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prov·o·ca·tion - something that provokes, arouses, or stimulates. pant - to long eagerly; yearn. a collection of thoughts intended to provoke and inspire. these posts are hoping to encourage people to think, especially Christians, and pant even harder for the waterbrooks of the Lord. If you are not a believer in Christ Jesus, I welcome your perspective and encourage your investigation on these matters.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Principles of Puritan Preaching - Part Two

This morning I post part one of the two-part post of principles from Puritan preaching, the concluding section of the five posts in the series of pastoral plagiarism. In the first post, J.I. Packer outlines the four axioms of Puritan preaching, and in this post, he gives eight distinct characteristics which shaped the style and structure of their preaching. Here they are, with excerpts from Packer:

8 Marks of Puritan Preaching by J.I. Packer:

  1. It was expository in its method.

Charles Simeon said, “My endeavor is to bring out of Scripture what is there . . . I have a great jealousy on this head, never to speak more or less that I believe to be the mind of the Spirit in the passage I am expounding.” So, “when you cannot get the full and real meaning of the passage, leave it alone” (284).

  1. It was doctrinal in its content.

“To be a good expositor, therefore, one must first be a good theologian. Theology—truth about God and man—is what God has put into the texts of Scripture, and theology is what preachers must draw out of them. To the question, ‘Should one preach doctrine?’, the Puritan answer would have been, ‘Why, what else is there to preach?’ . . . Doctrinal preaching certainly bores the hypocrites; but it is only doctrinal preaching that will save Christ’s sheep. The preacher’s job is to proclaim the faith, not to provide entertainment for unbelievers—in other words, to feed the sheep rather than amuse the goats” (284-85).

  1. It was orderly in its arrangement.
  1. It was popular in its style.

“The plainest words are the profitablest oratory in the weightiest matters.”

“They systematically eschewed any rhetorical display that might divert attention from God to themselves, and talked to their congregation in plain, straightforward, homely English” (285).

  1. It was Christ-centered in its orientation.

“ Puritan preaching revolved around ‘Christ, and him crucified’—for this is the hub of the Bible. The preachers’ commission is to declare the whole counsel of God; but the cross is the centre of that counsel . . .” (286).

  1. It was experimental in its interests.

“Study two books together: the Bible, and your own heart. The Puritans made it a matter of conscience to prove for themselves the saving power of the gospel they urged on others. They knew that, as John Owen put it, ‘a man preacheth that sermon only well to others, which preacheth itself in his own soul. . . . If the word do no dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us.’ . . . Their strenuous exercise in meditation and prayer, their sensitiveness to sin, their utter humility, their passion for holiness, and their glowing devotion to Christ equipped them to be master-physicians of the soul. And deep called to deep when they preached, for they spoke of the black depths and high peaks of Christian experience first-hand” (286).

  1. It was piercing in its applications.

There were six kinds of application prescribed in the Westminster Directory for Publick Worship:

  1. Instruction or information in the knowledge of some . . . consequence from doctrine
  2. Confutation of false doctrines
  3. Exhorting to duties
  4. Dehortation, reprehension, and publick admonition
  5. Applying comfort
  6. Trial [self-examination] (287)

“Strength of application was, from one standpoint, the most striking feature of Puritan preaching, and it is arguable that the theory of discriminating applications is the most valuable legacy that Puritan preachers have left to those who would preach the Bible and its gospel effectively today” (288).

  1. It was powerful in its manner.

“As one ne’er should preach again, And as a dying man to dying men.”

“All our work must be done spiritually, as by men possessed of he Holy Ghost. There is in some men’s preaching a spiritual strain, which spiritual hearers can discern and relish. . . . Our evidence and illustrations of divine truth must also be spiritual, being drawn from the Holy Scriptures. . . . It is the sign of a distempered heart that loseth the relish of Scripture excellency. For there is in a spiritual heart a co-naturality to the Word of God, because this is the seed which did regenerate him. The Word is that seal which made all the holy impressions that are in the hearts of true believers, and stamped the image of God upon them; and, therefore, they must needs . . . highly esteem it as long as they live. . . . Our whole work must be carried on under a deep sense of our own insufficiency, and of our entire dependence upon Christ. We must go for light, and life, and strength to him, who sends us on the work. . . . Prayer must carry on our work as well as our preaching; he preacheth not heartily to his people, that prayeth not earnest for them” (289).

I sincerely hope that these last two posts were helpful to having a more biblical understanding of the primacy of preaching and having a passion for it. There is a much deeper issue underlying pastoral plagiarism and professional sermonizers. It is biblical infidelity compounded with pragmatic contempt towards Scripture and truth. We want results, here and now, and will use the means which we think will most effectively and expediently accomplish this end. Biblical exposition and exegesis isn't quick and easy. If we don't lovingly labor for the sake of taking heed to ourselves and our preaching, then dire consequences will inevitably occur not just to ourselves, but to those who hear us. May God find us faithful stewards of his Word and his people whom he purchased with his own blood. *************** Trackback Posts: P&P: Principles of Puritan Preaching - Part Two P&P: Principles of Puritan Preaching - Part One P&P: The Primacy of Preaching P&P: Professionals Behind the Pulpit P&P: Plagiarizers in the Pulpit Steve Sjogren: Don’t Be Original – Be Effective! Ray Van Neste: Pastoral Plagiarism Ray Van Neste: Pastoral Plagiarism, Part 2 Justin Taylor: Pastoral Plagiarism Justin Taylor: Plagiarizing in the Pulpit Coty Pinckney: Plagiarism and Pastors (see page 4) Ken Fields: Nuked Burritos from the Pulpit Cavman: Plagiarism #1 – Lazy Pastors Phil Steiger: Pervasive Pastoral Plagiarism? Phil Steiger: Jeremiah on Pastoral Plagiarism Christianity Today: When Pastors Plagiarize

POTW :: 03.31.06 Tilted Glass

{Click to enlarge}
Looking Glass Falls, North Carolina that is. This photo was also taken from the previous fall backpackin' trip but was never posted. In this photo, I was standing in the creek about 400 feet away with my tripod inverted. If you have ever wanted to find a fantastic place to shoot waterfalls, be sure to check out southwestern North Carolina (that just sounds weird . . . where's east?). Anyway, I 've been playing with these borders for the past week or so. What do you think? Border or no border? I am undecided . . .
Here's the exif data for the photogs: Camera: Canon 20D Lens: 28-135mm IS USM Focal Length: 35mm Tv: 1.6 sec Av: f/11 ISO: 100 WB: Custom (site-selected)

Principles of Puritan Preaching - Part One

J.I. Packer, in his book A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Crossway, 1990), has a chapter challed "Puritan Preaching." I am going to share the basic outline of this chapter in two posts for the purpose of concluding my five-part response to Pastoral Plagiarism and the overall disdain towards gospel preaching in contemporary ecclesiology. Under each outlined point, there is an excerpt from Packer which I selected to be descriptive of the point being made. I pray you find this as helpful to preaching as I have, and for those of you who read this and are not in the ministry, let me encourage you to pray for your pastor. While the Puritans were not perfect by any means, their powerful preaching needs to be examined in contemporary life today, whereby we may derive bountiful benefits and prescriptive medicine for the maladies with plague our pulpits today. There were four axioms, according to Packer, which underpinned Puritan preaching:

  1. They believed in the primacy of the intellect.

“It follows that every man’s first duty in relation to the word of God is to understand it; and every preacher’s first duty is to explain it. The only way to the heart that he is authorized to take runs via the head. So the minister who does not make it his prime business, in season and out of season, to teach the word of God, does not do his job, and the sermon which, whatever else it may be, is not a didactic exposition of Scripture is not worthy of the name” (281).

  1. They believed in supreme importance of preaching.

“To prepare good sermons may take a long time—but who are we, whom God has set apart for the ministry, to begrudge time for this purpose? We shall never perform a more important task than preaching. If we are not willing to give time to sermon preparation, we are not fit to preach, and have no business in the ministry at all” (282).

  1. They believed in the life-giving power of Holy Scripture.

“The Puritans insisted that the preacher’s task is to feed their congregations with the contents of the Bible—not the dry husks of their own fancy, but the life-giving word of God. Better not to preach at all, they would tell us, than preach beyond the Bible, or without utter and obvious confidence in the quickening, nourishing power of the Biblical message. Reverence for revealed truth, and faith in its entire adequacy for human needs, should mark all preaching. How can we expect our preaching to beget such reverence and faith in others if it does not reflect this attitude in ourselves?” (282-83).

“The only pastor worthy of the name, in short, is the man whose chief concern is always to feed his people by means of his preaching with the enlivening truths of the word of God” (283).

  1. They believed in the sovereignty of the Spirit.

“The ultimate effectiveness of preaching is out of man’s hands. Man’s task is simply to be faithful in teaching the word; it is God’s work to convince of its truth and write it on the heart. . . . When the preacher has finished instructing , applying and exhorting, his pulpit work is done. It is not his business to devise devices to extort ‘decisions.’ He would be wiser to go away and pray for God’s blessing on what he has said. It is God’s sovereign prerogative to make his word effective, and the preacher’s behaviour in the pulpit should be governed by the recognition of, and subjection to, divine sovereignty in this matter” (283-84).

Later today, I will provide the fifth and final post which will be part two of Principles of Puritan Preaching. Here are the previous posts thus far: P&P: The Primacy of Preaching P&P: Professionals Behind the Pulpit P&P: Plagiarizers in the Pulpit Steve Sjogren: Don’t Be Original – Be Effective! Ray Van Neste: Pastoral Plagiarism Ray Van Neste: Pastoral Plagiarism, Part 2 Justin Taylor: Pastoral Plagiarism Justin Taylor: Plagiarizing in the Pulpit Coty Pinckney: Plagiarism and Pastors (see page 4) Ken Fields: Nuked Burritos from the Pulpit Cavman: Plagiarism #1 – Lazy Pastors Phil Steiger: Pervasive Pastoral Plagiarism? Phil Steiger: Jeremiah on Pastoral Plagiarism Christianity Today: When Pastors Plagiarize

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Way Up

"Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be the slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." Mark 10:43-45

The Primacy of Preaching

As the two previous posts have indicated, there has been a growing trend of pastors showing contempt towards preaching, and in particular the preparation for preaching. This is evidenced by either plagiarizing other people’s sermons or simply hiring folks under your camp to prepare the sermons for you. One must wonder, “If the pastor is not spending his time in Scripture and preparing to preach, then what is he doing all week long?” That is the $64,000 question.

There is no question that the pastoral responsibilities have ballooned over recent years. The demands on a pastor’s schedule are no doubt demanding, and he must choose what he preeminent among all the priorities. Furthermore, there is the “tyranny of the practical” and the new stigma of the “leadership” phenomena where the pastor efficiently runs his organization like a finely-tuned machine through organization, administration, and deliberation. Often when churches look for pastors, they extend the job description beyond the biblical model to include responsibilities which anyone can do who are not called to preach. However, because the pastor is the leader, he is expected to do them, even though that means sacrificing other more importantly matters in the meantime—namely, the diligent and devoted study of God’s Word. The primacy of preaching is replaced by several illegitimate substitutes which are often used for justification for neglecting the sacred desk to which pastors are called.

Don’t get me wrong, there are other responsibilities that lie under the pastor, such as prayer, pastoral care, visiting the sick and lost, etc. which are necessary, right, and good. But at the same time, there are many things which are not and should not occupy the sacred space and time which should be reserved for God and His Word, such as business meetings, administrative duties, and other organizational necessities. Dr. Al Mohler wrote a chapter in the book Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching (Soli Deo Gloria, 2002) called “The Primacy of Preaching.” The context of this chapter is his exposition of Colossians 1:25-29. I would like to share with you some excerpts from his chapter:

Commenting on Paul’s stewardship of the mysteries of God, Mohler said:

“Paul’s intention was not to dabble a little bit in preaching; nor was it his intention merely to add preaching to his ministerial resume or itinerary in order that he might complete himself as a well-rounded minister of the gospel. Nor was it that he would eventually get around to preaching in the midst of other pastoral responsibilities. No, he said, ‘All of this, in the end, is fulfilled and is only fulfilled, in the full carrying out of my responsibility of preaching the Word.’

When the minister of the gospel faces the Lord God as judge, there will be many questions addressed to him. There will be many standards of accountability. There will be many criteria of judgment, but in the end the most essential criterion of judgment for the minister of God is, “Did you preach the Word? Did you fully carry out the ministry of the Word? In season and out of season, was the priority of ministry the preaching of the Word?

That is not to say that there are not other issues, that there are not other responsibilities, or that there are not even other priorities; but there is one central, non-negotiable, immovable, essential priority, and that is the preaching of the Word of God” (15-16).

Furthermore, Mohler juxtaposes Paul’s priority to preach with the contemporary preacher today:

“Contrast Paul’s absolute priority with the congregational confusion of today’s church. When you look at manuals, books, magazines, seminars, and conferences addressed to pastors, you notice that preaching, if included at all, is most often not the priority. When you hear people speak about how to grow a church, how to build a church, and how to build a great congregation, few and far between are those who say it comes essentially by the preaching of the Word. And we know why, because it comes by the preaching of the Word slowly; slowly, immeasurably, sometimes even invisibly, and hence we are back to our problem. If you want to see quick results, the preaching of the Word just might not be the way to go. If you are going to find results in terms of statistics, numbers, and visible response, it just might be that there are other mechanisms, other programs, and other means that will produce that faster. The question is whether it produces Christians.

Indeed, such techniques will not produce maturing and faithful believers in the Lord Jesus Christ because that is going to come only by the preaching of the Word. Preaching is not a mechanism for communication that was developed by preached who needed something to do on Sunday. It was not some kind of sociological or technological adaptation by the church in the first century trying to come up with something to do between the invocation and benediction. It was the central task of preaching that framed their understanding of worship, and not only their understanding of worship, but also their understanding of the church.” (17-18)

To the preachers who excuse themselves from preaching their own sermons because they don’t have anything to preach, he said:

“The gospel is simply the most transformative, the most powerful, and the most explosive message there is. If you have a problem finding something to preach, I guarantee that you are not preaching the gospel.” (22)

Finally, let me share one final excerpt which explains the balance and biblical perspective to the primacy of preaching today:

“His [Paul’s] authority was nothing, but Christ is all-sufficient, as seen in His Word. This means we have to devote ourselves to preaching not as one priority among others, but as our central and highest priority.

What does it mean to be a servant of the Word? It means first, that our ministry is so prioritized that the preaching of the Word becomes so central that everything else must fall into place behind this priority—everything else. Are there other important tasks of ministry? Of course. Are there other important priorities of the church? Of course. But your personal schedule will reveal the priority of preaching, and your personal schedule will reveal just how serious you are about preaching. You will find out quickly what a church believes about preaching by looking at its calendar and added expectations, and you will find out what a preacher believes about preaching by looking at his calendar and his schedule.” (29-30).

I am grateful for Mohler’s chapter in this excellent book. Pastors would do well to read Feed My Sheep. There are myriads of pastors who know how to “win friends and influence people,” but few know how to faithfully “feed my sheep.” If preaching is not the driving passion of your ministry as a pastor, one has to one wonder to what exactly you have been called. Oh that our ministries and churches were marked for the passionate preaching of God’s Word!

*********************** Trackpack and other posts: P&P: Professional Behind the Pulpit P&P: Plagiarizers in the Pulpit Steve Sjogren: Don’t Be Original – Be Effective! Ray Van Neste: Pastoral Plagiarism Ray Van Neste: Pastoral Plagiarism, Part 2 Justin Taylor: Pastoral Plagiarism Justin Taylor: Plagiarizing in the Pulpit Coty Pinckney: Plagiarism and Pastors (see page 4) Ken Fields: Nuked Burritos from the Pulpit Cavman: Plagiarism #1 – Lazy Pastors Phil Steiger: Pervasive Pastoral Plagiarism? Phil Steiger: Jeremiah on Pastoral Plagiarism Christianity Today: When Pastors Plagiarize

Tom Ascol and James White Comment on the Debate

Yesterday, both Tom Ascol and James White commented on their blogs about the debate upcoming this October. Here is some of what Ascol said:

I am praying that this debate will bring honor to our Lord by showing how brothers can disagree strongly and decisively without resorting to the kind of name calling, misrepresentations, distortions that too often characterizes disagreements on this issue. I am also praying that the Gospel of God's grace will be set forth clearly and simply; that God's Word will be accurately handled; that truth will be honored and error exposed. I have no doubt that not only James, but also Ergun and Emir would join me in saying "Amen" to these petitions offered to our Lord. As God brings this to mind, please pray to this end.
White shared some of his email correspondence with the Caners, of which he said:
Brothers, I am a Calvinist by conviction of the Word of God and for no other reason. I do not base my case on philosophy. I do not base my case on history. Surely, both have their place, but they are not the source, the heart, the ground, of my faith. I base my case upon the consistent, sound, thorough-going exegesis of the text of Scripture itself. And to bless the people of God...one must make one's case from the voice of Christ in His Word, wouldn't you agree? I am certain you would agree with me that the only way for our efforts to bear lasting fruit is if we lead our audience to a deeper faith in, trust in, and knowledge of, the Scriptures. Hence, while I will gladly address the full range of truths that make up the heart of my faith, from God's absolute sovereignty, man's total inability, God's unconditional election, Christ's perfect and perfecting atonement, the Spirit's infallible ability to regenerate, etc., there is a danger of being so unfocused as to never get to the text of Scripture itself, or, worse, to only cite it in a surface level manner. I'm sure you have experienced this frustration in your own debates, and would join me in not wishing to dilute the topic beyond what can be handled in, say, three hours?
There are several concerns about the debate that have been raised: 1. There is the concern of not faithfully dealing with the "thesis" of the debate. In other words, the debate will be littered with talking points without dealing with the main point of the debate. 2. There is a concern for a deficiency of thorough cross-examination of each others' points. It is not a mere restatement of each side's position, but a robust interaction and defense of one position in light of the other's arguments. 3. There is the concern for a superficial approach to Scripture with little exegesis and a lot of proof-texting. Deal with the texts period. 4. There is the concern for the defense mechanisms of name calling, mispresentations, and distortions of the truth. We have seen this all too often. Let's hope it does not happen here. 5. There is the concern that the moderator (whoever that may be) give fair ground to both sides in representing their view. There is such a thing as "home court advantage." To offer fairness, there needs to be a level-headed, objective referee, not one who has someone's hands in their hip pocket. It cannot be denied that there is great interest in the debate, especially given that so many in the SBC are not aware of its Reformed roots. I think the greatest impact of this debate will occur long after the debate is over and the ripple effect takes place. Well, it is already happening, but this debate will surely rock the boat.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


{Click to enlarge} "Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted." Hebrews 12:3

Professionals Behind the Pulpit

“The professionalization of the ministry is a constant threat to the offense of the gospel. It is a threat to the profoundly spiritual nature of the work. I have seen it often: the love of professionalism (parity among the world’s professionals) kills a man’s belief that he is sent by God to save people from hell and to make them Christ-exalting, spiritual aliens in the world.” (John Piper in Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, 3)

Yesterday, I wrote about the modern-day plague of pastors plagiarizing in the pulpit and concluded with this statement:

“When it comes down to it, I would rather have a pastor who strikes out swinging than to have a designated hitter any day.”

This was an intended transition statement to lead into what I would like to address today. Where plagiarism can be considered a plague, this would fit the ranks of perilous in pastoral ministry. What I am speaking about is “designated hitters” who are going to bat for the pastors in the local church. They are the professionals behind the pulpit, who, because of their great hermeneutical and communicative skills, craft sermons for pastors to preach. They don’t preach sermons; they just prepare them and deliver them to the pastor to preach so that the pastor would not have to do the work himself. This is similar to plagiarizing in that the goal in mind is the same—to effectively remove the work of sermon preparation and biblical study for the pastor so as to be more effective in ministry by doing things presumably more important. While one may be the fruit of stealing, the other is the fruit of the ground the farmer didn’t plough, the reward of a runner who didn’t “compete according to the rules.”

I first was made aware of this growing pastoral phenomena when I was in a seminary class where the grader lead a small group discussion about ministry. He shared with the group his ministry responsibilities which included developing the sermon calendar of his pastor and preparing the Sunday morning message each Sunday. There was another staff person who was hired for the Sunday night message. He candidly shared that it was his responsibility to develop sermon series and eventually every sermon for his pastor (who pastors a large church in the Louisville area). The pastor would then get the sermon towards the end of the week, go over it, and then preach it the following Sunday. He could be considered as a professional sermonizer who works to provide the best, most polished “grand slammer” for the pastor to make it easy to knock it out of the park every Sunday. Ironically enough, it wasn’t long after I heard about this, that the very pastor who received this sermon was on the five o’clock news announcing he was running for public office in his town. I guess you have time for that when you don’t prepare your own messages.

As he continued to share, he realized that what he was doing was not being well-received and began to seek justification by calling upon another local megachurch in the area who has several men who work together to craft the “senior pastor’s” message for the following Sunday. I was told that each person was given individual responsibilities in the sermon—one over illustrations, one over jokes, one over the outline, one over the quotes, etc. Each person would literally bring their work to the table, and together they would put together the sermon on Thursday morning. It is my understanding that the pastor who actually preaches the sermon would participate in the overall development at this point, but the goal in mind is to have the absolute, most amazing sermon possible for that given Sunday. The emphasis is highly placed on the sermon, but not the sermon being derivative of the pastor who preaches it. One would argue, “Who cares, as long as it is good, right?”

Here’s my question: Why are pastors these days looking for every way possible to avoid preparing and crafting their own sermons? Why is it that we are looking for the easiest way out of diligently and desirously delivering to God’s people a message birthed form the life and study of their shepherd? Are we to encourage this from our church members? Are to tell them, “You really do not need to study the Bible that much. You would be better off just reading a devotional. Too much Bible study will not be as effective in your life as a devotional which will be easier to remember.”

Here’s the danger as I see it: We are quick to judge those in the Roman Catholic faith who go to a priest as a mediator between them and God to confess their sins. This type of mediation is unbiblical we would all agree. But what about mediation between us and God’s Word? Are we to abandon the personal discipline of study and simple received a mediated message from another, never having been blessed by the Spirit’s illuminating work in our life? We are a holy priesthood, are we not? Imagine a priest in OT times who, when called to offer a sacrifice or speak on behalf of God said, “You know, God, I really have other things to be tending to right now which are more urgent than this. Could you excuse me from this and have someone else stand in my place? I know that you have called me for this purpose, but I really just don’t have time for it right now.” What shall we say to this???

The professionalization of the ministry is pulling pastors away from the most crucial and central task of the ministry, that is, preaching the Word of God. Where there are some who are plagiarizing other preachers, others are hiring others to do the work for them. I am saddened to hear that this is the growing trend in churches today, especially among the larger, faster growing churches among us. I can’t help but think that we are selling out when we should have been sold out to God. We have offered excuses to not preach while we should be exclaiming, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).

Consider the words of John Piper in his book Brothers, We Are not Professionals:

“For every sick shepherd who offends unnecessarily, a hundred are so frightened to offend that the sword of the Spirit has become rubber in their mouths and the mighty Biblical mingling of severity and kindness has vanished from their ministry. For every incompetent pastor who justifies himself with spiritual coverings, a hundred incompetent pastors are desperately doubling their spiritual incompetence be seeking remedies in Babylon. For every pastor who enjoys the respect in the guild in spite of prophetic faithfulness to the cross, a hundred pastors enjoy that respect because the cross has been compromised” (xii).

Let us stop going to Babylon and recover the mantle to preach the Word of God with full integrity and authenticity. Let us men and women who bleed the Bible when pricked. Let us find in ourselves such a holy necessity that we pronounce a “Woe!” unto ourselves if we fail to preach the gospel. God does not need professionals, neither in the pulpit nor behind it, and when we realize this, God’s Church will be better because of it. May we have the conviction to realize that it is better to strike out on Sunday with yourself at the plate than to shoot up with steroids because you are expected to hit it out of the park each time you preach.

“The world sets the agenda of the professional man; God sets the agenda of the spiritual man. The strong wine of Jesus Christ explodes the wineskins of professionalism. There is an infinite difference between the pastor whose heart is set on being a professional and the pastor whose heart is set on being the aroma of Christ, the fragrance of death to some and eternal life to others." - John Piper

************************ Trackpack and other posts: P&P: Plagiarizers in the Pulpit Steve Sjogren: Don’t Be Original – Be Effective! Ray Van Neste: Pastoral Plagiarism Ray Van Neste: Pastoral Plagiarism, Part 2 Justin Taylor: Pastoral Plagiarism Justin Taylor: Plagiarizing in the Pulpit Coty Pinckney: Plagiarism and Pastors (see page 4) Ken Fields: Nuked Burritos from the Pulpit Cavman: Plagiarism #1 – Lazy Pastors Phil Steiger: Pervasive Pastoral Plagiarism? Phil Steiger: Jeremiah on Pastoral Plagiarism Christianity Today: When Pastors Plagiarize

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Debate On: White and Ascol vs the Caner Brothers

Nathan White made me aware of the confirmation of this debate several weeks ago, and I was wondering about what happened since I had not heard anything about the debate. Well, yesterday, James White finally announced on his blog that the debate is set. Here are the details: What: "Baptists and Calvinism" When: Monday, October 16, 2006 @ 7:00 p.m. Where: The new Thomas Road Baptist Church, Lynchburg, Virginia Who: Defending Calvinism (James White and Tom Ascol); Against Calvinism (Emir and Ergun Caner) Now, I have only one problem with this? What is the deal with Monday? This makes it very difficult for people who live outside of VA to attend, unless of course the week is Fall Break. I was told that the debate was to take place sooner (as in a couple of months), but maybe this will give the Caner brothers more time to do their homework and read outside of Dave Hunt and Norman Geisler. While I hope that the debate will be a little more substantive and less ridiculous as the notorious blogpost, I also hope that the debate will not be turned into a "not-a-debate discussion" as we have already seen. Personally, I am not a fan of debating, but it is time that the malignment and slander of Calvinstic Baptists to fall and the Scriptures actually get addressed. We'll just have to see. :)

Plagiarizers in the Pulpit

Last week, Ray Van Neste posted an articled called “Pastoral Plagiarism” in which he expresses his disgust about a recent article by Steve Sjogren, a pastor and author, called “Don’t Be Original—Be Effective!” which is now located in the Rick Warren Ministry Toolbox at Pastors.com. In his article, Sjorgren makes a some blatant points: first, he argues that the purpose of preaching is not to be original but effective; hence, preaching is performance-based (“knocking it out of the park” to use his terms); second, to be original in your sermons is rooted in pride, given that you are unwilling to preach other people’s sermons and assumedly become more effective; subsequently, churches will inevitably not grow and experience decline due to pastoral stubbornness and ineffectiveness; and thirdly, “everybody’s doing it” (especially the mega-church pastors), so plagiarizing sermons is the norm and should be considered as an aid to being an effective “communicator.”

So, given these three factors, Sjogren offers some advice: one, get over the idea that you need to be original in your messages; two, stop the “nonsense” of spending 25-30 hours a week preparing your messages; three, “borrow” creatively from other preachers; four, forget about originality and focus on being effective; and five, “dare to step out of the box” and “hit a homerun this weekend with the help of a message master!”

To the over-worked pastor involved in multiple tasks, this article by Sjorgen sounds very appealing, especially as it gives them justification for neglecting God’s Word and provided pre-cooked, pre-packaged meals instead of unfolding the Bread of Life. There are many pastors today whose ministry schedules are being run by “the tyranny of the practical,” thus it would make sense to allow pragmatism to trump principle in the pulpit as well But rather than being appealing, for the pastor who realizes that his pre-eminent task it to deliver the Word of God as the first-fruits of their own study, this article and rationale is nothing shot of appalling. Indeed, it is one thing to be an “effective communicator” and quite another thing to be a faithful expositor of God’s Word.

Sjorgen is openly and unashamedly calling out fellow pastors to deny their people fresh manna from God’s Word and to steal the work of another pastor in its place. That way, I guess, pastors can, with good conscience, replace those 25-30 hours of study to refine that golf swing or attend that next side-item which fills their day-planner. Pastors are being judged be performance and success by numbers, not biblical fidelity or integrity in their work. The sacred desk is set aside for the administrative desk where the shepherd is now the CEO, and the church is the hierarchical organization in which he is on top, not the body of Christ of whom he is called to serve. And since “everybody’s doing it, especially those mega-church pastors with thousands of members and books on the front-shelves of your local Christian bookstore, then those who aren’t are simply too arrogant to stoop down to that level. This is a classic case of legislating sin and calling what is wrong right, and what is right, wrong.

“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)

The notion to call pastors who spend 25-30 hours in study for their messages “nonsense” is an indictment against the one making it. Tell me sir, how is one who is to speak, to speak “as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11)? How is one to preach the whole counsel of God’s Word (Acts 20:27)? How is one, through their preaching and teaching, going to be able to “present every man complete in Christ” (Colossians 1:28-29)? How is one to “preach the word and be ready in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:4)? How is one to take great pains and be absorbed in paying close attention to oneself and their teaching, so as to ensure salvation for both oneself and those who hear them (1 Timothy 4:15-16)? How is one to have gravitas and blood-earnestness in their delivery?

Is this to take place through plagiarizing other people’s sermons? Is the Holy Spirit going to anoint and bless sermons which he did not work in your own heart? Have you any integrity to practice what you preach by living out the message God has given to you through His Word rather than being a profiteer and a second-hander?

Methinks no. To avoid the biblical call to study and prepare oneself to preach is to show contempt to the God who has called you, to dishonor your Savior who placed you as a steward of the mysteries of God and shepherd of His sheep, and to grieve the Holy Spirit who has authored God’s Word. There are no short-cuts to the task of diligently studying to show oneself approved, being a shepherd after God’s own heart. Give me an expositor who has tear stains on his Bible and sweat on his brow, not a communicator who has regurgitated rhetoric and a few refined points. Give me a pastor who does not stick his finger in the air to see what his next sermon should be, but one who unwaveringly settles down on the text of Scripture and unfolds the Bread of Life, having first been affected by it. Give me a preacher who binds himself to saying “Thus saith the Lord” and not one who says, “Thus saith Rick Warren.” Yes, give me such a minister whom the Holy Spirit has burned fire in his bones through the penetrating work of painful study, not a man flickering with levity and contempt to the holy call of God.

Sadly enough, there are pastors who glory in their shame and shame those who preach to the glory of God. When it comes down to it, I would rather have a pastor who strikes out swinging than to have a designated hitter any day.

******************************* Let me encourage you to read the following articles about pastoral plagiarism. During the rest of the week, I will add four other posts about preaching, which I hope will be profitable to the discussion.

Steve Sjogren: Don’t Be Original – Be Effective! Ray Van Neste: Pastoral Plagiarism Ray Van Neste: Pastoral Plagiarism, Part 2 Justin Taylor: Pastoral Plagiarism Justin Taylor: Plagiarizing in the Pulpit Coty Pinckney: Plagiarism and Pastors (see page 4) Ken Fields: Nuked Burritos from the Pulpit Cavman: Plagiarism #1 – Lazy Pastors Phil Steiger: Pervasive Pastoral Plagiarism? Phil Steiger: Jeremiah on Pastoral Plagiarism Christianity Today: When Pastors Plagiarize

Monday, March 27, 2006

Barren Moon

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Still on my picture kick (been a while since I've post many photos so I am catching up). Here's one from a full moon on Whiteside Mountain, North Carolina - a popular climbing and rappelling site.

Searching for Perspective Amidst a People of Protest

I have been thinking a lot this weekend about how prevalent protest has become over recent years. Protest has always been a part of history, even church history. For instance, the very name Protest-ant comes from the protest of the Roman Catholic Church in the Reformation undertaken by Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin among others. Also, I have recently studied the lives of the Puritans, many of whom were nonconformists to the Church of England, of whom much of the Baptist tradition finds its roots. Church history, especially the early ecumenical creeds, served as a protest against heresy. Therefore, through the proper use of protest, there has been much gain. Nevertheless, I am growing concerned with the recent strand of protest. On a national level, there has been a resurgence of protest, calling on the censure of the of President by some senators. On every mainstream media outlet, it is protest that gets the coverage, not the actual events occurring in our country and on the battlefield. As I write this post, I am watching teenagers protest immigration laws by shutting down interstates in California by blocking traffic with their marches. On the Christian front, I hear of many Christians protesting American Christianity or Western Christianity. A recent friend told me, "American Christianity is the leading cause of atheism in my world." Christians are protesting those who are representing them in the broader public square, regardless of the medium. On an ecclesiological level, there is the protest against the traditional or orthodox understanding of the church. For instance, Scot McKnight describes ten ways in which the Emerging Church movement is an ecclesiological protest movement. D.A. Carson also shares how the Emerging Church is a protest against traditional Evangelicalism, modernism, and the mega-church/seeker-sensitive movement. On a worldview level, postmoderns are protesting propositional truth and other foundations of modernism. Some argue that to reach post-moderns, you must embrace post-modernism. This means that the idea of universal and objective truth statements which carry the content of the gospel are to be relativized to the relational context of one's subjectivities. Finally, there is the protest of organizational structures, from the denominations on a macro level to individual churches on a micro level. Similar to the protest against organized religion, Christians are in protest against overly programmed churches and denominations which lend itself more to bureaurocracy and politics than loving their neighbor.

While I believe that much of the protest I see is legitimate, I am concerned that protest is becoming a habit, a form of seductionistic thrill, which one gets as a David-type taking down the Goliah. It is natural for one to root for the underdog, so who doesn't want to be such? Look it, I for one have been in "protest" against of things I see both inside and outside the church. The issue is not whether there is protest, but how one is to protest. Furthermore, is protest all that we are going to be known for? I certainly hope not. Steve McCoy expressed in part some of this concern in a recent post called Churches Louder Than Blogs. Concerning the IMB and the recent Wade Burleson controversy, Steve said:

"Now here me, I like Wade a lot and this isn't about him. But my fear at this point for us as younger leaders in the SBC is that we are trying to ride the Wade-wave and are turning into a very loose-knit grassroots political action committee. We find a cause, link to each other in blog protest solidarity, find a martyr to defend and stand by, etc. I'm to blame too, no doubt. I'm rethinking the usefulness of this site, or if it's even worth continuing."

Steve has made a great point about blogs and bloggers in general. There is the tendency to antagonistically write in protest to the things we see and turn ourselves into to the very thing we are protesting against. While I believe there is progress through via negativa, positive change cannot take place without definitive affirmations and a confessional faith which positively takes its stand for the truth. I am weary of associating myself with a person or movement whose core substance is protest. So I am searching for perspective. I want to understand the pulse behind the protests that I see, to consider whether the protest is fruitful or just an exercise in futility, and to look for ways in which to make a mark for real change. Where the air we breathe often tends to being theologically nihilistic and ecclesiologically antagonistic, I guess I am searching for fresh air. I don't want to abandon the true underdog who is pursuing genuine reformation, but at the same time, I refuse to abandon the good I see and affirm it with unapologetic resolve and conviction. While I esteem the ancient paths which my feet travel on, I hope to, by God's grace, help cut a trial for my own generation which will lead to reform in our churches and lives which would redound to the glory of God.

Friday, March 24, 2006

POTW :: 03.24.06 :: Refiner's Fire

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This image was taken on the last night of the Fall Backpackin' Trip last year. The other day, I was going through some of the photos I never got around to editing, and this was one of them. I thought this picture was especially fitting this week as I have felt the Word of God burn in my heart like the two men on Emmaus Road, as well as the burning of lustful tendencies as I desire to have sin mortified in my life. We know that we should not play with fire, but how often I play with sin! We know that fire serves the purpose to warm us, but how cold my heart often becomes my negligence of stirring up holy affections! Ah, yes, this picture is for me. :) Here is the exif data for the image: Camera: Canon 20D Lens: 28-135mm IS USM Focal Length: 85mm Tv: 1/250 sec Av: f/5.6 ISO: 1600 WB: Custom (3000K)

Some Thoughts In Passing

This week has been a whirlwind of non-stop going, studying, cramming, etc., and if ever I needed to practice the disciplines of silence and solitude, 'tis now. The hurried, unsettled life is one I do not want to live, nor do I want to so conduct myself as though God has not ordered my steps. If one were to try to trace them, one would have to wonder how I even got here. There are few things I would like to mention in passing: 1. If you have not read John Owen's treatise Of the Mortification of Sin in the Believers, please do yourself a favor and read it. It is hard, not just because of Owen's style, but moreso because this book will literally beat the *hell* out of you. This week I have been racked over the coals of guilt and a heightened awareness of my sin, of which I am most thankful. A corresponding joy has been found, and I hope to share some of my reflections in upcoming posts. One of the reasons of my exhaustion is due to laboring in this work, meditating on its piercing truths, and applying the powerful directives to my life. It hurts, but it is also healing. Does the Scriptures not say that "without holiness no one will see the Lord" and it is the "pure in heart" that are blessed because they can "see God?" O that I may have light in my eyes and sincerity in my heart to behold the excellencies of my great Savior! 2. Due to the recent events of the IMB meeting in Tampa, several posts have been made by bloggers. I have spend considerable time adding the links to the blog compilation, so if you are wanting to see what has recently be said, the compilation should be up to date. 3. Also, I have tweaked my blogroll a bit, adding some, deleting others, and cleaning it up a bit. I still have a lot of work to do with my crazy side-bar, which I hope to be more readable. Recently, I was made aware of the ability to make categories in Blogger, but like with all other HTML stuff, I am too lazy and ignorant to do it. Maybe later. 4. The Together for the Gospel Conference is about a month of away. Many of you (I presume) are planning to attend. One of the things I really would like to see take place is some sort of blogger fellowship during the time of the conference. Anyone interested? If there is anything already planned, could you please fill me in? Thanks. That's all for this passing moment. Surely our lives is but a vapor that appears for a moment and then vanishes away! O that I may not waste it! As Owen said, "Get thy heart into a *panting* and breathing frame; long, sigh, cry out."

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Because I'm Busy Writing . . . More Bloomers

Here are two other bloomers I took this weekend. These are the "whities." Click to enlarge. And another:

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Bloom of Spring

I got out of my car this morning, and it was 22 degrees outside with snow and ice covering the ground. Just a few days ago, I was in shorts basking in the noonday sun, watching the trees come to bloom (what's up with that!). With the advent of spirng coming this week, I thought I'd post a few pictures of blooming flora I took over the weekend. Here are two "pinkies" I liked (click on the pictures to enlarge): And another:

Methods of Reading and Researching

Like so many this time of the year, papers are being drafted and late night researching is being sustained by the dreaded deadline coupled with a little caffeine of your choice. I had a conversion with my Greek professor (Jason Meyer) today about his research and reading strategy, given that he just completed his doctoral dissertation. That conversation led us to scheduling a breakfast next week to discuss this matter and others as they come to our mind. I say this with curiosity as to how you read and research. One of the great benefits of blogging is that you find many folks who love reading and are disciplined at it. Others of you having written many papers, even books. So here are some of my questions stroking my curiosity: 1. Do you have a particular reading plan/strategy (scheduling reads)? 2. How do you read through a book? 3. What is your method of research and/or putting a paper together? 4. Between researching, reading, and writing, what percentage of time do you spend on each aspect? I would like to briefly answer those questions as a starter: 1. I have a really basic reading plan. I consider myself a slow reader (averaging 15-20 pages an hour). Therefore, I plan my reads according to the time I have during the week, which is usually about 15-20 hours (which amounts to about 300-400 pages if you do the math). That's ideal of course, as often things come up which take away from that time. Outside my required textbooks, I try to have a missions biography, Puritan Paperback, Valley of Vision, and theological work before me continuously. Often I make it back to the Church Fathers and other historical works to spare me from chronological snobbery. Two particular topics at this juncture in my life are religious pluralism and Reformed theology, so there would be of course the casual readings pertaining to each topic. Finally, each semester I try to have a specific topic/theme to research and study. For instance, Fall 2004 was "anti-intellectualism" and Open Theism, Spring 2005 was General Revelation and Inclusivism, Summer 2005 was Pluralism and Ecumenism, Fall 2005 was Emerging Church, Decisional Regeneration, and Missiology, and this semester is the Puritans, the providence of God, and the Incarnation of Christ. 2. I usually go through three stages of reading: Preview (cursory look), Read (careful look), and Review (critical look). The Preview consists of reading (in order) Back Matter, Front Matter, and macro-outline of the book; the Read consists of studying the thesis and content of the book with highlighter, pen, and flags in hand; and the Review consists of my interaction with the work, usually having been marked during the read. It is here I find quotes, mark key texts, or point strengths and weaknesses of the book. Typically that's my style. I like highlighters - a lot. Rarely do I make it in public without the question, "Why do many highlighters and pens?" Answer: "I keep them stocked." 3. Although I need considerable work in every area, my research style needs much improvement. My most recent strategy is to have my paper template set up, and as I read a work I know I am going to cite, I type the footnote as I read the book. By the time I get through with my researching, I will have a long list of footnotes pertaining to the topic or thesis. From there I weed out the footnotes which are either weak or extraneous. I took this style because I wanted my papers to be research driven more than my ramblings. When I think I have something to say, I say it, but prefer to point to others who either prove or reject my point. For instance, my last paper I turned in was 18 pages and I had 40 pages of footnotes alone. This was meaningful but probably a lot of wasted time. I ended up having to crop my paper over 2/3 of its original length to meet prof's requirements, which stripped my argument to a weak skeleton. This was especially frustrating. Much work needed here. 4. Oh my demise! I spend 35% researching, 60% reading, and 15% writing. This ought not be! Ideally, I would like it to be 25% researching, 40% reading, and 35% writing. By the time I write the paper or book review, I am way short on time and often rush through it. Arrrggh. So much of what I benefited from in research and reading never makes it to print, and I find myself wondering how I got there. That's my initial thoughts. What's your method or strategy to reading, writing, and researching? I know I have much to learn here and could greatly benefit from your input!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Back in the Day

This is the little pier at Lake Ida, Athens Alabama. I passed this little spot as I went to visit my grandmother this past Sunday. The visit was golden as she looked absolutely dazzling in her lovely dress. I tell you, there is not a better looking 89-year-old grandmother alive today! I mentioned to her about the little article I wrote about her, and the picture of the two of us together, and she just leaned over, grabbed my hand, and gave me the warmest little smile I could ever receive. She's the best. I told here that having her in the picture does much the seeing eye, especially blocking out the eye sore on the other side. Anyway. This particular spot was a frequent place back in the day where I would read, meditate and pray. It's been a long time since I've been back there, but things look quite the same. I have the exif data on the photo, but don't have time to post it right now. Maybe I will get around to it later. If you would like to see it on my Flickr, go here.

My Top 12 Systematic Theologies

I have been going through several systematics recently due to various research topics and have come to really appreciate the work being presented through the efforts of excellent theologians. I thought I’d provide my top 12 systematic theologies in light of that research. My good friend, J. Caleb Clanton, professor of philosophy at Vanderbilt, has asked me to compile a list of must-reads over various topics/themes in Christian theology. Over the course of the next couple of months, I will post a few. Your input would be greatly appreciated. So here’s my top 12:

  1. John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (2 vol. edition)
  2. Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology
  3. Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology
  4. Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology (3 vol.)
  5. Robert Reymond’s New Systematic Theology for the Christian Faith
  6. James P. Boyce’s Abstract of Systematic Theology
  7. Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology (2nd Edition)
  8. Gordon Lewis and Bruce Demarest’s Integrative Theology (3 in 1)
  9. John Gill’s Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity (3 vol.)
  10. William Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology
  11. R. L. Dabney’s Systematic Theology
  12. Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics (multi-volume – still being printed)
At this moment in my studies, these are the systematic I have become acquaintanced with during recent years. Do you have a favorite? If you are familiar with several of these, how would you order your top five? Any not mentioned hear that you particularly enjoy? As I continue to study these systematics, I assume that the positions will inevitably change a bit. However, this is where they stand right now. Some of you, after having listened to the Webb-Miller chat would argue, “What’s the point in systematic theology?” This post is not intended for that discussion, although I would love to have it (at a later time of course).

Monday, March 20, 2006

Cheers for Logan: His First

{Click to enlarge} This is my little nephew Logan at his first birthday party. At this moment, he was just beginning to devour his little birthday cake. Last Saturday night, we had a fantastic time at his birthday party as I had the privilege of tossing kids around and playing the fool (which isn't that hard people tell me). Anyway, aren't birthday parties great? I think my first birthday party had the theme "Dukes of Hazard" or something like that. Times a' changin'.

The Misery of Job and the Mercy of God

"You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful." James 5:11
This semester I have found myself focused on the study of the providence of God. A few weeks ago, I picked up John Piper's book The Misery of Job and the Mercy of God. As I have been scheduling my book reads, I noticed this book also came with an audio CD which has Piper reading his interpretive poem, so I decided to take it with me as we traveled this weekend. My wife and listened to it several times as we were stunned by the powerful message in this little book. Each of the four chapters concludes with a consideration of Christ and his providential work on the cross for sinners which rivets the hearts of those who have benefited from such providence. Furthermore, I recently surpassed my first year in photography, and this book has some fantastic work by Ric Ergenbright who vividly illustrates the message of the poem through his photography. I recommend this book for several reasons: its superb literary style, its relevancy to those who have tasted "the bitter rod," the benefit of the audio CD to listen in your car, and of course the fantastic photography. Here are some of my favorite lines in this poem: "O man of God, today again You seek the precious lives of ten Young souls. Now tell me, with your heart, Would you be willing, Job, to part With all your children, if in my Deep counsel I should judge that by Such severing more good would be, And you would know far more of me?" (18) "I came with nothing from the womb, I go with nothing to the tomb. God gave me children freely, then He took them to himself again. At last I taste the bitter rod, My wise and ever blessed God." (25) "Come, learn the lesson of the rod: The treasure that we have in God. He is not poor nor much enticed Who loses everything but Christ." (26) "'Be good and strong, but weak when wrong.' They make good rote and clever song, But do not hold the wisdom of Our God. A whisper from above Is all I have. Yet from it I Have learned through horrid nights that my Redeemer lives, and when my skin Has been destroyed, then from within Shall I behold him on my side, And I will live though I have died." (59) "Jemimah, what I think is this: The Lord has made me drink The cup of his severity That he might kindly show to me What I would be when only he Remains in my calamity. Unkindly he has kindly shown That he was not my hope alone." (71) There are several others which have brought great encouragement to me, but these I like to mention here. I spend almost two hours a day driving, and I think I might just have to buy some more audio books to be a better steward of my time. Do you have any you particularly enjoy?

Can You Read Me Now?

Since last Thursday, my blog has been hijacked by the Blogger folks as they attempt to fix a broblem with their servers and filters. Really, I don't know what in the world they were doing. I just know P&P was hardly working. I think the deal is fixed, and I hope for some regularity in the future. If you were wondering why it wouldn't pull up, you were not alone. Last December, I kicked the idea around with Challies about developing a new blog, and this might just have been the kicker to do it. I will keep you updated if and when that happens. In the mean time, I will remain in subjection to Blogger and appreciate the *free* services they offer. Oh, and one more thing. From now until Thursday night, I will be sunk in Owen's Mortification of Sin. I should hope to post each day, but don't expect a "scroller." I may throw up a pic or two as well. There are many topics I wish to talk about, but they will have to wait. Some of you may be aware of the reason why my wife and I went to Athens this past weekend. Her father is doing better and is out of the hospital. His pneumonia is a serious case and will take several weeks to recover. If it bids your attention, please remember him in your prayers as he recovers. His name is Butch.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

For Scott: My Church Sign Nominations

Being in Alabama for the past 24 hours has been particularly fruitful for me, in particular finding my nominations for Scott Slayton's "Bad Church Sign of the Week." Scott has an amazing list of great signs, all I assume from Alabama (or at least the South). Anyway, here's my two for this week: 1. "Life is hard. The afterlife is harder." 2. "God's retirement plan is out this world!"

Friday, March 17, 2006

Sunset in Ambato

This image was taken in a rural Quichua village nestled in the Andes Highlands. Standing outside the Quichua church I watched this amazing sunset. Truly, "the heavens declare the glory of God, the sky above proclaims his handiwork" (Psalm 19:1). Camera: Canon 20D Lens: 28-135 IS USM Focal Length: 56.0mm Av: F4.5 Tv: 1/200 sec ISO: 800 WB: Daylight

Age of Accountability, General Revelation, and Inclusivism

Wednesday is the “Ask Anything” day on the Albert Mohler Radio Program. People ask any intelligent question regarding church, life, current issues, etc. A caller named Craig called in and asked about “the age of accountability” regarding the appropriate age for someone to be saved. I believe Dr. Mohler did an excellent job with his reply, noting that the “age of accountability” has to do with one’s moral ability to understand that they are a sinner and that their sinning is a conscious rebellion against God. Craig then followed up with the question, “Well, doesn’t the Bible say that if I had not know the law, I would not have known sin?” (taken from Romans 7:7-8). Again, Mohler explained the text within the context of Romans 7 in light of redemptive history. What Craig was alluding to is the idea that there might be a time where sin could not have been acknowledged and therefore repented of. In other words, before the age of accountability or the giving of the law, is the person still a sinner and accountable for his sin, even if he is not deliberately and directly sinning against God? This is the classic inclusivist question.

One answer to this question is usually around the idea of general revelation. God has communicated (revealed) to all of mankind everywhere information about himself (Romans 1: 18-20) through creation (externally) and conscience (internally). God’s law has been written on the hearts of those who did not have the law as their consciences bear witness and does what the law requires of them even though they did not have the law. Because sinners “suppress the truth by their unrighteousness” and reject the revelation which God reveals to them, everyone is without excuse. Everyone is guilty. A crucial question is posed here by inclusivists. They say, “How can God be a fair God if he provides enough information to damn a sinner but not enough to save him? This cannot be!” (see John Sanders and Clark Pinnock for further development of this thought). This idea carries that general revelation should have the dual intent of at least making salvation possible if one were to respond positively to general revelation (examples of this are given such as Cornelius). It is said that general revelation can carry the content of the gospel such that the Holy Spirit can apply those truths (apart from the work of Christ) to the sinner and cause them to be saved. This, of course, is a rejection of the filioque clause and argues that the Spirit of God has a separate and distinct mission apart from Christ (hence, other religions as “vehicles” of salvation). However, the key to answering the question to fairness does not have to do with general revelation at all.

The nuance to the inclusivist question presumes that man is neutral with God’s revelation, that he is not born corrupt in his nature. They argue that the only reason why a person goes to hell is because they reject Christ as their Savior; hence, if one is not given the opportunity, then how can he be either lost or saved? Several theories are inserted here (ex. baptism by desire, post-mortem encounter, implicit faith, anonymous Christianity). The implications are that man is not really lost unless he uses his libertarian free will to decide whether or not he wants to accept Jesus or not, and if this free will is not given the opportunity to be exercised here on earth, then even after death, God will intervene and give him that choice in lieu of the Church failing in its missiological enterprise to take the gospel to him. However, this teaching is clearly not biblical. A man is not born neutral and become lost because the exercising of his free will. The philosophical insertion and predominance of liberation free will becomes the control belief and integrated motif behind every hermeneutic and defense of such inclusivistic ideas.

On the contrary, the core issue is the nature of man. David said, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). We are not born neutral. We are born with the inheritance of a corrupt nature being depraved of the ability to do what is right before God. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me is not condemned, but whoever does not believe in me is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:18-19). People love darkness, but why? Because their deeds were evil. Evil? How so? Because they are born in sin and love to do what sinners love to do—rebel against God.

So the answer to Craig’s question and to the inclusivist is not so much a matter of general revelation or free will, but the nature of man. General revelation does not condemn a sinner; it only manifests the condemnation. It is the window to reveal and evidence the fact that though they know God (generally), they do not want God. Their affinities lie in lovers less worthy. John concluded in the third chapter with John the Baptist saying, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). Whether you are at the age of accountability, without the written law, or special revelation (such as Scripture), you are guilty as a sinner, having been “condemned already” where “the wrath of God remains.”

The only hope for sinners is the grace of Almighty God revealed through the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have been given a gospel mandate to take these truths to all peoples on the earth. Let us not waver or tire in bring goods news to sinners. There was a Man became a curse for us in condemnation that the sting of death and bondage to sin can be overcome by his victorious life and resurrection. He is our only hope. He is Jesus. For all people, in all ages, forevermore, he is the only way, only truth, and only life. If we believe this, let us deliver the gospel with our very lives, that in giving ours away, others may find their in Him.

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, having forgiven all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with all the legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” Colossians 2:13-15

May the God of the resurrection raise up many from their spiritual deadness to a circumcision of the heart whereby we rejoice in the fulfillment of God’s law in the perfect righteousness of His Son, in whom, because of his victory over the cross and paying our debt, we have forgiveness of sins and life forevermore.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

BaptistFire Calls Calvinists Out of the SBC

Exactly one week ago, I shared that the notorious BaptistFire shared that they were coming out with comments by the Caner brothers on their site. Their new article is out, and it is quite interesting. Here is their conclusion:

"We believe it is time to examine Romans 14 in the light of the current conflict between Bible-believing churches and Calvinist churches in the SBC. It is time to consider whether or not Reformed Calvinist churches should be excluded from fellowship in the Southern Baptist Convention."
My first question is who is "we"? It is amazing the courage people have when they can write anonymously! At least the Caner brothers signed their names! The closest we get to any identity is "Baptist Fire Editor." Lovely. Second question, since when has Calvinists in the SBC the cause of division and attacks? Is it not BaptistFire who is slandering their Christian brother on their website? Is it not pastors like Johnny Hunt, Jack Graham, Bobby Welch, Herb Reavis, and others who have taken the initiative to take on the resurgence of Reformed theology in the SBC? Ironically, the ammunition for these men are accomplishing nothing but causing them to shoot blanks as their fill their rhetoric from faulty resources such as BaptistFire, Dave Hunt, and Norm Geisler. Thirdly, it is clear that the Caner brothers had the intention of being kicked off Founder's Blog by the extreme use of inflammatory rhetoric but failed in their attempt to do so by the gracious administration of Tom Ascol. By allowing them to continue, those who take an objective analysis of the blogpost will find the Caner brothers unable to answer any of the questions while manifesting the first-class conduct of SBC deans. This proved not to be a debate but a revelation of intent which was to prove a point which they failed to accomplish. BaptistFire calls the readers of Founder's Blog "thin-skinned," which would hardly be the case sense we have taken the heat from so many who feel like the next step in the "conservative resurgence" is to remove those evil Calvinists from the SBC. Fourthly, BaptistFire readily points to the Romans 14:1 text as an accusation about Calvinists and their debating. While they argue that we are so quarrelsome, have they gone to their own and held them to the same standards as they do us? Methinks not. But then again, this double-standardness is congruent with the rest of the illegitimacy of such organizations of BaptistFire. After all, with self-congratulatory praise, they unabashedly contend that their document "Crept in Unawares" carefully documents the spread of Calvinism. This is not history my friend. This is hype. Finally, the only thing I found honest and factual on BaptistFire is their intent on using their propaganda as resources for pastors and church leaders. "Crept in Unawares" is taken from Jude 4 talking about certain people "who long ago were designed for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." Not only is BaptistFire saying that Calvinists shouldn't be in the SBC, by applying this text they are saying that they are not going to be in heaven! How else are we to understand the phrase "designed for this condemnation" and "deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ?" Is this who the Calvinists really are? The believers who esteem a God-centered salvation and extol the sovereign grace of God - really? Rather, I would argue that those in the Reformed tradition (call us whatever you want - hyper-Calvinists, crept in unawares, etc.) are those found in verse 3 who are contending "for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." The entirety of church history and the whole counsel of God's Word attest to this. I know of some pastors who are so anti-Reformed that they won't even dialogue with me concerning what the Bible says. Just in the last week, I had been in an email exchange where one pastor refused to answer any of my questions concerning biblical texts but chose to call me a hyper-Calvinist, modern-day Pharisee, and a Gnostic. BaptistFire has made it plain that they are targeting such pastors to provide more lies and divisive rhetoric to further inflame the issue all the while avoiding the Bible and pursuing peace with their Calvinist brother. One would only hope that just as the Caner's attempt to rail Founder's Blog failed, those in the BaptistFire would have their statements backfire and fall on deaf ears. This is not a request for retribution. This is a call for integrity and accountability.

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