Archive for September, 2011

I wonder if Jonah is available for our next evangelism conference?

Some of you may be aware of the kerfluffle tied to Perry Noble that I became aware of via Carl Trueman’s reference to it in connection to Phil Johnson’s blog regarding Perry and evangelical leaders that seem fascinated by men like him. Trueman followed up with a short post that provides more evidence of Perry’s peculiarity. I am afraid, from what I’ve seen and read, that Trueman and Johnson haven’t even scratched the surface here.

What prompted this post is something Trueman said in the second post. With stinging understatement, he writes, “What is more disturbing?  His philosophy of pastoral ministry or the fact he is apparently welcome in apparently legitimate company?” Clearly, Dr. Trueman believes that both are objectionable and I think any biblically minded person should. Implied, I think, is the fact that “legitimate company” should not welcome such non-sense into its fellowship. It seems reasonable, as well, to infer that welcoming men like Noble into ministerial fellowship might raise questions about your own legitimacy (hence the word “apparently”).

There are not really any positive answers for why men and ministries like Perry Noble’s are held up for honor. The basic root of the problem, I believe, is one I’ve addressed before on this blog—the terrible tendency to measure ministry by visible results. “Perry Noble is reaching thousands” is the rationale for working with him. That rationale, frankly, has two ugly sides to it, one of which is grotesquely ugly. The less ugly side assumes that visible fruit is infallible evidence of God’s endorsement. Perhaps we should ask Balaam, Jonah, or Judas about that.

The grotesquely ugly side is that men who are not comfortable with Perry Noble’s ministry want to feed their own ministries off of his success. Connecting to Perry Noble opens the door to the circle which is influenced by Perry Noble. I am sure that some of the men have godly ambitions for positively influencing people who desperately need it, but they are propping this guy up in the process. It is a losing trade—Perry Noble is accepted by the big boys so that the big boys might possibly help him and his toadies straighten up a little. As John Calvin would say, “Good luck with that.”

I wish this only happened among the descendants of new evangelicalism, but that is simply not true. I’ve heard the same kind of explanations for tolerating the deviances of professing separatists. Men of questionable doctrine, character, and philosophy of ministry are given a pass for the same kinds of reasons—visible results or gaining some benefit from the connection with them (e.g., more students at our school or more men to join our fellowship). Whatever happened to basing fellowship and cooperation on being of one mind about what truly matters?

I wonder, at times, if we separatists are more susceptible to this problem simply because we’ve tended to argue as if any lack of fellowship constitutes some form of separation and must be backed by some direct biblical statement. From my view, the Bible tells me who are church cannot fellowship with, but it does not follow that our church must enter into cooperative ministry with everybody else. All of the church’s external relationships are voluntary, so the standards for those should be high enough to avoid propping up ministerial miscreants. It seems like the political nature of movements tolerates them for self-interested reasons. While it might produce short-term success for a school, conference, or fellowship to feed itself by poaching off the land of men like Perry Noble (or Jack Schaap), the long-term cost is deadly.

If we are serious about biblical truth, then we cannot afford to prop up those whose ministries undercut it. Phil Johnson is dead right to point out that helping someone like this should happen in private, not by giving him a platform. Handing him the mic raises serious questions about the discernment of those who do it.

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Quick Hits

I am sure some don’t appreciate the tongue-in-cheek approach of this post, but I think it is good. There are times when I wonder if something as important as the gospel can be reduced to a faddish cliché.

A good example of how leaders lose their credibility.

This is a truly stunning illustration of the moral chaos that grows out of bio-medical tinkering.

Steven Hayward quotes Calvin Coolidge, from his autobiography, about the presidency:

It is a great advantage to a President, and a major source of safety to the country, for him to know that he is not a great man.  When a man begins to feel that he is the only one who can lead in this republic, he is guilty of treason to the spirit of our institutions.

With slight tweaks, I think it fits the pastorate well too if you substitute pastor for president, congregation for country, and assembly for republic.

And here was a great illustration from General David Patraeus of what it means to serve under orders:

When Obama, at a hasty one-on-one in the Oval Office in June last year, said to Petraeus, “I am asking you, as your president and commander in chief, to take command in Afghanistan,” Petraeus’s reply was: “In response to that, there can be only one answer: Yes sir.”

In doing so, Petraeus stepped down a rung in the military hierarchy, from the combatant commander of Central Command to command in a single theater. The sacrifice was more than formal: Petraeus took a 10 percent pay cut, which means now a corresponding reduction in his pension. It didn’t occur to him to refuse the president’s request, Petraues told The Daily Beast in an interview recently.

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Measuring Ministry

This post by Carl Trueman is worth reading a couple of times through and thinking about the implications it might have for your ministerial relationships and associations. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating that the fallacy that visible success is sure indication of God’s approval is widely believed in evangelical and fundamentalist circles. Sometimes it is brazenly displayed in Rick Warren’s advice to never criticize any method that God is blessing, but it often comes in more subtle shades of self-justification. The standard is faithfulness, not visible success. Anybody who explains away or looks away from disobedience because of success has adopted a different standard than God’s.

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Have or Do Ministry?

I think the American church is terribly hampered by institutionalism. Or, to be more precise, I believe the American culture of institutionalism has infected the church with ill-health. I’ll admit that I’m not using institutionalism in a technical sense, but in a simplified way to refer to the tendency to develop structures and organizations to deal with issues. In the church, it tends to show itself programs—everything good that is to be done and everything bad to be overcome is solved by a new program of some sort. Because programs need organization, they are inevitably supported by organizational charts, job descriptions, etc. In order to fill the “staff” needs of the programs, ministry gets defined as a position and everybody needs to “have a ministry” (which really means “have a position within a ministry”).

I am not opposed to organization (at least in principle!). I think the Lord’s work should be done properly and in order. But, I think we need to be very clear about a simple truth: Ministry is not a position; it’s an action. You don’t really “have” a ministry; you minister. A healthy congregation is not built by organizational charts and job descriptions. It develops as God’s people engage themselves is serving Him by using their God-given gifts for the benefit of the Body (Eph 4:11-16). That text highlights spiritual maturity and mutual ministry, not organizational efficiency. Sound doctrine and godly relationships are God’s priorities.

That the institutional mindset has crept into the church is most clearly evident by the way people think about going to church (and I’m tempted to put those last three words in quotes because the phrase itself reflects the problem). Let me illustrate. A friend tells you he is going up north for the weekend and you ask about missing church. His reply: “Because someone else is covering my [insert normal ministry designation] this Sunday, I’m not doing anything, so there’s no problem with me skipping this weekend.” Do you see what has happened here? Serving Christ in the church has been reduced to fulfilling a task or role within a program.

Instead of viewing the assembly as a body that needs all of its part to contribute what God supplied them with, the church is viewed as constellation of programs that are run by people who have positions. Everybody else is a spectator, student, or consumer. Church becomes an event to be attended, not a gathering of people in which to participate. People in this kind of context don’t show up looking for ways to serve others and concentrating on the task of truly worshipping God. Since they don’t “have a ministry” their job is to passively receive the ministry that is being done for them. IOW, ministry has become institutionalized.

Church is not a spectator sport or entertainment venue. It is an assembly, a gathering of people gifted by God to serve one another and together to carry out His purposes.

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Strange bedfellows…

In case you haven’t heard, there is a new book on evangelicalism coming out soon as part of the four views series. Andy Naselli and Collin Hansen are the editors of Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism which presents the viewpoints of Roger Olson, John Stackhouse, Al Mohler, and Kevin Bauder. As is usual in this format, each writer also interacts with the other views. Should be interesting.

Roger Olson made another announcement regarding the book on his blog yesterday and used it as an occasion to take some shots at Mohler. Because Bauder lives on the same side of the “continental divide” within evangelicalism, he gets hit as well, but clearly Olson is most unhappy with Mohler. Olson acknowledges that Bauder takes the stronger separatist position, but I think Olson knows that Bauder isn’t the real threat for someone like Olson. Olson doesn’t circulate among separatist fundamentalists, but he does try to maintain his evangelical credentials and Mohler’s view represents a challenge to that.

I know it’s a blog, so snide and sarcastic is more acceptable, but Olson seems to revel in potshots. Clearly he is a man with a burr below his saddle, and that makes the arrival to the comment section of Lou Martuneac so appropriate. Lou’s burr is to make sure that nobody thinks Bauder is a true separatist, so he opines thusly. That produces a classic line by Olson—“Imagine that–someone to the right of Bauder! Amazing.”

Just for good measure, Lou makes sure to drop my name into the discussion in spite of the fact that I am pretty sure that Roger Olson has no idea who I am. Lou really doesn’t get that it doesn’t take much to be viewed as a big fish in our little fish pond, but only in our little pond. One thing you can say about Lou, though, is that once he’s locked in, he’ll keep firing. Another thing you can say is that the man has very little discernment. Olson is angry that Al Mohler and Kevin Bauder think he is not an evangelical, but at least he can find solace that someone to the “right of Bauder” is geeked that Olson is an anti-Calvinist:

Brother Roger:

I will be purchasing your new book, Against Calvinism. Thanks for taking on stand on this important debate and divide. Lord willing, your polemic will slow and stem the tide of the resurgence of Calvinism.


What’s that old line? “An enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Roger was right. Amazing.

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