean men. She simply points to Driscoll as the prototypical complementarian and her material just writes itself. Mark Driscoll is many things but he is not a serious thinker, or at least he manages to hide what thinking he does underneath a pile of manure like this. I am sure his clumsy and juvenile essay will give aid and comfort to the :real men: in the church but it does nothing to advance what should be a serious discussion.

What The Anabaptists Can Learn From Their Reformed Brethren

In spite of the optimism it generated, I am somewhat concerned that those reading my prior post ( A Hopeful Conversation ) and the essay on the Gospel Coalition website can come away with the impression that "The Anabaptist have a lot to teach the Reformed" in terms of a one way street when in fact the opposite is true. We all have much to learn from one another and the theological in-breeding I spoke of regarding the Reformed is every bit as true among the Anabaptists and neo-Anabaptists. For my purposes "neo-Anabaptists" refers to those Christians on the (generally) leftward spectrum of Christianity and includes people who might not identify with historical Anabaptist groups but find commonality with certain aspects of Anabaptism (some real, some imagined), contrasted with "traditional" Anabaptists who would be the older strains of the Mennonites, the Amish, Hutterites, etc. who tend to not interact with the broader church at all. My comments are directed more toward the neo-Anabaptists since the traditional are unlikely to be reading my blog anyway!

I am awfully critical of the Reformed, especially the "young, restless, reformed" crowds that embraced the doctrines of graces as the newest, coolest thing on the block. To read some of my critiques you might think that I have nothing good to say about the Reformed tradition when precisely the opposite is true. In fact it is precisely  because of the incredible scholarship of the Reformed tradition, and the value that I see it could bring to the broader church, that I am so critical of the unnecessary and generally unhelpful sub-culture that has sprung up around the renewed interest in Reformed theology, a culture often devolves in playground level name-calling, bullying and one-upmanship.

The Reformed tradition is hundreds of years old and during those hundreds of years it has produced (and still does today) some of the greatest minds of the Christian faith. It is not a revelation that I find much of the subculture that surrounds Reformed theology to be erroneous and often repugnant. It should likewise not be a revelation that I find the Reformed writers and thinkers who have wrestled with the difficult doctrines of the Scriptures to be incredibly profitable to read. Not infallible to be sure but profitable and right more often than not when it comes to theology proper. It can be difficult to differentiate between the men and the message but if you can you will find a rich scholarly tradition that the church needs to learn from. Nowhere is that more true than among the Anabaptists where I find so many other areas of agreement.

I write this as someone who is, often uncomfortably, straddling both worlds. My bookshelf shows this as I have a ton of books from Reformed writers and fewer (but more that have been added recently) from an Anabaptost perspective. I think very highly of the Reformed theologians, past and present, and I also see much of value from the Anabaptists. A few years ago I never would have had a book by John Howard Yoder on a bookshelf alongside books from Whitfield, Sproul and Berkhof.

Now this list is not a line in the sand, you must agree with me or I might just have to sponsor a conference to denounce you! These are just issues that I think the Anabaptist/Neo-Anabaptist tradition would benefit from deeper interaction and consideration. I am sure many will take umbrage at this list ("I did a 27 part series on Calvinism and thoroughly debunked it!") and I don't harbor any illusion that many of those in groups this is directed at will agree with anything I have written. My intent is simply to provide a personal counterweight and suggest that the Anabaptist community would benefit from revisiting some of these ideas.

The Holiness and Justice of God

Hang on. I am not saying that Anabaptist don't believe that God is holy or just. In fact most of the more traditional Anabaptists I know personally have an exceptionally, um, robust view of God's holiness and justice, far more so than many evangelicals and do a better job in some ways of living it out. I am speaking more of the neo-Anabaptists who tend to overemphasize grace, if that is possible, while downplaying or denying the inherent holiness of God and His coming wrath that Christ saves us from. Perhaps a better way to put it would be that the focus of neo-Anabaptists, in my opinion, is more the here and now and less on the time to come (the reverse charge could be made toward some in the Reformed camp who seem content to read great books on theology while people starve and suffer). The reality of the coming wrath of God demonstrated in judgment and Hell are well thought out and explored in Reformed theology but not so much among neo-Anabaptists who seem to shy away, if not outright deny, many traditional teachings about the judgment and hell that unbelievers will face.

Election and Predestination 

Reformed soteriology is what is most commonly associated with this stream of Christianity and it is the aspect that is both most commonly misrepresented and most offensive to many people. Commonly called "Calvinism", an unfortunate label that leads to arguments about the man more than the doctrines, Reformed soteriology brings to life the dual themes of the sovereignty of God in all things and the disabling depravity of man. It is an ancient argument, does man have free will sufficient to allow men to choose Christ of their own volition or is sin so disabling as to leave the unregenerate man dead in his sins and helplessly dependent on a sovereign choice of God to quicken his soul and open his eyes? I come down firmly on the side of sovereign election and predestination along with monergistic regeneration.

In some ways I find myself more firmly holding to the "Five Points of Calvinism" after walking away from the Reformed/Young, Restless, Reformed subculture. When you peel away things like traditional ecclesiology, paedobaptism, clericalism, misapplying the Old Covenant to a New Covenant people, etc. you are left with a incredibly powerful soteriology that is, again in my opinion, the only lens where the entirety of Scripture makes sense without those troubling "yeah but what about..." sections that other systems invariably run into. I honestly think that the near universal and historical rejection of these doctrines stems back to the earliest days of Anabaptism where "Calvinism" was inextricably linked with Constantinian thought, paedobaptism and other negatives of the "Magisterial Reformation" and perhaps have never been given a fair shake.

Penal Substitutionary Atonement

This one gets a lot more negative reaction from neo-Anabaptists than the traditional Anabaptists who seem pretty on board with this from what I  have seen. A lot of people just don't like it and this doctrine often falls into the category of "things that I think are contrary to the nature of God", where we create God in our image and then decide that things that don't seem to fit in that imagery must be wrong.

I think the case is awfully strong for the primacy of penal substitutionary atonement, especially when viewed from a high level in the unfolding revelation of God in both Testaments. It is not my intent to argue it out here but I believe that if you lack a fully fleshed theology of God's holiness and wrath this doesn't make sense. Why a spotless lamb, why did it have to die, why the bloody sacrifice that prefigures the cross? Like I said I don't intend to rehash the extensive arguments in favor of penal substitutionary atonement and I also recognize that the cross was about more than PSA but I remain convinced that you cannot understand atonement, the cross, the Gospel and the implications without it. Tale away PSA and you are left with Jesus being a simple political prisoner or God being in the wrong place at the wrong time or ultimately unnecessary as if Jesus could have accomplished His earthly work some other way.


This is a tough one given the social media brouhaha last week where "discernment" was taken about 100 steps too far but it still needs to be said. In an effort to be inclusive and as a backlash against some strains of exclusivist/fundamentalist groups many neo-Anabaptists have welcomed into their confidence all sorts of people from all over the religious spectrum. While that can be healthy it can also be dangerous if done without discernment. I get why it happens. Many neo-Anabaptists grew up in the extreme separation practices of conservative Anabaptist groups and are reacting to that but it sometimes seems that a teacher who denies some pretty critical facets of the faith is more welcome in neo-Anapbaptist circles than a conservative theologian who holds to more orthodox positions simply because he is "conservative". Now the traditional Anabaptists are an example of the extreme in the other direction but that is a different topic for a different day.

The Reformed tend to, perhaps to a fault, put the ideas and positions of anyone new they encounter through a pretty intense examination. Before anyone gets a hearing questions are often investigated to determine where they are coming from. Granted this tends to keep out a lot of people and that is a problem but I think the opposite, i.e. letting anyone teach without discernment (except someone who is "conservative") is even more dangerous.


Reformed theology doesn't equal complementarian teaching but it is true that many of the leading complementarians are also Reformed. The question of gender is an odd one in Anabaptist circles. Traditional Anabaptist groups have very strong positions on gender that are easily observed by the attire of women who tend to wear modest, plain dresses and the ubiquitous headcovering. Where we live is one of the few places in the country where headcovering women are a common sight thanks to the huge number of Amish, conservatives Mennonite, Beachy-Amish and other conservative Anabaptist groups. Women don't function as elders in the church and are decidedly aware of the distinction in calling. On the other hand, the neo-Anabaptist seem to take this issue to an extreme in the other direction and I think that as an outsider looking in a lot of it is a knee-jerk backlash against excesses, perceived and real, in gender roles in more conservative Anabaptism. This sort of ties in with the previous point where egalitarians are welcomed with open arms but complementarians are largely not in neo-Anabaptist circles. I get this is an emotional topic and many neo-Anabaptists have the same visceral reaction to suggestions that they might be off on this issue that Calvinists do when it is suggested that maybe Calvin was wrong on occasion. Nevertheless I think that this topic needs to be revisited among the neo-Anabaptists as it speaks to how one interprets the Bible and it is a topic that gets more than passing mention in the New Testament. I am not saying that neo-Anabaptists have not thought through this issue but I think their bias against complementarian teachings on gender has skewed their thinking. I can't think of any prominent teachers that would qualify as neo-Anabaptists that don't hold to an egalitarian stance just as I can't think of a single prominent Reformed teacher than does.

I think this list is important because a) I don't think these questions have gotten a fair treatment from Anabaptists, historical or contemporary and b) because I think that especially the neo-Anabaptists have often embraced teaching and teachers that are not only not in any way Anabaptist but are in many cases erroneous and even dangerous. Every tribe in the church, and like it or not there are always tribal affiliations based on like-minded Christians naturally gravitating toward other like-minded Christians, needs to revisit their established positions and listen to and learn from other tribes, especially tribes that have been viewed with suspicion or hostility in the past. If the Reformed can and should be encouraged to listen to their Anabaptist brothers so too should my Anabaptist friends listen to their Reformed brethren.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What I Am Reading Now

Having finished a few books I was working through I am starting a net set.of books. Sadly my Kindle Fire has given up the ghost as the mini-USB port used to charge it has given out. It was always temperamental but now I can charge it at all which makes me sad and leaves me with quite a collection of books I can't access. On the bright side with Kindle books you can always recover them later but I will have to wait to get a replacement. In the interim I am reduced to reading actual books. Like with covers and pages and stuff. Positively medieval I tell you.

A couple of books I am getting ready to start include The Theology of the Reformers by Timothy George and perhaps the most popular biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer prior to the poor effort by Eric Metaxas, the cleverly named Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography by Eberhard Bethge. The book itself is mammoth, to the point that it almost is uncomfortable to hold for any length of time. Hoping to get a non-Americanized view of Bonheoffer. Finally I am pulling several books off the shelf to study the atonement in greater focus. The first book I have chosen is one of my "Together for the Gospel" books that I never got around to reading, In My Place Condemned He Stood: Celebrating the Glory of the Atonement. I have been uncomfortably noticing that the central doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement is being diminished or outright denied and as I think it is a critical doctrine to understanding the Gospel I need to sharpen my own understanding.

So there are a few books I am looking at these days, hopefully I can focus on my reading and get some reviews out soon(ish).

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Book Review: Kill Anything That Moves

I was born in the waning days of the Vietnam war so I missed the nightly news broadcasts, the footage of the fall of Saigon and all of the other cultural events that marked that era. I did however grow up in the aftermath and even though I was young I recall all too well the state of America when I was in elementary school, a nation reeling from the defeat in Vietnam, suffering under economic malaise under the Carter administration, impotent in the face of the Iran hostage crisis and under what we thought was the constant threat that the Soviets were going to nuke us at any moment. In the years since we have seen the Vietnam war being revised and retold to make it seem less of a military defeat and more a loss due to politicians undermining our brave and noble effort in Vietnam. In spite of this we still have the specter of Vietnam hanging over our national conscience. Iraq and Afghanistan both raised the question, is this the next Vietnam? Did we learn the lessons of Vietnam? Have we overcome at long last the demoralizing defeat in Vietnam that so stung a nation that had emerged relatively unscathed and triumphant from World War II as the undisputed leader of the free world?

Not everyone buys into the rehabilitation of the image of Vietnam. Nick Turse's book, Kill Anything That Moves, is an effort to dig through the massive data of reports and personal accounts with a singular focus. This book is an effort to show that the well publicized massacre of civilians known as the My Lai massacre where hundreds of unarmed Vietnamese were slaughtered by U.S. forces was not, as it is often portrayed, an outlier but instead the most visible symbol of a broader policy of intentional targeting of civilians by U.S. forces.

Kill Anything That Moves is a difficult read. Page after page of data painstakingly researched accounts lay out in grisly detail killings, rape, torture and economic devastation wrought on the Vietnamese people who were largely agrarian and just wanted to farm in peace and be left alone. Especially horrific are the stories of the weapons of Vietnam like napalm and white phosphorous rounds that killed in a terrible way and left horribly maimed many others "lucky" enough to survive. Equally disturbing are the witness recollections of the callous way that Vietnamese civilians were killed, raped or wounded without a second thought. It is not a book for light reading on a rainy day.

This book can come across as a slap in the face to U.S. servicemen in Vietnam. I don't know that Turse intended it to be that way as he takes great pains to show that the culture of targeting civilians or at least the complete disregard for civilian casualties came from higher up in the command hierarchy, a culture that took young men who months earlier were in high school, breaking them down psychologically and then rebuilding them to kill, dehumanizing the Vietnamese people as sub-human "gooks". I cannot imagine being taken from my hometown in Ohio as an 18 year old, being shipped around the world to Vietnam and then spending the next few years in constant fear of an enemy that you could rarely see, watching friends and members of your unit killed with no real way to retaliate. In light of that you can see how it would be easy to manipulate young men to seek after "body counts" and to convince them that every Vietnamese was a potential Viet Cong. That is not to excuse the callous actions of an unfortunately large number of American serviceman. The armed forces, in spite of efforts to paint them as an entirely noble group, are like any other large population. There are some great and noble members but also some absolutely depraved individuals who apparently found in Vietnam a legal outlet to engage in cruelty. I think most were in-between, just frightened young men who wanted to get home and were taught to obey orders without question.

What remains largely unsaid in this book is the "why" of Vietnam. That is a topic for other books I suppose. Why Vietnam? Who wanted us there and why did we stay so long? You can see the pattern developing of immense overkill, helicopters, jets, tanks, warships and even individual infantrymen with grenade launchers, M-60s and M-16s able to put out an incredible amount of firepower versus a borderline primitive enemy. We saw what that looked like when the enemy couldn't hide in the two Iraq wars, a technologically superior superpower steamrolling the entire combined armed forces of a sizable nation in a matter of days. In Vietnam that superiority mostly meant it was easier to inflict collateral damage on civilians rather than defeating the enemy in open battle. Still we poured an incredible amount of ordinance onto an enemy we couldn't even. As Turse reports: "'In all, the United States expended close to 30 billion pounds of munitions in Southeast Asia over the course of the war." (page 93) 30 billion pounds of munitions is a number so big as to be incomprehensible. Who benefited from this obviously ineffective style of warfare where munitions were expended at an unbelievable rate and the newest weapons of warfare were given a fertile testing ground? As always, follow the money and you often find your answer.

Kill Anything That Moves is not a book for everyone. It tells an uncomfortable tale with a clear agenda. Regardless of your opinion of Turse or his motivations this is a glimpse into an ugly event that has shaped American culture for decades since. For me it was unpleasant to read but a necessary one, one that helps me to understand the underlying motivations of those who benefited and profited from a horrific war.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Enemy Of My Enemy Is Not Always My Friend

As someone who admires from afar the President of Southern Seminary, Al Mohler, I was a little concerned when I saw a link to a talk he gave at Brigham Young University on the topic of religious liberty: A Clear and Present Danger: Religious Liberty, Marriage, and the Family in the Late Modern Age — An Address at Brigham Young University. Dr. Mohler is a staunch defender of Biblical orthodoxy, an unapologetic advocate for God's design in gender, a fearless champion for the doctrines of grace and many other positions I support and respect his advocacy for. But to go before the audience of Brigham Young University with anything but a call to repent and turn from their false religion? That had me concerned. I was pleasantly surprised to see this paragraph in the opening of the transcript of his talk:

I come as a Christian theologian to speak explicitly and respectfully as a Christian—a Christian who defines Christianity only within the historic creeds and confessions of the Christian church and who comes as one committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to the ancient and eternal Trinitarian faith of the Christian church. I have not come as less, and you know whom you have invited. I come knowing who you are—to an institution that stands as the most powerful intellectual center of the Latter-Day Saints, the most visible academic institution of Mormonism. You know who I am and what I believe. I know who you are and what you believe. It has been my great privilege to know friendship and share conversation with leaders of the LDS church, such as Elder Tom Perry, Elder Quentin Cook, and Elder Todd Christofferson. I am thankful for the collegiality extended by President Cecil Samuelson at this great university. We do not enjoy such friendship and constructive conversation in spite of our theological differences, but in light of them. This does not eliminate the possibility of conversation. To the contrary, this kind of convictional difference at the deepest level makes for the most important kind of conversation. This is why I am so thankful for your gracious invitation.

I think that is well said. He is a Christian and speaks as a Christian who only recognizes Christianity within the historic creeds and confessions. He singles out the Trinitarian faith, something anathema to the mormon beliefs of his audience. Unlike some Christians who have gone out of their way to gloss over the insurmountable gap between the pagan polytheistic religion of mormonism and orthodox confessional Christianity, Dr. Mohler is quite clear that he speaks as a Christian to religious people that are not. I was glad to see this stance because it is critically important that as the civil religion of America dies that the church be crystal clear about who we are and what we believe in.

In spite of his gracious and clear statement above, I remain troubled by his very presence at BYU in this context. Religious liberty, Biblically defined marriage and strong families are all very important and are under daily assault. They are however, and let me be clear, not Gospel issues. In other words no matter how important they are, we are called to a very particular calling, the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ, His redeeming work on the cross for propitiation of sins and His Kingdom. That is our calling and everything else is secondary. I don't for a second think that Al Mohler or other men I respect like Russell Moore are elevating religious liberty or traditional marriage to the level of the Gospel but many people may not see the distinction. Those seeking to assault marriage or silence the faithful count as their enemies evangelical Christians and mormons alongside Roman Catholics, Jews, muslims and others. In this case the enemy of my enemy is not my friend.

We are warned in Scripture to not be yoked with unbelievers ( 2 Cor 6:14 ) and that admonition goes beyond simply not marrying unbelievers. When a Christian stands in front of an audience that likely held few if any Christians our message should be obvious: repent and believe. I don't think that means that every single time we talk to an unbeliever we need to say nothing other than "Repent!" but for a Christian of the prominence of Al Mohler in a public venue like this one I am afraid that the cause of mormonism gets more of a boost than the cause of the Gospel. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has become a master marketing organization and the contemporary iteration of their marketing strategy is built on shared values and "we are not that different from you" messages.  Events like this bolster their strategy.

As the days of Christendom finally come to an end, the church will find our former "friends" in the secular world will be nowhere to be found. I understand the impulse to seek alliances where we can to advance causes we feel are important. Amidst this seismic change to the religious climate we must be ever more vigilant to not lose sight of the peculiar and unique Gospel, a Gospel that leaves no room for imposter religions. Mormonism and other aberrant false religions are a far greater threat to the faith than the ACLU or activist judges creating a right to "gay marriage". My sincere hope is that Christian leaders would choose to be persecuted for the faith before we link arms with unbelievers.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Plea For Exegetical Humility

The last week has been a sad one but an instructive one at the same time. It has featured well respected men of the church, teachers that I have found profitable from a distance, using their interpretation of an admittedly unsettled subject to abuse other Christians. They did so in the name of tough love, a concept that has merit but one that all too often has been used as cover for theological bullying. If a friend comes to me and bluntly tells me I am out of line, that is tough love. If I use the access to a huge audience that God has provided me to impugn a huge number of people that I have never met, that is not tough love, that is simply being a pompous jerk.

Amidst all the angst and chest beating, some brothers took the time to say some consequential, thoughtful and wise things. I saw the phrase "exegetical humility" used in one context and I liked it a lot.

If you have known me or read me for any length of time I doubt that "humility" is one of the words you would label me with. I have strong opinions. I think I take the time to work them out and when I am confident in something I say what I believe and I don't apologize for it. That often comes across poorly which I know and I am trying to work on. Some people (including me in times not too distant) take great pride in being loud and clever and frankly arrogant jerks. That has been on full display but as the church by and large sets aside this day for the worship of Christ our Lord in the company of other believers, let me plead with my brothers for humility in our exegesis.

I think we can all agree that no one of us has it all perfectly figured out. I am not the same Christian I was half a dozen years ago and I am not so certain of myself to think that I have everything perfectly understood and nor do I ever see myself having that sort of complete understanding this side of eternity. I don't think that it was God's intent to reveal all things in nice, neat black and white. Did the sign gifts end or are they for today? What does the end of time look like? What exactly should the church look like when it gathers and what should the church look like when it goes? Who are the proper recipients of baptism, what does the Lord's Supper mean, contain or symbolize? There are many questions and we need to recognize and accept that the church is likely never going to agree on all issues. The constant division we see, the sinful dividing of the church, is the result of our unwillingness to approach one another in humility while at the same time standing firm in the faith and devoting ourselves to the study of God's Word and the seeking of His Spirit.

This is not a plea to go along to get along, to seek lowest common denominator, dumbed down Christianity. I am certainly not calling for a doctrinal blind eye turned toward error in some sort of misguided uber-ecumenism. It is a plea for us to recognize differences and to humbly listen to one another. It is one thing to have a one-sided conversation with nothing but people who agree with you, it is another to reason together with the church, to wrestle with the word, to have conversations that make us uncomfortable but are critical for the church to ever move away from increasing division and toward some semblance of unity. The days are coming and are now nearly here when we will need each other more than ever before and a church that cannot co-exist amidst differences will lose what little voice we have left when the culture no longer tolerates Christianity as a willing patsy in placating the general population. I would also say that engaging those you disagree with in love and humility leads to a far deeper faith than simply being content with theological in-breeding.

Along with this humility in our exegesis there is another side to the equation. If we are still being honest, there are real and necessary consequences to our examination and exegesis. There are some things, some positions, that if you come to them you of necessity find yourself outside of the historic, orthodox Christian church. That doesn't necessarily mean you are not saved but it does mean that the church at large will consider your beliefs to be at best heterodox and at worst heretical and dangerous. That comes with the territory. If you don't believe that Jesus is God or that He was born of a virgin or that He died and rose again that is your call but it isn't part of Christian orthodoxy and you should not expect it to be treated as such. I am not someone who believes something just because it has always been believed but exegetical humility also demands that we respect the work of exegesis that has gone before us. The divinity of Christ is not a new concept, it has been challenged and defended by far better men than I a long time ago. We should continue to study it and wrestle with it, it is a concept that is beyond the ability of finite man to fully understand, but there is a position held by the church and that needs to be respcted.

I am not at all saying we can't or shouldn't hold firm to the truth. We can. We must. The writer of Hebrews exhorts us: Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. (Heb 10:23) We can and ought to hold fast without wavering in our convictions but do so in love, gentleness, patience and humility with our brothers and sisters. The Christian life is not a contest to see who can score the most points. You don't get a special crown in heaven for selling the most books or getting the most page views. The One who authored the Bible we seek to interpret is an infinite, unimaginable, eternal being. We can show some grace toward our brothers and exhibit some humility when we try to interpret, understand and apply His perfect Word.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Wait A Second

My social media feed was abuzz the last few days and especially last night regarding a certain conference. I am a little confused at this point. So let me get this straight.

- A famous pastor writes a book and has a conference that purports to expose the errors of an enormously broad stream of Christianity that includes some half a billion professed believers.
- This conference features said famous pastor lumping together this huge number of Christians ranging from sound and profitable men to rank apostates and then declaring them heretics, wolves, false prophets and blasphemers of the Holy Spirit.
- The fanboys of this famous pastor sprinkle social media with snarky and smug attempts at being clever interspersed with alleged examples of why every single Christian who can be considered part of this group is a raving lunatic.
- Many people being slandered in this conference by a man many of them admire express what I thought was by and large moderate, thoughtful and sober concern over this conference, not least because it failed to include a single brother with a different view (brothers that this famous pastor happily shares a stage with in other venues). Granted there were exceptions but as I said the responses I saw were right on target in tone and content.
- In response many fanboys and followers of the aforementioned famous pastor feign outrage over people questioning this famous pastor as if he is the one being attacked.


It would be analogous to someone coming up behind you and sucker punching you and when you turn around and say "What was that for?!" having them accuse you of ad hominem attacks.

I may write more about this later but right now the last few days of "Christian" social media have resembled a fetid fever swamp of divisiveness and hatred toward brothers. I feel physically ill at what I have seen on display. If we as the church are willing to spend this much time, money and effort to slander a huge population of the church, why should we be puzzled that the church is sinfully divided and the world sees Christianity as an archaic, self-righteous and irrelevant joke?

I don't think God is pleased by cutesy tweets and one liners delivered for applause. In fact I am sure of it.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

But What Do They See?

I really wasn't going to post more about this but I saw someone else share this update from MacArthur's Facebook page and was just irate.

Well Conrad lives in Africa so he knows better than I do what is going on over there. This is a conference based on sweeping generalizations so why not add one more. Besides Africa is an exotic location many of us will never go to and they look different than us and worship differently so something is clearly amiss there. But maybe we should ask a few questions in return.

When Christians in Africa look to America, what do they see?

- Do they see American Christians in nice cars "going to Bible study" passing the homeless and the widow and the orphan with their $150 calfskin MacArthur study Bibles and $400 iPads with Bible study apps?
- Do they see American local churches bringing in $50,000,000,000 in revenue and using most of it to keep the American local church running as conveniently and comfortably as possible for their givers instead of sending men and equipping men locally to serve in Africa?
- Do they see churches holding "worship services" in opulent temples that combined are valued in the tens of billions of dollars while Africans starve for food and the Word of God?
- Do they see hundreds of their brothers and sisters paying hundreds of dollars to attend a conference in a multi-million dollar "church" to be told that there is no revivial in Africa?

I am thinking they might have a thing or two to say back to the American church, something about a plank in one eye and a splinter in another.

It is all fine and dandy to point fingers at Africa and say that there is no revival there. Maybe there isn't. It certainly seems reasonable to assume that at at least some of the conversions in Africa are real and some of the leaders of the church in Africa, who might just be charismatic, are faithful brothers.

I am a fan and a frequent users of hypberbole to make a point but an entire conference based on hyperbole, borderline hysteria and sweeping generalizations that slander a good many Christians was a bad idea from get go. I guess it will help to sell a few books though.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Land: They Aren't Making More Of It

I watched this short documentary today and found it fascinating and troubling. It deals with the problem of farmland and the aging ranks of American farmers.

This looming problem should concern all of us, even those who think "home cooked meals" means preheating the over. The precarious nature of our food supply is all around us. Just look at the shefl clearing near riots at Wal-Mart stores in Louisiana thanks to the EBT card glitch that allowed food stamp recipients to spend without limit. As another webpage noted most stores have only three days worth of merchandise and when it is out it is out. Meanwhile our farmland, one of our most precious and unique resources (more valuable really than all of the oil in the Middle East), is held by s smaller number of ever larger farming businesses and a lot of the owners are getting pretty old.

Food is such a basic necessity but we take it for granted and give little thought to how that unimaginable cornucopia of calories is so readily available to the American consumer, quantities and varieties so vast and so cheap that we pay a premium to make consumption as convenient and fast as possible (a necessity driven by two wage earner families that don't have time to prepare meals, a tragic irony as we work more to pay for things we wouldn't need if both spouses didn't work outside of the home).

I hope we as a people start to think about this and stop the incentives which run small farmers out of business and reward massive ag enterprises. Having a thriving agricultural community in America is good for our nation in so many ways and having empty towns dotting the Midwest while our food is more and more homogenized and concentrated is bad for our nation in just as many ways.

A Bad Name Setting A Bad Tone

A conference most Christians will not attend or watch is causing a lot of stir on the internet. The conference, titled Strange Fire, is starting today along with the release of a new book on the same topic. Here is one of the videos promoting the conference featuring John MacArthur:

Notice that amidst the oddly hokey figurines depicting Biblical events, Dr. MacArthur speaks of the "charismatic movement" offering strange fire in the worship, blasphemes the Holy Spirit and attributes to the Holy Spirit the work of Satan. The second charge bears a quick note and I am sure Dr. MacArthur did not use it carelessly because it jumped out at me. They blaspheme the Holy Spirit. He uses this phrase multiple times, a phrase we find in the third chapter of Mark:

"Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin"— (Mark 3:28-29)

The "charismatic movement" is guilty of what is often called the unforgivable sin? Well that is an interesting way to try to influence people you think are in error.

While I don't like the way this slanders literally millions of Christians, brothers and sisters I disagree with but still still as brothers and sisters, more to the point it is just awful application of a text and that is shocking coming from a widely recognized excellent exegete like MacArthur.

The event name is based on the Biblical account of the "strange fire" that the sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10. Here is the account if you are not familiar with it (in the KJV which uses the phrase "strange fire"), it is pretty powerful:

And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the LORD spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace. (Lev 10:1-3, KJV)

God gave very specific instructions about how the Israelites were to worship God in very specific situations. John MacArthur is trying to tie that with the real and perceived excesses of charismatic worship.

So here is the problem. First the account of "strange fire" is a very unique situation in a unique setting under an obsolete covenant. John MacArthur is not Moses. The New Covenant church is not Old Covenant Israel. Second, God actually gave us very few specifics about how to come together to worship in the New Testament, an inconvenient fact that hasn't stopped generations of Christians and unbelievers alike from helping God by filling in the blanks and declaring manmade traditions to be "biblical".

This is one of those "all publicity is good publicity". Those who disagree with MacArthur and talk about it drive traffic to the conference webpage and it gives those who support MacArthur the opportunity for smugness and the obligatory posting of random Youtube videos of crackpots and heretics as "proof" of the general heresy of any form of charismaticism. Again, I disagree with a lot of charismatics and I absolutely recognize that there are excesses and outright heresies. It would have been a great conference to explore the topic of the spiritual gifts and help draw some distinctions between what is or is not Biblical. Instead we get an inflammatory lead up to a conference.

I am getting ready to watch the first general session with Dr. MacArthur right now, I hope I am wrong about this whole thing.

What Is Prayer?

Well that is easy! I close my eyes and bow my  head (perhaps hands or arms folded) and thank God and ask God for stuff I need!

Here is how most evangelical prayers go:

Our Father in heaven...

*list of things I/we am/are thankful for*

*list of things I/we would like*

in Jesus name, Amen

Now there is obviously nothing wrong with giving thanks and seeking blessings. Doing so is good and profitable and of course Biblical. Jesus modeled this style of prayer. I just think we lose the power of prayer by turning it into a formula and losing the intimacy of prayer. Prayer has by tradition been something very formal and divided into a specific sphere.

In reducing prayer to a rote, formulaic process we lose the essence of prayer which is communing with the Living God. When a born-again believer prays, he is gaining a personal audience with the Creator of the universe, ushered into His presence by His most precious and only begotten Son. Think of Isaiah when he beheld the glory of God in  Isaiah chapter 6. He was undone! But when we come before God we are announced by the Only Begotten and granted audience as sons and daughters of the Most High! No one who is not a son or daughter of God has that privilege! Yet prayer is more than just a litany of "thank you for" and "can I have" bookended by invoking the Father at the beginning and signing off with Jesus name at the end.

Like I said prayer is at its most basic level a communing with God or in a sense fellowship with God. It is an open line of communication with our loving Father and our Lord.

There are times when I am outside watching the fields being planted or growing or being harvested and I feel the presence of the  Lord of the Harvest. Or watching the sun set or holding a new baby or wherever I see the Creator's work unfolded. Often when I read and really ponder the Scriptures or read a great book about some matter of doctrine I can feel the Holy Spirit. In so many ways outside of "head bowed, eyes closed" prayer I am communing with God.

In our human  tendency to make checklists are we reducing our fellowship with God to: "Prayer time? Check. Personal devotional reading? Check." I often wonder if our overwhelming religious culture is not only not helping our walk with God but hurting it by making the life of a disciple into a series of checklists. Did I pray today? Did I read my Scriptures? Did I go to church on Sunday and put a check in the plate? If check all of my boxes off, I must be a good Christian! Have we so reduced the Christian life of prayer that it becomes something on a to-do list in the same way that we have devolved worship from a way of life and service to an event we attend on Sunday morning?

Again not to diminish those intentional, intensive times of speaking with God. They are critical and something I often neglect but this isn't replacing one with the other, it is simply (hopefully) recognizing more of our lives are opportunities for prayerful communion with God. The grave danger of trying to create two spheres in our life, one secular and one religious, is that it diminishes the 24-7 reality of the Christian life. A Christian doesn't have "church time". "work time", "prayer time", "leisure time". All of our day is an opportunity to serve God and prayerful communion with God is so much more than blocks of time we carve out to fit God into our schedules. Don't try to find more times to bow your head and close your eyes, just recognize the reality of our lives of constant communion with God all day, every day!

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Stuff I Have Liked Lately

I am working on some actual posts but due to some circumstances I am having a hard time completing them but I did want to pass along some posts/articles from others than I have found interesting.

Our Shaken Faith in Football

There is not much that is more American than going to church on Sunday and then rushing home to watch the NFL all afternoon. I remain convinced that a large part of the reason church meets mostly before noon on Sunday is that no men would show up at all if it met in the afternoon. That is what makes Owen Strachan's essay so jarring. The idea that perhaps the values of football, my favorite sport bar none, is not a particularly healthy obsession for Christians borders on heresy. High school, college, pro, we love our football but Strachan asks some important questions about a game that revels in violence and leads to many injuries (how many of us talk about nagging injuries from high school football as a badge of honor?). Is it possible that our cherished national obsession is unhealthy for the church?

Food (Stamps) For Thought

Food assistance for the needy, commonly called "food stamps" even though they are not really stamps anymore, is a huge and growing program designed to meet the most basic need of the poor and/or needy among us on a temporary basis, namely feeding their family. It is also an easy target for conservatives because it is a growing program and feeds (pun intended) into the image of the "welfare queen" living off the government dime. National Review is an unlikely venue to read someone who thinks that conservatives should lay off food stamps but that is kind of what Henry Olsen is suggesting. His most salient point is that it is disingenuous to complain about food stamps in the "ag bill" and ignore farm subsidies. I am not a huge fan of food stamps as a program and it needs serious reform but there are much bigger fish to fry in the Federal budget (um, "defense" spending perhaps?!).

It's (Too) Easy for me to say I'm a pacifist

I don't like the term pacifist, preferring non-resistant because pacifism implies I am against war and that is it but this brief essay raises a troubling issue. It sure is easy to be non-resistant when I don't have much to resist in the first place. We are not persecuted in any sense of the word in America. I am not forced to fight in wars. I am in little personal danger. So it is mostly academic for me to say I am non-resistant. I trust that God would give me wisdom and strength should I ever find myself in a situation where being non-resistant had a real cost but until that happens I recognize that it is awfully easy for American Christians to claim to be pacifists.

Is Public School An Option?

I don't write much about homeschooling these days because it is hard for me to not be self-righteous about it. It is a hot button issue that causes battle lines to be drawn and it often divides the church. Nevertheless I think Al Mohler makes some important points in his essay and concludes, as I have, that public school is by and large not an option for Christian families. It is one of those issues that I think people need to address but I don't think I am the right person for the job, at least not these days!

Evangelical Adoption Movement Attacked..Again

We have seen a number of assaults on the burgeoning movement toward adoption in the church and the attacks are relentless. Jonathan Merritt points us to another public attack, this time on the elite pages of the New York Times. I will admit that there are issues in this movement, as there are any time fallen humans attempt something, but the attacks take the exception and the anecdote and apply it to all. Most Christians I know are very sincere in their desire to help those without families. It is unhelpful to orphans and those in the system to attack the people trying to help them out of some misplaced fear and outright bigotry. There seem to be some who prefer children be trapped in the government system rather than be exposed to those awful Christians in a loving home. I think I know what their motivation might really be...

And then there was this...

Evangelical Sex Abuse Record 'Worse' Than Catholic, Says Billy Graham's Grandson Boz Tchividijian

This one got play all over the media. I read it and alarm bells went off all over the place. I am in no way discounting the problems being alleged. What I an concerned about is four fold. First, Mr. Tchividijian is apparently (although not uniquely) playing on his famous grandfather's name to gain credibility (almost every article I saw on this referenced 'Billy Graham's grandson). Second, the articles are all pretty vague and mostly anecdotal. There are lots of problems but they are unreported. Well isn't that convenient! You can make a claim of a huge problem that is unreported so you are not burdened with providing statistics/facts and if questioned just blame a culture of silence. Notice that the title is inflammatory but then he is quoted saying "I think we are worse" (emphasis mine). Pretty major accusation to make based on something he thinks might be true. Third, Mr. Tchividijian is all over the secular media to drum up attention rather than dealing with this in the church. When you seek attention from unbelievers and those with an ax to grind (i.e. an interview with Rachel Held Evans who of course brings up Sovereign Grace Ministries who also happen to be complementarian) it makes you seem more interested in drumming up business than dealing with an issue. Fourth, follow the money. Mr. Tchividijian works for an organization that also employs another relative and seems a little shady to me. When it is in your financial interest to blow a problem out of proportion I am always suspicious. Notice the praise for Bob Jones University for hiring his organization.

Child abuse is real, it is a problem and when it happens in the church it is a major issue but I am not sure if this is a real attempt to solve a problem or a cash cow for people to provide "consulting" and "investigative" services. As always when money is involved your discernment radar should go up. No one is more critical of organized religion than I am but sometimes it seems as if the "solution" is less a solution for a problem and more a way to cash in on sin.

Anyway, that is a little of what I have been reading for the last week or so. Give them a look!