[%] "kre-'stä-m&-thE"

Because, occationally, it still rears its ugly head, I have to take my degree out for a walk about once a quarter. I admit that I do so in the hope that one day it will get hit by a car and never bother me again, but I think in the end it was better to get a graduate degree in Literature in English when I was an atheist than it would have been to get one in Philosophy.

At any rate, I was reading Doug Wilson's blog today, and the category of the current 2 posts was "CHRESTOMATHY". It rang a bell, and I went to the stacks (read: the boxes of books in the garage) and found an old tome called "A Mencken Chrestomathy". That's not to say I knew what the word meant, but I knew I had seen it someplace before.

So I found this on the web for the rest of you who, like me, have had even the highest levels of education fail to take in a meaningful way:
    This word has been staring me in the face for years, as it forms part of the title of a book on my shelves: A Mencken Chrestomathy, a selection of the choicest writings of the American journalist and writer on language, the late H L Mencken. Other than that, you may have to search a bit before finding another example, since it is a word of singular shyness, venturing out only rarely from inside our dictionaries to slip itself on to the cover of a work here or there. It was formed and first used in Greek, from the words khrestos, useful, and mathein, to know, hence useful learning. Its most frequent sense these days is that of a selection of passages designed to help in learning a language, so you may find titles such as Chrestomathy of modern literary Uzbek or A Chrestomathy of Pre-Angkorian Khmer. When H L Mencken used it he claimed he did so in part to wrest it back from the linguists. To critics who argued that the word would not be understood he replied in splendid arrogance: “Thousands of excellent nouns, verbs and adjectives that have stood in every decent dictionary for years are still unfamiliar to such ignoramuses, and I do not solicit their patronage. Let them continue to recreate themselves with whodunits, and leave my vocabulary and me to my own customers, who have all been to school”.
    -- © Michael Quinion, 1996–2005, www.worldwidewords.org

[%] Introducing Steve Hays ...

Listen: I don't know Steve Hays. Never met him. But the more I read his blog, the more I like him.

Formally, this is a note to tell you that I don't just link to Steve Hays: I recommend Steve Hays. Read what he's saying and take it in.

For what it's worth, he's a much nicer man than I am.

[*] from reformedCatholicism.com ...

Since I'm banned at rC.com, but Tim has more to say on this matter, I'll use the blog for my reply. TGE wrote:
    Well, Frank. (1) I don't read every single last comment posted on this site, ...
I wonder, if Tim did not read Kevin's post, why he could then weigh and defend Kevin's post? They must have a kind of unity there that I can't fathom. Oh wait - his point is, "I didn't read it, so I don't really know what he said."

I see: it's my fault for thinking that Tim would defend something he's actually read rather than defending something he didn't actually read. Yes. My bad.
    and (2) I have other things going on in my life than reading this site.
Again, that must be my fault. Tim is excused for responding in defense of the things written here because he has a "life" apparently.
    These things being the case, I don't feel bad for missing Kevin's comment about Abraham. But on that score, once again in your comments we see the "shoot first, ask questions later" mentality that is so much a part of reactionary Evangelicalism.
Yes - I am further enlightened and chastised now. Because Kevin used - to put the best possible spin on his statement - "short hand" to say his peace, I am actually at fault for missing the nuance in his post.

As with David Fehrenthold, apparently the onus of understanding what is said is 100% on the reader - except in the case of Scripture. Or any other prooftext these guys might supply.

I get it Tim: Because I looked at the 3 passages Kevin provided and found that they didn't say Abraham knew not Christ, I'm the reactionary. It doesn't come back to someone being responsible for saying what he or she means the first time: it comes back to "if you disagree with us and demonstrate your point, you're a jerk."

Let's get something straight: I am a jerk. Calling me a jerk doesn't put me on the defensive. I accept that I am a jerk. If only you accepted that you are a jerk, you could probably navigate the conversations you encounter on the web with a little more aplomb than simply saying someone is a "reactionary" (as opposed to answering the legit questions he asks).
    As a matter of fact, I was at work when Kevin posted his article and his comments.
For the record, so was I.
    How I could know what Kevin is posting and whether it needs to be "dealt with" by me when I work at a job where I do not have computer access is beyond me, as is your rush to judgment about why I was "silent".
The problem, Tim, is not that you "didn't deal with" Kevin: the problem is that you reacted to my post before bothering to read his! Do you not see the comedy here? Your claim is that I wouldn't have written what I did if I weren't a "reactionary", but you (A) didn't read the initial post, and (B) had no idea if the statements made were applicable or not when you responded to me. I'm a reactionary? Mao, call Castro a Communist.
    Secondly, it appears that you chose to put the worst possible spin on Kevin's words about Abraham--words which you must now retract since given time to clarify against your RASH judgment Kevin has stated that he meant Abraham didn't "know Christ" in the form of things like Chalcedonian propositions.
For kicks, I'm going to post Kevin's words here (prior to his revision, btw) so we can compare your complaint to what he wrote
And shall we forget Abraham and all the other Old Covenant saints who though they knew not Christ, they were certainly aware of a gospel which was not a set of tightly defined Westminster-like propositional statements (Hebrews 4:2/Galatians 3/Hebrews 11)?
His explicit words were:
(1) They knew not Christ
(2) They knew the Gospel
(3) Whatever they knew, is was not the propositions set forth in the WCF or other such documents.
Now be honest: would you dare say this? You wouldn't. You're a lot of things, Tim, but you have never been this loose about something as critical to your ultimate point regarding catholicism (small "C") as Kevin was here. In his press to deploy polemic against propositionalists, he either forgets or demonstrates he doesn't know what he's talking about - which is the one faith of all the saints, the same faith from Able to Abraham to Paul to you personally.

One faith in one God and in the promise of His Christ - not a series of dispensations. Too bad I got banned - because after we resolved the matter of Kevin's understanding of Abraham's faith we were going to discuss the matter of Kevin's description of the object of that faith, and how they can be aware (his word, Perry, so keep your Gnostic accusations to yourself) of the Gospel absent of the matter of Christ.
    But you didn't think of any of this, didn't think of other possible explanations, before you rushed RASHLY into your criticisms, any more than other guys like you rush RASHLY into goofy non-arguments about the Jesus of the Koran or the Book of Mormon--arguments you would not make against credally-orthodox Christians if you were actually properly grounded in basic Christian orthodoxy yourselves.
I am much abashed by your use of caps.

On the other hand, the next time you want to rage against the "goofy non-arguments about the Jesus of the Koran or the Book of Mormon" (the Jesus I described was the Jesus at the carwash, btw), you have to ask yourself: why did Kevin bother to correct himself (you say "clarify", I am sure)? Was it because I'm just a jerk who fronts a goofy argument, or is it because Kevin was concerned, as I pointed out in point (3) of my original post, about talking about "true believers"? You might look and see if Kevin has clarified that yet before you answer, but the reality check is that Kevin was advocating something about the Covenant of Grace which must include the matter of the Son of God, the Savior Christ to be validly Christian. If the OT saints knew not Christ but had a gospel, what gospel was it?

The only rash thing I said on your site was that Kevin is a church-hopper, and without any qualification, I apologize for making that statement as it was intended to hurt. If Kevin will accept the apology, I ask for his forgiveness.

[*] "We stand for unity! Anathema!"

About 18 months ago, I was giving some Catholic advocates the chance to describe what unity means to them -- how the Catholic church stands for unity. As it turns out, they were all able to agree on one thing: the anathema keeps the Catholic church unified.

I bring that up because there was something very interesting that happened today at reformedcatholicism.com. I was giving Kevin and Tim a hard time about Kevin's statement that Abraham "knew not Christ", and as the conversation ensued, Perry called me a gnostic. Well, I heckled back. As the "Discussion" spilled out into the sidewalk, because Kevin didn't like my insinuation that if he was actually concerned about unity in the body of Christ he might himself be able to demonstrate it by sticking with one local body for longer than 18 months, he banned me! {EDIT} I admit, btw, that dragging his church-hopping into the discussion was, at best, barely relevant, but it was at least as relevant as Perry calling me a gnostic after Kevin just finished a soliloquy on the dangers of propositional truth in doctrine. {/EDIT}

Oh man -- great stuff. Their link will stay on our page just for the laughs. And if anybody sees Kevin Johnson, tell him he can come by here and debate the matter of Abraham's faith any time.

[*] Tony Campolo's "Speaking My Mind" (final part)

This will be the final installment on Dr. Campolo's book because I am not trying to make a career out of criticizing his work. The basics of my criticism are already in play: the work does not apply its critical insights to its author's point of view, and it frequently oversimplifies opposing viewpoints and thereby does not deal with them convincingly. All other criticisms of the book would be based in some way on these two principle objections.

For example, in Chapter 4, Campolo wants to criticize sexism in evangelical polity. Without regard to his exegesis of the relevant scripture to make his point (which I am sure the readers of this blog might expect to see some comment on), Dr. Campolo reproaches the Southern Baptist convention for its treatment of women in ministry -- and cites a particular instance in which Ann Graham Lotz was reportedly snubbed by some male listeners at a conference where she spoke. Again, taking his example at face value, there is a troubling matter of what his point is supposed to be. The event was sponsored by the SBC, and she was a key speaker -- so the formal position of the SBC is apparently, "we accept her as a speaker." But some in the crowd decided (as Campolo describes) to turn their chairs around so that they would not face her as she spoke. That some in the crowd did not accept the judgment of the organization sponsoring the event is not a matter of Southern Baptist sexism: it is a matter of rude fools who made a spectacle of themselves.

Let's think on that for a minute: Ms. Lotz was hardly a surprise speaker on the agenda, yet these men came anyway. If they were truly opposed to her speaking, why come? Or for that matter, why stay? The kind of protest they waged was the kind which really says, "look at me," not "I won’t be a party to something I think is ungodly." Yet Dr. Campolo uses it as an example of institutional sexism.

What is a little more, um, overlooked is that the #1 best-selling bible study author over the last 2 years in Beth Moore -- who is obvioulsy a woman, but more importantly is published and distributed exclusively by LifeWay. For those of you not up to speed, LifeWay is perceived to be the official publisher of the Southern Baptist Convention. (legally, they are in independent body not under the SBC leadership, but I wonder how many SBC churches who use LifeWay believe that?) I think his conclusion is labored at best.

Chapter 5 treats the gay issue, and I will leave his sociological solution to the apparent problem for the reader to discern. I have already treated his mishandling of Romans and the doctrine of election in a previous blog entry.

The rest of the book runs the gamut of issues -- from the matter of Islam to the matter of how we might offer help to the poor. He pleads that Islam makes a fair assessment of Western (read: Christian) culture as "decadent" in chapter 9, but criticizes Christians who say that America is in a moral decline in chapter 12, saying we're not that bad after all. In chapter 6, Campolo goes so far as to explain (I would say "advocate", but that would mean he actually provides a meaningful argument in favor of) both annihilation and universal salvation as legitimate expressions of Christian theology. I'm not sure that even requires a comment. When someone is willing to deny something as central to the Christian faith as the eternal distinction God will make between the justified and the unjustified, I wonder why he bothers to call himself a Christian.

So why did I bother to write this review at all? In the final count (thanks WORD), it has run over 20 pages. I have bothered because I think Campolo's book is an example of the kind of encounter the believer in the pew is going to face in the future. I reject his view of Christian thinking because it is exactly what he describes it to be: speaking my mind. What we ought to be doing is speaking from God's mind on all these topics, and in that we have God's own words on the matter.

I do not recommend that you buy this book at full retail, but if you come across it on a bargain table, or in your local library, use it to hone your ability to handle the word of God by finding the contradictions between this work and the Bible.

Other entries in this series: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |

[$] Chris Rock

I wish I could get away with saying the things Chris Rock says and still have a clean conscience. The message is good, but the method (the language) is flawed.

That's all. He makes me laugh and think, and someday I'd like to be the Chris Rock of internet apologetics. If such a thing is possible.

[#] Dry County? In 2005?

The attached editorial was written by me. For those of you who don’t know, I live in a dry county in Northern Arkansas, and it has been dry since Prohibition was lifted, in spite of two or three referendums on the matter.

Well, there’s a long story attached to the current discussion, and before I get into it, let me say that I think the discussion is good. I don’t agree with those who want to make our county “wet” in the sense of selling beer in grocery stores and convenience marts, but that doesn’t mean that they should not bring it up.

The long story behind the current discussion is that the largest retailer in the world (Always) has, in the last 5 years, demanded that all vendors have an on-site presence at the home office® for the sake of … well, whatever. That mandate has created a massive influx of all kinds of people into a community that has traditionally been old-school American Gothic. It has created massive economic growth and a clash of cultures.

This is the first in a series of editorials I am writing for the local papers. Comments are, of course, welcome.

No matter what comes out of the current discussion over Benton County’s status as “dry”, we will probably not be selling alcohol at Kingdom Bound Books – not even sacramental wine for service use only. That’s not a moral or a doctrinal decision, but an understanding of what we do best – which is to sell Bibles, books and music. I wonder what it is that Benton County does best, and whether that should have a part in the decision to stay “dry” or go “wet”?

We should not be the kind of people who will do anything for a (tax) buck. The greatest argument that the “wet” advocates will present is that the Benton County tax registers are bleeding cash to the surrounding governments – and I’ll leave it up to them to formulate their guess at actual dollars. For the record, I’ll bet half the difference that if I moved my bookstore to Oklahoma – about a mile down 412, more or less – and opened a liquor store right next door, I could increase my net profits by 1000% in spite of any impact on book sales. But that’s not a reason to add liquor to our assortment: it’s an excuse.

Now what’s the difference between a reason to do something and an excuse to do something? When you have a reason, the logic or moral precept dictates the action. When you’re making an excuse, you’ve already decided on what you’re going to do and you’re just trying to find ways to get other people either to agree with or overlook your behavior.

In the case of Kingdom Bound Books moving to West Siloam to add a Spirits department (note to rumor mill: we are not doing that), the case for “excuse” is clear. While it is important for the bookstore to make money, the primary goal for the bookstore is really not money: it is the spiritual edification and growth of our customers. In exactly the same way, the primary goal of Benton County is not to collect tax revenue. Adding liquor would not edify anybody, and it would call into account the integrity of the alleged goal of the rest of the enterprise. I am sure no one would “blame” me for opening a liquor store, but at the same time nobody would shop at the relocated bookstore because my motives for having both would be clear.

Making something legal for the sake of the tax revenue it would generate demonstrates what kind of a community we are. If we are going to decide that tax revenue is grounds for the kinds of activity we are going to legalize, perhaps we know what kind of people we are already and we are only haggling over the price.

Let me be clear that while I do not drink alcohol, I do not begrudge any adult the choice to drink responsibly in any appropriate context. My concern in this letter is that we see ourselves and our motives without any slogans and choose the laws of our county with eyes wide open.

[*] Tony Campolo's "speaking My Mind" review (part 3)

In the last installment, I reviewed Dr. Campolo's view of the decline of mainline denominations in the US in the 50's and 60's, and you can obviously find those comments here on the blog. It is on that note that I begin with Chapter 3 of Speaking My Mind, particularly with the anecdote that begins that chapter. The chapter begins by citing some Barna research that non-Christians have a very low view of evangelicals. In fact, it turns out that evangelicals finished only ahead of prostitutes on the list (Campolo fails to footnote or cite that research, but the readers of this blog can find it here). That same table, fwiw, shows that "ministers" and "born-again Christians" rated 2nd and 3rd for "favorable general impression", the top slot being occupied by military officers.

That sets up a conversation Campolo recounts that he had with a professor at Harvard University. Let's keep in mind, as we think about Campolo's account and subsequent speculations, that he is himself a Ph.D. of Sociology and professor emeritus. The conversation is recounted thus:
    While on Harvard's campus, I asked one of the professors why the folks there were so negative toward evangelicals. I said, "the Jews respect the Muslims, the Muslims respect the Jews, and everyone respects the Dalai Llama. But there are sneers of condescension if someone says, 'I'm an evangelical Christian'!"

    The professor answered, "Imagine yourself at lunch. Seated at the table with you is the leader of the gay-lesbian task force, an ardent feminist, and an angry neo-Marxist African-American. You propose playing a game in which each of them is to respond to a word with the first word that comes into their minds. You say 'evangelical.' How do you think each will respond?"

    I said, "Given those three people, I suppose I would hear them say things like 'bigot', 'homophobe', 'male chauvinist' and 'reactionary'."
I'll pause for a moment before I give the balance of Dr. Campolo's story. I want to operate for the rest of this blog post under the assumption that this conversation actually happened and that Dr. Campolo transcribed here, in meaning if not in exact words, the content of this exchange. The reasons for that are simple: there is no reason to believe that Dr. Campolo is fictionalizing here, and he has no motive to make this story up as he presents it.

In those assumptions, I want the reader to think about the assertion that Campolo made above that the Jews and Muslims "respect" each other in the context that they both "respect" the Dalai Llama. I'll not comment on that statement at all, but let's see what unfolds:
    Then the professor asked, "Now, to these same three, you say the name 'Jesus'. What reactions will you get to that?"

    I paused for a moment. "Caring, understanding, forgiving, kind, empathetic ..."

    "Does it bother you, Tony," he asked, "that the name of Jesus elicits a completely opposite reaction from the name 'evangelical'?"
In the spirit of helping you follow along, that is on p. 25 of the book we are reviewing. As you can imagine, it does bother Dr. Campolo.

But when we consider the fable presented by the Harvard prof to Campolo, there are two massive omissions made in that game of association. The first is this: not one of those people playing would call Jesus "Son of God" or "Mighty God". I'm sure someone might be willing to propose that he has met some people in those groups who confess to be Christians. Perhaps Campolo himself might do that. But as a Doctor of Sociology, Dr. Campolo, ought to admit that those people are not the representative sample, and their "Christianity" is sociological at best -- not confessional or credal. Most importantly, that ought to be a premise of the tale as the Barna research is clearly about the opinions of those who are non-Christians.

In that, the representative sample might have nice things to associate with Jesus theoretically, but those associations are not based on accepting what the Bible says about Jesus. When the feminist associates "forgiving" with "Jesus" (and that's assuming she would; I think that's a pretty generous assumption), she is not talking about the kind of soteriological or even sovereignly-generous forgiveness of justly-condemned sin Jesus demonstrates in the Gospels -- the kind that pays for the debt of the sinner. I'll wager she is talking about the idea that Jesus forgave without the requirements of either belief or repentance, and that forgiveness is, more or less, free (costs neither the giver nor the receiver anything). She is talking about a secular Jesus who you might see on Oprah, or like the one proposed by the Jesus Seminar -- not the Jesus for whom Paul suffered martyrdom; not Jesus at the right hand of the Father.

Now why is that important? It is because we cannot equivocate on the terms of the Gospel. Just because someone proposes the statement "Jesus is forgiving," that doesn't mean we should have am ecumenical group-hug with them. You would think that a Ph.D. in Sociology and a Harvard professor having a conversation would understand this.

The other major omission is this: all of those groups are necessarily false worldviews in the context of the resurrected Christ, and as such they will reject the church because they reject Him. That is not a matter of callous indignation or self-fulfilling delusions: that is a matter of understanding that in their false views of Christ they reject Him for their self-absorbed philosophies, and adopt the images of created things in the place of the Creator of all things, as Romans 1 says they will do. Campolo sites an evangelical friend who said, "I really don't care what people like that think about us", and that may be somewhat glib in his reaction to hearing the professor's fable. But the other side of the coin is that when Paul said he became all things to all people in order to save some, he was not saying, "when I met the pagan orgyist, I participated in the orgies for the chance to preach the Gospel afterward". Neither was he saying "when I met the Greek philosopher who was a skeptic and an agnostic, I surrendered the historical facts of the Gospel to make friends with him". We are not called to abandon the premises of the Gospel in order to be good neighbors: we are called to live the premises of the Gospel which will result in us being good neighbors not on terms that men set down but on the terms that God sets down.

Listen: I am offended when Fred Phelps (man, I'm glad he's a "Calvinist"!) takes his "GOD HATES FAGS" show on the road. I am offended when KJV-only "street evangelists" heckle and verbally assault Mormons in Salt Lake City. I am offended when allegedly "pro-life" zealots murder abortion providers. But why? Why would that offend me when the world hates them for what they (the alleged Christians) think is the Gospel work? It is because they are not practicing the Gospel work: they are crying out "Lord! Lord!" in very pious tones, but they do not know Him, and in the end we will see that He does not know them, either. It really doesn't need any explanation, does it? The world hates plenty of things that are not the Gospel that are also not actually any good, either. As I discussed in my first blog on this book, that is actually part of the reason that no one has any excuse before God.

In all of that, the Gospel objective is not to pull the same plow with the feminist, the neo-Marxist, the homosexual: the Gospel objective is to speak God's word to them in the language and culture they understand for the purpose of the Holy Spirit to call some out. I agree with Campolo that we can't do that if we are just shouting past each other, but we cannot do that if there are parts of the Gospel which we avoid because they offend.

Moreover, the "image problem" Campolo describes in Chapter 3 is a result of something else he overlooks: the source of popular stereotypes. He seems to complain (my word) that the Falwells and the Robertsons of Evangelicaldom "control the microphone", but who gave them that control? Did they take it by force? Of course not. Did they buy it? I guess that's possible, but I think that's exceptionally cynical even in the context that they "own" the Christian media. These kinds of people control the mike in spite of the fact that those who hold the mike are overwhelmingly sympathetic to the kinds of views Campolo proposes in his book. I would think that they (the media) would be looking for a pastor like Dr. Campolo to say the things they agree with.

I ask rhetorically to Dr. Campolo: "Does it bother you that they don't?" I think it should -- because it says something about what they are trying to communicate in the final tally. I wonder what they have to gain by putting Jerry Falwell on rather than Tony Campolo when they want a Christian sound bite? I don't for a minute believe that Campolo would make a less interesting talking head than Falwell -- but I do believe that Campolo would change the way the "blue states" see the Baptist faith. What happens to the popular stereotype of Christianity if someone like Campolo starts representing it?

That's a blind spot on Dr. Campolo's part. To fail to see the whole matrix of causation for the end product is naïve at least. To say that the right-wing religious activists have an "agenda" (which he says plainly), but to call his own beliefs and political assertions "movements" and "convictions" is more of the same -- and that's not to attack Campolo. That's pointing out that one either believes his own message that the other (Christian) guy has the right to be wrong or one is simply asking for a special privilege that one would not grant to the other guy. The other guy's convictions are from the same kind of conscience one has himself, and are not an "agenda" whether one agrees with him or not. If one wants to be given the open right hand of fellowship, one needs to offer it as well.

Here's the real irony: that is the same double standard that caused the decline of the mainlines. In the pew, they said they wanted the Gospel truth, but not when it offended their sense of social order; in the pulpit, they wanted to preach a radical Gospel, but defined "radical" by secular standards rather than spiritual ones. If Evangelicalism is going to avoid the decline that the mainlines have seen, it has to avoid those two versions of the same story. And in that, Dr. Campolo's view that evangelicalism has an "image problem" is marred by his failure to see his own biases in assessing those with whom he disagrees.

Other entries in this series: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |

[*] Tony Campolo's "Speaking My Mind" review (part 2)

As some of you know, I own a Christian bookstore (an independent store; a chain of one link), and I had the good fortune of receiving Tony Campolo's book Speaking My Mind on a pallet of close-outs Thomas Nelson. I'll bet Mr. Campolo is not thrilled with that news, but I probably would not have read his book unless it had come to me through the circumstances that God often brings to us.

Since I've not said this on the blog before, me tell you that I am a Baptist, a systematic fan of fellows like Robert Reymond and John Calvin (who are not Baptists), an avid fan of the history of the Bible, a teacher of first grade boys' Sunday school, and a part-time scrapper in the hap-hazard world of internet apologetics. I guess I spell that out for the sake of not hiding any biases or personal flaws I might have.

I promised early on in the blog (the first entry) that I would review Campolo's book over the first 30 days of blogging, and I started by criticizing his treatment of Reformed theology. That may not be a very fair place to have started because I find some of his initial insights fascinating, relevant, and clear-minded. His chapter on what happened to "mainline" Protestant denominations, I think, is right on the mark. Its dual indictment of the objections that the "man in the pew" must have had in the last 50 years (both good and bad) as well as the actions of the leadership of these denominations (both good and bad) are about exactly right.

In particular, I'd like to consider a few passages and the thesis Campolo advances with them. On pg, 4 he paraphrases Langdon Gilkey's Naming the Whirlwind by saying:
    Theologians tried to make Christianity acceptable to those whose modernistic thinking lead them to scoff at anything that had even a tinge of the mystical and miraculous.
On the same page, he continues:
    While many sophisticated members of the clergy, who were trying to prove themselves acceptable in the halls of academia, were making cynical critiques of mass evangelism, congregants were flock to Billy Graham crusades. And when these members began leaving their churches to seek out a more evangelical message, their pastors counted the rejection of their preaching as evidence that their preaching was socially prophetic.
And on pg. 5 he offers:
    These leaders often failed to give significant recognition for people's need for something more than a religion that made sense in the face of the scientific rationalism of modernity and addressed the painful social crises of the times. Too often they overlooked the fact that craved a feeling of connectedness with God that gave them the sense of being inwardly transformed.
While these are the jumping-off places I'd like to start with in considering Campolo's message, let me offer some other summaries I think do justice to his work. In the first place, he finds that the social action of the leaders of the mainline denominations was very much warranted by the times and situations in spite of the discomfort that it might have caused some of the members of their churches, and I would agree with that. The other side of that coin (with which I would also agree, and someone please correct me if I have misread him here) is that these same leaders mistakenly adopted some of the political and/or ideological undercurrents of these social issues. So for example, while they were preaching for civil rights, they may have adopted some other philosophical motivations based on then-current popular modes of naturalism and/or socialism. That kind of "leaven in the bread" (if we can say that without abusing the Biblical images) drove off portions of their congregations.

Which leads us to the second place: he also indicates that those who left their mainline churches for something else (which Campolo ultimately calls "evangelicalism") left for good reasons and for bad. On the positive side, they wanted to see and feel the change of heart that the Gospel promises: they wanted to be converts and have a relevant zeal for God and their neighbor. On what Campolo might call the negative side, they rejected innovative (in the historical sense) ideas like women clergy and homosexual lifestyles (and let's be clear that Campolo does not endorse the promiscuous homosexual lifestyle even before we cover that chapter of the book).

And that leads me to the final place of summary for his thesis on mainline decline (to be fair, Campolo gives this a whole chapter). The evangelicals have better (more charismatic, more program-minded) leaders, they take their product to the marketplace (so to speak), they capitalize on political influence, and they meet the needs of the people they contact. Frankly, evangelicalism is a kind of American Christianity, rooted in American ideals like individualism, pragmatism, and consumerism.

I agree with Campolo almost completely -- including his insight that part of modern evangelical success is that it did not have its head buried in the sand intellectually. The fact that many (though hardly all) major figures in evangelicalism today are holders of advanced degrees and can make cogent arguments for their moral and spiritual beliefs to those who disagree with or object to them is frankly a light-year ahead of the position the mainlines found themselves in during the 50's and 60's.

So in my first installment, I had a problem with Campolo's characterization of Reformed theology; in this installment, I find myself in broad-brush agreement with his introductory thesis. You might think I am of a mixed mind on this book, but there is so much more to cover. As I have read the rest of his book, I get the impression that he does not want to see the solutions he is offering "evangelicalism" (whatever that means today) in the context of the valid criticisms he has of the declining mainlines.

Particularly, rather than take the Gospel message of brotherhood in Christ to society on its own terms, the mainlines found something that sounded like the Gospel message and partnered with that -- and inadvertently allowed radical skepticism and naturalism into the community of faith. So they championed civil rights -- but found that the resurrection was better as a metaphor than it was as a historical event. They opposed a war they thought was evil -- and inadvertently lost the message of the atonement to the socialistic worldview of the perfectibility of man.

The goal of the body of Christ should be to preach the Gospel: it is the singular commission of the body. Our goal should not be to try to piggy-back on some movement that appears to superficially agree with the Gospel or have shared goals. We should care for the widows, the orphans and the fatherless as a working out of the Gospel. Just because (as one example) "pro-choice" advocates claim to want that same goal, it does not follow that we should be joined together to a movement that also preaches atheism, ethical pragmatism, and collectivist morality. The body of Christ must preach the Gospel, and is not called to partner with any secular or non-Christian body to do so: it is, in fact, admonished never to do so. For the record, I categorically reject a syncratic approach to relevance because it inherently leads to the errors Campolo has identified in the mainline decline. It inevitably seeks to make the church of the world rather than merely in the world as an alien and a sojourner.

Before I cover the significant examples of this as highlights in the remaining chapters, let me say plainly that the church cannot take up a bunker mentality and is certainly not called to live in isolation from the world. The first generation of Christians changed an utterly pagan and corrupt world into a place where God's love was clearly lived out in society. The explosion of converts in the first century is a testimony to the fact that they lived what they preached. In that, I agree with Campolo that we ought to live what we are preaching -- but we must be preaching the Gospel for that to make any difference.

Other entries in this series: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |

[?] Embarassing Blog Moments & Hunter S. Thompson

I have a 15-page review of Campolo's book someplace on one of my 5 hard drives, and I can't find it.

More is not better. When my largest hard drive was 80 GB and I had to put everything on floppies and ZIP disks, I could find my files. Now I might as well just leave them all in my front yard on a windy day. Sheesh.

On a more sombre note, Hunter Thompson killed himself this weekend. He's hardly a Christian, hardly even moral in any definition of that word, and probably would have pulled a gun on you if you mentioned the cross to him, but he was an unbelievable writer and a visionary journalist. He was blogging when there was no such thing, and getting paid to do it. Guys like P.J. O'Rourke and Dave Barry owe Thompson a debt of thanks because he cut the path upon which they tread.

Anyway, Thompson's work is not very edifying from a Biblical standpoint, but it casts light on the culture of the 70's and 80's. For the adults reading this blog, you ought to read (perhaps not buy, but find and read) The Great Shark Hunt and Hell's Angels. Everybody else will tell you Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was his gold-star achievement, but these other two books are far more accessible and compelling as far as I'm concerned. I also enjoyed Songs of the Doomed, but I was also an atheist at the time, so take that for what it's worth.

[?] Posting to BLOGGER via YAHOO!Mail

Just a note to mention that posting to BLOGGER via e-mail is more trouble than it is worth. At least for me, because I use Yahoo!mail and because I constantly type "becuase" rather than "because".

No theological implications. Carry on.

[$] The TELIP Tatoo

I want to go on-record to apologize to anyone who found the TELIP tattoo via this blog. Red is my friend, but he's also Red.

If anyone wants to help me start a fund to help him remove it or get the spelling mistakes fixed, leave a comment here and maybe we can do a paypal thing.

Last thing: I know the title is spelled wrong. Get it? That's all the comments you'll get from me on this topic.

[#] The Saucy Fundamentalist

I was reading an interesting book today by Robert L. Saucy, Scripture: its Power, Authority and Relevance. In it he had an interesting quote from Kirsop Lake, respected Harvard University biblical scholar of the early 20th century. I wanted to share it (and I also wanted to test blogger.com's ability to
post blog entries via e-mail):
    It is a mistake often made by educated persons who happen to have but little knowledge of historical theology, to suppose that fundamentalism is a new and strange form of thought. It is nothing of the kind; it is the partial and uneducated survival of a theology which was once universally held by all Christians. How many were there, for instance, in Christian churches in the eighteenth century who doubted the infallible inspiration of all Scripture? A few, perhaps, but very few. No, the fundamentalist may be wrong; I think that he is. But it is we who have departed from the tradition, not he, and I am sorry for the fate of anyone who tries to argue with a fundamentalist on the basis of authority. The Bible and the corpus theologicum of the Church are on the fundamentalist's side.
Saucy's footnote cites this from Lake's The Religion of Yesterday and
(Boston: Houghton, 1926).

Take that for what it's worth as you read many of the internet debates which are going on today.

[#] Reply to Comments on the Open Letter to Derek Webb

I got this reply to a previous blog update from a fellow traveller:
graceshaker wrote:may i suggest you grab a copy of the book Walk On by Steve
Stockman. easy read - wont take you a couple days.
I actually have this book at the bookstore (it came with the initial shipment 2 years ago). I have also actually read it -- because Stockman is published by the same folks who publish "RELEVANT" magazine. I had a run-in with Relevant over their article on how to deal with Homosexual marriage in a Christian context at their message boards. (that exchange will have to wait for a future BLOG entry)

At any rate, Stockman's book on U2 is, in the best case, speculative. After reading it, I ran into someone talking about Hillary Clinton's faith who said (in words to this effect), "her faith is so integrated into her personality that you don't even know it's there." That view is exactly the view I'd take of Bono.

Let's think about this for a minute, shall we? Here's a short list of famous people:

George W. Bush
Tony Campolo
Kirk Cameron
Tim Enloe

OK -- now in that list of people, which one(s) needed someone else to write about their faith in Jesus Christ in order to be identified as a "Christian" of any kind? There's only one on that list, and it's not Tim Enloe. :-)

The point of my open letter to Derek Webb was (and is) that our faith is not something that we sneak into a discussion or our lives under the blanket of pop superstardom (or for us lesser mortals, under the disguise of our career): it is something that is the first part of our approach.

Put another way, Jesus certainly fed the 5000 -- but in what context? It was in the context of preaching the Gospel to them. We can debate in-depth about what kind of Gospel and whether He expected any of the 5000 to accept the Gospel some other time: the point is that when they came back to Him and said, "Sure you just fed us: now show us a sign so that we will believe," Jesus said, "I am the sign, I am what saves." He said that if they put their trust in food that spoils, they were wasting their time. He didn't just set up the Loaves and Fishes Bistro and hand out bread and fishes until Judas got caught with his fingers in the till and Jesus had to take the rap for him. In the context of offering the physical ministry, Jesus presented the Gospel in a way which was intended to set Himself in strict contrast with the world.

Bono does nothing of the sort.

Last note on Stockman's work. Check out his latest "And the Rock Cries Out". In this book, Stockman "explores the music of twelve artists who haven't necessarily professed a Christian faith but whose work is undergirded with issues, questions and insights that are very much biblical." (that's from the amazon.com description of the book) I'm very significantly challenged by someone who says that a person who is "not a professed Christian" can at the same time present, provide or possess "biblical insights".

[*] Tony Campolo's "Speaking My Mind" review (part 1)

Well, if I'm going to have a blog, I might as well use it, right? I'm in the middle of reading 2 books right now which are pretty much on the polar opposite ends of the spectrum. One is A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, by Robert L. Reymond, and the other is Speaking My Mind, by Tony Campolo. Believe it or not, they both came in on the same pallet of bargain books.

While Reymond's book should be required reading for anyone who thinks he's an apologist for the Christian faith, I have to say that Campolo's book is worth the read -- as a negative example. Dr. Campolo is someone who "has the ear" of the Evangelical community, and here he attempts to use it to address what he calls, "a variety of issues and problems {it} must face and resolve if it is to continue its winning streak into the 21st century." (xii) In this book, Campolo "speaks his mind" on topics from "the gay issue" to "militarism" to "Islam" to "science", and mostly says that Evangelicalism is completely wrong on-premise on all of these things. To be fair, you should not condemn this book before you read it. It is my intention to review the whole thing to give it its fair shake. My review will be in parts over the next month or so.

So how do I find a place to start? I thought maybe I should just begin on the first page of the intro and work forward, but because I am reading Reymond's book I feel compelled to start in a more essential place: the foundation of the theological assumptions Campolo is here advocating. You would think that as an Evangelical he'd have some kind of Protestant underpinning to his positions, but I think that ignores what is called "Evangelicalism" in 2005.

Here’s a sample of some of Campolo's anecdotal framing of one topic:
Some {homosexuals} said they were happier with the church and God out
of their lives, while others ached for the spiritual connection they no longer
had. I found the strict Calvinists had an especially hard time dealing
with their homosexuality. Believing in a God who predestines all things,
they concluded the He predestined them to be gay and hence to damnation.
They cite Paul's writings in Romans 9:19-24:
… {the text of Rom 9 is omitted
by centuri0n} …
Believing that God created them for rejection, many
homosexual people reject the God whom they believe has rejected them. The
despair that such a theology can create has driven some gays to suicide.
Anyone who is reading this blog and has any kind of basic understanding of Reformed/"Calvinistic" theology has to read this passage and wonder if Campolo has ever actually encountered the systematic teaching of Calvin at all. Perhaps Campolo means hypercalvinists when he says "strict Calvinists", but he hardly makes an attempt to draw that line.

I think what bothered me the most about this anecdote is that I have no doubt that it is true and it represents something Campolo has witnessed in his career as an American Baptist minister. But it offered him the opportunity to provide a two-fold response. First, he could offer the Gospel to those who were standing before him misusing Romans 9 in that way. Second, it gave him the opportunity to defend those whom he claims to call brothers in Christ from what is either ignorant misrepresentation or rank slander. It appears, from his discussion of the topic, he does neither.

The reformed response to this problem is so much more significant than his hypothetical example that I list it here to make sure it is offered at all. There is no man, apart from Christ, who fails to sin. Those who commit sins of heterosexual lust (or any other sin) are in the same boat as those who commit homosexual sin(s). All men are sinners; none seek Him; all fall short of the glory of God.

To be 100% clear, in Matthew 5 Jesus unequivocally says that adultery is something that occurs in a man's heart and not just in the act of bedding a woman. In Romans 1 & 2, Paul is making the case that no man on earth has ignorance as an excuse. He says plainly that those who judge others demonstrate that they should be judged when they sin. Equally, those who do not have the Law demonstrate they understand God's moral decrees when they act inside the bounds of their conscience.

In that, we are all sinners. The reformed position is clear that the unrepentant homosexual is not any more or less a sinner than I was when I was an adulterer and a pervert, or for that matter than I am today -- and I use myself as the example to make my point plain. When I was unsaved, and unregenerate, it wasn't that I didn’t hear God, or that I didn’t know about God: it was that I rejected God for my own desires. And they were my desires, make no mistake: in the same way the homosexual can say, "I don't remember a time when I wasn't gay," I say in response, "I cannot remember a time when I didn’t have my sinful desires."

Anyone who is reading this blog has heard of the reformed TULIP -- Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, Perseverance of the saints -- and recognizes the traditional, unadorned "T" teaching here. But how does that translate into the hope of the Gospel? Is it that we will lead perfectly sinless lives? No -- because we will not. The first hope of the Gospel is that we can see our sin as God sees it and repent -- that is, turn away from sin and its lure and turn toward God Himself as the answer. If we look at our sin and say, "it's not so bad," or "I'm no worse than anyone else," or even "I think I can beat it if I try harder", we are still sinful men who are relying on our own power to achieve; we are still victims of our own vain reasonings. When we see that our sin is our own by nature and by choice, and that God is right to judge it, we are on the road of repentance. That's really the heart of the "T" in "TULIP": man must admit he has no standing before God except as a sinner, and deserves no better. God is the standard, and God is also the answer to our failure. Since I have it handy, Reymond puts it this way:
It is only when man knows that he is sinful and incapable of helping
himself that he will seek help from outside of himself and cast himself upon the
mercies of God. Nothing is more soul destroying than the sinner's belief
that he is righteous and/or is capable of remedying his situation himself.
The second hope of the reformed advocation of the Gospel is that God has already chosen to save. God has already decided in an unalterable and complete way that even though men choose to sin, He is going to do something about it. The heroes of the faith, if we believe the book of Hebrews, looked forward to God's certain promise that He would deliver; we have the benefit of looking back at Christ on the Cross -- and coming out of the empty tomb -- to see that God has already delivered. That's the "U" of TULIP: there are no human conditions in God saving but only the Divine condition that God chooses to save. Reymond’s definition is clear:
Before the creation of the world, out of His mere free grace and love, God
elected many undeserving sinners to complete and final salvation without any
foresight of faith or good works or any other thing in them as conditions or
causes which moved him to choose them. That is to say, the ground
of their election is not in them but in him
. {Emph. Added} (1125)
For me, it is somewhat astounding that Campolo can let the characterization of this key matter of reformed theology be represented as “God made me a certain way so He must want me to go to hell.” Is this what Campolo would say to the murderer, the thief, the person caught in adultery – that if you sin and you want to sin, then God must want you to go to hell? I think that even if Campolo completely rejects the reformed position, the least he can do is represent it – both to these people who are apparently agonizing over their sinfulness and to his readers for the sake of a balanced presentation – with some kind of fairness both to the passage of Scripture he cites and to the doctrines which are being represented. In no way does man’s sinfulness indicate that God intends for that individual to go to hell – because God is not choosing people because of their “sin+virtues” scorecard. God is choosing (and frankly has chosen) because God is willing to save.

The third hope of the Gospel is that God's choice to save is out of love. While the TULIP paradigm calls this “limited atonement”, Reymond prefers “definite atonement” or “particular atonement” or “efficacious atonement” for the sake of clarity. (1125) God has not acted in a way to cause me to be savable: God has acted to actually save, and has saved those He intends to save.

Think about that: God does not save out of obligation of debt (which would appeal to us, wouldn't it? Doesn't the atheist complain that God owes him an explanation or some kind of remuneration?) but because He loves in particular, not because He loves hypothetically or in a way which allows Him to stand off in the distance. I think that is the most staggering aspect of the Gospel, frankly: God saves individuals because God loves. That is the "L" in "TULIP": the intentional and specific nature of God's saving act, which humbles man and gives him everything but a reason to boast.

The fourth hope of the Gospel is that God calls in a way that not only requires a response, but is certain to elicit the affirmative response. God didn't make a rope we have to climb to be saved; God didn’t build a bridge (as the 4 spiritual laws state) that we can cross to be saved. We were dead men in a well who were cursing Him for even looking down at us, and He dove in to pull us out one at a time. The Cross is not only a sign pointing upward: it is the place where the question of sin is settled forever. That's the "I" in TULIP: all that are given will come; all that will come will not be turned away.

The final hope of the Gospel is the ultimate nature of it: not that I have a perfect knowledge of all whom God has saved or will save – or that I can know, as the example Campolo cites apparently knows -- but that if God worked it out it will stay worked out. That's the "P" in TULIP -- that, as James says, the testing of faith brings perseverance to those who have the true faith. Their faith is proven by its final result.

In that, Campolo’s gay friend who says, "well, God made me a sinner so He wants me to go to hell," has never heard the Gospel. When I was saved, I knew that night that I was not being saved from ever failing again: I was being saved from having to rely on myself for perfection. I didn't stop wanting to sin that night because I admit – as Paul does – that I still have a desire to sin. What I gained that night, and every night since then, is 100% reliance on God to reform me into what He wants and needs me to be. And in that, I have seen the fruits of God’s work as some sins have been overcome in my life.

What I gained that night was the power of the Holy Spirit through the work of Christ and the loving will of the Father to be a new creation. That is the reformed Gospel that Dr. Campolo does not represent -- and I suggest that it meets all the criteria lists in the balance of his book for the future of evangelicalism. But because his book treats it as a kind of cartoon theology -- an embarrassing and cruel cartoon at that – he does not see the value of it. For the record, it was the theology of Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon (not to mention Calvin, Luther and Zwingli) who in their day changed the world by changing the hearts of men. When they preached the Gospel, the Holy Spirit worked on men's hearts. And if I read the rest of Campolo’s book correctly, that is his stated goal: changing men's hearts for the sake of Jesus Christ.

We will see if that is, however, what he preaches in the rest of his message.

Other entries in this series: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |