Friday, May 30, 2008

Preforeordestination and Other Theologicalish Words

Huck Finn once complained about going to church, saying,
Next Sunday, we all went to church, about three mile, everybody a-horseback. The men took their guns along, so did Buck, and kept them between their knees or stood them handy against the wall. The Shepherdsons done the same. It was pretty ornery preaching — all about brotherly love, and such-like tiresomeness; but everybody said it was a good sermon, and they tall talked it over going home, and had such a powerful lot to say about faith, and good works, and free grace, and preforeordestination, and I don't know what else, that it did seem to me to be one of the roughest Sundays I had run across yet (Ch. 18).
Just in case you're wondering about the deep theological meaning behind "preforeordestination" and other such terms in the debate, here are two equal-opportunity-offender dictionaries for both sides of the Calvinist - Anything But Calvinist positions (which includes the Pelagian - Arminian - Semi-Pelagian - Moderate Calvinist - Anabaptist - Yarnell Baptist Calvinist - Caner Baptist Biblicist positions (I know I'm leaving out some of the other "non-Calvinist positions - I apologize).

Calvinist Dictionary

Anything but Calvinist Dictionary

Let the complaints that neither side understands the other begin . . . NOW!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Gospel of Judas and the Humiliation of National Geographic

In the spring of 2006, a news conference was held to announce the discovery of an ancient document that presents a "new and improved" Judas. The National Geographic Society and National Geographic channel spent millions to research, translate, print, and televise a lot of information on the Gospel of Judas. The most recent edition of The Journal of Higher Education presents the following:
In 2004, National Geographic bought the rights to translate and publish the gospel for a reported $1-million. Under the terms of the deal, the society wouldn't own the manuscript, which — once it was restored — would be displayed in Cairo's Coptic Museum.

What National Geographic had bought access to was more like a puzzle than a book. As one scholar explains it, imagine that you have 10 pieces of paper with writing on both sides. Now take those 10 pages and tear them up into tiny pieces. Then get rid of, say, a third of those pieces. Take what's left, place it in a shoebox, and shake it. Now try to reconstruct the original 10 pages, keeping in mind that the fragile pieces must match on both sides.
However, recent information has come forth that puts all of the work done by the Society into serious academic question. The same article says:
"Ancient Document, Judas, Minus the Betrayal," read the headline in The New York Times. The British paper The Guardian called it "a radical makeover for one of the worst reputations in history." A documentary that aired a few days later on National Geographic's cable channel also pushed the Judas-as-hero theme. The premiere attracted four million viewers, making it the second-highest-rated program in the channel's history, behind only a documentary on September 11.

But almost immediately, other scholars began to take issue with the interpretation of Meyer and the rest of the National Geographic team. They didn't see a good Judas at all. In fact, this Judas seemed more evil than ever. Those early voices of dissent have since grown into a chorus, some of whom argue that National Geographic's handling of the project amounts to scholarly malpractice. It's a perfect example, critics argue, of what can happen when commercial considerations are allowed to ride roughshod over careful research. What's more, the controversy has strained friendships in this small community of religion scholars — causing some on both sides of the argument to feel, in a word, betrayed.
Al Mohler writes:
There were disturbing elements to the story, however. The National Geographic Society clearly aimed at making a financial gain through the much-publicized book and television documentary. More importantly, the Society did not make the actual manuscript available for other scholars to check and consult.

A devastating analysis of the actual translation put forth by the Society and its chosen scholars came from Professor April D. DeConick of Rice University. In her book, The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says, DeConick proved that the most famous "finding" offered by the National Geographic Society translation (claiming that Judas was good and not evil) was a complete misrepresentation of the text and a profound mistranslation. . . .

It is clear that the media were misled -- and that the media then mislead their audiences. Now, when the integrity of the entire project is called into doubt, the media are far less interested.

The Chronicle of Higher Education is to be commended, the National Geographic Society should be humiliated, and Christians should be reminded once again not to be shaken by media sensationalism. The discovery of the "Gospel of Judas" changes nothing except to add yet another manuscript to the pile of false gospels and Gnostic documents.

When those scholars misrepresented the "Gospel of Judas," they betrayed not only the public trust, but the truth.

Godless Communists and Clueless Christians

It seems that China, in its continual effort to put its best foot forward in their Olympic year, only serves to remind the world how backward and ungodly the leadership really is. After the earthquake in the Sichuan province several days ago, the "Compassionate Communist" government has offered the following, according to the Associated Press:

“Parents whose only child was killed or maimed in China’s earthquake would be allowed to have another, officials who administer the country’s one-child policy in part of the disaster zone said Monday, offering some solace to grieving couples.

“Couples whose only child was killed, severely injured or disabled in the quake can get a certificate allowing them to have another child, said the Chengdu Population and Family Planning Committee, which oversees the policy in the capital of Sichuan province.”
Nothing proclaims the value of a human life like a new law saying, "Just go have yourself another one." The government's actions reveals their thoughts that children are replaceable commodities. As I write this, I am reminded of a class I taught last summer on "A Biblical Look at the Death of Infants." In that class, we looked at what to say and what not to say in the event of such a tragedy. Christians are typically at a loss for words and end up saying some very hurtful, though unintentional things. We must be careful that we don't betray our feelings toward children by saying something like, "At least you're young; you can always have another child." No, that mother and father lost a dear precious child, a soul that counts and a life they'll always remember no matter how short it was. You can never "replace" a child.

Christians understand this. I don't think China does.

HT: Denny Burk

Friday, May 23, 2008

Good Questions about the Future of the SBC

Nathan Finn has begun writing a series of posts based on questions he fields on an annual basis as professor at Southeastern. So far, he has dealt with four of them:

1. What is all the fuss about at the International Mission Board? (Variation: What do you [NAF] think about the new IMB rules?) (Variation 2: Is there really a problem with missionaries who are speaking in tongues?) If you are unfamiliar with why this question is #1, there has been a lot of controversy over two decisions made by the IMB regarding those whom it will allow to serve on the mission field. First, they must have undergone a "valid" baptism. Second, they must not engage in a private prayer language. Finn gives his two cents on both issues.

2. Will the SBC split over Calvinism? (Variation: Do you think they will “kick out” all the Calvinists one day?) Finn points to four groups of people on this issue: Non-cooperative Non-Calvinists, Cooperative Non-Calvinists, Cooperative Calvinists, and Non-cooperative Calvinists. Finn expresses hope for the Convention as along as the two extreme positions above cease and desist. However, that seems unlikely because both groups feed off one another and both feel entitled to exercise dominion over their "authentic Baptist" fiefdom. Finn's final position on a split over Calvinism:
I do not think the SBC will divide over Calvinism, though it is possible if the extremes do not tone it down or move on. . . .If the above-mentioned cooperation does not happen, then yes, we will divide over Calvinism. The SBC will lose a healthy chunk of its “younger leaders” and the annual meetings will be attended by 1500 senior citizens and “harvest evangelists” while Sovereign Grace and Reformed Baptist churches will get a surge of new pastors and missionaries who drink sweet tea, eat grits, and root for SEC football. When that happens, there will be no Great Commission Resurgence and the Conservative Resurgence will prove to be little more than the last gasp of an ultimately irrelevant group of Baptists in the American South and Southwest. And that will be a shame.
3 & 4: Skipped for now

5. When will the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina become really conservative? (Variation: Is there any hope for the Biblical Recorder?) It is becoming more conservative but there are still much more to do.

6. I’m not a cessasionist–is there a place for me in the SBC? (Variation: I don’t have a problem with speaking in tongues, but I don’t personally do it–can I be a missionary?) [SIDENOTE: Speaking of cessationism, Dr. Jim Hamilton of Southern says we all are (at least those of us who believe in a closed canon.]

Dr. Finn is one of the best young thinkers in the SBC and one worth reading. I look forward to reading more of his thoughts on these good questions that we all should be asking.

Christianity or Jesusanity

Justin Taylor interviews Dr. Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary. He recently co-wrote Dethroning Jesus with Dan Wallace, a book about our culture's bent on "loving Jesus" as long as it is not the Jesus of Scriptures. In fact, they put forth an entirely new American religion:

Central to your book is the claim that there are two competing Jesus stories: Christianity and Jesusanity. Can you explain what you mean by these terms and how these visions differ?

Christianity is the old, well-known, biblical story that Jesus was the Messiah and came to restore a broken relationship with humanity through his work as Son of God. In other words, Jesus’ person is key to Christianity.

Jesusanity is the alternative “cultural Christianity,” where Jesus is a prophet, even a religious great, but his person is not involved in God’s program, only his teaching on how we can know God through ourselves. Thus the person of Jesus and the centrality of him in what God is doing is ignored. This is now a quite widespread claim in many TV documentaries about Jesus, especially on niche historical channels.

A New Hymnbook, A New Old Hymn

Lifeway has announced that a new Baptist Hymnal will be produced in 2008. It appears that the organizers of this new book are getting serious about the theology of our hymnody, saying "the theology of the hymns and songs is so critical, the group was deliberately made up of theologians and musician/theologians." I am especially pleased to see the inclusion of Ron Owen, co-author of Return to Worship. I count Ron a good friend, as well as his co-author, Jan MacMurry, a member and parent of three of my former youth in my previous church in Kingsport, Tennessee. The committee will discern the relative worth of each hymn - both old and new - with the following questions:
  • Does the hymn speak biblically of God?
  • Is it God-honoring?
  • Does the hymn present a biblical view of man?
  • Does the song help us to cover the depth and breadth of our theology?
  • Does the hymn call us to true discipleship, service, repentance, witness, missions and devotion?
  • Does the hymn speak biblically of salvation?
  • Does it engage the whole person - allowing a person to express his deepest feelings?
  • Does the hymn emphasize that Christ is the Christian's Lord, Master and King? (the idea of total submission)
  • Does the hymn present an Americanized/Westernized gospel? (civil religion)
  • Is there a balance with corporate and individual response in worship? (immanence and transcendence)
  • Does the hymn speak biblically about the church, the body of Christ?
The list above makes me wonder if twelve Baptists in a room can come to an agreement on what is the biblical view of God and man but I am hopeful. At the very least, I doubt that Hymn #20 from the 1975 edition will make the cut: "God of Earth and Outer Space." I always wanted to shout out #20 during one of the "old-fashioned hymn singin's" we used to do in other churches. Sing along with me:

God of earth and outer space,
God of love and God of grace,
bless the astronauts who fly
as they soar beyond the sky.
God who flung the stars in space,
God who set the sun ablaze,
fling the spacecraft thro' the air.
Let man know your presence there.

Excuse me whilst I compose myself!

Nathan Finn, professor at Southeastern, also notes a hymn familiar to our older generation from the 1953 Broadman Hymnal. He writes that "a student introduced me to a hymn that I am convinced needs to be added to the new hymnal. It has history. It has panache. And it is Southern Baptist to the marrow. So without further adieu, I give you 'A Million More in ‘54,' the companion hymn for the well-known SBC Sunday School enrollment campaign of the mid-1950s:

A million more in fifty-four! Enrolled in Sunday School,
To hear the gospel, read the Word And learn the Golden Rule.
A million more in fifty-four, To leave the paths of sin;
To meet the Saviour, know His grace, And find new peace within.

A million more in fifty-four! The gospel will be sown
In hearts of women, boy and girls, And men who have not known
The saving pow’r of matchless grace Provided by God’s Son
Who came and died on Calv’ry’s tree To save them, ev’ry one.

A million more in fifty-four! Depends on workers true;
Our hearts, our strength, our wills, our time, We dedicate anew.
We each must visit, work, and pray In answer to God’s call.
A work to honor Christ our King Demands our best, our all.

A million more in fifty-four, Enrolled in Sunday School;
A million more in fifty-four, Enrolled in Sunday School.

[By W. Hines Sims. Copyright, 1953, Broadman Press]

YOWZA! I'm so thankful we didn't have to hear tortured lyrics from the "Everyone Can, You're It" campaign.

Alvin Reid, SEBTS professor of evangelism, makes a valid point in the comments to Finn's post: "I have often said 'if the 50s come back, most of our churches are ready.' By that I do not mean their evangelistic passion, because I wish we had more of that as then. But I do mean our obsession with conformity of style and method, and with the obsession toward programmatic ministry that was born in the middle of the 50s. I may blog on this at some point, but if one reads CE Matthews’ Southern Baptist Program of Evangelism (appropriate name for the times) one can see a double edged sword–I love the passion I read to see people come to Christ, but the meticulous programming sowed seeds whose harvest we are still reaping, and represents much of what we must change."

This song did mark a turning point in the SBC - a quickening descent towards the idolatry of numbers and the beginnings of our bloated membership rolls, both of which continue to be the cancer that we must fight within the convention and each individual church.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I've Been Monergized!

Is that a word? It should be. I'm referring to the incredible work of John Hendryx and his incredible Monergism website. If you are not familiar with the word "monergism," Hendryx explains it this way: The word "monergism" consists of two main parts. The Greek prefix "mono" signifies "one", "single", or "alone" while the suffix "ergon" means "to work". Taken together it means "the work of one". is the online epicenter of the Reformed world, containing thousands upon thousands of links to articles, lectures, and MP3s of reformed teachers and scholars both past and present. A few of my classes from our Wednesday night "Equipping University" have managed to be included alongside some of my heroes in the faith. Here are some links:

Lessons on Calvinism

Lessons on Textual Criticism (at the top under "Has the Bible Been Corrupted?")

Lessons on Heresy!

Lessons on Open Theism

We Might Have New Bills Soon

The New York Times reports that a federal appeals court panel ruled on Tuesday that the United States discriminates against the blind because the country’s paper currency is the same size regardless of a bill’s value. “Of the more than 180 countries that issue paper currency,” Judge Robertson wrote on Nov. 28, 2006, “only the United States prints bills that are identical in size and color in all their denominations.”

The dissenter in Tuesday’s circuit ruling was Judge A. Raymond Randolph, who said the majority had too quickly accepted the plaintiffs’ assertions and rejected the government’s evidence that retooling or replacing the approximately seven million food-and-beverage vending machines in the country could cost $3.5 billion if bills of different size were introduced.

Other parties who would be affected would be manufacturers of money-dispensing automatic teller machines and, for that matter, manufacturers of wallets and purses, Judge Randolph said.