Monday, February 06, 2012 

New Sermon Series at Cleveland Road Baptist Church

If you've been in the kids's section of any Christian bookstore, you've seen them. If you've ever worked in the Church nursery, you've probably picked one up from time to time. And if you're a parent of a young child, chances are you own one or more of them. Yes, Childrens' Bible Storybooks are everywhere these days. They seem to a huge hit with all Christians. In fact they are so ubiquitous, it's shocking that Jon Acuff didn't include them in his bestselling book, Stuff Christians Like.

But as much as Christian parents and nursery workers love these Bible storybooks, most of them have an inherent flaw - they treat the events of the Bible like every other storybook. Many reduce the various pericopes of the Bible (particularly the Old Testament) down to little more than a Christian version of Aesop's Fables - a collection of various parables, each of which can be boiled down to a terrific little morality lesson for the growing child.

The problem of course becomes worse as these children move into adolescence and then into adulthood still believing that the events of the Bible should be viewed as tales of morality instead of what they really are - episodes in the grand story of redemptive history. And that's what our new sermon series at Cleveland Road Baptist Church is all about - showing how these storybook narratives of the Old Testament all point forward to one culminating event in the Coming of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the World.

So we invite you to come to Cleveland Road, or listen in on the internet as we seek to understand how talking serpents, tall towers, angry brothers, loud trumpets, strong men, and weak kings all point us to the reality that Jesus Christ bore the guilt and shame for sinners like you and I. And hopefully the Bible will open up to you like a child reading an amazing story for the first time. I promise, it will be worth the journey!


Here's links to each of the sermons. I will try to add more as the sermons are preached each week. So if you are interested, you can bookmark this page and check back regularly:

Wednesday, November 30, 2011 

An Incredibly Sad Comment by a Woman Who Had Two Abortions

Gizmodo is one of the websites that I regularly visit for tech news. It offers a diverse array of stories ranging from reviews of Android apps to humorous videos to futuristic innovations. One of their favorite topics these days is Siri, the intelligent assistant built into the Apple iPhone 4S (as an Android guy, I assure you that blogging about anything related to Apple is quite difficult for me, but I digress). Tonight, as I checked out Gizmodo, I ran across an article entitled, "Is Siri Pro Life? Apparently Yes."

The article went on to detail how numerous reports by users show that Siri lacks the ability to find an abortion clinic when asked. As expected, hundreds of commentators weighed in and by the time I logged on to view the article, the discussion had become a full blown debate on abortion. As I read through the comments, the one below hit me particularly hard. To me, it shows the inherent selfishness of the pro-abortion crowd. And it reveals once again that those who have abortions very often do not do so for altruistic reasons, but for their own well-being. A woman with the moniker VerdantWater posted this:
OK then, I killed a person (actually 2), which is my legal right to do, because I didn't want another human being using my body for 9 months, and possibly hurting or killing me (childbirth is still the number one killer of women worldwide). I stopped something from affecting my health, the ability to do my job, from ruining my psychological life, and I prevented passing along my family's not-so-great genes onto the next generation. And the 'life', which had no consciousness (and I don't believe in souls as an atheist) never even knew it, and it happened in a totally natural way (I used IU486 both times, so exactly like a miscarriage). I'm morally totally fine with that. If you are not, then don't have an abortion, that's fine with me. I could not live with children of my own, nor could I afford it - at 34 I am currently finding a home for my cat because I'm unable to provide adequate care for her.

To whoever said that women who have had an abortion live with it for the rest of their lives - I say yes, and thank goodness I don't have two kids right now. I'm glad for that every single day. Incredibly thankful. If I had to kill two non-conscious, 5-week old balls of DNA that could become people one day, I really have no issue with that.
How sad is that?

Wednesday, November 09, 2011 

Courageous: A Brief Review

On Sunday night, November 6th, I finally got a chance (thanks to the help of my visiting mother-in-law and grandparents-in-law) to view, with my lovely wife, Courageous, the new movie by Sherwood Pictures. As you probably already know this is the latest installment of motion pictures produced by Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, GA. With each new release, the studio gets larger, the movies are shown in more theaters, and, as I will show below, the films get better. Courageous represents Sherwood's most ambitious project to date, having clearly spent more money and time on every aspect of the movie. But, before I go and hand over any Oscars, I do have to say that there are some elements that still need improvement. And so here is my brief review of the movie - the good and the bad.


Courageous is by far the best Christian film I've seen. The storyline, the acting, and the cinematography all far exceeded any previous Christian movie. The Kendrick brothers have certainly progressed as filmmakers and the future of Christian cinema looks brighter.
  1. The storyline was terrific. It was believable, emotional, and heartwarming. Nothing about it seemed contrived or odd. I wasn't forced to suspend reality in order to accept the scenario presented. The conflict and rising action were presented well, there was good character development, and the climax and resolution were complex and believable. Everything at the end wasn't neatly tied with a bow (e.g., the young officer still left trying to reconnect to his long-lost daughter), forcing the viewer to continue to process the movie, long after it ended.

  2. The acting was far better than in previous films and, for the most part, better than most movies labeled "Christian." Alex Kendrick (Adam Mitchell) is clearly maturing as an actor. Ken Bevel (Nathan Hayes) was even better the second time around. T.C. Stallings (T.J.) was terrific and convincing. But the guy who had the best acting chops in the whole film (and probably the most experience) was undoubtedly Rusty Martin, who played Dylan Mitchell, the son of Adam Mitchell (Kendrick), the main character. He didn't have a lot of lines, but he delivered them well and the subtly of his derisive and dismissive looks were perfect. He performed like a real teenager would in the situations of his character.

  3. The cinematography was excellent. The HD format brought out a richness to the film that few other low budget productions are able to emulate. The close-ups and camera angles didn't distract the viewer, but rather accentuated the film and made the emotions even more real. In the shootout scene, the gunfire, the broken glass, the chaos, and even the physical altercations were all accentuated by the filmmaking, leading to heightened senses and racing pulses for the moviegoers.

  4. The message was clear - Biblically-faithful fathers are vital in the lives of their sons and daughters. But it wasn't forced or contrived. The viewer saw struggle, conflict, emotion, victory, and joy, but none of it came without honest heartache and realistic storytelling. Regardless of whether one is a Christian or not, this film leads the male viewer to reassess his character and his role as a father. And in that way the message came through loud and clear.


With any lower budget film, especially those produced by Hollywood outsiders, there are going to be issues. And with any Christian film specifically written to reach a broader audience, there are going to be some elements that appear more secular than sacred. Courageous is no exception to these two rules.
  1. While the acting has certainly improved, it is by no means Oscar-quality. Alex Kendrick, as the main character, was much more believable this time around, but he's still a bit stiff and at times unnatural. Whenever his character attempts humor, it looks forced. He seems much more comfortable with dramatic scenes. And at times, he's very good in those aspects of the film; other times, not so much. I thought Ken Bevel was great again, but there are times when he sounds like he's reading lines instead of actually acting. And, like most films unfortunately, the worst acting comes from the supporting cast. In this case, it was the Latino couple, Javier and Carmen Martinez (played by Robert Amaya and Angelita Nelson). I really wanted to believe in their performance, but it was just too cheesy at times. At other times, it was far too stereotypical, though some of the fault there may lie with the writers. However, having said that, it is true that one of the best scenes in the film (and certainly the funniest) was delivered by Amaya in the back of the patrol car.

  2. The timeline of the film seemed to be completely ignored at times. I couldn't figure out how much time elapsed between the beginning of the film, the tragedy, the signing of the resolution, and the shootout. Sometimes it seemed like the events took place over a series of a few weeks. At other times it seemed like months had passed. Some events took too long to materialize (the young officer's reconnection with his daughter and the Father-Son 5K) and others seemed too short (the young officer's participation in the resolution ceremony, and partner officer's imprisonment). This was certainly a detail to which the filmmakers should have paid more attention.

  3. With any Christian movie, there are sappy elements that fit in better in a low-budget, secular film and Courageous unfortunately contains a couple of these. One such sappy moment is the solo dancing scene at the bank by Adam Mitchell (Kendrick). Other elements often found in Christian movies are the contrived "Evangelism" and "Spiritual Advice" scenes. The presentation of the Gospel by Bevel's character is far too scripted and delivered with too much stiffness. The pastor's advice to Kendrick's character lacks strong Biblical conviction. It's sounds a lot like what a secular hospital chaplain would say. The Bible is merely referenced at times and rarely quoted. As a pastor, I am disappointed that there is not more uniquely Biblical speech in the movie. It often sounds too much like a Hallmark card and not enough like Pilgrim's Progress.


Despite some glaring problems with the film, I would grade it a B+ or 4.25 stars. It was by far the best Sherwood production and indicates how bright the genre of Christian film is becoming. The message of the movie was presented well and, like any good movie, with strong emotion. I would see this movie again and highly recommend it to any Christian. Men should especially go and see this movie and I pray that its impact is far-reaching in Evangelicalism. Thanks to the Kendrick brothers and Sherwood pictures for producing a film for which Evangelicals can be proud.

Thursday, October 27, 2011 

Thoughts on the GBC's Younger Leaders' Forum

On Tuesday of this week, the Georgia Baptist Convention sponsored a forum for pastors and ministers 45 years of age and younger. The purpose of the forum seemed to be to allow younger leaders to voice their concerns to the convention and for the convention to address some of those concerns. There were approximately 120 of these younger leaders gathered together in the same room, along with Dr. Robert White, Executive Director of the GBC, and many of the employees of the GBC.

Without going into much detail about the format of the forum, we essentially divided into groups based on specific concerns that you most wanted to address. Then each table presented their concerns to the entire group and the microphones were opened to allow other leaders and/or Dr. White to respond to and address those particular concerns. After each table presented, there was an open forum with open mic time to deal with anything not brought up previously or to hammer down further on the ones already addressed.

After having attended the meeting, participated in both the presentation and open forum time, and talked with others there, I wanted to offer 5 observations:

1) It was good to meet other younger pastors and ministers who are concerned about some of the same things that I am.

It's always good to know that you aren't alone in how you think. And this forum showed me that there are a number of other guys under 45 years of age who feel exactly as I do when it comes to the GBC and convention life in general. However, it may be disturbing for some to learn at the meeting that pastors aged 45 or younger in the GBC make up only 20% of the total number. That's a tremendous amount of older pastors who will be leaving pulpits in the next 25 years or so only to see those pulpits filled with today's younger pastors. In other words, 80% of the pastors in GBC Churches are halfway to retirement or closer. This fact alone should get the attention of the GBC.

2) Younger Leaders are concerned about money - particularly the use and abuse of Cooperative Fund giving.

We seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time talking about money at the meeting. So much so that when we finally moved on, I tweeted in celebration. Younger leaders want to know that the money they are sending in to the GBC is being put to good use. They are concerned about the $43 million dollar building in Duluth that seems to be a money hog, draining needed resources from ministry and putting them to use in decorating, maintaining, and utilizing a huge structure. In answering the concerns, Dr. White was gracious, but really offered nothing that hadn't already been said before, save one statement in which he did admit that had he known what would have taken place with the economy after the building was built, he never would have supported it. That was helpful, but I don't know if it went far enough to dissuade people from further criticism. More helpful was the comment that what's done is done and we can't sell the building and hope to recuperate enough costs to do any better now. Thus, we should quit complaining and move on to better stewardship in the future. Still, it would have been nice to hear, "We made a mistake in erecting a building this large, this opulent, this unnecessary. We should have done better." Perhaps even, "I wish David Platt would have written Radical and Francis Chan, Crazy Love, before we built the building - it would have saved us a lot of grief knowing how the younger crowd would react later on" (because I think we all know that those two books and individuals probably have done more to influence the under-45 crowd in regards to stewardship that any other books or personalities in the last 50 years).

3) Calvinism was a topic the younger leaders wanted to discuss and deal with, but unfortunately most were disappointed in the lack of response by the GBC representation.

Calvinism came up in the very first presentation. Ric Blazi, who was coerced chosen to speak on the topic, described some older pastors' take on Calvinism as "the great red dragon" who was coming to get them. A question immediately went up on the Twitter feed as to how many people in the room were "Reformed." Wayne Bray, President of the GBC Pastors' Conference and one of the facilitators of the event, stopped and asked the "4+ pointers" to raise their hands so they could see exactly how many identified themselves as Calvinists. To some people's surprise (probably those facilitating and those who were employed by the GBC), easily a little more than half of the younger leaders gathered there raised their hands. There was, however, little to no discussion on the topic during the response time and we moved on quickly to the next set of presentations. Later, I brought the topic up during the open forum time, asking the GBC leadership and other influential pastors and leaders to help tone down the rhetoric against those who identify themselves as Reformed. There was no discussion or response. A final time it was mentioned was in regard to a comment made by Ryan Lyons, an Acts29 Church Planter in Milledgeville, who remarked that he wasn't sure if he and other Acts29 planters were welcome in the GBC. Again, there was little to no discussion. In the end, I think many of the Reformed guys were disappointed that Calvinism wasn't addressed by Dr. White or other GBC facilitators. Obviously, it is a huge concern and a point of contention between younger and older leaders. Yet, it was given less importance than the discussion on money.

4) It was clear that there are many younger leaders who want a say in the Convention and some are just downright frustrated.

It was said at the meeting that 25% of the under-45 pastors in the state participated. That's a pretty good crowd considering that the event was held over lunch on a Tuesday in Duluth (not the best time or place for almost anyone). That shows how much younger people want to be involved in the conversation. And that was clear in the discussions, which were often times passionate (though never disrespectful). Hearing the tone of those of those at my table and during the open mic times led me to believe that many people are frustrated with the GBC and the SBC in general. They want to see change, they want to be a part of the change, but they aren't sure how to get a seat at the table. If anything comes of this meeting, it has to begin by trying to find a way to get more younger leaders to the table of influence in the GBC, which brings me to my last observation:

5) If this meeting is the last one of these, or if nothing is done to intentionally include more younger leaders in the GBC leadership, then it will have been a waste of time.

It was obvious when the meeting was over that we could have gone another couple of hours had we been given the time. Though the event was scheduled to take place over the course of 3 hours, it really felt like it was not nearly enough. The discussions were hurried, the mic time cut short, and in the end much was left unsaid or undealt with. And as one person on Twitter put it, there was no "action plan" given for what should happen next. So this cannot be the end of the younger leaders' forum. If so, then we will have wasted our time. There must be more discussion, more clarification, more opportunities for feedback. After all, within 25 years, this group will move from being 20% to 80% of the GBC. And then they will have all the say in the direction of the Convention. Regardless, this was a good start.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011 

Emir Caner Should Apologize for Tweet: UPDATED!!


On Monday, Dr. Emir Caner, President of Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, GA took to his iPhone to tap out the following tweet:

The military discovered a large stash of pornography in bin Laden's compound. I was unaware that Islam had its own Acts 29 Network.
It's hard to imagine the president of a Southern Baptist college, which is supported by the Cooperative Program ($1 million a year in fact), would stoop to such levels as to place on his Twitter account such an unChristlike statement.

There has been some reaction and backlash to Caner's tweet, but from my standpoint not enough. I am thankful for Danny Akin's tweet yesterday:

@EmirCaner I love you my brother & I am proud of U in so many ways. You a better man than your bin Laden/Acts 29 tweet.
My hope is that Dr. Caner will recognize his error and how it hurts the Body of Christ and causes division and seek to rectify this wrong by apologizing and removing the tweet from his Twitter page. If you join me in calling Dr. Caner to apologize, please say so in the comments. I hope to direct a trustee or two of Truett-McConnell to my blog tomorrow.


This morning, Emir Caner posted the following statement to his blog:

I have come to realize over the past few days that Driscoll's vulgarity is far too serious an issue to simply put out a satirical tweet. While it is easy to find Driscoll crossing the line (see articles by John MacArthur and Cathy Mickels) it should not be likewise with me, and for that I apologize.
Soon after seeing this I was contacted by a few pastors who expressed their displeasure with Caner's statement. While speaking to one such pastor, I was contacted by Mike Dorough, Youth Pastor at Second Baptist Church, Warner Robbins, GA, and current Chairman of the Board of Trustees for Truett-McConnell College. He noted that Emir Caner had asked him to call and hoped that his statement would be sufficient.

I informed Mr. Dorough that no one that I have spoken with was pleased with the statement. Mr. Dorough's words were that it was more than he had expected Dr. Caner to say and that he had spoken to others who felt the statement was sufficient.

After a tense, but (I believe) God-honoring discussion by both of us, we parted ways without any resolution, but (I hope) without any ill feelings. Mr. Dorough is a fine man and I appreciated very much his call to me. However, during the discussion one area of disagreement we had was on whether or not I should have blogged about this incident.

As I indicated to Mr. Dorough, Dr. Caner's original inappropriate tweet was public and thus his call to repentence should be public as well. Mr. Dorough brought up the principle of Matthew 18 - a passage that I believe is very essential for us as Christians to understand. I explained to Mr. Dorough that Matthew 18, when read properly speaks about private sin ("if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone"), not public sin. The two passages that show us how to deal with public sin are Galatians 2 (where Paul confronts Peter publically) and 1 Corinthians 5 (where Paul calls out a couple engaged in sin that is publically known). Again, because Dr. Caner's actions were performed in the public domain, a public call to repentence is necessary.

Now, having read Dr. Caner's statement and his tweet, what do you think about his apology? Is it enough? How might Dr. Caner's statement been more conciliatory and satisfying to his brothers and sisters in Christ that he harmed?

Friday, March 18, 2011 

Why Eugene Peterson is Wrong on Rob Bell and Love Wins (Among Other Things)

While reading up on the recent controversy over Rob Bell's new book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, I came across several in the larger "evangelical" community who are actively defending Rob Bell against his critics (and even against himself). One of the largest names in that group is Eugene Peterson, author of the most popular paraphrase of the Bible, The Message. Peterson is currently Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, BC. He is also an accomplished author, with some of his books winning awards and becoming best sellers.

Peterson's defense of Rob Bell started even before there was a controversy. Peterson supplied Bell's publisher, HarperOne, with the following endorsement blurb for Love Wins:
It isn’t easy to develop a biblical imagination that takes in the comprehensive and eternal work of Christ . . . Rob Bell goes a long way in helping us acquire just such an imagination--without a trace of soft sentimentality and without compromising an inch of evangelical conviction.

Recently Peterson spoke to Timothy Dalrymple of patheos about his endorsement and the controversy that has erupted over the book. When asked why Peterson endorsed the book, he said:
Rob Bell and anyone else who is baptized is my brother or my sister. We have different ways of looking at things, but we are all a part of the kingdom of God. And I don’t think that brothers and sisters in the kingdom of God should fight. I think that’s bad family manners.

I don’t agree with everything Rob Bell says. But I think they’re worth saying. I think he puts a voice into the whole evangelical world which, if people will listen to it, will put you on your guard against judging people too quickly, making rapid dogmatic judgments on people. I don’t like it when people use hell and the wrath of God as weaponry against one another.

I knew that people would jump on me for writing the endorsement. I wrote the endorsement because I would like people to listen to him. He may not be right. But he’s doing something worth doing. There’s so much polarization in the evangelical church that it’s a true scandal. We’ve got to learn how to talk to each other and listen to each other in a civil way.

There is much in Peterson's statement with which we could disagree. In fact, I would disagree with almost all of it. But I think it reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of how we as believers are taught to confront error in the Bible. Before I get there, Peterson was asked the follow-up question, "Do evangelicals need to reexamine our doctrines of hell and damnation?" and he replied:
Yes, I guess I do think they ought to reexamine. They ought to be a good bit more biblical, not taking things out of context.

But the people who are against Rob Bell are not going to reexamine anything. They have a litmus test for who is a Christian and who is not. But that’s not what it means to live in community.

Luther said that we should read the entire Bible in terms of what drives toward Christ. Everything has to be interpreted through Christ. Well, if you do that, you’re going to end up with this religion of grace and forgiveness. The only people Jesus threatens are the Pharisees. But everybody else gets pretty generous treatment. There’s very little Christ, very little Jesus, in these people who are fighting Rob Bell.

Again, Peterson sounds like a man who both doesn't understand the significance of the Doctrine of Hell and hasn't read the parts of the Bible where false doctrine is confronted and condemned. And interestingly he includes in his defense against arguments in the Church a quote by Martin Luther, a man who saw no small amount of criticism levied against him for his overly sharp tongue.

Let's take a minute here, though, and examine what Peterson actually says about Bell and about the criticism directed towards him. First, he starts out by saying, "Rob Bell and anyone else who is baptized is my brother or my sister." Now, I am going to give Peterson the benefit of the doubt here and assume that he is referring to the "baptism of the Holy Spirit" (i.e., regeneration through the gift of the Holy Spirit). I shudder to think that Peterson would believe that the act of baptism either saves or confirms that one is truly a born-again believer of Jesus Christ.

But then he builds on that statement and claims that he doesn't "think that brothers and sisters in the kingdom of God should fight", that doing so is to practice "bad family manners." I hate to tell Peterson this, but Jesus argued with His disciples. Paul argued with Peter. The Apostles argued with one another at the Council of Jerusalem. Members of the Kingdom argue. And often times it is quite beneficial. In Church History, debate has not always been kind, but very often it has been healthy. To claim that we shouldn't argue over doctrine because it's "bad family manners" is Biblically and historically ignorant.

Peterson adds further down, "I don’t like it when people use hell and the wrath of God as weaponry against one another." I agree wholeheartedly with Peterson here, but is this really what is happening? Are people using the issues over the Doctrine of Hell as weapons against Bell? Of course not! In the ironic words of Billy Joel, "we didn't start the fire". The Doctrine of Hell has invoked heated arguments in the Church for centuries. And Bell threw himself into the line of fire by writing a book which advocates for a position against the one universally agreed upon by the Church for 2000 years. "Hell and the wrath of God" isn't a weapon being wielded against Bell, but rather are the objects of the firestorm that Bell ignited by writing a book on these subjects.

Now, from there I believe Peterson's words better represent a man who hasn't read the Bible, not one who wrote a bestselling paraphrase of the Bible and who taught classes on the Word of God and spirituality for decades. Two statements Peterson makes lead me to this criticism. First, he says, "...the people who are against Rob Bell are not going to reexamine anything. They have a litmus test for who is a Christian and who is not. But that’s not what it means to live in community." Then he says, "The only people Jesus threatens are the Pharisees. But everybody else gets pretty generous treatment. There’s very little Christ, very little Jesus, in these people who are fighting Rob Bell."

Has Peterson read Galatians lately? How about 1 John? Maybe he needs to reread the Gospels, particularly John 8. And heaven forbid he stumbles upon 1 Corinthians 5 or Matthew 18, where confrontation is not only spoken of, but encouraged by both Paul and Jesus, respectively.

Both Paul and John advocate for litmus tests for Christians. Jesus, Himself, does the same thing. Living in community means precisely that we confront one another for not only sin, but false doctrine as well. Paul tells the Corinthians to cast people out of the community for sin and in Galatians he pronounces curses on those who advocate for a different Gospel. And I'm guessing that all of those he was speaking of were probably thought to have been baptized by the Holy Spirit. The fruit of their actions and beliefs, however, communicated otherwise.

Finally, Peterson saves his most damning words for the end. He claims that that the "only people Jesus threatens are the Pharisees" and based on that he concludes that "there's very little Jesus, in these people who are fighting Rob Bell." Not only is Peterson making a huge assumption about the spiritual lives of those "who are fighting Rob Bell" (notice how Peterson personalizes it, instead of relegating it to theological debate), but he is also completely wrong about Jesus.

In John 7:45, prior to the passage on the adulterous woman, we see that Jesus is speaking to the Chief Priests and the Pharisees. After v.11 of Chapter 8, Jesus picks up his conversation with the Jews (many have rightly concluded that 7:52-8:11 is out of place here in John and is not original to this Gospel, but rather represents good oral tradition which eventually found a home here). But in v.21, it appears that Jesus' conversation with the Pharisees is overheard by other Jews and they begin to talk among themselves in v.22. Jesus answers these Jews in v.23. Then further down in v.31, John identifies another group to whom Jesus is speaking as "the Jews who had believed in Him." Peterson identifies these in his Message as, "the Jews who had claimed to believe in Him."

Jesus then begins to speak to these Jews and they don't seem to like what He's saying. By the time the conversation is over, Jesus has told them that they are not children of Abraham or children of God, but rather they are children of their father, the devil. In v.47, Jesus says, "Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God." Now, I don't know about you, but it seems clear her that Peterson's claim that "the only people Jesus threatens are the Pharisees" is not only terribly incorrect, but a false basis for his further claim that "there’s very little Christ, very little Jesus, in these people who are fighting Rob Bell."

I've always respected Eugene Peterson, but in this case he's wrong. He's wrong on Rob Bell, he's wrong on the significance of the Doctrine of Hell, he's wrong on how to live in community, and more importantly, he's wrong on Jesus and on what the Bible teaches about confronting those teaching false doctrine. I get why Peterson doesn't like controversy in the Church and why he believes it is "bad family manners". None of us find it comfortable to confront sin or enjoyable to correct false teaching. But unfortunately, Peterson's attitude doesn't line up with the Bible and consequently it is him and not Bell's critics in whom one can find "very little Jesus."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011 

The Holy Spirit and the Exclusivity of the Gospel

Unless you have been away from the Christian blogosphere for the last month, you are probably aware of the rampant controversy surrounding Rob Bell's most recent book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, which was released today. In response to the book, which seems to advocate for inclusivism or even universalism in regards to the salvation of those who do not actively place their faith in Jesus Christ, it seems appropriate to consider the historic, orthodox position of the Church - exclusivism.

According to Theopedia, exclusivism "refers to the fact that orthodox Christian doctrine maintains only faith in the Jesus Christ of the Bible leads to salvation or heaven. Christianity is exclusive in that its teachings indicate that the faith of other sects or religions will not lead to eternal life; or in other words, that Jesus Christ is the only true way to God."

Exclusivism is a doctrine that has no shortage of credible defenses. It is not my goal to rehash the numerous arguments that have been made which seem to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Bible teaches an exclusive position on salvation. Instead, I want to point out one specific argument that is rarely considered, but is significant because of its Trinitarian focus.

Very often the contemporary Evangelical Church speaks of salvation only in terms of the work of Jesus Christ. Jesus is said to have propitiated the wrath of God through His substitutionary work on the Cross. Every once in a while, you might actually hear talk of Christ's active obedience in securing the perfect righteousness which is imputed to us (credited to our account). But much less often do we speak of the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation.

So what exactly is the Spirit's role in redemption? Well, first we must recognize that the Spirit has placed Himself in subjection to both the Father and the Son. John tells us that the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and by the Son in the name of the Son and that He does whatever He is told to do and says whatever He is told to say. In this way, the Holy Spirit acts as a sort of ambassador for the King and His Son. He is co-equal with these Regents, but His role is to work in the world. And as an ambassador, it is His job to point back to Those from whom He is sent, namely the Father and Son. Regarding the Spirit's work, Jesus says:
And when [the Holy Spirit] comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see Me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take what is Mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is Mine; therefore I said that He will take what is mine and declare it to you (John 16:8-15, ESV).

Here Jesus says several things about the work of the Spirit in salvation. First, He convicts of sin. This is the first action wrought in the believer. Salvation does not come without conviction of sin. Those who are poor in spirit understand that conviction. And notice that the sin directly relates to their unbelief in Christ. So not only does the believer get convicted of sin, but of unbelief in Christ. Then the Holy Spirit guides the believer into truth and glorifies Christ. Finally, He discloses the Father's will and Christ's words and deeds to the believer so that He might be sanctified, another act of the Holy Spirit.

Now, those who believe in a salvation for people who do not confess Christ as Lord, they have no outs here. There is nothing in this text or any other that suggest that the Holy Spirit works apart from Christ and glorifies God without glorifying Christ. Both Father and Son are uplifted by the Spirit. Further, the Spirit brings life. He is the one who applies the work of salvation to the believer. Thus He only applies it by means of the formula given by Peter in Acts 2:38, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (ESV). The Holy Spirit can only apply the work of salvation to those who by faith acknowledge the Lordship of Christ. Otherwise, He would be working outside of His jurisdiction and thus be making Christ a liar and usurping His subordinate role. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit would be denying Christ His due glory -- the glory due His name, the name at which all men will bow.

So, what we have here is a thoroughly Biblical argument which once again ends in the exclusivity of the Gospel call. No one can be saved apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. No one can inherit eternal life without the righteousness of Christ. And the Holy Spirit cannot give anyone that righteousness anonymously. He must do it as every good ambassador does, by means of His King, the One who sent Him. In this case, it is Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God.

As Rob Bell's book appears, let's pray that the Holy Spirit continues to glorify Christ by reminding us of the truth that He has communicated for 2000 years - the truth that He inspired Peter to communicate in Acts 4:12:

...there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

Friday, October 15, 2010 

Show Me "More Friday Funnies"!! - Family Feud Edition

Despite the recent, ridiculous controversy over a previous segment of Friday Funnies, I am still determined to make the few readers I have left laugh out loud. Here is a great clip of the old Game Show, Family Feud, where Richard Dawson absolutely loses it at the response of one of the contestants. Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010 

A Life Shaped by Books

Last week at SBC Voices, Dave Miller asked the question, "What are the books that have formed your views on ministry or have helped you to be more effective in what you do?" The Title of the post was "Books that Shaped My Life and Ministry." Taking those two together, I essentially posted on the books that have shaped me as a person and therefore as a minister. As I said in the comments, "There are a lot of books I could include in my top 5, but as far as shaping my life and ministry, there are very few." Here are some that came to mind in no specific order:

1) God Came Near by Max Lucado - this book is what actually got me into reading Christian books on my own, without being forced to because of some teacher. Though today it wouldn't be considered one of my favorite books, it certainly started me down the path of reading Christian Living books.

2) Desiring God by John Piper - Piper opened by eyes to how theology truth could profoundly affect me both emotionally and spiritually. His concept of "Christian Hedonism" showed me how I could pursue happiness by pursuing God.

3) A combination of The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur, The Race Set Before Us by Tom Schriener and Ardel Canaday, and Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by John Bunyan - Starting with MacArthur's book, during my time just after seminary, I started to understand what salvation was actually supposed to look like and how our behaviors should affect how we perceive our perseverance and assurance.

4) Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem - This book, combined with the 2 theology courses I took under Dr. Stan Norman at NOBTS led me to inerrancy and a deep love for theology. It also drew me away from Dispensationalism. I think it is probably the best basic, Baptist Systematic ever written.

5) Power in the Pulpit by Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix - This book, combined with the "Proclaiming the Bible" class I took with Dr. Shaddix at NOBTS is essentially how I was taught to preach. I refer to it often and the method is deeply inscribed in my preparation each week, though I am not nearly as organized in presentation as Shaddix or Vines advocate.

There are so many more I could list that have had big influences on me like, The Pursuit of God by Tozer, Knowing God by Packer, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by Piper/Grudem, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Cymbala and Brothers, We are Not Professionals by Piper. Recently, I can say that
Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, & Relevance by Bruce Ware has been extremely impactful to my ministry.

What books have shaped your life and ministry?

Monday, October 04, 2010 

Lottie Moon Christmas Offering: Ideas to Up Your Small Church Giving

As a small Church pastor, sometimes I am overwhelmed by the need that I see around the world and the lack of resources that my Church has to offer. I want to lead my Church to give as much as possible to international missions (IMB - Lottie Moon), domestic missions (NAMB - Annie Armstrong, hunger relief (World Hunger & Relief Fund), child evangelism (Samaritan's Purse - Operation Christmas Child), and tons of local ministries like food banks, shelters, clothes closets, battered women's shelters, and alcohol and drug rehabilitation ministries. In short, there is so much need, but few resources in a small Church like ours.

Out of all of those, by far our largest offering each year is the Lottie Moon Christian Offering, which goes to support international missions through the IMB of the Southern Baptist Convention. Over the past two years, our giving to LMCO has more than doubled previous years' offerings. During my first year as pastor in 2008, we gave over $2500, an amount close to $50 per active member. Last year (2009), our Church gave almost $4300, which is over $80 per active member.

So how did we do it? How did we raise our giving by $30 per active member? Quite simply, we did one simple fundraiser - A YARD SALE! That's right. All we did is hold a Church-wide yard sale on the property. That sale, combined with a small benevolence offering, took in over $1700. That's almost as much as we gave in personal offerings!

This past Saturday we held our yard sale for this year. It was another successful year. Despite not being listed in the local paper (which was the paper's fault, not ours), we still raised over $700, which is 25% of our offering goal. So in essence, due to a simple 5-hour yard sale, our giving is going to be 25% higher than our simple offering contribution.

Another way we plan on upping our giving by an additional 10-15% is through what we call the "Lottie Moon Post Office". In a small Church like ours, everyone sends Christmas cards to everyone else in the Church. Instead of sending them through the mail and paying the Post Office 44 cents per card, we give 50 cents per card to our youth group members, who then deliver the cards before our worship service on Sunday mornings during the month of December. We estimate that this year we will raise some $300-400 more through the "Lottie Moon Post Office."

I hope that if you are a small Church pastor (or even a member of a small Church), these suggestions will help you to raise your international missions giving this year. If every small church our size raised just $700 through a yard sale and/or a "Lottie Moon Post Office", then our giving over last years total Lottie Moon Christmas Offering would be $17.6 million. That's an incredible amount of ministry that could be done simply by selling our unnecessary junk and sending Christmas cards to one another.

If you're a pastor or a member of a small Church, let me know what other programs have worked in your Church, which have fueled your Lottie Moon giving to new heights.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010 

Ergun Caner Agrees with Kevin Ezell on Bloggers in the Basement

In recent days, Kevin Ezell, the new President of the North American Mission Board, came under attack for comments he made to his congregation about bloggers. The Associated Baptist Press first reported the statement Ezell made to his congregation prior to his election as NAMB President. Ezell told Highview Baptist Church:
Because of the visibility of the position, there are people across the United States who want to look for things that perhaps I do not do as well or they think we should do different, and perhaps be critical of myself or of Highview, just to try to get their name in the paper,” he said. “Typically those are bloggers who live with their mother and wear a housecoat during the day. Just ignore them, but I apologize if you are hurt by anything that they might say about me or indirectly about you.
Quickly the news spread and was picked up by SBC Voices where he was criticized by blogger Dave Miller and many of his readers. Additionally, other Southern Baptist bloggers like Peter Lumpkins and Wade Burleson blasted Ezell for his words as well. On Monday, September 27th, James R. White of Alpha & Omega Ministries posted a video regarding recent comments of a similar nature made by Ergun Caner, the former President of Liberty Theological Seminary who was removed from his position earlier this year for what a Liberty University investigative committee called "factual statements that are self-contradictory." White referenced David McGee's article published by the Media General News Service on September 25th, entitled, "Caner Defends Background in Bristol Speech", in which Ergun Caner, speaking after his appearance at Bristol’s (VA.) 12th annual prayer breakfast at the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites, made the following statement regarding bloggers:
We saw it (controversy) coming. My brothers and I have been dealing with it for years. This just happened to bounce big, and I paid no attention. News means little to me, and the Web is — well, bloggers for the most part — are just frustrated people in their basements.
With Kevin Ezell being roundly criticized by many in the Baptist Identity camp, will these same men and women, who previously backed Caner during the height of his controversy, now in turn criticize him for the essentially same comments? Will this even make news in Southern Baptist circles? Only time will tell. Meanwhile, I've got to get out of the basement - I have ministry to do.

Monday, September 27, 2010 

ANNOUNCEMENT: Debate with Wade Burleson on Complementarianism v. Egalitarianism - SBC Annual Meeting 2012

In recent days I have found myself fed up with constant attacks against the clear Biblical teaching that God designed men and women with distinct roles in mind for each to fulfill in both the home and in the Church. For 2000 years, the Holy Spirit has illuminated texts like Ephesians 5 and 1 Timothy 2 consistently to reveal that God intends that men and women to take on different roles and created them to do just that.

But, let's face it - the culture has changed (or at least it has in America). Increasingly, Christians have begun to eschew their fidelity to Scripture in favor of adopting cultural mandates in regard to gender roles. They have even radically reinterpreted passages, with no historical or exegetical precedent in order to render them incapable of providing the very clear instructions God gave us through the Biblical writers by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

In light of this assault on Biblical truth, I have decided that enough is enough and challenged one of the most vocal critics of the Biblical position to step out from behind his keyboard and debate me publicly on the main Scriptures which those who hold to the traditional position (known popularly as the Complementarianism) find the most compelling.

Wade Burleson, Southern Baptist pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, OK and owner and operator of the very popular Baptist blog, Grace and Truth to You, in both public and private correspondence has accepted the challenge and agreed to debate me on Complementarianism v. Egalitarianism at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2012, which will be held in New Orleans, LA. In the coming weeks I hope to secure an organization to sponsor and a venue to host the event. Check back for more details.

My hope is that through this debate the Word of God will be illuminated, the Glory of God magnified, and the design of God's creation celebrated.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009 

Prosperity Gospel in the News Again

The "Prosperity Gospel" is in the news again, with an article in the New York Times about the recent Southwest Believers' Convention held in Fort Worth, TX, August 3rd through the 8th. As you may know, I am absolutely no fan of the "Prosperity Gospel", as I believe it is another gospel, that is really no gospel at all. In fact, I love this video produced by Desiring God Ministries (John Piper) a few years back

For those of you who are interested, Albert Mohler has a good commentary on this event, and the "Prosperity Gospel" as a whole. This is something that I believe that my moderate and liberal friends and I can agree on - the "Prosperity Gospel" is dangerous and tragic and should be opposed by all of God's people.

Friday, July 31, 2009 

Another Edition of the Friday Funnies

I know I promised more posts, but so far, I have been unable to deliver. Thankfully, the Friday Funnies are still in gear, and here is yet another edition. Inspired by the recent grandstanding of former President Jimmy Carter, who once again resigned from the Southern Baptist Convention (hadn't he already done that? And hasn't he figured it out by now that you can't "resign" from the denomination, especially when you remain a member of an SBC Church?) over the issue of the SBC's stance on female roles in the Church and home, I thought some Jerry Clower would cheer all of us up, particularly his meeting with "The She-Coon of Women's Lib". **See my comments below for clarification on the term "she-coon".**

**Though I published this post over a year ago with no controversy whatsoever, in recent days I have come under attack from some bloggers who claim that the term "she-coon" is an obvious racial slur. However, this viewpoint is far from legitimate reality. First, the term "she-coon" is itself a Southern colloquialism which refers to a woman who is in charge and at times dominate. Like a mother raccoon, she is willing to attack when necessary. While this term is as common today as it was in the past, it is nonetheless, still used. You can find it used by a female journalist in this article and a male journalist here (both of which are in reference to Janet Reno). If the term was such an obvious racial slur, then neither article would have made it past the copy editor and certainly someone would have made a stink about it by now. Finally, there is the issue of who exactly Clower was speaking of when he used the term. Here is an article by Darrell Huckaby where he claims that the person in question is no other than Gloria Steinem, certainly the dominate woman in charge of the women's liberation movement. Thus, there is no sensible reason to conclude that Jerry Clower's use of this term was in any way meant to be a racist slur.**

About me

Paul was not interested merely in the ethical principles of religion or of ethics. On the contrary, he was interested in the redeeming work of Christ and its effect upon us. His primary interest was in Christian doctrine, and Christian doctrine not merely in its presuppositions but at its centre. -- J. Greshem Machen.

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