[%] Man, I love this stuff

I was reading William Dembski's blog, and I came across an article from the American Spectator.

You should read it rather than wonder why my blog entry on Jesus in Paul's summary of the Gospel was so short ...

[!] ... by which you are being saved [1]

With the basic summary outlined, I’d like to progress and examine each aspect of the summary Paul delivers in 1Cor 15 piece by piece. The text is here:
    1Cor 15: 1Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. 3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ[1] died for our[2a] sins[2b] in accordance with the Scriptures[3], 4that he was buried[4], that he was raised on the third day[5] in accordance with the Scriptures[6](ESV, emph. Added)
As we noted last time, Paul says that this is the Gospel which saves, and that what he is about to reiterate is the part “of first importance”, or “of the highest importance”.’ And he begins with a critical matter in that teaching of highest importance: Christ.

In his Concise Theology, J.I. Packer says this:
Jesus is God’s Messiah, the Spirit-anointed Son of David promised in the Old Testament (e.g., Isa 11:1-5; Christos, “Christ” is Greek for Messiah). {The synoptic Gospel writers} all present Him in a three-fold roll as teacher, sin-bearer and ruler (105)
Packer underscores the early church belief in who this “Christ” was in terms of incarnation – which is to say, both human and divine – but goes to detailed efforts to flesh out the matter of John’s Gospel and the claims Christ makes about himself. Particularly, he covers the “ego eimi” statements in John, saying “a claim to deity is implicit” (106).

Paul was here talking about a real person who is described in detail in the complete documents of the New Testament. This Christ is the subject of the rest of Paul’s summary, and as such ought to require us to narrow the scope of the discussion. This primary teaching is that one man has already done something notable, and we either do know who he is or can know who he is. The Gospel Paul preached was about Christ. That may seem super-obvious to a lot of you, but it is the basis for the rest of Paul’s message.

The Gospel by which you are being saved is about Christ. But it is not just about a life story: it is about the fact that Christ died for our sins.

That is itself a message that does not get preached clearly enough or often enough, and I am going to take the next 2 blogs in this series to try and show you what it is and why most people – even at the pulpit – fear this mesaage and try to avoid speaking it plainly.

Other entries in this series: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 |

[?] See: this is why blogging is hazardous

I have this series of blogs I'm trying to write about 1Cor 15 and the essential definition of the Gospel, and the next entry has to be about Christology.

Christology. I set myself up (nobody assigned these topics) to blog on Christology.

Maybe if I just skip that part nobody will notice. Especially after I made such a big deal out of Jesus a couple of entries ago.

Christology. I must be self-destructive.

[%] The vexed question of church unity

I prolly don't agree with everything this link from Doug Wilson says, but I think that if you are interested in or concerned about the matter of church unity and whether we should be thinking about it in historical or theological or eschatological terms (or all of the above), you should read the link to find some places on which to make your stand.

It'll do you good to read that while you're waiting for me to make my next blog entry, anyway.

[!] ... by which you are being saved

I find myself in a very problematic position: I find myself agreeing with, in broad terms, the sentiments of P. Andrew Sandlin found here. It’s uncomfortable because I am certain that if we dig down into all the nuances, the agreement is superficial at best.

Before I get to my problem, I had a chuckle over this bit:
In making this point I am not suggesting that evangelicalism is cultic, though it has elements of this approach within some of its more conservative circles. (I have witnessed cultic elements in a number of small charismatic and Reformed churches, and reforming movements, that are strongly leader-based. These are generally defined by anti-modern mindsets, and the rigid use of confessions or particular human traditions, that require followers to surrender to the authority of the “elite” who properly understand the tradition!) Furthermore, I am not suggesting that the more militant and separatistic forms of the older fundamentalism dominate most of what is now called evangelicalism.
The punch line (for those of you who didn’t get it) was that the camp over at communio sanctorum are themselves practitioners of “the rigid use of confessions or particular human traditions, that require followers to surrender to the authority of the ‘elite’ who properly understand the tradition!” If we go back to their old blog at reformed Catholicism, we can find them and their allies calling all kinds of people who practice inside traditions they reject “Gnostics”, “heretics”, and (while nicely dancing around the particular word) “idiots”.

Now here’s my problem: I’ve been writing this blog now for 3 months (maybe a little longer), and I’ve been working to talk around a problem that seems so evident to me that I think about it all the time – and that problem is “the Gospel”. I was about to type “let me give you an example”, but this blog is loaded with examples – people on the left (theologically, not politically, though these often go hand in hand) who have completely forgotten this fellow called Jesus who I know as Christ, God the Son, Lamb of God. They have made him into first-century social worker or political activist, and frankly they make me sick.

But the other examples – which I have not been so careful to inspect – are the ones on the right who call every difference of doctrine a heresy that must be resolved right now. For example, there’s a fellow at CARM (and if you read the forums at CARM, my condolences) who has been for the last week calling Presbyterian infant baptisms heretical, and any person who doesn’t advocate strictly for the baptism of adult believers a closet Catholic.

Very rational, as you can see.

It all goes back to that matter of orthodoxy which I had been blathering on about for a while, but I’m going to return to it now in a concrete way. And I’m going to do it from the perspective of a particular summary of the Gospel offered by Paul:
    1Cor 15: 1Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. 3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ[1] died for our[2a] sins[2b] in accordance with the Scriptures[3], 4that he was buried[4], that he was raised on the third day[5] in accordance with the Scriptures[6](ESV, emph. Added)
Now you might quibble over my choice of summaries, OK? You might be very testy over the fact that I chose 1Cor 15 rather than John 3:16 or Acts 2 or whatever, but I chose this passage for a specific reason: Paul here says (underlined text) that this is specifically the Gospel – that this is the teaching “of first importance” (green text), a translation which is rendered “as most important” in the HCSB, and “first of all” in the KJV. So whatever else Paul taught them, this was the thing he holds out as most important.

That “thing” was the simple news: Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. Now think on this: there is no sacramentology in that “most important” teaching, no church government, no complex prayers or social manifesto. There are certainly things we could call “other teachings” which are implied by the statement that this is “most important”, but there is no doubt that this is the one which has to be the centerpiece.

The other reason I picked this summary is that it has all the parts explicitly listed, which I have numbered in [brackets]. So if we unpack the 5 major aspects of this “most important” teaching ([3] and [6] are the same thing, applied to different other components), we have something that is critical to the matter of orthodoxy: we have the central teaching of the Gospel as explicitly stated by Paul.

That may seem like chicken feed to some people, and I suggest that those people go ahead and feed the chickens. In a world where an argument can break out between two people where the matter of baptism – which both agree is necessary for the believer – can be used to make one person call the other a “heretic”, this specific definition of the Gospel offers us the ground on which to stand and actually point to the solution as to whether any ceremony or ritual ought to stand in the way of calling one another brothers in Christ.

The next few blog entries are going to unpack this statement of the Gospel for the explicit purpose of determining the limits orthodoxy. And let me be clear about something as I type these words: anyone who rejects the teaching contained in Paul’s summary is a person who is rejecting orthodoxy. The question which shall remain after the definition is fleshed out is this: what can exist without denying orthodoxy which does not separate one from orthodoxy?

Orthodoxy matters. The question is: in what way does orthodoxy matter? I hope I can shed some light on that over the next few days.

Other entries in this series: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 |

[@] Dueling diagrams (6)

It's a little unfair to leave you hanging over the weekend about Mark Driscoll's book Radical Reformission, but I have other things to do on Friday at 5 PM like take my kids to gymnastics and check on my parents who are visiting from NY to make sure my kids have not killed them yet. You'll all be glad to know that kids when to gymnastics, parents are alive and well, and we had spaghetti for supper. So what Driscoll's second reason that "garbage in, Garbage out" theology is wrong? He says this:
Second, it is uncertain what distinguishes clean "Christian" and unclean "secular" entertainment forms and why Bibleman is so much better than Spiderman.
Seriously now: that's all he says. My response to that starts with the fact that the distinction "clean" vs. "unclean" is bogus, as is the distinction "Christian" vs. "secular". I'm not sure, however, that it's Driscoll's fault for using it: it is common in the dialog he is part of, and it is established by the people he frequently is challenging or (not to start a fight) opposing. It's a stacked deck from Driscoll to emphasize his view in this chapter that failing to distinguish culture from worldliness are "unlike Jesus". It's an effort -- conscious or not -- to equate any objection to his point with legalism. As always, let's be clear that I think there's a right answer to the question, and that answer is Jesus and we represent it by the Gospel (see the diagram, which I know I haven't finished explaining yet) -- but just because there's a right answer, it doesn't mean it's either Driscoll's view or legalism. I am sure that anyone reading this gets why the clean/unclean thing is bogus, but the Christian/secular thing -- cent, have you gone mad with blogging? No, because the contrast is not between "Christian" vs. "secular" is exactly the same stupid comparison that “clean/unclean” represents, but in partisan jeans and t-shirts. The contrast is not “Christian” vs. “secular” but between "Godly" and "secular". See: when we fall into the trap that some thing -- like a book, or a stadium event with 80,000 guys paying $100 each to see some speakers and hear some people play second-rate pop music, or a program, or a video, or an action figure -- is "Christian", we have made what I would call the "Jewish" mistake – and don’t start reading anti-Semitism into this blog.

The Jews thought that because they were the descendents of Abraham and had the Scriptures through the prophets, they were made men -- and anything thereby "Jewish" was what God wanted. So for example, selling pigeons in the temple was just fine; making up commentary which was on-par with God's scripture was fine; dedicating all my money to the temple rather than to care for my aged parents was just fine. They were the Jews, and anything Jewish was just fine. But Jesus said it was not fine -- that the point was not to be Jewish (turns out “the Jews” could not recognize God when He was standing there talking to them) but to be faithful to God. That is to say, the Law does not itself make you holy by (as I am famous for saying) rubbing it on your head: the Law in fact proves you are not an equal partner with God, you are not holy, so you need to take your birth certificate and your leather-bound Thompson’s Chain Torah someplace else. The Law is an indictment of all men, not a membership card to a private club.

And in that, Jesus told those to whom He was teaching that the contrast they should understand is that it is either the (fallen) world's stuff or it is God's stuff. So this stupid, stupid, STUPID distinction of "Christian" retail, or "Christian" videos or "Christian" conferences is simply temple hypocrisy v 2.0. The paradigm, which my fellow #prosapologian denizen wonky has so pithily stated, "it has a fishy, it must be holy" is the worst kind of self-delusion. By the way, for those of you who don't know, I own a place called "Kingdom Bound Christian Booksellers". Up until this year I was a member of CBA (the Christian Booksellers Association; I let my membership lapse because of the fee, not because of their theology), and I sell all that stuff. I sell plastic "GODStrong" bracelets by the barrel; I sell paper bookmarkers with every kind of Bible verse you can imagine; I sell music from groups ranging from A Capella to Zao. If there's anybody who is in a position to know what this is all about, it's me. Notice, btw, that it is the "booksellers" who are Christians at my store. What we sell at the store is retail merchandise, primarily books, Bibles, music and then junk ranging in price from 50¢ to $500.00 (wall art is expensive). The books -- they never made a confession of faith. They don't belong to churches. The CDs -- they never seem to get me their certificates of baptism. Not a single t-shirt can tell me who its pastor is, or whether it has lately been in fellowship with other believers. So none of that stuff is "Christian". It may be manufactured by Christians; it may seek Christians as its primary consumer demographic. None of it is, in itself, Christian.

So the question, really, is if it is as good or better than the stuff you see at WAL*MART or Target or Best Buy or the mall or whatever -- better in the sense that the secular culture is producing all that other stuff, too? For example, is my "St. Peter's Body Surfing" t-shirt more godly and gospel-oriented than the St. Patty's Day beer-drinking t's they had at Old Navy this year for $5? Or as another example, in spite of its flaws, is Phil Keagy's discography actually more godly than Eric Clapton's? The answer has got to be "yes", but why? Because it’s in a Christian bookstore? Of course not. It may be a cliché, but something’s not a car just because it’s parked in the garage. The body surfing T says something that the St. Pat’s beer T doesn’t: it offers to the person who’s wearing the Tshirt a an opportunity to testify. If you buy that T-shirt and can’t use it as an opportunity to then preach the Gospel from the perspective of Mt 14, then you might as well be wearing the beer t-shirt.

And frankly if we use that criteria even in the comparison of Spiderman/Bibleman, Bibleman wins hands-down -- because the matter really is not form but substance. Yes, Bibleman is hokey with at-times wicked-bad production values. There are parts of Bibleman that make me cringe when I watch it with my 5-year-old because we could have done better in the back yard with my VHS-C and iMovie. But if I would watch a Spiderman cartoon with my boy, the moral and spiritual message is ambiguous at best; the message in any Bibleman episode is so painfully obvious that my son gets it. Think about this: my 5-year-old knows that when the Bible calls the believer "meek", he knows it does not mean "timid" but "exercising self control" because that was part of one Bibleman episode. Peter Parker's on-going bout with self-loathing in spite of 30 years of daring-do and service to Aunt May is not even in the same league with that kind of seed-planting.

And before this turns into a bash Pastor Driscoll's session, let me offer an olive branch: part of his problem in this point is that he accidentally bought the "christian culture" stereotype. We Americans who call ourselves Christians think that everything we touch is Christian. We have Christian cars (cf. fishy), and Christian bookstores, and Christian political action committees. It's hypocrisy at best to think that just because we do it it must be "Christian" -- which is to say, exactly what God wants. Most of the things we do are sinful because we are sinners and we turn our eyes away from God, and we have to stop thinking that just because somebody is a Christian and he's a financial planner his advice must inherently be lead by the Holy Spirit. In that, I agree with Driscoll that we have got to start to do something different than we have ever done in our lifetimes. The comparison has to be "Jesus Christ" to "culture". We can, at last, come back to my diagram and make some sense out of the rest of it. The entire work here begins with Jesus Christ -- who He is, what He did, why He did it. That purpose or intention of Christ, and the results of it, is the Gospel. When Christ brings the Gospel in His incarnation to "culture", the result is "church" - both as an indwelling and as on out-calling. But, as the diagram indicates, the Church exists in an inconsistent state. On the one hand, when the church is in contact with Christ and the Gospel, it is at its most powerful and effective -- and it exists both in a cultural, material state and in an eternal, glorified state. But when it gravitates away from Christ and the Gospel, it becomes more and more diluted and weak, until it is undistinguishable from the culture itself. At this place, I point the reader back to my blog entry of the Epistle to Diogentus for review and for the sake of saying more about Driscoll's book that might offer some middle ground.
OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES 1 2 3 4 5 [6] intro

[%] You should read this

So what was the watershed issue? Love (which is most necessary) is to be defined by God, and not by unbelieving bedwetters and handwringers. When we decide whether or not we are being nice by whether or not the unbelieving establishment says we are being nice, the end result is that we will eventually find ourselves cheek by jowl with the unbelievers in their unbelief. For the sake of winning them, we allow ourselves to be won by them. Just like a simpleton teenage girl, we hope vainly to lure some horny boy into chastity, and the way we think it can be done is by lying down with him in the back seat of a car. What could go wrong?
It's from Doug Wilson. Keep one hand on your Bible and the other on your wallet, but read this article.


[@] Dueling diagrams (5)

We’re not really talking about the diagram directly right now, are we? OK – it’s a rabbit trail. I promise to be back about the diagram by the end of this post.

Now here’s the thing everyone can relate to: Music. If you don’t own any CDs, have never owned any CDs, do not use an MP3 player of some kind, and never turn on the radio, just skip this post and go back to your Amish farmhouse. The rest of you just think about the whole issue of music for a minute with me, ‘k?

When I was in college, I owned (this is not an exaggeration) about 1000 LPs and about 500 45s, and I was starting to convert over to the “dark side” of CD – so I had about 150 CDs. I say the “dark side” because the truth is that analog is better than digital, and many of you were born way too late to know the real love it takes to care for a vinyl LP and to maintain an analog turntable, selecting the right stylus and preamp to produce what can only be called the “real thing”.

See: all of you born after 1977 think of LPs as scratch-ridden disposable junk that couldn’t possibly sound like anything but either DJ scratch or grainy trash that makes one think of the 1930’s. That’s what you get for being born too late. You have never lived until you have heard “Houses of the Holy” or “Who’s Next” or Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” or Muddy Waters’ “I’m Ready” on spotless vinyl played with a brand new stylus using a Technics receiver and headphones big enough to make your head feel to heavy to hold upright. And then cleaning the vinyl when you’re done with a soft dust brush to preserve the experience, using static free inner liners to keep the dust off in the first place and buying plastic sheathes for your LPs to keep the jackets in mint condition.

The lie is that we have it better now, and you are welcome to believe that lie. Your eternal salvation is not at stake. However, what you hear today in your iPods and CD players and whatever is flat, cold sound. A lot gets lost between the 1’s and the 0’s.

Anyway, I had a TON of music. The Clash, Rod Stewart (the old stuff, not that 80’s trash), the Yardbirds, U2 before they figured out that you can make more money pretending to a moral standard, the Smiths (hey: everybody owned a copy of “the Queen is Dead” – don’t look at me like that), Peter Gabriel (until he sold out with “So”, that punk), Genesis (up to “Trick of the Tail”, which was the precursor to them becoming Phil Collins’ backup band), oh I dunno. You want me to list 1000 LP titles? The point is that I wasn’t just some guy with a tray of tapes in his car. I owned a LOT of LPs.

So when Mark Driscoll starts in on the “myth” of “garbage in, garbage out”, I happen to have some experience with the subject of secular music and whether it can make an impact in your life for good or ill.

Pastor Driscoll covers a lot of ground in his books deciding to dump all his secular music for Christian music only to have his truck broken into by “teenage pothead miscreants” and having all his tapes – which he says “I did not like but tried to enjoy”. Here’s his punch line from that incident:
After much prayer, I decided that God loved me and allowed my music to be stolen so that I could buy back the old albums that I enjoyed.
Now before we go one step further, let me remind everyone of this:
    Phil 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Another way to say that is “all truth is God’s truth,” amen? So if we find music that is lovely and/or pure, writing that is true and/or honorable, actions that are just or excellent or worthy of praise, Paul gives us a big green light to “think about these things”.

Without getting all ancient Greek on everyone here, he’s saying to mull these things over, to take them to (rational) heart, to take them into full account. In short, Paul’s saying (in the context of Phil 4) to enjoy the truly good things in this world rather than to be anxious about what is and is to come. The entire passage reads (ESV):
    4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

    8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me--practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
He is exorting us to be a people of true joy and not people who fear for no reason or fret over details which only God can ultimately control. So in that, there is nothing wrong with music, or art, or literature, or drama, or whatever you might have there as long as it falls within the bounds of hearts guarded toward the end of Christ Jesus in the same example Paul set for the Philippians himself.

If Paul’s point is that we have the liberty to rejoice in the Lord always, then what Driscoll says in his exhortation about the music thing is simply wrong. He writes:
First, there is no such thing as a pure culture untainted by sin and sinners, including Christian entertainment, which has had its share of scandalous behavior.
That seems so reasonable on the surface – but it is unfortunate that this is not what he is actually advocating. Certainly there’s no one who would say, “hey man, the Christian music industry is pure and holy, ready to be the bride of Christ”, and I would say the #1 reason is that the Christian music industry is frankly disconnected from the church. Name one record label that produces music intended to conform to a doctrinal statement. There’s not one. And there is also not a single record label that will pull an artist or a CD proactively. Think of POD or Evanescence for a second: those bands didn’t get pulled from “Christian” channels until Christian retailers (don’t get me started) complained that the content in the CDs were outside the bounds of what their customers would stomach.

But Driscoll’s argument that because no “pure” Christian entertainment culture exists we have the liberty or obligation to take any ol’ culture on as a stepchild or hobby in order to use it to spread the Gospel makes no sense whatsoever. It’s a complete non sequitur. Another way to apply this rationale is to say: “because there is no pure Christian church culture – because all churches are full of scandalous behavior – then we should use other social constructs to take the place of this imperfect vehicle.”

Now even the supporters of pastor Driscoll, one will hope, would have the sense to say, “Look: the Bible commands us to be in church in the local sense and in the global sense, so the argument is moot”. But that exact same retort is the one which turns Driscoll’s lecture on the impurity of the Christian music industry on its head: the Bible tells us to always be on guard for human failings when we are implementing the Gospel culture, and commands us to preach the word to every living thing in spite of our human failings – not to somehow think that because some Christian method can’t fill up MSG 4 nights in a row we have to allow secular bands with secular messages and motives into our churches for the sake of hopefully baiting some non-believers to co-opt us some “cool” mystique.

So what happened to my albums? I dropped them off at the Salvation Army, and I never looked back. After I was baptized, I realized that while there was something appealing about the Soup Dragons and the Cure and INXS and the Cult and Jefferson Airplane and etc., the appeal was not to the new man. I'm not saying it was easy, but I did it.

I am certain some of my friends reading this blog entry will disagree with me, but I am equally certain they are wrong. I am not saying all secular music is bad, but I am saying that of the 1000 LPs I had, not one had any redeeming quality as defined by Phil 4.

And let’s be honest: I wouldn’t give you a dollar for 95% of all “Christian music” today, and it took me almost 10 years to find a dozen Christian CDs that I liked. I am NOT saying that if you like Rock and Roll you are going to find a lot of great stuff inside the walls of your local CBA store. Even the Pop music is, in the best case, knock-off stuff. But that’s not an excuse to still fill your head and your heart with the junk that passes for pop culture. And it is IN NO WAY an excuse to have secular concerts in your church, which is supposed to be the pillar and support of the truth. Which leads me to this statement by Driscoll:
Third, “garbage in, garbage out” theology assumes that if Christians see and hear sin up close, they will want to participate in it. But the fact is the sin only looks good from a distance; the closer you get to it, the more clearly your see it, the more sickening it becomes.
That’s funny because what the Bible actually teaches is not, “stand right up close to sin and you can see how disgusting it is”, but “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt 26), “lead us not into temptation” (Lk 11), “Flee immorality” (1Cor 6), “flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness”(1Tim 6), etc.

Being a witness among those who are perishing, being a minister of the Gospel, does not ever include accepting some ungodliness for the sake of hopefully getting the Gospel in endwise. In fact, Driscoll himself admits that many ministers he knows personally have taken on worldliness and have disgraced themselves because of it. But Driscoll seems to think that their mistake was (in his own words) “undertaking reformission without a wise understanding of worldliness”. Translation: if they had been a little smarter, they would have been able to fend off the “worldliness” of culture by being ready for a “spiritual” war.

Pastor Driscoll: the first strategic law of war is that you do not allow the enemy to camp inside your gates.

Now some of you are saying, “Cent: you gave us Driscoll’s ‘first’ and ‘third’ point. You missed the ‘second’ point.”

No I didn’t. I’m saving it for Monday. Have a nice weekend.
OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES 1 2 3 4 [5] 6 intro

[@] Dueling diagrams (4)

One of the things that might be said about yesterday’s rant is this: “Cent, you obviously haven’t read Chapter 5 of Driscoll’s book.” Well, I don’t have an editor, but in spite of what some Wesleyans and Catholics think about me, I’m not an idiot. Not in the sense that I’d write about something I haven’t read yet, anyway.

One of the spectacular features of Driscoll’s Chapter 5 (“spectacular” in the sense that you cannot miss it; it is a spectacle) is that it is one of the places Driscoll goes to Scripture as if he meant it. On pages 123-124, Driscoll cites Scripture (as footnotes) 23 times to warn about the pitfalls of “worldliness” – Peter, Paul, James and Jesus all warn us, he notes, that worldliness is a sin. So everything I said about his book, his borrowed diagram, and his view of the church and the Gospel has to be tossed out the window, right?

Let’s see if that’s true. After making stern points about pastors who have become “adulterers, divorcees, alcoholics, perverts, homosexuals, feminists and nut jobs”, Driscoll points out that “while culture certainly contains elements of worldliness, the two are not synonymous.” He says that the image of God is not completely absent from those who are in worldliness, and of course we have to agree with him if we are going to stay inside the bounds of orthodoxy.

But then he says this:
Last, it was God who created cultures at Babel when he scattered people across the earth with various languages. It was God who worked through cultures as varied as Babylon, Israel, Nineveh, and Egypt to redeem his people.
This passage is, of course, begging for a footnote to cite Scripture, but there’s not one. I think it is interesting that, in order to make his point, Driscoll ignores that in his first example (Babel), God does what He does as a punishment on the men of Babel for being impudent and striving to be as great as God. What Genesis 11 says is not that God created cultures for a particularly “redeeming” purpose but
    6And the LORD said, "Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech." 8So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth.(ESV)
Now you could turn into a Reformed wonk at this point and say, “well, what men intended for evil God intended for good,” and you might even be right in the eternal view that it was God’s purpose even then to have every tribe, tongue and nation ultimately give Him praise. But here God is confusing men’s languages because they are over-reaching the boundary between God and man. To use this as a stepping stone to say that “God created culture” for the purposes Driscoll intends is not reasonable but misdirective – and I choose my words carefully here because Driscoll is a pastor even if in a non-denominational church.

But the second part of this digested version of what Scripture says is just as troubling. God was certainly working (and is still working) to redeem His people Israel, and he sent Jonah in order to show mercy to Nineveh. But in what way can someone say that Babylon and Egypt are cultures God used to “redeem” anybody? The only way to say that is to frame what those cultures did to enslave Israel in punishment in the first place – that God was redeeming Israel from the punishment that Babylon and Egypt inflicted upon them.

The reason I point this out is that Driscoll is trying to say that equating one’s involvement with culture with worldliness is not only silly but “condemns the life of Jesus and compels his followers to be unlike him.” The problem is that the examples Driscoll tries to milk for this bucket of cream is not the right kind of cow. If the didactic assertion is “God divided the men of the world into cultures so that God could save the cultures of the world,” then somehow Driscoll had better do more than say God divided Babel into every tribe, tongue and nation.

So yes: I have read Chapter 5, and for all its pre-qualifications of what it is trying to say, it doesn’t do anything for me regarding what Driscoll thinks being in the world but not of the world means. As he has in other sections, he sets up definitions that do not prepare him to make his point. Propositional statements may not be all they claim to be cracked up to be, but when one is trying to argue or explain a radical view of the church, one better pony up something propositional that makes some sense.

I’m blogging this now and expect to blog the balance on Chapter 5 a little later today, because it deals with a topic very near and dear to me (nearer and dearer than most topics) because it shows so much about what we are talking about in a context every single person reading this blog can relate to.
OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES 1 2 3 [4] 5 6 intro

[#] Correction from yesterday

I said that the Scripture I cited was from the Message, but it's actually from the NLT. I had originally used the Message, but then I decided that I am too sinfully committed to using versions which are actually translations and not paraphrases. I changed the text, but I didn't change the citation.

Sorry 'bout that.

[@] Dueling diagrams (3)

So I left off saying: But that is hardly the end of the story – because the matter is not just about the eternal meaning and nature of Christ: it is also about the incarnation of Christ – and it is in that we find that Christ brings the Gospel to “culture”. When I say “culture”, I mean any culture – but as Paul says, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek or Gentile. That’s what that whole dotted line is in my diagram: it is the palpable place of contact that Christ makes in order to bring the Gospel to culture. And when I say culture, I also say this: any culture that Christ is coming to is inherently sinful, inherently lost, and needs Him a lot more than He needs them.

He’s God. They need Him whether they recognize it or not, and whether, when they finally are touched by the Gospel, they receive it.

So this hokey diagram is about the necessity of the incarnation – about God Incarnate being the centerpiece of the whole church-gospel-culture thing. If the incarnation is not in the center of it, then it’s just religious talk. Jesus is somebody personally; Jesus wants some things personally; Jesus did (and does) something personally; Jesus comes to us personally.

That’s not the whole deal, but that’s the important deal when we start talking about interacting with culture. See: my diagram makes it clear that there’s something Jesus does inside culture which has an effect that leaves the culture behind – literally, if we use the words from Genesis 3, in the dust. There is an eternal thing about Jesus because He is God, but that “eternal thing” is not just philosophical talk or metaphysical bonus cuts for the collector’s edition DVD about Jesus. For us who are created and find ourselves in culture – that is, in the thing which man has built up that is not necessarily about or from the Creator – that “eternal thing” has to have some relationship to the non-eternal thing which we have to live through right now.

Again, it sounds like I’m about to cave in and simply start wearing the Mars Hill t-shirt and giving away copies of Driscoll’s book, but this is exactly where I part company with Driscoll. Here’s what he says on pp 65-66 of his book:
I was unsure of how to begin a church, and so I simply read the Bible and tried to imitate how Jesus gathered the first workers for his ministry. In the opening chapter of John’s gospel, I saw that Jesus began his ministry not with a large crowd, a formal program, or an organized event but rather by informally building friendships with a few men. Once those men trusted him, their friends, family and co-workers also became his followers.
That’s interesting because even in the most liberal rendering of the part of John 1 you can find (that would be the Message), you find this description of those events:
    John 1: 6God sent John the Baptist 7to tell everyone about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. 8John himself was not the light; he was only a witness to the light. 9The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was going to come into the world.
    … 15John pointed him out to the people. He shouted to the crowds, "This is the one I was talking about when I said, `Someone is coming who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before I did.' "
    … 26John told them, "I baptize with water, but right here in the crowd is someone you do not know, 27who will soon begin his ministry. I am not even worthy to be his slave." 28This incident took place at Bethany, a village east of the Jordan River, where John was baptizing.
    29The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look! There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30He is the one I was talking about when I said, `Soon a man is coming who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before I did.' 31I didn't know he was the one, but I have been baptizing with water in order to point him out to Israel."
    32Then John said, "I saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and resting upon him. 33I didn't know he was the one, but when God sent me to baptize with water, he told me, `When you see the Holy Spirit descending and resting upon someone, he is the one you are looking for. He is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' 34I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that he is the Son of God."
    35The following day, John was again standing with two of his disciples. 36As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and then declared, "Look! There is the Lamb of God!" 37Then John's two disciples turned and followed Jesus.
    38Jesus looked around and saw them following. "What do you want?" he asked them.
    They replied, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?"
    39"Come and see," he said. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon when they went with him to the place, and they stayed there the rest of the day.
    40Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of these men who had heard what John said and then followed Jesus. 41The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother, Simon, and tell him, "We have found the Messiah" (which means the Christ).
    42Then Andrew brought Simon to meet Jesus. Looking intently at Simon, Jesus said, "You are Simon, the son of John--but you will be called Cephas" (which means Peter).
    43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Come, be my disciple." 44Philip was from Bethsaida, Andrew and Peter's hometown.
    45Philip went off to look for Nathanael and told him, "We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth."
    46"Nazareth!" exclaimed Nathanael. "Can anything good come from there?"
    "Just come and see for yourself," Philip said.
    47As they approached, Jesus said, "Here comes an honest man--a true son of Israel."
    48"How do you know about me?" Nathanael asked.
    And Jesus replied, "I could see you under the fig tree before Philip found you."
    49Nathanael replied, "Teacher, you are the Son of God--the King of Israel!"
    50Jesus asked him, "Do you believe all this just because I told you I had seen you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this." 51Then he said, "The truth is, you will all see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down upon the Son of Man."
Now I admit something: I have stripped out the high incarnational language in John 1 to try to help Driscoll’s point along. But even in excluding those passages, does this read anything like Driscoll’s account of the Jesus method for forming a church? The answer has to be “No”.

Driscoll says Jesus just made some friends, and then they told their friends, and so on and so on and so on as if he was an Amway salesman – but that’s not what happened at all. The account of John is that the Baptizer did, in fact, draw large crowds because he was preaching as the prophet Isaiah had foretold. These people came to this place seeking the Messiah or his prophet.

Then at some point John personally names Jesus as the one who he was telling them about – and in an extraordinary way: “Look! There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! He is far greater than me!”

Listen: John wasn’t waiting for people to be comfortable in order to them tell them that there’s a problem called “sin” in the world and that maybe we should get comfortable with that before we think about what can be done about it, and then after a seminar on the human options to deal with sin he springs on them that God actually has a better plan. John’s message was “it is time to change right now! Make a straight path for the one who is coming!” and then “Look! He is here! If you think anything of me, He is greater – follow Him”

The response might be, “Well, John had a different culture to connect with, cent. They were waiting for a Messiah. Our culture is waiting for the first showing of Star Wars today – they’re waiting for Darth Vader.” Well, not to be too earthy, I call bullshit.

Sure: some people just stood in line for a week to make sure they get in for the first showing of EIII today – missing church, I might add – so that they get to see ***SPOILER*** Anakin Skywalker get his arms and legs chopped off after almost killing his wife, only to be saved by the evil Palpatine/Darth Sidious. /***SPOILER*** (and no, I wasn’t one of them; I don’t take vacation days off to see movies) But even if we can say that these people were “waiting for” Star Wars in the same way that those listening to John were “waiting for” the Messiah, trying to translate the Gospel into Lucas-ese misses the point by a long shot that Jesus is incarnate and Star Wars is fiction.

To say that whatever superficial expectations our culture has for material things in any way is a good place to start preaching the Gospel – except as a negative example – sells the Gospel not just short but not at all.

Returning to the diagram, when Jesus penetrates the culture, the Gospel penetrates the culture – and there is a result: an indwelling, and an out-calling. Both of these results *together* are what we ought to call the church: the church is in the world, but not of the world, and has its fullest manifestation in its holy separation from the world. The great cloud of witnesses, we can note, are not those who are hanging out in lesbian coiffeur shops or microbreweries: they are those who are traveling through with their eyes set on the land promised to them, knowing that this world is not their home.

More on this tomorrow. It seems like every time I get on a roll I have to go to a meeting.
OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES 1 2 [3] 4 5 6 intro

[*] *ANOTHER* Letter to communio sanctorum

To the Editor:

Let's make sure somebody at Communio is checking facts, shall we? It was inevitable that one of you would defend Dr. Paul Owen's endorsement of Millet's book, but the least Mr. Johnson should have done was to check some of his details.

Mr, Johnson makes some pretty clear mistakes about the Dever book:

(1) The first is that it is not yet in print -- so that it may or may not raise a future uproar, but the reality is that it's not even available to the public.

(2) The second point is that it does not represent Eerdman's history but its future path. And that path, for better or worse, turns out to be in the same footsteps as the publication of Millet's book.

(3) The last mistake I will indicate in Mr. Johnson's use of Dever's book is that it is hardly a book about orthodoxy but about "folk religion" -- that is, the things some people in Israel practiced or believed, not about the central matter of Mosaic/temple worship of Yahovah.

It is also important to note -- which Mr. Johnson did not -- that the most vocal critics of Eerdman's choice to publish Millet's book have ministered in evangelizing Mormons for decades and "follow the literature" (so to speak) on that subject. Dever's book is a little outside the normal circles of those ministries and of the ministries most vocal in criticizing Eerdman's decision to publish Millet's book. The criticism that they are "ignoring" Dever's book but piling on to Millet's book is a little like criticizing Mr. Johnson for not being abreast of the new flavors of Gatorade coming out on the market when he's clearly not an expert on sports drinks but on coffee.

Frank Turk

[@] Dueling diagrams (2)

The reason for the last post, really, is to describe the rationale for my own diagram which I have proposed in this idea of seeing gospel-culture-church:

So what the heck is that all about? In the first place, it takes into account "conservative theology" in terms of the motive force which causes anything to be anything at all.

I hope you notice that the brightest light here is Jesus. Jesus is the cause. Somehow, in all of his exhortation for a “conservative theology”, Driscoll has missed the point that Jesus is the cause: the cause of the Gospel, the cause of the Church, the cause of the church’s ability and willingness to go out to the culture, the cause for anyone in the culture to come out of the culture and into the body of (oops) Christ.

Jesus. Jesus Jesus Jesus!

Can I make myself clear here to say that Driscoll is not advocating – nor does he come close to advocating – some kind of bad new-age philosophy that excludes Jesus? Driscoll is not excluding Jesus from the Gospel – he is simply forgetting that unless we see the Gospel as His work for His glory, we are forgetting everything important about the Gospel.

My blog-friend and fellow #pros op Rusty made the statement here that
Furthermore, why is Mark Driscoll, a professing Calvinist, acting like an Arminian? As a Calvinist, why does he believe that our church services need to attract unbelievers for them to be saved? Why are we trying to impress unbelievers with flashy lights, the best sound systems, singing styles, and the list goes on.
And I understand what Rusty’s saying here, but I’m going to say it a different way: Driscoll is making a terrible mistake of believing that he can look at what he’s doing as necessarily implying “Jesus”.

See: in the diagram he uses to set up his paradigm, he has the word “GOSPEL” (not in caps), and in that because it’s next to the word “CHURCH” (not in caps), I think he thinks he’s covered the bases. But the problem – which I have covered to some extent here and here, is that when people toss around the word “gospel” it does not necessarily have anything to do with “Jesus”.

So Driscoll comes across by using a faulty paradigm to advocate his point. The church should never be a function of secular society as Driscoll here means it – because its source has not anything to do with the secular culture. The source of the church, from the foundation of the world, is Jesus Christ, who intended to call it out from the moment of creation. In that, in our diagram, we have the bright light of Christ and the “shekinah” (oh boy, is that gonna get some mail) of the Gospel which Christ brings. The Gospel is nothing without Jesus Christ, and it comes from no place but Jesus Christ – who is God equally with the Father and the Spirit, and from whom with the Father the Spirit comes forth.

But that is hardly the end of the story – because the matter is not just about the eternal meaning and nature of Christ: it is also about the incarnation of Christ – and it is in that we find that Christ brings the Gospel to “culture”. When I say “culture”, I mean any culture – but as Paul says, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek or Gentile. That’s what that whole dotted line is in my diagram: it is the palpable place of contact that Christ makes in order to bring the Gospel to culture. And when I say culture, I also say this: any culture that Christ is coming to is inherently sinful, inherently lost, and needs Him a lot more than He needs them.

He’s God. They need Him whether they recognize it or not, and whether, when they finally are touched by the Gospel, they receive it.

It’s been a long day here, and I have more to say as you can imagine. I’ll be back tomorrow to bore you some more about my diagram and complain more about Driscoll’s ideas about church and revelance.
OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES 1 [2] 3 4 5 6 intro

[@] Dueling diagrams (1)

Sunday night I posted a couple of diagrams relating to Mark Driscoll’s use of Lesslie Newbigin’s diagram of the relationship between the Gospel, the church, and culture. Because I provided my own additional diagram, you can imagine that I have some problems with the interactive triangle.

The most obvious problem with that diagram, I think, is the direction of all the arrows – arrows which seem to imply influence or effect. Let’s imagine for a moment that the circle begins at the GOSPEL at the top of the triangle, and the arrow to the left means “influences”, so the left side of the triangle says, “the Gospel influences Culture” or “the Gospel produces Culture”.

Fair enough, yes? Well, no: because the purpose of the diagram is not to come up with the obvious assertion that “the Gospel Culture equals the Church”. “CULTURE” here means the existing (or pre-existing) culture which is not Christ-centered; it represents those who are being evangelized.

Remember -- the corollaries of this diagram are:

Gospel + Culture - Church = Parachurch

Culture + Church - Gospel = Liberalism

Church + Gospel - Culture = Fundamentalism

What Driscoll is saying about Newbigin’s diagram is that there is a continuum between the Gospel, the Culture and the Church which produces some kind of interactive state. The final – and I must admit, I am very surprised it is UNLISTED – corollary is:


If the previous three corollaries are valid in any way at all, then this final one is necessary to flesh out the ultimate point. What is it that you get when you get the Gospel plus the Culture plus the Church? Let’s be clear that Driscoll doesn’t say exactly what this is. However, I think that Driscoll tries to imply is that what you get is his idea of “reformission” – which is “the tension of being Christians and churches who are culturally liberal yet theologically conservative”.

Now let’s think about something for a minute. Are there any examples in the history of the church where the church was “culturally liberal” (definition please?) and yet “theologically conservative” (again, definition?)?

I can think of one that someone who’s a fan of Driscoll might use: the gentile culture(s) the Jewish evangelists were trying to reach. For example, the “conservative” culture of that time might be considered the Jewish national culture of theocentric worship and strict (and one might rightly say) holy piety. Keeping the dietary law, keeping the Sabbath, keeping away from strange and exotic pagan women as wives, keeping the law of Moses – that’s a pretty “conservative” culture, right? And to be Paul and Peter and Barnabas and James “out there” among the people who would eat Crab and Lobster, who would visit the temple of Diana for a quick “worship session” with the priestess – they’d be faced with a pretty “liberal” culture to somehow proclaim the Gospel.

Now we might here wander off to discover that what was actually “liberal” (which is to say, “Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas”) in the context of 60 AD was this Christian view, which the “conservative” (that is, “Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change”) view found shocking and, perhaps, repressive or offensive. What we would discover is that the Gospel is itself the “liberal” view to both the Jew and the Greek or Roman – and in that it creates a very large problem not for Driscoll’s statement as such but for his conclusions that follow.

Using the definition that says “liberal” means “seeking answers outside of established views”, the Gospel is certainly the ultimate form of “liberalism” in any culture it encounters. That is not to say it is (or ought to be) the advocate of gay marriage or no-fault divorce or condom distribution in High Schools: it is to say that it is offering solutions to the problems that any culture has which frankly fly in the face of what that culture thinks it has to offer.

That would include, btw, the “Christian nation” of the United States of America.

You faithful readers might find yourselves scratching your head right now – especially after yesterday’s letter to communio sanctorum – and thinking, “Cent agrees with Driscoll – he’s gone to the dark side. Somebody send the Calvinist conspiracy over to his house to protect his wife and kids.” Well, hold off calling Protestant 911 for a minute. In case you missed it – and you might have if you didn’t read Driscoll’s book – Driscoll doesn’t mean “seeking answers outside of established views” when he says “culturally liberal”. He means this: a culturally liberal view is one in which culture is a medium for a message. That is to say, it is important to honor a culture in order to evangelize a culture.

Does that sound familiar to anybody?

When Driscoll fronts up the Gospel-Culture-Church triangle, he’s saying that if you release “the Gospel” in “the Culture” you’re going to get “the Church”. And his view is that we can see that “the Church” can bloom in any kind of “Culture” because it does so under the oppression it faces in China, the murder and persecution it faces in Africa, the poverty and lawlessness it faces in South America, etc. None of these Churches look very much alike, and they don’t all sing from the Baptist hymnal, so the reality must be that Church is as much a result of Culture as it is a result of the Gospel.



… I have to pick my parents up at the airport. More tomorrow or later …
OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES [1] 2 3 4 5 6 intro

[@] This is actually related to the last post:

This is a new letter to the editor at communiosanctorum.com:

One of the reasons I'm writing this letter to you fellows at communio is that I want to see the limits of the editorial standards you are promulgating. The other is that, as you can imagine, Dr. Owen's comments on the nature of Baptistic sacramentology and ecclesiology seem to invite some kind of comment.

My first is this: thank you for not calling Baptists heretics.

My second is this: there seems to be a rather large gulf between the fact that Baptists, by and large, do not accept infant baptism or perform infant baptism and the fact that Baptists -- especially the ones Dr. Owen listed in his essay (which I would say represent the "best of breed" for us poor anti-sacralists) -- do not qualify or disqualify anyone from being called Christian on the basis of their baptism. Sure: the unbaptized cannot be part of our local church, and the infant-baptized are usually re-baptized because that's "how we are".

But let's consider a hypothetical example that doesn't have a lot of polemical drama. There's a young man in my church (a Baptist church) who has attended the youth Bible study since he was in 8th grade, and at age 15 has a private meeting with the pastor and makes a confession of sinfulness and asks the question (as the jailer did) "What must I do to be saved?" Our pastor, being the Baptist he is, replies "believe and be baptized!"

Now this young fellow, having received Baptist training, says to the pastor, "Tell me about baptism." Surely he's seen one or two (we average about 4 a month in our church). And the pastor gives him the 10-minute version of being identified with Christ and making a public testimony. You know that most kids just say "OK" and in a few weeks they take baptism in obedience.

Well, this young fellow happens to have a Presbyterian friend and a Roman Catholic friend (I know: it's shocking, but he also has a pierced ear). His Presby friend has been telling him about the covenant sign and the promises of God; his Catholic friend says that the water baptism in the Trinitarian formula is the "only way" to be saved, and that his soul cannot be free from original sin without proper baptism.

So this young man says to his pastor, "Pastor, I'm not sure you're right. And until I'm sure why I'm going to be baptized, I want to wait it out." And he explains his concerns. The pastor -- being a little progressive for a Baptist -- tells the young man that the fact is that all of his friends -- the Presby, the RC, and himself -- have shown him that Scripture says (well, who knows with the RC) that Baptism is a mandatory thing to do if one has faith in Christ, and waiting is wrong if he is serious about his confession that he needs Christ as a savior. So the epistemological "why" may not be as important as the ontological "why" -- which is to say, the knowing why for getting baptized really is not because of some systematic theology but because God said so, God has commanded it. How you understand that command is not even relevant.

But in spite of that, the young man tells the pastor he thinks that until he understands what that baptism thing is, he's going to refrain. He continues to attend the bible study, and continues to grow in faith in that he finds himself relying more and more on Christ each day. Philippians 3 makes a great impact on him as he tries to talk to his friends about Christ they ridicule him; Acts 2 makes a great impact on him as he reflects on the obedience and humility of Christ to go to the cross for evil men (and, btw, it also makes him think more about that baptism thing); Romans 9 humbles him as he sees God's absolute sovereignty in saving any, but in saving him in particular; Titus encourages him to see that his faith is walked out not just in theoretical doctrine but in the good work the Gospel commands.

And after 10 years of studying his Bible, and talking about it with others, and seeing the fruits of God in his life, he finds himself engaged to a young woman whom he has led to Christ in good ol' Baptist fashion. But neither of them has been baptized.

At that moment, he considers all that the word of God has taught him and has worked out in his life, and he decides that it doesn't matter what systematic reason he has for doing it, the Bible says, "believe and be baptized". In that, with no systematic reason but only a willingness to do what he knows the Bible says to do, he goes to his pastor (who has not let this young man teach in the church or hold authority in the church because he is not baptized -- even though the pastor has seen him work out the fruits of the spirit) and asks him to be baptized as soon as possible.

I'm not going to insert any drama here -- no sudden deaths or stupid "puddup ya dukes" riddles even the Sphinx cannot solve. The young man is baptized, and that's the end of the story.

The question is this: for the 10 years between when this young man discovered his need for a savior and his discovery that he ought to do what every disciple has done since Christ began his earthly ministry and be baptized, what do we say about him? He was associated with the church; he was doing "church work" in telling others about Jesus even if he was not a teacher or minister. Can we say this young man was, in Dr. Owen's words, "rejecting Catholic Christianity itself"? Over baptism -- because the institutions around him cannot agree on the nature of the symbol, and in seeking to honor the nature of 3 conflicting authorities he simply refrained without rejecting?

Let me admit something: I do not know anybody like this personally. But I know these people exist -- because the Megachurch exists and because the "emergent" church exists, and neither of these church types typically make baptism a big thing because it could possibly put off the seeker. So without turning this into a discussion about these two types of churches, what about the young man who is certainly attending a church like this who is not baptized? Is it right to tell him he is rejecting Catholic Christianity itself because, frankly, we have made such a big thing out of the esoteric meanings of baptism that he doesn't know what to think, and therefore doesn't know what to do?

As I have done elsewhere, let me reiterate that I am 100% convicted and convinced that the believer ought to be baptized -- that anyone who says he is a disciple of Christ ought to be baptized because that's what we are commanded to do. The mandatory nature of baptism is not the question here: the question is the position it occupies between all of us who might otherwise find each other interesting and compelling people from whom we might learn a lot about the life in Christ. It is right to say some group is "rejecting the church" because it refuses to baptize infants? Is it right to say another group is not, by and large, admissible to our local church because they use baptism as a sign that God is faithful rather than as a testimony to the mercy and love of God?

This letter is already much longer than I intended, but listen: if anybody is really interested in "catholicity", wouldn't we be much better positioned to achieved such a thing if we took the mandatory exercises of our faith -- baptism, the lord's supper, church government -- and admitted that while we might have a nice academic apparatus (duly citing Scripture) behind these things, we do them for the most part because there is no doubt that God requires us to do them?

[@] You prolly have no idea ...

... what these two diagrams mean:

That's from Lesslie Newbigins's contribution to The Church between Gospel and Culture, 1996, Eerdman's -- as it appeared in Mark Driscoll's the Radical Reformission.

This one you will have seen here for the first time.

This week we are dropping all other commitments to monologue on these two diagrams and what they mean. I hope it gives you something to look forward to.
OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES 1 2 3 4 5 6 [intro]

[?] Like I have time to blog

Apologies to all faithful readers as I haven't posted anything in almost a week. I have a lot of loose ends on the blog to clean up, but I also have a full-time job that just sent me out of town.

And I was stupid enough to join another discussion list.

For those of you who want something to think about for the next week while I try to get my life back in order, try reading "Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything", by Steven Levitt (ISBN 006073132X). It's pretty lite reading, but it will make you laugh and make you angry and make you wish you knew more about statistical methodogies so you could prove this guy wrong.

Thanks for checking in. :-)

[*] from communiosanctorum.com ...

This note is in reference to the article, authored by Tim Enloe. It was sent to the folks at communio sanctorum as a letter to the editor.
Tim said: “Sola” Scriptura does not mean that we cannot have Councils and that they cannot lay down definitive rulings on matters of doctrine and practice; it just means that “definitive” cannot itself mean “irreformable”.
There is no doubt that this is true – and I’m not sure that anyone who is an advocate of sola Scriptura (even those with whom Tim seems constantly at odds) would disagree with him. There are certainly those who claim to use “the Bible alone” to form their doctrine, but those misinformed evangelicals and post-evangelicals are not the ones Tim is talking to or about here – because many of them would be the ones who agree with him that it’s unfair and frankly unchristian to disqualify the teachings of Rome as Christian in the sense that it is a false gospel.

The question, really, is whether “definitive” can mean “reformable” at all. This seems to be a stacked deck to me. In the first case, we have Tim’s assertion (which, broadly speaking, I can agree with) that just because some body makes a “definitive” statement doesn’t mean that statement has no flaws. But the corollary Tim seems to draw is that his adversaries want to assert (as he does later in his essay as a negative example), “The only reality in which a ‘no tradition / no mediation / no publicly binding proclamation’ scenario could even possibly work would be a solipsist (only one person existing) universe, and if solipsism is true…well, let’s just not even go there.” That is to say, there is nothing “definitive” about authority in the church.

There is a “third way” (at least; there may be more than just one more way) which Tim seems to overlook, and that is the matter of clearly distinguishing between the essentials of the faith, the derivative primary attributes of the faith, and the derivative secondary and tertiary attributes of the faith.

Now what does all that mean? Well, in the first place, it means that there is a core set of beliefs that are necessary to be called a “Christian” – I am sure you guys can agree with that since, so far, I haven’t seen you endorsing Millet’s new book from Eerdman’s (oh wait: you just did) or running out to group-hug TD Jakes (…). So what is that core set of beliefs? It has to be “the Gospel”. If it is not “the Gospel” – the good news God has revealed to man through Jesus Christ – then whatever you are talking about has nothing to do with whatever it is I’m talking about.

But what is “the Gospel”? The apostle Paul sums it up in 1Cor 15, qualifying his statement thus: “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.” The Gospel “by which you are saved” is that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures”. The list of appearances Paul tallies after that are the underscoring of the point that Christ rose from the dead – that there is a multitude of witnesses to the fact.

Now we can demand a lot of unpacking from this place – Who and what is “Christ”? What does “died for our sins” mean? Who is the “us” implied in “our”? Why is it relevant that this is “according to the Scriptures”? Why is “raised on the third day” a matter of core doctrine? I think we can agree that these presuppositions are essential to what Paul is saying – and it is in those matters that we disqualify guys like Joseph Smith (well, most of us anyway) and Arius and Pelagius from orthodoxy (or, perhaps in your terms, catholicity).

But we are faced with the matter that some things are derived from this summary of the Gospel which are also essential to the Gospel. For example, Paul himself says that the resurrection of the dead is a necessary derivative belief of the resurrection of Christ: it is a cornerstone of hope for the believer. But look what he says in that same context of 1Cor 15: we can see the hope that some people have in the resurrection because they are baptizing themselves for the sake of the dead in the hope it might do them some good.

Let’s admit that we probably don’t know for sure what Paul means by “baptism for the sake of the dead here”, yes? But wouldn’t you (all of you at Communio Sanctorum) deny that baptism for the benefit of the dead is not an orthodox practice? Another explanation which seems popular in commentary on this passage is that Paul means “baptism for the sake of the testimony of the martyrs”. That seems to fit systematically a little better within the normal bounds of orthodoxy, but its interpretation of what “huper” here implies is rather strained. Whatever the meaning of this statement, here Paul points out that even these people who do such a thing, they are doing it because of a strong confidence in the matter of the resurrection. That is to say, Paul underscores the essential nature of the matter of the general resurrection but indicating how important it is even in the errors it causes some people to make.

So the Gospel itself is the work of Christ; a primary derivative is any result for the believer (sanctification, repentance, resurrection, etc.). But what about secondary and tertiary derivative matters? For example, what about the matter of baptism – which is apparently one of the bases for Tim’s inclusion of all Roman Catholics in the “catholic” (small “c” noted) church? Let me be clear as always when I bring this up that in no way am I saying that Baptism ought to be skipped, or that it is “optional” for Christians. What I am saying is that while Baptism is required of the believer – that no believer should be unbaptized – the matter of “why” is frankly open to discussion between those who have faith in the Gospel. But because it is open to discussion, it cannot be the basis for establishing the catholicity/orthodoxy of any particular sect or denomination.

And my point in detailing this out is that there is a difference between making orthodoxy/catholicity a matter of “either all of the pronouncements of a set of councils or men gave out or nothing but a Gnostic fairy tail”, and making orthodoxy a clear-cut division between what the Apostles taught (which we receive in Scripture) and what attempts to displace that teaching.

It is a grave error to take any of the derivative matters of the faith and, placing the cart before the horse, make them a pass/fail criterion for accepting the Gospel. For example, when a Baptist says that Baptism is for the believer only and is an outward manifestation of an inward truth, but some other person says that this view of Baptism is “Gnostic” and heretical because it denies intrinsic matters of efficacy in the sacrament, there is a pretty clear problem. It may be true that the Baptist has too-narrow or too-simple a view of Baptism which excludes something important about the act (though as a Baptist I think that’s not true), but for the other party to call this view of Baptism “Gnostic” is, in the first place, placing the matter of Baptism inside “the Gospel” as presuppositional truth and not a derivative truth (therefore adding to the Gospel). In the second place it is overlooking that there is no action taken by undisputed councils which ever calls this view of baptism “heretical”. Making the stand that Baptism is for the believer is, in fact, the view espoused by Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon – and I would be glad to make that case with any of you under any circumstances.

Let me say it with clarity: “definitive” acts of councils are themselves not eternal decrees – and while we are certainly obligated to understand them, examine them, and accept them as artifacts of the intermediate authorities that have ruled the church in time, we are not obligated to take any of them as unquestionable, and must subject them to the final arbiter of doctrine, which is God through His word.
Tim said: I am not sure that any Bible-loving Christian (and is there any other kind of Christian?) could have any sort of problem with Whitaker’s “proviso”, for unless one holds that all of divine revelation is not contained in the Scriptures (whether 66 or 73 books is, at this point, irrelevant), then it follows that the Scriptures must be the final verification of anything in the Christian religion since they are the very voice of God Himself.
The first thing to say here is that Tim betrays himself pretty badly here – because it is actually important what constitutes God’s word (66 or 72 books) if we adopt Whitaker’s proviso. Rome itself even thinks this is so in its anathemas against those who would not count the books Jerome would not count.

But one of the very interesting things Whitaker also wrote was a treatise entitled “THE ROMAN PONTIFF IS THAT ANTICHRIST whose presence scripture prophesied”, 1582. Just in case I have taken his title out of context, Whitaker explained his purpose in that treatise thus:
    It is my primary purpose and hope that, after I have presented my case, there will be no room for doubt, but that the distinct officeholder of the Papacy, its Pontiff who boasts so much, is the true and only Antichrist. As such, those who do not wish eternal perdition ought to curse him and flee from his fellowship. Moreover, I shall proceed according to the prescribed rules of debate. In this way, if there are contrary arguments which may appear to dispute my initial arguments, I will not pass over them that I may demonstrate scriptural authority has already satisfactorily answered them, leaving no possibility of a differing interpretation. That being said, I now set forth to prove the matter at hand, refuting the arguments of our adversaries in my response.
So whatever “proviso” Whitaker was setting forth, it was not in pursuit of “communion sanctorum” with Rome: he thought that anyone who did not flee Roman authority would be subject to “eternal perdition”.

At any rate, it is interesting that Tim here affirms that all Christians are “Bible-loving”. I am certain that I can find right now examples of people Tim would call Christian – by virtue of their Roman Catholicism and baptism – who demean the value and truth of Scripture. Is it possible that if we use this definition which Tim has supplied we can start to make an in-road into the reason it is problematic to call a Roman Catholics “Christian” in the exact same way that it is problematic to call all “Protestants” and “Evangelicals” “Christians”?
Tim said: Whatever errors Rome may or may not embody in her praxis on the matter of Scripture and Tradition, it is just as impossible for we Reformed folks to get away from some concept or another of a “Churchly interpreter” as it is for the Roman Catholics. The only reality in which a “no tradition / no mediation / no publicly binding proclamation” scenario could even possibly work would be a solipsist (only one person existing) universe, and if solipsism is true…well, let’s just not even go there.
There is no doubt whatsoever that the Protestant accepts the institution of the church – any who do not ought not to be rightly called “Protestants”, because the point of protest, the matter of reformation which they took up and which we take up today, was and is a matter of protesting dubious authority being exercised in the church, and reforming the church itself to a standard of ruling authority which does not usurp God’s position as God.

One does not have to be a solipsist to admit that the church does not have the same kind of authority Christ Himself has – but in making that admission, one also has to have a care to say that Christ Himself does call the faithful into communion and into one body for the sake of the Gospel and God’s glory. Even the worst Campingite finds himself in a “church” of sorts, unified under the one droning voice of Harold Camping’s interpretation of prophecy; even the contextless “exegesis” of Dave Hunt finds itself being promulgated through the independent entities that use him as a doctrinal standard which we can only call “churches”. How much more charity can we have, then, for the poor uninformed “evangelical” that thinks the most important thing for him is that he own enough Bibles to get the right translation-plus-notes to hear Jesus’ voice clearly in Scripture, but attends his local assembly and participates in ministry there in one form or another?

I think the people Tim is here exhorting against are not actually in evidence – and the few that we can identify as clearly trying to say what he says here are not at all consistent in their view or practice of such a doctrine.
Tim asked: What does it mean to say that a doctrine is “wholly” in line with Scripture?
It means that a doctrine taught conveys the scope/depth of clarity, meaning and gravity conveyed by Scripture on the given topic. I would go so far as to say that doctrine is often the contemporary translation of moral/theological concept into actionable directives.
Tim asked: Who decides on the historical plane that we all inhabit if a doctrine is “wholly” in line with Scripture, and how is such decided?
On the “historic plane”, I think the answer is “no one” – because no person exists on a “historic plane”. That is not to say that some person must decide the point: it means that the decision is moot unless some person is living it out. I have provided an example of this to Tim in the context of the council of Chalcedon, but due to my inability to read all he publishes I have not seen his final response on the matter.

It is not a matter of radical, solipsistic individualism to say that decisions made by a council which are “definitive” or even “binding” have a final epistemological hurdle to overcome – and that is the hurdle of the individual accepting the verdict not just as “binding” or “authoritative” but as “just” and “relevant”. For better or worse, Doug Wilson says this to a person considering/advocating Roman Catholicism over at his blog, and while I do not agree with all of it (Can I admit I don’t understand all of it?) he makes a great point. Affirming that some authority is “infallible but only in special cases” is far worse than admitting some entity has authority but has the ability to make mistakes. If I understand his point (and I may not), an authority which confesses fallibility possesses the means of correcting its mistakes, while the other leads those in its charge into a far-worse situation where those who are supposed to follow don’t really know when to follow and when not to follow.

That applies to this situation in a specific way: even in Tim’s definition of “societas Christiana” and the application to corrupt rulers, Tim himself admits that the individual has no onus to submit to authority which is itself unjust or immoral or tears down the fabric of the context of the authority.

If that’s true, the Baptist who says, “I have read Chalcedon, I admit it had authority in its historical context to deliver this verdict, but I reject that verdict as irrelevant because it is not ‘wholly in line with Scripture’” is not victimizing himself through a solipsism. He is demonstrating the principle which Tim Enloe says he endorses – which is that there is a standard apart from the authority of human leaders, gathered even in the church, by which these men can and should rightly be judged – but the ones who are called to follow them.

I have said it elsewhere, but I say it here for clarity and emphasis: that doesn’t make every redecorating choice at the church or every word uttered by the teaching pastor subject to 95 theses on the cathedral door. But it does say that human leaders are subject to correction in relationship to the scope of the error.
Tim asked: Has anyone in the history of the Christian religion ever held a complete theology that is “wholly” in line with Scripture?
The answer is transparently “no” – except for Jesus Christ – and if Tim would answer “yes”, then he should name them here.

However, I suspect that he would also answer “no” (in spite of his next question), in which case the matter is whether there are some errors you can make without being called a Gnostic Anabaptist or a pelagian or a docetist or donatist. And undoubtedly the answer there is “yes”, but it goes back to the matter of the scope of the essential Gospel and the distinctions between primary and secondary derivative doctrines.
Tim said: How should we respond to others who approach our “wholly in line with Scripture” theologizing with rather different conceptions of what “wholly in line with Scripture” entails?
I don’t know anybody who thinks their whole theological system is “wholly in line with Scripture,” Tim. I think we are all under the impression that we have harmonized the hard parts the best that we can, but that the hard parts still have not been addressed with no questions to be answered. The real problems – the ones people like me are willing to draw the dividing line over – are when people take relatively-clear (if advanced) passages of Scripture which teach doctrine and simply do not read these the way they would read any other passage. The perfect – unquestionably the best – example of this is John 6, if you want to understand what I am saying.
Tim Said: Mistaking the Reformation of the 16th century for a “starting from scratch and always starting from scratch” phenomenon whose greatest purpose in life is to always point out everybody else’s sins, it deforms Reformed theology and hands the cause of the Reformation to the Roman Catholics on a silver platter.
I think that Tim here demonstrates his last mistake, which is lumping people together. See: in Tim’s argument, David King, Harold Camping, James White, Dave Hunt and Eric Svendsen are all alike – all the same kind of ignoramus with different kinds of rhetoric. The problem is that all of these men represent a lot of different things – not the least of which is points on the line between traditional beliefs and idiosyncratic beliefs, and points on a line between studied and educated opinions and randy, institutionalize shilling. There’s no difference to Tim between David King’s research on the substantive definition and history of sola Scriptura and Dave Hunt’s inane murmurings about Hebraic redactions of Acts 1-14; there’s no difference between Eric Svendsen’s accredited thesis on the Lord’s table and Harold Camping’s unjustifiable call to flee the local church because the Holy Spirit has left the world.

Excuse me: there is one difference. Tim doesn’t care to address Hunt or Camping but does care to confront Svendsen, White and King – even though the former are representative of the things Tim claims to abhor and the latter cannot be found expressing these faults except through exaggeration.


Note to all: I got sick of looking at the typos. Hope I caught them all.

[#] Who are the Curious?

Main Entry: cu·ri·ous
Pronunciation: 'kyur-E-&s
Function: adjective
Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French curios, from Latin curiosus careful, inquisitive, from cura cure
1 a archaic : made carefully b obsolete : ABSTRUSE c archaic : precisely accurate
2 a : marked by desire to investigate and learn b : marked by inquisitive interest in others' concerns : NOSY
3 : exciting attention as strange, novel, or unexpected : ODD

These are the curious -- not the inquisitive, but the ones who are strange, novel, or unexpected.

It's unexplored country, I think. It's a culture not ever touched by the Gospel. It's like Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, except that it is also like Hitchikers' Guide to the Galaxy.

[#] Missionary to the Curious (2)

MaryNotMartha (hereafter “MNM”) gave us her insights a couple of days ago about the state of Christdom (as you may have seen on the last blog post). Here’s my response to MNM. She said:
I'm a protestant evangelical, and I honor the pope.
Well, MNM, I’m not sure what you’re talking about. If we simply concede the word “evangelical”, what do you mean by the words “protestant” (small “P” noted), “honor”, and “pope”?

See: the Pope doesn’t ask anyone to “honor” him (cf. “honor thy father and thy mother”), but to obey him unquestionably – to accept that when he affirms something regarding faith and morals, he is never in error. Yes, yes: I am familiar with the objection that every utterance from his Pontifical mouth is not subject to this interesting kerygma. Let’s keep the discussion as specific as possible.

Here is something the Pope has said which must be taken infallibly:
    we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.
    45. Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith.

    47. It is forbidden to any man to change this, our declaration, pronouncement, and definition or, by rash attempt, to oppose and counter it. If any man should presume to make such an attempt, let him know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.
Munificentissimus Deus is the source for this very interesting affirmation, and it was issued in 1950.

“Well, shoot, cent,” you say, “1950? That doesn’t have anything to do with John Paul II, and in that I can honor JPII but understand that whatever the Pope said in 1950 was, well, his own trip.”

Yes, that would be fine if we were talking about the Truman doctrine or Soviet Agricultural policy. Unfortunately for us – and our hunger to find allies in anybody who says the name “Jesus” outside of cursing – we are talking about the Pope and his teaching role in Catholicism. Now what is that role exactly? Well, it turns out the John Paul II did a very handy thing in publishing a comprehensive Catechism c. 1993 (sometimes noted as the 1994 catechism). Here’s what he says about the Pope’s teachings inclusively, in paragraph 891:
"The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful - who confirms his brethren in the faith he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals.... the infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter's successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium"
Translation: A Pope is a Pope, and if he says something is doctrine, we all have to believe it. Hence: you either believe that Mary was assumed into heaven as a non-negotiable part of the faith, or you “incur the wrath of Almighty God”.

So I am left wondering what you mean by “I honor the Pope.” You don’t mean what he means by “honoring” him, I am sure. However, I am interested in what you mean.

Next we have:
Many protestant's have perverted the message of justification through faith to mean that they can live as they chose, without the cost of discipleship.
’k, I admit that I think this is the kind of teaching you find at various, un-named Megachurches with pastors who have TV shows on TBN, but I do not know of any person I would call a “Protestant” who thinks “justification through faith” means “free ticket to sin”.

To be clear, just because one is not Catholic does not make one “Protestant”. Mormons are not Protestant; JWs are not Protestant; Hindus and Jews and Muslims are not Protestants. “Protestant” refers to a position defined in the Reformation by the 5 solas and opposition to the anathemas from Rome at Trent. When someone can’t even name the 5 solas and has no idea what happened at Trent, then it’s pretty hard to call them “Protestants”.

Non-denominational evangelicalism, in my opinion, is far more guilty of dumbing-down doctrines and misusing Christian liberty than actual “Protestantism”, though I’d be willing to allow that some historically-“Protestant” denominations have, in the last 30 or 40 years, completely fumbled the ball and have suffered for it.
This is not true faith, and will be the downfall of the protestant church.
I agree that saying “justification by faith” = “liberty to do anything you please” is a false gospel. The question is if “You must accept the assumption of Mary or face God’s wrath” is a false gospel or not.

[#] Missionary to the Curious (1)

Well. So I make the offer to start evangelism to the curious, and someone we can call "MaryNotMartha" posts a couple of kind remarks and finds my post on John Paul II. For those of you who didn't catch her comments posted on Saturday, she said:
I'm a protestant evangelical, and I honor the pope.

Many protestant's have perverted the message of justification through faith to mean that they can live as they chose, without the cost of discipleship.

This is not true faith, and will be the downfall of the protestant church.
MaryNotMarha: I am sure the other readers of this blog would love to say a few things about your statement, and I ask them to try and keep their comments to 150 words or less, channel rules apply. If you don't know what "channel rules" are, stick to non-profane language and a civil tone, vis. 1Pet 3:15-16. I'll log in some time on Tuesday to post my reply to your statement.