Friday, December 21, 2007

Muzzling the Dog: No More Munching on "Ole Roy" (the Walmart Dog Food That Is)

His Barking Dog began at the instigation of Durable Data's Glenn Layne. Durable felt that it would be valuable to have a wider range of reporting and commentary on ABC related issues, particularly given the paucity of reliable information from the standard denominational sources. Few organizations have a greater corporate ethos of self-protection and ingrained denial than the American Baptist Churches (IMO). Corporate actions often bear only a passing resemblance to what is actually reported. And, the corporate culture over decades has shielded decision makers from the consequences of significant ethical and moral lapses.

Given the fact that several of my friends continue to serve in the hierarchy, it seemed a natural idea to begin blogging. And for a time, my keyboard clattered away with piece after piece, offering an evangelical commentary on all things ABC. When my judicatory, ABCPSW, voted to withdraw from the larger family, my postings dropped significantly, both in volume and as a percentage of topics tackled in this venue.

This week, it came to my attention that some of my blogs and message board postings have had damaging repercussions on the cause of Christ and involved people I love in legal complications. Now that I am somewhat an insider at Transformation Ministries as Treasurer of the organization, this will simply no longer do.

When my postings end up being referenced in attorney's letters to people I care about, enough is enough. Since there is no practical way to avoid legal repercussions arising from comments about the way VF does things (even when the statistics and reporting are strictly accurate), I have concluded that it might be better to retire from reporting and commenting on the ABC entirely. Ultimately, it really doesn't matter anyway. And, the cost to people I care about is too great. An important lesson to be learned from the original Star Wars movie comes from the advice C3PO gave to R2D2 when Han Solo advised him that angry Wookies pull their opponents' arms out of their sockets: "New strategy R2, let the Wookie win." With respect to the politics of the ABC, C3PO's admonition is just as valuable.

His Barking Dog will still speak on issues of importance and consequence from an evangelical and Baptist perspective at this web address. However, there will be no more comments about the organization known as ABCUSA.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Christmas Gift for the Sinner Who Has Everything? A Get Out of Purgatory Card?

Would you buy grace from this man?

Just in time for the Christmas shopping rush, Pope Benedict XVI has added a gift suggestion for the sinner who has everything: a "get out of purgatory" early card.

Rome, Dec. 5, 2007 ( - Pope Benedict XVI (bio - news) has announced that a plenary indulgence is available to Catholics who travel to Lourdes during the coming year, for the 150th anniversary of the Marian apparitions there.

The indulgence is available to those who, under the usual conditions, make a pilgrimage to Lourdes between December 8 of this year and the same date in 2008. The pilgrimage should include visits to the famous Massabielle grotto at Lourdes where the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous, the Soubirois family home, and the places where St. Bernadette was baptized and received her First Communion.

A plenary indulgence is also available to those who venerate an image of Our Lady of Lourdes at any church or chapel between February 2 and February 11 of 2008, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

One wag commented that maybe it is time to pull out the "Tetzel is my Homeboy" shirts in honor of the indulgence merchant whose marketing efforts helped precipitate the Protestant Reformation in 1517.

Just when efforts to reconcile Rome and Protestantism have been gaining traction in the Protestant community (e.g., Evangelicals and Catholics Together), something like this reminds me why I am a Reformation Christian: sola fide, sola gratia, sola scriptura, solus Christus, and soli deo gloria!

Christmas reminds us that the Creator stepped into his creation to redeem us from our sins, to justify us by his own sacrifice, and to purchase us for himself forever -- without our works or efforts, purchased indulgences or otherwise.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Green Lake Development Plans Proceeding to Next Stage: Annexation or Lawsuit?

Lindenwood Development LLC has filed a lawsuit in Green Lake County Circuit Court against the township of Brooklyn for denying it permission to develop 140 acres on the Green Lake Conference Center property. The local newspaper in OshKosh indicated today that the developer plans to pursue either a lawsuit or annexation strategy for accomplishing the goal.

Last year the Green Lake Conference Center, affiliated with the ABCUSA, announced plans to sell 140 of its 1,000 acres to Lindenwood Development LLC. The sale promised to generate between $25 million and $40 million, according to CLCC President Ken Giacoletto. Ken indicated that it would be used to continue its ministries aimed at pastors around the country to help them establish and strengthen their local churches.

The announcement elicited criticism from some of the 30 private property owners on the grounds who oppose the changes. Initially the town of Brooklyn denied Lindenwood's preliminary plan for Estates of Lawsonia due to lot sizes not meshing with the existing requirements for the community. “Our comprehensive plan calls for one to two-acre lots; they wanted a half-acre or less,” said Brooklyn Town Chairman Mike Wuest.

In addition to the lawsuit, next week the Appleton development firm and the American Baptist Assembly will present their request to annex 900 acres into the city of Green Lake at a December 12 planning commission meeting at city hall. In opposition to GLCC and Lindenwood Development, Steve Sorenson, attorney for some of the disgruntled property owners, will represent their sentiments at the session.

If the annexation proposal receives approval, it would use a connection via State Highway 23 and the lake itself to satisfy the legal requirements for connectivity, according to Green Lake Mayor Joe Parise.

Few would disagree that Giacoletto has worked wonders with Green Lake during his tenure. Gone are the aging and drafty barn-like buildings. In their place can be found attractive and effecient lodgings and commons areas. He has transformed GLCC into a premier Christian center in the midwest. Please pray for Ken and GLCC as they enter into these difficult days with city officials. Red tape is never more difficult to digest than when you have an appetite for the banquet of the Lamb and want to leverage all of your assets to make a maximum kingdom impact during the remaining days of your stewardship on earth.

For more details, see Monday's Oshkosh Northwestern and

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Santa Scale for Measuring Society's Slide Down Secularism's Slippery Slope

OK, I confess. I am a Christmas fanatic. I love the sights, the sounds, the smells, and (yes) even maintain a tradition of day-after-Thanksgiving shopping at 4:00 a.m. This year, we were visiting our second and fourth children and their families in the Ozarks and my fifth child and I still made it to five stores between 4:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. Friday morning. Each day between the Thanksgiving and Christmas is filled with viewing “classics” such as “National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and “The Santa Clause” (one, two, and three). Next week will find me on the roof putting up the huge lighted Costco nativity scene.

Santa Claus has been a bit more ambiguous for me. My Christian convictions led me to ban Santa from the house during the rearing of our first four children. However, the more Tolkien and C.S. Lewis I read, the more it seemed that Santa was not so much a threat to faith or a competitor to Christ as he was a richly nuanced myth conveying some significant spiritual truth artistically supporting rather than contradicting the reality of Christ’s incarnation. So, my fifth child grew up in a Santa-friendly environment.

Santa, and how he is portrayed, can be a barometer of our society and its degree of slide down the secular slippery slope. Last week, viewing "Fred Claus," I learned volumes about how far we have fallen. As portrayed brilliantly by Paul Giamatti, Santa has the same problems as many other mortals. He experiences sibling rivalry, fights with his brother, "Fred" (portrayed perfectly by Vince Vaughn), struggles with his weight, has marital difficulties, and his wife even hints about "other" problems that might profitably be helped by Viagra or Cialis.

Santa has a heart of gold and gives of himself generously to all, including Fred from whom he has been alienated since childhood. However, while Santa may be a “spiritual” person (in the 21st century generic sense), David Dobkin plants him squarely in the moral landscape of today. The banter between Santa and brother Fred may elevate Fred in this redemptive morality play, but at the price of lowering Santa. Santa and his brother Fred finally demonstrate that “repentance conquers resentment” as one reviewer put it. However, there is no hint of Christianity. Religion is not so much untrue as irrelevant. And, in the end, even the North Pole is made better by Fred’s cooler, more hang-loose, non-judgmental style.

Some earlier Santa movies focused on the miracle of Christmas, the unmerited grace of it all, and the unvarying goodness of this mythological figure that functions as a “stand in” for Christ. This movie proclaims the gospel of moral equivalence and teaches that there are really no “bad kids” and that everyone deserves a gift from Santa. How perfectly appropriate for a world where “Merry Christmas” has become “happy holidays.”

To the extent that Santa is a "stand in" for Christ, one must ask the question: "Who is Fred?" Clearly, he has style, panache, and makes people happy accepting their human failures. If the devil could just give God some advice on how to loosen up and become less judgmental, maybe heaven could improve almost as much as the North Pole under Fred's more enlightened approach. Hmmm. No thanks.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

ABC to Sell ABC Mission Center to ABC in Order to Endow ABC Office of the General Secretary and Stop Flow of Red Ink That Imperils ABC? Huh???

VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 11/13/07) — At their November meeting, the Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board's (MMBB) Board of Managers voted to join a Limited Liability Company (LLC) of American Baptist Churches (ABC) Partners with a goal of purchasing the Valley Forge Mission Center. This was the next in a series of steps that began last June when the ABCUSA General Board approved a proposal to sell the property.

Following the General Board’s decision, the property was offered to Brandywine Realty Trust, a real estate investment trust with a long term lease on the ABCUSA-owned property adjacent to the Mission Center. Included in its lease, Brandywine had a "right of first offer" on the property should ABCUSA ever decide to sell the property. As per the agreement, the property was offered to Brandywine with the anticipation that they would decline the offer due to lease terms that were intentionally favorable to ABC Partners. As expected, Brandywine declined the offer in October which allowed the recent vote by the MMBB Board to take place.

The next step in the process will be for ABCUSA to petition the New York State Supreme Court for permission to sell the property. Because ABCUSA is incorporated as a "not for profit" in New York, that state’s Supreme Court must determine if it is in ABCUSA's best interest to complete the sale. After that decision, the LLC would be legally formed and the property transferred to ABC Partners, which includes the Office of the General Secretary, National Ministries, International Ministries and MMBB.

It is anticipated the sale will be complete early in 2008. Proceeds of the sale will provide an endowment to partially fund the work of the Office of the General Secretary and related ministries.

Please help me understand this.

Last November, didn't Lloyd Hamblin explain to the GB meeting in Orlando that the Mission Center was a poor building? Didn't he stress that the Office of the General Secretary should not be in the land, building, or rental business? Didn't he suggest that the building is inefficient as a rental facility and that it needs a major renovation in order to compete with surrounding rental properties?

And, wasn't the idea of selling the Mission Center an effort to off-load a white elephant building and staunch the flow of red ink imperiling the larger ABC mission effort at home and abroad?

Furthermore, in the famous Tucson meeting (you know the one where they "fixed" the human sexuality issue for all time in the ABC), whenever the denominational restructuring was discussed didn't the Office of the General Secretary receive NO AFFIRMATION? Why does it keep appearing in the picture and in the restructure documents?

Finally, how much will MMBB "invest" in endowing the Mission Center and the Office of the General Secretary? And, if they really have that kind of money, why was it necessary to take corrective action to reduce the rapid depletion of the endowment funds?

Most of my organization's 180 employees are part of the MMBB system at my recommendation. I have been a member of MMBB since the mid 1970s. This does not sound like good stewardship to me. Please tell me how it all makes sound money sense.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

That Slippery Little Word "Heresy"

Early in the last century Presbyterian J. Gresham Machen called "liberalism" heresy and the New Brunswick Presbytery returned the favor by expelling him from the PCUSA. Episcopal Bishops James Pike and John Shelby Spong have often been treated as such. Even Baptist theologian Molly Marshall has been dubbed one by her detractors. Left Behinder Tim LaHaye has called Calvinism "perilously close to blasphemy" if not actually using the "h" word. Slippery little word, "heresy," isn't it?

In Roman Catholic circles, they distinguish heresy from schism (disunity through lack of love) and apostasy (abandonment of Christianity). In the Roman Catholic sense of the term, "heresy" comes in two principle flavors: "formal" (adherence to false doctrine by a baptized Roman Catholic) and "material" (false doctrine held in ignorance by a non-Roman).

For those of us Protestants, we often throw the word around about as loosely as we do political/ideological labels. A "liberal," for instance, is just about anybody to the left of me. Religiously, "I am a conservative evangelical," YOU are a fundamentalist. In this sense, a heretic is anybody who disagrees with me over any point of doctrine. The problem comes when, as a result of seeing through a "glass darkly," we begin to disagree on eschatological schema, patterns of polity, candidates for baptism, or whatever. I have heard Arminians, name-it-and-claim-it preachers, credobaptists, Calvinists, and premil folks labeled "heretics" at one time or another. Some think theonomy is a heresy. Most Reformed folks have no problems calling dispensationalism heresy.

It would seem to me that one might distinguish between beliefs that consign one to hell and notions that are to one degree or another untrue, but not a "salvation issue." In our Protestant tradition, heresy has often been used in a more technical sense of a two-fold move: denying a "crucial" (???) Christian truth + embracing an unbiblical error. But herein lays the rub. Who is to distinguish between a central/crucial doctrine and an "unimportant" one? Might it even be heretical to call ANY doctrine of God "unimportant"?

The origin of the word in the New Testament is instructive. Hairesis denotes . . .1. a choice; 2. a chosen opinion (used only negatively in the NT of views caused by false teachings); 3. a sect or party (holding certain opinions). 2 Tim 3:16 pictures the role of the Scriptures as establishing the "line" ("teaching" - didaskalian), showing where we have deviated from the line ("reproof" - elegmon), directing us in the proper change in course to return to the line ("correction" - epanorthoosin), and how to continue our conduct on the line ("training in righteousness" - paideian teen dikaiosunee). The "geometry" of obedience leads us to follow the line of God's leading in His word. Our "choice" seems responsive to His gracious provision of truth to follow in and error to avoid.

Heresy would seem to involve a very different kind of "choosing," one that exalts the autonomous will of man. "Choosing" to separate from the life-giving truth of God in favor of one's own determinations, differentiations, and decisions, sometimes even forming a schismatic party would characterize heresy. In fact, you might even argue that heretics are those who "choose" a different view than orthodox Christianity and then practice their choice divisively in the church as schismatics.

Another distinction seems necessary. My observation is that conservative Protestants often suffer from degree envy. So we send our best and brightest off to Harvard, Claremont, Chicago, the GTU, etc. for their terminal degrees. They return with their piety and heart for the Lord intact, but often infected with a mindset that destroys the faith from within. Having known and grown close to mentors who are unashamedly liberal, they suffer from bouts of cognitive dissonance. Unable to condemn the pernicious doctrines of their mentors without seeming to slam their academic father-figures, they waffle. However, the next generation of students, taught by the wafflers, begins to move further away from the truth. When they go off to university for their PhD's they return with little heart for the Lord and a decidedly liberal methodology and mindset.

My point being that sometimes a teacher may be unassailably displaying evident piety and devotion, even giving lip service to all of the right doctrines, yet teach in such a way as to infect students with heresy. My concern is that we make the word narrow enough not to throw everyone but me and thee off the boat and yet broad enough to include the professedly orthodox person who leads people astray.

In lecture 39 of Dr. Curt Daniel's History and Theology of Calvinism series, he speaks of the problem of giving sinful humanity an inadequate diagnosis of our depravity and inability. He analogizes to a physician who offers (for a fee) to "doctor" your X-ray to make it look less dire rather than operating to remove the cancer. Daniel says that such a doctor should be "run out of" the ranks of physicians. Then, he adds: "In my opinion, Arminians should be run out of the ranks of theologians too."

Slipery little word, "heresy," isn't it?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Transformation Ministries Continues Wonderful Meetings on Friday

It is always good to gather with sisters and brothers who love the Lord. Creative presentations by Tom Morris and Aaron Porter, testimonies, commercials (Bill's Cornerstone Church Network), amazing music (Annie Moses Band), and Dr. Gibbs great material and extraordinary sensitivity to his congregation in the evening all contributed to a VERY good day at the Transformation Ministries Friday sessions. Even the business meeting was interesting with Dr. Salico's informational presentation. The extensive overhaul of the By-Laws with major revisions (something worthy of a good fight or two in most Baptist bodies) resulted in no controversy and an all but unanimous vote (1 dissenter on a secret ballot). The number of younger pastors and lay people made for a special day for an old guy like me.

As one pastor, a visitor from the other side of the country, wrote as he sat in the airport waiting for the red-eye home,

“Vision: this fellowship of churches has a vision for bringing Christ to the next generation. Energy: there was no sense of same old same old, but real Spirit energizes enthusiasm for mission. Unity: these people, ethnically diverse, had a real sense of love, respect, and genuine caring for the needs of all. None of the chip on shoulder attitude that have been so common in ABC circles.”

Two for two. Not a bad start for Transformation Ministries!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Transformation Ministries Begins on High Spiritual Note

Transformation Ministries began its annual meeting with a strong spiritual note of celebration and challenge. During the afternoon pre-convention session, Rev. Tom Mercer of mega-church High Desert Church, raised the roof with a spirited presentation of the “Best Evangelism Plan You’ve Never Heard Of.” Then, in the plenary session voices from a mosaic of ethnicities (African-American, Asian, Hispanic, and Caucasian) prepared for the sermon by Executive Minister Dr. Dale V. Salico.

Salico recounted statistics showing that today’s 16-29-year olds are more skeptical of and resistant to Christianity than were people in the same age group just a decade ago. Only 16% of non-Christians in this demographic have a positive impression of Christianity. And, only 3% hold a favorable view of evangelicals.

What were the common perceptions regarding Christianity? We are, they observed, judgmental, old fashioned, too involved in politics, anti-homosexual, and we no longer look like Jesus. 61% of today’s young adults—attended church during their teen years but, are now spiritually disengaged.

Salico hit on all of the right emotional and spiritual notes as he exposited Judges 2 as a paradigm for Christians today. In the text he found three generations in the history of Israel: The generation of Joshua (Israel’s “builder generation”), the generation of those who were first to grow up in the Promised-Land (“baby boomers”), and the children of Israel’s “baby-boomers,” the lost generation.

Israel’s “builders” (vss. 7-9) were courageous, inconsistent, sincere in their repentance, and willing to remember the great acts of God in their midst. The second generation of baby boomers (vss. 10-18) was complacent, prone to situation ethics, religiously relativistic, and powerless. The third generation was lost because they lacked the parental example of God’s deeds and faithful obedience by God’s people that their parents had seen.

Applying the message to his audience, Dr. Salico exhorted that “any generation of faith is just two generations away from a generation that is completely lost, with no memory of God and His ways.” In a series of practical applications, Salico reminded them that the spiritual battle will always appear daunting and overwhelming. Unless God chooses to “show up” there can be no hope. We are called to cultivate an environment in which faith can be understood and felt by the young, both in words and example. Added to this, and well beyond our own puny abilities lie the powerful call of a loving God and the submission of a willing heart.

The evening concluded with a powerful altar call directed at the pastors and spiritual leaders in the audience. Most of the ministers present could be found in the front of the convention center.
A participant from the other side of the U.S. commented that after a lifetime of Baptist ministry he had never before witnessed anything like this in American Baptist circles. Appearing genuinely moved by the spiritual tone of the meeting, he volunteered that there is something very special about Transformation Ministries.
[Full disclosure: While I write as an independent voice with opinions all my own and not to be confused with Dr. Salico, as of this annual meeting, the TM executive committee includes me as its treasurer.]

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Good Things Coming to Senior Care in Alhambra!

My blogging has been sporadic of late. Part of this relates to my growing distance from activities in the ABCUSA of which Transformation Ministries is no longer a part. But, the larger issue relates to an extraordinary ramp up of energies for the newest project at Atherton Baptist Homes in Alhambra, CA.

The "Courtyard" was approved unanimously by the Alhambra Planning Commission yesterday evening. Now we move into the marketing phase where our staff will attempt to secure 70% presales on the project. All the while we await the final approval from the State of California to proceed.

For 93 years Atherton has served the needs of seniors in Southern California. With four levels of care, ranging from fully residential living to high need skilled nursing services, Atherton was one of the first retirement communities in our area and still one of the best.

We began with a commitment to serve ministers, missionaries, and their surviving spouses. Today we continue that mission with nearly a quarter of our residents coming to us after vocational Christian service. But, since the 60's we have also opened our doors to the lay community.

The amount of work necessary to prepare for such an undertaking as the Courtyard can be herculean. Architectural and engineering work takes months, bond financing can be tricky, and applications to the state of California involve detailed actuarial studies, financial feasibility analyses, sensitivity studies, marketing surveys, focus groups, and more.

So, my blog may suffer, but some of my "friends" may count that as an unintended blessing. If you are 60 years of age or older or know someone who is, give me a call at Atherton (626-289-4178 x468)!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Are You Tired Trying to Drink Water from a Cactus? Puritans Had the True Super-Soaker for Spirituality

Are you weary from trying to squeeze enough water out of the prickly cactus of modern Christian writers to satisfy your spiritual thirst? Lately, and much to my surprise, I have been drinking my fill from the seemingly endless cisterns of Puritan spirituality. After you get beyond the modern prejudices most of us harbor toward these supposedly dull and dour divines, you will discover an amazingly rich conduit for rivers of living water.

Just doing a simple search of the word "excellent" and its cognates in a few dozen Puritan books turned up 8,623 instances of the word, chiefly in reference to the manifold excellencies of God.

In his work, Christ Altogether Lovely, Puritan divine John Flavel (1630-1691) applies the truth that he is lovely in his person, in his offices, and in his relations to the believer. Using Song of Songs 5:16 as his text, Flavel concludes:

1. Is Jesus Christ altogether lovely? Then I beseech you set your souls upon this lovely Jesus. I am sure such an object as has been here represented, would compel love from the coldest breast and hardest heart. Away with those empty nothings, away with this vain deceitful world, which deserves not the thousandth part of the love you give it. Let all stand aside and give way to Christ. O if only you knew his worth and excellency, what he is in himself, what he has done for you, and deserved from you, you would need no arguments of mine to persuade you to love him!

2. Esteem nothing lovely except as it is enjoyed in Christ, or used for the sake of Christ . Love nothing for itself, love nothing separate from Jesus Christ. In two things we all sin in love of created things. We sin in the excess of our affections, loving them above the proper value of mere created things. We also sin in the inordinacy of our affections, that is to say we give our love for created things a priority it should never have.

3. Let us all be humbled for the corruption of our hearts that are so eager in their affections for vanities and trifles and so hard to be persuaded to the love of Christ, who is altogether lovely. O how many pour out streams of love and delight upon the vain and empty created thing; while no arguments can draw forth one drop of love from their stubborn and unbelieving hearts to Jesus Christ! I have read of one Joannes Mollius, who was observed to go often alone, and weep bitterly; and being pressed by a friend to know the cause of his troubles, said "O! it grieves me that I cannot bring this heart of mine to love Jesus Christ more fervently."

4. Represent Christ to the world as he is, by your behaviour towards him . Is he altogether lovely? Let all the world see and know that he is so, by your delights in him and communion with him; zeal for him, and readiness to part with any other lovely thing upon his account. Proclaim his excellencies to the world, as the spouse did in these verses. Persuade them how much your beloved is better than any other beloved. Show his glorious excellencies as you speak of him; hold him forth to others, as he is in himself: altogether lovely. See that you "walk worthy of him unto all well pleasing," Col. 1:10. "Show forth the praises of Christ," 1 Pet. 2:19 . Let not that "worthy name be blasphemed through you," James 2:7 . He is glorious in himself, and he is sure to put glory upon you; take heed that you do not put shame and dishonours upon him; he has committed his honour to you, do not betray that trust.

Never be ashamed to be counted as a Christian : he is altogether lovely; he can never be a shame to you; it will be your great sin to be ashamed of him. Some men glory in their shame; do not let yourself be ashamed of your glory. If you will be ashamed of Christ now, he will be ashamed of you when he shall appear in his own glory, and the glory of all his holy angels. Be ashamed of nothing but sin; and among other sins, be ashamed especially for this sin, that you have no more love for him who is altogether lovely.

6. Be willing to leave every thing that is lovely upon earth , in order that you may be with the altogether lovely Lord Jesus Christ in heaven. Lift up your voices with the bride, Rev. 20:20 "Come Lord Jesus, come quickly." It is true, you must pass through the pangs of death into his intimacy and enjoyment; but surely it is worth suffering much more than that to be with this lovely Jesus. "The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and the patient waiting for Jesus Christ," 2 Thes. 3:5.

7. Let the loveliness of Christ draw all men to him . Is loveliness in the creature so attractive? And can the transcendent loveliness of Christ draw none? O the blindness of man! If you see no beauty in Christ that causes you to desire him, it is because the god of this world has blinded your minds.

8. Strive to be Christ-like, if ever you would be lovely in the eyes of God and man . Certainly, my brethren, it is only the Spirit of Christ within you, and the beauty of Christ upon you, which can make you lovely persons. The more you resemble him in holiness, the more will you show of true excellence and loveliness; and the more frequent and spiritual your communication and communion with Christ is, the more of the beauty and loveliness of Christ will be stamped upon your spirits, changing you into the same image, from glory to glory. Amen.

J.I. Packer said it well when he asked the question: "Why do we need the Puritans?"

What could these zealots give us that we need, it is asked. The answer, in one word, is maturity. Maturity is a compound of wisdom, goodwill, resilience, and creativity. The Puritans exemplified maturity; we don’t. We are spiritual dwarfs. A much-travelled leader, a native American (be it said), has declared that he finds North American Protestantism, man-centered, manipulative, success-oriented, self-indulgent and sentimental, as it blatantly is, to be 3,000 miles wide and half an inch deep. The Puritans, by contrast, as a body were giants. They were great souls serving a great God. In them clear-headed passion and warm-hearted compassion combined. Visionary and practical, idealistic and realistic too, goal-oriented and methodical, they were great believers, great hopers, great doers, and great sufferers. But their sufferings, both sides of the ocean (in old England from the authorities and in New England from the elements), seasoned and ripened them till they gained a stature that was nothing short of heroic. Ease and luxury, such as our affluence brings us today, do not make for maturity; hardship and struggle however do, and the Puritans’ battles against the spiritual and climatic wildernesses in which God set them produced a virility of character, undaunted and unsinkable, rising above discouragement and fears, for which the true precedents and models are men like Moses, and Nehemiah, and Peter after Pentecost, and the apostle Paul.
Packer, J. I. (1994). A quest for godliness : The Puritan vision of the Christian life. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.

In a world of trite, overly commercialized, market-tested trivial pursuits passing for Christian books, Puritans like Flavel are a God-send to the parched and thirsty soul! Drink deeply and often!

Friday, September 21, 2007

ABCUSA in the Southwest. Whence and Whither? A Review of Dr. Chetti's Presentation at Atherton

Dr. Chetti soldiered on admirably for the cause of ABC unity in his presentation at Atherton Baptist Homes this week. He was upbeat, encouraging, prophetic, and quite effective. Only a diehard critic of the ABC could have remained unmoved by his excellent work in explaining, defending, and casting a compelling vision. My previous posting represented as fairly as possible the things that were said by Dr. Chetti so that you might have a flavor of the event. Several in attendance at the meeting verify the accuracy of my account.

Now, however, it is time to respond to some of the points raised. Several “nits” could be picked. For example, it was my understanding that Dr. Lee Spitzer did virtually all of the writing and most of the work on the Lancaster proposal. I also believe that Dr. Chetti is the most recent appointment to the audit committee for the American Baptist Homes of the West (an institution organizationally unrelated to Atherton Baptist Homes).

For the purposes of this posting, however, we will focus on the anomalies present in the structure being articulated as the future of the ABCUSA.

Radical Restructuring. Given the declining contributions to the United Mission budget, increases in regional support, and on-going friction over issues such as homosexuality, the ABC has decided to address these issues decisively and effectively. Their plan is to decouple the various program boards and regional entities, eliminate the General Board with its legislative functions, marginalize (or decommission) the Office of the General Secretary as it has existed since the 1970s, and generally promote a plan of decentralization.

The major virtue of the Federation is also its chief disadvantage. Like the old Articles of Confederation in the U.S., people often tire of a central government with no reason for being. Perhaps that is the plan. It will simply cease to exist in any meaningful national instantiation. But, will the proposed common table provide enough organizational glue to hold together such disparate and diverse regional entities?

A Covenant Depending Upon Revitalized and Activist Executive Ministers. After much prayer and agonizing discussion, the executive ministers realized that further factionalism will only destroy the good work everyone values in the ABC. They also sense that they have been too quiescent in the battles sundering the denomination. Therefore, they have concluded that as EMs will become proactive in saving the enterprise. In short, they will try not to get in each other's faces too much. Rather than allowing controversial persons to receive appointments to national offices, positions of leadership, and the like, they will pledge to one another to give “due consideration” to all ABC resolutions, policies, and statements.

However, before the ink could dry on the Tucson Covenant, at least one EM was reassuring his pastors that this did not mean that they would back away from their justice concerns or fail to give otherwise qualified people their leadership due. In what sense, then, does this “address the problem” or move forward? It sounds more like a pact not to see or discuss the elephant in the middle of the room. Any appointments over which EMs have control will be of the "under the radar" variety.

However, by eliminating the General Board and de-emphasizing or decommissioning the Office of the General Secretary, it should result in a noticeable drop in “noise” in the system. Everything will happen at the regional level. If TABCOM wants to have a lesbian as the head of their ministers council, so what? ABCOSH will not even hear news of it and they will likely never hear about it. They will simply be told by sincere Executive Ministers that "we have addressed the problem and that we have moved on.”

But, if “the issue” has been resolved and if the common table implies a high level of trust, why did Dr. Chetti feel the need to place a quarantine around the ABC of Chicago? Since there is no reason to question the integrity of what other regional units do, and since we are committed to not “taking our toys off the table,” does a refusal to accept clergy from Chicago not imply some contradiction of the rhetoric professed? And, what of TABCOM in Massachusetts or the Rochester region? If Los Angeles cannot trust Chicago, on what basis can they trust the arguably more progressive entities in the northeast?

Dr. Chetti proffered that all “34 executives are on the same page.” Here he seems completely sincere in his affirmation. However, based on conversations and e-mails sent to me, that greatly overstates the case. That they all voted for the proposal does not equate with excitement about it. In a less than perfect world, where the left took early and effective aim at the so-called Lancaster Plan, the “writing team” salvaged what could be kept and has put forth plans that will win unanimous support in part because they empower the Executive Ministers and reduce or remove the friction with Valley Forge. Freed from the burdens of the participation in the current Covenant of Relationships, EMs will be able to direct their passion where they want it to go: to their churches and pastors.

Will it work? I have suggested for some time that the plans being promulgated show the greatest potential to extend the life-cycle of the ABCUSA. Had the Tucson Covenant come a couple of years earlier and been honestly followed, it might very well have kept the PSW from withdrawing from the ABC.

At this point, however, the difficulties identified in this response will continue to be problematic for the organization. It remains to be seen how they will address the issues. In the meantime, Dr. Chetti is perhaps the best spokesperson Dr. Medley could find. He has the ability to explain and persuade those who are wavering.

[Since there is currently a battle for the hearts and minds of congregations located in Southern California, Arizona, and Hawaii for loyalty to either Transformation Ministries or ABCOSH, and due to Dr. Chetti's presence on the campus of the ministry where I serve, it seems appropriate to enter into dialogue regarding the points he made this past Monday at Atherton.]

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Dr. Chetti Explains Rationale for ABCOSH at Atherton Baptist Homes

As reported earlier, Dr. Sam Chetti, Executive Minister of the American Bapitst Churches of Los Angeles was present at Atherton Baptist Homes to discuss what is going on in the ABC since the withdrawal of PSW. 36 people were present in the room, mostly residents of our community. Additionally, besides Dr. Chetti and his aide-de-camp (Debbie Gentry), Dr. Dale Salico (his mother is an Atherton resident), Dr. William L. Ebling and his wife (ABH board chair), pastor Dick Sullender from Monrovia (who learned of the event from the Atherton newsletter), and one of my management team (Dale Torry) were also in attendance. Here are some of the details and a few of the points made (as best as I could record them) . . .

· Dr. Chetti explained the range of his responsibilities which include 147 congregations in the ABC of L.A., supervision of 137 employees and staff (the region owns several schools), endeavoring to build a $22 million endowment (they are at $13.25 million now), service on the ABHOW board of trustees ($150 million budget), responsibility as internal auditor for that organization, and shepherding responsibilities (at Dr. Medley’s request) for the emerging ABCOSH (American Baptist Congregations of the Southwest and Hawaii).

· He indicated that “our goal is to thrive and to thrive immensely.”

· In describing the shifts in the ABCUSA structure he indicated that he anticipated the Mission Center to be sold (approx. $10-14 million) and the money used to endow the on-going ministry of the Office of the General Secretary.

· He recounted the history of his idea to move toward a “common table” in the ABC, explaining how he presented the concept to a group of Executive Ministers meeting in Lancaster (PA), secured their agreement with the idea, which was then taken to the General Executive Council of the ABCUSA (GEC). Dr. Chetti explained that in the GEC the “liberals” typically reject whatever the evangelicals and centrists propose. So “after ten minutes” of critiquing the Lancaster proposal, the GEC moved on to other proposals for re-structuring. Nevertheless, when the “writing team” tasked with cobbling together an organizational plan intended to pull together the various ideas put forth at the GEC, they settled on a “federated” proposal closely approximating the Lancaster plan.

· Dr. Chetti opined that we do not need “common ground” but “higher ground.” He recounted a meeting earlier this year in Tucson when it did not look as if the GEC could come to agreement on any plan of action for the ABC. He invited a liberal Executive Minister and a Conservative Minister to meet with him at 10:45 p.m. and to pray earnestly for God’s will to be done. The next morning the group came to more than an agreement, it was a consensus. Attributing the nearly miraculous outcome to the agency of a loving God, the leaders emerged with a commitment/covenant to quit destroying the ABC family with needless factionalism. The EM’s pledged to only appoint/allow persons to national office and representative positions after giving “due consideration” to the existing policies and resolutions of the ABCUSA.

· Dr. Chetti explained that the ABC is a faith family, not a denomination. The “entire denominational structure” needs to change, he averred. The proposed structure will more likely resemble a federation focused on mission and ministry, not legislative decision-making.

· All “34 executives are on the same page,” Dr. Chetti proffered.

· As to the finances of the organization, he indicated that the United Mission numbers are showing declines. Yet the “regions are doing great” in the midst of it as congregations re-direct their giving away from the national organization in favor of the regional entities.

· On the question of homosexuality in the ABC, Dr. Chetti professed that “We have addressed the issue and we are moving forward.” We will be “stronger and leaner, and meaner . . . much leaner, much leaner, much leaner.”

· The ABC is an organization “constantly bounded by our passion for Jesus Christ.” He likened the departure of PSW/TM to a “storm” wrecking “tremendous amounts of devastation.” But “we are re-grouping, we are moving forward. My goal is to be positive, upbeat, transparent.” he concluded.

· The formal presentation ended at 3:27 with calls for questions. Dr. Chetti received some unsolicited kudos for his leadership, answered a few questions, and closed in prayer a few minutes later, dismissing to the finger foods his office had arranged for Atherton to prepare.

My analytical observations of Dr. Chetti’s presentation will wait for a later effort. For now, at least, this represents as objective account of what was said as I can muster. On a personal note, Dr. Medley might consider conscripting Sam as a representative in other venues. He was encouraging, upbeat, and extremely persuasive. A better case for the ABC could hardly have been made.

Pray for Missionaries Battling Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo is experiencing what may be the largest outbreak of Ebola in that country. 186 deaths have been registered in hospitals or clinics, but it is possible that many are dying without being counted. Baptist missionary Bill Clemmer, who heads SANRU the Programme de Santé Rurale, or Rural Health Program), and other Christian missionaries are working closing with the Atlanta based CDC in an effort to confront this recent Ebola outbreak.

Ebola — known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever — is a severe, often-fatal disease in humans that has appeared sporadically since its initial recognition in 1976, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The disease is caused by infection with Ebola virus, named after a river in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where it was first recognized.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Setting the Record Straight on Transformation Ministries

Recently there have been a number of rumors floating around the southwest about the dire straights facing newly created Transformation Ministries. As a new member of the board, these questions are more than a little existentially relevant for me. Today was our board meeting in Covina. For the benefit of the readership of His Barking Dog, here are the facts learned at today's meeting . . .

* "We have never had such a good balance sheet in the nearly ten years I have been here" (David Gregory, Chief Financial Officer).

* Currently TM is running at 91% of budget (Steve Roblee, Minister of Mission Advancement).

* How many giving churches of record have we lost since the withdrawal? 52 fewer congregations are giving to Trans Min than gave to ABCPSW (Steve Roblee).

* When asked how many significant giving congregations have we lost since the withdrawal from the ABC, Steve Roblee replied: "Two." And one of them has reduced their contribution from $1,200/mo. to $300/mo.

* The first draft of the budget was unbalanced for 2008. However, this appears mainly due to the overly conservative budget assumptions utilized by the ever vigilant CFO. On the investment side alone, even a fairly pessemistic set of assumptions would remove the budget deficit, in and of itself! And, this was only a preliminary draft copy, not the budget to be presented to the board.

* Church giving has been "flat" for the last several years (Gregory). This sounds bad until you examine the "falling like a stone" statistics for most mainline denominations.
* With all of the discussions about how few congregations have formally "signed the covenant" of TM, it should be noted that only 21 have officially withdrawn from TM and been acted upon by the board, and three of those are withdrawing from the ABCUSA as well.

The last time I served on the board of this region was nearly two decades ago. At that time we were burning through our endowment at a dizzying pace. Now, even after the withdrawal from the ABC, TM has a stable budget and a growing endowment. As someone who is responsible for a $13 million budget in my own ministry, I can only marvel at the degree of turnaround under the humble and self-effacing Salico.

By the way, this week's newsletter for Atherton Baptist Homes announced an open meeting with Dr. Sam Chetti of the ABC of LA. He will be on the Atherton campus next Monday, September 17, at 2:30 p.m. to answer questions and to discuss some of the outreach to those desiring to remain loyal American Baptists.

Since most of the Baptists at Atherton (we have about 350 residents) belong to either the First Baptist Church of Alhambra across the street (which voted 99% to withdraw from ABC) or the First Baptist Church of Temple City (which elected to withdraw with a nearly 85% majority), Atherton might seem at first a strange venue for such a meeting. However, our board has declared that it intends to continue ministry to Baptists in our entire constituency regardless of whether they belong to the ABC of LA, Transformation Ministries, or the new ABC group in the southwest.

Dr. Chetti is always welcome on the Atherton campus. In fact, any Baptist readers within driving distance to 214 S. Atlantic, Alhambra, CA might want to drop by on Monday to learn what programs the ABC has to offer.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

When Old is Good and New Not so Much

After plowing through endless pages of some perfectly dreary “contemporary” books lately, I have been reminded of the advice C.S. Lewis once gave regarding the reading of “old books.”

"We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, "But how could they have thought that?"—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them” (from his introduction to “Athanasius on the Incarnation”).

The “top ten” Christian books today include titles such as: 1. Forever; 2. Get Out of that Pit; 3. 90 Minutes in Heaven; 4. Facing Your Giants; 5. Ever After; 6. The Five Love Languages; 7. Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World; 8. Sex God; 9. The Purpose-Driven Life; 10: White Chocolate Moments.
All that is missing is Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential by the famously famous Joel Osteen.

I’m no expert, but my guess is that books by Athanasius, Augustine, Calvin, Owen, Warfield, Charnock, Chesterton, Lewis, Denney, Edwards, Luther, Gill, Bunyan, Kierkegaard, Pink, Ryle, Spurgeon, Brother Lawrence, Law, Hodge, Strong, Dabney, and the like might possibly have a chance to bring more spiritual impact to the reader than truckloads of the contemporary stuff.

And, lest you complain that people would not be able to understand such "complex" works, remember that at the time of the Reformation, Luther's books were eagerly snatched up and read by peasants as well as priests. The massive three-volume Institutes of Elenctic Theology by Reformer Francis Turretin, now considered an advanced volume reserved for specialists, was once viewed as an introductory catechetical text.

Baptist Calvinist Tom Ascol recently reminded us that Baptist John Broadus offered similar advice to young preachers when he wrote:

"I think that young men should be specially exhorted to read old books. If you have a friend in the ministry who is growing old, urge him to read mainly new books, that he may freshen his mind and keep in sympathy with his surroundings. 'But must not young men keep abreast of the age?' Certainly, only the first thing is to get abreast of the age, and in order to this, they must go back to where the age came from, and join there the great procession of its moving thought" ( Lectures on the History of Preaching, 230-31).

My next book? John Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ of course! After all, it is too good to be new.

Friday, August 31, 2007

In Praise of a Job Well Done and a New Path Begun

During the two years of this blog, His Barking Dog, it has been my custom to observe the church and culture, offering commentary and critique from an Evangelical and Baptist perspective. Today, however, my heart is filled with pride over a more personal reason, namely for my second born, Joshua D. McFadden, Esq.

Just minutes ago Josh received news that he has passed the bar exam on his first attempt and will be admitted to the practice of law in the state of Arkansas. This culminates a nine year pilgrimage through a fine undergraduate program in business at John Brown University, a MBA earned when he returned to JBU after working in Georgia, and a rigorous J.D. program at the University of Arkansas. Josh has joined a fine old firm in Fayetteville with about 15 attorneys, several of which achieved the highest score on the exam the years they took it. He looks forward to being trained as a civil litigator (the "gator" part is the give away; sortof like an alligator with a law license).
Josh possesses a fine mind and a keen analytical intellect. But more importantly, he and his wife, Tabitha (a marketing account exec with her own masters degree), have a strong desire to make a Kingdom difference with their lives. They are both committed to their family (now including young Dylan), to their church, and to their community. Our sin-sick world needs more people like them. We can certainly use their intellectual gifts and professional training. But, more importantly, their character and integrity will commend them in whatever endeavor they put their hands to do.

Soli deo gloria!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Remembering a Lion in Winter

Dr. D. James Kennedy has accomplished more in his 76 years than most mortals. He built a great church, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, from a handful of intial members. He pioneered an approach to evangelism that has borne immense fruit for the kingdom, not just his own niche of Protestant Christianity. His advocacy for orthodoxy has been clear and clarion. His defense of truth against the assaults of non-Christian and pseudo-Christian cults, his affirmation of creation by a sovereign and provident God against all forms of naturalism, and his clear stand on biblical morality have distinguished him as a giant of his generation of evangelicals.

So, it was with much sadness to learn this week that he has agreed to retire from his church after more than 48 years, following an extended illness. Just days after Christmas Eve Kennedy suffered a cardiac arrest and has been unable to return to the pulpit since then.

Thank you Dr. Kennedy for your splendid leadership and evangelical statesmanship. May the Lord richly bless you in the days to come!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Evolution of Intolerance Toward Creation by a Creator

This ought to be interesting . . .

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 22 /PRNewswire/ -- It's a movie that Ferris Bueller would take the day off to go see. What freedom-loving student wouldn't beoutraged to discover that his high school science teacher is teaching atheory as indisputable fact, and that university professors unmercifully crush any fellow scientists who dare question the prevailing system of belief? This isn't the latest Hollywood comedy; it's a disturbing new documentary that will shock anyone who thinks all scientists are free tofollow the evidence wherever it may lead.
Produced by Premise Media, Expelled, in theaters February 2008, is being marketed by Motive Entertainment, the company that has spearheaded significant Hollywood blockbusters, including The Passion of the Christ, Polar Express and The Chronicles of Narnia. Rocky Mountain Pictures, an established distribution company, which has enjoyed numerous box-office successes, will distribute the film.
Ben Stein, the lovable, monotone teacher from Ferris Bueller's Day Off and The Wonder Years is on a journey to answer one of the biggest questions ever asked: Were we designed or are we simply the end result of an ancient mud puddle struck by lightning? Stein, who is also a lawyer, an economist,a former presidential speechwriter, author and social commentator, is stunned by what he finds on his journey. He discovers an elitist scientific establishment that has traded in its skepticism for dogma. But even worse, along the way, Stein uncovers a long line of biologists, astronomers, chemists and philosophers who have had their reputations destroyed and their careers ruined by a scientific establishment that allows absolutely no dissent from Charles Darwin's theory of random mutation and natural selection.
* It should not take a Hollywood film to confirm what many of us know: the bigotry, bias, and intolerance so often attributed to evangelicals more aptly captures the spirit of those in establishment positions in education in America. Regardless of whether you hold to a young-earth, old-earth, or Intelligent Design form of creationism, you will find yourself the object of intense scorn by the intellectual establishment and major media in our country.
* Genesis, particularly in the first eleven chapters, establishes the basis for most of the doctrines developed in the pages of the Bible. Creation, sin, redemption, and the promise of consummation all come within its purview. You go, Ben Stein!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Latest ABC Mission Trends

[Source: Graph Prepared by Mission Resource Dept. of ABCUSA]

I just received the latest numbers from the ABC regarding mission giving trends. The 2004 number of $16.67 million for United Missions Basics is projected to decline to $12.7 million by the end of this year (based on projections by Valley Forge). The total American Baptist Mission Support shows a corresponding decline from $42.89 million in 2004 to a projected $37.19 million in this year, according to figures supplied by the Mission Resource Development office of the ABCUSA in an e-mail dated August 17.
The General Executive Council (GEC) member who forwarded the numbers to me commented: "UM continues to fall. No surprise there. Region Offering and Specifics continues to climb. Again no surprise. So far no one is talking about the reasons behind the disparity. Again, no surprise."

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

An Evangelical Giant Graduates to Glory – But Have We Learned the Lessons He Taught?

Among the deaths this summer, one passed almost unnoticed, unfortunately. Harold O.J. Brown was probably the most irenic and humble man ever to hold four degrees from Harvard University. With an A.B. in Germanic Studies and Biochemical Studies, a B.D., Th.M., and Ph.D, Brown certainly had one of the finest educations of any person in his generation. A long-time teacher at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Reformed Theological Seminary, he was also noted for his pioneering work in bio-ethics. Along with Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, he founded the Christian Action Council, now Care Net.

My appreciation for Dr. Brown dates to his contributions to Christianity Today which I began devouring as a 15 year old and to his book, Heresies: The Image of Christ in the Mirror of Heresy and Orthodoxy from the Apostles to the Present (Doubleday, 1984), which helped inform and orient me theologically during my first solo pastorate. Reading Brown was an exciting adventure as he made the classic battles of orthodoxy and heresy come alive and made them seem crucial to understanding and obeying Jesus Christ in the present.

Brown explained that “heresy” began as nothing more insidious than “party.” Early on, however, it took on the sinister connotation of “a separation or split resulting from a false faith.” As such, “it designated either a doctrine or the party holding the doctrine, a doctrine that was sufficiently intolerable to destroy the unity of the Christian church. In the early church, heresy did not refer to simply any doctrinal disagreement, but to something that seemed to undercut the very basis for Christian existence” (pg. 2).

Brown reminds us:
"The Christian religion has produced more heresies than any other religion, and the heresies it produces are more tenacious than those of any other religion. In fact, it sometimes seems that the most vigorous, committed, and rapidly multiplying Christians in any age are those we like to call heretics. Why is Christianity so productive of divisive opinions, held with great conviction, that lead to splits in the church and charges and countercharges of heresy? The reason is simple: Christianity consists of a message that claims to be absolutely true and that is at the same time deeply and perplexingly mysterious" (pg. 6)

In our heresy-phobic culture of tolerance and accommodation, we might well remember the ancient dictum: “corruption optima pessimum est” (“the corruption of the best is the worst”). For, unless we learn the lessons of distinguishing Truth from Error we may well fulfill the prophetic words of Brown: “It may soon be necessary to say of mainstream Roman Catholic theology that it, like most Protestantism, is neither orthodox nor heretical, but another religion” (p. 446).

Godspeed Dr. Brown. Godspeed! May we learn the lessons you lived and taught.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Vacation Delights

One of my readers commented on my hiatus from blogging. It was due to an important board meeting at work and (more importantly) VACATION!

* Last weekend 12 or the 14 of us were together at our eldest son's house in Minooka (IL). Our newlyweds from Joplin were away on their honeymoon. But that still left two sons, two daughters, two daughter-in-laws, one son-in-law, and three grandsons to celebrate my 54th birthday together. Highlights included attending church and hearing our eldest son do his regular Saturday evening sermon, enjoying the world famous Giordano deep-dish pizza at the equally well-known restaurant on Rush street (adorned with the names of Chicago notables such as Belushi, Caray, Hillary, Farley, etc.), and checking out the fabulous Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.

* On Monday we traveled to the Cincinnati area to visit the brand new Creation Museum created by Answers in Genesis. I will blog on this later, but WOW! More high-tech than Disneyland, this may be the most comprehensive and sustained argument for presuppositional apologetics anywhere.

* A quick trip to Fort Wayne permitted us to see our daughter and son-in-law's new place as he takes on an inner city youth ministry role and she begins teaching Bible at a large Christian school.

* And, with our eldest and his wife at a Willow Creek leadership conference, my wife and I had the privilege of babysitting our two eldest grandsons Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Yippee! Living in California so far from Ilinois, this was our first chance to play the "take care of the grandkids while the parents are away for several days" grandparent role. What a special privilege!!!

* Now, home at 10:30 p.m. last night, vacation wrapped up today with teaching Sunday school and preaching an ordination sermon (Isaiah 6:1-8). Tomorrow I return to my day job.

Does life get any better?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Theological Middle of the Road: More on the Idea and Practice of Baptist Moderates

My last post generated an interesting exchange with an interlocutor describing himself as one of the "militant moderates." He credited me for cleverness, but faulted my reasoning in the descriptions of moderates as often quite ill-moderate in temperament. So, it seemed that a more substantive reflection might be in order. Here are my observations after stumbling through the maze of conflicting theological labels.

Baptist moderates typically see themselves as orthodox Christians who hold firmly to an evangelical understanding of the Gospel. Some of them emphasize social aspects of the faith more than some of their more conservative brethren do (in their opinion). Others want to encourage members of the progressive left to keep up their doctrinal and practical explorations in the hope that we can learn something of value from them. What truly distinguishes the moderate is the commitment to freedom. They often proclaim, in Voltaire-like echoes, that they will defend to the death your right to be wrong, whether you are to the left or the right of them. Against the left and the right, they oppose the "fundamentalist" spirit of exclusive claims to truth and the frequently expressed desire to exclude or marginalize one's opponents.

Instead, they want everyone to be present at the table in the hopes that we can all exhibit the humility and openness necessary to learn from one another in a spirit of Christian comity. From the right we can learn the value of "conserving" what has proven important and valuable in our tradition; from the left we can learn from a progressive "openness" to the Spirit of the Living God who still moves among the churches.

They aver that what made Baptists Baptists traces to the idea of freedom. Indeed, their reading of Baptist history celebrates as the central genius a commitment to freedom. For moderates freedom is the big idea that brought Baptists out of the British/European theological morass. They see emphasis upon boundaries as contrary to the Baptist ethos.

IMHO, the error of the moderates derives from their misunderstanding of history, both Christian and Baptist. All basic forms of church polity (Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Congregational) have the advantage of being rooted in the Biblical record and operating with common-sense checks and balances. Trying to absolutize one value (e.g., freedom) without the counterbalance of agreed upon boundaries and the comprehension of other truths risks the entire enterprise.

With respect to Baptist history, which of our original Baptist forbearers would they have us emulate? The ones behind the First London Confession of Faith ( 1644), Second London Confession of Faith (1677), Philadelphia Confession of Faith & Catechism (1742), or maybe the 1858 Abstract of Principles with its Calvinistic emphases and insistence upon very strict boundaries for fellowship? These freedom loving Baptists did not seem to shrink from insisting on fairly specific doctrinal affirmations for Baptist clergy and congregations in order to remain in fellowship with the larger association.

Only in our "have it your way" era of "Burger King" theology has it been seen as unbaptistic to draw such boundaries. It simply will not do to proclaim the Baptist value of “freedom” without also affirming some boundaries of agreed upon beliefs and practices. Such an attempt is fundamentally “unbaptistic” and contrary to the spirit and the practice animating our Baptist founders. Without a balance of values, all we have left is the sad plea of a Rodney King “theology”: “Can’t we just get along.”

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Curse of the Theological Moderates: Ruminations on Reaction Formation

What is a moderate anyway? The dictionary ( to be exact) offers up nearly a dozen senses or nuances of the adjective, noun, verb.

Interestingly, the first definition caught my attention: “kept or keeping within reasonable or proper limits; not extreme, excessive, or intense.”

By this standard one would expect self-identified “moderates” to be, well, er, ah . . . “moderate.” Yet, in my somewhat careful reading of the writings of theological moderates over the past two years in a variety of blogs and message boards (at least the Baptist ones), it has been my observation that much of the time they are anything but “moderate.”

Rather than calmly measured rhetoric and argumentation, they often display the greatest passion and intensity. Yelling, name calling, ridicule, over-the-top sarcasm, proof-texting, ganging up, use of false and misleading “facts,” reluctance to apologize when proven wrong, legalistically adhering to the “rules” of the “board,” netiquette, etc., self-righteousness, and an odd combination of quixotic idealism and a dogged preference for whining victimhood characterize much of the electronic speech by the theological moderates I have been reading.

Why are the moderates so angry? What animates their “extreme, excessive, or intense” non-moderate moderation?

Recently a moderator active on a couple of the most popular “Baptist” forums took to answering the question, tongue firmly in cheek, when he commented on some of the fireworks over on another Baptist forum. He opined:

“I don't know why we don't get more angry fundamentalists, but my guess is that the tone here is much friendlier, even though we probably have more true fundamentalists and liberals posting here than at [the name of the other forum]. Moderates are just mean.”

Some years ago Andy Griffith recorded a comedy album featuring the bit “What it was was football.” In it he described a backwoods boy being dumped into the crush of humanity going to a college football game. Unable to understand the rules made for hilarious comedic turns. He finally concluded that the goal of the game was “to get from one end of the cow pasture to the other without getting knocked down or steppin’ in somethin’.”

In a similar vein, not having a Southern Baptist Convention background is a real liability when reading Baptist blogs and forums. The SBC “resurgence”/”takeover” has produced such polarities of opinion that just describing the history by either term virtually brands you as a partisan in the feud. And, much as with the mythic argument between the Hatfields and the McCoys, the SBC “conservatives”/”fundamentalists” and "liberals"/"moderates" (there you go again with the fighting terms!) have so much invested in the battle, that you can get yourself shot at by either faction simply by inadvertently trespassing on a conversation with a rich and factious cultural/ecclesiastical backstory unknown to you.

So, Andy Griffith style, here is my explanation of what is going on with the “moderates.” They appear to be mostly ex-fundamentalists who have evidently retained much of their famous anger. However, instead of being mad at the liberals and ready to relegate them to hell’s fire as the fundamentalists do, the moderates are just as ticked at the fundamentalists and can’t resist telling them to go to hell.

Much of my theological heritage during jr. and sr. high was shaped by a moderate congregation and theologically “progressive” Baptist pastors with all of the attendant frustrations and hypocrisies of mainline religion. Consequently, I have spent most of my adult years running to the right to find “Truth” (capital “T” please). My moderate friends mostly grew up in a fundamentalist culture with all of the attendant frustrations and hypocrisies of fundamentalism. They appear to be devoting themselves to a pell-mell rush to the left.

Interesting. Liberals are not very liberal in their refusal to be open to those to the right of them. Conservatives spend more time suffocating the truth than preserving it. And, moderates are the least “moderate” of the bunch. Maybe Andy Griffith could do a bit on Baptists?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Early End to Daylight Savings Time in Rome? Pope Rolls Back the Clock Early, Declaring Protestant Congregations Not Churches

This has been an important week for the Church, the Roman Catholic Church that is. Or, as Pope Benedict XVI would have it, the only Church. Reiterating the view he promulgated in 2000 in Dominus Iesus, writing then as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when he headed the Vatican ministry for Doctrine, the restatement dubs Protestant congregations merely "ecclesial communities."A commentary attached to the latest text acknowledged that his early work had caused "no little distress". But it added: "It is nevertheless difficult to see how the title of 'Church' could possibly be attributed to [Protestant communities], given that they do not accept the theological notion of the Church in the Catholic sense and that they lack elements considered essential to the Catholic Church."

According to Benedict, since we Protestants do not have apostolic succession, we lack the sacramental preisthood and have therefore not preserved the "genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery."

The fact that this declaration came just days following the decision to reinstate the Latin Mass raised speculation that the new pope sought to turn back the clock to before Vatican II, of which he was an observer as a young priest. The Vatican insists that the Pope was attempting to correct liberal misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the justifiably famous council.

In recent years evangelical theologians have attempted to take advantage of changes in Catholic theology to propose new grounds for cooperation. Many implications of the highly vaunted New Perspective on Paul, so popular in the academy, also comports well with renewed approaches to Christian consensus, if not full organizational union. The movement known as Evangelicals and Catholics Together, for example, produced a document in 1994, signed or endorsed by evangelical's such as Prison Fellowship's Chuck Colson, Richard Land of the SBC, Campus Crusade's Bill Bright, Rchard Mouw of Fuller, and Pat Robertson. It was strongly opposed by others such as Sproul and MacArthur.

The declaration ended:

Nearly two thousand years after it began, and nearly five hundred years after the divisions of the Reformation era, the Christian mission to the world is vibrantly alive and assertive. We do not know, we cannot know, what the Lord of history has in store for the Third Millennium. It may be the springtime of world missions and great Christian expansion. It may be the way of the cross marked by persecution and apparent marginalization. In different places and times, it will likely be both. Or it may be that Our Lord will return tomorrow. We do know that his promise is sure, that we are enlisted for the duration, and that we are in this together. We do know that we must affirm and hope and search and contend and witness together, for we belong not to ourselves but to him who has purchased us by the blood of the cross. We do know that this is a time of opportunity-and, if of opportunity, then of responsibility-for Evangelicals and Catholics to be Christians together in a way that helps prepare the world for the coming of him to whom belongs the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

If the Pope intends to settle the matter definitively, does this mean that ecclesiastical rapprochement between Catholics and Protestants has been either ruled out entirely or back burnered? And what of the theological work that led to the ECT? Was it misbegotten or based upon a misunderstanding of the trajectory of Roman Catholic theology? We shall see.

For some years, proponents of ECT type dialogue have been snickering at people like Sproul and MacArthur for their "gross misunderstanding" of contemporary Catholic theology and and changes in RC views of justification that supposedly position them much closer to evangelical Protestantism. Could it be that the ECT evangelicals have been talking to the liberal Catholics and that normative catholicism never veered very much from its Council of Trent anathemas? In light of Benedict's pronouncement as a Cardinal in 2000, reaffirmed now as the Pope, might there still be some value in proclaiming the Reformation's sola fide in contrast to the Roman understanding of justification?

Saturday, July 07, 2007

"Dahlberg Peace Prize" for Transformation Ministries' Board? Do I Hear an Amen? Or Maybe Just a Surgeon's Saw?

Several friends in other regions have always been quite gracious about claiming their Baptist kin in Transformation Ministries as still part of the "framily." However, judging by a response to one of my recent posts, they may be in the minority in their generosity toward TM among American Baptists. Evidently the left likens their left-coast kin to a gangrenous limb lopped off to the relief of just about everyone. Writing in response to my post, one always sharp and thoughtful reader, Amill-presup (although not himself hailing from the theological left), wrote:

God bless those ministers for staying... for not leaving the ABC in their part of the country to become a "spiritual Netherlands." BTW, your description of how the "Transformation Ministries" annual meeting was like "a sigh of relief" couldn't be more fitting for this ABC biennial that just ended. Having finally lost some of the most contentious, least Baptistic among us was like removing an infected limb before the infection could spread. It was painful and it will be difficult to adjust. But we're already moving ahead.

Since Dr. Salico and his board in Transformation Ministries is responsible for producing such a collective "sigh of relief" by voluntarily removing their spiritually necrotic and "contentious, least Baptistic" selves from the body politic of the ABCUSA, perhaps they deserve the coveted "Dahlberg Peace Prize"??? Afterall, "removing an infected limb before the infection could spread" has purportedly brought great relief and peace to the now unified ABC. In fact, Amill-presup seems to believe that the ABC lives in the millennial state now as the absence of PSW/TM, however "painful", has made true eschatological peace in the ABC a reality at last.

Wait a minute! Salico and crew can't receive the Dahlberg prize. They are no longer in the amputated-limbed family. Maybe the "surgeons" over at AWAB deserve the award for precipitating the removal of the infected PSW limb from the body in the first place?

Just a thought. Never mind. BTW - in the over-the-top metaphor game, last year an Executive Minister spoke of TM's withdrawal as a spiritual pruning along the lines of John 15! Hey, I couldn't make this stuff up.

More seriously, I am truly glad that the ABC senses a collective relief over the absence of TM. Amill-presup testifies to part of what I had hoped would happen as TM separated itself from the larger body. Honestly, my prayer was that other regions might follow TM in their departure. However, whether TM goes alone or with others, my argument all along was that it was time to wish each other peace and to pursue our differing visions for future ministry without rancor and disruptiveness.

The kind of grinding conflict and hard feelings so effectively alluded to in Amill-presup's reply, were both enervating to the spirit and destructive to forward movement in both TM and Valley Forge. The centennial celebration with the CBF sounds as if it got things off to a very good start for ABCUSA. What a blessed way to ease past the loss of a significant region! The additional numbers at the Biennial and sense of transdenominational cooperation contributed to high spirits and helped create a spirit and the promise of momentum into the future.

Sounds as if the Lord intends to bless both Barnabas and Paul this time too! Amen! Dr. Medley is a kind and gentle man who means well. He deserves a break! TM similarly seeks to honor the Lord and be faithful to his leading. Dr. Salico has also earned the peace he currently enjoys.

Looks like a win-win to me.

Disclaimer: Not being a part of the TM board until recently, I deserve no part of any awards, prizes, honorifics, or general good-stuff commendations flowing to the PSW (now TM) board for their wisdom in cutting off the offending member (i.e., themselves) from the body of the ABC.

Friday, July 06, 2007

More Thoughts on the Theology of My T-Shirt

Here are a few more scattered thoughts on the "theology of my t-shirt" posting below.

In recent decades evangelicals have flirted with the attractions of openness theology (e.g., Sanders, Pinnock, and Boyd), the so-called "new perspective" on Paul with its challenge to the heart of the Reformation, and very sophisticated arguments in favor of Arminianism (e.g., Witherington).

My problem with Arminianism is that it denies that Christ paid the penalty for our sins. As an authoritative interpreter of the movement from within, J.K. Grider, argued in Elwell's Evangelical Dictionary of Theology:

Many Arminians whose theology is not very precise say that Christ paid the penalty for our sins. Yet such a view is foreign to Arminianism, which teaches instead that Christ suffered for us. Arminians teach that what Christ did he did for every person; therefore what he did could not have been to pay the penalty, since no one would then ever go into eternal perdition.
Arminianism teaches that Christ suffered for everyone so that the Father could forgive those who repent and believe; his death is such that all will see that forgiveness is costly and will strive to cease from anarchy in the world God governs."

Such a view was later to be known as the "governmental theory of the atonement" and had its fullest expression in Arminius' student, lawyer-theologian Hugo Grotius. A good (i.e., well-taught and consistent) Arminian would actually have theological problems with Billy Graham campaigns, as Grider himself admits, because "workers are often taught to counsel people that Christ paid the penalty for their sins." Such notions are anathema to the true Arminian.

Dealing with these issues in a forthright way, evangelical theogian J.I. Packer wrote a powerful introduction to the 1958 reprint of John Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.

"Now, here are two coherent interpretations of the biblical gospel, which stand in evident opposition to each other. The difference between them is not primarily one of emphasis, but of content. One proclaims a God who saves; the other speaks of a God who enables man to save himself. One view presents the three great acts of the Holy Trinity for the recovering of lost mankind - election by the Father, redemption by the Son, calling by the Spirit - as directed towards the same persons, and as securing their salvation infallibly. The other view gives each act a different reference (the objects of redemption being all mankind, of calling, all who hear the gospel, and of election, those hearers who respond), and denies that man's salvation is secured by any of them.

The two theologies thus conceive the plan of salvation in quite different terms. One makes salvation depend on the work of God, the other on a work of man; one regards faith as part of God's gift of salvation, the other as man's own contribution to salvation; one gives all the glory of saving believers to God, the other divides the praise between God, who, so to speak, built the machinery of salvation, and man, who by believing operated it.

Plainly, these differences are important, and the permanent value of the 'five points', as a summary of Calvinism, is that they make clear the areas in which, and the extent to which, these two conceptions are at variance."

For those struggling with the issue, I commend both Owen's masterful polemic (in the best sense of the term) and Packer's introduction to it.

Owen leads the reader down a primrose path. For what and for whom did Jesus die? If for all the sins of all people, then he must have died for the sin of unbelief? In which case, all people must be saved. If not, then perhaps he died for all of the sins of some of the people (i.e., the elect)? Arminianism has Jesus dying in order to make salvation merely a possibility. In fact, to them he did not necessarily save anyone.

Packer opines, "It is safe to say that no comparable exposition of the work of redemption as planned and executed by the Triune Jehovah has ever been done since Owen published his. None has been needed....[N]obody has a right to dismiss the doctrine of the limitedness, or particularity, of atonement as a monstrosity of Calvinistic logic until he has refuted Owen's proof that it is part of the uniform biblical presentation of redemption, clearly taught in plain text after plain text. And nobody has done that yet."

For Reformed thinkers, Jesus did die for our sins. As Karl Barth put it, hyper (υπερ) is the most important word in the Greek New Testament since Christ died "for" our sin. And, as a Baptist, I count it an honor that proponents of Reformed theology among Baptists have included notables such as Spurgeon, Boyce, Broadus, Manly, Mell, Howell, Johnson, Mallary, B.H. Carroll, with more recent advocates such as Ascol, Mohler, and Piper. And, from the non-baptist ranks can be named folks like MacArthur, Packer, and Sproul.

Against those who argue that a belief in the sovereignty of God will kill evangelism, it should be noted that until recently, much evangelism and lasting revival (other than Wesley) was associated with Reformed ministries (e.g., Edwards, Whitfield, Spurgeon, 19th Century Southern Baptists, etc.). In fact, if you move beyond the level of mere tracts (e.g., the Four Spiritual Laws) to systematic training programs, one of the most effective tools for decades has been Evangelism Explosion by the Reformed pastor, James Kennedy!

In the final analysis, we do have "free will." We can "choose" to exalt the sovereignty of God's will or argue for the sovereignty of the human will.

Being just a plain and simple Baptist preacher . . . I pick God.