Archive for February, 2011

The Sound of Freedom?

Just a few somewhat rambling thoughts regarding the happenings in the Middle East and Madison, but also about those which happened in 18th century France and Colonial America. The thought was prompted by hearing a sound bite on the radio today while driving—it was a promo clip for NBC news (I think). The reporter was standing in the middle of a crowd of protestors (or at least that’s what the audio suggested) and made a statement like, “This is the sound of freedom.” That statement caught me off guard because there have been plenty of uprisings that weren’t genuinely seeking and certainly did not result in freedom. Obviously, some have, but others have produced only anarchy. Some, like the Bolshevik Revolution, have been deliberately provoked in order to impose totalitarianism. It is extraordinarily naïve to think that protest is always driven by noble ambitions.

Perhaps I was primed for this audio clip by the fact that I watched the movie Luther with two of my sons last night. One of the tensions presented in the movie is Luther’s stand against Rome’s corrupted theology and power and the Peasants’ War of 1524-25 which resulted in the deaths of an estimated 100,000 people. Luther’s was a principled stand against religious tyranny, but it seems to have been seized on by others to advance anarchy.

I am not sure if there is an easy way by which to tell the difference between the “sound of freedom” and the sound of a mob, but I am pretty sure the results usually tell the tale clearly. Change which is driven by noble ideas yields lasting results, not chaos (or peace at the point of a gun). People merely bent on destroying the existing order seldom are operating by a superior set of principles. Sometimes their anger is justified, but their tactics seldom produce real change. Like a song from my youth says, “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.”

Just about anybody can stir up a mob up to do some damage and tear some things down. But that is not the sound of freedom. For the sake of the gospel, I hope and pray that freedom comes to more nations in the Middle East. For the sake of the gospel in our nation, I hope people see the difference between promoting ideas and promoting unrest. And, for the sake of God’s work, I hope believers can see the difference between reformation and revolution.

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Reading the OT or Reading Something into the OT?

A colleague, Mark Snoeberger, set off a little fire with a couple of posts related to Christ and the gospel in the OT which you can read here and here. If you look in the comments you can see some pretty strong reaction to it, including a question by me at the head of the most heavily debated post. You might, properly, surmise from my question that I’m not exactly where Mark is on this issue. I guess it is fair to say that my sympathies lie with his view and that while I think his basic point about the abuse of texts like Luke 24:27, 44 is correct, I don’t think he is giving enough consideration to what, for instance, is said in the third chapter of 2 Corinthians. I also think that we do need to make a distinction here between the exegesis of a text and the proclamation of that text as situated within the full canon. IOW, I am sympathetic to the exegetical concern that Mark expresses and to the homiletical/pastoral concern which calls us to show the significance of this text in relationship to Christ and the hearers.

Some of the reactions to Mark’s post, though, seem oblivious to the hermeneutical issues at stake. Or, at the very least, they seem to speak as if resolving the tensions is an easy task. Over the past few years I’ve been hearing more and more talk about Christ-centered or gospel-centered preaching, but I find some of that talk, frankly, frightening because it really calls for a return to allegorization, not exegesis and exposition. Let me illustrate my point from a lecture on Christ-centered preaching from one of the leaders on that front in our day:

For example, look at the story of David and Goliath. What is the meaning of that narrative for us? Without reference to Christ, the story may be (usually is!) preached as: “The bigger they come, the harder they’ll fall, if you just go into your battles with faith in the Lord. You may not be real big and powerful in yourself, but with God on your side, you can overcome giants.” But as soon as we ask: “How is David foreshadowing the work of his greater Son”? We begin to see the same features of the story in a different light. The story is telling us that the Israelites cannot go up against Goliath. They can’t do it. They need a substitute. When David goes in on their behalf, he is not a full-grown man, but a vulnerable and weak figure, a mere boy. He goes virtually as a sacrificial lamb. But God uses his apparent weakness as the means to destroy the giant, and David becomes Israel’s champion-redeemer, so that his victory will is imputed to them. They get all the fruit of having fought the battle themselves.

This is a fundamentally different meaning than the one that arises from the non-Christocentric reading. There is, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible: is it basically about me or basically about Jesus? In other words, is it basically about what I must do, or basically about what he has done? If I read David and Goliath as basically giving me an example, then the story really is about me. I must summons up the faith and courage to fight the giants in my life. But if I read David and Goliath as basically showing me salvation through Jesus, then the story is really about him. Until I see that Jesus fought the real giants (sin, law, death) for me, I will never have the courage to be able to fight ordinary giants in life (suffering, disappointment, failure, criticism, hardship). For example how can I ever fight the ‘giant’ of failure, unless I have a deep security that God will not abandon me? If I see David as my example, the story will never help me fight the failure/giant. But if I see David/Jesus as my substitute, whose victory is imputed to me, then I can stand before the failure/giant. As another example, how can I ever fight the ‘giant’ of persecution or criticism? Unless I can see him forgiving me on the cross, I won’t be able to forgive others.

That this is passed off as expositional preaching is stunning to me. It is a combination of allegorization and pop psychology covered in pious frosting. He flat out contradicts the promises given to Israel in Deuteronomy and Joshua that they would be able to drive out the giants of the land. He spiritualizes the giant into felt needs like fear of failure and lack of security (and ends up making the story about me anyway, just gets there more piously). He obliterates the literary craft of the writer in developing the contrast between Saul and David. Seriously, I don’t have time to state all of the problems with this.

Bottom line: if I have to choose between the approach which Mark is advocating or the one being advocated here by Tim Keller (yes, the Tim Keller), give me Mark’s in a heartbeat.

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Re-formation or Reformation?

I start to feel old when I reference articles or messages that I wrote or preached a long time ago, but I think my part in the current discussions about fundamentalism, evangelicalism, and separation needs to be viewed against a larger backdrop of what I’ve said for a long time. Also, it seems necessary for me to point some of this out because some folks seem intent on making the case that I’ve turned away from what I used to believe. Since articles and resolutions from the 90s are being improperly used against me, I think it is fair to point out more of what I was saying in the 90s.

Specifically, in the fall of 1995 I was part of a group of men who did four one-day seminars for the Mid-America Baptist Fellowship in Chicago, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and Detroit. I did two presentations as my part of the proceedings. One was a very short deal, as part of a panel, on why I can’t accept the King James Only position—wow, what fun that little ditty generated! The meeting in the Chicago area was the most toxic for some reason, but the worst to come out of it was that some people questioned my fundamentalist credentials. It wouldn’t be too long before the geniuses at PCC were accusing me of being part of the leaven in fundamentalism (ostensibly over the same issue, but really because I got my undergrad degree at BJU). So, let me state clearly that I have been calling fundamentalists to deal with this issue for a long time.

More importantly, the other presentation that I did was entitled, “Re-forming or Reforming Fundamentalism: A Call to Re-think the Re-thinking Process.” It was a long presentation that covered a lot of turf, but for now I’d like to talk only about the basic idea which drove it. That idea hinges on the play I was making with the words re-forming and reforming. The former, I believe, involves a change of the basic form of something, whereas the latter speaks of keeping the same basic form or substance, but refining or improving it. The one makes it into something new and different, while the other helps it be a truer expression of its original form.

My contention in the presentation was that many so-called reform efforts are really re-formation efforts, i.e., the architects are trying to design a new house, not fix a problem with the existing one. Historically, I think that Marsden’s Reforming Fundamentalism shows that the new evangelicals weren’t really trying to reform fundamentalism, they were re-forming it into something very different than it was (i.e., a non-separatist orthodoxy). To some extent, I think that is what Falwell (aided by Dobson and Hindson) tried to do with The Fundamentalist Phenomenon and through The Fundamentalist Journal that they wrote and edited, respectively. And this is clearly what Hyles tried to do in the late 80s and early 90s in order to rally his troops and deflect attention away from Sumner’s exposure of his moral issues. I pointed these things out then, and I believe them now.

In many ways, the precipitating cause for that presentation was the debate that was happening because of Doug McLachlan’s book, Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism. I think Doug was writing a book aimed to reform (not re-form) fundamentalism, but some were reacting like it was the opposite. In some ways, those days were very similar to today in that some were concerned that negative things being said about fundamentalism might lead to a revolt against it. I have to admit that I shared those concerns. But I also thought Doug was making some very important, much-needed points about the deterioration of our house. My effort in that presentation was to urge caution all around while taking the steps that we ought to engage in reform, not re-formation. I closed that message by arguing that we must be committed to biblical orthodoxy joined to militant separatism. I know some find this hard to believe, but I believe those same things today.

If I were to do a contemporary version of this same message, it would include more examples of re-forming and reforming, and it would probably focus on the biblical concept of separatism instead of the historical movement of fundamentalism. As I’ve said before, I was more hopeful back then about the fundamentalist movement. Remember, that was October of 1995—within six months PCC would start the video wars and the landscape (or at least my perception of it) began to change significantly. Looking back, I think that was the beginning of the doubts in my mind about whether the movement still was controlled by theological conviction or if it had become a constellation of entities with a common heritage, yet not held together by common convictions.

I told a group of educators this past week that I genuinely understand and share some sympathy with good men who are concerned about some of the things happening in our ecclesiastical and educational neighborhood. It’s not completely clear what is going on and where it all might lead. I have concerns too. To say it like I did in 1995, I am very much in favor of efforts to reform orthodox separatism, but I also am very opposed to any re-formation which turns out to be something non-separatistic. Re-formation arguments usually sound a lot like revolution against the former things, and anti-reform efforts tend to double down on what has always been done. A genuine reformation will focus on what is biblically required of believers and churches, appreciating the good and refining what is not. Discerning the difference between reformation and re-formation is the challenge of our day. May God give us wisdom to know what’s right and the courage to do it regardless of who is happy or not!

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The Fragmenting of Fundamentalism

Billy Graham caused the end of evangelical unity, and John R. Rice brought about the end of fundamentalist unity. When Rice formally and aggressively rejected “secondary separation” (i.e., separating from disobedient brothers), he effectively undercut the basis for opposing the new evangelicalism. He laid the groundwork on which Jack Van Impe and Jerry Falwell built their positions. This ended the fundamentalist unity because: (1) it resulted in a softened view toward new evangelicalism and (2) fundamentalists began to split from one another over the question of secondary separation (and the concept suffered at the hands of those who caricatured it and some of those who practiced it!). Both sides claimed to be the true fundamentalists and the fight for that title continues to this day, even as the combatants rotate in and out of the ring like it is a gigantic battle royal.

The breakup of fundamentalist unity (as short-lived as it may have been) damaged the separatist cause. On one side were a group of people claiming to be historic fundamentalists who rejected the idea of separating from disobedient brothers. On the other side, the idea of separating from professing brothers who would not obey clear biblical commands about how believers are to respond to apostasy/apostates degenerated into a free-for-all where any perceived disobedience became the basis for excluding someone from true fundamentalism. As time passed, more and more issues became points of disobedience over which separation was practiced.

My view is that both sides were wrong and should be rejected. It is necessary to separate from professing believers who persistently disobey God’s command to mark and turn away from false teachers/teaching. It is not necessary, though, to separate from those who are committed to this truth, but apply it differently. The application of biblical truth is always situational. One brother is prepared to act now, while another is waiting a little longer. One brother weighs actions differently than another, resulting in a different conclusion. The GARBC men came out in1932, while the CBA men stayed in until 1947. Some separatists worked within the National Association of Evangelicals until the early 50s, while other separatists opposed it from its start in the early 40s. The idea that men of separatist principles and convictions all agreed with each other straight down the line on matters of application is a myth—a myth that usually is wielded by the true fundamentalist crowd in order to marginalize those they want to paint as pretenders. I think I have even been guilty of doing it from time to time over the years.

Frankly, I have no illusions of restoring fundamentalist unity. That ship sailed a long time ago. What I am burdened about is restoring a proper biblical emphasis on the matter of separation from false doctrine and those who teach it. That is such a serious issue that it impacts our relationship even with professing brothers who persistently refuse to obey God on this matter. John R. Rice and those who followed his lead were wrong on this. They abandoned a biblical truth that must not be abandoned. That same truth, though, has also suffered at the hands of those who abused it and produced one schism after another, often for purely partisan reasons. It is crucial, I think, for us to avoid both of these errors so that we guard ourselves from the non-separatist and hyper-separatist ditches on the left and right sides of the road.

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Writing like the world

Are you familiar with the term yellow journalism? Here are some representative definitions of it:

Yellow journalism or the yellow press is a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers.

Yellow journalism, in short, is biased opinion masquerading as objective fact. Moreover, the practice of yellow journalism involved sensationalism, distorted stories, and misleading images for the sole purpose of boosting newspaper sales and exciting public opinion.

Journalism that exploits, distorts, or exaggerates the news to create sensations and attract readers.

Doesn’t it seem the internet was almost tailor-made to serve this strategy? Isn’t it disappointing to see those who profess to be God’s people use the internet like this?

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