Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What's So New About the New Covenant?

One of the key reasons that I am a credobaptist (i.e., only those with a credible profession of faith in Christ should be baptized) is due to the nature of the new covenant.

A key difference between the old covenant and the new is horizontal. In the old covenant, the elect/redeemed/remnant/spiritually circumcised are a subset of the covenant community/physically circumcised. In the new covenant the two are the same--by definition one is a member of the new covenant who is elect/redeemed/spiritually circumcised. Entrance is not based on birth but new birth, marked by baptism representing life from death.

Even after I became convinced of this from Jeremiah 31/Hebrews 8, 10, it was a class on 1-3 John taught by D.A. Carson at RTS-Orlando that helped me to see that the change from old to new covenant was not only horizontal in terms of membership, but also vertical in terms of structure.

In his excellent 1990 essay, "Evangelicals, Ecumenism and the Church," Carson explains:
In the sixth century B.C. the prophet Jeremiah, speaking for the LORD, foresees a time when people will no longer repeat the proverb, "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children‘s teeth are set on edge" (Jeremiah 31:30). The history of Israel under the Mosaic covenant has been characterized by the outworking of this proverb. The covenantal structure was profoundly racial and tribal. Designated leaders prophets, priests, king, and occasionally other leaders such as the seventy elders or Bezaleel were endued with the Spirit, and spoke for God to the people and for the people to God (cf. Exodus 20:19). Thus when the leaders sinned, the entire nation was contaminated, and ultimately faced divine wrath. But the time is coming, Jeremiah says, when this proverb will be abandoned. "Instead," God promises, "everyone will die for his own sin; whoever eats sour grapes his own teeth will be set on edge" (Jeremiah 31:30). This could be true only if the entire covenantal structure associated with Moses‘ name is replaced by another. That is precisely what the Lord promises: he will "make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah that will not be like the covenant he made with their forefathers at the time of the Exodus." The nature of the promised new covenant is carefully recorded: God will put his law in the hearts and on the minds of his people. Instead of having a mediated knowledge of God, "they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," and therefore "no longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD‘' (31:31ff.). This does not foresee a time of no teachers; in the context, it foresees a time of no mediators, because the entire covenant community under this new covenant will have a personal knowledge of God, a knowledge characterized by the forgiveness of sin (31:34) and by the law of God written on the heart (31:33). . . .

. . . the nature of the new covenant not be overlooked: as foreseen in the prophecy of Jeremiah, it is the abrogation of an essentially tribalistic covenantal structure in favor of one that focuses on the immediate knowledge of God by all people under the new covenant, a knowledge of God that turns on the forgiveness of sin and the transformation of the heart and mind.
So I'd summarize it like this: in the old covenant, not everyone in the covenant community knew the Lord, and not everyone knew the Lord directly. In the new covenant, both change: everyone in the covenant community knows the Lord immediately and directly.

Update: For those wanting to explore the credo understanding further, I'd recommend Steve Wellum's essay, Baptism and the Relationship between the Covenants (PDF). You can also read my interview with him.

Acronyms and a Biblical Model of Confrontation

I was thinking recently of posting on some theological acronyms that are stuck in my head and encouraging people to guess what they stand for. I don't necessarily try to remember things via acronym, but I do have a few:
  • CPR (God's providence)
  • CAP (God's Lordship attributes)
  • SCAN (Scripture's attributes)
  • IOU'S (what to ask God--this one is from Piper)
So feel free to leave your guesses in the comments below. On his blog Thabiti Anyabwile recently posted an acronym from Paul Tripp's book, War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles. It's a model of how to think about confronting others biblically:
Examine your heart. Confrontation always begins with you. Because we all struggle with indwelling sin, we must begin with ourselves. We must be sure that we have dealt with our anger, impatience, self-righteousness, and bitterness. When we start with our own confession, we are in a much better place to lead another to confess.

Note your calling. Remember that confrontation is not based on your opinion of the person. You are there as an ambassador and your job is to faithfully represent the message of the King. In other words, your goal is to help people see and accept God's view of them.

Check your attitude. When you speak, are your words spoken in kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, forbearance, compassion, and love? Failure to do this will hinder God-honoring, change-producing confrontation. We need to examine both our message and our attitude as we speak.

Own your own faults. It is vital to enter moments of confrontation with a humble recognition of who we really are. As we admit our own need for the Lord's forgiveness, we are able to be patient and forgiving with the one to whom God has called us to minister.

Use words wisely. Effective communication demands preparation, particularly of our words. We need to ask God to help us use words that carry his message, not get in the way of it.

Reflect on Scripture. The content of confrontation is always the Bible. It guides what we say and how we say it. We should enter moments of confrontation with a specific understanding of what Scripture says about the issues at hand. This means more than citing proof texts; it means understanding how the themes, principles, perspectives, and commands of Scripture shape the way we think about the issues before us.

Always be prepared to listen. The best, most effective confrontation is interactive. We need to give the person an opportunity to talk, since we cannot look into his heart or read his mind. We need to welcome his questions and look for signs that he is seeing the things he needs to see. We need to listen for true confession and the commitment to specific acts of repentance. As we listen, we will learn where we are in the confrontation process.

Grant time for a response. We must give the Holy Spirit time to work. There is nothing in Scripture that promises that if we do our confrontation work well, the person will confess and repent in one sitting. Rather, the Bible teaches us that change is usually a process. We need to model the same patience God has granted us. This patience does not compromise God's work of change, but flows out of a commitment to it.

Encourage the person with the gospel. It is the awesome grace of God, his boundless love, and his ever-present help that give us a reason to turn from our sin. Scripture says that it is the kindness of God that leads people to repentance (Rom. 2:4). The truths of the gospel--both its challenge and its comfort--must color our confrontation.

The Grace-Filled Circle of Church Discipline and Restoration

Timmy Brister tells about a man who was excommunicated from his church, and 14 years later sought out the pastor (Tom Ascol) in gospel repentance and reconciliation. Read the whole thing.

Michael Spencer offers his own reflections on Ascol's faithful "plodding" gospel ministry.

An Interview with Mark Driscoll on Religion Saves

The latest book from Re:Lit and Crossway is Mark Driscoll's Religion Saves: And Nine Other Misconceptions (also available as an audio book read by Driscoll himself).

He was kind enough to respond to a few questions:

For whom did you write this book?

While preaching through 1 Corinthians some time ago, I was struck by the fact that the letter was a series of answers to various questions that the people in the church had asked. My guess was that there were more questions than Paul answered, but that somehow those he did answer were deemed to be of the greatest interest and importance. I thought it might be interesting to do something similar and preach a series answering the big questions and issues in our own day that could subsequently be addressed in an even more thorough fashion as a book.

So we tried an experiment by opening up a section of our church’s website for people to post any question, make comments about posted questions, and vote up to ten times a day for their favorite question. We deleted the votes of those people who violated the rules. And, in the end, 893 questions were asked, 5,524 comments were made, and 343,203 votes were cast. I answered the top nine questions by an entire sermon each.

The book is a greatly expanded version of that preaching series with a lot more content than I was able to include in the sermons.

So I guess I wrote the book for the people in our church, my online friends, and anyone who wants to know more about some of the big controversial issues in our day.

What was the hardest chapter to write?

The birth control chapter was especially difficult because some of the sanctity of life issues are so incredibly complex and unclear. It took a lot of research to arrive at a conclusion on things like the pill, and I felt I packed a ton into the chapter that will really help pastors guide people through the tough decisions around family planning and birth control.

Also difficult was the chapter on the Emerging Church and some people I consider friends but have serious doctrinal differences with. That chapter was painful to write personally and I was careful to include a wide breadth of research that is well footnoted.

Even though you tackle nine different questions, is there one unifying theme of the book? Or maybe another way to ask it: What’s the one thing you hope readers take away from this book?

As the subtitle of this book suggests, many of the questions that made the top nine are highly religious in nature. By this, I mean that religious people are prone to draw firm lines on these issues, thereby making them points of debate, distinction, and even division among Christians.

The issues fall into some curious categories.

Questions 9, 5, and 3 are all related to issues of sex and dating, as sex is the most popular religion in the world.

Questions 8 and 2 deal with missional aspects of the Emerging church and how Christians should relate to mainstream culture and lost people.

Question 7 is the endless debating point between Calvinists and Arminians. Question 4 is the perennial debating point between Catholics and Protestants.

And Question 1 is a point of concern between old school and new school Calvinists.

In the end, I think people will be surprised that the book is actually about the gospel for all of life and will force readers to think deeply about pressing questions.

Everyone, I would guess, will love and hate chapters of the book. I may be the only person on the earth who in fact ends up liking every chapter's conclusions.

What book projects are next for you?

I have a free e-book called Pastor Dad that I wrote for Father’s Day that can be found at www.relit.org.

I also just sent into Crossway a mammoth project called Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe. It is a 13-chapter theological book following the storyline of the Bible. My co-author Dr. Gerry Breshears and I worked more on this book than any previous two books we’ve done together combined. It was incredibly exhausting and in the end we whittled it down to 135,000 words and nearly 2,000 footnotes to be published in March of 2010.

I also contributed a chapter to the forthcoming book edited by you and Dr. Piper from the Desiring God conference titled The Power of Words and the Wonder of God, due out this fall.

My wife Grace and I are also getting a lot of offers to do a marriage book of some kind and currently discussing doing that project together. She’s a far better technical writer than I am and has a degree in PR with a minor in technical English from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University, where I studied speech. So if it works out I’d love to write with my high school sweetheart. I have humorously given it the working title Your Best Wife Now and told her she should write on how to be an amazing wife and mom to a peculiar guy--as she’s an expert.

How can we be praying for you and Mars Hill Church these days?

Thank you for asking. I am enjoying so much of God’s grace that it is hard to keep up.

Mars Hill keeps growing and is expanding to our ninth campus including our first out-of-state campus in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Our goal is 100 campuses and 50,000 people in ten years.

The Acts 29 Church Planting Network is pushing 300 U.S. planters with 400 candidates in the pipeline and a growing number of plants globally. Our goal there is 1,000 U.S. church plants and 250,000 people in ten years.

I am publishing a book every few months, preaching hundreds of hours a year at Mars Hill and around the world, doing a lot of media interviews, raising five kids, loving my wife, and dealing with an ever-growing line of critics waiting their turn to get their punch in.

I pray James 1:5 a lot, asking God for wisdom, and I appreciate anyone who does the same for my family and me.

White House Debate on How to Package Their Abortion Plan

Dan Gilgoff has some details on the White House considering how best to present their abortion package. Opening paragraph:
As the White House readies its plan for finding "common ground" on reproductive health issues and reducing the need for abortion, a major debate has emerged over how to package the plan's two major components: preventing unwanted pregnancies and reducing the need for abortion.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Timothy George: The Heart of Evangelicalism

"At its heart is a theological core shaped by the Trinitarian and Christological consensus of the early church, the formal and material principles of the Reformation, the missionary movement that grew out of the Great Awakening and the new movements of the Spirit that indicate 'surprising works of God' are still happening today."

--Timothy George, in the foreword to The Advent of Evangelicalism. The book is reviewed/summarized by Collin Hansen in CT online.

Readers might also be interested in these lectures by D.A. Carson:

President Obama's New Pastor (updated)

Update: The White House is saying that the Time Magazine story is not true and that the Obamas continue to look for a church.


The Obamas' pastor will be Lieut. Carey Cash, 38 years old, the chaplain who leads the services at Camp David's Evergreen Chapel. Lieut. Cash is a conservative Southern Baptist (a graduate of SWBTS) and the great-nephew of Johnny Cash.

Pray that this man would faithfully preach and minister the Word of God into the life of the Obamas and all of those attending services at Camp David.

Risking the Truth: Interviews with Key Leaders

Martin Downes has edited a new book that will undoubtedly interest many readers of this blog: Risking the Truth: Handling Error in the Church (Christian Focus, 2009). It is a serious of very interesting and helpful interviews with key leaders in the church today. I've copied the Table of Contents below. By clicking on the links below you can read Sinclair Ferguson's foreword and Carl Trueman's interview for free.
Foreword (Sinclair Ferguson)
1. Heresy 101
2. Sin in High Places (Carl Trueman)
3. In My Place Condemned He Stood (Tom Schreiner)
4. The Agony of Deceit (Michael Horton)
5. The Faithful Pastor and the Faithful Church (Mark Dever)
6. Truth, Error and the Minister’s Task (Derek Thomas)
7. The Defense Against the Dark Arts (R. Scott Clark)
8. Heroes and Heretics (Iain D. Campbell)
9. The Good Shepherds (Tom Ascol)
10. A Debtor to Mercy Alone (Guy Waters)
11. Truth, Error and the End Times (Kim Riddlebarger)
12. Fulfill Your Ministry (Ron Gleason)
13. The Fight of Faith (Sean Michael Lucas)
14. Raising the Foundations (Gary L.W. Johnson)
15. Teaching the Whole Counsel of God (Conrad Mbewe)
16. Present Issues from a Long Term Perspective (Geoffrey Thomas)
17. Ministry Among Sheep and Wolves (Joel Beeke)
18. Error and the Church (Michael Ovey)
19. Will the Church Stand or Fall? (Ligon Duncan)
20. The Annihilation of Hell (Robert A. Peterson)
21. The Word of Truth (Greg Beale)
22. Being Against Heresies Is Not Enough
23. Clear and Present Danger

“True for You, But Not for Me” 2.0

Paul Copan writes about the newly released "revised, expanded edition" of his popular book, True for You, But Not for Me: Overcoming Objections to Christian Faith:
“True” 2.0 has been significantly expanded (half a dozen or so new chapters) and completely overhauled; I left very few sentences unrevised. The result is, in my estimation, a much stronger, updated book that more effectively cuts through today’s thickening relativistic and pluralistic haze, offering a defense of objective truth and morality as well as of the uniqueness of Christ in the face of the world’s religions.

On his website he has posted a free study guide to the book.

Here's the Table of Contents, followed by some of the endorsements:


PART I: Absolutely Relative

1. “That’s True for You, But Not for Me”
2. “So Many People Disagree—Relativism Must Be True”
3. “You’re Just Using Western Logic”
4. “Who Are You to Judge Others?”
5. “Christians Are Intolerant of Other Viewpoints!”
6. “What Right Do You Have to Convert Others to Your Views?”
7. “It’s All Just a Matter of Perspective”
8. “Perception Is Reality”
9. “That’s Just Your Opinion!”
10. “You Can Choose Whichever Religion You Want”
PART II: The Absolutism of Moral Relativism
11. “Why Believe in Any Moral Values When They’re So Wildly Different?
12. “Your Values Are Right for You, But Not for Me”
13. “Who Are You To Impose Your Morality on Others?”
14. “You Can’t Legislate Morality”
15. “It’s Arrogant To Say Your Values Are Better than Others’”
16. “Biological Evolution Explains Morality”
17. “We Can Be Good Without God”: Part I
18. “We Can Be Good Without God”: Part II
PART III: The Exclusivism of Religious Pluralism
19. “All Religions Are Basically the Same”
20. “All Roads Lead to the Top of the Mountain”
21. “Christianity Is Arrogant and Imperialistic”
22. “If You Grew Up in Thailand, You’d Be a Buddhist”
23. “Mahatma Gandhi Was a Saint If Ever There Was One”
PART IV: The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ: Myth or Reality?
24. “You Can’t Trust the Gospels. They’re Unreliable”
25. “Jesus’ Followers Fabricated the Stories and Sayings of Jesus”
26. “Jesus Is Just Like Any Other Great Religious Leader”
27. “But Jesus Never Said, ‘I Am God’”
28. “People Claim JFK and Elvis Are Alive, Too!”
PART V: “No Other Name”: The Question of the Unevangelized
29. “It Doesn’t Matter What You Believe—as Long as You’re Sincere”
30. “If Jesus Is the Only Way to God, What About Those Who Have Never Heard of Him?” (Response #1: The Agnostic View)
31. “If Jesus Is the Only Way . . .” (Response #2: The Inclusivist or Wider-Hope View)
32. “If Jesus Is the Only Way . . .” (A Response to the Inclusivist/Wider-Hope View)
33. “If Jesus Is the Only Way . . .” (Response #3: The Accessibilist or Middle-Knowledge Perspective)

Endorsements for the Second Edition of “True for You, But Not for Me

“Here are incisive and insightful responses to many of the most common misconceptions about Christianity and faith. I’m thankful for Paul Copan’s uncanny ability to see through popular opinion and focus on answers that make sense.”

Lee Strobel, author, The Case for Christ and The Case for the Real Jesus

“When I first got a copy of the first edition of ‘True for You, But Not for Me,’ I could not put it down. It was a thorough treatment of moral relativism and religious pluralism, and a great read at that. But this revised version is even better! It is significantly revised, expanded and updated. Given the relativism ubiquitous in our culture, this book should be required reading in Christian high schools and colleges. And laypeople and parachurch ministries will profit greatly from its content.”

J.P. Moreland, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Talbot School of Theology, and author of The God Question

“In this engagingly written but intellectually rigorous book, philosopher Paul Copan tackles the challenges posed to Christian belief by the relativism and pluralism which are so widespread in American culture as to be almost assumed. Such assumptions often come to expression in mindlessly repeated one-liners. Copan’s careful exploration of the rational foundations of such slogans will be of great practical help to anyone who finds himself confronted with these challenges to the Christian faith.”

William Lane Craig, Research Professor of Philosophy, Talbot School of Theology, and author of Reasonable Faith

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sproul: God's Will and Your Job

A timely series of posts, from R.C. Sproul's teaching on the will of God:
Here's a taste:
The problem of discerning one's calling focuses heavily on four important questions:
1. What can I do?
2. What do I like to do?
3. What would I like to be able to do?
4. What should I do?
The last question can plague the sensitive conscience. To begin to answer it, we need to take a look at the other three questions because they are closely linked to the ultimate question, What should I do?

God Wants to Work Through You

A.W. Tozer:
Unbelief says:
Some other time, but not now;
some other place, but not here;
some other people, but not us.
Faith says:
Anything He did anywhere else He will do here;
anything He did any other time He is willing to do now;
anything He ever did for other people He is willing to do for us!
With our
feet on the ground,
and our head cool,
but with our heart ablaze with the love of God,
we walk out in this fullness of the Spirit, if we will yield and obey.

God wants to work through you!

The Counselor has come, and He doesn't care about the limits of
or nationality.
The Body of Christ is bigger than all of these.

The question is:

Will you open your heart?
(Source unknown to me. Italics and breaks mine.)

HT: David Sunday

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Why There's a Buzz about the SBC Annual Meeting

A helpful explanation here from Denny Burk.

For those interested in the sesquicentennial celebration at SBTS this past week, you can find audio and video here.

The Justification Debate

CT publishes Trevin Wax's compilation of the differing perspectives on various issues by N.T. Wright and John Piper.

Windows 7 @ Amazon

For those who use Windows, Amazon.com is making the new operating system available as a pre-order for 50% off or more until July 11, or while supplies last..

Carson Sermons on Temptation

A sermon series by D.A. Carson:
  1. The Temptation of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3)
  2. The Temptation of Joseph (Genesis 39)
  3. The Temptation of Hezekiah
  4. The Temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11)
  5. Your Temptation (James 1:2-4, 12-18)

Big Bill, Unread

The biggest tax increase in US history--voted on by lawmakers who didn't read it because it doesn't actually exist yet in one copy?

Whether you're on the Left or the Right, I find it hard to see how such a process is good for the country.

On Adoption, Orphan Care, and the Great Commission

Russell Moore reflects on the SBC adopting of his resolution on adoption and orphan care.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Consequences of Sexual Immorality

Randy Alcorn:
About twenty-five years ago, while pastors at Good Shepherd Community Church, my friend Alan Hlavka and I both developed lists of all the specific consequences we could think of that would result from our immorality as pastors. The lists were devastating, and to us they spoke more powerfully than any sermon or article on the subject.

Periodically, especially when travelling or when in a time of temptation or weakness, we read through our list. In a personal and tangible way it brings home God's inviolate law of choice and consequence. It cuts through the fog of rationalization and fills our hearts with the healthy, motivating fear of God. We find that when we begin to think unclearly, reviewing this list yanks us back to the reality of the law of the harvest and the need both to fear God and the consequences of sin.
You can read the whole list, and his further reflections, here.

In a related post, Matthew Hoskinson offers some lessons he is pondering in light of Governor Sanford's recent confession of adultery.

Should We Respect Islam?

Jennifer Bryson has a thoughtful article here with some helpful distinctions in answer to that question.

She also discusses the new and disturbing film, The Stoning of Soraya M. (trailer below).

Reflections on Jackson, Death, and the Celebrity Culture

A few pieces worth looking at. Click their names to read their whole piece:

Jonah Goldberg:
Here was a guy so many of “us” read about in People magazine for so long. His passing, therefore, isn’t a loss in the sorrowful sense of the word, but in the selfish one. It’s a loss of an interesting subject, a creature to gossip about and to fill a few minutes on E or Entertainment Tonight.

Everyone likes to invoke Lord Acton’s axiom that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” But nearly everyone forgets that he coined this phrase not to indict powerful men, but to instruct the historians who write about them. Historians tend to forgive the powerful their transgressions. Likewise, journalists (for want of a better word) tend to forgive the famous.

. . . Every year at the Oscars they show a montage of people who died over the previous year. Invariably, the audience only applauds for the really famous people. This has always offended me. Not necessarily because the famous people don’t deserve praise but because it’s so clear that the audience is clapping for the fame. Michael Jackson had many accomplishments. But the press is sanctifying him because he was famous, deservedly so to be sure, but not because he was good. So much of the coverage seems to miss this fundamental point, as if being famous made him good.
Carl Trueman:
I never liked Jackson's music but he was clearly a hugely popular and talented entertainer. And he continues to entertain in death -- not just because his records can be played but, at least for a week or two, because the media are able to play his death as one more big showbiz event, burying the tragedy of real death, real bereavement, and really shattered and terminated relationships under the schmaltz of the faux-bereavement of his fans through the sanitizing and distancing medium of television and video. Of course, the response to his death by the people on the street says a lot about the importance of entertainment in our age, indeed, about the idolatries of the modern world. But is also tells us something about the entertainment media. Like casinos in Las Vegas, come rain or shine, the House always wins.
Tim Challies:
Michael Jackson was in so many ways a product of this sick celebrity culture (that he helped create) that will never rest satisfied until it has both created and then destroyed the newest celebrity. We want our celebrities to start strong and finish weak, to begin with a bang and then fizzle, pop and sputter, all for our enjoyment and entertainment (Susan Boyle stands as the most recent example of this). Jackson gave us so much to talk about, so much to enjoy. More than any other celebrity he embodied the “vanities” of Ecclesiastes. He was at one time known for what he did so well and then was known for being a freak; he was at one time fantastically wealthy and then utterly broke; he was once loved and then despised. He had it all and yet, it seemed, he had nothing. All of it was meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
Dan Phillips:
What Jackson did to himself is what we all do to ourselves outside of Christ. The difference is that Jackson's failed attempts were all worn obviously, in public view, on the changing tapestry of his face, while we may mask ours better.

As you shrink from the Frankenstein shock of Jackson's visage, reflect: mankind was created in God's image (Genesis 1:26-28), and still bears that image (Genesis 9:6). But in seeking to take God's place and make themselves gods (Genesis 3), our foreparents did to their whole beings what Michael Jackson did to his face: they horridly disfigured themselves and all of us, leaving a repulsive mockery of what we were meant to be.

The only solution for us is not a succession of endeavors to remake ourselves. Each attempt leaves a worse spectacle than the previous, and moves us further from what we truly need.

The only solution for us is the solution to which Michael Jackson never submitted himself, as far as is known: to be born anew, under the good hand of our Creator. We do not need new faces. We need new natures. We need the miracle of regeneration, not the tragedy of manmade makeovers.

And this can only come through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Anonymous people from at least six continents pass through these pages every day. My prayer for you, whoever you are, is that you will take your hurts and brokenness and crimes against God to the only place when you can find forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation: to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Cain's Medical Research Program

Justin Barnard of Union University examines the utilitarianism in the statement by the Empire State Stem Cell Board (ESSCB), announcing that New York will pay women to donate their eggs for stem cell research. (No other states currently do this.) Here's his closing:
In approaching Cain after the murder of his brother Abel, God said, “The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground.” Thousands of years hence, we have found ways of killing our brothers and sisters before they can bleed. One wonders whether God will curse the fruit of such destructive research in the same way he cursed the ground soaked with Abel’s blood. Perhaps Christians should pray to that end.
HT: Micah Watson

ESV Study Bible on Logos

Phil Gons from Logos:
This award-winning study Bible is about to get even better. It’s now available on our Pre-Pub page in two different versions—a notes-only version for those who already own the ESV Bible (which is included in all of our base packages) and a complete version for those who do not yet have the ESV.

The Logos edition of the ESV Study Bible puts the Bible text in one resource and all of the other content in a second resource. This enables you to view the Bible and study Bible content side by side—and even scroll synchronously when both resources share the same link set. The ESV Study Bible Notes resource will function just link any other commentary and will show up in the Passage Guide along with your favorite study Bibles and commentaries. So no matter what passage you’re studying, the ESV Study Bible with all of its rich content is always just a click away.

Thus Spoke the Man Fed by a Spoon

In recently reading N.D. Wilson's Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God’s Spoken World I thought about retyping the following quote about Nietzche. But Tony Reinke beat me to the punch, and I've copied it below. It's found on pp. 124-125.
Nietzsche published The Anti-Christ in 1888. Along with many other things, he had this to say about pity: ‘Pity thwarts the whole law of evolution, which is the law of natural selection. It preserves whatever is ripe for destruction; it fights on the side of those disinherited and condemned by life; by maintaining life in so many of the botched of all kinds, it gives life itself a gloomy and dubious aspect.’

One year later Nietzsche entered into madness. True or false, the story is that he was overcome by the sight of a horse being whipped. Unhinged by pity. He wouldn’t die until 1900. For a decade he was kept alive and maintained through his insanity, strokes, and incapacitating illness. At the age of fifty-five, partially paralyzed, unable to speak or walk, he discovered what life waited for him beyond the grave.

Nietzsche lashed out at his Maker with his tongue, the only notable muscle he had—his greatest gift. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.

There was little that Nietzsche loathed more than the heritage of his Lutheran father.

I have never been irritated by Nietzsche, never annoyed. At his most blasphemous, at his most riotously hateful and pompous, I have only ever been able to laugh. But even then, there is something bittersweet about the laughter. I know his story. I know how his bluff was called, how he was broken.

Again from The Anti-Christ: "The weak and the botched shall perish: first principle of our charity. And one should help them to it." Spake the paralytic. The man fed with a spoon by those who loved him.

"What is more harmful than any vice—Practical sympathy for the botched and the weak—Christianity…."

And yet, because I see the world through my eyes and not his, I have sympathy for Nietzsche himself. Bodies and minds are not all that can be botched in a man. Souls can be hollow, twisted, thrashing, more bitter than pi**.

On Dignified Apologies

Dorothy Rabinowitz explains in the WSJ how Governor Mark Sanford could have made a dignified apology regarding his affair.

If you want to see a real-life example of apologizing well, here is the text of a pastor recently addressing his congregation regarding his previous infidelity.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

He is dead at the age of 50. He had everything the world offered--but no Jesus.

I remember once looking at the liner notes from an album of his, and he quoted the final lines from William Ernest Henley's famous poem, Invictus:
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
Those are not the words you want written on your tombstone.

It is hard to think of a sadder public figure in recent years. A black man who never found his identity as one created in God's image, and who never experienced the identity of being conformed to the image of Christ. Black and white, male and female, rich and bankrupt, genius and punchline, private and public, innocent and deceptive--everything seemed to be jumbled up.

The one thing that comes to mind about Jackson is how bad he was at hiding his brokenness. Even while living in a literal fantasy land, it was obvious to everyone that this was a person--enormously gifted--desperately seeking a mask to cover, in futility, who he was.

May God use even this to increase our compassion and ministry to the lost, broken, and confused.

Update: Andrew Sullivan weighs in:
There are two things to say about him. He was a musical genius; and he was an abused child. By abuse, I do not mean sexual abuse; I mean he was used brutally and callously for money, and clearly imprisoned by a tyrannical father. He had no real childhood and spent much of his later life struggling to get one. He was spiritually and psychologically raped at a very early age - and never recovered. Watching him change his race, his age, and almost his gender, you saw a tortured soul seeking what the rest of us take for granted: a normal life.

But he had no compass to find one; no real friends to support and advise him; and money and fame imprisoned him in the delusions of narcissism and self-indulgence. Of course, he bears responsibility for his bizarre life. But the damage done to him by his own family and then by all those motivated more by money and power than by faith and love was irreparable in the end. He died a while ago. He remained for so long a walking human shell.

I loved his music. His young voice was almost a miracle, his poise in retrospect eery, his joy, tempered by pain, often unbearably uplifting. He made the greatest music video of all time; and he made some of the greatest records of all time. He was everything our culture worships; and yet he was obviously desperately unhappy, tortured, afraid and alone.

I grieve for him; but I also grieve for the culture that created and destroyed him. That culture is ours' and it is a lethal and brutal one: with fame and celebrity as its core values, with money as its sole motive, it chewed this child up and spat him out.

New Getty CD

From the WTS Blog:
Awaken the Dawn is a new collection of hymns and songs from Keith and Kristyn Getty. With a distinctly Irish flavor and shaped as a service of worship, this album takes you on a lyrical journey of grace and hope for all the nations.

As an introductory offer, the album also includes a ‘Behind the Songs’ DVD which was made in Ireland.

Here is the list of songs, along with some samples:

  1. Hear O Israel | Listen to Sample
  2. Come People of the Risen King | Listen to Sample
  3. Creation Sings the Father’s Song | Listen to Sample
  4. Still, My Soul Be Still | Listen to Sample
  5. By Faith | Listen to Sample
  6. Behold the Lamb (Communtion Hymn) | Listen to Sample
  7. All Around the World | Listen to Sample
  8. Every Promise of Your Word | Listen to Sample
  9. Compassion Hymn | Listen to Sample
  10. When Trials Come | Listen to Sample
  11. Benediction (May the Peace of God) | Listen to Sample
  12. Reading: Psalm 57 | Listen to Sample
  13. What Grace is Mine | Listen to Sample

Mark Talbot

John Piper, reflecting on Mark Talbot's 2005 talk on suffering: "Everybody knew we were hearing one of the most authentic, powerful words on suffering we'd ever heard."

Mark is one of the most insightful people I know--a careful thinker who cares deeply about the gospel and about hurting people, and whose mind and heart is tethered to God's word.

You can get a taste of who he is in the following video, where he briefly discusses his conversion, his accident, and his understanding of what it means to be a Christian philosopher:

If You Want to Be Relevant for Prostitutes

John Piper:
If you want to be relevant, say, for prostitutes, don’t watch a movie with a lot of tumbles in a brothel. Immerse yourself in the gospel, which is tailor-made for prostitutes; then watch Jesus deal with them in the Bible; then go find a prostitute and talk to her. Listen to her, not the movie. Being entertained by sin does not increase compassion for sinners.
Read the whole thing, which includes an apology for sinfully snapping at a questioner at the Advance conference, and more thoughts on TV, movies, and especially nudity.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Coach Ed Thomas as a Witness to Christ

As many have now heard, Ed Thomas (58)--a very successful high school football coach in Iowa--was shot to death at at a weight room near the school this morning. A 24-year-old former player is being held as a suspect.

Aaron Kampman, a Pro-Bowl defensive end and linebacker for the Green Bay Packers, has released the following statement:
Coach Thomas was very special to me and many other young men from the Aplington-Parkersburg communities. His legacy for many will be identified with his tremendous success as a football coach. However, I believe his largest legacy comes not in how many football games he won or lost but in the fact that he was a committed follower of Jesus Christ. He lived his life trying to exemplify this faith and convey those values to those under his influence. His faith in Christ pervaded everything that he did and that is why in the midst of the heartache we all feel there is comfort in knowing he is with his Savior.

SBC Roundup

Michael Spencer shares some thoughts about what happened and what it means.

Owen Strachan has has a roundup.

The African-American Church Experience

Here is a Sunday evening talk by Eric Washington, Assistant Professor of African-American and African History at Calvin College, given at University Reformed Church (where Kevin DeYoung pastors).

Kevin provides a list of books recommended by Professor Washington, as well as the main points of the outline:
  1. Slavery and the Church
  2. Independence Movements
  3. Civil Rights Movement and Social Justice
  4. Concerns for the African-American church today
  5. Signs of Hope in the African-American Church
  6. Lessons to be Learned

Sharing the Gospel with and Showing Love to the LGBT Community

Tim Challies posts a guest article by Pastor John Bell of New City Baptist Church in the heart of Toronto, who has an active evangelistic ministry within Toronto’s gay village. He explains how he starts conversations in a gay coffee shop and shares the gospel. I encourage you to read it.

Here's the conclusion:

I do all this because I love the LGBT community. They are a community comprised of individual eternal souls. Sadly, they are culture that has almost no contact with biblical Christianity in any form. How many drag queens can count a born again Christian amongst their friends? Very few, to our shame.

I’m the pastor of a new church plant in downtown Toronto and it is my earnest prayer that God would use our people to impact this spiritually needy community. I pray for the day when transvestites can walk through our church doors and be greeted with genuinely warm smiles and Christian love. But before that day is likely to happen, they will need a Christian friend whom they have grown to trust; a person they know would never invite them to a place where they are going to be hurt or embarrassed publicly; a place where everyone is on level ground before the cross of Christ because all are sinners; a place where no one person’s sin is made out to be more repugnant than another’s; a place where all sinners can sit under the uncompromised preaching of holy Scripture and hear of the world’s only Savior and salvation in his name alone.

I pray that we would be more deliberate in this regard; that as God’s sovereign grace works through his faithful witness, the church, we would see more gay men and women come to Christ.

Prison Rape

Yesterday the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, after years of study and interviews, released a detailed report with their recommendations.

Christians have led the way on this issue. For example, see Justice Fellowship’s Prison Rape Issue page.

In the past day or so, I've been trying to think of another example but haven't for the strange situation surrounding this issue: namely, a brutal, horrific, devastating crime that frequently functions as a punchline in countless movies, sitcoms, and late-night shows. And if we're honest, many Christians laugh and pass along such jokes quite easily. (I know have been guilty of doing so.)

But if we think about what the crime really entails, it is certainly no laughing matter.

Hats off to Justice Fellowship and others for leading this way on this issue of justice and dignity.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Spotted at the Convention

Mike McKinley posts the picture to the right (click to enlarge):
for those of you non-SBC readers who wonder what it's like to be here. . . . I'll just give you a picture of a display that sits in the lobby right outside of the meeting space. I'm not going to lie, this whole thing is a bit of culture shock for a guy from Philadelphia. I generally try to separate my evangelism from thinly veiled threats of decapitation and taxidermy . . . but as I said, I'm from the North.

Gamble, The Whole Counsel of God, Vol. 1: God's Mighty Acts in the Old Testament

I'm very glad to see that the first volume of Richard Gamble's trilogy is finally available from P&R: The Whole Counsel of God, Vol. 1: God's Mighty Acts in the Old Testament.

You can read the table of contents and introduction online.

Here are a couple of blurbs:
"My colleague Richard Gamble has begun a very comprehensive theological project, embracing the disciplines of biblical theology, historical theology, and systematic theology. Nothing comparable in scope has been done in the last hundred years, within the circles of Reformed orthodoxy. Knowing Rick, and having read some of the first volume, I'm convinced that he is the man to do this job. With a doctorate from the University of Basel and an international reputation as a Calvin scholar, Rick has a formidable grasp of theological issues. His theological convictions are thoroughly biblical and Reformed. He's also a humble man of God who can write winsomely to the hearts of many sorts of readers. I hope this series has wide distribution and great influence in this time of theological confusion."

- John Frame, Reformed Theological Seminary

"Very few people living today are as capable as Richard Gamble at grasping and expressing the theology of the entire Bible. His work represents decades of reflection on interpretive issues that have perplexed scholars for over a century. He bridges the gap so many have identified between traditional systematic theology and biblical theology. He devotes himself in helpful ways to the unity and diversity of biblical revelation. Yet, throughout this work, he penetrates beyond scholarly concerns to life issues that every believer faces. I highly recommend this book. You will be glad you read it.
- Richard L. Pratt, Jr. Adjunct Professor, Reformed Theological Seminary, President, Third Millennium Ministries

And here's the publisher's description:
Richard Gamble offers a comprehensive theology attuned to the methodological advantages of biblical theology combined with the strengths of historical and systematic theology. Drawing on the best work in these disciplines throughout church history, he leads us in an integrated pursuit of the whole counsel of God.

This volume, the first of three, recounts God's mighty acts in the Old Testament, disclosing the theology of the Old Testament within the progressive and historical development of the Bible. It contains a survey of the entire Old Testament with discussions of many diverse topics.

This volume, the first of three, recounts God's mighty acts in the Old Testament. It discloses the theology of the Old Testament within the organic, progressive, historical development of the Bible. Gamble blends a survey of the entire Old Testament with discussions of topics as diverse as the canon, days of creation, faith and reason, covenants, the Ten Commandments, Old Testament ecclesiology, the nature of God, justification, and Old Testament apologetics.

Lewis on Seeing Everything Your Enemies Do as Bad

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 118:
Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out.

Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible?

If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.
HT: Gene Veith

This certainly applies in politics, doesn't it? When George W. Bush was President, he was demonized daily by those who thought virtually everything he did was utterly scandalous and terrible. And now many conservatives--including, ahem, many Christians--are returning the favor with President Obama.

Kinkade's Creation vs Kinkade's Creator

An excellent post here by Joe Carter examining the art of Thomas Kinkade--in a sense, the post is about the tale of two painters.

Watson, "Is the Abortion Debate Over?"

Micah Watson--Director of the Center for Politics & Religion and Assistant Professor of Political Science at Union University in Jackson, TN--has a nice article today at "Public Discourse," reviewing the abortion debate and commending Scott Klusendorf's book. An excerpt:
What is needed now are pro-life thinkers and activists who have the intellectual chops to navigate the arguments and insights of the philosophers, the communication skills to translate them for both the pro-life rank-and-file and the persuadable middle, and the charisma and savvy to inspire and guide the pro-life movement. What we need, in other words, is more people like Scott Klusendorf and more books like his recently published The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture (Crossway Books).

Klusendorf is president of the Life Training Institute and travels the country arguing for the pro-life cause. His book can perhaps best be described as a sort of bridge between the robust philosophical arguments of people such as Gerard Bradley, Francis Beckwith, and Robert P. George, and concerned citizens who care about abortion but are not going to trouble themselves with the distinctions between essential and accidental qualities of persons and mind-body metaphysical dualism. Klusendorf has a gift for explaining arguments without dumbing them down. It is not too much of a stretch to say that he has a bit of C.S. Lewis’s knack for taking what can be a complex-sounding issue and presenting in terms that regular people can understand. And, like Lewis, he often does this through helpful analogy and fictional, though entirely realistic, dialogue.
Read the whole thing.

A Prayer for Pastors' Wives

By Mary Mohler.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Good Writing Is Good Arguing

Rachel Toor in The Chronicle of Higher Education:
It's the burden of the writer to be clear and to let readers know why they should care. Far too many college freshmen start their papers: "In society today ... ," and then make some simplistic suggestion. To them I say, why should I believe you? That is an assertion, not an argument. You have to show me your reasoning, help me follow your train of thought. The strongest and fairest writers make the best possible case for the other side, and then show how and why it's wrong. It's more convincing to knock down a strongman, rather than a strawman.

If you want a journal to accept your paper, or a federal agency to grant you coin, you have to make clear what is at stake and why the reader should care. Then you have to put forward the strongest reasoning based on evidence you provide in the clearest language you are able to rally. And then you need to know when you need help.

For students needing some good advice on writing essays, this piece from Scott Clark should help quite a bit.

Some Thoughts on Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl

N.D. Wilson's Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl is certainly unlike any book I've read before. I pity the publicist whose job it is to provide a soundbite or snapshot from the book!

How would one describe it?

Wide-eyed, look-ma-no-hands exuberant enjoyment on this spinning tilt-a-whirl we call Earth as it passes through its four seasons?

In-your-face mockery of the atheists and their god called Boom?

Full-throated defense of a good and sovereign God in a world of pain and evil?

A poetic exploration of eucatastrophe?

A gospel tract for postmodern times?

All of the above.

If I had to summarize it in a word, I'd choose provocative—in the old-fashioned sense of provoking, prodding, stimulating, inciting. To do what? To see and to sense and to smell the glory all around us.

Wilson is one of those literalists—he takes Solomon and Jesus seriously when they say to "observe the ant" and to "consider the lilies of the field." Wilson doesn't stare at them for a few minutes or look them up on Wikipedia--he gathers the kids and gets dirt on his chin and engages in delightful, obedient study.

And then he does the same with topics like heaven and hell, gospel and grief, wonder and disbelief.

The result—for those of us willing to following the biblical paradox of being childlike without being childish—is that we feel like fish being pulled out of the water for a few moments, finally able to see with new eyes what we have long taken for granted.

Calvin wrote about how God's powers are portrayed for us as in a painting, that we stand within and enjoy the theater of God's glory, and that the created world is a mirror of God's divinity. If you want a faithful and creative exploration of what this means, Notes from the Til-a-Whirl will help you greatly enjoy the ride!

Publisher's Weekly recently gave it a nice review:
Hold your breath and throw your hands in the air! This theological ride thrills with a colorful whir of profound and profoundly amusing meditations on creation, existence and God. Influenced by his evangelical Christian faith, Wilson (Leepike Ridge) uses an engaging, casual style in this personal notebook of spiritual thought as he offers readers a peek into his world of unapologetic wonder. Spinning through the pages, reflections on philosophers, theologians, leeches and kittens offer dazzling new perspective on the bright lights and dark corners of our carnival-like existence. Wilson's most striking achievement in all his whirling musings is an ever-present insistence on optimism. Even when contemplating death, he cheerfully concludes that he will then have admission to “go on the gnarly rides” of immortality. Indeed, Wilson excels in his elegantly intricate arguments for hope: even a naked mole rat matters. Yes, the prose often jolts and reels on its paper track. It can be an unsettling ride. But that is the poetry of a tilt-a-whirl—the poetry of living.
And this is Doug Wilson's explanation for the book:
The conceit for the book is that the solar system is a ride at a carnival, with circular motions inside circular motion. Not only do we have the carnival-like motions, we have a carnival-like environment, gaudy colors and situations included. The book works through the four quadrants of one trip around the circumference, through the seasons of winter, spring, summer, autumn. Those who don't get either thrilled or sick (or both) in the ride are those who, in the name of realism, resolutely ignore everything that is going on all around them, and they ignore it all day long.

As they are on display in this book, Nate's gifts revolve around a very basic truth. He has the same ability that Chesterton had, that of making ordinary things seem extraordinary, and then with a start you realize that it is not a verbal trick -- ordinary things are extraordinary. Why don't we see that more often? I mean look at a walnut, for Pete's sake.

A metaphor is a twisted and circuitous route that goes straight to the truth. Some metaphors are so convoluted that they get there right away. This book is just crammed with them.

Dockery on Wills's History of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

An endorsement from David Dockery, President of Union University:
The newly published history of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary: 1859-2009, by Gregory A. Wills (Oxford University Press) is terrific in every way. This magisterial study not only offers a wonderful exploration into the life of Southern Seminary over the past 150 years, but provides a most insightful portrait of the role of the seminary in the broader worlds of the Southern Baptist Convention in particular and American Christianity in general during this time.

Readers will be introduced to the strengths and weaknesses, accomplishments and shortcomings, of Boyce, Broadus, Manly, Whitsitt, Mullins, Robertson, Sampey, and dozens of others who have formed the trajectory of this special institution. With this publication, Greg Wills has moved to the forefront as one of the truly outstanding Baptist historians. For those interested in the key influences in theological education that have shaped American Christianity over this period, this volume is must reading.
Update: Here's an interview with Dr. Wills about the book and the research that went into it.

Ryken: Shakespeare as a Christian Writer

Leland Ryken, writing at Ref21:
The myth of the secular Shakespeare continues to cast a long shadow over most people's perception of Shakespeare's plays. Until I inherited the Shakespeare course in my department halfway through my career, I assumed that despite certain Christian patterns and occasional biblical allusions in the tragedies, Shakespeare's plays were broadly humanistic in their intellectual allegiance. Nothing has been a bigger surprise in my scholarly career than my gradually coming to regard Shakespeare as a Christian writer.
Read the whole thing.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

As the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention convenes in Louisville this week, it's fitting to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the SBC's flagship school, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

I have not yet seen either book, but you may want to take a look at a couple of new releases, both by history professors at SBTS.

The first is Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (1859-2009), by Greg Wills, being published by Oxford University Press. I'm thinking of reading the book this summer; it looks like a fascinating history of an important and embattled seminary. Very few institutions have managed to turn the ship from liberalism back to orthodoxy, so I'm sure this will make for fascinating reading.

The other volume is Tom Nettles's book, the latest in P&R's American Reformed Biographies series, entitled James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman.

Boyce (1827–1888) was the founder of Southern Seminary. About this new biography, Joel Beeke writes, "Nettles does with Boyce what Iain Murray did with Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. . . . Ultimately this captivating biography moves us to worship God. Make it your must-read biography this year."

On the Folly of Judging a Story by a Single Page

From N.D. Wilson's Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God's Spoken World, pp. 84-86:
Fewer people could die. Death could be banished. Hunger slaked. Thirst quenched.

Evil, that which displeases God, should be gone.

So it should. But how? When? What is it that you are assessing? Would Pride and Prejudice be improved by throwing away every page prior to the resolution, by erasing every character flaw, every misunderstanding and dispute?

Ansel Adams once took a photograph he titled "Jeffrey Pine, Sentinel Dome." It is beautiful. He stood where it did, he saw what ist saw, and he was able to catch it, fitting it into a small frame with only two dimensions and nothing but blends of black and white. The sky is there, the rock, the Jeffrey Pine.

The tree grows on the left, but it is gnarled, bending even now, spreading across the picture in its struggle against the wind. Its muscled branches are frozen in their strain, unquivering; its roots claw into stone, matching granite strength. There is a mountain watching from a distance, wondering who will win. The tree has fought for this life, fought in this permanent unretreating retreat.

The wind will win in the end, but this uncomplaining tree is noble. I see no bitterness, no resentment. We may forget, but this tree knows that the world is spinning, and it has hung on to the globe through decades. I see pride in those roots, gratitude where the light sits.

Could we improve this picture? How can we make it not better but best? Remove the tension and contrast. Remove the black. All of it. Remove the struggle and the inevitable end.

Leave the white. Only white. And now it is perfect. Perfectly blank.

If we live in art, struggling in the boundary between the shadow and the light, unable to see the whole, how can we begin to judge? How can we presume to talk about a better painting, a better novel, when we see only a single line, a single page, an it brings us grief?

Any single needle can complain. There is death in those branches. Surely I could be full and green, surely I need not be in the wind, connected to the struggle? There is a shadow sprawling across me. I am cold. Can we bring in more light? The contrast could be softer.

And so we all speak. Each of us wanting our own position a bit more comfortable. Each of us wanting to see a little more happiness, a little less contrast, wanting to skip the struggle, throw away the novel and save only the final page, the FINIS. A world of tombstones would have no wars, no hardships, and no complaints. So would a world without births or loves or creeping, crawling, or growing things. A better artist would have made this world more like the moon, only without the black space behind it, without the contrast of edges. A sprawling, near-infinite moon. Erase the craters.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Free eBook by Driscoll: Pastor Dad

Mark Driscoll and Resurgence are making available online a free 48-page eBook called Pastor Dad: Scriptural Insights on Fatherhood.

Here's the description of this sermon-turned-book:
Every dad is a pastor. The important thing is that he is caring for his flock well. This book by Pastor Mark Driscoll looks at the ways that a father can raise his children well.
You can:
Here's the Table of Contents:
  1. Worshiping the God of Our Fathers
  2. The Fruitful Vine
  3. Cultivating Kids
  4. The Masculine Duty to Provide
  5. Instruction Followed by Correction
  6. Protecting From Sin and Folly
  7. Countering Culture

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Revolutionary Tools with Baby Names

From Peggy Noonan's column today, which in part deals with new media and what's going on in Iran:

The great question is what modern technology can do not in the short term so much as the long. It is not the friend of entrenched tyranny. Connected to which, it would be nice if the technologies of the future were not given babyish names. Twitter, Google, Facebook, etc., have come to be crucial and historically consequential tools, and yet to refer to them is to talk baby talk. In the future could inventors please keep the weight and dignity of history in mind?

Advance Videos

I already posted the audio files, but the videos are now online for free too:

Coldplay's "Fix You"

Just for fun, a couple of different versions of Coldplay's song: one done by a university a cappella group (the Mosaic Whispers from Washington University in St. Louis), the other by an elderly group that performances contemporary songs (this is a scene from the documentary Young at Heart):

For the other one, you'll have to view it at YouTube, as embedding has been disabled.

Tweeting from Iran

Andrew Sullivan is posting the Tweets as a form of live-blogging as the crackdown on dissent intensifies this weekend.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Biblical Strategy for Fighting Sexual Lust

A good message here from Rick Holland at the Resolved Conference.

Using Proverbs 5, he identifies six biblical strategies that will ensure sexual purity:
  1. Undertake the pursuit of biblical instruction (Prov. 5:1-2).
  2. Undress the deception of sexual sin (Prov. 5:3-6).
  3. Understand the value of safe distance (Prov. 5:7-8).
  4. Unmask the regret of sin’s aftermath (Prov. 5:9-14).
  5. Unlock the satisfaction of marital fidelity or intimacy (Prov. 5:15-19).
  6. Unleash the power of God’s omniscience (Prov. 5:20-23).
You can also read a manuscript below from an earlier version. The Resolved message was different, but the general outline is the same:

Fatal Attraction

Audio of Conversation with Russell Moore on Adoption

For those who prefer audio over video, you can know download an Mp3 of our conversation.

An Interview with David Dockery on the Identity and Future of the Southern Baptist Convention

The Annual Meeting for the Southern Baptist Convention begins this coming Tuesday (June 23, 2009).

Crossway has just published Southern Baptist Identity: An Evangelical Denomination Faces the Future, edited by David Dockery. Contributors include Al Mohler, Russell Moore, Timothy George, Ed Stetzer, and a number of other SBC leaders.

David Dockery serves as President of Union University, in Jackson, TN--an outstanding school dedicated to the principles of being excellence-driven, Christ-centered, people-focused, and future-directed.

(Dr. Dockery is a prolific author, but one additional book to mention is his 2008 volume, Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal: A Biblical, Historical, and Theological Proposal.)

Dr. Dockery was kind enough to answer a few questions from me about the SBC--on its strengths, challenges, and future--including questions that puzzle an outsider (like, how can Southern Baptist say that "regenerate church membership" is an irreducible essential for their identity while the numbers suggest that 6 out of 10 church "members" in SBC churches don't even attend services). I think you'll find, as I have, that Dr. Dockery is a wise and insightful voice who has much to teach both those within and outside the SBC.

What do you hope that Southern Baptists will take away from this book?

Southern Baptists are at critical juncture in our history. For the past 165 years, the history of the Southern Baptist Convention has been dotted with tension, concerns, and at times outright heresy. In recent days, those tensions have seemed magnified. For the third straight year we have seen a statistical decline in our work, which is symptomatic of deeper spiritual problems and ecclesiological challenges.

The past thirty years have been characterized by a very public controversy. In so many ways, there have been many good things develop over the past three decades including the recovery of the gospel and a renewed commitment to the truthfulness of Scripture. But the programmatic uniformity and cultural homogeneity that held us together for so many years has almost entirely evaporated. The controversy over first-order doctrinal issues has seemingly degenerated into ongoing infighting over secondary and tertiary matters, resulting in a fragmented and even balkanized convention. As one person so astutely put it, the problems facing the SBC of 2009 seem much more “Corinthian” than “Chalcedonian.”

I pray that the book can be used of God to help bring about a new consensus that will be accompanied by an authentic spiritual renewal in our lives individually and corporately. I pray that somehow our shared work in our churches, in associations, in benevolence agencies, in educational entities, and in our missions organizations can be strengthened by a reflection on the matters addressed throughout this volume. I believe that a large number of the challenges facing Southern Baptists are cogently addressed by seasoned Baptist leaders as well as by some of the insightful fresh voices in our convention. I can only hope that as readers interact with the important theological and historical perspectives discussed in this volume that God’s Spirit might bring about a new enablement for the work of ministry in our churches, as well as all of the various entities throughout the various levels and aspects of our convention life.

What do you think non-SBCers (like me!) can apply to their own contexts by reading a book about the history, identity, and challenges of the SBC?

Southern Baptists are the largest non-Catholic denomination in the country. With 44,000 churches and a membership that greatly exceeds any other Protestant group, we recognize that the challenges that face Southern Baptists in many ways are the same ones facing other evangelical denominations and groups, but they are often magnified in the SBC due to our size.

I think most all of us recognize that we find ourselves at a different moment in American Christianity, and in world Christianity in general. What is happening in Southern Baptist life is not taking place in a vacuum. Contemporary culture is being overtaken and submerged by the growing trends toward secularism. American Evangelicalism at large in many ways then mirrors many of the challenges facing the SBC.

Just as has become true in Southern Baptist life, so the intactness in many denominations has also started to unravel because of the rapid changes in our culture, the challenges to our theological commitments, the growth of multiple Bible translations, the impact of parachurch groups, the expanding diversity of music, and varied worship patterns. We cannot lose sight of the reality that many of the “church models” and “heroes” for Southern Baptists come from outside the SBC and thus Southern Baptists and non Southern Baptists already share many of the same strengths as well as weaknesses. In many ways we all live in a less sectarian and less parochial context and thus our challenges, for good or ill, are less and less denominationally specific.

We chose to subtitle the book “An Evangelical Denomination Faces the Future.” We did so exactly for the reason expressed in your question, which is that Southern Baptists are typical in many ways of other denominational groups. We therefore hope that the things discussed and explored in this volume will illuminate the way not only for Southern Baptists, but also for all Evangelicals facing similar challenges in the 21st century.

Let me mention a few of your helpful, provocative quotes from the book, and ask you to give us a brief explanation of what you mean by them.

“Southern Baptists are at once beneficiaries and victims of tradition.”

We have been blessed as Southern Baptists by a wonderful heritage that has been characterized by faithfulness to Holy Scripture. For years, Southern Baptists have been called “A People of the Book.” We have also inherited a commitment to missions and evangelism and a spirit of cooperation in our shared work that has been duplicated in few other Christian movements over the past century. Thus we are beneficiaries who receive nurturing truth and wisdom from God’s faithfulness that has been passed on to us from previous generations.

We are also victims by assuming that certain programs and strategies are the only way that these commitments to missions and evangelism can be carried out. We have substituted a cultural homogeneity for genuine biblical fellowship, and a programmatic uniformity for intentional and strategic engagement of the culture and world around us. We now take for granted things that possibly or probably need to be questioned or reexamined.

We are therefore simultaneously beneficiaries of good, wise, and sound traditions, as well as victims of poor, unwise, and unsound traditions. The Bible must be the “last word” for us in sifting through our traditions and our challenges. Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 seem helpful to me in that regard as a guide for us at this important moment in SBC life: “Test everything. Hold on to the good.” It would be naive for us to think that the answers to the current challenges we face in the SBC are simple or that we are the only ones facing such challenges as I mentioned in the previous question. We can thus learn from others, even as we hope others can learn from us, and ultimately I trust that we will all test our various traditions and approaches by the authority of Holy Scripture as Paul exhorts us to do.

“We will need to distinguish between markers of Southern Baptist identity and markers of Southern Baptist consistency.”

I was privileged to know and learn from the 20th century’s leading evangelical voice, Carl F. H. Henry. I have adapted this idea from his writings (as I have done at other times on other subjects). Dr. Henry in articulating his early vision for the advisory board of Christianity Today included a broad array of evangelicals. He defended his actions by differentiating between evangelical identity and evangelical consistency. He argued that these advisors need not dot every “I” or cross every “T” the same way. He wanted people whose commitments were characterized by the evangelical markers regarding the Gospel and the full authority of Holy Scripture.

Adapting that thinking to Baptist life, I would like to call for us once again to focus on matters of Baptist identity such as a commitment to the Gospel, to the full truthfulness and authority of Scripture, to the autonomy of the local church, to a regenerate church membership, to religious liberty, to the priesthood of all believers, believer’s baptism, and other important tenets of Baptist identity. I am fearful that we will fragment further with calls for Baptist consistency, wanting a kind of uniformity on matters of doctrine and ecclesiology that have not been characteristic of Baptists through the years.

Historically we have allowed for Calvinists and non-Calvinists; we have allowed for different views of eschatology; some have opted for open communion and some have not; and some have contended for church government with a plurality of elders within congregational polity and others have argued against such a model. I think that some of our current problems are the result of a desire for a kind of Baptist consistency that really has not been characteristic of our history since the beginning of the Baptist movement in 1609.

Thus, it is my hope that we can explore issues of Baptist identity, while seeking to establish a new consensus, lest we drift apart. Such a consensus must be centered around the Gospel and must be connected to the churches. In doing so, we can emphasize primary and core convictions. We cannot, however, ignore boundary markers. While there may not be just one way of being a Baptist, there are certainly not infinite ways of being a Baptist.

So, understanding confessional boundaries is important, without getting bogged down in an unrealistic call for Baptist consistency around secondary and tertiary matters. It is important for us to remember that the ultimate danger to the Gospel lies not in the nuances of our differences, but in the rising tides of liberalism, neo-paganism, and postmodernism that threaten to swamp Southern Baptist identity in cultural accommodation.

“We need both collaborative cooperation and convictional confessionalism. . . . Choosing between compromised beliefs or a cantankerous spirit is not an inviting option.”

We certainly celebrate and give thanks that this generation of Southern Baptists has received the truth of the Gospel and recognizes the need to pass on this body of truth to the next generation. Our responsibility is to faithfully pass on what we have received from wells that we did not dig and from gardens that we did not plant.

Unfortunately, we now find ourselves in a culture which often fails to recognize that there is an identifiable body of truth, and that truth is the Christian faith. We therefore need a renewed commitment to confess and teach that truth in congregations, academic institutions, and agencies across the SBC, and literally around the world. We acknowledge that there remains a sector of Southern Baptist life that is quite hesitant to acknowledge the place of normative, doctrinal confessions for fear of its resulting in creedalism. Behind much of this fear is a misplaced emphasis on individualism and a misunderstanding of soul competency that has produced a false dichotomy between “a living faith” and “a confessional faith.” While we would never want to put any confession on the same level as Scripture itself, or confuse a doctrinal statement about Jesus with a dynamic trust in Jesus, it is certainly a misunderstanding of our Baptist heritage to deny the importance of a confessional faith.

We need a convention characterized not only by a confessional and convictional faith, but by a collaborative and compassionate sense of cooperation. The recovery of a convictional confessionalism has kept Southern Baptists from going the way of so many mainline denominations who have become untethered to Scripture and have lost their way. Yet, in so many ways, the call of this hour for Southern Baptists is the need to regain a spirit of collaborative cooperation.

I know that some wonder if we can find a way to cooperate together – after all, our differences often appear to be great. For as we have already mentioned, no longer can a cultural homogeneity or a programmatic pragmatism be the foundation of our cooperation. One of the things, however, that will get the attention of the world and authenticate our confession will be the way that we love one another, the way that we celebrate our ethnic and geographical diversity, and the way that we serve and worship together in harmony.

Some who think that conviction is important neglect cooperation. And those who emphasize cooperation often fail to recognize the importance of conviction. I believe that we need both collaborative cooperation and convictional confessionalism. Those who emphasize cooperation are prone to compromise. Those who emphasize conviction are prone to cantankerousness. So choosing between compromising beliefs or a cantankerous spirit is not an inviting option.

I think we would do well to hear again the words of Carl F. H. Henry. About 60 years ago he maintained that our witness to the world will be stronger when the church is united. Cantankerousness, he claimed, often leads to additional and unnecessary fragmentation, thus diminishing opportunities for cooperation and collaboration, as well for reform and renewal.

I wonder if I can ask about the issue of membership and attendance within the SBC. You refer in the book to “regenerate church membership” as “a historic and foundational Baptist tenet.” Al Mohler refers to it as one of the three principles that constitute “an irreducible minimum of Baptist identity.” He says that when it’s compromised or denied “whatever is left may call itself Baptist only by asserting a lie.” And yet the numbers I have heard suggest that even though the SBC boasts 16.2 million church members in good standing, only 38% of them attend their church’s primary worship service each week. If what you and Dr. Mohler write is true about how essential this principle is for Baptists, does this not point to something of an identity crisis for the SBC?

One of the reasons that Southern Baptists now need to ask the hard questions about a regenerate church membership--a historic and foundational Baptist tenet--is that people have confused the Christian faith for substitutes. The Christian faith is not mere moralism; it is not faith in faith, some subjective amorphous feeling, nor is it some kind of a self-help theory. The Christian faith is the manifestation of God's truth revealed in His Son and made known to us today in His Word.

We must also sadly acknowledge, as you have noted in your question, that over the course of the past six decades or so, Southern Baptists have allowed our priorities to gradually shift from Christian faithfulness and spiritual maturity to numerical growth and programmatic efficiency. Not that a concern for numerical growth or efficiency is wrong in any way at all. The shift in priorities was probably quite unintentional at first, but slowly, almost unconsciously, a greater disparity has developed between our reported total membership and the actual number of active and participating members in our churches.

The result is that we developed two categories that are foreign to the New Testament: non-resident members (those who held membership in the church, but have moved away from the meeting place of the church) and inactive members (those who are on the membership rolls who no longer attend the congregation with any sense of regularity). Without ignoring the importance of numerical growth or efficiency, Southern Baptists need to refocus on what it means to be a Baptist church and what it means to be a member of a Baptist church, along with a concern for the importance of faithfulness and maturation of church members.

While there are some reasons for non-attenders to be kept on a church membership roll, those situations ought to be the exception and not the rule. I am afraid that far too many churches don’t keep up with people who stop attending to find out why and to see if they can be re-engaged in the life of the church.

If a person does not attend a church over a certain period of time, then the church has the responsibility to find ways to make contact with that person to ascertain the reasons for the prolonged absence. If the absence is for health reasons, then the church must find ways to minister to those needs, especially if the member is home-bound. If the absenteeism is the result of spiritual lethargy, then hopefully there can be ways of initiating discipleship opportunities.

If the non-attendance continues apart from some legitimate reason -- and if there are no ongoing indicators of spiritual life -- keeping someone’s name on the church roll is unhealthy for everyone involved. It seems to me that we are doing harm to the person and to the church by allowing them to stay on the church roll. One thing worse than people being lost in their sins is people who think they are saved because their names are on a church roll.

The problem runs deeper than just having non-attenders on the membership rolls. A church isn’t plateaued in membership and falling off in baptisms only because of people who no longer attend. We need to think afresh about what it means to be a covenant member of a Baptist congregation. We need to think about the importance of faithfulness and maturation of church members. Helping people understand the Gospel, helping guide them to faith in Christ and leading them to become church members is paramount, but helping them understand the biblical expectations of faithful Christ-followers in covenant with one another is also extremely important.

Engaging non-attenders about involvement in church life and challenging attenders to “walk in a manner worthy” of God’s call on their lives (Ephesians 4:1) would make a great improvement in the spiritual health of our churches. We need to reflect once again on the biblical teaching about the new birth and discipleship and develop new member orientation processes for those who desire to join our churches.

This will mean that churches will need to highlight the foundational matters and expectations of church membership. We need not only a fresh understanding of the Gospel, but a fresh reminder of the relationship of saving faith to sanctification, maturation, and spiritual faithfulness. Beyond these things, we need to recover the New Testament’s teaching on church discipline.

We must attempt to implement a Baptist doctrine of regenerate church membership in a way that is applicable for the context of our churches in the 21st century. We need to turn once again to the New Testament to ask important questions about what it means to live faithfully before God as individual believers, as congregations, as Baptist associations, as Baptist state conventions, and as a national convention.

I hope that in the days to come that Southern Baptists will ask:
  • What does the New Testament say about regeneration, baptism, Christian commitment, and church membership?
  • What does our Baptist heritage say about church membership?
  • Have we allowed numerical growth and efficiency concerns, perhaps unknowingly and unconsciously, to become higher priorities for us than questions of faithfulness to the New Testament and to our Baptist heritage?
As you have noted in your question, Justin, I think that Southern Baptists must repent of our lack of concern for biblical faithfulness in our concern and care for church members. We need to repent of the way we often allow people to join local churches without stressing the covenantal aspect of membership. We need to repent of the fact that we have largely neglected any aspect of church discipline that would have helped us begin to address some of these important matters.

Finally, dealing with our reported membership total isn’t a simple matter. State and national conventions only report the numbers reported to them by the local churches. Given the autonomy of local churches, it is hard to have a uniform way of implementing a call for renewed attention to church membership totals. I do believe that we need to ask questions as Southern Baptists about how we count members and report these statistics. While in our Baptist polity, associations, state conventions, and the national convention can assist with this process, these questions must be initiated at the local church level. We must simultaneously affirm the doctrine of a regenerate church membership and the Baptist doctrine of the autonomy of the local congregation.

What are some of the key questions facing the SBC about its future and its identity?

As we gather in Louisville for the annual convention on June 23-24, 2009, there will be many questions for us to consider as a convention. Many of these have already been highlighted in your questions.

You will also hear about a call for a Great Commission Resurgence, with a renewed emphasis on North American church planting and global missions. Such a call involves not just committing ourselves to missions and evangelism, as important as that is. We will need to commit ourselves foremost to the Gospel, to the message of missions and evangelism, the message that is found only in Jesus Christ and His atoning death for sinners.

We must address the matter of unity and collaboration in the midst of our growing fragmentation. We need to recover the biblical emphasis from John 17 and Ephesians 4, as well as the historic confessions about the church as one, holy, universal, and apostolic.

We must address matters of cooperation and partnership. The Cooperative Program has been an important funding process for Southern Baptists since 1925. The call to cooperate in 2009 differs from the Southern Baptist world of 1925, but we must reclaim that spirit for our day.

Moving into the second decade of the 21st century, Southern Baptists also need a new spirit of mutual respect and humility to serve together with those with whom we have differences of conviction/opinion/preference. It is possible to hold hands with brothers and sisters who disagree on secondary and tertiary matters of theology and practice, and still work together toward a common good to extend the work of Southern Baptists around the world and advance the kingdom of God.

We need God’s Spirit to bring about a new spirit among us, one that calls for humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance with one another in love, and a diligence to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:2-3). We need to expand our horizons with a renewed dedication to ethnic diversity and racial reconciliation, looking forward to a day in which a great multitude from every national and all tribes, people groups, and tongues shall stand before the Lamb (Revelation 7:9).

As I have said before, Southern Baptists must work to build and establish a much-needed consensus around the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is time for us to move from controversy and confusion toward a renewed commitment to cooperation. In such a spirit of consensus and partnership, we must ask questions about structure and programs:
  • How do associations, state convention entities, and national convention entities relate to one another?
  • How do churches relate to these various entities?
  • How can these entities be funded effectively with the least amount of duplication possible?
Finally, 21st century Southern Baptists need not only to affirm the Bible’s truthfulness and the saving power of the Gospel, but we need to evidence our concern for these matters by careful biblical interpretation, serious theological reflection, faithful churchmanship, proclamation, worship, repentance, and prayer. We must trust God to bring a fresh wind of renewal to Southern Baptist theology, evangelism, missions, worship, education, and service. We can then relate to one another in love and humility, bringing about true fellowship and biblical community not only in our orthodoxy, but in our orthopraxy before a watching world.

How can we be praying for the Southern Baptist Convention?

I would ask that you and others who read this interview join us in asking God to grant to us a renewed commitment to the Gospel, to the church, and to the truthfulness of Holy Scripture that will help forge and shape a new consensus among us, bringing about genuine spiritual transformation and a renewed spirit of cooperation among the various entities of SBC life. To those ends we will pray that God will allow us to see a new generation of Great Commandment and Great Commission churches who will both exemplify and proclaim the good news of the Gospel to a needy world.