Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Caner versus Calvinism

Liberty Seminary Dean Ergun Caner (and his brother Emir from Southwestern Baptist Seminary) took on Calvinism in comments posted to an entry at Tom Aschol’s Founder’s blog last week (innocently enough on Johnny Hunt's SBC Presidential candidacy) and that set off a much larger conversation. Last I checked over 300 comments were posted in the discussion. A new discussion thread has set off more than a 100 other posts. I did not read the entire thread but skimmed a few of the comments. My guess is that it is getting a wide reading in the SBC.

By the way, we had Caner speak on Christianity and Islam at JPBC a few years ago and he did a great job. He was one of the most personal, gracious, and popular guest speakers we have ever had at JPBC. His comments on the Founder’s blog, however, are pretty far off base. Apologist James White also weighed in on the discussion and he has now challenged Caner to a public debate on the doctrines of grace, offering even to have the debate at Liberty. Though it would be worth hearing, I doubt it will ever take place.

Feedback on "Grace Walk" Book Review

I got an email from a pastor this week who had discovered our online book review of Steve McVey’s book Grace Walk. He wrote:
"Jeff, a few people have picked up this book in my congregation and as I began to read it the warning bells starting ringing. I see a false doctrine of mystical merging of the personality of Christ in a way that our human personality is discounted. Also the body is still dead because of sin and must be dealt with by obedience and discpline and fellowship with God. My wife found your article on the web and I thank you for it. I am going to print it off as an antidote to gracewalk. thanks."

I completed the review a couple of years ago when McVey was the featured speaker at the annual BGAV meeting. I am thankful that this review was a help to this brother. Thanks to Brian Davis for maintaining our website and keeping these resources available.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Danish cartoons and the gap between Christianity and Islam

John Piper has written an excellent brief article on the Danish cartoon controversy: "Being mocked, the essence of Christ's work, not Muhammad's." In it, he notes, "The work of Muhammad is based on being honored and the work of Christ is based on being insulted." Piper has boldly pointed out the differences between a Christian and an Islamic worldview. We do not worship the same God! What you believe about God makes a pivotal difference in the worldview you embrace, the life you live, and the culture you create.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Ten Ways to Enrich Lord's Day Worship

1. Get a good night’s rest on Saturday evening. Come to church rested and refreshed.

2. Read and ponder the sermon text before the worship service. We are going through 2 Corinthians on Sunday mornings and Exodus on Sunday evenings. Note where we conclude each week and read ahead for the next Sunday.

3. Arrive in the sanctuary early enough to be able to find a place to sit and greet friends.

4. After greeting friends, take some time before the service to sit quietly, pray, and prepare your heart for worship. You might prepare by reading a passage from the Psalms.

5. Bring your Bible to the worship service. Follow along as the Word of God is read. Look up other passages that might be cited.

6. If you have children, coach them on how to enjoy participating in worship. Make sure everyone has a chance to visit the restroom before the service begins and encourage them not to exit and re-enter while the service is taking place.

7. Participate in all aspects of the service. Join, for example, in the congregational singing, even if you can only make a "joyful noise."

8. Pray for the worship leaders. Pray for those who lead in music, the deacons, and the Pastor.

9. Pray for your fellow worshippers. Lift up the people around you. Pray for any unsaved who might be present that they might be open to the gospel.

10. At the close of the service, look around for new faces and welcome them to our church.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Dever: Non-members need not apply for refreshment committee

Mark Dever has a great post on the Together for the Gospel blog in which at the risk of sounding cultic he notes that his church does not allow non-members to take part in any aspect of the church's ministry (not even serving refreshments!!!). How's that for taking a disciplined membership seriously?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

"What the Lord says, that I must speak"

I just finished the book of Numbers in my devotional reading and was struck again by the story of Balaam and Balak (Numbers 22-24). Balak is the Moabite king who hires the pagan prophet Balaam to curse the Israelites as they pass through his territory. Most folk remember Balaam from his talking donkey (see Numbers 22:22-40). That story has long been a great comfort to preachers. If God can speak through a donkey then surely he can speak through a man with slender abilities!

Three times Balaam rises to curse the Israelites, but each time he opens his mouth, he pronounces a blessing on Israel. Balak is furious. In Numbers 24:12-13 Balaam offers this reply:

12: So Balaam said to Balak, "Did I not also speak to your messengers whom you sent to me, saying,
13: ‘If Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the word of the LORD, to do good or bad of my own will. What the LORD says, that I must speak’?

That is a powerful statement. Balaam is hardly a praiseworthy character (see the negative New Testament evaluation of him in 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 1:11; Revelation 2:14). If a pagan prophet can be captive to the Word of God, how much more should those who know the Lord Jesus Christ!

Balaam’s words should be the mantra of every Christian and of every preacher of the gospel in particular: I will not go beyond the word of the Lord. What the Lord says, that I must speak. Is our conscience captive to the Word of God? Do we desire to live our lives in absolute harmony with and faithfulness to the Word of God?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Plato's "Republic" and the Biblical Worldview: Part 2

A few more thoughts on the Republic. At the close of the book, Socrates presents the myth of Er and presents an argument for the immortality of the soul, for judgement and rewards at death, and for the reincarnation of the soul.

For every wrong committed in his life a man is repaid ten times over "while deeds of kindness and a just and sinless life are rewarded in the same measure" (352).

In the end each soul, in turn, chooses the new body his soul will inhabit for his next life. Socrates makes sure to stress that this choice is up to the soul alone and is not forced upon him: "No guardian spirit will cast lots for you, but you shall choose your own destiny…. The blame is his who chooses; Heaven is blameless" (355).

Again we can contrast the Biblical worldview of life and death. Souls are not by nature immortal but created by God. At death one awaits not reincarnation but resurrection, judgement, and just assignment to heaven and hell. But perhaps most key is the Biblical affirmation that we are not autonomous over our destiny. As Psalm 139:16 puts it: "Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them."

Bishop Robinson admits alcoholism

News broke today in the soap operatic world of liberal Protestantism that Gene Robinson, the controversial openly gay Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire, has sought treatment for alcoholism. Now, in addition to his failure to be "the husband of one wife" and to uphold a Biblical view of sexuality, he has added the violation of being "sober-minded" and "not given to wine" (1 Tim 3:2-3).
In an email to clergy he is reported to have said: "I am writing to you from an alcohol treatment center where on Feb. 1, with the encouragement and support of my partner, daughters and colleagues, I checked myself in to deal with my increasing dependence on alcohol."
No doubt some will blame conservatives for putting undue pressure on the bishop and driving him to the bottle. I feel sure his admission of alcoholism and his seeking of "treatment" will be praised as heroic in some circles.
As Christians we must, indeed, have sympathy for this profoundly misguided man. But that sympathy should not dull a sense of outrage that a church that claims the name of Christ will tolerate a man like Robinson in its leadership.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Plato's "Republic" and the Biblical Worldview

I had not read Plato since my freshman year Intro to Philosophy class at Wake Forest, but over the last year I have been trying to read (or re-read) some of the greats of Greco-Roman literature, and I just finished Francis MacDonald Cornford’s translation of Plato's classic work (The Republic of Plato, Oxford University Press, 1941).

I was repeatedly struck by the social engineering Socrates suggests for his ideal state, much of which repeats the familiar themes of modern humanism. Let me touch on just three examples:
For one thing, Socrates suggests a radically egalitarian view of men and women in his ideal city. All roles, including those in the military, are open to both men and women. He concludes:

"… there is no occupation concerned with the management of social affairs which belongs either to woman or to man, as such. Natural gifts are to be found here and there in both creatures alike; and every occupation is open to both, so far as their natures are concerned, though woman is for all purposes the weaker" (153).

Second, Socrates suggests that the state take the place of the family in raising children. According to Socrates, in the ideal state "no one man and one woman are to set up house together privately: wives are to be held in common by all; so too are children, and no parent is to know his own child, nor any child his parent" (156). In Plato’s Republic "as soon as children are born, they will be taken in charge by officers appointed for the purpose…to be reared in the care of nurses living apart in a certain quarter of the city" (160).

Long before Hillary Clinton was telling us that it takes a village to raise a child, daycare, or Virginia Governor Tim Kaine was telling us that the answer to public education woes is making public preschool education compulsory for four year olds, Socrates was paving the way by arguing that the ideal state can raise children better than their families!

Third, he suggests a method of eugenics for "breeding" a superior variety of men. In matching men and women to mate he suggests the pairing of those "which yields the best results" (158). Breeding men is little different than dealing with dogs or horses:

"…if we are to keep our flock at the highest pitch of excellence, there should be as many unions of the best of both sexes, and as few of the inferior, as possible, and that only the offspring of the better unions should be kept" (159).

Again one sees the modern notions of abortion, terminating Down pregnancies, and genetic engineering to create "designer babies." Soctrates was ahead of his time!

What I was most struck by is the glaring difference between Socrates’ Republic ruled by the Philosopher King and the Bible worldview—though Socrates, like the Bible, rejects amoral and mythic belief in "the gods." How sharp is the contrast between Biblical faith and Platonic humanism!
The Biblical worlview (in contrast to The Republic):

First, men and women are of equal value in God’s sight, but they do not share the same roles in life.

Second, God has created marriage as a life-long committed covenant between a man and a woman. God has also established the institution of the family as the perfect place for children to be raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Third, every human life is valuable and has something to contribute to society, including even the weakest members.

What a winsome alternative Paul and the other Christian missionaries offered to the ancient pagan world when they preached the Christ of the Bible!

Snow Sundays

Six inches of snow or so blanketed Charlottesville Saturday and this led to the great debate about whether or not to cancel Sunday services. We ended up canceling our Sunday School hour but holding our 10:45 am worship. In my nine winters in Charlottesville, we have not yet cancelled a Lord’s Day morning worship service. There was one Sunday a couple of years ago when I think we were the only church in Charlottesville that held its morning worship. A virtual blizzard was blowing outside but we had about ten people show up for worship that day.

For me it’s the principle of the thing. I sometimes say that when the grocery stores and hospitals close due to weather then we need to cancel Lord’s Day worship. I just don’t want people to think of church as an optional activity that we can do when the weather is agreeable. Up till last year I lived a mere mile from the church and could easily walk to the meeting-house no matter the conditions. Now I live about ten miles south of town and it might be a little more difficult to get in when the weather is bad.

If you sat at home and only listened to the tv or radio you would never venture out. They want people to watch so when it snows, even a little, they make it sound like a major natural disaster.

As it turned out Sunday, despite the relatively high volume of snow, the roads were largely clear and we had a good congregation gather (over 50 people made it in, including several guests). There is something special about snow Sundays. Things are more informal and relaxed. The worshipers share a camaraderie and closeness of experience. I am glad we gathered in the snow to worship last Sunday.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Why did local students want to blow up their schools?

Last week police announced the arrest of three local boys (ages 13, 15, and 16) in what was called a "credible" plot to use bombs to blow up their respective schools (Albemarle High; Western Albermarle High, and Jack Jouett Middle School). The prospect of a Charlottesville "Columbine" is indeed chilling.

We are left to wonder: Why did these students want to blow up their schools? Were they "nerds" or "geeks" who had been picked on? Were they just typical unrestrained American boys, enamored with guns and violence who wanted to get noticed? Reports indicate that much of the evidence gathered about their plot came from their internet postings in chatrooms and blogs. We might also ask where their parents were and why they were not supervising their children’s internet activity. If you are a parent, by the way, under no circumstances should you ever allow your child to have an internet connected computer in his room or allow him free and unfettered access to the internet when you are not present to supervise his activity!

For parents this raises more disturbing questions like, How safe are your children when you send them off to school? In this case, the issue is a physical threat to children. What about the non-physical threats children receive both from teachers and their fellow students in the form of non-Biblical worldviews and relativistic thinking?

There is a current crisis in public education—and it is evident even in a prosperous community like ours where the public schools are the envy of many in our state. That crisis is becoming severe.

This story reminded me again of why it is important for churches to support alternatives to public education, either in encouraging home schooling or in establishing private, church-based schools.

No. We will not be able to eliminate sin on this side of the kingdom. But we can provide something that public schools cannot: a moral compass that comes from a Biblical worldview. Someone needs to teach those boys that is wrong to hate and wrong to kill (Exod 20:13; Matthew 5:21-22).

Worship as God

I shared in our call to worship last Sunday some of the notes from a break-out seminar I attended at the SEBTS 20/20 conference led by theology professor David Nelson and titled "Worship as God: How ‘Worship’ is Sometimes Valued More Highly Than God Himself."

Nelson suggested that sometimes we can make an idol of the worship experience. He noted:
Worship may be your god if…

You long for "experiences" more than God Himself.
You insist that worship must have a certain "atmosphere."
You desire a more "emotional" approach to worship.
You desire a more "cerebral" or "intellectual" approach to worship.
You are more impressed with the music than you are with God.
You are more impressed with the preacher than you are with God.
You find certain aspects of corporate services "exhilarating" or "pleasing" but you take no delight in the law of the Lord (Psalm 1) throughout the rest of your life.
You make no connection between corporate worship and worship as a way of life.

These are some great things to consider as we seek truly God-centered worship.

Monday, February 06, 2006

"Da Vinci Code" Panel at Southeastern Seminary

I attended the 20/20 student conference at SEBTS last Friday-Saturday (Feb 3-4) with eight JPBC-ers (two law students; one med student; three undergrads; and two recent grads). We joined about a thousand conference attendees at the Wake Forest, NC campus.

The theme was "gods of his age" and the highlight was a Friday evening panel discussion on Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code book.

The panelists were Norman Geisler (veteran evangelical apologist and President of Southern Evangelical Seminary); Richard B. Hays (NT professor at Duke); Andreas Kostenberger (NT professor at SEBTS); and Bart Ehrman (NT professor at UNC-Chapel Hill).

Ehrman is a "happy agnostic" who once attended both Moody and Wheaton but became a confirmed skeptic of inerrancy and the claims of orthodox Christianity while doing PhD studies in NT at Princeton.

Hays is a mainline Methodist by confession. He may be the foremost interpreter of Paul in the secular academy. He is a believer but not an inerrantist.

Kostenberger is an Austrian born evangelical who is very conversant with what goes on in the secular academy but remains a committed conservative.

Geisler is an evangelical Thomist who argues that inerrancy is the only reasonable and logical position one might take on the nature and authority of the Bible.

The moderator was David Nelson of SEBTS. The discussion began about 8:30 pm and did not end till well after 10:00 pm.

This was a really interesting and engaging panel. I applaud SEBTS for sponsoring this forum. An honest discussion (and sometimes debate) took place. Many attacks on inerrancy and the historicity of the NT were offered in the course of the discussion (by Ehrman and Hays) that I am sure made the SEBTS administration pretty nervous. In the end, however, Geisler and Kostenberger held their own. In fact, I would say that Kostenberger gave the most winsome, thoughtful, and persuasive arguments. Though Geisler’s comments easily won over the pro-inerrancy audience, he sometimes came across as cocky and caustic.

We saw something that seems rarely takes place: an honest engagement between thoughtful "mainstream" (SBL types) and evangelical (ETS types) scholars.

The discussion began with each scholar making an opening statement. Ehrman began by reading a synopsis of the Da Vinci Code. He noted that it was riddled with historical errors (something all the panelists agreed with) but he also noted that there were issues in it that were legitimate (like the accusations against the church for suppression of "the feminine").

Kostenberger began by noting he read the book back in 2004, because he knew his father-in-law (a non-believer) was reading it and he wanted to be able to discuss it with him. He also decried the book’s errors. He made a comparison to the recent scandal over false statements in James Frey’s Million Little Pieces and expressed wonder that DVC’s errors have not evoked similar fuss. He sees it as evidence that in our culture "religion" is divorced from "truth."

Hays began by noting this was the first time in his 15 years at Duke that he had visited neighboring SEBTS (David Nelson later apologized to him that his first invitation to visit had been to discuss such a lame book!). He had not read the book till invited to be a panelist. He noted that it was an awful piece of literature. The writing was "sophomoric," the plot shallow, and the discourse on the level of USA Today. He also lamented its numerous and glaring historical and factual errors noting that most were on the level of the sort that professors find and collect in student papers in order to share with each other for a chuckle. He also decried its blatant anti-Catholicism asking how the public would respond if similarly nasty things were said about Jewish people.

Geisler began by stating that he also "skimmed" the book for the first time in preparation for the panel. He said he is not one to read novels and, in fact, he claims DVC is only the second such work he has ever read!!!

After opening statements moderator David Nelson posed various questions. All of the scholars agreed that there is absolutely no historical evidence for any romantic relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene (as Dan Brown suggests). Among other fallacious notions debunked: There were over 80 apocryphal gospels; the canon was created by Constantine; the divinity of Jesus was not "approved" till Nicea (several pointed out the fact that the early debate about Jesus was not his divinity but his humanity); gnostic theology was pro-woman; the Dead Sea Scrolls deal directly with Jesus and early Christianity; the gnostic Gospel of Philip was written in Aramaic, etc.

Flash points of controversy erupted over the inerrancy of Scripture. Ehrman, at one point, noted that only John’s Gospel directly affirmed Christ’s divinity. Geisler shot back with citations from the synoptics that easily disproved that notion. He defended inerrancy of Scripture defiantly citing Romans 3:4: "Let God be true and every man a liar." The sartorial Hays responded that one could still be a faithful Christian without adopting the "construal" of inerrancy. Ehrman seized the floor toward the end to give a rather impassioned anti-testimony of his journey from Moody to Princeton rejecting his "na├»ve" inerrancy after an "honest" and "unbiased’ reading of the Greek New Testament.

Another flash point arose over the role of women. Ehrman noted that any tradition that gave church roles to men but denied them to women was abusive of power. Hays chimed in noting that his Methodist tradition supported the ordination of women. Kostenberger responded for the inerrantist side granting sinful abuse of power by men in church history but defending a "complementarian" view of men and women in the church.

Again, it was a spirited discussion and SEBTS is to be commended for it. This was "academic freedom" in its proper bounds. How many moderate or liberal seminaries would invite men of the stature of Geisler and Kostenberger to their campuses for a similar discussion (as SEBTS did in inviting Hays and Ehrman)?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

David Currie's prophecy: "Fundamentalism ... will pass in time."

Last week I got my January 2006 issue of the National Mainstream, the Mainstream Baptist Network Journal in the mail and was struck by David Currie’s opinion article in which he makes this astounding prediction:

"Fundamentalism is a cultural movement that will pass in time. Baptists will not be dominated by Fundamentalism, historically speaking for very long at all. It is a temporary movement brought about by the rapid social changes that have occurred in America over the last 120 years that lead many people to embrace fear as their primary worldview. Their children are not afraid of progress and growth. Fundamentalism in America will die out in two generations. It has no foundation in Scripture, despite all the Bible talk, and no grounding in the real world. It is a temporary, primarily-political movement, grounded in fear, that will sooner than later, be a footnote in American and Baptist history."

That is, indeed, a bold prediction. Given Deuteronomy 18:20-22, we should remember that prophecy is dangerous business. Currie’s prediction defies so many historical, sociological, and biblical standards it is hard to know where to begin in refuting it. Just to dip in at one point, we might take a look at Jude’s exhortation that the believers "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3) and come to the conclusion that a desire to conserve the fundamental doctrines of the faith is at least as old as the New Testament and hardly a recent phenomena of the past 120 years! The assertion that traditional Christianity will be eclipsed in two generations is as implausible as the notion that liberal Christianity will fade in coming years (proviso: Should the Lord tarry!).

The Mainstreamers are coming to Richmond for their fifth annual national convocation Feb. 24-25. Last year a "groundswell" of 150 attendees gathered to see the BGAV’s Executive Director John Upton ushered into the Mainstream Baptist hall of fame for his commitment to fighting fundies. This year’s theme is "Celebrating Freedom: Another Look at Religion in America." It will feature break-out sessions on topics like "Who’s Who in the Religious Right" and a breakfast with Fred Anderson, Executive Director of the BGAV’s Virginia Baptist Historical Society.

A close consideration of the Mainstream Baptists and others on the post-SBC-renewal left fringe (Alliance of Baptists, CBF) demonstrates that the left can create as doctrinaire and extremist a variety of "fundamentalism" as the right any day.

I think Tom Nettles hit the nail on the head in his book Ready for Reformation when he noted that Southern Baptist are no longer so much threatened by moderate or liberal Baptists (who are ever-dwindling in number, influence, and relevance) as they are by pragmatic evangelicals. Two quotes from Nettles:

"While vigilance must endure in every area that was threatened by the insidious impact of the moderate contingency, many difficulties confront the church that have little or nothing to do with that influence" (130).

"Though lip service is given to biblical authority, that which seems most dominant is the simple observation of success in terms of the immediate gratification of visible increase.
This practical pragmatism leads to theological minimalism" (130).

The Mainstream Baptist Network is now largely irrelevant. What we need to pay attention to is the upcoming SBC Pastor’s Conference in Greensboro, NC at which Paige Patterson and Al Mohler will discuss differing views on election in the SBC (see Ascol’s blog article).

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Future of Jefferson Park School Ministry

JPBC has had a successful Preschool Ministry since 1982. It is truly a "preschool" ministry, and not a daycare. Children attend two, three, or five days per week from 9 am till 12 noon from September to May. We currently have over 40 children enrolled.

Over the years we have had families both from the preschool and the church inquire about the possibility of a school ministry at JPBC. Many have observed that Charlottesville has a need for an academically challenging and affordable alternative to the current public and private school options.

At our January Church Conference a prospectus was shared with the church, and we accepted a recommendation that we expand our school ministry to include a kindergarten class in the 2006-07 school year. The expansion of the school is contingent on at least two things. First, we need to be able to hire a qualified teacher/assistant administrator. Second, we need to be able to enroll at least five students (the projected maximum class size will be ten students). If we are not able to achieve these goals within the next few months then we will re-examine the proposal and set our sights on the 2007-08 school year.

A web page will soon be added to our church site both to begin promotion of the school and to seek a qualified teacher. Please pray for this ministry and look for updates on its progress as the year unfolds.

No Super Bowl Party this Sunday at JPBC

Attention all JPBC-ers! We will not be having a church-wide Super Bowl Party this Sunday. We will also not be participating in the religio-socially correct observance of the "Soup-er Bowl of Caring" (a glorified Christian can-drive tagged to Super Bowl weekend). We will be having our regular Lord’s Day evening worship from c. 6-7 pm and continue our verse by verse exposition of Exodus (we are in chapter 28 and will be looking at the subject of the priestly garments).

After the service, members can feel free to return home and be led by their consciences either to watch the much hyped game (and its commercials) or watch "Bleak House" on PBS’s Masterpiece Theater or read a good book or simply go to bed early. I know at least one Sunday School class is gathering to watch the game after the evening service (what did evangelicals do before tivo?) and I wish them well in that. I have dubbed this Super Bowl the "Olson Bowl," after the Walt Olson family in our church. Walt is originally from Seattle (where his mother and siblings still live) and he moved to C-ville to work at UVA from the University of Pittsburgh. We have grown accustomed to Walt and Katie coming to Sunday evening worship in the fall wearing their Steelers jerseys. Go Steelers!