Saturday, September 30, 2006

Can Joshua go to Memphis? A Call for Peace

In may of this year, over 30 Southern Baptists drafted a statement known as "The Memphis Declaration." Last week, another Southern Baptist group, quite large in number, met in Florida and unveiled principles of affirmation at an event called "The Joshua Convergence." Since that unveiling, the vitriol between what appear to be two factions within the SBC has grown exponentially. Yet when I read these two documents, I cannot for the life of me perceive differences so great between these groups as to merit the kind of war that so many seem ready to fight.

For weeks preceeding the Joshua Convergence, implicit salvos have been tossed toward "the Memphis group," and those who signed the document. It has even been suggested that those who were a part of this group are politically-correct, closet moderates who want to turn back the progress that has been made since the 25-year-old Conservative resurgence began. Calls have been issued for signers of the Memphis Declaration to "come out of the closet." While I certainly cannot speak for every signer, I will speak for myself. The following are "for the record," and I invite any and all to ask any question they desire regarding anything they read here. As soon as time permits (I do have a day job) I promise to answer every one of them to the best of my ability. Please know that each word is prayerfully written in a spirit that desires reconcilliation among brothers. My hear breaks to see the kind of division that has risen as a result of the events of the past several months.

1. I am a signer of the Memphis Declaration. Though I did not attend the Tennessee meeting, I agreed to have my name placed on the list of supporters. I did not do this because I wanted to attack any individual, nor did I want to make any overtly political statement,and I do not believe this declaration makes any effort to do either of these things. I do however, believe there is a move afoot in our Convention to narrow the parameters of cooperation among conservatives. I believe that many who fully affirm the BFM 2000 are marginalized, and in the case of the International Mission Board, now barred from service because they hold to minority Biblical interpretations that are NOT outside the bounds of our common confession.

The Declaration, as best as I understand it, makes no accusations toward any person. In fact, it is a very introspective document, and my support was added only after much introspection on my own part. (See

Since the release of this document, I have heard many make accusations toward certain signers, but I have yet to hear anyone pose a Biblical argument against the document itself. If anyone can point me to ANY part of this document that is clearly unBiblical, I will contact Marty Duren immediately and ask for my name to be removed. If you cannot find anything unBiblical in the document itself, I ask you not to mallign those of us who signed it simply because we signed it.

2. I am in basic agreement with the principles of affirmation released at the Joshua Convergence, and find no contradictions between these principles and the Memphis Delcaration. The one article with which I take issue is that which deals with holiness, and suggests that abstention from alcohol is one mark of holiness. #3 below will elaborate this point.

3. Regarding alcohol, I am a tee-totaller by conviction and practice. I wrote the policy in my association that forbids funded church planters from consuming alcohol as a beverage, and I preach that the wisest thing to do is to abstain. These are my deeply-held beliefs. At the same time, I see no Scriptural evidence for claiming that one ascends to a higher level of holiness because they give up this particular liberty. Though I believe abstention is the best prevention against alcoholism, I have no basis in the Word of God for judging my brother who chooses to drink in moderation. This is NOT an advocation of drinking, as I do not personally condone the practice. It IS however, an advocation of Romans 14:13-23.

4. I thank God for the Conservative Resurgence. Because of men like Adrian Rogers, Paige Patterson, W.A. Criswell and others, I am a two-time graduate of an SBC seminary I would have NEVER attended 25 years ago! I have NO desire to return to the days when our Convention sent an "unclear sound" regarding our understanding of the nature and authority of Scripture. Many men like those named above worked hard to reform our denomination, and as a result, I was able to attend a seminary where the Scriptures were honored. As a result, I received a quality evangelical education that most of these men only dreamed about. I will never forget what their service provided me!

5. I am an inerrantist, who fully affirms the BFM 2000, as well as The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. I do not, however, believe the BFM 2000 is inerrant. Are there statements that could have been better worded? I believe so. Are there statements which could be interpreted differently by two individuals? Of course. The BFM 2000 was written by our best theologians, but even our best are not perfect, and even our best are unable to draft a confession of faith that perfectly combines the specificity a theologian desires with the ambiguity that is sometimes necesary when trying to accomodate various points of view on non-essential issues.

I further believe this statement should serve as an instrument of accountability for those who are employed by SBC entities because our churches, on a national level, have stated that these are their deeply held and cherished beliefs. But when we spend the kind of time exegeting the BFM that we do exegeting Scripture, we have crossed the line into creedalism. One must also remember, that the SBC does not only exist at national, but also at state and local levels. Again, it is the CHURCHES at those levels who should decide which statements should be employed as accountability instruments for their denominational employees. As an associational servant, I wish that all of our churches fully affirmed the BFM 2000. Still, it is my responsibility to serve ALL of our churches, regardless of whether they affirm this document.

6. I consider myself to be a straightforward, grab-the-bull-by-the-horns, Bible-centered, expositional, no-holds-barred, hell-fire, Jesus-is-the-only-way, unconcerned-about-popularity, evangelical Baptist preacher. As the first "post-Mohler" graduate of Southern Seminary to pastor one particular and historic Kentucky church, I was malligned, misrepresented, mischaracterized, and unduly judged by several fellow pastors who saw me as only a "narrow-minded fundamentalist." When God's Word speaks, by His grace I will speak, loudly at times, and without apology. Conversely, if the Bible doesn't address an issue, I try my best to shut up about it in the pulpit.

7. I consider it not only sinful, but also a complete waste of time to address personalities, and therefore have done my very best to speak only of positions and actions. I believe it is wrong for someone to automatically assume the worst about our SBC leaders. I also believe it is wrong for someone to imply that one is "liberal" or "against our leaders" or "seeking power" simply because they take issue with something one of our leaders has said or done.

8. I believe that all of the following are godly men who have served their churches and/or denomination well: Paige Patterson, Adrian Rogers, Marty Duren, Jerry Vines, Frank Page, Johnny Hunt, Bobby Welch, Wade Burleson, James Merritt, Tom Ascol, and Jerry Rankin. This list of faithful men is certainly not meant to be exhaustive, nor is it meant to suggests any sort of category or hierarchy of godliness. I also believe that all of the above-named men, in addition to myself, the Apostle Paul, and the rest of humanity all the way back to Adam, are fallen sinners who are constantly in need of God's sustaining and sanctifying grace. This means that all of us will, from time to time, say and do things that are displeasing to Jesus Christ.

9. Having thoroughly read both the Memphis Declaration and the Joshua Convergence statement, I believe that to divide into warring factions behind these two banners is tantamount to Burger King seeking to put a Home Depot out of business. These statements address two different issues, and I would venture a guess that if all would stop beating their plowshares into swords for a moment and read both documents, the Joshua faction would find agreement with the repentant spirit, and the Memphis faction would find agreement with the need to continue standing for truth.

10. I fear that if we continue the current and very foolish exchange of words between each other, many of us will violate the standards of 1 Timothy 3, which insist, among other things, that we be "uncontentious" (v.3) and as a result render ourselves unfit for the office to which we have been called.

11. Finally, I do believe there is still a "battle for the Bible." I just don't believe that with regard to the SBC, it is an "internal" battle. There is, as there always has been, a spiritual war for the truth of the Gospel. Unfortunately, we seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time shooting at each other.

Many years ago, the British Navy arrived on the Atlantic coast near what is now Quebec. They were told to wait until reinforcements arrived and then begin attacking the city. Growing bored with the wait, the commander of the British fleet decided to do a bit of target practice, and so he ordered his gunmen to fire the ships cannons with the goal of destroying all the statues of the saints, which sat on top of a nearby cathedral. By the time reinforcements arrived, most of the ammunition was used up, and there were insufficient military resources for the British to soundly defeat the French. Two hundred years later, Quebec is still a french city, because the British decided to "fire on the saints" instead of the enemy.

Cooperative Program giving has slipped in a very noticeable way, 85% of our churches are plateued or declining, over 3500 churches close their doors for good every year in our nation, and North America is the only continent on the planet where the Kingdom is not advancing. We can't keep fighting each other. We MUST place these petty differences aside (and YES, I do believe our differences are largely petty) and work together to see the Kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of our Lord and His Christ.

For Southern Baptists, I think this can now only begin in one way. Joshua needs to take a trip to Memphis . . . .and Memphis needs to welcome him with open arms!

Further resources:

Friday, September 29, 2006

Boxers or Briefs: an Example

After writing the post below, I came across a great example of the "boxer-wearing evangelical" here:

If you can't laugh at this, not only are you a brief-wearer, but your briefs are probably two sizes too small! Enjoy!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Boxers or Briefs? A Theological Reflection

My apologies to my female readership for the frankness of the metaphor, but I honestly could not think of a better comparative picture for the thoughts that have been running through my head this week.

For the past several weeks, I have been immersed in missions work here in central Maryland, and have been consequently unable to contribute to the rowdy online discussion that is the blogosphere. Nevertheless, I have been able to take some time to read much of what is being said out there regarding first, second, and third order doctrinal issues, and as I observe the way in which various bloggers are addressing these issues, I have come to the conclusion that some wear boxers, and others wear briefs. Some are tight-fisted, gut-wrenched, red-faced, and stressed-out about everything, as if the rise or fall of the evangelical world depends on everyone else coming to their understanding of what it means to be a "conservative." Others are just as theologically sound, but not angry about it.

What I aim to do in the next few paragraphs is draw a distinction between the two. But before I do, a word of clarity is in order: If you are here looking to justify belief in an self-contradicting Bible, women pastors, the notion that being gay is cool with Jesus, the idea that one can enter the Kingdom without a personal relationship with the King, or any other clearly unBiblical idea, I'm afraid you have come to the wrong place. My purpose here is to distinguish within evangelicalism between those who are able to hold to sound doctrine without blowing a gasket, and those who can't.

To be totally transparent, I have to admit that I had a lot of fun with this, so don't take it more seriously than I intend it . . . .but do take it seriously enough. Below are, in my opinion, the marks of a "boxer-wearing" evangelical:

1. He can accept, and even embrace "mystery." Brief-wearing evangelicals have a very hard time with uncertainty. They feel that they must be able to answer every question regarding their faith. Ask them about the problem of evil, and they will have an answer. Ask them about the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility, and they will have an answer. Ask them about puzzling texts in the Bible, and they will have an answer . . . because they MUST have an answer. Brief-wearing evangelicals confuse certainty with omniscience, and live with the understanding that to say "I don't know" only reveals that they haven't spent as much time in the Word as they should have.

Boxer-wearers, on the other hand, know that "I don't know" is sometimes an appropriate answer, especially when it is the honest one. They are certain of Christ's literal and physical return, but at the same time, they aren't losing any sleep over the fact that they keep waffling back and forth between respective eschatological positions. While there are some issues on which they are certain, they recognize that others have been debated for centuries, and that if Augustine, Chrysostom, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, and others didn't settle it, the likelihood that our generation will settle it is pretty miniscule.

This doesn't mean that boxer-wearing evangelicals don't think about such things. But at the end of the day, boxer-wearers apply the truth of Isaiah 55 to their own feeble minds, and conceede that compared to God's wisdom, all the human wisdom in the world is tantamount to the kind of collective ignorance one might find in an internet chat room.

2. He can hold a position without holding it against people. Brief-wearing evangelicals seem to always gravitate from issues to personalities. For example, a few years ago, John R.W. Stott announced his temporary advocacy of annihilationism. Many brief-wearers responded by not only rightfully taking issue with Stott's position, but also by anathematizing Stott from their libraries. Similarly, the vitriolic debate now taking place in the blogosphere regarding SBC issues is largely caused by a shift of focus from positions to people. I for one have been dissapointed to see substantive issues worthy of debate within the SBC largely reduced to divisions regarding whether one loves or hates Paige Patterson.

A boxer-wearer understands the differences between people, personalities, and positions. He is the kind of person who can hold strongly to a complimentarian view of gender issues, while simultaneously sitting across the table from a female with "Reverend" behind her name without either being intimidated, or himself trying to intimidate her. He can flatly (and rightly) reject Stott's annihilationism while still showing great appreciation for Stott's overall work and contribution to the church. The boxer-wearing landmarkist doesn't assume that the non-landmarkist has a weak ecclesiology. The boxer-wearing non-Calvinist doesn't assume that his 5-pointer brother is unevangelistic.

Those holding positions in opposition to the boxer-wearer leave the dinner table with the impression that he is very sure of himself, but he is also a very nice guy! In short, boxer-wearers see certain positions as unhealthy, but they don't see those who hold such positions as the enemy.

3. Their Orthodoxy is Humble. Joshua Harris was the first person I heard use the term "humble orthodoxy," and I have adapted the phrase into my own vocabulary since first hearing it months ago.

Brief-wearers have no problem with honesty, but they struggle with humility. Areas of disagreement with others regarding non-essential issues (for example, one's interpretation of the Baptist Faith and Message) includes not only confidence in one's own position, but also a sense of condescension toward those who disagree. Brief-wearers not only prefer briefs. They see briefs as superior. Boxers are liberal!

By contrast, boxer-wearers are able to take a firm stand on secondary and tertiary issues, while at the same time enjoying friendship with those with whom he differs. The boxer-wearing abstentionist can have lunch with someone who orders a beer. He can enjoy Christian friendship with someone who differs with him on the mode of baptism, and can even share membership in the same church with someone who has an opposing view of election.

Which one are you? Honestly, there are days when I am both. And I suspect, if each reader would be honest with himself, he would come to the same conclusion. I'm working hard at becoming a boxer-wearing evangelical, because I want to maintain the balance between conviction and cooperation; between certainty and humility.

This doesn't mean that I think the recent issues being debated are not worthy of good, robust argument. It does mean that we need to relax a bit!

Southern Baptists in particular have argued about a number of things over the past several months: landmarkism, Calvinism, alcohol, blogging, glossolalia, censorship, et. al. None of these issues is unimportant, but the vitriol I have witnessed of late brings me to the conclusion that maybe what some of us need is a good old-fashioned pair of cotton boxer-shorts. . . .

. . . .speaking of which, I think the dryer just buzzed!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Rosie and the "Radicals": Is there truth to her statements?

It seems that evangelicals are in an uproar over Rosie O'Donnell's recent tirade during which our beliefs are compared with those who attacked the World Trade Center on 9/11. Last week, I even received an email alert in which Don Wildman of the American Family Association was attempting to garner support for a petition to ABC to force O'Donnell to apologize. Strangely enough, while everyone else expressed their offense at her words, I found myself wondering if she might be closer to the truth than any of us realize!

Now, before you delete this blog from your favorites, call me a heretic, and write to discontinue your subscription to this weblog service, read on to see exactly what I'm talking about here.

Even a casual comparison of Biblical Christianity with the life and worldview of many Americans today reveals a strong antithesis, and my friend Spencer Haygood has expressed more eloquently than I could, how Rosie's words, when removed from her own intentions, seem to ring true in a way that should call us back to genuine Christianity. Regarding Rosie's comments, he says:

What she meant is wrong and foolish. But what she said is right and profound. Radical Christianity — that is authentic and passionate Christianity as the Bible defines it, seeking to love the Lord God with all one’s heart and mind and soul and strength and to love one’s neighbors as oneself — is not “just as” but probably is “more” threatening than radical Islam in a country like America — a culture committed largely to self-love, self-promotion, self-seeking! Radical Islam may disrupt business, inflict harm, cause ruin, and take lives through its terrorist tactics. But that’s not nearly as threatening to the secular American culture as a biblical world and life view that changes business and heals the harmed and reclaims the ruined and transforms lives through the power of the Gospel of God’s grace in Christ Jesus. May God give us such reformation and revival as will make us radical, biblical Christians in these days when the church seems bound in this Babylonian cultural captivity.

Well said! And you can read the rest here:

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Church Planting: The Podcast!

Resources designed to help church planters bring a new congregation to life can be found in books, on discs, and online. Likewise, stories of this volatile yet rewarding work are shared frequently by those with such experience. But such stories are usually told after the fact. My friend Dave Cowan is about to change all that!

When I arrived in Maryland in January 2005, Dave was working with Horizon Church, a new start in the Owings Mills area of Baltimore, and simultaneously launching a second church on the north side of the Beltway. He and Clay Carver had already worked tirelessly for four years prior to my coming to see a church multiplication movement in the northeast, and the results of their labors are still seen today in Horizon Owings Mills, and Horizon Towson. Combined attendance at both churches is near the 300-mark, a mega-church in the northeast!

Like many apostolic-type planters, Dave acquired a case of "itchy feet" several months ago, and in bitter-sweet fashion, we said goodbye to him last month as he and his family moved to Phoenix, Arizona. Dave will be working with the Arizona Baptist Convention to start a church in the University area while simultaneously beginning work toward his Ph.D. at the University of Arizona. I know he would covet your prayers.

Like anyone else with church planting experience, Dave could certainly share his past experiences with you. But instead, he has elected to share his present experiences with you. Via a new online weblog, you can learn about all of the ups and downs of starting a new church as it is happening!

In fact, these online adventures have already begun, and you can see them here:

The first podcast and weblog are already up, and videos are coming soon. Pray for my friend Dave, for the establishment of this new church, and for the unreached peoples of Phoenix. This new resource will allow you to do this more intelligently, while learning first-hand, and on the fly, what it takes to establish a new, local expression of Christ's universal body. Dave is a solid guy with a passion for mission. I hope you will join me as my family and I hold he and his up in prayer.