Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses

Craig Blomberg reviews Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Here is the opening:
This is the last academic year that Richard Bauckham teaches full-time in his post as professor of New Testament studies and Bishop Wardlaw Professor at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland before his retirement. We can only hope that Jesus and the Eyewitnesses is far from the last major monograph that he composes. This work might just be the most important one that he has ever written. But given my bias for the significance of the topic of Gospels’ reliability, my perspective may be slightly skewed!

I was delighted to see at the end of Blomberg's review that IVP will be publishing a new edition of his excellent work on The Historical Reliability of the Gospels--a book that was a great help to me when studying religion at a public university.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Race Stuff 101

I've been enjoying the exchange with Thabiti regarding affirmative action and racial justice. At the end of the day, I believe we agree on much more than we differ. Most importantly, we are united in our love for the Savior and a deep desire to see all peoples bow the knee at his feet. I said before and I'll say again that there are few people I admire more than Thabiti. His graciousness and gospel-centeredness are models for me. In other words, I want to be like Thabiti when I grow up!

In his latest response, he asked me to expand on my suggestion that affirmative action is based on cultural relativism, proportional representation, and collectivism. I thought it might be worth doing this as a separate blog post here rather than putting it in the comments section of his blog.

First, a caveat: Anyone who knows me or has read something I've written on race and race relations in America will know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I'm no expert on such matters. What's probably not so clear, however, is whether or not I think of myself as such an expert. Rest assured that I don't. I want to be a learner and a listener--not in some cross-legged, campfire, Kumbaya sense, but in an wise, humble, aggressive, biblical way. With that said, here's a brief overview of some of my basic presuppositions and the framework within which I am operating.

Well, one more caveat: any post like this filled runs the risk of coming across as clinical and analytical, cut off from real pain and real solutions. I know that's a risk, and I simply ask for forbearance and a fair hearing. Feel free to disagree, but be forewarned that I will be unfazed by responses that suggest I just "don't get it" or that suggest that my views are, by definition, evidence of prejudice or bigotry. At the same time, I invite correction on this (or any other matter!).

Let's start by going back to President Lyndon Johnson, who eloquently expressed the core ideas of affirmative action in a commencement address at Howard University (June 4, 1965):
You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, "you are free to compete with all the others," and still justly believe that you have been completely fair. Thus it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates. This is the next and the more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity. We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result.
I affirm and join in this desire. But lurking beneath the surface, soon to sprout up, were two interrelated philosophical presuppositions: (1) cultural relativism and (2) proportional representation.

Cultural relativism says that all groups and cultures are equal and, absent injustice, will produce equal results. Proportional representation is the expectation of cultural relativism--any institution should "look like" or represent its broader cultures. If we were to use the U.S. Senate as an example, proportional representation with regard to race would look something like 75 white senators, 25 black senators, 4 Asian senators, and 1 American Indian senator. You can then break it down for other variables: 50 would be men, 50 would be women. 80 would be professing Christians. Etc. A classic expression of this can be found in this 1977 Supreme Court ruling:
Absent explanation, it is ordinarily to be expected that nondiscriminatory hiring practices will in time result in a work force more or less representative of the racial and ethnic composition of the population in the community from which employees are hired.
To sum up, we have the idea that all groups are equal (cultural relativism), which should result in all groups being equally represented (proportional representation).

But, all groups are not equally represented. Why? The standard answer in progressive thinking is that the presence of inequality is de facto evidence of discrimination. Intentions are immaterial in comparison to results. Unequal results = injustice. In the wake of the Civil Rights era, overt racism receded while obvious disparity of results remained. It was in this context that there arose the label of "institutional racism" (coined, I believe, in the late 60s by Stokely Carmichael)--an invisible, impersonal form of structural, systemic racism so pervasive that, like the air we breathe, we are scarcely aware of it.

Because the framework of proportional representation is the standard for justice, the result is that the ends can justify the means. Discrimination based upon race can be used as a means to end discrimination based on race. Discrimination can be fought by means of discrimination.

Related to this is a collectivist notion of racial groups, which seriously downplays individual responsibility. When evangelicals enter race discussions, they often adopt this mindset and refer to it as "covenantal." The idea is that it if you are in the majority culture, it doesn't matter if you are personally guilty of an injustice--by your very membership in the group you are thereby guilty, needing to take responsibility and make reparation. Conversely, if you are in the minority culture, it doesn't matter if you were not the personal object of injustice--by your very membership in the group you are thereby a victim deserving of preferential treatment to correct historical injustice.

Now how should we think about these things from a biblical standpoint? First, we must affirm the ontological equality of all people: each person is created in the image of God with inherent dignity. At the same time, there is nothing in Scripture to require that all cultures are equal or relative. Therefore, there is no reason to expect--much less demand--proportional representation. Spelling out the details and nuances of a biblical understanding of the concept of "justice" (e.g., in its universal, commercial, remedial, distributive, and social forms--to name the major categories) is a complex, difficult task. But so far as I know, the Bible no where presupposes that justice requires equal results. Furthermore, biblical ethics is deontological in nature, such that standards of justice apply to both ends and means. In other words, biblical ethics rejects any sort of "ends justifies the means" reasoning. If discrimination is wrong as an end, then it is wrong as a means; and if affirmative action involves discrimination (as I would argue that it does), then it is wrong.

With regard to collectivism, I am not in covenantal relationship with Americans, with whites, with residents of Illinois, or with residents of Wheaton. I am either in covenant with Adam or Christ as my federal head, and with those who united to one of these two Adams.

Well, at this point, I'm beginning to feel a bit long-winded, and I'm not sure how many readers have persevered this far. In conclusion, let me briefly touch on a fair and necessary question that Thabiti poses: if I reject affirmative action, what would I do in its place? Let me expand it a bit to some general principles I would suggest in moving these debates forward:

First, I think we need to start with getting this issue on people's "radarscreens." Our best Reformed thinkers, by and large, have little to say about this issue, and I think we should encourage that to change.

Second, I think we need to speak more about love than justice. Obviously justice is a biblical and necessary concept in this discussion. But it tends to swallow up the call to love, and I think it tends to focus the discussion upon "my rights" rather than on my obligations to seek the interests and welfare of others before myself.

Third, I think both sides need to work harder at developing moral imagination.

Fourth, I think we need to commit to sticking with the discussion through thick and thin. I love the way John Piper has expressed this, when he says that he made a decision along time ago that no matter how rough it gets and what folks say, he's just not going to take his ball and go home!

Finally, I sincerely hope that God will raise up black, evangelical, gospel-centered, Scripture-driven Thomas Sowells, John McWhorters, or Shelby Steeles. In my opinion, these three scholars--all black--are the most insightful writers working today on the issue of race in America. From my limited vantage point, their writings are not engaged at a serious level by evangelicals of any color. When I read their writing, sentences leap out from virtually every page demanding gospelcentric reflection, refinement, testing, and application.

I welcome any feedback you might have.

Review of "Dreams from My Father"

Dean Barnett reviews Barack Obama's memoir, Dreams from My Father, written 12 years ago.

10 Most Redeeming Films of 2006

CT suggests the 10 Most Redeeming Films of 2006.

Eswine on Spurgeon as Expositor

Earlier today I posted a link to Zack Eswine's new article on Spurgeon for preachers, along with a link to his book on the same theme.

One commenter wrote: "Spurgeon wasn't exactly an expository preacher; therefore, probably not the first source to turn to when it comes to preaching. That is if you want to be an expositor."

I asked Dr. Eswine to respond, which he was kind enough to do:
Regarding Daniel’s comment: Many of us recognize Daniel’s point. We are not always sure that Spurgeon is expounding the text in front of him. But I do not think this fact lessens the potential mentoring that Spurgeon has for us as expository preachers. I think we can still learn from one who was less than perfect as a preacher. Significantly, Spurgeon thought of himself an expositor. He felt that the Bible ought to form the content of our sermons. The preacher’s task is to expound the Bible’s words. Like the Puritans that Spurgeon valued, this meant that a sermon could expound one word in the text or multiple words. Those who heard him preach could also describe his sermons as expository. We do wish Spurgeon expounded more closely to the text in its context. But four strengths remain for our consideration. (1) In a climate in which preaching the Bible was being challenged, Spurgeon stood firmly. (2) Spurgeon felt that preaching the Bible should exalt Christ. His sermons offer a clinic in how to make much of our Savior. (3) Spurgeon’s theological understanding (along with his deep and wide biblical knowledge) provided a rich context for his sermons. This fact often salvages a sermon that has less-than-precise exegesis. (4) Spurgeon believed that expounding the Bible was God’s means for strengthening Christians and reaching non-Christian people. Bible preaching is the way to engage people and culture.

Thabiti and Me

We've been discussing affirmative action, for those who are interested. I've posted another response, but it hasn't yet been released from the queue.

Europe's Abortion Rules

This map illustrates the various rules on abortion found throughout Europe.

As you look at this, it's sobering to keep in mind that "The United States is alone among its peers in offering no legal protection to the unborn at any stage of development" (Ponnuru, The Party of Death, p. 11). In other words, as bad as things are in Europe--America is worse.

(HT: Guy Fain)

Orwell's Orphans

A few years ago Jonah Goldberg wrote an excellent article, Orwell's Orphans, reflecting on the connection between bad thinking and bad writing.

Carson Tips on Understanding Culture

Colin Adams points to some advice by Don Carson on how to understand culture.

What Today's Preachers Can Learn from Spurgeon

A new edition of Reformation 21 is now online.

In particular, check out Zack Eswine's article, Seeking the Spirit: What Today's Preachers Can Learn from Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

Eswine lists "some of Spurgeon’s primary thoughts concerning a Spirit-inhabited sermon style":
  1. Use the Spirit’s appointed means
  2. Put your trust in the Spirit’s purpose and not in the Spirit’s means
  3. Seek the virtual preaching of Jesus
  4. Recognize the difference between mental and spiritual power
  5. See the Bible as your primary homiletics textbook
  6. Don’t forget to testify
  7. Engage the imagination and emotion
  8. Lean upon the community of believers
While you're at, check out Eswine's book, Kindled Fire: How the Methods of C.H. Spurgeon Can Help Your Preaching. He writes:
What would it have been like to sit in Spurgeon's classes? I hope this book gives a sense of what students would hear Spurgeon say about preaching if he were to speak with them in the hall, from the pulpit, or on a walk down the streets of London.

Horae Homileticae

Logos Bible Software is offering a pre-publication offer on Charles Simeon's massive, 21-volume, 12,000 page Horae Homileticae (originally published in 1832).

For background on Simeon, you can read or listen to John Piper's biographical sketch, Brothers, We Must Not Mind a Little Suffering.

The pulpits in our land would be well-served by following Simeon's lead, who applied three tests to the sermons he delivered: (1) Does it humble the sinner? (2) Does it exalt the Saviour? (3) Does it promote holiness.

Check out the Simeon Logos page for more information.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Questioning the New Prolife Strategy

Francis Beckwith is Questioning the New Prolife Strategy (which focuses attention on the effects of abortion on women rather than on the ontological status and rights of the unborn child).

(HT: STR)

Searching for Pro-Life Fiction

It may be an interesting commentary on our times--and the pro-life movement--that this is the first piece I've ever read that calls artists to use their craft and gifts to produce pro-life art: poetry, fiction, etc. (The reason I say "may be" is that just because I haven't read it doesn't mean it doesn't exist!)

I pray that God would use Joseph Bottum's post to spur on aspiring artists to use their creativity in this way.

Incidentally, I was thinking about just this idea the other night. After watching the film "Cider House Rules," I yearned for someone to write a short story, film, or novel that eloquently made the case for life, in the way that Cider House Rules did for abortion.

Enough

A few months ago I came across a book whose combination of author and title surprised me: Juan Williams, Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America—and What We Can Do About It (Crown, 2006). Mr. Williams is a senior NPR correspondent; when he appears as a FOX news analyst, he can be counted on to take the liberal position on virtually every issue.

A few years ago, in response to Bill Cosby's well-publicized frustration at self-destruction within the black community, Michael Eric Dyson wrote a book called, Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind? by Michael Eric Dyson. (You don't have to read the book to figure out that Dyson thinks the answer to his title is a resounding No!)

Williams's Enough is a book-length defense of Cosby that is garnering high-praise. Williams thinks that Cosby's comments were a watershed moment.

World Magazine recently interviewed Juan Williams. If you go to this blog post, and click on the interview, you can read the whole thing.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

De Regno Christi

This looks like an excellent group blog: De Regno Christi.

Among its contributors are Darryl Hart, Richard Gamble, David VanDrunen, Peter Leithart, and William Edgar.

As Scott Clark says, "DRC has a heavy weight line up of writers thinking out loud about the relations between Christ and culture from a variety of perspectives."

(HT: Heidelblog)

Wise Words

Our pastor, David Sunday, has begun preaching through the Book of Proverbs. I've found the three sermons thus far to be instructive, encouraging, and convicting. You can access the audio
here.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Chosen for Life

I'm happy to announce that Sam Storms's excellent and convincing case for divine election, entitled Chosen for Life, is now available.

Contents
Introduction and Chapter 1 - 287K PDF

Description

Divine election is certainly one of the more profound—and controversial—doctrines in the Bible. Does God elect people because they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, or does God elect people in order that they will believe in Christ? Much of the disagreement and controversy concerning this doctrine proceeds from a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means.

This is why Storms begins his analysis of divine election with an attempt to clarify precisely what is at stake and, at the same time, correct misrepresentations of it. He takes a thorough look at the doctrine as it is presented in Romans 9 as well as the rest of the New Testament. He also explores freedom of will and the order of salvation. Appendixes address “Three Problem Passages” and “Who Can and Cannot Pray for God to Save the Lost?”

Endorsements

“I can’t know and love and serve God if I don’t know truth about God. This book describes God the way he really is.”
John Piper, Pastor for Preaching and Vision, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis

“Sam Storms’s Chosen for Life is well-conceived, well-reasoned, and well-written, with its arguments anchored in the Scriptures. It is fair, thorough, and up-to-date regarding the controversies that swirl around this vital biblical doctrine.”
Mark R. Talbot, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Wheaton College

“This new edition of Chosen for Life has everything one could want on the topic of election. Those who agree will be heartily encouraged; those who disagree will be respectfully challenged; the hearts of all will marvel at the glorious grace of God in the gospel.”
C. J. Mahaney, Sovereign Grace Ministries

“Storms’s offensive against Arminian-type views of election among evangelicals is a very solid piece of work. The thoroughness of its arguments gives it conclusive force.”
J. I. Packer, Professor of Theology, Regent College

“I am delighted that a revised and expanded edition of Sam Storms’s book Chosen for Life is now available. When students have asked me for a concise, clear, pastoral, and practical explanation of election, I have said that Chosen for Life is my top choice.”
Thomas R. Schreiner, Professor of New Testament Interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“This extraordinarily clear and courteous book makes its case without stooping to caricature or invective. It is a fine model of exactly how theological disagreements should be resolved: with respectful listening, careful distinctions, historical awareness, deep reverence for Scripture, and patient exegesis.”
D. A. Carson, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Interview with David Dockery

Timmy Brister recently conducted a lengthy blog interview with David Dockery, president of Union University.

Introduction and Biographical Summary
Part 1: Opening Statements, Union University, and Gospel Unity
Part 2: Baptist Identity Conference, Theological Education, and Environment and Global Warming
Part 3: SBC Controversy and Cooperation
Part 4: Resolutions, The Cooperative Program, and Calvinism in the SBC
Part 5: Blogs, Worship, and a Concluding Word

Note that Timmy will be turning his blog over to Dr. Dockery on Monday evening so that he can field your questions. For more info, see:

Special Announcement: Monday Night with Dr. Dockery

Iraq and Vietnam

Fred Barnes fears that the Iraq situation is repeating the mistakes of Vietnam--but not in the way most people think.

How the Cross Transforms and Compels

Last week I posted Tim Keller's messages from the Cruciformity Conference.

Here are the rest of the messages:
Dan Doriani
How the Cross Transforms Our Walk (Ephesians 4:17-5:20)

Dan Doriani
How the Cross Transforms Leadership (Matthew 20:17-28)

Dan Doriani
How the Cross Transforms Relationships (Ephesians 5:15-31)

Sandy Willson
How the Cross Compels Us (Galatians 6:14)

Holy Hip Hop

World Magazine has an article on Curtis "Voice" Allen rapping at Bethlehem Baptist Church. You can read a portion of the article online, but you have to be a print or online subscriber to read the whole thing.

Grudem's Christian Essentials Class

You can listen to free MP3 files of Wayne Grudem's Sunday School class on systematic theology at Scottsdale Bible Church.

(HT: Colin Adams)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

"Making Much of Christ from 8 to 5"

From a chapter by that title in John Piper's Don't Waste Your Life:
  1. We can make much of God in our secular job through the fellowship that we enjoy with him throughout the day in all our work.
  2. We make much of Christ in our secular work by the joyful, trusting, God-exalting design of our creativity and industry.
  3. We make much of Christ in our secular work when it confirms and enhances the portrait of Christ’s glory that people hear in the spoken gospel.
  4. We make much of Christ in our secular work by earning enough money to keep us from depending on others, while focusing on the helpfulness of our work rather than financial rewards.
  5. We make much of Christ in our secular work by earning money with the desire to use our money to make others glad in God.

Dictionary of Biblical Criticism and Interpretation

Andreas Kostenberger blogs about the new Dictionary of Biblical Criticism and Interpretation
and gives a snippet of his own essay on the relationship between the testaments.

DVD on Islam

Gene Veith is recommending this DVD on Islam.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

His Faithfulness CD

I recently received a beautiful CD, setting the poetry of missionary Amy Carmichael to melodic music. Here is the description from the website:

His Faithfulness is a refreshingly reflective musical offering combining the rich poetry of Amy Carmichael, 1867-1951, (Irish missionary to India, read more), and the stirring melodies of modern-day songwriter Jim Spencer (Reason for the Rain - Word Records, I'm Gonna Lift Up My Eyes - Lynda Randle). From the intimate piano/cello arrangement of Rose from Brier to the soaring strings of On Calvary’s Cross, there is a wonderful cohesiveness to this project that provides the sense that you are not simply listening to ten individual songs but that you are gazing upon one grand tapestry; the testimony of God’s great faithfulness in the life of one of His children that will resonate with all.

His Faithfulness enjoys the contributions of some of the finest musicians of our day, including the fabulous production skills of Dan Israel; the inspiring piano arrangements of Brett Turner Francis; the masterful string arranging and conducting of Carl Marsh (Mercy Me, Steven Curtis Chapman, Point of Grace); Nashville’s finest string players; and the gifted vocals of Ingrid Dumosch (vocalist/vocal arranger, CN Productions, UK; vocalist, Daywind Music, Integrity Music), Shannon Wexelberg (Discovery House recording artist, performances with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir and Integrity Music) and Sarah MacIntosh (former Sparrow Records recording artist, background vocals for Michael W. Smith 2002 Worship Again & Come Together and Worship Tours, Horizon Music recording artist).

1. His Faithfulness listen lyric excerpt
2. Rose from Brier listen lyric excerpt
3. Thou Dost Know the Way listen lyric excerpt
4. O Lord, Our Strength and Confidence listen lyric excerpt
5. Thy Great Cathedral listen lyric excerpt
6. Dohnavur's Theme listen lyric excerpt
7. On Calvary's Cross listen lyric excerpt
8. Thou Didst Die for Me listen lyric excerpt
NEW! Lead sheets: original key | congregational key
9. By Thy Cross and Passion listen lyric excerpt
10. His Faithfulness - Reprise listen lyric excerpt

I'd encourage you to check it out. For more information and to order, go to www.jimspencermusic.com.

Paul Tillich

R. R. Reno, in First Things, on Paul Tillich:
He was the master of translating scriptural truths into vague existential slogans that countless preachers easily manipulated into a capitulation to the spirit of the age. . . . By my reading, Paul Tillich helps the barbarians maintain their illusions. His primary role in the twentieth century was to unburden the consciences of clergy who no longer believed but wanted to maintain their roles and reputations as men and women of spiritual seriousness. I have difficulty thinking of a more destructive writer. Give me the ardent atheism of Richard Dawkins any day over the pseudo-mystery and easy spiritualism of Paul Tillich.

(HT: Veith)

Mohler on the Importance of Reading

Albert Mohler:
Reading is an important Christian discipline. Further, growth as a Christian disciple is closely tied to the reading of the Bible, as well as worthy Christian books. This is why the Christian church has championed the cause of literacy. It is why the Reformers fought for the translation of the Scriptures into vernacular languages.

A loss of literacy and respect for the book amounts to grave danger for the Christian church. The transmission of Christian truth has been closely tied to scrolls, codices, and books throughout the history of the Church -- a legacy inherited from the Jews, who often protected the sacred scrolls with their lives.

The electronic media have their places and uses, and I am thankful for the accessibility of so much worthy and important information through digital means. Nevertheless, the electronic screen is not the venue for lengthy, thoughtful, serious reading. The vehicle for serious reading is the book, and the Christian should be a serious reader.

Do our own young people read books? Do they know the pleasures of the solitary reading of a life-changing page? Have they ever lost themselves in a story, framed by their own imaginations rather than by digital images? Have they ever marked up a page, urgently engaged in a debate with the author? Can they even think of a book that has changed the way they see the world . . . or the Christian faith? If not, why not?


The Purple Cellar

I'd encourage my female readers to have a look at a new blog, The Purple Cellar, run by my friend and colleague, Lydia Brownback. (Lydia is the author of two books: Legacy of Faith: From Women of the Bible to Women of Today [P&R, 2002] and Fine China Is for Single Women Too [P&R, 2003].

Here was her opening post, which explains the name and purpose of the blog:
Lydia, a seller of an expensive clothing dye called purple, came to know the Lord through the ministry of the apostle Paul (Acts 16). In addition to managing a business and household, this zealous convert opened her home to the apostles in loving hospitality. So often the Proverbs 31 wife is the paradigmatic biblical female model, yet women living in today's culture can find equally as much to emulate in Lydia. Although caught in the whirl of what surely was a hectic schedule, Lydia opened her heart to the Lord and her home to the saints with no ambivalence. The Purple Cellar is, therefore, named for her.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Health and Taxes

The Wall Street Journal editors: "Now we're getting somewhere. The U.S. has long needed a debate over health care and tax subsidies, and President Bush got ready to rumble last night with his proposal to make insurance more affordable for most Americans." They do a helpful job of explaining the plan, what it would entail, and why it's a good idea.

Any chance the Democrats will go for it?

Super Coaches

Michael Smith at ESPN.com:
Dungy and Smith are role models, not just for coaches who look like them or men who look like them, but for all coaches and all men. They live their lives the right way, and as a result they do their jobs the same way. Their priorities are, in order: faith, their families and football. The outcome of the Super Bowl or any game does not define them. They personify words such as class, grace, dignity, honor and integrity.

HT: MT

Adoption in China

Beth Nonte Russell — author of the forthcoming book, Forever Lily: An Unexpected Mother’s Journey to Adoption in China — has an editorial in today's NYT on Chinese adoptions. Conclusion: "The Chinese have asserted that the demand for adoptions far exceeds the number of babies it deems “available,” based on criteria that have never been made public. We can only wonder how many babies will be left behind by Beijing’s new policies — perhaps spending their lives in institutions because of these arbitrary and artificial limits."

When Is Abortion Racism?

If you care about the sanctity and dignity of human life--and I hope that's all of us--then I would encourage you to read John Piper's latest sermon: When Is Abortion Racism?

Here is how he closes. I pray this message would have a ripple effect for the glory of God and the good of his creation:
I know that I am talking mainly to a white audience. But not only. Word spreads. One person could make all the difference.

O that the murderous effect of abortion in the Black and Latino communities, destroying tens of thousands at the hands of white abortionists, would explode with the same reprehensible reputation as lynching. May the Lord raise up from the African-American churches and the Hispanic-American churches a passion to seize the moral high ground against the slaughter of the little ones. Such leadership would sweep the field, and the white pro-choice establishment would fall before it. May it happen in the name of Christ and for his glory and for the good all people until the Lord of glory comes. Amen.

The E-Word

USA Today: Evangelical: Can the 'E-word' be saved?

Super Bowl Shuffle

New Health Care Proposal

The President is proposing a new plan for health insurance. Here's my understanding: the current tax code encourages people to get health insurance from their employer (we pay taxes on income but not insurance--so instead of asking for a raise and buying our own insurance, we'd rather have tax-free insurance as a fringe benefit that our employer pays for). In other words, there's no incentive whatsoever to pay for your own insurance.

In the President's plan, individuals would receive a tax break allowing them to buy their own insurance. The tax break is the same no matter how expensive the health care plan. Hence, if you purchase a plan that's less expensive than the size of your tax break, you get to keep the difference. Thus people are discouraged from purchasing expensive health care plans (which is a good thing). The result of all of this will be fewer uninsured Americans.

Obviously the plan is a lot more detailed (and complicated!) than that, but the above is my current understanding of what's being proposed.

Economist Arnold Kling--not the sort of guy who is easily impressed--writes: "I would grade this as 'A+'."

The editors at National Review write: "If enacted, it would be the boldest free-market health-care reform ever, and the biggest step toward tax reform in years."

State of the Noonan

Peggy Noonan wrote last week on what she hopes to hear from tonight's State of the Union address by the President:
The big thing I'd like to hear the president say this year? There are areas toward which he can point with pride, most especially the still not fully recognized triumph of the U.S. economy, a jobs-making, wealth-making dynamo. That it is so strong, so high, five years after 9/11 is amazing, and moving, too: A lot of individual toil went into that. How did it happen, what cultural implications does it hold, what are we doing wrong, what will strengthen growth, what will undermine it? Serious and textured thoughts are, here, overdue.

But there is no denying that Iraq is, still, subject No. 1. In connection with that, I wish the president would take time to acknowledge and think aloud about the bitterness that has come to surround the entire postinvasion American polity. The feeling of mutual sympathy that swept America's political class in the days after 9/11 has dissipated, if not disappeared. And this is true not only in government but in newspapers, on the Internet, in the culture.

It's been an era of soft thinking and hard words. Those who opposed the war were weak and craven; those who supported it were dupes and bullies; those who came to oppose the war were cowards bowing to polls; those who continue to support it love all war all the time. Some of this was inevitable--the stakes could barely be higher; passions flare. But it's not getting us anywhere. And it's limiting debate. It's making people fearful.

It is time for a kind of verbal amnesty in which thoughts are considered before motives are judged. An admission that the White House is as responsible for this situation as everyone else would help clear the air--and just might prompt some soul-searching in members of the audience. An honest plea here could break through the cement that has hardened over the debate. Who could answer harshly when a president who loves his country admitted the problem and pleaded for change? That's what might really hit reset.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Making Abortion Unthinkable

I received the following via email from Stand to Reason and am posting it with permission:

Making Abortion Unthinkable

A Special Offer

Making Abortion Unthinkable

This is a special, limited-time offer for pastors, youth leaders,
small group leaders, CPC directors, educators, and their friends.

Through the generosity of a select group of donors, Stand to Reason is making our interactive training product, Making Abortion Unthinkable, available at no charge. This multi-media resource is the result of many months of work in development and testing.

Making Abotion Unthinkable is an easy-to-follow, well-reasoned, interactive tool that contains everything a small group needs for training in the art of pro-life persuasion. From one-on-one discussions to public debates, this careful, effective resource will give you confidence in representing the pro-life position from a solid, fair position.

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Overcoming Sin and Temptation

A PDF of the book, Overcoming Sin and Temptation (Owen's three classics, with introduction, outline, glossary, etc.) is now available for free online at JohnOwen.org. Special thanks to Joshua Sowin, who helps me put these sort of things online at the Owen website.

Paul and Jesus, Women and the Law

Jim Hamilton provides a Q & A on Paul and Jesus, Women and the Law.

D'Souza: The Enemy at Home

Dean Barnett, who earns a living by poking fun at lefties and their arguments, doesn't like Dinesh D’Souza’s new book: "I found The Enemy at Home' to be intellectually obtuse, poorly informed and, most importantly, an irresponsible exercise in putatively conservative bomb-throwing." Powerline's Scott Johnson writes: "It's the worst book I've ever read by a writer whose work I have previously respected."

Abortion

Joe Carter: "If only we could convince them that the 'fetus' is a person. If only they knew it was a human life they were destroying. If they only knew, they wouldn't -- they couldn't -- go through with the abortion. But they do know. And the abortions continue. Not because we live in a culture of death but because we live in a culture of me."

Nikolas Nikas argues that "the overturning of Roe is inevitable." He also points out that in all of America's major and minor wars since 1775, the total dead is 1,329,991--"or an amount equal to just one year of Roe’s infernal tally." Nikas also urges both perspective and perseverance, for
as social-reform movements go, the 34-year struggle to overturn Roe and its judicial progeny is still a relatively young one.

The lessons of the long struggle for black civil rights are instructive. From the advent of the first African slave being taken to the American colonies in 1619 to the beginning of the Civil War was a period of 246 years. The cause for life is, in comparison, only 34 years old.

The ratification of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery in 1865 to the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 was a period of approximately 100 years. We who fight for life having been laboring for only one third as long.

From the announcement in 1896 by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson that “separate but equal” public accommodations for blacks and whites was constitutional to the reversal of that decision by the same Supreme Court in 1954 in the Brown v. Board of Education case was a period of 58 years — almost a quarter of a century longer than our present struggle.

The period from the Civil Rights Amendment in 1964 to the present is approximately 42 years, eight years longer than we have presently struggled. The lesson is that American social-reform movements sometimes take time. We will win the battle to overturn Roe if we do not lose heart.

Mohler: Lessons Learned

Albert Mohler writes a very personal commentary today on Lessons Learned in a Crisis of Life.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

This Is Abortion

On January 22, 1973 the Supreme Court issued its ruling for Roe v. Wade.

As Richard John Neuhaus recently wrote, it was "the most consequential cultural and political event in American history in the past half century," establishing "an unlimited abortion license that wiped from the books of all fifty states any legal protection of unborn children."

This video shows some of what that decision has wrought.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Keller on the Cross

Tim Keller preached on the cross at the Christian Life Conference, Second Presbyterian Church (Memphis, TN).
How the Cross Converts Us (Acts 8:26-40)
1. What the cross does: it changes our identity
2. How the cross changes us: it changes us through a holistic grasp of substitutionary atonement.

How the Cross Changes Us (Romans 6:1-14)
1. What the cross free us from
2. What the cross frees us for
3. How the cross frees us

How the Cross Unites Us (Ephesians 2:11-22)
1. The necessity of the church
2. The intensity of the church
3. The causality of the church

Keller also spoke at a pastors' lunch on the theme of The Cross and Suffering (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

Dan Doriani and Sandy Wilson are also teaching at the conference. I'll link to their talks when they are all online. You can view the audio archive here, which also includes talks from D.A. Carson and Walter Kaiser from previous years.

(HT: The Real McCoy)

20 Leadership Questions

Mark Driscoll says that "leadership is moving people in a passionate drive toward the mission of God." He writes:
Nobody exemplified this better than Nehemiah. The Book of Nehemiah is not just about building a wall. It is about missional leadership-building a city within the city. It is a story about how God's people worked to live as a countercultural kingdom amidst an opposing culture. It is an inspiring story of how church leaders today can lead with humble confidence to build a safe place to gather as a city within the city for the good of all.

Nehemiah raises many missional leadership questions every Christian leader must seriously answer if they hope to build a city within the city. The following twenty questions are general principles. They will be most beneficial if used along with the reading of Nehemiah so that they can be specifically applied to actual ministry issues.

Here are the 20 questions. Go to Driscoll's article to see his explanation/elaboration on each question.

  1. What has God revealed to you (1:1-11a)?
  2. What must you walk away from to pursue God's calling (1:11b)?
  3. How will you communicate your vision to others (2:1-3)?
  4. Who must you ask for what resources (2:4-10)?
  5. What research must you do to realistically assess the total cost (time, money, energy, emotion, etc.) of the mission (2:11-16)?
  6. Which leaders must be strategically recruited first (2:17-20)?
  7. Where is the best place to begin the work (3:1-32)?
  8. Where are your gates (3:1-32)?
  9. How will you respond to your critics (4:1-23)?
  10. How can you show the gospel with mercy (5:1-19)?
  11. How will you handle escalating opposition and threats (6:1-14)?
  12. What is the generational legacy you are laboring (7:4-73)?
  13. How will you connect your ground war and your air war (8:1-18)?
  14. Will you courageously and continuously call your people to repentance (9:1-38)?
  15. What are your terms for covenant membership (10:38-11:36)?
  16. How will you track and assimilate those whom God is bringing to your city (11:1-36)?
  17. Who are your trustworthy priests who can work in the mission while you work on the mission (12:1-26)?
  18. How will you celebrate your wins (12:27-47)?
  19. How much will you demand of your men (13:1-22)?
  20. Which closed-hand, practical life issues will you go to war (13:23-31)?
(HT: Colin Adams)

Friday, January 19, 2007

Mission in an Upside-Down World

Christopher Wright pens the latest entry in CT's Christian Vision Project. Whereas last year's unifying question was "How can followers of Christ be a counterculture for the common good?" this year's question is "What must we learn, and unlearn, to be agents of God's mission in the world?" Dr. Wright is the international director of Langham Partnership (known in the U.S. as John Stott Ministries). He has authored widely respected works on Deuteronomy, OT ethics, Christ in the OT, the Holy Spirit in the OT, etc. His most recent book is The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative.

The map of global Christianity that our grandparents knew has been turned upside down. At the start of the 20th century, only ten percent of the world's Christians lived in the continents of the south and east. Ninety percent lived in North America and Europe, along with Australia and New Zealand. But at the start of the 21st century, at least 70 percent of the world's Christians live in the non-Western world—more appropriately called the majority world.

More Christians worship in Anglican churches in Nigeria each week than in all the Episcopal and Anglican churches of Britain, Europe, and North America combined. There are more Baptists in Congo than in Britain. More people in church every Sunday in communist China than in all of Western Europe. Ten times more Assemblies of God members in Latin America than in the U.S.

The old peripheries are now the center. The old centers are now on the periphery.
Here are some more quotes from the article:
Can the West be re-evangelized? Only if we unlearn our default ethnocentric assumptions about "real" Christianity (our own) and unlearn our blindness to the ways Western Christianity is infected by cultural idolatry.

So it is discourteous (at best) and damaging (at worst) when Western mission a
activity ignores all such ancient expressions of the Christian tradition and lumps all lands abroad as the "mission field," in comfortable neglect of the fact that the rest of the world church sees the West as one of the toughest mission fields in the world today.

The whole Bible presents a God of missional activity, from his purposeful, goal-oriented act of Creation to the completion of his cosmic mission in the redemption of the whole of Creation—a new heaven and a new earth. The Bible also presents to us humanity with a mission (to rule and care for the earth); Israel with a mission (to be the agent of God's blessing to all nations); Jesus with a mission (to embody and fulfill the mission of Israel, bringing blessing to the nations through bearing our sin on the Cross and anticipating the new Creation in his Resurrection); and the church with a mission (to participate with God in the ingathering of the nations in fulfillment of Old Testament Scriptures).

It is vital that we see the Cross as central to every aspect of holistic, biblical mission—that is, of all we do in the name of the crucified and risen Jesus. It is a mistake, in my view, to think that while our evangelism must be centered on the Cross (as of course it has to be), our social engagement has some other theological foundation or justification.

Kostenberger on Baptism

Andreas Kostenberger posts an excerpt from his chapter on baptism. (Careful readers of the Schreiner-Wright book will note a difference here between Kostenberger and Dever on baptizing believing children; I side with Kostenberger here.)

I'm currently reading Steve Wellum's chapter on the covenant of grace. I may blog more about it later--I think it's a masterful treatment of the central presupposition in the paedobaptist canon.

First Things with New Things

The First Things website gets a facelift with new features.

Sources to Help You Speak Against Abortion

John Piper lists some Sources to Help You Speak Against Abortion. Though I once would have vehemently disagreed with his conclusion, I now concur wholeheartedly: "May the Lord give you courage to address the carnage. I find it appalling that there are pastors and churches that NEVER address this issue."

Update: Also check out Scott Klusendorf's address to 3,000 students last Wednesday at Cedarville University. It's a mix of pro-life apologetics, gospel, and tactical suggestions. In my opinion, Klusendorf is one of the most articulate, winsome defenders of life in America today.

Luther on Sanctifying the Ordinary

One of Luther’s great contributions to our view of the family involved the sanctification of the ordinary. Many sadly neglect their family and their friends because they are pouring all of their time into “ministry”—neglecting to see that all of life should be ministry and every sphere should be sanctified. We must have eyes to see that the ordinary duties of life contain great spiritual significance. Luther describes the message that the world whispers in our ear:
Now observe that when that clever harlot, our natural reason . . . , takes a look at married life, she turns up her nose and says, “Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores. . . ?” [LW 45:39]
But into this context Luther breathes fresh gospel air:
What then does Christian faith say to this? It opens its eyes, looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised duties in the Spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels. It says, O God, because I am certain that thou hast created me as a man and hast from my body begotten this child, I also know for a certainty that it meets with thy perfect pleasure. I confess to thee that I am not worthy to rock the little babe or wash its diapers, or to be entrusted with the care of the child and its mother. How is it that I, without any merit, have come to this distinction of being certain that I am serving thy creature and thy most precious will? O how gladly will I do so, though the duties should be even more insignificant and despised. Neither frost nor heat, neither drudgery nor labor, will distress or dissuade me, for I am certain that it is thus pleasing in thy sight. . . . God, with all his angels and creatures is smiling—not because the father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith.[LW 45:39-40]
We must put on the spectacles of faith and see all of life as infused with meaning and significance by our Creator. Set in this context, Luther greatly elevated the place of the family within the church of Christ.

Excerpted from "Martin Luther and Marriage," in Sex and the Supremacy of Christ.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

God, I Thank You that I Am Not Like . . .

Read this entire post by Carl Trueman. Here's his conclusion:
We can be Emergent and puff ourselves as the church's most trendy and influential thinkers; we can be Reformed and puff ourselves as the world's greatest and most eloquent preachers; we can be confessional and puff ourselves as the soundest and most theological church leaders around; but in doing so, indeed, in the very moment we do so, we can be sure of only one thing: we are not what we claim to be; rather, we are in fact the very opposite.

(HT: Challies)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

By His Grace, for His Glory

Tom Ascol announces the publication of the new, expanded, 20th anniversary edition of Tom Nettles's classic, By His Grace, for His Glory. Follow the link for a discounted offer on this hardback study on the doctrines of grace in Baptist life.

Stereotypes, Generalizations, and Racism

If you've done any serious thinking at all about topics like stereotypes, generalizations, and racism, you've discovered that there are conceptual-definitional difficulties and complexities at every turn. On analogy, we can empathize with Augustine's confusion about the nature of time. He wrote, "What, then, is time? If no one asks, I know; if I want to explain it to someone who asks me, I do not know" (Confessions XI.17, trans. Maria Boulding, p. 295).

I'm thankful, therefore, for John Piper's most recent exhortations and observations related to stereotypes, generalizations, and racism.

Al Qaeda Fleeing Baghdad?

Interesting news here: "Al Qaeda terrorists are fleeing Baghdad in advance of President Bush’s 21,500-man troop surge...."

Hermeneutics as Spiritual Warfare

A friend passes along this excerpt from the epilogue of Graeme Goldsworthy's new book, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Biblical-theological Foundations and Principles, published by IVP-UK. (The US version is due out in March 2007 by Inter-Varsity Press.)
Hermeneutics is about reading God’s words with understanding so that we might be conformed more and more to the image of Christ. Whatever the role of the intellect in hermeneutics, it is still a spiritual discipline. We can go further and remind ourselves that any spiritual discipline is characterized by spiritual warfare. We are not engaged in Trivial Pursuit or in solving lateral thinking problems in order to feel some sense of satisfaction if we can come up with acceptable answers to various questions and problems. That is why biblical interpretation must be seen as the spiritual struggle that it is. The New Testament describes our warfare in many ways, one of which is in Paul’s exhortation, ‘Put to death therefore what is earthly in you’ (Col. 3:5), followed by the instruction, ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly’ (Col. 3:16). Furthermore, it is not only the sinfulness within us that is the problem, for the Bible makes clear that the goal of the great deceiver himself is to seduce us to worship the beast (Rev. 13:14). Resistance to this assault requires endurance and confidence in the saving power of him who has written the names of his own people in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 13:8; 14:12).

(HT: Scott Anderson)

Idol Smashing

What Gene Veith likes about American Idol: "...the show is culturally-positive, in my opinion, because it helps demonstrate that aesthetic standards are real and, at least at this point, objective."

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

No Third Way

Frederick Kagan writes:
The United States has two options in Iraq: stay and try to win, or cut, run, and lose. Attempts to chart a middle course--partial withdrawal or redeployment, accelerated hand-over to the Iraqis, political deals with Syria or Iran--ignore the realities of the military situation. The real choice we face is this: Is it better to accept defeat than to endure the pain of trying to succeed?

He goes on to describe, in detail, what withdrawal would like like right now. Upshot? "The result could be worse than what we suffered in Vietnam."

The Thrill of the Chaste

Former rock groupie turned Catholic author-blogger Dawn Eden has an article, Casual Sex Is a Con, in the The Sunday Times:
The Sixties generation thought everything should be free. But only a few decades later the hippies were selling water at rock festivals for $5 a bottle. But for me the price of “free love” was even higher.

I sacrificed what should have been the best years of my life for the black lie of free love. All the sex I ever had — and I had more than my fair share — far from bringing me the lasting relationship I sought, only made marriage a more distant prospect.

And I am not alone. Count me among the dissatisfied daughters of the sexual revolution, a new counterculture of women who are realising that casual sex is a con and are choosing to remain chaste instead.

She also writes: "The champions of the sexual revolution are cynical. They know in their tin hearts that casual sex doesn’t make women happy. That’s why they feel the need continually to promote it." It's worth reading the whole thing.

She is the author of the new book, The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On, and blogs at Dawn Patrol.

(HT: Denny Burk)


Monday, January 15, 2007

The Blessed Comforter

In Communion with God, John Owen explains why we need the comforts, or consolations, of the Holy Spirit:
  • Without them, we shall either despise afflictions or faint under them, and God be neglected as to his intendments in them.
  • Without them, sin will either harden us to a contempt of it, or cast us down to a neglect of the remedies graciously provided against it.
  • Without them, duties will either puff us up with pride, or leave us without that sweetness which is in new obedience.
  • Without them, prosperity will make us carnal, sensual, and to take up our contentment in these things, and utterly weaken us for the trials of adversity.
  • Without them, the comforts of our relations will separate us from God, and the loss of them make our hearts as Nabal’s [1 Samuel 25].
  • Without them, the calamity of the church will overwhelm us, and the prosperity of the church will not concern us.
  • Without them, we shall have wisdom for no work, peace in no condition, strength for no duty, success in no trial, joy in no state—no comfort in life, no light in death.

"Big Mini Need"

Joe Thorn shares a need. May God be pleased to answer.

Black and White Questions

Edward Gilbreath asks:

White Christian, you have people of color on your staff, but are you seeking their ideas and perspectives? Does your corporate culture reflect sensitivity to the feelings and concerns of nonwhite individuals? You've spoken to the black people who attend your church, but have you had them over to watch the game after service? Have you invited them to join your small group?

Black Christian, have you been keeping at an arm's distance those white acquaintances who have attempted to get to know you better? Have you written off some whites as racists because of silly comments they didn't realize were offensive? Have you taken the time to educate them about your culture, answering all of their probing questions about your hair care or your opinion of some black celebrity?

White Christian, you hugged and apologized to that nameless black person at an out-of-town conference, but have you made any new friends across racial lines since you've returned home? Are you now more attuned to the subtle ways society treats whites differently from blacks?

Black Christian, are you hanging on to unresolved bitterness against whites? Are you harboring bigotry of your own? Have you been ignoring God's command to extend grace? Are you resisting his call to become a bridge between the races, because you realize that bridges, by definition, must be stepped on?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

An Interview with Tom Schreiner on Baptism

Here's an interview I conducted with Tom Schreiner about the new book on baptism that he has co-edited.

Tom, first of all, can you tell us a bit about yourself--your family, where you teach, etc.?

I grew up as a Roman Catholic and was saved at the age of 17, mainly through the witness of a girl named Diane who is now my wife! We have 4 children (3 boys and one girl from the ages of 24-15). I have been teaching since 1983 and since 1997 have taught New Testament at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. I am also the preaching pastor at Clifton Baptist Church.

What's the title of your new book, and who are the contributors?

The title is: Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ. Shawn Wright and I edited the book and both wrote a chapter. We are thrilled with the other scholars who contributed, including Andreas K√∂stenberger, Bob Stein, Steve Wellum, Steve McKinion, Jonathan Rainbow, Duane Garrett, Ardel Caneday, and Mark Dever.

How would you define "baptism" biblically?

I think the New Hampshire Confession of 1833 defines baptism beautifully. “We believe that Christian Baptism is the immersion in water of a believer, into the name of the Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost; to show forth, in a solemn and beautiful emblem, our faith in the crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, with its effect in our death to sin and resurrection to a new life.”

Is baptism necessary for salvation?

The mere mechanical act of baptism doesn’t save. Cornelius and his friends received the Spirit before baptism (Acts 10:44-48), showing that they were saved before baptism. Paul makes it clear in 1 Cor. 1:14-17 that baptism must be understood in light of the gospel of grace, not vice-versa. On the other hand, Bob Stein argues convincingly in his chapter that baptism is part of the complex of saving events. {JT note: cf. this SBJT article by Stein.} So, if someone understands that God commands baptism and then refuses to do it, one has to wonder if such a person is saved.

If you don't need to be baptized as a believer in order to be saved, why is it so important? If this is a non-essential doctrine, is it really worth debating and dividing over?

I would refer readers here to my answer above. Baptism is important because it is associated in the NT with the saving events of Christ’s death and resurrection. It is “the” initiation rite into the Christian church, and hence it is not “optional” or “insignificant.” I don’t believe that baptism in and of itself saves, and someone may be a Christian and not undergo baptism because he or she misunderstands what Christ requires. In any case, believer’s baptism is important because it relates to our understanding of the nature of the church. The church is composed of regenerate church members (or at least it should be). Those who baptize infants compromise the purity of the church because they allow into the church those who are unregenerate, for baptism in the NT always follows faith.

Assuming that paedobaptism didn't exist in the NT, when did it first arise historically onto the scene? What caused it?

Scholars differ as to when infant baptism began. Most agree that it probably started sporadically in the 2nd century, and Steve McKinion argues that it was not common until the 4th or 5th centuries. The “why” is hard to answer. It certainly seems to have been at least partly because of pastoral and parental concern about babies dying in infancy. Baptizing them was a means of assuring their salvation in case of their deaths. According to Augustine it was crucial for removing original sin and entrance into heaven. I also encourage everyone to read Jonathan Rainbow’s chapter, for he shows that Zwingli introduced an innovation in the doctrine of baptism. No one before Zwingli claimed that one could be baptized without being a believer. Zwingli diverged from all preceding him by separating baptism from faith and regeneration.

You argue that Reformed evangelicals who baptize their babies are inconsistent--how so?

We love fellow believers from Reformed churches with whom we share so many precious truths, especially in terms of the doctrines of grace. The Reformed are inconsistent, however, in that they require adults who are baptized to be believers, while they baptize infants who are unbelievers. Steve Wellum and Shawn Wright demonstrate that to do this they have to redefine what they previously said about the doctrine of baptism and use the theological (but, in the way they use it to support infant baptism, biblically unjustifiable) construct of the “covenant of grace” as proof of their position.

You also argue that several negative consequences follow from a paedobaptistic view--what are they?

I will list several negative consequences briefly. (1) Unregenerate people become members of the church, which violates the New Testament’s teaching that the church is to be made up of regenerate church members. (2) Church discipline becomes a problem, for how can a church discipline anyone when it has many unbelieving members? (3) The Reformed face a problem with the Lord’s Supper. Either they forbid the Lord’s Supper from those who are baptized (a foreign idea in the NT), or they allow infants to partake of the Lord’s Supper. In this latter case, some are taking of the Supper unworthily since they are unbelievers. (4) The meaning of baptism differs from what we read in the NT, for in the NT those who are baptized enjoy the gift of the Spirit, have died and risen with Christ, and are clothed with Christ. None of these truths, however, are true of infants.

Some suggest that the already (inaugurated, but) not-yet (consummated) nature of the kingdom means that some people are members of the new covenant community but are not true believers.

I think this is a serious misunderstanding of the new covenant, for Hebrews 8-10 and 2 Corinthians 3 make it clear that the blessings of the new covenant are forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Spirit is the sign that one is a believer in the NT (Gal. 3:1-5; Acts 15:7-11). No one who enjoys forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit is a false believer, and these are the blessings secured in the new covenant.

In your view, can the new covenant be broken by a covenant member?

The NT clearly teaches in 2 Corinthians 2 and Hebrews 8-10 that members of the new covenant enjoy the forgiveness of their sins, the law written on the heart, and the indwelling Holy Spirit. No one who truly enjoys these blessings can ever lose them. The Spirit who indwells us guards and keeps us, so that we can never break the new covenant. Indeed, the very point of the new covenant promises in Ezek. 36:26-27 and Jer. 31:31-34 is that they are irrevocable.

What is the biblical relationship between baptism and circumcision?

This is a crucial question, and I encourage all your readers to read Steve Wellum’s very important chapter in our book. Reformed believers defend infant baptism by arguing that baptism replaces circumcision. Just as circumcision was applied to infants, so too should baptism be applied to covenant children. It is crucial to see in the NT when false teachers argued that circumcision was required for salvation, neither Paul nor the other apostles refuted the argument by saying that baptism had replaced circumcision (Galatians; Acts 15). That would be a very simple argument to make to show circumcision was not required, so the silence here is telling. Further, the NT does not draw a connection between physical circumcision and baptism, but spiritual circumcision and baptism (Col. 2:11-12). There is not complete continuity between the Sinai covenant and the new covenant. Israel was in covenant with the Lord as a nation and a church, so that one could be circumcised in the flesh but not be circumcised in heart. But all the members of the new covenant are circumcised in heart, so that every member of the new covenant is regenerate. The argument here demands further attention, and so I close by encouraging someone to read our entire book, and especially Wellum’s chapter.

It seems to me that in the NT, baptism followed almost immediately after a profession of faith--with little time for instruction, confirmation that their faith was genuine, etc. Yet it also seems to me that those churches that practice instant baptisms upon initial professions of faith also seem to produce a lot of nominal Christians. What are you thoughts?

That’s a great question and it doesn’t have an easy answer. I think we have to consider the difference between the NT era and our culture in the United States. In the NT the Christian faith was clearly distinct from the culture, and hence baptism was a dramatic indication that one had given his life to the one true God and to Jesus Christ. Baptism was not culturally acceptable but distinguished someone remarkably from their culture. When we think of our culture today, we know that it is more and more post-Christian. Still, baptism is part of the cultural landscape. Many people in our culture mistakenly identify being an American with being a Christian. Therefore, I think it is wise to instruct converts in our context before immediately baptizing them. In that way we can discern better whether someone’s profession of faith is genuine. I would advise, therefore, that a new convert be introduced in new member’s classes (our church has five) to the essential doctrines of the church and the Christian faith. In addition, we have two elders interview each candidate for membership to ensure they understand the gospel before they are baptized and join the church.

I know you and your co-authors believe that baptism is biblical. What positive benefits or implications flow to a church that follows this biblical pattern?

In our view baptism in the Bible always follows faith. It is confusing to someone who reads the Bible to see infants baptized when they don’t have faith. In the NT those who are baptized are said to be dead to sin and risen with Christ. But infants aren’t dead to sin, nor are they risen with Christ. Even more important, perhaps, is what happens in the church. Now infants are considered to be members of the church, even though they are unregenerate. Hence, the purity of the church is compromised severely by allowing unbaptized and unconverted members into the church. The church is to be a body of believers over against the world, but this is lost when unbaptized infants are allowed to be members.

In your view, is there hope for unity on such an issue that has long divided the church?

We never know what it might please God to do. So we should always remain optimistic that more light will dawn on the church. Probably no one living in the 1400s imagined that a Reformation would occur in the 1500s! It is also possible that a difference of opinion will persist until Jesus comes. On the one hand, we need to love our fellow-believers who differ with us. On the other hand, we need to teach that any deviation from biblical truth has significant consequences.

Grudem on Language

Wayne Grudem emails John Piper about his response regarding "strong language."

Saturday, January 13, 2007

24 and Morality

Since obviously a fair number of Between Two World readers are fans of the best show on TV ("24"), I'll point you to a blog post by Melinda Penner (of Stand to Reason) who looks at the issue of moral clarity and complexity in relation to the show.

King on the Church

From the Letter from Birmingham Jail:
In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great-grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.

The whole letter, of course, is well worth reading.

Believer's Baptism

A significant new book has been published by B&H on the topic of baptism: Believer’s Baptism: The Covenant Sign of the New Age in Christ, edited by Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright. Here is the table of contents:
Author Preface

Foreword
Timothy George

Introduction
Thomas A. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright

1. Baptism in the Gospels
Andreas J. Köstenberger

2. Baptism in Luke-Acts
Robert H. Stein

3. Baptism in the Epistles: An Initiation Rite for Believers
Thomas R. Schreiner

4. Baptism and the Relationship between the Covenants
Stephen J. Wellum

5. Baptism in the Patristic Writings
Steven A. McKinion

6. “Confessor Baptism”: The Baptismal Doctrine of the Early Anabaptists
Jonathan H. Rainbow

7. Baptism and the Logic of Reformed Paedobaptists
Shawn D. Wright

8. Meredith Kline on Suzerainty, Circumcision, and Baptism
Duane A. Garrett

9. Baptism in the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement
A. B. Caneday

10. Baptism in the Context of the Local Church
Mark E. Dever