Some random thoughts on this Friday afternoon, prompted by the avalanche of information that comes our way.
Prejudice or Judgment?
I am using the word prejudice here in reference to opinions formed beforehand without examining the facts of a matter. A person comes to the examination with conclusions already in hand. Another way to put this would be that the person assumes what really needs to be proved. Maybe I’m just wired to be a little more skeptical, but this seems to happen very often. The growing tendency in our culture to tie the loosest of argumentation together to make a case both proves and propels this.
When we listen or read people’s arguments for or against something, we need to make sure that the assertions they are making are both verifiable and legitimately follow from the evidence being presented. If they don’t (or there is no evidence being presented–see the next point), then we need to recognize that. Opinions are fine, but judgments are better.
Proof or Pudding?
Here’s something else that I’ve noticed happening on the internet more and more. Someone makes an assertion and then backs it with a hyper-link to some other internet posting, but when you click through to look at the source, it contains no documentation for its claim. The most recent example of this was a blog post that made the claim that two-thirds of marriages end in divorce after an affair. That was a shocking statistic, so I wanted to check it out. I followed the link to the website that was the source for that stat. Sure enough, the claim was made, but there was nothing provided as the basis for it–no research studies, no polling, not even a quote from someone with expertise. Seriously?
This is terrible. On the internet, people can pose as experts on subjects without any accountability. I hope we all get that. But people are building their own image and brand as experts, sadly, by giving the false appearance of authority when they link to stuff like that. I look like I know what I’m talking about because I have embedded links that “support” what I’ve just said. That is not proof. It does not lend authority.
I suppose I should not be surprised, really. Before the internet, the same kind of stuff use to show up in books and articles that would stuff their footnotes and bibliographies in order to give the impression that they were serious works. Lesson: lots of links (or footnotes) don’t prove the point.
Goose or Gander?
Final thought for today. Social media and blog posts have been blowing up recently over the Tullian Tchividjian situation and how it has been handled. I’ve tweeted (@Grace4Motown) out a few links to blog posts that I found to be insightful. It seems that whenever commentary on these issues becomes a public issue, someone will complain that such matters need to be dealt with, but should not be done in public. For example, Jack Graham tweeted this recently, “Twitter is a poor place to chastise or correct. It troubles me when I see pastors attacking other pastors in this forum.”
Now, as a general principle, I agree with him. Twitter isn’t a good place to engage in serious efforts to chastise or correct someone. I also don’t enjoy seeing pastors attack one another on Twitter. Yet, I can’t see how answering the problem with a tweet like this does any good either. It assumes a stance above the fray while actually engaging in a jab at unnamed offenders. Without qualifying his terms (e.g., what constitutes an attack?), he can lob an accusation that almost certainly will be used in a partisan way to silence or shame someone who is has spoken out about a problem.
And that really leads to the deeper issue. As long as one side can freely express its views, the other side will feel compelled to critique, chastise, and correct. If Paul Tripp feels the need, for example, to publicly commend Tullian, you are dreaming if you think others will not feel the need to publicly question both Tullian and Tripp. The sequence goes like this: (1) Tripp publicly commends Tullian; (2) concerned parties publicly critique Tripp’s commendation; so, (3) other concerned parties call into question publicly critiquing other pastors. And the beat goes on. (Anybody else think the people in #3 would be the “I follow Christ” crowd at Corinth?)
Here, I think, is the resolution: nobody is allowed to publish heretical, misleading, unhelpful material on the internet, then there will be no need to chastise or correct those who do so. Isn’t that simple? But, until I become Emperor of the Internet, we all just need accept the fact that one side cannot be allowed to publish its nonsense without the other side speaking out and against it. Tweeting out “Let’s all be nice” is fine, but misses the point.
Beginning on Monday evening, August 31st, I will be teaching a new course at DBTS entitled “A Biblical Theology of Spiritual Transformation.” I am excited about this course because it touches one of the most challenging aspects of Christian growth and pastoral ministry–lasting spiritual change at those points of life where there has been persistent spiritual struggle.
The title of the course may be a little stuffy, but the point is to emphasize that this will be a biblical study of major passages which supply for us a theology of spiritual transformation–how God progressively changes us into the image of Christ. I’m really looking forward to a great time in the Word that I am praying will provoke growth in lives and ministries of the prof and students! If you’re in the Detroit area, you should consider taking the course (whether credit or audit). Contact the seminary for more details.
God gave us a wonderful time of encouragement and equipping at the MACP last week. I’m very thankful for those who attended and for the men who served us so well in the general sessions and workshops.
Resource materials from the conference, “Striving Together for the Faith of the Gospel,” are now available for free download. Included are audio recordings (mp3) from all general sessions and workshops, as well as printed notes (pdf) from the workshops.
I’m looking forward to the MACP in less than two weeks (more info can be found here). We have some excellent speakers lined up and a very important theme. I hope you will consider coming.
Unity within the congregation and among biblically faithful congregations have always been important, but sadly have been more rare than should be so. The general sessions will focus on biblical texts that should shape our minds and lives regarding this subject. I’m convinced that the edifying exposition of these texts will encourage you in the work of Christ.
The workshops sessions will be a problem for you because you’re going to have to skip something that you’ll really want to attend! In addition to our guest speakers, men from our church and seminary will be leading workshops focused on leadership, evangelism, and discipleship. Here are some of the topics being covered:
Cultivating Mission-Minded Unity in the Congregation
Cooperation Without Compromise?
Navigating Ministry Trials and Criticisms
Maintaining Unity through Biblical Forgiveness
2:42 Life Groups: An Idea for Small-Group Discipleship
Multi-Ethnicity in the Local Church
Guarding Moral Integrity
Building a Culture of Evangelism
In the Word Together: One to One Bible Reading
The Gospel and Sanctification
Factors for Building a Cohesive Church from 1 Corinthians 12-14
Building Unity Around Historic Confessions
Worldview Evangelism: Engaging Underlying Beliefs
If you’re interested in a profitable time in the Word, encouraging fellowship with like-minded brothers, and seeing the work of Christ move forward, then please take advantage of this opportunity to be equipped and encouraged. We will do all that we can to make it a refreshing time for you and to send you back home with a full heart and mind, as well as some great resources in your hands. Hope to see you in two weeks!
“Striving Together for the Faith of the Gospel”
Dear Fellow Servant of Jesus Christ:
It seems like every day brings more bad news in this crazy, sin-cursed world. And it seems, at least sometimes, like God’s people are dropping into defense-mode as the world becomes increasingly hostile toward Christianity. While all of this may be new to us, it is not different from the landscape that the churches in the New Testament faced. The Philippians, for example, were “granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phil 1:29).
The darkness of our day should make us more urgent about obedience to Christ’s commission, not less so. To that end, the theme for our fall conference this year, based on Philippians 1:27, is “Striving Together for the Faith of the Gospel.” By God’s grace, we’ll gather for two days, October 16-17, to focus our attention on biblical truth about building greater unity within and between our assemblies for the sake of the gospel. Incredible gospel opportunities are all around us. We need to sharpen our focus on biblical truths that will equip and encourage us to make the most of them.
I hope you will plan to join us on October 16-17, 2014 for what I believe will be a wonderful time of refreshing fellowship, helpful workshops, and encouraging preaching. We will do all that we can to make it a time of genuine spiritual encouragement for you. We would love to have you join us!
Every now and then I receive, either directly or indirectly, word of someone on the warpath about some issue within a local church. I use the term “warpath” because this kind of person is absolutely determined to win a conflict (which, by the way, is usually of his own making). The pattern is somewhat predictable. The upset party tries to correct those with whom he disagrees, but when his complaints are not heeded, he broadens the conflict by sending out letters or emails to a large portion, if not all, of the church’s membership. Often he or she is not content to limit the efforts to the church itself, but let it spill out further in hopes of bringing as much pressure as possible to achieve a victory in the dispute.
I received one of these emails from out of the blue this past weekend. Apparently a pastor made the mistake of quoting a pagan with an immoral lifestyle and this caused a great bit of consternation for a man with a keyboard and access to email. Since the pastor did not immediately admit his error, the man with the keyboard decided to share his complaint with a bunch of other people, including me (even though I live quite some distance away and am not really connected to the problem or solution).
Because, sadly, this kind of thing happens more than it ought, I decided to share my response to his email in the hopes that it might encourage others to respond in similar fashion to this kind of tactic if they encounter it. Ignoring it is often an acceptable option, but sometimes it is appropriate to push back in order to defend someone who has been unjustly attacked. People who send out these emails are seldom teachable because they are usually self-deceived enough to think that they are the only ones who see the truth, but perhaps God will use a careful rebuke to prick their conscience. Anyway, here’s my reply.
I am not sure what your aim was in sending me this email, but I really don’t appreciate what you’ve done here. In fact, I think it is an unbiblical attempt to hurt the reputation of another believer.
Further, you seem to have adopted a position which would call into question the integrity of the Apostle Paul since he quoted pagans in his sermon in Acts 17 (v. 28 “as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children’”) and in his letter to Titus (1:12 “One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons’”). As a general and important principle, I have found it wise to never make criticisms of other people which also become a de facto criticism of the Bible itself. It is a dangerous place to be when one considers himself more spiritual than the Bible.
The Bible is clear that if you have an issue with another believer that you are to go to him and seek reconciliation. There is no justification for your spreading your complaint about Pastor Doe to me. You have sinned and should acknowledge that before God and those to whom you have spread your accusations. Don’t let pride cause you to hunker down in a defensive posture. If you have lost confidence in Pastor Doe as a shepherd, there is a right way to address that and this is not it. Angry words stir up strife, not resolve problems.
For the sake of His name,
David M. Doran
Last week was an exciting week for a couple of educational institutions. Bob Jones University named Steve Pettit as its new president effective May 10th and on that same day Ken Endean was installed as the new president of International Baptist College and Seminary in Chandler, AZ.
I am thankful that I have known both of these men for over 30 years. Steve and I first met out on the soccer fields of BJU when I was a freshman and he was in grad school. Ken and I actually met for the first time on the drive from Michigan to BJU as both our families stopped at a rest area for a break on the journey. I have the highest respect for both of them. They are men of godly character, strong conviction, and love for our Lord Jesus Christ and His church.
Although I had no say in it, I’ll confess that Steve Pettit was at the top of my list for president of BJU. Steve has preached here at IC many times through the years, and we’ve preached together in other venues. I loved what he did in cultivating a solid discipleship mindset and process at Northland Camp, something all of my sons benefitted from as campers and two of them did as counselors. We’re both pretty busy with our respective responsibilities, so we don’t talk often, but whenever we have, I’ve come away from the conversations encouraged, sharpened, and thankful. As an alumnus and also as the dad of BJU student, I’m thrilled that Steve is the new president and will be praying for the transition.
As I mentioned, Ken Endean and I were in college together (I’ll spare the stories about how ruthless he was when he used to check my room!). When I left First Baptist Church of Troy, Michigan to return here to Inter-City as the senior pastor, Ken came to take my place at FBC. Ken did an excellent job there for 7 years before transitioning to Maine to serve as the senior pastor at Cornerstone Baptist Church. God blessed his ministry there and he has been a model of faithful shepherding. I believe he will likewise do an excellent job in leading IBC&S. He has a heart for ministry mentoring and will provide clear, steady leadership. Every time I’m out in the western states I’m impressed by the great need for biblical, balanced churches to reach those states for Christ. May God use Ken and IBC&S to equip men for gospel ministry out there!
We live in an astonishing day that at times makes a very large world operate like it is very small. 100 years ago, the sinful actions by a pastor on the other side of the country would probably be known only by those affected by them and those responsible to correct them. Changes in technology and culture, hand in hand, have changed all of that. At least it seems like it has changed all of that.
I say seems because the part that has certainly changed is our knowledge of sins committed across the continent. But because this knowledge is no longer tied mainly to those affected by and responsible to correct them, I wonder if our knowledge is all that we think it is. We often have no firsthand knowledge of the sins committed, only reports of them, and those are often run through filters that distort and confuse more than inform. We also have very little firsthand knowledge of what steps have been taken to correct sins, probably properly so since we often are not actually party to either the problem or remedy.
I’m pointing this out because I want it to be clear that I find this aspect of our day very troubling. Land mines dot the field and there is hardly a safe place to step in trying to discuss this. To raise concerns about how accusations are made, received, and viewed as credible is to open yourself to be criticized as a defender of sinful people. To express concerns about the qualifications of people who are charged with serious sins and errors is to open yourself to the charge of being a hater, not believing or practicing grace, or of wanting to besmirch the name of Christ before a pagan world. To question the accuracy and/or sincerity of a person’s apology is perhaps to court the worst kind of flack–how could someone who believes the gospel not accept an apology?
So, I know that I am stepping on to thin ice in a post that touches on Mark Driscoll’s open letter of apology, but I think there are some significant issues in how we view this type of thing that potentially affect all of us. I think I can safely come along side of this public apology and Ray Ortlund’s response to it because I don’t have to take sides or express views on matters to which I am not privy. Driscoll has admitted error. Ortlund has stated that the moral obligation now lies with those who called for his repentance. Ortlund says some good things, but I think the net outcome of his post is not helpful.
I was very disappointed that Ortlund introduced the specter of haters into the equation. Although I don’t believe that he thinks that all who have criticized Mark Driscoll have done so out of hatred, there is no denying that the tactic of labeling critics as haters is a too common practice (you may, for instance, have seen Steven Furtick’s “Hey Haters” video). If genuine repentance and forgiveness is the goal, then why toss in this prejudicial label? Any public apology or call for its acceptance is diminished by anything that implies the criticisms spring from ill-motive.
Time for Fruit?
An accurate, sincere apology should be accepted. Absolutely. To refuse to accept it is sinful. For long-term, habitual patterns of sin, though, words are not enough to resolve the problems that have been created, nor to truly assess the sincerity of any apology. Anybody who has counseled people who have habitually sinned in any area knows that some folks easily express verbal remorse, but do not follow that up with real change. In biblical terms, they don’t bear fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8; Acts 26:20). The Scriptures are clear that “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). It calls us to confess and forsake, and determining if someone has forsaken a particular sin pattern takes time. This issue is not as simple or easy as Ortlund’s article makes it out to be.
Forgiveness and Consequences
Even granting the sincerity of a public apology does not eliminate the fact that some sins bring consequences which affect future relationships and actions. A church treasurer who embezzles funds can repent and apologize, but I doubt that very many people think he should be allowed to continue managing the church’s funds. When someone serves in an office which requires that he meet the qualifications established in Scripture, an apology does not necessarily wipe away the impact of disqualifying actions and/or patterns of life. So, as an example, if someone is accused of and admits that he has violated God’s Word that shepherds are not to be “domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3), should an apology simply wipe that away? Does he immediately get a “do over” or should a new pattern of humble service be demonstrated before being restored to leadership? If character actually matters, then character should be displayed.
Let me say this again and quite clearly: this is not a post about whether Mark Driscoll should step down from his pastoral role. It is a post about how we respond to the confession of sin, with particular focus on someone who is in pastoral ministry. It is very important, I believe, because our sub-culture is coming very close to elevating ministerial success over ministerial qualification. There are a few reasons for this, but the largest explanation is the celebrity culture that dominates our world and, sadly, the church. More on that later.
One week from today, on March 19, 2014, Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary will host our 10th annual William R. Rice Lectures. Dr. Rice was the founder and first president of DBTS, as well as the pastor of Inter-City Baptist Church for 40 years. I’m grateful that he was my pastor from the time I came to Christ until adulthood, and that I’ve had the privilege of having him as my predecessor here at IC. He was a faithful pastor committed to the exposition of God’s Word, building a solid doctrinal foundation for the church that has enabled us to remain strong and pressing forward for God’s glory. The longer I serve here, the deeper my appreciation grows for Dr. and Mrs. Rice and their legacy in my life, in our church, and through our educational ministries. Enormous eternal impact.
We are pleased to have Peter Hubbard, pastor of North Hills Community Church (Greenville, SC), as our lecturer this year. Peter is the author of Love into Light: The Gospel, the Homosexual, and the Church. Given the rapid shifts in our culture and the politically charged atmosphere in which we live and do ministry, this is a vitally important topic. Too much of the discussion, though, provides mainly heat and little light. Peter has worked hard to reverse that, and I think you’ll greatly benefit from these lectures. You can find out more here.
We’d love to have you join us next week. There is no cost, but we do need you to register so that we can plan properly for the event (by phone at 313.381.0111 or email at email@example.com). Because this is such an important subject, we’re giving a copy of Peter’s book to the first 100 registrants. I hope you can make it. We’re looking forward to a great time of fellowship and profitable instruction from the Word.
People too often turn biblical statements into cliches in order to wield them to their own advantage when convenient. One I’ve been noticing a lot recently, drawn from 1 Corinthians 13:7, is “love believes all things.” Because the biblical words have been turned into a free-floating cliche, some people seem comfortable using them in whatever way suits their purposes.
For instance, we are told to accept a person’s unverifiable and/or unverified claim because “love believes all things.” Or, someone who has severely broken the trust in a relationship uses “love believes all things” to guilt other people into accepting his word without question or doubt. Practically, those two approaches treat the biblical words “love believes all things” as if they mean “love suspends all judgment” or “love is gullible.” Is that really what Paul was saying to the Corinthians and us? Highly unlikely.
I say that because those two uses of “love believes all things” actually contradict other clear biblical teachings regarding both wisdom and love. In Proverbs, we find these words, “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps” (14:15). Only simpletons accept everything without evaluation. Biblical love does not contradict biblical wisdom. It is not naive.
Think, too, about how Paul prayed for the love of the believers at Philippi, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (1:9-11). Clearly, there is no conflict between love and discernment. In fact, the proper exercise of one (love) demands the other (discernment). If love seeks the good of others, we have to know and understand what that good is.
So what does Paul mean by “love believes all things?” I’ll let Gordon Fee answer that: “Paul does not mean that love always believes the best about everything and everyone, but that love never ceases to have faith; it never loses hope” (“First Corinthians,” NICNT, p. 640). The NLT, while a little paraphrastic, captures the idea well, “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” The key here is that instead of translating it as “all things,” the Greek word Paul uses would be better translated as “always” since it is being used adverbially (i.e., always believes vs. believes all things).
Biblical love does not require us to accept accusations without verification. Neither does biblical love mandate that we keep extending trust to someone who has flagrantly violated it. To the contrary, God’s Word stands solidly against gullibility and in favor of discernment. Don’t let someone falsely guilt you into bad judgment by using biblical words like a cliche!