Friday, June 29, 2007

ABC General Board Hears Report from California Pastor Joseph H. DeRoulhac

This update came from the American Baptist News Service today. It describes a report the General Board heard about the progress of the new American Baptist Congregations of the Southwest and Hawaii.

Also in Thursday’s session, board members heard a presentation by Dr. Joseph H. DeRoulhac of the First Baptist Church of Redlands, Calif., about the new American Baptist Congregations of the Southwest and Hawaii. The new group includes churches that wish to remain with ABCUSA, following the withdrawal of the Pacific Southwest (PSW) region from the national body to form a new organization. DeRoulhac said that, of the 250 churches in the former PSW region, 40 have formally withdrawn from ABCUSA, and 50 have indicated they wish to remain with ABCUSA. Many other churches are in a process of “sorting out” their relationships, he said.

Joe is a friend of mine, a brilliant scholar (PhD in Social Ethics from USC), a committed American Baptist, an unusually fair person, and a great defender of most things left of center (including progressive views on various social issues such as homosexuality). Other than the large predominately African-American First Institutional Baptist Church of Phoenix, pastored by Dr. Warren H. Stewart, Sr., Redlands is one of the larger churches in the fellowship of the new ABC of the Southwest and Hawaii.

It would be interesting to see who the 50 congregations are that have indicated a desire to remain with ABCUSA. The national VF establishment has reportedly used some fairly "persuasive" strong-arm tactics to pressure ethnic churches to stay with the ABCUSA. Similarly, the entreaties coming from the ABC of LA have pushed hard, sometimes reportedly blurring the distinctions between truth and falsehood in a zeal to recruit American Baptist congregations for the cause.

I would not be surprised if the bulk of churches staying with the ABCUSA have a record of inadequate or non-existent mission support. Notable exceptions to this prediction would be Pasadena FBC (where I served as a preaching interim for almost a year and one half and where Drs. Bob Campbell, David Scholar, Glenn Stassen, and Bob Meye hold membership) and DeRoulhac's Redlands, both very strong mission-giving churches.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

ABC General Board Honors Pastors Who Thumbed Nose at Transformation Ministries

According to the ABNS, the General Board of the ABCUSA took time in their meetings this week to honor pastors who have elected to "remain American Baptist following the withdrawal of the Pacific Southwest region." Those honored for "standing firmly in solidarity with the family" or "thumbing their noses at the former PSW" (depending upon your perspective) will be participating in forming a new region in the southwest, tentatively known as American Baptist Congregations of the Southwest and Hawaii.

"The honoring of pastors and congregations in the new group marked the denomination’s effort to encourage congregations that chose to remain American Baptist following the withdrawal of the Pacific Southwest region a few months ago. Pastors honored with their congregations were Dr. Alonso A. Cooper, University Avenue Baptist Church, San Diego; the Rev. Stanley A. Crews, Monte Vista Baptist Church, Phoenix, Ariz.; Dr. Joseph H. DeRoulhac, First Baptist Church, Redlands, Calif.; Dr. William E. Godwin, University Baptist Church, Palm Desert, Calif.; the Rev. José T. Guerra and the Rev. Chuck Shawver, Living Hope Baptist Church, Bakersfield, Calif.; the Rev. W. James Kilinsky, One in Christ Church, National City, Calif.; and Dr. Warren H. Stewart, Sr., First Institutional Baptist Church, Phoenix" (ABNS, June 25, 2007).

Some of these pastors are dear friends of mine, others represent respected colleagues of longstanding tenure. People of good will and conviction will reach different conclusions on controversial subjects. However, as a lifelong American Baptist, my conscience allowed no other course than to go with my region, Transformation Ministries (formerly known as the ABCPSW), against the VF establishment.

We will let the judgment in the eschaton sort out which side did the right thing.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

"God is NOT Great"??? - Hitchens vs. Hitchens

What can be said about a book proclaiming with absolute certainty that religion, all religion, is bad, wrong, pernicious, and dangerous? How do you respond to the elegant rant of a writer so angry that he attempts to suggest that religion is child abuse? That faith of any kind represents nothing more than a stupid illusion?

In his recent God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (Twelve Books, 2007), influential author, pundit, and commentator Christopher Hitchens advances all of these points in the short compass of 288 pages. Ranging from “religion kills” to “the metaphysical claims of religion are false” to “the tawdriness of the miraculous and the decline of hell,” Hitchens spares no superlative in denigrating belief in God.

Recently, however, a review came out that deserves to be noted. Who better to take on Hitchens’ biographically saturated rant against God than his brother Peter?

“For all I know, Christopher is absolutely right – my prayers are pointless and a meaningless oblivion awaits. But if he is right, what a dispiriting, lowering truth it is,” writes Peter.

However, he moves beyond this observation to opine that the pogrom against God being advocated by brother Christopher will not only abolish religion, but conscience as well.

“We are in the process – encouraged by Christopher – of abolishing religion, and so of abolishing conscience, too. It is one of his favourite jibes that a world ruled by faith is like North Korea, a place where all is known and all is ordered.

On the contrary, North Korea is the precise opposite of a land governed by conscience. It is a country governed by men who do not believe in God or conscience, where nobody can be trusted to make his own choices, and where the State decides for the people what is right and what is wrong. And it is the ultimate destination of atheist thought. If you do not worship God, you end up worshipping power, whether it is Kim Jong Il, Leon Trotsky or the military might of George W. Bush. In which case, God help you.

Peter Hitchens reminds us of the serpent’s seduction: "Ye shall be as gods." These, Peter finds, may “be the most important words in the whole Bible.”

Take the enticing satanic advice, and you arrive, quite quickly, at revolutionary terror, at the invention of the atom bomb, at the torture chamber and the building of concentration camps for those unteachable morons who do not share your vision of a just world.

Indeed. God help us every one, even Christopher Hitchens.

Monday, June 18, 2007

"I am both Muslim and Christian" - Huh???

The Seattle Times featured an interesting story about an Episcopal priest who is also a devout Muslim. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Union Seminary in New York, her bishop finds the combination “exciting.”

The pastor in question, the Rev. Dr. Ann Holmes Redding, seems quite sincere and earnest in our search for God. My point is not to besmirch either her integrity nor her sincerity. Nor do I want to speak against the value of respectful interfaith dialogue. However, the reactions by her ecclesiastical authorities raise all kinds of questions about the uniqueness of the Christian faith and Christ's exclusive claims.

In our world of designer religion and Burger King faith (i.e., "Have it your way"), why not cobble together your own concoction of this and that? Who cares what normative Christianity means. If it doesn't "mean" that to me, it doesn't matter.

So, in this case: "she graduated from Brown University, earned master's degrees from two seminaries and received her Ph.D. in New Testament from Union Theological Seminary in New York City." If you reject the trinitarian form of Christian faith, deny the deity of Christ, deny original sin, relegate Christianity to just another ideology (i.e., the "world religion of privilege"), and put yourself in a position to "hear" God's voice calling you into a non-Christian faith ("when God gives you an invitation, you don't turn it down"), why not play on both sides of the street?

Sortof reminds me of the old joke about a person who was dying who summoned a priest, a rabbi, and a Muslim cleric to his bedside to pray . . . just to keep his "bases covered."

I wonder what her New Testament PhD dissertation topic was at Union?

Probably NOT Johannine lit . . .
After all, John keeps telling us that Jesus is the "one and only" . . .

* One and only God - John 1:1-18
* One and only Way - John 14:6
* One and only Savior - 1 John 5:6-12

Evidently John's vision of the uniqueness of Christ and the exclusivity of his truth claims brooks no rivals, even ones sporting a star and crescent.

My guess is that her dissertation was probably not Greek grammar either . . .

After all, Karl Barth always liked to say that υπερ ("for") was the most important word in the New Testament, as in Gal 1:4 where Paul says that the Lord Jesus Christ "gave himself for our sins."

Maybe she wrote on the "Meaning of και in Jude," or "Radical Feminist Trajectories in the Third Search for the Historical Jesus," or "Templates for Feminist Reader Response Hermeneutics in a Context of a World Religion of Privilege" or even "The Origin of the Aspirate with Special Emphasis on the Distinction Between Spiritus Asper and Spiritus Lenis in Ancient Greek During a Time of Increasing De-aspiration (Psilosis)."

Regardless of the topic of her research, one can hardly reconcile the thought of two seminary degrees and a PhD in New Testament being used to justify a synthesis of Christianity and Islam. If the theology of John does not persuade a scholar to believe in the singular truth claims of Jesus Christ, what about the author of Hebrews? Virtually the entire book shouts out the superiority of Jesus Christ to all other powers, authorities, and rivals.

Yet, at the heart of it, I found it particularly telling that her bishop, the Rt. Rev. Vincent Warner, says he "accepts Redding as an Episcopal priest and a Muslim, and that he finds the interfaith possibilities exciting."

Exciting? A ride on the "Scream" or "Superman the Escape" at Six Flags is "exciting." The syncretistic mish mash of mixing Christianity and Islam is "heretical," a "betrayal" of Christ, or "stomach turning" at least. What is with a bishop who can only gush at the "possibilities"???

Also of note, Redding's announcement, first made through a story in her diocese's newspaper, hasn't caused much controversy yet, according to the bishop. YIKES! Like the old tale of St. John in the bath house hearing that the heretic Cerinthus had arrived . . . perhaps we should all run screaming from the scene lest the Lord cause the house to fall in on us.

And MSNBC's Keith Olbermann says that John MacArthur is "runner up" for "worst person in the world" for suggesting that God may have finally given America "over" to our own depravity? Sheesh! If the theology professed by Redding and her bishop are indicative of contemporary Christianity in America, MacArthur erred on the side of understatement.

Read The Seattle Times piece for yourself:

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Karl Barth on "Our Father"

On this Father's Day, I thought it might be appropriate to revisit a meditation by Karl Barth on a portion of the Lord's Prayer, "Our Father." Whether or not you are a dad, whether or not you had a father who was in any way adequate in his role, consider the complete adequacy of our heavenly Father.

We are bidden to pray. This presupposes everything that has been said above about prayer in general. But this is the important point : we are told to pray : Our Father who art in heaven. It is Jesus Christ who bids us call on God and address him as our Father; Jesus Christ who is the Son of God, who has made himself our brother and makes us his brothers. He takes us with him, to make us his companions, and places us at his side, so that we may live and act as his brothers and members of his body. He says to us, 'Follow me.'

The 'Our Father' is not just any form of prayer to be used by anyone, no matter who; it presupposes 'us': Our Father; one who is a Father to us in a unique way. This 'us' derives from Jesus Christ's command to follow him; it implies that the man who prays is in communion with Jesus Christ and dwells in the brotherhood of the sons of God. Jesus Christ calls, allows, commands man to be joined with him, more especially in his intercession with God, his Father. Jesus Christ calls us, commands us, allows us to speak with him to God, to pray his prayer with him, to be united with him in the Lord's Prayer, and thus to adore God, to pray to God and to praise him with one voice and one soul in union with Christ himself.

This 'us', moreover, means that the man who prays is in communion with all those who are in his company and who, like him, are bidden to pray; who have received the same call, the same command, the same permission to pray at Christ's side. We pray 'Our Father' in the fellowship of that company, that congregation which we call the Church (the ecclesia).

But while we are in communion with the saints, the ecclesia of those who are gathered together by Jesus Christ, we are also in communion with those who, perhaps, do not pray as yet but for whom Christ prays, since he prays for all mankind. Mankind is the object of his intercession and we, therefore, enter into this communion with all mankind. When Christians pray, they are, so to speak, substitutes for all those who do not pray; and, in this sense, they are in communion with them, in the same way as Jesus Christ has made himself one with sinful man and lost humanity.

Our Father: thou who hast begotten us, brought us into being by thy Word and thy Spirit; thou who art our Father because thou hast created us, the Lord of the Covenant which thou hast been pleased to make with man, thou in whom and with whom our life began, and in whom it finds its completion.

Our Father :on whom our whole existence in time and eternity depends; God the Father, whose glory is our inheritance, whom we may freely approach, like children to their father!

Our Father, thou who by nature art always ready to hear us and to answer us. But we constantly forget it.... We may deny God, but he can never forget us or deny us. The Father, by his very nature, is faithful; he is high above us for ever and his good will towards us can never change.

That is what God is to us. But we must admit that we have no right to address him thus, to be his children or to approach him in this way. He is our Father and we are his children in virtue of the natural relationship which exists between him and Jesus Christ, in virtue of that fatherhood and that sonship which actually existed in the person of Jesus Christ, and which have reality for us in him. We are his children and he is our Father in virtue of that new birth accomplished at Christmas, on Good Friday and at Easter, and made effective at our baptism. A new birth, that is to say, a completely new order of being, a life entirely different from what our human potentialities or merits could produce.

God our Father means our merciful Father; we ourselves are and always will be prodigal sons who can claim no rights save the one given to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

This does not imply any diminution of what has been said about the divine fatherhood. The splendour and the certainty, the very greatness and majesty of our Father are manifested in the fact that we stand before him without power or worth, without real faith and with empty hands. And yet, in Christ, we are God's children. We can contribute nothing whatever of our own to make the reality of that sonship more certain : divine reality alone is the fulness of all reality.

Jesus Christ is the source and the warrant for the divine Fatherhood and our sonship; for this reason that fatherhood and that sonship are incomparably superior to all the relationships among ourselves which we denote by the terms father, son, children. These human relationships are not the original of which the other could be the image or symbol. The true and original fatherhood and sonship subsist in the bonds which God has created between himself and us. Anything that exists among us is only the image of that original sonship. When we call God our Father, we are not using symbols, but are experiencing the full reality of the words 'father' and 'son'.

"Prayer and Preaching," by Karl Barth

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Dr. John MacArthur = 2nd "Worst Person in the World"??? Really? For Preaching Paul's Romans???

Wowie, zowie! Take one left leaning interest group ("Media Matters"), add one angry television commentator (Keith Olbermann), fold in one John MacArthur sermon for the National Day of Prayer, and rebroadcast it on Dobson's Focus on the Family radio program and what do you have?

On the June 8 edition of MSNBC's Countdown, host Keith Olbermann named Fox News host Bill O'Reilly "winner" of his nightly "Worst Person in the World" segment for, as Olbermann noted, "reacting to the arrest in the abduction and murder of the Kansas teenager Kelsey Smith . . . Additionally, Olbermann declared John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, "runner-up" for the category.

From the June 8 edition of MSNBC's Countdown With Keith Olbermann:

OLBERMANN: The runner-up, Pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, whose sermon, broadcast by those fine, tolerant folks who work for the Father Coughlin of the 21st century, James Dobson, says that because America has, quote, "illicit sex, adultery, every form or immorality", and, quote, "you know a society has been abandoned by God when it celebrates lesbian sex," therefore, quote, "God would be just in any calamity that he brought on us", including, quote, "the destruction of an entire city." Just let God speak for himself, pal.

John MacArthur runner up for "worst person in the world" for an expositional sermon on Romans 1 saying that perhaps America has been "given over" by God? MacArthur's "authoritative" (some would say "authoritarian") tone of voice rubs me the wrong way at times. But, yikes! Second worst person in the world????

Don't know about you all, but I listened to that sermon and found it sobering. Candidly, Keith Olbermann probably never heard of MacArthur prior to the piece in Media Matters Still, we have come a long way since the days of Jonathan Edwards when a biblical sermon could excite the masses and be used to help instigate a revival. Nowadays, a fairly traditional exposition of a portion of Paul's great epistle, coupled with some rather typical application, yields an apoplectic rant.

Part 1 -

Part 2 -

Godspeed Mrs. Graham!

According to the AP, Ruth Graham, the ailing wife of evangelist Billy Graham, fell into a coma Wednesday morning and appears to be close to death, a family spokesman said. "She appears to be entering the final stages of life," said Larry Ross, Graham's personal spokesman.

In a display of his signature grace, Dr. Billy Graham observed: "Ruth is my soul mate and best friend, and I cannot imagine living a single day without her by my side," Graham said. "I am more in love with her today than when we first met over 65 years ago as students at Wheaton College."

Graham's summary comment captures the Christian hope well when he said: "She is close to going home."

Join me in praying for the Graham family. More than most, they have paid a steep price for Billy's ministry. May the Lord bless them richly as he walks with them through the valley of the shadow of death.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Lessons in Dying from the Master

Frequently I have carped about coverage in the Los Angeles Times. However, in this instance, the accolades could not be more fervent or sincere. The Times offered a valuable lesson on dying and Christian hope in a June 5, 2007 piece, "'Rejoice always': a lesson in dying." Recounting the inspirational account of Dr. David Scholer's living with terminable cancer, reporter Connie Kang captures all of the right emphases as she recounts Scholer's trust in the Lord in the midst of his five year bout with matastatic cancer of the colon and lungs.

I know David as an internationally renowned New Testament scholar and as a friend. For nearly a year and a half, it was my privilege to serve as preaching interim in the church in Pasadena where he and his devoted wife, Jeannette, are members. If you want to see how the mainstream media can sometimes get a story right, click on the following link:,0,1943101.story?coll=la-home-center