Monthly Archives: June 2009

At SBTS, Fidelity Matters: A Friendly Response to Dave Doran

For those of you who did not follow my post about the Southern Seminary sesquicentennial and the subsequent discussion it sparked, Andy Naselli put together a nice blog about the two sides related to the McCall Pavilion controversy at Southern.  I’ll skip a lengthy summary and say this: Greg Gilbert and Mark Rogers agreed with my take on SBTS naming a pavilion after professed SBC “moderate” Duke McCall, and fundamentalist leader Dave Doran disagreed with it. 

I read the remarks of all and have chewed on them for a few days now.  I wanted to offer just a few thoughts by way of response to Dr. Doran, who is by the accounts of several friends a godly man and an excellent Christian leader.  I do not know him (though I would love to), and I am not interested in anything other than friendly, stimulating discussion over things that matter.  I write as a young man conversing with an elder and better.

First, very briefly, Mark has some great thoughts that relate to how we Christians of all stripes can be terribly blind to our own sins even as we challenge others for their own alleged problems.  Mark shows that even as some fundamentalists have warned their brothers and sisters about potential sins, these same people (not Doran) tragically served and defended a flagship fundamentalist school that perpetuated unbiblical teaching (a legacy graduates of this school, dear friends of mine included, utterly repudiate).  This is not an indictment of all or even most fundamentalists.  But Mark does make a great point, one that sounds a cautionary note for all of us who sometimes see faults in our brothers and sisters without recognizing our own significant sins.

Second, in Doran’s response to Greg Gilbert’s 9Marks post supporting SBTS’s decision to name the pavilion after McCall, he wrote this:

“Why does expressing disagreement and asking a question about an action qualify as “carp[ing] at Al Mohler”? I am disappointed by this line of response, but it seems to be standard fare for our culture these days. I don’t think Greg would accuse Mark Dever of “carping at” whomever simply because Mark expressed disagreement with some action by or idea of that person. Why make this about Al Mohler?”

I have no comments on the “carping” language.  I would, however, say that with all due respect, I think that Greg (and Mark) is right to make the Pavilion decision about Al Mohler (and, by proxy, the cabinet he represents).  One cannot abstract SBTS’s decision from Mohler’s character and theological vision, after all.  As with all matters relating to Southern Seminary, especially important ones, Al Mohler and his theological platform is deeply involved. 

Why is this important?  Because Greg shows in his post that Al Mohler has proven himself to be concerned with the proclamation and defense of truth to the most serious extent.  Over and over again in his presidential career, Mohler has defended orthodoxy at personal cost.  Though I see room for disagreement on this point, and concede that Dr. Doran thinks well and speaks persuasively for his case, I believe that this point is about Al Mohler, and have to respectfully disagree with him.

Let me illustrate.  If another president had undertaken the same action as Mohler, but did not have a track record of sacrificial defense of orthodoxy, I would share Doran’s reservations.  This is not to say that Mohler is infallible–nothing of the sort.  But it is helpful as a thought experiment to consider how differently I would feel if the president in question had a track record of vacillating on difficult questions.  Al Mohler, to be blunt, does not.  Whether or not one agrees with every decision he has made, no Christian who seeks a posture of fairness and historical credibility can claim that he has not faithfully and at great personal cost defended biblical orthodoxy at Southern and–furthermore–that this defense (or defensive offense, as I would prefer to say) has not been remarkably blessed by God such that SBTS has turned out thousands of graduates who love the Word and want nothing more than to be faithful to the Lord of it. 

Al Mohler and all other Christian leaders are sinful, fallible, and in need of accountability.  I do not think that Dr. Mohler, a personal mentor, is above making mistakes, even grievous ones.  None of us is.  We all depend more than we will know in this life on the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit.  With that said, Al Mohler has earned the trust of conservative Christians.  Not an unthinking trust, but a robust trust nonetheless.  Indeed, Mohler’s decision speaks not of theological compromise, but of graciousness of a sort that most of us lack.  In the sesquicentennial ceremony, Mohler did not state agreement with McCall’s theology.  He did not go back on previous statements.  Rather, he honored a man who served Southern Seminary.  This man did not have the kind of ministry that conservatives seek.  But neither, for that matter, did a number of Southern’s presidents.  Naming a pavilion after a president does not signal endorsement of his theology.  It signals a gracious recognition that, for better or worse, this person served SBTS in an executive capacity.  In McCall’s case, he did so for over three decades. 

Shifting gears, Doran is right that the neo-evangelical leaders of Fuller Theological Seminary started out strong and quickly lost their theological bearings.  As with Doran’s distaste for theological liberalism of the kind that infected SBTS for decades, I share his concerns about the early years of Fuller.  Furthermore, Doran is right, I think, to sound a note of caution about all institutions that seem biblically faithful.  The academic and ecclesial world is chock full of groups and churches that started strong but drifted away from the truth of the Word.  None of us can assume that because we stand today, we will stand tomorrow. 

With those important caveats noted, Fuller does have some important differences from SBTS.  I am studying the neo-evangelicals in my doctoral work and thus am comfortable offering at least a tentative word on the matter.  E. J. Carnell, second president of Fuller, was a far less stable man than Al Mohler, both spiritually and constitutionally.  Fuller itself had a vastly weaker doctrinal and theological base than Southern.  It struggled to find a confessional home in its early years, a fact which immediately separates it from SBTS.  Of course, a school still has to adhere to its confession, but the point stands. 

Fuller was poorly managed in some cases, with a distance president (the subject, dv, of my future dissertation, Harold John Ockenga) and a founder, Charles Fuller, who knew little about academic theology (at a day when it could be very difficult to tell the difference between Barthians and evangelicals).  In addition, the Fuller faculty worked themselves to the bone in large part because the school–at great cost–set out from its inception to singlehandedly mount the great intellectual defense of Christianity.  This played into hiring decisions.  Subsequently, a large part of the faculty that Fuller attracted cared far too much for secular credibility and far too little for biblical fidelity. Examples abound on this point–see Rudolph Nelson’s fascinating The Making and Unmaking of an Evangelical Mind, on E. J. Carnell, and the recent biography of G. E. Ladd, A Place at the Table

Southern Seminary is not immune to such drifts.  I stress this yet again because I want it to be clear that I believe it.  However, the Southern faculty, a group with which I am personally well acquainted, has a different orientation than the Fuller faculty.  The school constantly stresses in chapel and in print that it is seeking to be faithful to Christ above all other ends.  The faculty is, as a whole, richly talented, but they seek to build the church, not to please the academy.  Many professors pastor churches or are elders in churches, a point of huge divergence between Southern and Fuller (and many contemporary evangelical seminaries).  This naturally makes it a little harder for some faculty members to publish as much as they otherwise would, but the seminary’s leadership celebrates its theologian-pastors, its scholarly churchmen.  SBTS could drift again, as Doran rightly points out, but the seminary in my view is on an excellent course at present.

Dave Doran is clearly a man concerned with truth and the Word.  I stand proudly beside him on these points.  I do disagree with his conclusions about the pavilion decision, but I want very much to take his words seriously and to be constantly wary of my sin.  That is not Doran’s emphasis, after all, but Scripture’s.  Though we may disagree on the matter discussed above, I am quite certain that we agree on this last point, one that shapes our faith and guides our steps.

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The Link 6.26.09: Danny Akin, Mark Dever, and the SBC’s Future

1. Just one link in this busy week. 

For those who have not heard of this conference, it is worth noting:

God Exposed: Awkward Preaching in a Comfortable Age September 25-26, 2009 — Sponsored by 9Marks and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

God Exposed will call pastors and church leader to embrace and defend expositional preaching as a means to strengthen and grow the church. Expositional preaching – that which has as its aim to explain and apply a particular portion of God’s Word – is especially important in a day when many are abandoning faithfulness to the Scripture in their pulpit ministries. This conference will encourage and train pastors whose primary calling is ministering the Word of God to their people.”

Speakers include Akin, Dever, CJ Mahaney, Thabiti Anyabwile, and Mike McKinley.  Looks great.

It is really exciting to see continued partnership between Danny Akin and Mark Dever.  These men have been friends for years, but their enhanced cooperation means great things for the SBC’s future, I think.  Akin is a major SBC figure, one who commands respects from all Southern Baptist figures.  Dever is a more broadly evangelical leader who has sometimes failed to find a place at the table due to his staunch theology.  Here’s hoping that these two men will continue to partner in order that many others who would not otherwise sit at the same table will break bread together in coming days.

Akin went out of his way to show kindness to the 9Marks folks at this latest convention.  Southeastern Seminary hosted a number of events so that 9Marks could have a place at the SBC.  That was most kind of Akin and the school he leads, and it did not go unnoticed.  That kind of maturity and graciousness can only have good effects.

–Have a great weekend, all.

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The SBTS Sesquicentennial: Recapping A Celebration of Faith

Today Southern Seminary–or, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary–celebrated its 150th anniversary.  This is known in fancy chronological language as a sesquicentennial.

The day was an eventful and meaningful one.  Events at SBTS included a lunch at 12:30pm that drew way over 1000 people; a time for campus tours and fellowship afterwards; and a ceremony at the seminary chapel at 3pm that formally commemorated the occasion.  The celebration drew hundreds of alumni to the school and allowed believers from various stations and places to connect. 

The ceremony itself had a number of highlights.  Mark Dever led the assembly in a responsive reading that included these weighty words:

“We return to the historic founding of this Seminary in order to remember the rock from which we are hewn, the story that expresses the glory of God in our calling, and the vision for establishing Gospel churches that would take the saving message of Christ to all the nations.” 

Dr. Mohler preached an eloquent and concise message that summarized the current position of Southern relative to its historic past.  The message closed with these words:

“We stand at the intersection of history and hope, encouraged by legacy and inspired by destiny.  May we dedicate ourselves this day to the vision that sustains us, the truth that possesses us, and the legacy that inspires us.  By God’s gracv, may we, like those who founded this seminary a century and a half ago, find our confidence for the future where alone it can be found–in the assurance of things hoped for.”

Amen.

Following Dr. Mohler’s message, the seminary honored seventh president Duke K. McCall by announcing the dedication of its new welcome pavilion in his honor.  McCall then gave some remarks which showed his talent as an orator in the finest Southern fashion.  While noting the “currents that carry us different ways”, an obvious nod to theological divergence between McCall and others, the former president registered his support for the school he loves and called for alumni–presumably those who have struggled to think well of SBTS in recent decades–to stand in support of the school.  The assembly gave him a standing ovation, a moment that was both unexpected and poignant.

With that, the day was essentially concluded.  One was left with a strong sense of gratitude to the Lord for sustaining this seminary, one of many in the Christian world, through countless battles and challenges.  The leaders and scholars of SBTS know based on their heritage that it is impossible to maintain fidelity to Christ and His call without contending for the faith. 

Though it is not popular in modern academia to speak in such militaristic terms, the future of fidelity depends upon a defense of orthodoxy.  Things in this world do not trend up; they break down.  Sin is real.  Attacks will be made on the truth.  While we should never adopt only a defensive stance, the history of Southern and all other schools that have survived decades, even centuries, of theological challenge show us beyond the shadow of a doubt that Christian faith must be aggressively defended by able and wise leaders.  Perhaps we could say we need a defensive offense–a position that seeks the advance of the kingdom at all times while remaining ever aware of the serious challenges to the truth that Satan and sin send the church’s way.

We must make sure that in our Christian institutions, we retain a very real belief in these things I’ve just mentioned–sin, Satan, hell, and the like.  As we observe Christian schools like Southern and Union achieve newfound (and joyful) success, we must also pray for their leaders and workers never to grow ashamed of the essential truths of Christianity.  Many things that sound like superstition and career suicide to the secular academy are nothing less than the very core of biblical doctrine.  If we lose sight of this basic fact, and acquiesce, however gradually, to the cultural spirit, we may well watch as our schools observe sesquicentennials.  But for all the pomp and celebration of these events, if we have gained the world and its way of thought, we will have lost our faith and its salvific hope.

Southern Seminary is faithful because of the almighty sovereignty of our holy God.  He has chosen to raise up faithful leaders to buttress this school and many others.  On this day, we praise God for these leaders even as we pray for their continued faithfulness to Christ, and even as we pray for the next generation.  May they, like this one, see that Christian faith must be bold, unwincing, uncompromising, gracious wherever possible, courageous as the moment requires, and steadfastly committed to things that this world sniffs at as foolish–but that a mighty cloud of witnesses celebrates as true, gloriously true.

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Rumbling in the SBC: 2009 Convention Dispatches

I’m in the River City (Louisville, KY) for vacation.  My trip has coincided with a number of fun events: first, the annual Southern Baptist Convention, and second, the 150th anniversary of Southern Seminary, my alma mater.  The SBTS extravaganza is tomorrow, so I’ll talk about that then.  For now, here are a few thoughts from the last couple days of the SBC:

1. There’s a movement afoot in the SBC, if you haven’t heard.  It’s called the “Great Commission Resurgence”, and it’s centered around restructuring the Convention to funnel more money to the work of missions and specifically the International Mission Board.  See a very helpful Tim Brister recap post for more

2. This movement is exciting because it’s drawing together established men of God like David Dockery, Danny Akin, Mark Dever, Al Mohler, Johnny Hunt, and younger future leaders like Jonathan Akin, Jedidiah Coppenger, Ben Dockery, Nathan Akin, Trevin Wax, Tim Brister, and more.  It’s great to see an older generation reaching down to a younger generation and to see a younger generation honor its elders (and betters) even as it seeks increased influence for the cause of the gospel. 

3. Because of its diverse, gospel-centered nature, this is one of the most encouraging movements I have seen in a long time. For me, it’s on the same level as Acts 29, which has launched an advance of similar ambition and Christocentric focus.  I can’t really think of a negative aspect to the GCR.  If it works–and it will take much time and effort for that to happen–it will transform the SBC, make it lighter and faster, and devote millions more dollars to the work of domestic and international missions.

4. 9Marks is holding a series of panels at the SBC, and last night’s attracted hundreds of pastors and future leaders.  They’re partnering with Baptist21, the group of young SBC guys interested in promoting the GCR.  In years past, 9Marks has struggled to find a footing in the SBC.  It’s great to see them connected to other groups and gaining a wider hearing.  If the SBC is going to thrive and reclaim its confessional heritage, it sorely needs the influence of groups like 9Marks. 

5. Pray for all of these developments.  Tonight the Convention votes on a motion related to the GCR.  Whether or not you’re a Southern Baptist, whether or not you’ve ever had any contact with the SBC, pray for the success of the GCR.  Southern Baptists have fought the battle over the authority of Scripture.  Now they are fighting a battle over the sufficiency of Scripture.  They are working to drive the Word and the gospel to the very heart of the Convention, to root their convention in the word of Christ like a house to concrete.  Praise God for this.  Pray to God for this.  Thank God for this.

6. In other news: Denny Burk is a chair-stealer (and a terrific college dean).  Mark Dever has lost 35 pounds.  David Platt and my friend John-Michael LaRue (who sometimes comments on this blog) are, I think, twins separated at birth.  Java Brewing Company (still) makes a delicious Irish Mocha (it’s not on the menu–you have to ask for it).  The Baptist21 panel featuring Mohler, Dever, Platt, Ed Stetzer, Danny Akin and pastor Daniel Montgomery of Sojourn Community Church (Louisville) was terrific.  Lots of candid, constructive dialogue. 

I’ll be back tomorrow with thoughts on the SBTS sesquicentennial celebration.  Louisville is an exciting place to be right now, and I’m excited about all of these developments.  May God continue to purify the churches of the SBC to accomplish even greater things for His glory and renown.

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Robert Schuller’s Son: “Nobody Listens to Preaching”

From an interview done with Christianity Today:

“I’ll probably have 5- to 10-minute messages throughout the program, but it won’t be sitting down with three points and a poem. Chris Wyatt resigned a month before I left the Cathedral because his investors told him they wanted to take God out of GodTube. Chris discovered through GodTube that nobody listened to preaching. People are interested in other ways to communicate the message, such as interviews as opposed to a talking head.”

Schuller was kicked off his father’s television program The Hour of Power because he preaches too much Bible, reportedly.  This has led him to the conclusion that people don’t listen to preaching.  Praise God, this is not true.  People will listen to preaching.  But it needs to be stout, true, and passionate.  It is not strong biblical preaching that fails to draw attention, most often–it is weak, piddly, watered-down preaching.

Biblical preaching is alive and well.  So is its object, Jesus Christ.

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The Link 6.19.2009

retrain1. Mark Driscoll and Rick Melson discuss the new Resurgence training center.  Cool training model.  Some of the profs featured in it are to the right (in case you couldn’t tell).

2. W. Bradford Wilcox of National Review has a great article up on “Five Myths of Manhood”.  Interesting stat: for all the talk about “stay-at-home” dads, just one percent of married families with children had one.  And a 2007 Pew study found that only 20% of women with children want to work full-time.  Tuck those figures away.

3. Mike McKinley on sermon introductions.  Looking forward to hearing him and others at the 9Marks/Baptist21 panel at the Southern Baptist Convention next week.  Two organizations doing great things for the kingdom.

4. Did you miss the Piper-Carson media from a while back?  If so, here it is.

5. The whole microfinance thing has led to Harvard students being sponsored by individuals.  Could this be a portent of things to come–students being sponsored by individual donors?  Interesting to think about…

–Have a great weekend, all.

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A Special Recommendation of Bruce Ware’s “Big Truths”

ellabookI really have resisted posting photos of my family on this blog.  This is a blog about ideas, and purposefully so.  I don’t want to make a private matter–the life of my family–a public one.

However, I am forced to break my own rule on special occasions.  Recently, at a book signing by my father-in-law, theologian Bruce Ware, for his new book Big Truths for Young Hearts (Crossway, 2009), my daughter, Ella Rose, grabbed a copy of the fast-selling book and would not let go.  Ella, it seems, found her grandfather’s text irresistible.  She literally refused to put it down!  She’s got a heart for robust theology, apparently.

Just wanted to share this special recommendation with my readers.  Ella is a young reader, and she is slowly working her way through the book, so I wouldn’t expect an extensive recommendation for several years (maybe decades).  But as of now, she has offered a strong commendation of the text.  When placed in her hands, she would not let it go.  Might I say the same about you, should you get your hands on a copy?

ellaBig Truths for Young Hearts: spreading happiness since April 2009, to readers of all ages–from retirement age all the way to ten months.  Just look at that satisfied smile!

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What Prominent City Churches Require

William Henry Harrison Murray, writing over 125 years ago from the pulpit of Park Street Church in Boston:

“The administration of a prominent city church demands that the pastor possess the rare powers of tact, judgment, general ability; the qualities that make a preacher, plus those that make a statesman–the ability to both anticipate and provide for future contingencies.”

–H. Crosby Englizian, Brimstone Corner, 229, quoting Murray, Park Street Pulpit, 16.

The comment is succinct but worth pondering, particularly in an age when Christians are reversing past trends and embracing ministry in and to the city.

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Sweeney’s “Jonathan Edwards”: Must-Buy

sweeneyedwardsThe Director of the Henry Center, Doug Sweeney, a friend and mentor, has authored an important text entitled Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word (InterVarsity, July 2009). The book covers the life and Word-centered ministry of the colonial pastor-theologian, a subject area in which Sweeney has already produced numerous important works, including Volume Twenty-Three of the prestigious Yale Works of Edwards series.

The text’s 200 pages stretch over seven chapters that each address an aspect of Edwards’s biblically based ministry.  The writing style is characteristically Sweeney: clear, thick, vivid, and doxological.  Readers of all kinds–pastors, laypeople, Edwards devotees, and even the uninitiated–will benefit greatly from Sweeney’s comprehensive grasp of the Edwardsean corpus and his ability to distill that knowledge for readers.

This is historical theology for the church.  The book succeeds in repositioning Edwards as, first and foremost, a minister of the Word.  Sweeney calls for an Edwardsean conception of the pastorate–that is, a rich pulpit ministry centered on the Bible that cannot help but fill ordinary Christian living with the glory and grandeur of the gospel.

This is an important book, one that promises to transform modern conceptions of the pastorate.  The text will also permanently affect one’s understanding of both Jonathan Edwards and the Christian life.  Aside from George Marsden’s momentous Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale, 2003), Sweeney’s text is my favorite Edwards book.  In fact, I would actually rank this as the superior abridged treatment of Edwards over Marsden’s recent A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards (Eerdmans, 2008), a fine book in its own right.

I love Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word. I encourage anyone who cares about theology, the church, and church history to buy it.  It is the product of a distinguished scholar who loves God’s church and has devoted his own theological ministry to it.  Here’s hoping that many will purchase this text, and that a whole generation will embrace the Edwardsean model of the ministry, seeking not to be Edwards, but to be like him in his love for the Word and his concern for the spiritual transformation of his people.

Readers can purchase Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word from InterVarsity Press or Amazon.  Justin Taylor recently posted about the text.  In addition, a diverse and distinguished group of commentators has praised the text.  Selections below:

A “masterful analysis”–Harry Stout, Yale

“Admirable” and “authoritative”–George Marsden, Notre Dame

“Nourishing and tasty”–Gerald McDermott, Roanoke College

A “blessing to pastors, preachers, and spiritual leaders”–Kenneth Minkema, Yale

A “vibrant portrayal”–Sam Storms, Brideway Church

“Accessible and accurate”–Mark Dever, Capitol Hill Baptist Church

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Sacrificing Children to Sports, Part Two: Recruiting Websites for Tweens

On the heels of my post from last week, I offer this link to a Chicago Tribune story that raises serious questions about the ranking of twelve-year-old athletes.  Here’s a sampling:

“Shaon Berry believes he has seen the future of football, and to demonstrate, he clicks a key on his computer.  Up pops a video showing a 14-year-old receiver so large that he dwarfs his fellow players, so fast that he leaves a swarm of smaller boys in his wake. Even as an 8th grader, the youth appears destined for big things on the gridiron.

But Berry said even good athletes like this one could later be overlooked by college programs, so he is about to launch a service to help players get an early edge: For $79, he and his staff will rate 7th-, 8th- and 9th-grade football players and feature them on a Web site for anyone, including recruiters, to check out.”

It is true that athletes can get overlooked by colleges.  That’s a valid point.  It’s no bad thing for kids to play sports, even at a pretty competitive level, especially with close parental oversight.  But website rankings for twelve-year-olds?  That’s ludicrous.  Christians will have to use discretion in their involvement with youth sports, but they should flat out avoid all kinds of silliness like that above, staying aware of its harmful effects.

Honestly, the “common sense” factor will help greatly here.  Parents need to take counsel from their pastors and elders, who need to teach in some form on matters like this.  Few parents are tempted to overinvolve their children in strange pagan rituals; many are tempted to overinvolve their children in youth sports in contemporary America.  Pastors and church leaders need to know this and reference it in their preaching and teaching.

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