Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Brief Introduction to Doddridge

If you're not familiar with the life and ministry of Philip Doddridge, or you're a pastor looking for a short, interesting way to introduce your folks to the likes of Doddridge, Breakpoint has a great article on Doddridge, his The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul (or, free at CCEL), and that books effect on the lives of men like Wilberforce and the social causes of their day. (HT: Philip)

The Carnage of Divorce

Barbara Challies, mother of Tim, guest blogs at and offers great insight and a moving plea re: divorce. The carnage that divorce leaves is untold and not easily healed, despite what proponents of "starter marriages" and "no-fault" divorce would tell us. Oh, how I pray the Lord would help us to see and appropriate the deep trust in His sovereignty and goodness that Mrs. Challies exhorts us to in that last paragraph!

Around the Blog in 80 Seconds

Our man in Philly strikes back. Lance has given us another reason for Reformed African Americans to grow in media savvy and to write--The Baal Network. I'm loving that new name! (HT: Carter).

Colin calls on Spurgeon who reminds us to preach the gospel more than ever! After hearing of the atrocities at The Baal Network, this quote from Spurgeon is encouragement indeed.

My brother, Juan Sanchez, Teaching Pastor at High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, TX, forwarded links to a collection of talks from the Sovereign Grace leadership conference. Excellent stuff for pastors and their wives.

General-session titles and speakers
The Holiness of God (R.C. Sproul)
The Holiness of Christ (R.C. Sproul)
In the Last Analysis: Look Out for Introspection (David Powlison)
Trinitarian Pastoral Ministry (C.J. Mahaney)

Men’s seminar titles and speakers
Watch Your Planning: The Strategic Role of Personal Retreats (Mike Bullmore)
Watch Your Preaching: Effective Sermon Preparation (Mike Bullmore)
Watch the Spirit Work: Serving Cessationists in Their Pursuit of the Spirit (Craig Cabaniss)
Watch Your Church Calendar: The Importance of Administration in the Local Church (Brent Detwiler)
Watch the Past: Living Lessons from Dead Theologians (Mark Dever)
Watch Your Preaching: The Priority of Proclamation in the Local Church (Mark Dever)
Watch Your Devotional Life: The Pastor’s Communion with God (Rick Gamache)
Watch Your Mission: To Be, or Not to Be, ‘Missional’ (Dave Harvey)
Watch Your Sunday Meeting: Planning the Most Important Moment of the Week (Joshua Harris and Bob Kauflin)
Watch Your Leisure: Learning to Rest with a Full Inbox (John Loftness)
Watch Your Bible Reading: Making Personal Application (David Powlison)
Watch the Sacraments: Recapturing Vital Elements in the Life of the Church (Jeff Purswell)
Watch Your Reading: Developing Breadth and Depth in the Pastor’s Life and Ministry (Phil Sasser)
Watch Your Marriage: Loving and Leading Our Wives (Steve Shank)

Ladies’ seminar titles and speakers
Watch Your Man (Carolyn Mahaney)
Watch Your Priorities (Panel)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Why Write "The Decline of African American Theology"?

One question that people frequently ask authors is, "Why did you write this book?"

It's a fair and a good question. If you put something in print and work through the process of communicating, refining, and sometimes defending ideas, trying to get others to read and understand and possibly agree with you, you probably have some deep-seated reason that drives you to write. That reason for writing probably lies somewhere close to the author's heart. It's part of her or his outlook, a glimpse into their inner workings. And many readers want such a glimpse. They want to make contact not just with the ideas but with the person and motivation behind the ideas. At bottom, I think a lot of people are fairly ad hominem in our reading, especially of polemics.

I've searched for a good answer to the question, "Why did you write The Decline of African American Theology?" I wandered through a a handful of answers, all of them true but none of them quite right.

Tonight I watched an episode of Bill Moyers Journal, a PBS program that sometimes focuses on religious themes and ideas. It was an interview with African-American theologian, professor and author Dr. James H. Cone of Union Theological. Dr. Cone is the author of a number of books very influential among African-American academics and religious thinkers. He is the father of the Black Theology movement, an attempt to do theology with a liberationist ethic from the distinct vantage point of African American experience.

The Moyers interview was prompted by a 2006 lecture that Dr. Cone delivered at Harvard (watch). The lecture used American lynching as a metaphor for understanding the cross of Christ. The entire interview is worth watching if you're inclined. You'll see into the heart and thinking of perhaps the most influential African-American theologian in the last 50 years.

There is much that could be said about the interview. But rather than comment at length, pasted below are two brief exchanges between Mr. Moyers and Dr. Cone. I copy the comments because they finally helped me to say briefly what my motivation was for writing The Decline.

BILL MOYERS: And you say, "The cross and the lynching tree interpret each other. Both were public spectacles usually reserved for hardened criminals, rebellious slaves, rebels against the Roman state and falsely accused militant blacks who were often called black beasts and monsters in human form." So, how do the cross and the lynching tree interpret each other?
JAMES CONE: It keeps the lynchers from having the last word. The lynching tree interprets the cross. It keeps the cross out of the hands of those who are dominant. Nobody who is lynching anybody can understand the cross. That's why it's so important to place the cross and the lynching tree together. Because the cross, or the crucifixion was analogous to a first century lynching. In fact, biblical scholars-- when they want to describe what was happening to Jesus, many of them said, "It was a lynching."

And all I want to suggest is if American Christians say -- they want to identify with that cross, they have to see the cross as a lynching. Any time your empathy, your solidarity is with the little people, you're with the cross. If you identify with the lynchers, then, no, you can't understand what's happening. That in the sense of resistance-- what resistance means by helpless people. Power in the powerless is not something that we are accustomed to listening to and understanding. It's not a part of our historical experi-- America always wants to think it's gonna win everything. Well, black people have a history in which we didn't win. We did not win. See, our resistance is a resistance against the odds. That's why we can understand the cross.

Do you believe God is love?
JAMES CONE: Yes, I believe God is love.
BILL MOYERS: I would have a hard time believing God is love if I were a black man. I mean, those bodies swinging on the tree. What was God?Where was God during the 400 years of slavery?
JAMES CONE: See, you are looking at it from the perspective of those who win. You have to see it from the - perspective of those who have no power. In fact, God is love because it's that power in your life that lets you know you can resist the definitions that other people are being-- placing on you. And you sort of say, sure, nobody knows the trouble I've seen. Nobody knows my sorrow. Sure, there is slavery. Sure, there is lynching, segregation.

But, glory, hallelujah. Now, that glory hallelujah is the fact that there is a humanity and a spirit that nobody can kill. And as long as you know that, you will resist. That was the power of the civil rights movement. That was the power of those who kept marching even though the odds are against you. How do you keep going when you don't have the battle tanks, when you don't have the guns? When you don't have the military power? When you have nothing? How do you keep going? How do you know that you are a human being? You know because there's a power that transcends all of that.
BILL MOYERS: So, how does love fit into that? What do you mean when you say God is love?
God is that power. That power that enables you to resist. You love that! You love the power that empowers you even in a situation in which you have no political power. The-- you have to love God. Now, what is trouble is loving white people. Now, that's tough. It's not God we having trouble loving. Now, loving white people. Now, that's-- that's difficult. But, King -- you know, King helped us on that. But, that is a-- that is an agonizing response.

While I don't want to press it too far, I do think there are some interesting parallels between lynching and the cross that can help us better understand the gospel. But what God and the Cross are reduced to in this interview is appalling. No biblically recognizable cross and no glory.

The Decline of African-American Theology is a jeremiad, a long lament over a deep fall. Some will lament the decline, and others will lament The Decline. Of that I'm sure.

But after listening to Moyers and Cone tonight, I realized that I wrote the book because I am deeply sad. I'm sad about the state of the church in African American communities, and the very real eclipse of the gospel where African Americans gather and worship. And I'm sad because I love the Lord, His gospel, His people, and the nations who need the Lord, His gospel, and His people. The book isn't sad, I don't think, but its author is.

To be sure, my motives are alloyed with pride and some other things that need the sanctifying grace of Christ. But at bottom, I grieve that "my people perish for lack of knowledge" of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I pray this little book may be used by the Lord in the hands of good and faithful saints to turn the mourning of many into laughter.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Finished Book That I Hope Will Be Great for the Kingdom

I just heard from my editor at IVP that The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Faithfulness to Cultural Captivity is now available--a few weeks ahead of schedule.

I'm thankful to the Lord for the privilege of being able to write this book. I'm thankful for the many men whose lives--both achievements and failures--have made the book possible. I'm thankful for the generations of African American Christians who have left some deposit for the faithful. And I'm thankful for the generations of Christians from other ethnic background with whom they have interacted and shared the faith once for all delivered to the saints. I'm thankful that the Lord has allowed us to live in this time that we might learn from the times previous. And I'm thankful for IVP for publishing this book and hopeful it contributes to the ongoing reformation of the church.

And IVP is offering free shipping anywhere in the U.S. for orders of $25 or more. Shameless plug; I'm sorry! :-)

Another Great Unfinished Book

This is great unfinished books week at PureChurch. I'm scanning my shelves for books I've started, greatly enjoyed, but for one reason or another not finished reading.

But these are books I want to plug in some way. Today's book is a classic. Many of you have already read it cover-to-cover--multiple times. You've been gripped by its lofty view of God and warmed by fresh, feeling devotion to God.

This is probably the easiest book review I've ever written because the book is so well-known and studied little needs to be said really. There's even a Wikipedia entry for the book. And during a busy morning, it's an ideal book to "review."

But what those who may be intimidated by its size and the notion of "theology" will certainly miss is that The Institutes are aimed at strengthening the devotion of the "average Christian" to Christ. It's a book that aims at the heart as well as the head. Though studied by scholars, this is no cold academic tome. It's a summons to appear in prayerful awe before our awesome God and Savior.

The other thing likely to be missed by those who've avoided The Institutes is the centrality of the Holy Spirit in Calvin's thought. Well did Warfield remark that Calvin is "the theologian of the Holy Spirit." When you read The Institutes and Calvin's sermons, you encounter the Holy Spirit with deeper appreciation for Him and His ministry in the believer's life. If you're looking to learn more about God the Holy Spirit--better yet, to learn to "keep in step with the Spirit"--without the excess and weirdness that can be found on the shelves of Christian bookstores today, you'll want to read The Institutes and the sermons of Calvin.
The Institutes became a defining work of the Reformation for a reason. Calvin's genius and scholarship is still unparalleled and this work still sets the standard for biblical truth coupled with zeal for the Savior. If you've been avoiding The Institutes, let me encourage you to correct that mistake today!

The Institutes have been through numerous printings. And today, you can read the 1536 edition, Beveridge's translation, or get both Beveridge and Battles' translations along with Calvin's commentaries, four volumes of sermons, some letters, and four biographies on CD for $19.95. Or, download for free the massive pdf at CCEL.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Great Unfinished Book Week

So, it's time to create another holiday, or week long celebration. If the Hallmark folks can do it, why can't bloggers?

This week is "Great Unfinished Books" week at PureChurch. It's a week of short book reviews and plugs... great books that I've worked through at some length, but not finished. The fact that I've not finished reading them is no reflection on the author or the book... just my tendency to read a few books at once with not enough reading hours in the day. So, these are great books that deserve a plug and shouldn't have to wait for that mention until I've finished my reading list.

Also, I want to give some attention to books that have perhaps received some early press that are worthy of some continuing coverage. If you're like me as a book buyer/reader, you probably have a mental list of books that you've noted for purchase and read but sometimes some good ones fall off the radar.

First up, I want to commend to you Dave Harvey's book, When Sinners Say 'I Do': Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage.

Now, first a confession. I'm not a regular reader of relationship books. Honestly, most of them are a bit too syrupy for my liking. And I think this is the case for a lot of men (not to be too stereotypical).

So, it's with great delight that I picked up and began reading When Sinners Say "I Do." Harvey's writing is engaging, insightful and flat out funny. The book reads like a really good sermon, one with biblical insight and constant engagement with the audience. As an author, Harvey comes off as "one of the guys," not as a "relationship expert" with sure-fire, copyrighted strategies. It's refreshing.

But the books best feature is its focus on the gospel and gospel application to marriage. Many relationship books linger on roles, communication, and the like--all good stuff. But generally, those books assume an audience of marriage novices, people on the front end of marriage or even pre-marriage. So, they take on primer like qualities. Harvey's book assumes people may have some years under their belts, may have some scars or disillusion, and are in need of a fresh appropriation of the Good News. In other words, it's a book that battle-tested veterans can read and say, "Yeah... it's like that. Oh, that's helpful."

In When Sinners Say "I Do," the gospel meets the real life of marriage. Chapter 1 makes the case for why sound theology matters in marriage and why theology is inescapable in marriage. In Harvey's words, "marriage is street-level theology." Chapter 2, "Waking Up with the Worst of Sinners," is a good look at how our sin nature affects our relationships. Chapter 3 continues the look at sin and the battle we must fight against it (love the Civil War foil). Chapter 4 begins to apply some of the good theological basis Harvey lays in the first three chapters. Four points:

1. In humility, suspect yourself first.
2. In integrity, inspect yourself.
3. Admit that circumstances only reveal existing sin.
4. Focus on underserved grace, not unmet need.

I do my share of marriage counseling. Reflecting on my own marriage and those I have the privilege of helping, these are sound guidelines for working through conflict and living a joyful marriage.

Chapter 5, "Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment: How to Sweeten the Days and Years," asks this excellent question. "Have you ever thought that passing along God's mercy might be one of the main reasons why you're married?" Harvey writes, "deep, profound differences are the reality of every marriage. It's not the presence of differences but the absence of mercy that makes them irreconcilable." Yep. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book.

And I'm not just saying that because this is as far as I've gotten :-). The fact is, this is as far as I've gotten because I've read and re-read this chapter on mercy. I'm going to include it in the readings I use in marital and pre-marital counseling.

If you only read half the book, you will have doubled your money on this one. I intend to finish this great unfinished book.
What other people say:
Tim Challies (review)
Faithful Reader (review)
"Nourishment for Ladies" (brief review)
Armchair Interviews (review)
Interviews with Dave Harvey (HT: PastorBookshelf)
Challies at Discerning Reader (interview)
Westminster Bookstore (interview)

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Gospel and Hanging in Jamaica

I'm learning a lot about life and ministry in diverse cultural and political contexts. I was never very astute when it came to American jurisprudence. But now I'm having to learn something about an entirely different world.

Two things are increasingly apparent:
1. Assumptions about the world and how it should operate can be widely divergent (no surprise there, but it's helpful to keep this recognition on the radar); and,
2. There are tremendous gospel opportunities to be explored in these divergent views.

For example, my wife passed along the following short piece regarding sentencing in Jamaica.

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) – Jamaican lawmakers are considering resuming hangings in response to rising violent crime, almost two decades since the last person was executed by the noose in this Caribbean nation.

Jamaicans have pushed for the measure, Karl Samuda, general secretary of Prime Minister Bruce Golding’s ruling party, said Saturday.

"Based on our observation, there is a strong sentiment in the country for hanging to resume,’’ Samuda said. ’’We want to make sure the people get their wish.’’

The last hanging occurred in 1988, and five years later, Britain’s Privy Council – the highest court of appeal for many former colonies – ruled that inmates who spend more than five years on death row should receive life sentences.

The ruling, coupled with international pressure to eliminate the death penalty, has led to a reluctance among Jamaican authorities to order hangings. No other type of capital punishment has since been used.

About 45 inmates are on death row in Jamaica, which reported a record 1,671 homicides in 2005 and is considered one of the most violent countries in the world.

At first blush, hanging seems abhorrent and barbaric. Wikipedia lists 18 countries currently practicing or with a history of legalized hanging. What truly "developed" and "enlightened" nation would consider such a thing? And given the U.S.'s history of lynching, I'm particularly loathe to see talk of it in any country.

But on second thought, did not God hang His own Son at the hands of wicked men? Jesus hung on the tree and died an agonizing death.

Hanging is barbaric. So was the crucifixion. But the gruesome nature of criminal hangings and the Son of God's crucifixion points to the more gruesome ugliness of our sin. Jesus suffered in every way known to man--including the torture of hanging--to identify with us in our suffering and to become for us a perfect High Priest.
I have a lot to learn about life outside the U.S. But the gospel keeps speaking despite my ignorance.

Random Bits About Some Churches and the Law

Scanning news in the church world, a few bizarre and interesting news stories surfaced. Here's a sample.

Can a local church be a "marital asset"? Here's another reason for a church to choose its pastor wisely and for a husband to choose his wife wisely:
In a case that may be the first of its kind, the wife of a pastor from Baldwin is hoping to win assets from her husband’s church in their divorce proceedings, saying he uses the church as his “personal piggy bank” and that any money he makes from it is partly hers.

In a decision published this week, state Supreme Court Justice Arthur Diamond agreed to hear arguments at trial in Mineola about whether Grace Christian Church in Brooklyn should be considered a marital asset, and ordered that it be appraised. It is one of the first times in New York State history — if not the first — that someone going through a divorce has tried to call a religious institution a marital asset, lawyers in the case said.
The entire article here (short read).

Okay... here's something I can't figure out. Why do prosperity preachers have money problems? AJC reports that one popular "evangelist" is having trouble paying the taxes on her $4.5 million dollar compound.

Careful with those powerpoint slides and the music you use. There may be copyright issues at play.

Dr. Fred Price sues ABC for bad reporting. Seems ABC got a fact wrong this time (by no means the first time). But shouldn't there be a mulligan if you got an individual fact incorrect, but what you say is true?

Texas Supreme Court Vindicates Pastor Who Practiced Church Discipline
A Texas pastor who was sued after exercising church discipline has been handed a victory by that state's supreme court. The lawsuit was brought by a church member who refused to repent following a divorce and remarriage.

Does separation of church and state apply to civil charges of embezzlement in local churches?

A Franklin County judge who thought he was delving too deeply into religious matters dismissed a lawsuit accusing a local pastor of taking nearly $1 million from his congregation, which hoped to get the money back in a judgment. (Read entire story here)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Around the Blog in 80 Seconds

Beware of immunizing people against Christ and the gospel. (HT: MAD Prayer)

In our attempts to win over our world we must not sell Jesus short. We should continually pray that God would give us the strength to represent him honestly and truthfully, and that his Spirit would use our words to breathe life into our hearers. We should always expect people to reject Jesus and his gospel.
However, it is vital that as we preach him to our world that they get to meet the true Jesus, not some sort of three-wish genie or religious icon. We must preach Christ and him crucified, the message that is foolishness to those who are perishing, but is the power of God to us who are being saved (cf. 1 Cor 1:18, 2:2).

What is the "Ideal Christian Woman"? Wendy Alsup has some thoughts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

One thing complementarian pastors face as they seek to instruct others in the biblical understanding of manhood and womanhood is the question of abuse. In our culture, where abuse is a real problem and where people breathe the air of feminist egalitarianism, complementarians need to demonstrate real and proactive concern for this real problem. To that end, CBMW has an expanded statement on abuse that might be helpful.

While you're at the CBMW website, you might check out the audio from their Different By Design Conferences. A lot of good stuff for the listening:

Conference Messages

Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
Women's Ministry in the Local ChurchnSusan Hunt

Different by Design 2007
Session 1 Russell D. Moore
Session 2 J. Ligon Duncan, III

Different by Design 2005
Manhood and Womanhood in Creation and Marriage: A Biblical Defense Wayne Grudem
Session 2 C. J. Mahaney

Different by Design, Wheaton
Feminist Revisions of the Doctrine of God Bruce A. Ware
Disciplines of a Godly Woman Barbara Hughes
How and Why to Preach on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood R. Kent Hughes
The Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy: Including the TNIV Wayne Grudem
A Practical Look at Role Relationships in Marriage R. Kent Hughes

Different by Design, Florence
The Joy of Homemaking Jodi Ware
Raising Feminine Daughters Jodi Ware
Manhood and Womanhood in the 21st Century Paige Patterson

Different by Design, Orlando
Does Galatians 3:28 Negate Gender-Specific Roles? Peter R. Schemm, Jr.
The Myth of Mutual Submission Peter R. Schemm, Jr.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Puritans Were Wrong!

Finally, someone has said it! Well... they weren't wrong about everything. But a good dose of seeing our heroes soft underbellies is good for our own humility and growth.

And something can be learned from the "other guy," too.

DG Pastors' Conference

From the Desiring God blog:

Registration is now open for our 2008 pastors conference. The theme is "The Pastor as Father and Son." The speakers are John Piper, D. A. Carson, Crawford Loritts, and Greg Livingstone. In his invitation, John Piper explains why we're doing this topic and why he chose each of these speakers.

Because of the theme, we would really like pastors to come to the conference with their sons and their dads. So, besides making the full price as reasonable as possible, we are offering a special: With a full-price registration, a pastor may purchase admission for his father and sons for $50 each.

For those who have come to our past conferences, please note that this event will be at a new venue. It will be held at the Minneapolis convention center. Check out the travel info for details.

This is certain to be a great conference, as usual. For many men, it will be the most engaging and tender conference they'll ever attend. I love the idea of a father-son conference. My Lord removed my father from this life in 2000. As some readers will know, my father left my life when I was around age 14. We were not close, though I trust we loved one another.

The father-son theme got me to thinking... would it be cool for those of us who are without earthly fathers or sons to take along:
1. A father who perhaps has a son serving overseas in the military, or who has lost a son in combat; or,
2. A younger man, a "son" in the faith, who is estranged from their father or has lost their father in this life.

It wouldn't be precisely the same as being their father and son, but it could be a rich time sharing together nonetheless.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Reflections on the Miami Pastors' Conference 2007

I'm back in the saddle in Grand Cayman after a wonderfully refreshing three days at the Miami Pastors' Conference. Without doubt, this is one of the most anticipated meetings of the year for me. I long for the time together with brothers who love the Lord and are committed to the truth of the gospel and the glory of Christ Jesus.

One of the best things about the conference is the laughter. We laugh. We discuss serious things, and we discuss them with appropriate gravity and intensity. But there is great joy in the fellowship. There is joy at hearing the word and great appreciation for the various gifts the Lord has given to His servants. There is joy over the wonderful meals the saints at Glendale Baptist prepare for the attendees. And there is outright hilarity during late night deserts and dinners where conversations range from this or that theological issue to fun-loving ribbing of one another. I love to laugh and there perhaps isn't a conference on the planet where I laugh and rejoice more than the Miami Pastors' Conference.

And I learn by God's grace. The conference theme this year was the question: "What Is the Gospel?" A person might be tempted to think that such a question would be too elementary for a gathering of pastors. That thought speaks more about the lightness and familiarity with which we regard the gospel than it does about the knowledge of pastors. And it may overlook the tremendous attack that rages against the gospel in our day. This was a most timely theme in light of the so-called prosperity gospel, the so-called new perspective on Paul, and social gospels on the left and the right. The conference left me with both a clearing understanding of the gospel, a more urgent desire to defend it, and a fresh appropriation of the gospel for my own life and ministry. It would be too long a post to detail these things, so I'll encourage all interested to definitely get copies of the addresses.

But we were served extraordinarily well by Michael Leach, Michael Horton, Ken Jones, Anthony Carter, Redditt Andrews, Tom Ascol, Sherrard Burns and host pastor Rickey Armstrong. As I did last year, I'll just provide below a few quotes and thoughts that struck me:

Michael Horton in his talk, "What Is the Gospel?"

Often times you hear evangelicals asking the question "What's your testimony?" If you ask someone that question, they will tell you what happened to them. If you ask the Apostle Paul, he tells you what happened to Jesus. (Explaining that the Gospel is God's message, a testimony concerning our Lord)

Are you driven more by promises or purposes? Doesn't living life according to our own purposes become a burden? (Meditating on Abraham's faith in Genesis 15)

Salvation is another ex nihilo creation.

Rickey Armstrong on election--

Election is the foundation for the superstructure of redemption.

Election is the way God does God's work.

Ken Jones on "The Creation of Man and the Gospel"

Adam is not just the first man and a role model, but our corporate representative. We do not get the gospel right if we do not understand the federal headship of Adam

Michael Leach on "The Gospel and the Fall of Man"

Ne plus utra! (Trust me; you had to be there! Get the disc!)
Fleeing and being afraid are new concepts and pictures in Genesis 3. Where do they come from? From within Adam's now sinful heart.

Tom Ascol on "How Romans 1:16-17 Impacts Our Preaching of the Gospel"

The gospel is the only thing that saves sinners. The way the gospel works guarantees this.
All biblical preaching is a gospel sermon.
Redditt Andrews on Perseverance/Preservation:

It's not what you profess but who you possess.
Three things that should be granted in this discussion: (1) hypocrites will fall away; (2) if God relaxed His grip on us we would all fall away; and (3) saints can fall into sin. Having said that, genuine believers do in fact complete the journey to glory.
Perseverance is really a discussion of the nature of conversion. Regeneration is participation in divine life.
God preserves the inheritance and the inheritor.
Faith is the state God induces in the believer to preserve us for heaven. God perpetually inclines the soul to look toward Him always. When God preserves us, He inculcates our striving.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Finding Reliable Men: Well Thought of by Outsiders

What do you suppose is the most frequent criticism lodged against the local church and Christians?

  • The church is not doing enough to address problems (youth, homelessness, etc.)
  • The church and Christians are not open-minded; they’re backward and discriminatory.
  • The church and Christians—especially preachers—are out for your money.
  • If the church has the truth, why are there so many divisions and denominations?
  • The church is obsolete and unnecessary, and Christians are dangerous to society.
  • The church and Christians are boring, not exciting, killjoys, dead.
  • Christians are self-righteous and mean.
  • The church is full of hypocrites.

That last complaint, the church is full of hypocrites, probably covers a lot of the other problems and complaints. Many people in the world, in one way or another, consider Christian people and the Christian church as a whole… hypocritical.

And, let’s face it. Many of the critiques I just read out… are on the money—at least for some churches and professing Christians.

  • There are Christians who are self-righteous and mean.
  • There are Christian preachers and churches who care more about money than people.
  • There are Christians and churches that are not open-minded in the best sense of that phrase… who are stuck in some bygone era and unable or unwilling to take the truth and engage contemporary society.
  • And Christians are a quarrelsome lot. We divide sometimes over the most insignificant things.

It will not do for us to just ignore such criticisms. Yes, the people who raise them are likely hypocrites themselves. But that’s what we’d expect to find out in the world.

But is it what we should expect in the church? Have our critics done us a service by pointing these things out? Do we agree with them? If we agree, what are we to do?

The Apostle Paul comes to his final qualification for elders/pastors in 1 Timothy 3:7--"Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil."

It turns out that what unbelievers think of us really does matter, especially for potential elders and leaders. A man who desires to be an elder must have a strong reputation with those outside the church. These outsiders, non-Christians, are witnesses certifying and corroborating the potential elders' testimony. It's not that folks are neutral about him; "he must be well thought of." The opinion must be positive. If a man is well-regarded inside church but poorly regarded by non-Christians, he is not a suitable candidate for the Christian ministry.

The reason Paul gives under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is similar to the reason given for why an elders hould not be a new convert but mature. A poor outside reputation makes a man vulnerable to falling into disgrace or a trap of the evil one. How many men in pastoral ministry with poor reputations have tarnished the witness of their local church, the Name of Christ, and the gospel? That's precisely what the enemy of the elect wishes to have happen--men falling on their own sword of poor reputation and bad living in the name of Christ.

Elders are to commend the gospel and everything that conforms to sound doctrine. Even the Christian's enemies should feel ashamed about their evil comments in the face of a life lived well for Christ (1 Pet. 3:16). These are the kind of men we are to pray for and look for when it comes to the office of elder.

Some Questions and Observations (Please feel free to add others)

1. What does the prospective elder's non-Christian neighbors and co-workers report about him? Are they witnesses to what they would consider Christian or un-Christian behavior in the prospective elder?

2. Is there evidence that the outsiders' opinions are accurate or inaccurate? It is improbable that Paul intends the local church to take the opinion of non-Christians without reflection and discernment. Paul himself would not be judged by any man when that judgment was unfounded and where faithfulness was demonstrable (1 Cor. 4:1-4). Likewise, the local church should neither dismiss the opinion of outsiders regarding her leaders or swallow "hook, line, and sinker" any charge brought aagainst a man.

3. Does the prospective elder engage in the affairs of the wider community? A prospective elder should be salt and light in the world. That will be reflected, in part, in the non-Christian relationships he maintains and the civic and community contributions he makes.

The call to serve Christ as an undershepherd is a high call. Not everyone may take the mantle of leadership in the church. Those called must be examples to the flock in every area of life (1 Tim. 4:12). Such men must be models of devout faith inside and outside the church, commending Christ and the gospel to all. And yet, apart from being able to teach, the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 are characteristics that every Christian should increasingly possess by God's grace and the work of His Spirit. May the Lord be pleased to grant us both the blessing of faithful, reliable men to lead our churches and the fruit of His Spirit.

Other posts in this series
Introduction: Finding Reliable Men
Above Reproach
One-Woman Man
Temperate, Self-Controlled, Respectable
Able to Teach
Sober, Gentle, Peacemaking
Not Lovers of Money
Leaders at Home
Mature and Humble

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Gospel by the Bay... and Other Places, Too

The Bay area of California is one of my favorite spots in the U.S. My wife and I vacationed there several years running a while back. I simply love the area.

But when we were there, it was hard to find a good local church to attend. I'm sure that had more to do with our ignorance than the churches in the area. But I'm thankful for one brother I've been getting to know who lives and ministers in the Bay area, Justin Buzzard. Justin blogs over at Buzzard Blog and if you haven't already, you should check him out. And if you live in the Bay area and you're looking for a church, check out Central Peninsula Church while you're at it.

Another Blog I've been enjoying for some time is Eucatastrophe. It gets my award for the best blog name. And Dan cares about the church, the gospel, the family and many other great things worthy of our attention.

He's honest. He's solid. And he raps. His name is Quincy Jones. Not that Quincy--Quincy A. Jones. His blog title captures it all: Truth in the Innermost. He has been engaging in an important conversation about theology and the African American experience/situation/need.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Gospel in Miami

Later this week, Lord willing, I'm headed to Miami for the annual Miami Pastors' Conference at Glendale Baptist Church. I'm looking forward to the outstanding preaching, fellowship, and food! For the last two years, my time in Miami has been a tremendous "shot in the spiritual arm." I trust this year will be the same.

As an enticement to any last-minuters out there, here are a couple a clips of Sinclair Ferguson and Ken Jones courtesy of the Tony Carter Archives.

Band of Bloggers '08

Bloggers unite! Or... at least meet. The good brothers at Said At Southern will be hosting the Band of Bloggers meeting to coincide with T4G 2008. This year's theme is "The Gospel Trust." If you have not yet registered for T4G, please consider a slightly earlier arrival to participate in this conversation about our stewardship of the gospel. If you've already registered for T4G, consider changing your travel plans to arrive a bit earlier. We'd love to see you all there!

Details from the website below:

Many of you will remember that in concert with the 2006 Together for the Gospel Conference a meeting was held called “The Band of Bloggers.” The outcome of that fellowship was the gathering of over 70 bloggers all across the country. While the event was a success and encouragement to many, it has been our desire to build upon that vision with a more concentrated and collaborative effort for the upcoming 2008 Together for the Gospel Conference.

On Tuesday, April 15, 2008, we will gather for the second Band of Bloggers fellowship. The meeting will take place during lunch just prior to the first session of the T4G conference at the Galt House in downtown Louisville. The theme for the 2008 Band of Bloggers is “The Gospel Trust,” and the guest speakers who will comprise the panel include Tim Challies, Justin Taylor, Thabiti Anyabwile, and Mark Lauterbach. With a strong blogging community in Louisville, Said at Southern will facilitate in hosting the event.

Plans and preparations are being finalized, and more details will be forthcoming in the near future. More information as well as articles, interviews, and podcasts will be available here at the new Band of Bloggers website. Be sure to subscribe to the BOB feed for further updates.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Finding Reliable Men: Mature and Humble

You ever heard the phrase "the zeal of a new convert"? It's used to describe someone who is fervent and boiling over with enthusiasm because of their newfound beliefs or commitments. It's a bit of a cliche, but it's a helpful description of recent initiates. New converts tend to have a great deal of energy and enthusiasm, they're bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (to use another cliche) but not according to knowledge.
The Lord's next requirement for those who would lead His church as under-shepherds is that "He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil" (1 Tim. 3:6).

The apostle gives us both the qualification and the rationale.

The Qualification

"He must not be a recent convert." That is, the elder must not be a new believer. Literally, he must not be "newly planted" in the faith. Like a tender shoot, he will be unable to withstand the steady trodding and sometimes trampling that comes with pastoral ministry. His faith must not be new but aged, like a mature vine that produces ripe fruit.

New believers are like new children, the freshness of new life encourages and excites us but there must be the recognition that they are vulnerable. Their lack of maturity requires that time be taken to instruct, shape and care for them. Because they need such care, they are not themselves sufficiently equipped to provide pastoral level care to others.

It's good of the Lord to tell us this in His word, and good for the church to heed it. The tendency in some churches, particularly those eager to get people "plugged in" or involved in ministry, will sometimes be to take new converts and press them into service wherever there appears an interest or a need. When we do that, whether it is the eldership or children's ministry or the praise team, we open ourselves to making two mistakes: (1) placing the person in a service setting beyond their ability (even teaching children, if we're doing more than "baby sitting" for a couple hours, requires good facility in the basics of the faith), and (2) neglecting the more needful care and instruction we should be giving the new convert.

So, while Paul raises this issue especially with elders, it may be prudent to apply this more broadly in the church by encouraging new converts and members to complete appropriate theological and ministry training before involving them in a particular area of service, or by encouraging them to take the first six months of their membership and focus primarily on learning and building relationships in the church. But back to eldership....

The potential elder is not to be a recent convert to the faith. There will be much that he needs to learn, apply, and master in his own life (Rom. 12:1-2) before he can begin to disciple and shepherd others in this way. Paul does not give us an age requirement or some length of time that automatically signals maturity. We all know Christians who have been Christians for decades but probably lack the spiritual maturity requisite for the eldership. And conversely, we've probably me a number of people who spiritually were "born old" and evidence remarkable maturity for their "Christian age." Patient discernment is needed. What we would like to see is consistent maturity in life and thought over time.

The Rationale

And we would be wise to search for maturity because of the particular danger that attaches itself to the office. The word of God says an immature man "may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil." Pride and demonic condemnation. Two very dangerous spiritual foes await the novice. Someone unable to handle the mantle of leadership as "servant of all" may be given to lofty thoughts of himself. And that pride will affect how he handles others, perhaps leading to harsh treatment of the sheep and unwillingness to follow leadership himself. Ultimately, such a novice is vulnerable to falling in the office, leading to "the condemnation of the devil." That condemnation could either be interpreted as the same judgment the devil received for his pride or the slander and accusation of the devil, who stands ready to accuse the brethren. Either way, to invite a novice to the office of elder is to invite him to onslaughts from within (pride) and without (judgment).

Calvin summarizes well: "novices have not only impetuous fervour and bold daring, but are also puffed up with foolish confidence, as if they could fly beyond the clouds. Consequently, it is not without reason that they are excluded from the honour of a bishopric, till, in process of time, their proud temper shall be subdued."

Some Observations and Questions

1. When was the man converted? Is the potential elder a new Christian? If so, he is not qualified for the post. He may be a man with great zeal and desire to serve, but it's better to disciple and train him for a life of godliness and push into the future of maturity considerations for eldership.

2. What is the man's level of spiritual maturity, even if he were converted some time ago? By spiritual maturity, we mustn't think age or number of years as a Christian. Does the man demonstrate Spirit-filled living, bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5)? Does he respond with kindness, patience, and compassion in varying situations? Does he meet the qualifications previously stated (sober, etc.)? Is he a young man with maturity beyond his years? Such a man should be considered as long as he is mature.

3. To what extent is the man given to pride? Pride is an enemy to us all. It has many faces and forms. But to what extent is a man aware of his pride? Does he act proudly and appear blind to it? Or, does he fight his pride like a Christian, making his life open to and submitted to others? Will the office of elder tempt him to arrogance and exalting himself over others? Consider the man's leadership experiences in other places. Does he evidence pride in those settings? Would his employees or coworkers regard him as a humble or a puffed up man?

4. One measure of pride might be over-confidence in the face of spiritual temptations and dangers. Warned about the accusation and temptations of the evil one peculiar to the eldership, does he show godly concern or too much sureness of his own ability and strength? Or, is he gripped with a sense of his own inadequacy (2 Cor. 2:16) and need for God's spiritual protection? Blindness to our need for spiritual protection and vigilance in watching our lives most certainly leads to dullness of heart and rests on the pride off self-confidence.

5. Is the man sensitive to critique and criticism? Certainly not every criticism a person receives is accurate or warranted. But how will we know whether a criticism is accurate or unjust if we refuse to consider them in the first place? Is the prospective elder prone to knee-jerk defenses and rationalizations in the face of critique and criticism? Does he interpret every disagreement as opposition? Pride sometimes manifests itself in an "untouchable" attitude toward the critique, criticism and even slander of others. But a humble, poor in spirit attitude will prayerfully consider such comments an opportunity for reflection and growth.

6. It might be helpful to ask the man and others if he is able to submit to the opinion of others (especially other elders) even when he holds a different opinion. Can he submit to others when he disagrees? Can he recognize that the other elders are biblically qualified, gifted, and Spirit-filled men who may hold a different opinion?

In looking for reliable men, in endeavoring to be reliable pastors, we can not afford to minimize the importance of spiritual maturity and humility.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Finding Reliable Men: Leaders at Home

The church is a family. It is a group of brothers and sisters in Christ, submitted to God the Father by the working of God the Holy Spirit. The church is a family.

Every family requires leadership. The church is no different. So, it's surprising that the Apostle Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit adds another qualification for those who desire to be overseers in the Lord's family, the church. He writes, "He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?"

Notice the urgency and insistence about these qualifications. The prospective elder must possess these qualities. That's said of all the qualities, but here it has a louder ring to it. There is no way for a man to be a qualified elder and not be in the habit of consistently managing his own household well. He simply must. And this managing of the home is prerequisite to serving as an elder. It's not something that is "learned on the job;" it is a minimum qualification for even accepting the application. An inability to manage this smaller household by definition means a man can not manage God's larger household, the church. And an elder is called to nothing less than tending to God's family and household.

And, notice that it's "his own" household that must be managed. Women get an unfair and bad rap being sometimes stereotyped as busy bodies and meddlers into the affairs of others. Well, here, Paul warns against men who may be too preoccupied with the affairs of others and too little occupied with things going on under their own roof. One thinks of Eli's hasty and mistaken rebuke of Hannah as she prayed while abdicating responsibility for his wayward boys in 1 Samuel. An elder tends to affairs at home.

To "manage" his home includes both the supervision of his family as well as the nurture of the family members. If a man only supervises but fails to nurture, he may be either a tyrant or an absentee landlord. Neither is fitting for a father, much less an elder. If he only nurtures but fails to supervise, he may play the part of the permissive "good cop" and "friend" to the children but never give appropriate guidance. He is to govern the home but with gentleness and concern for each member of the family. The word "manage" here is the same word used of the Good Samaritan who risked himself to bandage and care for the wounded man. The Samaritan responded with caring supervision and concern. This is what the prospective elder will be called to do in the church.

The apostle tells us immediately what this good management concerns. It is "with all dignity keeping his children submissive." Paul has already addressed the fact that the prospective elder is to be "a one-woman man," indicating the singleness of heart he has for his wife if married. He will love her as Christ loves the church (Eph. 5). But here, Paul has particular concern for a father's relationship with his children. The NIV renders this "see that his children obey him with proper respect." The word "dignity" can apply either to the father in his role or the children in their submission and obedience. And, actually, one would expect both with a qualified elder. Such a man is worthy of respect and it shows in how he leads his home. He is dignified, respectful or reverent. Correspondingly, his children should treat him with respect and reverence. There is to be a mutuality in this regard.

Some Questions and Observations (Please Share Others)
1. Is the prospective elder attentive to his home? Does he provide leadership to the affairs of his home? What does his wife say about his involvement? Does she commend him or tend to camouflage lack of involvement with rationalizations? Supervising the home can be measured in a number of ways, from knowing and attending to the family's finances to leadership in decision-making about the kids' education to the physical upkeep of the home itself.

2. Does the prospective elder care for his children? Is that care demonstrable for each individual child? An elder will often be called to tend the individual members of the flock. It's wise to observe that tendency in a prospective elder with his individual children.

3. Do the children submit to their father? Are they obedient to their father? Is it evident that they respect their father and regard him highly? Or, is the relationship characterized by animosity and rebellion? Obviously, the particulars of the situation matters here. It may be that a child is spiritually lost and struggling, yet still obedient and respectful to their father. Paul's instruction here doesn't call for a perfect home and perfect children--none exist. So, it's as wise to ask if the father is managing the home well in the midst of difficult circumstances, his children showing proper respect despite the present challenges.

4. Would the children say that the father is qualified to serve as an elder? Age and understanding matters here. But if the children are old enough to understand the decision at hand, would they support their father as worthy of the office? What grounds would they give for affirming or denying a man's qualification? Sensitivity is required. But what our children see in us is likely to be what the church sees in us--only our children tend to see it first and without the mask of religious hypocrisy.

5. For single men or married men without children, it would be important to know what their attitudes are toward children and child rearing. Is he opposed to having children or is he postponing having children (if married) for some period of time? In that case there may be selfish tendencies shaping his life. For single men, it might be worth considering whether the man has other opportunities for shepherding children that serve as a proxy of sorts on this issue. Does he volunteer with any ministries or community programs that serve youth? Does he have nieces and nephews? Does he volunteer to care for children of other families in the church? If so, how do the children in those programs respond to him and how does he care for them? Workplace relationships may provide a similar proxy.

The Lord requires that His church be managed by men who know how to supervise and nurture His children. To a great extent, that is the task of pastoral ministry. And where are we to find these men? Where else? At home taking care of business. May the Lord be pleased to raise up men gifted for the task.