Wednesday, November 26, 2008

With Thanksgiving for Religious Freedom

Photos: Me in front of a plaque in the Roger Williams National Memorial noting the fact that Providence was established as "a shelter for persons distressed." The building behind me on the right is the spot where Williams' own house stood.
Let each be fully convinced in his own mind (Romans 14:5).

While in Providence, Rhode Island last week for the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, I walked from my hotel one afternoon over to the Roger Williams National Memorial. Williams migrated to Boston from England in 1631 and not long after took up an assistant minister position in nearby Salem. His separatist views soon brought him into conflict with the powers that be. He criticized the Puritans in New England for not separating fully from the Church of England, and he resisted their efforts to have the civil authority impose religious conformity.

His "new and dangerous opinions" led the Massachusetts Bay authorities to convict him and plan to deport him to England. Williams barely avoided arrest and fled the colony in 1636. After spending the winter among the Wampanoag Indians, Williams made his way to the headwaters of the Narragansett Bay where he founded the city of Providence after "God’s merciful Providence unto me in my distress" and the colony of Rhode Island. This new colony became a beacon of religious liberty. The first Baptist church in America was formed by Williams in 1638. He did not remain long with the congregation, however, because he believed no church on earth could fit "first and ancient pattern" of the New Testament until Christ’s second coming. Rhode Island is home not only to the first Baptist Church in America but also the first Quaker Meeting House and the first Jewish Synagogue.

Sometimes Williams is anachronistically presented as a kind of "anything goes" bohemian. The National Park Brochure on the Williams Memorial, however, points out:

Yet Roger Williams’s belief in religious freedom should not be confused with a casual acceptance of all faiths. When he was 69, Williams rowed 30 miles from Providence to Newport for a spirited debate with the Quakers. He mistrusted a religion that relied more on "inner light" than on the New Testament. His passionate opposition to the Quakers makes it all the more significant that no Quaker in Rhode Island was ever punished for his or her religious beliefs or practices—this during a period when Massachusetts barred Quakers, hanging four of them for repeatedly returning to the colony after being expelled. The first charter of Rhode Island stated that as long as they obeyed the civil laws, all its citizens were free to "walk as their consciences persuade them."

Williams’s life proves that true religious freedom is not attained when we abandon all convictions, but when we hold firmly to our beliefs while trying to convince those who disagree through persuasion and not coercion.

This Thanksgiving we can thank God for religious freedom.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Note: Evangel article 11/26/08.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Campolo's Confused Ethics on Display at BGAV

Photo: Tony Campolo speaking at the very post-modern looking stage at the 2008 BGAV Meeting on the theme, "Who is My Neighbor?"
Social Gospel activist and American Baptist preacher Tony Campolo was the theme interpretation speaker at this year’s annual meeting of the moderate Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV) November 11-12 in Roanoke.

Campolo stirred things up by saying that he was against California’s recent successful passage of Proposition 8 affirming a traditional definition of marriage. Robert Dilday offers this report on Campolo’s comments in his Baptist Press article (see the ABP article also by Dilday):

Interpreting the meeting's theme "Who Is My Neighbor?" Campolo said, "The Samaritans were those who were considered spiritually unclean, abominations in the eyes of God." Some of today's "Samaritans," he said, are the poor, Muslims, illegal immigrants and gays.Campolo called himself "a conservative on the issue" of homosexuality, but said he opposed Proposition 8.
Describing homosexual behavior "contrary to the teaching of God," he nonetheless questioned what was gained in passing the ballot initiative."What did we win? ... I'll tell you what we won," he said. "We won tens of thousands of gays and lesbians parading up and down the streets of San Francisco and New York and L.A. screaming against the church, seeing the church as enemy.
"I don't know how we're going to reach these brothers and sisters," he said, "but I'm an evangelical and I'm going to win them to Christ.... And we're not going to win them to Christ if we keep sending them bad messages, and we've sent them a bad message. I think the decision in California was in agreement with how I believe, but sometimes you've got to consider the person before you bang them over the head with your principles."

Campolo is more than a little confused in his argument. First, our primary concern should not be whether or not sinners will be upset when Christians stand up for godly values. We should be concerned with how God views our actions and not man.

Second, Campolo’s method does not seem to agree with that of Christ’s. When Jesus met the woman at the well he did not hesitate to expose her sin: "for you have had five husbands and the one whom you now have is not your husband" (John 4:18). His final word to the woman caught in adultery is "Go and sin no more" (John 11:10). Campolo seems to think that the loving thing to do is to ignore sin. This is not the track Jesus took.

Finally, Campolo can say he takes a "conservative" view on homosexual practice all he wants. In fact, he often notes that he disagrees with his wife who promotes full and uncritical acceptance of homosexual practice (By the way, where is his spiritual leadership in the family on this issue?). But, in truth, his view is far from any definition of "conservative" that I know. He clearly does not see homosexual practice as an abominable sin in the way the writers of Scripture do (see Gen 19; Lev 18:22; Rom 1:26-32; 1 Cor 6:9-10; 1 Tim 1:8-11).

To illustrate, let’s say that California had a proposition that would ban incest, bestiality, or pedophilia (things that also are clearly denounced in Scripture). Would Campolo say of Christian support of the civil authority’s efforts to ban such activities:

"I don't know how we're going to reach these brothers and sisters … but I'm an evangelical and I'm going to win them to Christ.... And we're not going to win them to Christ if we keep sending them bad messages, and we've sent them a bad message. I think the decision in California was in agreement with how I believe, but sometimes you've got to consider the person before you bang them over the head with your principles."

Would he worry about "sending bad messages" to pedophiles or warn Christians against banging the incestuous "over the head with your principles"? The very nature of his argument reveals that he does not truly believe homosexual practice to be a vile abomination before God.

Do those who claim to be conservative, Bible believing Christians need any more evidence as to why they and their churches should leave the BGAV as soon as possible? Conservative Pastors in BGAV churches: Copy the Dilday article and give it to your laypeople to read. Let them put the pieces together.


Monday, November 24, 2008

2008 ETS Reflectons: Day Three (Friday, November 21)

Photo: A sign on a gate at Brown University: "Welcome O Undergraduate, Within This 87 gate! All Ent Ring Here Find Hope Endures. The Fount Of Knowledge Still Allures. And Here Good Fellowship Abides To Cheer and Help Whate'er Betides."
Friday (November 21):

The morning business session was at 8:30 am. It was not so well attended as one might have expected given the disputed doctrinal proposal that was on the table. To change the ETS constitution 80% was needed. The proposal failed by a vote of 47 yes and 140 no. I voted "yes" with the minority. I do not particularly like the statement, but some guideline is needed for ETS.
9:10 am: I went to John Oswalt’s (Wesley Seminary) review of research on the book of Isaiah from 1950-1985. He noted that since Duhm’s proposal of multiple authorship of Isaiah (c. 1892) the field has radically changed. EJ Young’s commentary defending single authorship is the exception. He noted that academy scholars see all prophecy as "ex eventu" and propose intentional deception to make the book appear earlier. He noted though that this is hypocritical as those same scholars then praise the author(s) as spiritual genius(es). This was a great paper!
10:00 am: We went to hear Maurice Robinson do a very good paper on text criticism. Robinson began with an autobiographical sketch of his career, his passion for promoting the Byzantine text, and for challenging the eclectic text critical method.

10:50 am: Our final paper. We heard Dennis Swanson (Master’s Seminary) speak on Titus as a model for a modern "Consulting [interim] Pastor."

After lunch, we took another walk through Providence, touring the First Baptist Church, the Roger Williams National Memorial, the statue of Williams in Prospect Park, and taking another stroll through Brown’s campus. By late afternoon it was off to the airport to catch our flight home.


2008 ETS Reflections: Day Two (Thursday, November 20)

Photo: The Rhode Island Convention Center.
Thursday (November 20):

8:30 am: I went to Douglas Huffman’s (Northwestern College) "Survey of Text-Critical Issues in the Book of Acts."

9:20 am: Rob and I sat in on Timothy George’s (Beeson Divinity) "Baptists, Calvinists, and Ecumenists." He noted that the impetus for this paper was his discussion with "Father" Richard John Neuhaus on what the resurgence of Calvinism in Baptist life meant for the future of ecumenism. This was an odd talk. George noted that Baptists aren’t really Calvinists because of disagreement with Calvin on (1) paedobaptism; (2) church government; and (3) civil magistrates. Granted. He further suggested a moratorium on the term "Calvinism." He preferred to say that the Reformation was the acute Augustiniation of Christianity. He noted the common ground that Calvinists have with Arminians in their understandings of grace, sin, and regeneration.

He said the verdict was out on what Calvinism meant for ecumenism.

In the discussion, Paige Patterson of SWBTS challenged George on minimizing differences with Rome in doctrine, noting that the two of them had spent ten years in SBC-Catholic dialogue and never got an admission from their Catholic counterparts that Martin Luther was a true Christian.

George made some odd-sounding remarks throughout. I already noted his references to "Father" Neuhaus. He also made reference to the Pope as "the Holy Father in Rome." Could George cross the Tiber with Beckwith?

10:10 am: I went to hear Gregg Allison of SBTS do a paper defending the use of the multi-site church model. I did a paper at ETS with quite the opposite view two years ago.

11:00 am: I attended Mark Strauss’s (Bethel Seminary, San Diego) session "Why the ESV Should Not Become the English Standard Version." Strauss was a translator on the TNIV and it was his time to take the ESV to task from a dynamic equivalency advocate perspective. Grudem and Piper were both in the room to pose questions after his presentation.

After lunch, the third plenary session was at 12:50 pm by Dan Wallace (Dallas Seminary) on the NT Text. Wallace defended the continuing search for the "original text" of Scripture at a time when liberals (like Bart Ehrman) are abandoning such a quest. He argued for closing the gap between church and academy by having evangelical scholars let the folk in the pew understand NT text issue, noting "It’s better that they hear the truth from us." Wallace noted that in the next edition of the NET Bible (of which he is NT editor) he hopes to relegate the Pericope Adulterae and the Ending of Mark to the footnotes! He does not believe these should be in the Bible!!! I found his comments disturbing.

The fourth and last plenary followed at 1:40 pm with Charles Hill (Reformed Seminary) on NT Canon.

In the afternoon I did my paper at 2:50 pm on "Baptized Couches? Mark 7:4 and the Biblical Mode of Baptism." I later attended Robert Polcheck’s paper on the "Pastoral Implications of Revelatory Gifts" and then took more book room time.

At the evening banquet, Rob and I sat at a table with Dr. Maurice Robinson of SEBTS and some of his students, one of whom is now an IMB missionary in China. The meal was really good (clam chowder and Salmon!). ETS President Hassell Bullock (Wheaton) gave the presidential address on Wisdom and Torah in the OT.

2008 ETS Reflections: Day One (Wednesday, November 19)

Photo: The view of Providence from my hotel window. The white steeple is the First Baptist Church.
I am back from Providence, RI and the ETS Meeting. Providence was my favorite venue for the ETS conferences I have attended so far. The Rhode Island Convention Center is a great facility and Providence is an ideal setting—easy to reach, plenty of things to see and do, great restaurants at reasonable prices, etc.

This year’s meeting did not seem as well attended as some in previous years. Among reasons I heard discussed by attendees: down turn in economy; lack of evangelical schools in close range to the meeting site; distance from the SBL Meeting in Boston, following ETS.

This year’s theme was "Text and Canon." Many of the papers were related to the topic as were the four plenary sessions.

The big news was the membership voting against acceptance of a new doctrinal "basis" that had been proposed by some members. More on this later.

The annual ETS meeting is an offering of scores of parallel break-out sessions where members present papers on various topics. There are also four plenary sessions (where one speaker addresses all attendees), a few business sessions, and a Thursday night banquet.
Wednesday (November 19):

8:30 am: I attended Darrel Bock’s (Dallas Seminary) session on Historiography in Acts.
He was reviewing a recent book by Penner on Acts and Greco-Roman historiography.

9:10 am I dropped in on a panel discussion titled: "Too Reformed to be Evangelical?" and heard a paper by D. G. Hart of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

Hart is an OPC elder. He argued that the evangelical movement has weakened confessional faith. He contrasted evangelicalism and the Reformed faith. Whereas Reformed faith has high view of church office bearers, evangelicalism has "thrown away the training wheels of the clergy" (quoting Nathan Hatch, Democratization of American Christianity). Evangelicalism makes faith private; whereas, Reformed view stresses importance of public worship as means of grace. He also cited evangelical compromises with Rome (see Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom, Is the Reformation Over?).

In discussion time he noted that Baptists aren’t truly "Reformed," because they don’t baptize babies. He prefers to call Calvinistic Baptists "Particular Baptists." The name "Presbyterian" implies a view of connectionalism in Presbyteries.

At week’s end, I would say this was one of the best papers I heard.

11:00 am: I went to Joel Beeke’s paper "Calvin on Prayer." It was vintage Beeke. Good scholarship and warm piety.

After lunch the first plenary session was by Peter Gentry of SBTS at 1:40 pm on the text of the OT. He gave a stellar overview of OT text criticism in c. 50 minutes.

In the afternoon I heard Edward Stevens (International Preterist Association) argues that the NT canon was complete by 70 AD and William Evans (Erskine College) trace "The Unraveling of the Conservative Reformed Soteriological Concensus" and perused the book exhibition area.

After supper the second plenary session on "OT Canon" was given at 7:30 pm by Stephen Dempster of Atlantic Baptist University of New Brunswick, Canada. A curiosity: Dempster used "BCE" terminology rather than "AD." Isn’t it safe to use "AD" at ETS? His conclusion on canon of OT is that it "zeroes in on David." First half of Hebrew Bible: Torah plus 4 Former Prophets; Second Half: 4 Latter Prophers plus Writings. Question: But what about the order of the canon in the Christian OT Scriptures (Genesis-Malachi)?

The evening business session began at 8:30 pm. The topic was whether or not ETS would amend its doctrinal "basis" for membership which now only requires affirmation of (1) inerrancy; and (2) the Trinity.

Two members, Ray Van Neste (NOBTS) and Denny Burke (Criswell) had recommended that ETS adopt a more defined statement. Their suggestion was that ETS adopt the doctrinal statement of the UK’s Tyndale Fellowship. You can read their proposal at

The impetus for this move has been recent challenges to the doctrinal consensus of ETS including challenges to the membership of Openness Theologians Clark Pinnock and John Saunders and, more recently, the resignation of Baylor’s Francis Beckwith as ETS President after he converted to Catholicism.

The ETS Executive Committee had recommended against adoption of the statement. A full hour’s debate was given. Among those speaking in favor of the proposal: Wayne Grudem (Phoenix), Michael Haykin (SBTS), and Albert Mohler (SBTS). Among those speaking against it: Bruce Ware (SBTS), Jim Borland (Liberty), and John Walton (Wheaton). Some of those who spoke against wanted a better doctrinal statement. Others argued that confessions were right for churches and denominations but not for academic societies. Vote was set for Friday AM.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

In Providence for ETS

I am in Providence, Rhode Island for the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. Providence is an absolutely beautiful and picturesqe town. It is cold here! Even the natives have said it is January weather in November. Above is the meeting house for the First Baptist Church of Providence, the oldest Baptist congregation in America and the oldest church of any kind in Rhode Island.

This plaque outside the church house notes the congregation's founding in 1638 by Roger Williams. The current building was erected in 1775.

Here's Pastor Rob Stovall standing behind the building. The church is on College Hill and a short walk up the street one find the Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University. We took a stroll through the sprawling Brown campus. This was the first Baptist school in America (founded 1674) by James Manning.

Rob and I wandered into "Manning Chapel" (the building also houses an Anthropology Museum). I took this bad photo above from the back balcony. If you look closely, you can see a group of students sitting on the floor and meditating in front of a small statue of Buddha. To think that Brown was once a center of evangelical fervor under the presidency of Baptist statesman, Francis Wayland (1796-1865)!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Pipa on the Privileges of Worship

This challenge is taken from the concluding paragraphs of Joseph Pipa, Jr. "The Purpose of Worship," in The Worship of God: Reformed Concepts of Worship (Christian Focus, 2005): p 66.

Therefore, because of who God is and what He does we are to come into His presence with the service of corporate worship. As we are gripped by the nature and purpose of worship, we then will be compelled to enjoy this privilege and enter into it wholeheartedly. We minimize the privilege of worship. We often fail to grasp or to continue to focus on this glorious privilege that God gives us to come by Christ Jesus into His presence. There is no better privilege that belongs to us, no better work we do for God, but we often denigrate worship.

Some of you attend churches that do not have evening worship, while others of you may neglect the second service. Why in the world, if all these privileges are attached to worship, would we omit evening worship? Perhaps one cannot dogmatically assert from Scripture the necessity of the second service; it is surely implied both in Psalm 92 and in the pattern of the morning and evening sacrifice. Although I cannot make a dogmatic case, I can make a pragmatic one. When we come into worship and go up into heaven in God’s presence, when the Word of God is preached by the lawfully ordained man of God and Christ Himself is speaking to us, why would we want to be anywhere else? Why would we want to neglect the privilege of doing this twice on the Lords’ Day?

Some of you prefer to spend time on Sunday nights with your children to catechize them. I had a friend who said, "I do not come to the evening service, because I am spending time with my children and catechizing them." You ought to catechize your children, but why catechize them when Christ is speaking down the street and manifesting His presence? Some of us dread worship. You wake up Sunday morning—"Oh, no, it’s Sunday, and I’ve got to go to church." We need to be gripped with the beauty and glory of the privilege that is ours to enter His courts with thanksgiving.

Moreover, let us become zealous and jealous that God’s people will again discover the fullness of worship. God is most glorified in Biblical corporate worship. Let us pray and labor for the reformation of worship. Let us support those churches committed to such worship.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Note: Evangel article 11/16/08.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

New "Evangelical Forum Newsletter" Posted

The Summer/Fall 2008 Evangelical Forum Newsletter is now posted online. You can read it here.
Included in this issue:
  • Part three in my six part series on "The Doctrines of Grace." This time: "Unconditional Election" (see pp. 48-56).
  • A review of the Baptist Hymnal [2008 edition] (see pp. 58-61).
  • An excerpt from Richard Fuller's sermon on "Predestination" (see pp. 62-63).


Sermon(s) of the Week: Robert McCurley on Worship

My friend Rob Stovall recently completed the Fall 2008 Theology Conference at his church--Providence BC in Suffolk. The speaker was Robert McCurley of Greenville Presbyterian Church and the topic was worship. The messages are worth hearing:


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Video Recommendation: "Expelled"

Alert: Videos rarely get recommended on this blog, but here goes:

We rented and watched the Ben Stein video "Expelled" the other day. I recommend it. The whole video is worth watching merely for the final segment when Stein ties atheist crusader Richard Dawkins into a philosophical pretzel by pressing the question of where life on the planet initially came from. Dawkins ends up hypothesizing that a highly evolved alien civilization "seeded" life on earth. And he ridicules "religious" people who believe in the Creator God of Scriptures?


Who are Christ's Lambs?

From Sunday's sermon on John 19:1-17:

Peter replies to Jesus' question in v. 15: "Yes, Lord; you know that I love You." And Jesus responds with a commission: "Feed my lambs" (v. 15).
Who are Christ’s lambs?

The lambs are all those who will come to confess that Jesus is Lord. They are

the saints,
the elect,
the believers,
the followers of the Way,
the disciples,
the redeemed,
the called,
the kingdom of priests,
the heirs of promise,
the adopted sons,
the living stones,
the children of God,
the sons of light and sons of the day,
the seed of Abraham,
the slaves of Christ,
approved workmen,
the stewards of the mysteries of the kingdom,
the sons of the kingdom,
the Israel of God,
the good soil.
Jesus cares for His lambs.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Little Red Hen and Biblical Stewardship

Note: We had our annual stewardship breakfast yesterday at JPBC. This is the devotion I shared from an old Evangel article:

Do you know the children’s story, "The Little Red Hen and the Grain of Wheat"?

As the story goes, a little red hen finds a grain of wheat, and asks her friends, "Who will plant this wheat?" "Not I," say the cat, the pig, and the turkey, each in turn. "Then I will," says the little red hen.

After the wheat grows tall and ripe, she asks, "Who will reap this wheat?" Again, her friends respond: "Not I." "Then I will," says the little red hen.

After reaping the wheat, the little red hen asks, "Who will thresh this wheat?" Again, the cat, the pig, and the turkey reply, "Not I." And the little red hen says, "I will, then." And she threshes the wheat.

"Who will take this wheat to the mill to have it ground?" she asks next. Again, she hears, "Not I," as each friend replies in turn. So, she takes the wheat to mill and soon returns with flour.

"Who will bake this flour?" asks the little red hen. "Not I," says the cat. "Not I," says the pig. "Not I," says the turkey. So, she bakes the flour and makes a beautiful loaf of bread.

Finally, the little red hen asks, "Who will eat this bread?"
"I will," says the cat.
"I will," says the pig.
"I will," says the turkey.

The story ends with the little red hen responding to her friends, "I will," and she eats up the loaf of bread.

This child’s story, reminds us of some Biblical truth about stewardship of our resources (time, money, energy, activity). It would be wrong for us to contribute nothing to kingdom work and expect to reap the benefits.

In Luke 6:38 Jesus taught: "Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you."

In 1 Corinthians 12:7 Paul notes, "But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all." And in Galatians 6:5 he says, "For each one shall bear his own load."

Too often a few carry the burden for the many. We are at work, by God’s grace, in making something beautiful in this church. How will we respond when asked questions like the following:

Who will keep the nursery?
Who will sing in the choir?
Who will find a personal ministry to pursue?
Who will be faithful and consistent in Bible study and worship?
Who will give tithes and offerings to support the work of ministry?

On Commitment Sunday at JPBC, let the church be filled with little red hens who say, "We will!!!" to the glory of God.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Monday, November 03, 2008

He loved us even when He hated us

In the Institutes, Calvin aprovingly quotes Augustine in describing God's simultaneous love for us and his holy hatred for our sin:
Thus in a marvelous and divine way He loved us even when He hated us. For He hated us for what we were that He had not made; yet because our wickedness had not entirely consumed His handiwork, He knew how, at the same time, to hate in each one of us what we had made, and to love what He had made.