Friday, October 15, 2010

A Worthwhile Read

Recently finished "An Uncommon Union: Dallas Theological Seminary and American Evangelicalism" (ISBN 978-0-310-23786-0) by John D. Hannah. In this 399 page book the author, who is a distinguished professor of historical theology at Dallas Theological Seminary, recounts in very readable form the 80 year history of the school. Voluminous source materials drawn from the school's official archives containing the family papers of the founder Lewis Sperry Chafer and the presidential papers from the schools five presidents - all interpreted through the lens of an "insider" - provide fascinating reading. Even though he is a sympathetic biographer Hannah does not gloss over the human foibles of the men who have been mightily used of God in the founding, growth, and maturity of Dallas Seminary, yet in his own words "the school has no ugly ghosts lurking in dark corridors" (pg. 21). As a former part-time student of Dallas Seminary in the mid-1980's I enjoyed the insiders look at some of the myths and controversies that were already part of the culture when I attended.

The book begins with a very helpful and enlightening review of the Modernist / Fundamentalist religious conflicts of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Dallas Seminary was conceived in those turbulent years through the influence of the Bible Conference Movement, which was fundamentalist in its leanings, but uneasy with the polemics of some of fundamentalism's rising spokesmen. In later decades this left Dallas Seminary in the awkward position of identifying with the theology of fundamentalism (dispensational pre-millennialism) while methodologically identifying with the rising tide of Evangelicalism. Even to this day the school reflects some of the tensions that come from not having a foot firmly placed in either camp. It will be interesting to see how the Mark Bailey presidency (2001-present) shepherds the school through these tricky waters.

As a committed dispensational pre-millennialist myself I am well aware that few, even among the academic world of Evangelicalism, would share my deeply held convictions regarding the church and Israel so I praise God for the ministry of DTS. May it continue to turn out men and women who are passionate for the Scriptures and committed to disciplining the nations until the Rapture takes us home.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A must read for busy pastors and earnest Christians

The Trellis and the Vine (ISBN 978-1-921441-63-9). Author: Colin Marshall & Tony Pane

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matt. 28:19-20 NASB. This great commission, given by Jesus to His disciples remains binding on us even to this day. Not many Evangelical Christians would seriously dispute that fact. But even though we agree on the goal, there is significant difference of opinion on the means to achieve it.

There is no shortage of written material, seminars, conferences, or online sermons addressing the topic of discipleship so when Colin Marshall’s book was recommended to me I was skeptical. The book came with such an enthusiastic recommendation I dutifully purchased a copy and sat down to read. Boy was I pleasantly surprised by the contents! Colin Marshall has grabbed hold of the essence of disciple-making and “put the cookies on the bottom shelf” as it were, by presenting a very simple way for a busy pastor to share the work of the ministry with the people in the pew. In a nutshell he advocates that disciple-making disciples are grown as everyday people prayerfully speak God’s word to other people, whether inside or outside the church. In its simplest form that could look like two people meeting together for coffee and reading a section of Scripture out loud together, talking about what they have read and then praying together that the Lord would make His word effectual in their hearts. In the context of evangelism it would be meeting with your neighbor or co-worker for a regular time of reading the Bible and discussing what you have read and then praying that God would cause the word to bear fruit through the inward working of His Spirit. No elaborate or expensive programs – just the Spirit empowered word doing its work (Is. 55:11).

Marshall is advocating a “Bible-reading movement” which would produce in his words “a chaotic web of personal relationships, prayer and Bible reading – more of a movement than a program – but at another level it would be profoundly simple and within reach of all.” (pg. 57). This kind of thinking is both exciting and scary as many of our cherished programs might just turn out to be unnecessary and obsolete. After all, how much of our time is spent planning and administrating programs designed to grow the church rather than grow the people? If we are honest, more than we would like to admit.

Marshall rounds out the book with a discussion of how to build a ministry leadership team based upon his basic discipleship premise as well as a thought provoking introduction to the topic of mentoring young men to the pastoral ministry. Both of these topics are also near and dear to my heart and helped stimulate the creative juices.

Oh, as to the meaning of the title “The Trellis and the Vine” you will just have to read the book for yourself – you will not sorry you did.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Help for Worship Leaders

Just finished Bob Kauflin's 2008 book entitled "Worship Matters" (ISBN 9781581348248) and was encouraged, exhorted, informed, instructed and generally edified by this brother's good work. Kauflin is the Director of Worship Development for Sovereign Grace and has been actively involved in both music ministry and pastoral leadership for over 30 years.

The book is well organized and is divided into four main sections. The first deals with the spiritual life of the worship leader, the second and third with the organization and implementation of God-pleasing corporate worship. The fourth section is devoted to understanding and resolving the conflicts that inevitably arise when sinful people, saved by grace, work together in close proximity. A brief annotated bibliography on the topic of worship rounds out the book. Kauflin's writing style is not overly technical and his liberal use of examples which practically illustrate his points make the work an easy read.

I greatly appreciated Kauflin's humble writing style and his genuine heart for the people of God shines through. Above all, his firm and passionate commitment to the gospel of grace clearly motivates and informs his approach to the subject of worship. This alone makes the book a must read in a day when so much of what passes for contemporary worship is man-centered and actually weakens the faith of God's people.

My only serious point of contention with Kauflin comes with regard to his charismatic commitments and in particular to his belief in ongoing fallible prophecy. "For many years I've sung spontaneous songs during corporate worship that I believe are a form of prophecy. They're similar to a spoken prophetic impression from the Lord, only they're sung, they rhyme, and they are often sung 'from God to us.' I've never believed for a moment that the words I sing are 'word for word' from God. That's called Scripture. But these songs seem to consistently communicate in verse the Lord's heart for a particular individual, group, or situation." (pg. 140). This erroneous understanding of biblical prophecy could ultimately undermine the authority of the Scriptures, and thus should be abandoned. [For a refutation of the idea of ongoing fallible prophecy which is being popularized by Calvinistic charismatics such as Grudem, Piper, Mahaney, et al, see my post entitled "Is God Still speaking?"]

To the discerning this weakness in Kauflin's book does not undo all the good therein and I heartily recommend it to my fellow pastors as well as those involved in worship leadership.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Is God still speaking?

I just finished a powerful little book (96 pages) by Dr. Gary Gilley refuting the increasingly popular notion that God is continuing to speak to directly to His people outside of the canon of Scripture. The book is entitled "Is That You Lord?" (ISBN 978-0852346525) and would make a great read for any who are struggling with understanding biblical decision making, or are simply wondering about the validity of claims by prominent Evangelicals to receive personal words of direction from God in response to their prayers.

Once the realm of charismatic Christians, it is now quite common for believers of all stripes to rely on intuition, hunches, "still small voices," feelings, and "words of prophecy" to direct their lives and govern their choices. In short "subjectivity" has replaced "sola Scriptura" as the means for knowing God and His will. In his book Dr. Gilley includes a short history of Pietism before critiquing the idea of ongoing errant prophecy as taught by Wayne Grudem et al.

The book surveys, and corrects the misinterpretation of a number of important passages that are typically thought to teach that God has a specific, individualized plan for our lives that we must ferret out in order to be in the "center of His will." Dr. Gilley also includes a helpful chapter dealing with common questions raised in response to his critique, as well as chapters on a biblical decision making - explained and illustrated.

Over the years I have read several books on biblical decision making as well as teaching on the topic among collegians and I have to say that this book will now be my number one referral to those who are earnestly struggling with knowing and doing God's will. This is a good read and well worth its modest price - buy it and read it - you will not be sorry.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Manifesto for Christian citizenship

Principles from my study of Romans 13:1-7. I welcome feedback. I am still working on these, but I offer them for your consideration.

  1. The institution of Government, like marriage, is a manifestation of God’s common grace and is designed for the benefit of the human race. Even though it is frequently disfigured through human sin and weakness, it remains a blessing and benefit for all humanity – having been established by direct command of God (Gen. 9:3-6).

  2. God sovereignly raises specific governmental leaders, sometimes for judgment, sometimes for reward (v. 1; Cf. Dan. 4:30-37; Jn. 19:11). Their rise or fall is according to His providential plan (Dan. 2:21; 4:17, 25; Acts 17:26)
  3. In the USA we have the historically rare privilege of voting for governmental leaders and therefore we have a civic responsibility to exercise our right to vote.
  4. Regardless of how leaders come to power we must still submit to them (Matt. 23:1-3).
    Our submission to leaders must be done for conscience sake (i.e. in recognition of God’s sovereign purposes) as an expression of a transformed mind (v. 5).
  5. We must submit to the law even in those areas where we do not like or agree with it (v. 1a; Cf. Titus 3:1; 1 Pet. 2:13-15).
  6. We have a duty to disobey the law when it violates God’s law in the area of evangelism (Mk. 16:15; Acts 5:29), worship (Ex. 20:3; Dan. 3:13-18; Dan. 6:10-15), or morality (Ex. 1:15-21). This determination is based upon whether the government is requiring us to obey them and disobey God.
  7. God has established both the Church and the Government and given them specific and non-overlapping spheres of responsibility (vv. 3-4).
  8. The Church’s sphere is Gospel preaching – which she alone can do, and which alone can eternally transform a person from sinner to saint (Rom. 1:16; Acts 4:12).
  9. The Church frequently loses the Gospel when it becomes too heavily involved in areas not essential to Gospel preaching (“social Gospel” Cf. Gal. 1:8-10).
  10. Individual Christians, if called by God, can and may become heavily involved in government (it is the diakonos of God v. 4), but the church should not find itself supporting specific political parties or candidates. The servant of God is the institution called Government, not necessarily any specific form or régime.
  11. The government’s primary sphere is promoting good and suppressing evil through the use of law and enforcement up to and including the use of capital punishment (v 4).
  12. Because government is God’s sovereign plan, we are obligated to fund it through taxes and custom duties (v. 6-7a; Cf. Mk. 12:13-17)
  13. We must honor and respect our leaders because of their God given position, whether or not they are individually worthy of honor (v. 7b; Acts 23:5; Jer. 29:7). To do otherwise is to dishonor the God who stands behind their authority (e.g. wives respecting husbands - Eph. 5:22).
  14. Since God calls governmental authorities “ministers” (v. 4) and “servants” (v. 7) we can conclude that governmental service is an honorable Christian endeavor.

As Christians we have a duty to publicly pray for our governmental leaders, that God would grant them the ability to govern in a way that promotes peace and harmony both nationally and internationally. This provides an environment beneficial to Gospel growth (1 Tim. 2:1-2). Additionally, Christians should pray for the salvation of governmental leaders (1 Tim. 2:3ff).

Hard Questions from Rom. 13:1-7

The following are my tentative answers to a number of “hard questions” relating to Paul’s teaching in Romans regarding the Christian response to Government. I begin with this non-tentative presupposition: The Gospel transforms all aspects of life – even how we relate to civil authorities.

What if the leaders come into power illegitimately?

Paul does not concern himself with how the leaders come to power from a human viewpoint. Furthermore, Jesus indicates that people are to obey their leaders but not emulate their wickedness (Matt. 23:1-3). Their position of authority seems to be Jesus’ concern, not the legitimacy of how they got there (“they seat themselves in the chair of Moses…).

Does the Bible provide a right of self-defense?

My answer to that question is a qualified yes. According to Rom. 12:17-21, as followers of Christ, we are forbidden to personally retaliate or seek revenge for personal insult or provocation. Furthermore, we are look to our governing authorities to suppress evil.

But what happens if the government is unable, or unwilling to defend its citizens?

At that point I would argue for a very limited and careful application of the principle of Ex. 22:2-3; Cf. Lk. 22:35-35.
"If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; but if it happens after sunrise, he is guilty of bloodshed. NIV
The principle seems to be that if you can avoid violence you should. In modern terms I believe our first response should be to call the police. If they can not save you then I think as head of a home you have a quasi-governmental role to suppress evil.

What if the government is the source of evil like Nazi Germany?

In answering this question I would like to begin by making some Biblical observations.
On two occasions, when David had opportunity to kill Saul, who was trying to kill him, he refrained - even though David had been ordained by God to assume the throne of Israel (1 Sam. 24 & 26).

Jesus told Peter to put away the sword when Peter was trying to defend Jesus against those who were intending to kill Him (Matt. 26:52).

During the terrible persecutions of Antichrist we do not read about violent opposition to his reign, but are instead given this shocking vision of end-time events… "And when He broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, should be completed also." Rev. 6:9-11

In Rom. 8:35-37 Paul says that even though the believers are like sheep to be slaughtered – nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

Therefore, I am forced to conclude that we can run and we can hide – but if our persecution comes about because of commitment to Christ then we may not utilize violence in the name of the Prince of Peace (Jn. 18:36).

4. Can a government over-tax the people? (Inflation/intentionally debasing the money supply – the hidden tax (Haggai 1:6). {This area needs further development}

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Help for Fathers

Although my children are now grown and for the most part out of the home, a friend recently handed me Don Whitney's little booklet entitled "Family Worship" (ISBN 0978523806). This afternoon I sat down to read it.

In this brief but convicting work Whitney makes the case from both Scripture and Church history for consistent, father-led, family worship as well as offering a simple yet practical plan of implementation consisting of Scripture reading, prayer, and song. In a chapter dealing with the common objections and obstacles that confront every father, Whitney addresses the universal problem of young children with short attention spans. His sage advice is to begin small and add on as you can - but by all means begin.

The book closes with a series of questions designed to provoke the reader to stop procrastinating, overcome any embarrassment that might be holding them back, and begin to implement, or reinvigorate this spiritually vital ministry to the next generation.

I was impressed with Whitney's treatment of a subject in which every man I have ever known has had his fair share of failures, and intend to provide a copy to each family when they come before our congregation to dedicate their children.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

You gotta read this book!

I recently finished reading a very stimulating book entitled "Promise Unfulfilled: The Failed Strategy of Modern Evangelicalism" by Rolland McCune. In this well documented work McCune identifies the presupposition that separates Evangelicalism from Fundamentalism. After their unsuccessful attempts to stem the tide of liberalism in the early part of the twentieth century the fundamentalists withdrew or were ejected from denominational structures. In response they established their own schools and mission agencies built upon the principle of ecclesiastical separation. Admittedly, this principle has been abused by some - resulting in the caricature of the fighting fundamentalist. Conversely McCune identifies the principle foundation of Evangelicalism as "infiltration," the attempt to bring Christian scholarship into the academy in order to establish Christian influence among the opinion shapers of the day.

By pursuing these incompatible values Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism have been driven increasingly distant from each other. Weaknesses exist in both first principles when they are unreflectively pursued. Fundamentalism becomes ingrown and self-destructive, while Evangelicalism grows broad-mindedly incipid and unable to discern the boundaries of apostasy.

Undoubtedly, Evangelicals who read "Promise Unfulfilled" will be stimulated and perhaps even offended by some of McCune's analysis, but his irenic style goes a long way towards making this a significant book on a very important topic. If you are tempted to look down upon your Fundamentalist forefathers you should give this book a thorough read before disdaining your heritage.

Remembering our roots

Just finished Jim Owen's book "The Hidden History of the Historic Fundamentalists 1933-1948." In this extensively documented work, Owen defends the fundamentalists against the charge that they were socially & politically indifferent to the hardships of the Great Depression & WWII. Owen conceeds that some individual leaders were guilty of various shortcomings but they were by no means representative of the whole movement. Perhaps the most memorable statement by Owen comes in the context of pointing out that they, like all people, were a product of their times with all its attendent problems & prejudices - "Children always see their parents' sins more clearly than their own." How true that is! Will future generations be as hard on Evangelicals as they have been on their fundamentalist forefathers? This is worth pondering