Ah. New Toy.

Google Analytics.

Thus, the global hit map of the last 500 visitors:

Click to enlarge. It's so cool.

I hated it. Sheesh.

Batman movies? Yeah, they all had their high points, and on-net I liked all of ‘em, including the daffy Poison Ivy/Mr. Freeze one with too many characters and not enough story. I'm a sucker for Uma Thurman, I am sorry to admit.

X-Men movies? See: I was a fan of the original school for gifted youngsters, and I lost interest when the Sentinels grabbed Scott and Jean and took them into space and Jean “died” saving the others. But for most people that’s actually when the Golden Age of Mutant Comics started, and even with the weird adaptations made for the big screen, the movies have been faithful enough to the themes of the comics.

Spiderman: loved them – and I can’t wait for “3” even though it is jumping the shark by having too many supervillains in one movie. Fantastic Four? Well, it was better than the first try to make that movie which, thank Stan, you cannot find anywhere; it also had the benefit of really great Human Torch special effects. Hulk? Oh Booyah – it was great. Completely on the money, and true to the story if not the story lines. Daredevil? Fine in spite of Ben Affleck.

But then we come to ... Superman. This is a guy who’s back story is frankly sacrocanct in comic book terms, and frankly Christopher Reeves pretty much knocked the rest over the fence. I really like, btw, Dean Cain on the TV version, and I really like the few episodes of Smallville I have seen even though both are somewhat radical departures from the traditional view of “SuperBoy” and who Clark Kent is/was growing up.

I mean: it’s Superman. It’s not very complicated. One of the seminal issues in the mythology is that he’s a kind of an antithesis of the boy raised by wolves – he’s this son of a ridiculously-advanced humanoid culture with high moral values, and he’s raised by a Kansas farmer and his wife. You know: Tarzan was raised by apes, and that makes him all man plus enhanced by ape. Kal-El is inherently superior (inhuman) to Jonathan and Martha Kent, but in them he gains “humanity” in the purest and most archetypically-heroic sense.

With Batman and Spiderman, the deal is that the anguish is in guilt over unfulfilled responsibility. In Superman, as so perfectly captured by Mark Wade/Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come, the tension is between being perfect in every way – morally, physically, mentally – and fitting in among mere mortals who need his help but do not need his lording over them. Superman’s great attribute as a character and as a hero is that he fulfills all his responsibilities and is enriched and enriches those he is sworn to protect.

Superman is about archetypal heroic achievement. He is not a modern anti-hero. When handled properly, his is a story about the redemption of others through sacrifice. Do not hear me say that his story is about Christian virtues, because it is not. His story is made without reference to Christ. But Superman is not a tragic hero, or a modern hero: Superman is a traditional culture hero whose purpose is to advance the values of the culture he represents.

And hear me: Superman doesn’t represent Kryptonian values. When Shuster and Siegel invented him in the last century, he was invented to stand for, and I quote, “Truth, Justice and the American Way” (TJAW). And that’s not TJAW as you might see it with warts and pimples at the bus stop: That’s TJAW as idealized in the American culture of the 30’s and 40’s.

Now, so what? I’m into page 2 here according to WORD, and I haven’t even told you what I hate so much. Geez: I went to Superman Returns last night, and I absolutely hated it.

Now, let’s be fair. It had some great moments. Clark’s flashback to his days as a boy in Kansas was really fun. Superman dealing with a somewhat-traditional predicament that Lois got herself into was frankly a visual treat for the comic book fan – the details were impeccable from the rate at which his cape flapped in the wind and the way his body cracks the sound barrier when he was flying to the way the metal crinkled when he saved the day. Just plain cool.

But not enough to save the movie. See: Clark Kent is not Peter Parker. Clark is not Bruce Wayne. He’s a very smart Midwestern guy who grew up on a farm with two loving parents, and frankly he’s not an emotionally-disturbed person. In the 70 years or so of stories about him, the ones that work recognize that his greatest problem is that it protects the people around him to conceal his true identity and that his #1 motivation in life is to protect the people around him.

Goofy Clark is the way Superman protects Lois from the danger of being, for example, the father of Superbaby. Goofy Clark is the way Superman protects Martha and Jonathan from the schemes of Lex Luthor. Goofy Clark is the way Superman protects the Daily Planet from being the epicenter of supervillian revenge efforts (as if it wasn’t already). Goof Clark is important to Superman in practice.

And this movie frankly has no idea about this. Yes: Clark acts goofy in this movie. The problem is that Superman doesn’t seem to understand why Clark acts goofy, and he personally has violated and is still violating the hedge of protection Clark creates for the people he cares about.

Goofy Clark is about the moral imperative Superman lives out in protecting others – because as much as he is doing a lot of protecting, the people he is close to must be protected from Superman. Everyone knows the Parker maxim, right? “With great power comes great responsibility.” In Spidey’s case, the application is “you can’t forget that you need to use your powers to do more than make a buck.”

In Clark’s case, the application is, “you cannot let your powers overwhelm those who are around you.” Dude: He’s Superman. He can change the orbit of planets; he can fly back in time; you can’t hurt him unless you have Kryptonite, and even then he’s impossible to kill. I promise you: he can kick your asterisk-dollarsign-dollarsign. If Clark was not careful, and aloof, and distant, and kind, and smart, somebody would be trying to make a god-emperor out of him. So he interacts with people as Goofy Clark, and when they are in a fix they can’t fix themselves he puts on the blue tights and a cape and the big red “S” and goes out there and fixes it up. And they love him because he always leaves on a high note – he never wears out his welcome, and he doesn’t let anyone ask too many questions.

This Superman stays too long. You may think that ironic as some of the reviews out there are complaining that he doesn’t have a lot to say, but I’m not talking about his willingness to break out into monologue. I’m talking about his history of involvement with Lois – which, I admit, is a sort of rethinking of what happened in the original Christopher Reeves movies. Problematically, though, the Chris Reeves Superman knows what I am talking about here, and he broke it off with Lois before she got hurt. This guy in this movie comes back and sneaks around people’s lives as if he really would like to get involved in a different way than he knows he is able. You know: Peter Parker follows Mary Jane around in Spider-gear because he’s too much of a dork to ask her out; Batman skulks around the city because he’s a brooding misanthrope. Clark doesn’t have the emotional baggage these losers have, and for him to be creeping around Lois’ house in the dark is just … it violates the Vulcan T’Hain’s Dictates of Poetics: A character’s actions must flow inexorably from his or her established traits.

All my other objections to this movie – which have a moral flavor to them – stem from the fact that this version of Superman was clearly generated by people who don’t know anything about what Superman represents as a character, or who Clark Kent is.

Go see it or don’t: just don’t talk to me about it because I really have nothing good to say.


I promised part 5 of the "Another Dip" series for this week, and I got overloaded at work. Sorry, folks. I should have some down-time over the long weekend to get a couple of posts together on this topic so those of you who are being edified by it can stop mumbling curses at me as you pray for my sanctification.

Thanks for your patience.

It's like a slap in the face

I have been added to the Boar's Head Tavern blogroll. I just saw it on Technorati.

They really know how to hurt a guy, I swear. If I didn't have other things to do today, I'd have a little protest or funeral or something.

When the Pyros and Steve Hays come by to get my TR decoder ring and ceremonial hat, I won't even be able to face them. And Gummby! How am I going to explain this to Gummby and Carla and Nate ... and JIBBS?! Faithful JIBBS! Is this how I repay your years of toadying servility?

I'm not sure I can live with myself. I think I am a victim of my own candor.

Doesn't this violate Rule 40 or something?

Who is my Neighbor?

I was reading this essay by Larry Elder, and it made happy.

the multitude of invalids

We use iTunes to shuffle music in the bookstore, and in among the various bits of music I have mixed in the reading of Scripture – from the Listener’s Bible [NIV] by Max McLean. One of my particular favorites is this passage from John 5 [ESV]:
    2Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3In these lay a multitude of invalids--blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.

    6When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be healed?"

    7The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me."

    8Jesus said to him, "Get up, take up your bed, and walk." 9And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
Now, there’s a lot more to this story – like the apparent offense the Jews take at Jesus healing on the Sabbath, and the working of the Father through the Son – but I want to take a look at something else here for a second.

The first thing is this: there’s nobody in their right mind who would say that the invalid in this story cures himself. He has been an invalid for 38 years, right? And when he answers Jesus’ question “Do you want to be healed,” he has enough sense to say, “I have no one to put me into the pool” – that is, I cannot heal myself; what I want is help because I cannot help myself.

Another thing to take note of is this: there is also nobody in his right mind who is preaching from this passage that Jesus is being cruel to others by healing this man only. One thing apparent to anyone who can read English is that at the pool, in the 5 roofed colonnades, are “a multitude of invalids – blind, lame and paralyzed”. Yet Jesus does not walk out there and lay hands on everyone: he speaks to one man, and it is one man who offends the religious leaders for his disobedience on the Sabbath; and the accusation (if you read on in your Bible – I didn’t paste it here) of the Jews is that Jesus healed this one man on the Sabbath. Jesus’ love is not put into question here over healing one and not all even though it is readily evident that he has only healed one and not all.

You can draw your own conclusions from that, but the next time someone wants to have an argument with you about how God can be loving or merciful if he doesn’t treat everyone identically, open your Bible up to John 5 and talk about this passage.

The Nutter's nutter

Read this post from Mark Dever, and then consider the fact that he's the kind of nutter we should all strive to be.

Let me tell you something: I am teaching a 4-part series at church which ends next week, and I am stunned -- STUNNED! -- by the people who are somehow hearing the message of Jesus Christ as if it was real for the first time!

When we cover the definition of the Gospel next week, I promise you some heads will be turned. May God protect my mouth as we speak of the work of His son to those in His church.

Another Dip [4.5]

I gave you-all a head-fake in the last installment because I said out next installment in this series was going to be Ignatius to the Philippians. Before I get to that, let’s keep something in mind: this series is not as simple as it seems on the surface. One of the big reasons you don’t see a lot of books on this subject is because the primary question – which is, “What did the Ante-Nicene Fathers write?” – is somewhat complicated. It’s not that we don’t know who they are: it’s that there are a lot of issues regarding which letters are real and which are fakes. In Schaff’s ANF, for example, he lists all the genuine letters and all the forgeries but for the most part separates which are which in the intro to the sections.

See: the forgeries have some value as historic documents when they are properly dated, but they’re not very useful for determining what the alleged author had in mind because the alleged author is not the actual author. That seems rudimentary, but it’s part of the reason this series goes so slow: I’d rather talk about the non-phony letters and discourses than all of them as if they all had the same kind of usefulness, but sorting through takes time and attention.

Which, by the way, is why Ignatius to the Philippians was a head-fake: I personally had not been reading far enough ahead, and if it had not been for an alert reader (Jason Engwer) I might have made a research error because I got in a rush to get the next item up in the series. Ignatius to the Philippians is a forgery, so it will not be the next letter in the series.

As I said up above, if this was an easy walk, every kook with a baptismal axe to grind would have his own survey of ECFs posted and QED’d. And because what I do full-time is not research ECFs or church history, I appreciate your patience.

Part 5 of this series will be up this week.

Speak Easy

The Gadfly Collection just broke out with a franchise.

Open Letter

Dear Dr. Caner;

When I heard that someone of your reputation and position was willing to debate James White and Tom Ascol regarding the Reformed doctrines of grace, I was very excited over the prospect that there would be a substantive exchange on this subject -- and, I might add, "FINALLY!"

To my regret, as I have watched the preparation for this debate, I am afraid that whatever happens in October will be nothing of the kind. I think it is curious that, in your most recent e-mail to Dr. White, you have claimed a "high ground" position of "biblicist" when your proposed (and at this point, I think it is rightly called "demanded") thesis statement reads like this:

That God is an Omnibenevolent God to all of humanity through salvation and opportunity.

Now, I have opened up my on-line concordance, and have searched the KJV, HCSB, ESV and NIV -- and I can't find the word "omnibenevolence" (or any of its cognates, like "Omnibenevolent") anywhere in the Bible. To give you the benefit of the doubt, I also could not find the phrase "all good" describing God, even though you and I would certainly agree that God is Good and the giver of all good things, and that He is Just, and Loving, and Merciful, and Longsuffering, and Kind, and He never changes. God is certainly "all good" even if the Bible never uses those exact words to describe Him.

Can you really believe that your method of reading the Bible is so much more superior than Dr. White's that your theological word has a biblical basis, but (as one example) his theological word "monergism" does not? Your tunnel vision on this matter is disturbing because it betrays not only ignorance of your opponent's views, but ignorance of the method by which you yourself reach your own conclusions.

Please: for your own sake, take an hour this summer to reconsider your own preparation for this debate. You are coming into this meeting almost completely unprepared, with little or no understanding of the reformed position regarding God's decrees or calling of men. It would be of great interest to the larger Christian community if your encounter with Dr. White and Pastor Ascol included a substantive knowledge of the reformed position but with a commitment and conviction for any of the libertarian counter-claimants to a systematic understanding of the Gospel, and you could engage in something more than calling Ascol and White "two Jonahs who sink the ship", or (as you have done already) reformed "ilk".

This is an opportunity for you -- if you are right about the reformed position -- to overcome evil with good, and to speak the truth in love. And if you are wrong, this is your opportunity to live on the right side of Proverbs 12:1 and to make peace with a brother in Christ. But neither of these things can happen if you don't really know what you're talking about.

Consider it: what if I was arguing against Islam and one of my claims against it was that it makes no recognition of the Bible at all? What if I was arguing against Judaism and I was arguing that one of its substantive flaws is that it doesn't recognize the necessity of sacrifice for atonement of sin? Would I be arguing against the other position, or against my ignorant understanding of the other position?

You are making errors of this scope and category right now in your public views against reformed theology. For your own sake, and your own reputation, please read something about this subject other than Dave Hunt's illegitimate scholarship on the subject. I have a short list of short books you might find helpful:

Justification of God, John Piper (ISBN#0801070791)
Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God, J.I. Packer (ISBN#083081339X)
The Five Points of Calvinism, David Steele (ISBN#0875528279)
Calvinism, HyperCalvinism and Arminianism, Crampton & Talbot (ISBN#0977851605)

Only the Piper books is academically dense; the rest are frankly easy reads and could get anyone inside the actual issues of the matter in about 2 hours each.

Please consider this.

I leave you in Christ's name and in His hands,


Unconventional nutter

OK – I really can’t hold it in much longer. I have to say something about SBC or I’m going to bust, but I promised my wife I wouldn’t say anything about anyone in particular or any action of the convention in particular.

And to get this post, you prolly have to read the original Nutter post to get some context. But as all of you know, I am a nutter.

Well, so what? What’s being a nutter have to do with anything that happened at the SBC in Greensboro – well, except for the obvious? It has to do with how nutters ought to be spending their time and talent and capital.

See: I’m a nutter for Jesus. I can’t help it. I’m teaching a Sunday school series for adults which includes the broad outline of who we believe Jesus is, and I have to tell you that I have a hard time keeping myself to 45 minutes, and I have a hard time not getting choked up over the beauty of Jesus Christ.

But because I love Jesus like that, there are massive consequences to how I have to spend my time. For example, because I love Jesus, I care about baptism. I care about the church. I care about the Lord’s table (which we haven’t gotten to in 18 months, have we?). I care about pastors, and my pastors in particular. And I care about other believers – not just in the broad sense of hoping they are all safe as it thunders outside, but in the specific sense that they all are inside the sheep gate, so to speak. That is, I am concerned that other believers are renewing their mind, and proving their faith, and being subject to one another. And most critically, I am completely nuts about those who are right now in unbelief – in a state where not only do they not have faith, but they hate faith and what it looks like.

If a bunch of like-minded nutters like me got together, I am sure we would find the time to pass some resolutions, and they’d probably go something like this (and I’m not married to any of these, but just so you can smell what I’m cookin’ here):

[1] Resolved: Jesus Christ, son of God, the one who pours out His blood and His Spirit for us, is better than anything else we think we understand. In that, when we are not doing His work and His will, we shouldn’t be surprised when we get disappointed by the things that happen to us.

[2] Resolved: The number of the Elect is unknown to man, and not just because it is a long list; God has not given us the index to the Lamb’s book of Life. In that, when we are not doing evangelism as if the eternal fate of those we are calling is at stake, we are demonstrating hatred and not love nor kindness nor theology.

[3] Resolved: In that same vein, evangelism is not a method – it is a message which is summarized, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scripture; he was buried, and he was raised on the third day in accordance with Scripture.” When we make evangelism into a method, we denigrate Jesus’ finished work by telling ourselves that our work somehow makes His work possible – when in fact it is His work that makes our work possible.

[4] Resolved: Baptism is necessary in the life of the believer for the sake of the believer’s spiritual growth; it is a result of the Holy Spirit’s work in the second birth, not a cause. When we make Baptism into anything else – like a measure of the effectiveness of our evangelism, or a repeated ritual from which we derive pleasure or reassurance – we make baptism into a fraud and dishonor God.

[5] Resolved: Marriage is a gift from God for a man and a woman to gain holiness, obedience, sacrificial love, and intimate union. We will defend our own marriages and the marriages of others ferociously.

[6] Resolved: The Lord’s Supper is the specific way in which we remember the cost of Jesus’ work. We will not treat it lightly, and we will participate in it diligently.

[7] Resolved: The Bible.

[8] Resolved: the Church.

And on and on. So notice something: there’s not a lot of “and we will beat the ungodly and the unbelieving over the head with our ideas about how they ought to live their lives because we have it all together and they’ ain’t noo-body going to tell ME to shut up.” If the nutters got together, we’d put first things first. And then the next time we got together, we’d put first things first again – because I’d bet we would have forgotten the first things after a little while.

Because that's how we nutters are: we forget to put first things first. If we had leaders, they would know that, but us poor nutters just have to fend for ourselves.


This is my favorite post of June, 2005.

I used to be a pretty funny blogger. All you complainers have taken the wind out of my sails.


It's too much. Read it for yourself.

Baptists: keep a sock in it. I'm interested in what the Presbyterian readers of this blog have to say about this development.

Blog Dropping

This post is a version of a response I made on my pastor’s latest blog incarnation. He and I were kicking critiquing Andy Stanley in absentia, and Pastor Stanley showed up. I love blogging.

Anyway, one of the results of that was the post you see here on the spiritual aspects of leadership in the church. Your opinions may differ. Prepare to defend them.

First of all the thing I love about the blogosphere is that guys like Andy Stanley are reading it and taking it seriously. Let God be willing that we are all serious about what we are saying.

Second of all, I’m a fan, Pastor Andy – and I’m a big fan of my own personal pastor, who is Tad. That’s not a quality judgment but simply my commitment to him personally. I am sure you have fans in your local body who would say the same about you. Let me be on record to say that I love your books and we promote them in our little bookstore (which is not affiliated with Harvard Avenue Baptist Church), which include It Came From Within and The Best Question Ever.

So that said, Pastor Andy said this:
| Great conversation. So help me out
| guys. What is distinctly…and that’s
| the operative word here…distinctly
| spiritual about the leadership you do?
It’s a great question. And before I answer it from my perspective (as a guy who teaches Sunday school, is a husband, and is a leader at church and at work, but not a pastor), I think Andy offers some important qualifications:
| Keep a couple things in mind. There
| are Christian business men and
| women in your churches who see the
| marketplace as their sphere of
| ministry. There are business owners
| who see their business as a ministry.
I would rank myself among these people.
| They are not just in it for the money.
Nobody said the group you just outlined – the disciples of Christ who are ministers in the workplace – were. Let’s not confuse them, however, with those who use spiritual methods of leadership for secular gain – because those people exist, and not just on TBN.
| Now, what is distinctly spiritual about
| your leadership as compared to the
| leadership conducted by the group I
| just described?
Here’s where I think you put the cart before the horse, Andy: your assumption is that what Christians do in the secular workplace is inherently secular and not spiritual when you admit in your premises that they do not “do it for the money”. My challenge to you is that I think there are strong spiritual forces at work that are transforming the secular workplace, and that there are people glomming the methods of spiritual leadership for worldly gain.

Let me give you some examples. About 4 years ago in Inc. magazine, they did a cover story on a guy who is a CEO of the “old school” – he’s the kind of guy who, frankly, I would run away from even if he had the last job on earth. His ideal for leadership was to make people work as many hours as possible without regard to any other aspect of their lives in order to enhance the financial value of the company without compensating them relative to that financial enhancement. Anyone who needed a day off had a commitment problem – rather than, for example, a medical problem or a marriage they were committed to. He didn’t have any legal-based ethics problems, but clearly he had God-based ethics problems.

The reason I bring this guy up is not to say that he is like a Purpose-Driven CEO of some church: the reason I bring him up is that he’s not the kind of guy “experts” promote as the model for leadership in secular corporate life.

The question is “why”? It’s because this guy doesn’t understand the value of human capital (which is the secular term, right?), and he doesn’t know how to sustain human capital. The question the experts ask is: who does sustain human capital?

The answer, btw, turns out to be in books like the Five Dysfunctions of a Team and Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable laws of leadership.

Before I say another word, I anticipate that you, Andy, will say, “we are in actual agreement and we are quibbling over semantics.” If that turns out to be true, I will be glad for it. I don’t think that’s the case.

See: Five Dysfunctions is a secular book which unfortunately doesn’t really understand the principles it is very excited about. For example, while Patrick Lencioni says that the foundational principle of management effectiveness is “trust”, he doesn’t ever really say why except in MBA terms. And, for the record, trust was a factor in effective management of a specific kind a long time before there were any MBAs to quantify it. Also for the record, that kind of leadership was not business management.

In the case of Maxwell, I find an interesting irony. John Maxwell is, in my esteem, a Godly man with a great gift of communication and a heart for people through Jesus. No question. So when we read a book like 21 Irrefutable Laws, we (you, me, Tad) know why he thinks, for example, that leadership = influence. This is a Gospel principle – and John Maxwell is a servant of the Gospel. But here’s the question: does Maxwell tell people that this is a principle based on the example of Christ, or does he say it is a principle based on something else, or does he just not say?

I think he just doesn’t say.

And in the crosshairs formed between Maxwell and Lencioni, we have the heart of the problem: recognizing the source of a certain kind leadership method.

I am sure you have never read my blog, Andy, and if you’re smart you’ll stay away from it because it’s a blog. But one of the things that makes me crazy is when we try to spiritualize things which aren’t inherently spiritual, and in the end that practice winds up overlooking the things which are actually spiritual and discounting them.

But in this case, the source of the kind of leadership advocated by both Lencioni and Maxwell in foundationally and inherently spiritual. For example, to be willing to invest authority in others at the expense of one’s own prestige or direct authority is servant-minded. To bank on trust rather than fear or retribution is loving and merciful. To gather a multitude of counselors is ... well, it’s Prov 11.

The source of this kind of leadership is specifically spiritual in nature. But it is also inherently spiritual in objectives as well. When I read Lencioni’s book, it made me laugh a little because his view is that there’s a financial goldmine in them thar hills – as if the basis for trust could be the quarterly statement to shareholders. Spiritually-minded leadership can only be spiritually minded in principle if it is spiritually minded in objective.

Taking that to the examples you provided, Andy, there is no question that there are men and women in the workplace today that are seeking to minister there. But let’s not set up a false choice about what they are doing. They have no objective of harming the financial objectives of their companies, but their primary objective in bringing the Gospel to the workplace is not a 4-point increase in comp sales: it is to seek and to save – to bring the Good News to people who would never otherwise set foot inside a church. If it is not – that is to say, if their goal is to make comp sales by implementing the Gospel – they do not understand the Gospel. It’s not a marketing tool or an H.R. strategy. Those who have employed it to that end will have a rude awakening when shareholder equity and the dividend are the object of the discussion.

And before this response to you becomes a pamphlet, let me bottom-line (heh) what I think: I think that Paul was advocating spiritually-based leadership in the letters to Timothy and the letter to Titus. And I think some of those principles have, by hook and by crook, been implemented by accident and in a crude form in some secular workplaces. But for us – the Christians, who culturally are the source of those methods – to then see secular leaders who are aping spiritual leadership in order to make a buck and then fail to discern which of their practices are spiritual and which are secular speaks volumes about us and what we believe about the Gospel.

To answer the question you phrased in short form, “What is distinctly spiritual about the leadership that I do personally – and that I witness Tad do even though he’s a paultry 30 years old – is that its source or point of reference is spiritual, and its objective is incarnationally spiritual.”

I think this will instigate more dialog, and I hope I have been kind to you as I admire you and value your contribution to God’s work. Thanks for your time and interest.

wear it proudly

Don't let anyone tell you you're not in touch with the culture.

two fingers worth

OK, so the SBC convention had a lot of surprises, and everyone is talking about both of them, but I am only going to talk about one of them: the resolution on the demon likker.

Have you read it yet? here: read it for yourself --

WHEREAS, Years of research confirm biblical warnings that alcohol use leads to physical, mental, and emotional damage (e.g., Proverbs 23:29-35); and

WHEREAS, Alcohol use has led to countless injuries and deaths on our nation's highways; and

WHEREAS, The breakup of families and homes can be directly and indirectly attributed to alcohol use by one or more members of a family; and

WHEREAS, The use of alcohol as a recreational beverage has been shown to lead individuals down a path of addiction to alcohol and toward the use of other kinds of drugs, both legal and illegal; and

WHEREAS, There are some religious leaders who are now advocating the consumption of alcoholic beverages based on a misinterpretation of the doctrine of "our freedom in Christ"; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina, June 13-14, 2006, express our total opposition to the manufacturing, advertising, distributing, and consuming of alcoholic beverages; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we urge that no one be elected to serve as a trustee or member of any entity or committee of the Southern Baptist Convention that is a user of alcoholic beverages.

RESOLVED, That we urge Southern Baptists to take an active role in supporting legislation that is intended to curb alcohol use in our communities and nation; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we urge Southern Baptists to be actively involved in educating students and adults concerning the destructive nature of alcoholic beverages; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we commend organizations and ministries that treat alcohol-related problems from a biblical perspective and promote abstinence and encourage local churches to begin and/or support such biblically-based ministries.
For me, the highlighted sections of this document are interesting -- because they they seem to confuse the problem of abuse with all methods of use. For example, if we take a look at this document seriously, Presbyterian eucharist is hereby looked down from the collective nose of Southern Baptists as leading to all manner of evil -- including, if you please, the break up of families.

So my first thought on this is that the document is poorly written and poorly thought through. Is "use" equal to "abuse"? It's like saying that engagement seems to be leading to a lot of divorce, so we have to toss out engagement in order to lower the divorce rate.

My second thought on this document is that it flies in the face of a lot of finger-wagging that went on at the convention. For example, there was a lot of finger-wagging going on which said that if we weren't spending so much time debating the finer points of theology, we might have more time to get out and do some "soul winning". Let me suggest that if debating theology is a drag on resources away from evangelism, working to outlaw alcohol is itself a drain on resources which will be much more costly in real terms than trying to find out if we can rightly call reformed baptists "Christians" or not. And we don't really gain any deeper appreciation of the actual Gospel by taking up arms to force the government to do something which our local churches are utterly loathe to do anything about.

Seriously: when was the last time you saw a baptist church work out some church discipline for someone who was a drunk -- or even a "user" of alcohol? If it is such a problem, you would think that churches would be struggling with it through biblical means first rather than with a somewhat self-ignorant corporate declaration which has some basic flaws in reasoning.

Third, what are those flaws in reasoning? The worst is the confusion of "use" and "abuse", but the most glaring from a "people of the book" standpoint is the abuse of Prov 23:29-35 here. That passage says
    29Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
    Who has strife? Who has complaining?
    Who has wounds without cause?
    Who has redness of eyes?
    30Those who tarry long over wine;
    those who go to try mixed wine.
    31Do not look at wine when it is red,
    when it sparkles in the cup
    and goes down smoothly.
    32In the end it bites like a serpent
    and stings like an adder.
    33Your eyes will see strange things,
    and your heart utter perverse things.
    34You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea,
    like one who lies on the top of a mast.
    35"They struck me," you will say, "but I was not hurt;
    they beat me, but I did not feel it.
    When shall I awake?
    I must have another drink."
Isn't it strange that this passage is pretty clear to reject turning to alcohol to solve problems and turning to alcohol in excess? If you tarry too long over wine, it'll certainly wear you out -- but this passage doesn't say that all imbibing is destructive and sinful.

For a group who have made a big deal out of inerrancy, it would be nice if they treated the text as if it were actually true and said something specifically.

And no, if you are asking, I don't drink. In the last 5 years I have probably had 4 glasses of wine, and they were far enough apart that you couldn't count them as anything but "use". If you have any questions about how I feel about this subject, you can look here and here.

Another Dip [4]

AHA! I have cleared my calendar, and the next installment of the ECFs as they mention baptism is FINALLY HERE.

Why is it I only hear crickets? Am I alone in this post? Hello?

OK, last time we had a little bit from Ignatius, and we have a bit more from him today. In his letter to Polycarp, Chapter VI, Ignatius said this:
Look ye to the bishop, that God also may look upon you. I will be instead of the souls of those who are subject to the bishop, and the presbyters, and the deacons; with them may I have a portion in the presence of God! Labour together with one another, act as athletes together, run together, suffer together, sleep together, rise together. As stewards of God, and of His household, and His servants, please Him and serve Him, that ye may receive from Him the wages [promised]. Let none of you be rebellious. Let your baptism be to you as armour, and faith as a spear, and love as a helmet, and patience as a panoply. Let your treasures be your good works, that ye may receive the gift of God, as is just. Let your spirit be long-suffering towards each other with meekness, even as God [is] toward you. As for me, I rejoice in you at all times.
I find this passage interesting because of its relationship in structure to the previous letter we reviewed. These letters are both written at the same time, as Ignatius is being handed over for death in the Arena.

Last time we noticed that Ignatius said that Baptism should be our “arms”, and here our “armor”. In that, why exactly does Ignatius use these terms interchangeably here? My opinion – and if yours is different I’m interested in it – is that Ignatius is implying that baptism is a kind of protection for the believer. In his list, faith is the spear (that with which one attacks or advances his position), love is a helmet (that which guards the head or mind); patience is a “panoply” (which is lost on the modern reader; a “panoply” is the full array of battlements – the full supply and resources of a warrior). The believer, in Ignatius’ view here, is fully equipped for his task.

So if baptism is a protection, what does it protect against? Does Ignatius here say that it’s a supernatural protection, or some kind of spirit warding equipment? No: he places this description of baptism immediately after his admonition “let none of you be rebellious”. In the same way he has previously said, “let baptism be your arms”, he is saying here that it is a protection against rebellion. In the same way he was saying not to “abandon your post” in the previous letter we took a quick look at, here he is saying “defend yourself against being rebellious toward each other”. And the primary object of that protection, in his view, is baptism. Somehow (which he does not elaborate here), baptism is an “armor” against rebellion.

In the next installment, which is Ignatius’ letter to the Phillipians, he does elaborate briefly. If you’re really anxious or clever, you’ll read ahead and think about it before we post anything here.

Hey! I Won!

I think.

I was actually going to review the link bloat, and do something about the League of reformed bloggers, but if I do that before posting the next installment on ECFs and baptism, there may be a lynching. We are half-way through June, after all.

So thank you for the support and the reminder. And the link. Every link is good, in spite of your axiomatic rejection of linking to "everybody". I don't link to "everybody": just everybody who is somebody.

Post script to CBA posts

OK – Micah brought it up in the meta, and it’s a good enough question to come back to the front page of the blog. However, I admit it has limited appeal, so those of you who didn’t care for the CBA posts can just be on your way. This is important stuff we’re talking about.

Micah said this in the meta:
Gotta an idea for a blog post... what would it take for a person to start and maintain an independent Christian bookstore?
Since I have done this personally, I can tell you. However, I am sure some people will not like my answers because they are not the conventional answers to this question.

The first thing you need to start an independent Christian bookstore is a business plan. Why? Because at the end of your first month in business, you cannot call all the people who shopped and tell them (as if it was a church) that the giving did not match the budget and we need to take up a special collection. Also, because the workman is worth is wages, it is important to note that you personally will never get paid unless you know in what way your bookstore has to function financially in order to generate wages for you and your help – and you will need help.

But financials are not the be-all and end-all of your business plan: they are merely the necessary skeleton. Another important part of your business plan is your marketing strategy. Now, don’t give me that I-just-bit-the-pickle reformed schoolmarm look. A bookstore is not a church: it is a business – well, it is if it’s a bookstore not propped up inside Phil Johnson’s church, anyway. (no offense, Phil) But your marketing plan includes things like “we’re a bookstore that caters to high-brow theological tastes,” or “we’re a bookstore that majors in Precious Moments” or whatever. See: you (the layman, the person who only shops at retail from time to time) think that somehow a retail establishment somehow just reflects an approach to selection and presentation by accident, or by some kind of luck. But the reality is that the places that execute retail professionally check every decision against some kind of core value marketing position. That’s how, btw, you keep Precious Moments out of your bookstore in spite of the gaggles of old women who will request them but will never buy them: you decide that your bookstore is “this kind of bookstore” before you buy piece #1 of anything, and then you check every buying decision you make after that against your marketing values (you can call it a mission statement if you want, but that’s not broad enough to cover what you are covering here) to make sure your bookstore is what you want it to be and what it ought to be.

Also included in your business plan is you marketplace survey. That is, if there are 50 Christian Bookstores in you neck of the woods, and 5 of them are associated with MegaChurches®, and 75% of people who live in your neck of the woods are Mormons, opening a Reformed Baptist bookstore which specializes in countercult apologetics will probably go over like a the 8-letter word of conflagration goes over here at the blog. And, again, the mission of an indie retail store seems to make missiological sense in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City, but geez louise: there’s no way that store is ever going to make enough to pay the rent as a stand-alone enterprise. You have to be in a market that you either can actually evangelize, or that is dying for the resources you intend to have on the shelves. You will literally drain all your cash in 3-4 months if you are selling at a break-even ate to start, and your idea to be a better bookstore will cost you all your cash.

Last of all, your business plan has to include an operating plan. What are you going to use for inventory control? What financial software are you going to use for book-keeping? How many employees will you use? What will they do? What is your inventory mix? Do you know what “inventory mix” is? Do you need a loss prevention system? Do you need a listening station for music? Your method of implementing a retail strategy results in 10,000 details, and if you don’t even know the 500 categories that the details fall into, you have no hope of being successful.

So the first thing you need to start an independent Christian bookstore is a business plan. If you don’t wanna or you’re intimidated by it and think you can do it on a napkin, forget it. You’re not qualified.

The second thing you need to start an independent Christian bookstore is capital. As I told Micah, you can bank on needing $80/sq ft of real rented space to start, and that will leave you almost no cushion for operating cash through your first three years of struggling to establish your business. Now, unless you have $150,000 lying around, that means you’re going to need to borrow the money from a bank.

If you have a comprehensive business plan, and you have done your research, then you can probably secure a SBA loan from a bank. Without a business plan, you can forget it.

The third thing you need to start an independent Christian bookstore is a guts. Listen: you need to be somewhat fearless (but not stoopid) to own your own business. It means being able to be unwilling to commit suicide when you have your first $100 day when you need $650/day to break even, and unwilling to fold up the tents when somebody starts competing with you when you start being somewhat successful. You have to be able to look your customers in the eye and tell them, “Running this bookstore is a great blessing from God,” as if you mean it when they ask you, “How is your business going” and yesterday you had that $100 day.

You need to be a member of the chamber of commerce that other businesses admire. You need to have the confidence of your accountant and your lawyer. You need to be a member in good standing in your local church. You need to be a good representative of your business when you’re at your kid’s soccer game and that sheep-headed 16-yr-old who’s supposed to be the ref won’t blow the whistle for anything, and when your team is about to crush the other team 7-0 because your son has finally figured out that he’s the tallest (and therefore the fastest) kid on the field.

You have to have guts to be more than just some anonymous person anymore. You will be forming a relationship with your community that is necessary for your success, and if you don’t wanna, don’t waste your time and money. WAL*MART already sells the retail basics in this category, and the only reason people will shop you is if they trust your reputation as an example of Christian living. And guess what: that takes guts.

And just to make sure I say this, the last thing you need to start an independent Christian bookstore is a ”a word from God”. And when I say “the last thing you need”, be sure you understand me to say, “you need that like you need vinegar in your underwear.” Did you know that CBA bookstores fail as startup businesses at a rate of 70% in the first three years of operation? Do you know why? Because so many happy-hearted people think that God has given them a word that they should open up a bookstore, but apparently God didn’t tell them how to pay bills or the rent. If you just think you have the urge, the still small voice, the word of knowledge, the dream, whatever, but when you read the words “business plan” you just skimmed down the page, you are not qualified to open a bookstore of any stripe. Sorry. That’s rough, but that’s the truth.

I mean, since Micah asked, right? This is what it takes. To paraphrase a pretty smart guy, being reformed is not enough, and being a really, really, really nice person is not enough. You have to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, and you have to be that way every day.

You can't eat just one

Yes, I know: the ECF baptism thing. You came here when Doug Wilson said I was doing the survey, and I did 3 of them, and since then I have been a bit of a slacker in delivering a 4th installment, etc.

My wife says I'm A-D-D and that explains a lot of things, but the truth is I'm busy at work and projects (like the ECF baptism project) require more than the average 15 minutes a day I have this week to put up a post. Tomorrow looks light, so if I can get some legs under it early in the morning, I can have part 4 up tomorrow. For the record, if you think it's easy to sift through Schaff and find revelant references to baptism, and then to say something useful about said passage(s), go ahead and read this:
Baptism In The Early Church
By Hendrick F. Stander & Johannes P. Louw

After that, you'll be grateful that I'm being a little more careful about what I'm willing to say about this subject. And btw, what's stopping from you from being a wiki-contributor to this project? You think this is such a great idea, you go to ccel.org, find Schaff's ANF for ante-Nicene fathers, and you pick a reference and say something useful about it. It's not like you paid tuition to hear my lectures of ante-nicene sacramentology. Get viral, people. I'll link to you if you do it.

That said, those of you who are in awe of the fact that I can type Mat 7:11 and it magically becomes a link to the NT realize that I am actually wasting a lot of time this week hacking my Blogger template, and one of the interesting things I have done is installed Google Analytics -- because you can never get enough stats. Stats are like potato chips: you can't stop at one. Hence the reason for this post today.

In the last week, I linked to Adrain Warnock, and suddenly I'm getting hits from Adrian's readers. Booyah. Let's see who else we can troll some traffic from:

La Shawn Barber
Mark Reynolds
ooh, here's one: Jimmy Akin. Oh wait -- that's a bad idea.

And what's up with Le Sabot Postmoderne? How does this guy have a blog in the top 100 in the BoG and he never posts anything? It's as frustrating as dieting: my wife can eat a pan of brownies and stay thin as a rail, but I eat one french fry or drink 3 oz of non diet beverage, and I have to buy new pants.

wall-crawling menace

In a blow to the civil liberties of superheroes everywhere, that scrawny bag of coat-hangers Spiderman has caved in to pressure from the Feds and the Superhero Registration Act and revealed that his secret identity is Peter Parker.

There's no defending this kind of cowardice. Going forward, Spidey is dead to me. When you're on the wrong side of Captain America, you're on the wrong side, Web Head.


Yes, but does it work?

After admiring the way Adrian Warnock has all the refs to Scripture in his blog linked to the ESV, I e-mailed him and asked, "Hey Link-troll: how do you make those ESV links work?" He referred me to the ESV web site, and it referred me to fuCoder, who linked me to his .js file.

It is installed in this blog right now, and let's see if it works:

John 3:16

Mark 13:4-5

Gen 1:1-3

Rev 9:1

Do you see links? I don't see links. I'll have to come back to it.

Note to peoples: put the script-call above the body tag and before the haloscan script call. I'll explain later ...

OK -- I'm back. For those of you who are not seeing links on the verse references, your browser isn't javascript compatible. For those who want this to work in your blogger blog, you have to install the script call in your template in the header of your blogger template. The instructions are over at fuCoder's site, linked above.

It's a pretty cool script. I have no idea how it works, but I'm impressed.

And no: I don't want you to explain it to me.

Justice and mercy

It (justice & mercy) has apparently come up as the next big thing, so those of you waiting for part 4 of my ECF baptism series will have to wait one more day before we continue there.

And, just to annoy half of the regular readers of the blog, I have yet another parable.

I work in an office next to another guy who is a lot like me, particularly in three respects:
[1] he and I both have rather expensive computers in our offices due to the kind of work we have to do
[2] he and I both have the same boss, who is the founder of the company
[3] he and I both drink Diet Cokes whilst doing what we do all day

Now, all the IT resources reading this blog just flinched because you shouldn’t drink Cokes (Diet or Leaded) whilst working with very expensive computer equipment – we all know that. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that we have no excuse for not knowing that. But the guy next door to me and I do it to live dangerously. We have deceived ourselves into believing that the consequences of drinking a Coke at your desk while using electronic equipment are minimal because we are more careful than most people, and we screw the tops back on between swigs.

However, yesterday we both got to work at the same time, logged into our workcenters, and by some quirk of fate both began reading this amazing blog entry by Scrappleface – Diet Cokes in hands.

And, as the wise would predict, we both gushed Diet Coke onto – and into – out expensive laptop computers with expensive docking equipment and various peripherals. In simultaneous speed-dials, Bill Hubbs (my neighbor) got IT first and said this:

“Listen guys: I know it’s against company policy, but I was drinking Coke while – yes, Diet Coke – I was drinking a Coke while reading Scrappleface this morning, and – yes, haha, yes, it’s very funny – look: I spit Coke into my laptop and I think I’m in serious trouble. I can’t fix it myself, and I need help – you’re the only ones who can help me.”

In the meantime, because I’m always the example in my examples, I took the rest of my Coke and placed it sideways on my laptop, and then called IT to say this:

“Cletus? You can’t believe what happened to me this morning. When I got to work today, I found someone had been sleeping in my bed monkeying around in my office, and had dumped a Coke into my laptop. What? No, I haven’t read Scrappleface this morning – I have a laptop full of Coke. No, it’s not my fault – I should be able to leave my computer at work once in a while, shouldn’t I? And why is somebody in my office after hours – isn’t that weird? Well, if you can’t replace it right now I’m going home. Do you hear me?”

Well, in order to get a new laptop, one’s boss has to sign off on it, and Bill and I were sitting in our boss’ waiting room this morning, and Bill went in first. He told the boss what he told IT, and the boss said he’d get a new laptop – the company would pay for it – but that Bill had to stop drinking Cokes in his office. The Company would pay the price for this mistake, but Bill as a result had to reform his work habits. Bill thanked the boss profusely, and went back to work.

Then the boss called me into the office. He didn’t looked very pleased with me as he looked at the incident sheet from IT. He was concerned that what I said happened was not everything exactly as it happened.

Indignant, I said to the boss, “I don’t understand. What do you mean?”

The boss looked me square in the eye and said, “cent, I know you drink Coke in your office – Diet Coke, even though the rules say you shouldn’t. Are you sure you found your laptop in your office this way?”

I got a little edgy. “Are you calling me a liar?” That always works when you want to bully someone into believing your version of the facts, doesn’t it?

The boss frowned at me and turned his PC monitor to me. He had the parking lot security cam 1 on there, and he did some quick typing. The image blinked, then it started moving, then I saw my car roll into the lot. I looked at the time stamp, and it said 0723 AM – the time I was getting to work yesterday morning. The boss didn’t say anything.

The video showed me getting out of my car with a Diet Coke in one hand, and my laptop case in the other. There wasn’t much for me to say after that.

Then my boss said this:

“Cent, I’m the only one who could have helped you here, but not only did you break the rules about drinks, and destroy company property through negligence, and then lie to get out of it, clearly you do not want my help. Since that’s the case, you are fired for cause without severance. If you don’t want to work for me, I don’t want you to work for me. Sercurity is going to meet you outside my office, walk you to your office, help you pack it up, and then take it out of the building for you. Don’t come back. You’re fired.”

I would suggest that if this ever happened, my boss would be 100% just in his decision to fire me, 100% just in his decision to be merciful to Bill, and in neither case would the issue of justice or atonement be “feigned” – even though my boss was the one who established and designed the rules.

Why my wife ought to blog

We were discussing my illustrious friend Phil Johnson, curator of the Spurgeon Archive.

"Is that a real thing -- or an internet thing," she asks. "Because anybody could call himself a curator on-line. Who checks?"

So I explained that it is both a "real thing" and an "internet thing", and besides that Phil was also a trustee of The Martyn Lloyd-Jones Recordings Trust in England.

Blank stare.

And then she just said, "it's hard to meet Phil in that hat and shirt he wore to the bookstore that time and believe he's the curator of anything which doesn't take quarters or tokens."

Clearly, her blog would be funnier than mine.

My vote: a urinal

I dunno if you've been following this story, but they killed Al Zarqawi yesterday morning. The #1 Al Qaida guy in Iraq is now dead.

The best recap of what has happened in this story, and what it means, is found here at Hugh Hewitt in an interview with the extraordinary Mark Steyn.

After you read that, understand that my vote is in response to Steyn's first response to Hugh.

franchise player [winner]

Well, two days ago we had a little contest here to see who could give the best chastisement to our, um, friend JohnB5200 who left comments at the iMonk blog. Unlike previous giveaways at TeamPyro, not many people chose to play, which makes me a little sad. Apparently my junk merchandise is not as attractive as the junk merch I designed for teamPyro.

Lesson learned -- I'll have to update the shop if I get a minute this weekend.

Anyway, I have to announce a winner because I promised there would be one. The real competitors for the shirt, I think, are Libbie, EvenSo, Charlie and ... huh! iMonk. Charlie's comment was a little long, EvenSo got a little MBA (if you know what I'm sayin'), and there is a certain perverse pleasure which I would take in having iMonk wear the blog t-shirt so I have to rule that out as sin.

So the winner -- in spite of shipping costs -- is Libbie! Jolly Good Show!

Libbie -- I think I have your addr someplace, but I need your shirt size. And while I have here pictured the black stoner T, I'd be willing to get you one of the girl-cut T's if you'd rather wear something more feminine.

Nice job everyone.

Pop Tarts, Coke and Piper

One of the things you-all should read as a matter of your duty to truth and the blogosphere is this essay on the definition of "hyper calvinism".

Those of you who have not yet understood the joke in the subject line are informally chastized for being a little thick.

Anyway, after reading around today I figured that it would be good to toss some water on the fires some people are trying to stoke by calling good and Godly men "hyper calvinists", and I was afraid I was going to have to write such a thing, but thank my lucky stars for friends like Phil Johnson who have been fighting this fight for longer than I have.

After you read that, send a link to Ergun Caner at Liberty University. No vulgarities or triumphalism, please -- just send him a polite note indicating that since he has written what he wrote at falwell.com, he might enjoy a different perspective on the matter. He might enjoy it -- I am sure he'll enjoy hearing from you.

White Elephant in the room [5]

ote to readers:I prolly did a disservice to iMonk by posting Q10 here rather than giving it to him, but it's my post and I'm putting it here. Q9 will show up on is blog when he has a minute to get it up.

You can follow the whole "interview" with these links:
[Q1] Q2 Q3 Q4 Q5 Q6 Q7 Q8 Q9 Q10

Thanks for indulging me.

10. Our state Baptist paper used to publish an annual list of books recommended by our state denominational leadership. In all the years I read that list, I can never remember a book that wasn't on the subject of church growth or self help. In other words, no books on theology or the gospel. How important are the reading habits of pastors in shaping disciples who are reading good books?

Let me preface this answer by saying, that I am a layman who is now speaking to any pastor who is reading this with honest love of Christ, his Church, and the Gospel, and for you personally. This is also my opinion, but if anyone wants to argue with me about it I will be willing to argue within reasonable limits. Let me also say that my short list here presumes that every week, as a pastor, you are reading, studying, considering, and then expositing God’s word for the sake of your flock – so please don’t start with the “what about the Bible” objections.

First of all, any pastor who is not a reader and a writer of some sufficient means needs to think about his career choice. I’m not saying you ought to quit: I’m saying you need to think about what exactly you ought to be doing as the shepherd of the sheep. I’m pretty sure it’s not playing golf, so to speak.

Second of all, you have to be reading enriching stuff. You know: primarily the Bible, of course, but then stuff about the Bible by other men of good faith. And not blogs, for pete’s sake. Stop by my blog for a laugh once in a while, but my blog ought not to be on your top shelf. It disturbs me when pastors are reading books like Iraq: the Next Move which ought to be classed as fiction but is instead being used to supply sermons and small group study time. Read things of substance that are not vaguely topical and vaguely intimating that they have finally found a use for Rev 19:7 or whatever.

Third of all, you should be reading challenging stuff. Sometimes you have to read a decent Presbyterian defense of paedobaptism to be a convinced credobaptist. Sometimes you have to read Ehrman to become a passionate advocate of the Bible as God’s word. Sometimes you have to read Mark Driscoll because some kid in your congregation may pick it up after reading centuri0n give Pastor Driscoll the business, and you’ll have to answer questions about the difference between being “missional” and being “vulgar” – which both cent and Pastor Driscoll violate. Read something that makes you a better pastor on a broader playing field to people you didn’t think you would be ministering to.

Last of all, you should also be reading to keep your brain in shape. I just had a mock argument with Banty Rooster this week because he was asking his readers to vote for To Kill a Mocking Bird in some on-line survey as the best American novel ever – when plainly The Scarlet Letter is the greatest American novel, and perhaps the greatest novel in English. And people were actually voting for Huck Finn which is itself a sort of slap in the face to anybody who’s read it more than twice. But I have this fear that Mattson and I were the only ones in on the joke. It shouldn’t be that way. You don’t have to be a pericope-loving desiderata-sniffer in order to be a literate and mentally-agile person. But for pete’s sake: you should be reading to keep your brain from being more than a place that keeps the top of your skull from caving in.

Your reading habits make you a better person for the sake of the Gospel. Without abusing the text, when the church started getting bigger in the first egeneration of Christians, what did the Apostles do? They enlisted men of good faith to minister to the daily needs of the church so that they could then dedicate themselves to the study of God’s word. For reference sake, they weren’t watching the simulcast from the church in Antioch: they were reading in order to study God’s word.

You: read. Read! If you’re not a reader, you had better figure out what you need to do to get there. And if your primary diet is not something like theology, what exactly are you feeding your flock?

And that really brings me to my final point, Michael: notice that I said “something like theology”. There is something quite amazing about the history of Christian literature: it is all “something like” theology even when it is not exactly a book on systematics. For example, Hawthorne is unequivocally Christian literature – from his social criticism to his fiction, it revolves around the relationship of man to God through Christ. But is Hawthorne “theology”? His work could not exist without theology, but it is not merely or exclusively theology.

See: if I have any sympathy for the “emergents”, it is that they wish they were Hawthorne, and Bunyan, and Milton, and Shakespeare, and whoever else is rightly in that crowd. There really is something to the idea that real missionary zeal is expressed when we create art which magnifies God in truth and spirit – because it reaches out in a way that simple propositions do not reach out.

The problem is that this ideal is not preaching but merely praxis. In the same way that opening a soup kitchen is a nice thing to do which may or may not be spreading the Gospel, making a poem or a book or a movie which is anecdotal and expresses Christian values may or may not be spreading the Gospel. The only way to preach the Gospel is to preach the Gospel.

But we do not preach the Gospel to people who just hatched out of their eggs, so to speak; we don’t preach to pod people who just emerged and just now need to find out what to think. We preach to people who live in a real world with flesh that bruises and bleeds and also sometimes tickles, and bones which break, and eyes that cry from both joy and sorrow. So to be a great pastor, one has to read “something like theology” to be able to preach to the people God gives him.

Anyone who argues against that has never read Spurgeon or Edwards in anything but a superficial way, but anyone who thinks this is the approach of either the emergents or of those whom they frankly despise is out of his mind. A pastor does not have to be a genius, or a Ph.D. of Literature, or even a better-than-most poet or writer: he just has to expand himself by reading for enrichment.

If he does that, he will be better at discipling because he will be equipped to do God’s work. End of story, and thanks for the questions.

A hand-out

I know you've all been engrossed by my exhange with iMonk this time around, and also with the coupla sidebar issues that have come up. It's been sort of cathartic for me to be able to say some of the things I've said here about CBA/ECPA, but I'll bet that it's been pretty boring for most of you. These are really thinly-veiled "This is Where I Am Right Now" posts, and I apologize to all of you for making them. However, there are two more -- one here, one at iMonk's blog -- left to unveil, so demonstrate perseverence.

To encourage you blog-wise, I found this little ditty via brother Dr. James White's blog and Tom Ascol's blog. Pastor Ascol was somewhat charitable towards the essay, and Dr. White was a little diappointed that this note came out at falwell.com.

Personally, I think it's inflammatory and ill-conceived. The only way to construe this essay as somehow "even handed" or "charitable" is to compare it to the private exchanges Ergun Caner has had with Dr. White and Pastor Ascol on this subject.

The real irony for me is that I don't think Dr. Caner's litany against "Hyper Calvinism" is the real offense here. I think this is the real offense:
Since my salvation, I have been a Baptist. Since coming to Liberty University, my wife and I have been members of Thomas Road Baptist Church, which has an amazing history and a 50-year trail of miracles. Yet, being a Baptist goes back even further than a building. In the 16th century, our Anabaptist forefathers were not so mingled with the Reformed movement in Geneva. In fact, they were hunted in virtually every country in continental Europe. Men such as Michael Sattler and Balthasar Hubmaier suffered at the hands of all of the Magisterial Reform movements, including the Calvinists.

That is the core historical issue. In our history, Free Church believers have never been adherents to one particular system or philosophy. We certainly have not been locked to a scholastic movement that was formed by men. We are Biblicists. We believe the Bible is inerrant, not because a particular creed forces us to do so, but because we see Scripture as plain on that issue. We are adamant that Jesus Christ — virgin-born, living a sinless life, crucified, buried, physically resurrected and soon returning — is the only Savior because the Bible states it, regardless of the whims and wishes of men. [Emph Added]
Really, I'm just speechless. Where exactly does one start with something this confounded and biased? How does one address the underlined text which is contradicted by the highlighted text?

Listen: I promised not to bring him up anymore, but I'll say this plainly -- if Tim Enloe thinks that this is the way I think, he may be wrong about me personally but he's 100% justified in disdaining this kind of ridiculous cherry-picking of facts.

There's enough material in those 100-or-so words to keep this blog afloat for a month.

UPDATED: I hate it when Gene Bridges steals my thunder.

franchise player

Over at iMonk's blog, the following gem was posted as a response to my answer to iMonk's question over there:

JohnB5200 on June 6th, 2006 3:27 pm

Come on, greeting cards and calendars do not define franchise. Do MacArthur, Sproul, Piper have franchises? Yes they do. So they don’t have cards, so what.

MacArthur has his own seminary for crying out loud. His own commentaries, study Bible, verse memorization system, radio program, seminars, etc.

Sproul’s RYM ministry is a money making franchise also. Study Bible, radio, tapes, cds, conferences, devotional mag.

Piper is probably the “leastest.” Probably because he’s more of a braniac whose stuff is over the head of 98% of church goers. But his DGM is catching up.

If you want to point a finger at Lucado et al., don’t be hypocritical by leaving out your faves just because they are your faves.

BTW, can you name a guy about 100 years ago who is probably responsible for starting the whole spiritual franchise business? How about CH Spurgeon!?

Now Tozer, there’s a guy with no franchise (while he was alive!)

Apparently, being prolific is now "franchising". Who knew opening a seminary could be called "franchising"?

You know what: I'm not going to offer this guy any correction. I'm going to ask the readers of this blog to offer the correction just to see you do it.

And here's the bait: best rebuff without being abusive gets a free T from the pawn shop. Talk about "franchise" ...

White Elephant in the room [4]

You can follow the whole "interview" with these links:
[Q1] Q2 Q3 Q4 Q5 Q6 Q7 Q8 Q9 Q10

7. Let's talk about how your own faith enters into running a store. Do you ever look at a really good book that you know is not going to sell ten copies or at a really bad book that is going to sell 500 and say "I've got to do something to change that?" What can you- or should you- do?

Oh, it’s about me now, is it?

The answer to your first question is, “I task my staff to read all the books that we bring in which, subjectively, I have assigned as ‘core material’ for the bookstore”. And it’s not that many titles, really – at this point, maybe 25 books. There are some exceptions – like everyone hasn’t read Institutes of Christian Religion. I’m a bookstore owner, not a cruel despot. But when Dever’s Deliberate Church came out, we were reading that – so we could talk about it and recommend it. Piper’s God is the Gospel is on the current “must read”. So what we do to advance the cause of good books is to read them and then talk about them when they come up.

And let me make sure I don’t paint us up as an ivory tower here. I have 3 PT folks who do about 80% of the customer service in my store (my wife and I split the other 20%), and they are all very different people from me – Thank God! So if somehow you find yourself visiting our store, don’t expect it to be a somewhat prim and proper place in which no preposition ever ends a sentence, and where every statement comes with a 3x5 card of proof texts. I have one guy who’s a little emergent (well, prolly a lot emergent, but he works hard and I'm beating it out of him) and is all over music; I have a young woman who is a fiction reader more than a non-fiction reader; and I have the post-Wesleyan fellow I have mentioned before. And you’ll be shocked to know that while every one of them can ably tell you the difference between KJV, NASB, NIV and MSG (and all the flavors in between), they aren’t constantly blabbering theology. The first thing they ask every person who walks in is “How are you today?” They’re nice. That’s more important, in retail, than whether they know the difference between van Til and William Lane Craig.

So we set out to change the world one person at a time by being informed and by being nice about it. I know that doesn’t really sound like me, but that’s our strategy. And if you don’t mind, let me give you an example. Last year (as reviewed on my blog) James Rutz came out with the execrable book Mega Shift, and I found it somewhat disconcerting that after that, George Barna came out with Revolution, built on the same premises. Now, what did we do? Did we hide the Barna book and the Rutz book behind the counter and only sell it to people if they let us put it in a brown paper sack, and only if they watched our 10-minute DVD on the evils of inept ecclesiology? Oh please. Some local church was reading these books for who-knows-what reason, and I’m not going to march down there and have a Diet of Worms with their pastor because he’s a little carried away by some of the alleged trends in global missions – if you can call what those books describe “missions” in the Paul-and-Peter sense of the word.

What we did was this: we put one copy of each on the shelf (1 only), and restocked it weekly if it sold. We even put them on the top shelf – the “featured” shelf. But we put them next to Dever’s 9 Marks and Tony Evans’ God’s Glorious Church, and when people asked us about the not-so-hot books, we showed them the book they were looking for and the books we would recommend in that category. That way, people have the opportunity to think about the question “what is missions?” in the right context – “what is the church?” – and not get (frankly) fooled into sensationalism.

And consider it: are these two books the most high-brow books on the subject? Not by a long shot. They are hardly books of a systematic quality, but are books at a popular level which make no major errors of exegesis or application and are accessible to Mary Methodist or Charlie Community Church, but they drive the point home that the Bible tells us something about “church” which ought to be honored in some way. And when you read either of those and then sit down to read Mega Shift or Revolution, you have enough basic information to ask the question, “do Rutz and Barna bother to apply the Bible to their exciting anecdotes, or do they instead apply the Bible when they have run out of anecdotes?”

And, I think, this methodology works. We are not berating people who don’t know any better for making choices their pastors or Sunday school teachers have suggested, and we are offering guided options to them which, if they make the comparison, will result in their spiritual growth.

Have we transformed NW Arkansas into a teeming hotbed of theological geniuses who can spot a fraud by the way he handles the NLT? No – of course not. But the trend in our bookstore – which is atypical in the industry – is away from gifts and junk and toward books and resources. And we don’t have people who avoid my wife and I at the grocery store because “that’s the crazy lady and her mean husband who run the bible bookstore”.

White Elephant in the room [3]

You can follow the whole "interview" with these links:
[Q1] Q2 Q3 Q4 Q5 Q6 Q7 Q8 Q9 Q10

5. What responsibilities does the publisher- or the retailer- have to the consumer in terms of knowing the basic doctrinal orientation of a book? For instance, should retailers have information available (on computers, for example) that could help a customer know what's actually in a Joel Osteen book? Isn't this one of the strengths of online bookstores? They can make more information available?

Again, I think this is a better question than you intend. I think it ought to work something like this:

- Someplace, there's a doctrinal affirmation in place which can be looked to for common ground which stays inside the essentials of the faith. For example, the A.C.E. statement is mighty fine; the new T4G statement is adequate, I guess. Personally, I like the LCBF or the WCF if we can haggle over sacramentology on the side.

- The result of a doctrinal statement is an ecumenical consensus. That's not "ecclesiastical body" but "common ground for common action". I get twitchy every time I see our brothers at Sharper Iron on about "separation". Dude: we have more in common than not if we are affirming the Gospel.

- Inside an ecumenical consensus, inside the "common ground for action", we can then start talking about what we can do for each other. This ought to be the playing field for CBA/ECPA.

Now, in this framework, the local church can look to the doctrinal affirmation and take some comfort: Nice list, looks like what the Bible teaches, we can admire that from a "go and make disciples" standpoint. But the affirmation has to be more than lip service. It has to stake out the territory that we are not going to let things in the margin get by us.

This is the White elephant in the room, by the way -- if you'll allow me to mix up two metaphors. On the one hand, CBA is and in many ways ought to be, a White Elephant sale of sorts -- it ought to have a veritable shmorgasborg of Christian books for reads who what Christian worldview and Gospel edification. We're not living in the apostolic age. There are between 1 billion and 2 billion Christians walking around the planet, and with that many Christians there ought to be at least 10 million pastor/teachers preachin' it every Sunday. 10 million guys who have to talk between 20 minutes and an hour (and some of them can't stop at an hour) every week should be compiling their sermon notes (which are good enough for the pulpit, btw) and publishing them for the edification of all Christians.

But what no one will talk about -- the elephant in the room -- is that first of all most sermon notes are simply not good enpough to be published, and second of all there is no standard to which these notes can or should be measured for Christian decency -- and by that I mean whether or not they stay on the doctrinal blacktop or wind up in the doctrinal ditch. You can't bring it up in CBA without getting the cold stares of publishers like Warner Faith who just gave Joel Osteen a $15 million advance on his next book.

I made a post at TeamPyro a while back half-heartedly defending CBA/ECPA because about 70% or some such thing of the top 100 books were at worst non-offensive. Listen: that's terrible. While it's better than Barnes and Noble (since you bring them up), if 30% of the gas you put in your car was sugar, you'd sue your local filling station. There's no reason for 30% of the books in the channel to be outside the scope of orthodoxy.

And the problem, by the way, is not laziness or ignorance. If it were that, you could almost forgive the lot of them for being a little like fat friars who are too busy making bread or whatever to consider that the common man outside the friary might like a bite to eat. The problem is frankly an intransigent attitude toward the matter of orthodoxy.

I say this because every time I personally bring it up inside the industry I get caster oil looks from 90% of the people at whatever situation it happens to be: “you can’t offend blah blah blah,” “you can’t exclude blah blah blah,” “you can’t divide blah blah blah,” and my favorite, “who are you to judge blah blah blah.”

It’s amazing to me, really. If you press the issue and ask them, “well, when do we start letting Mormons in as Christians in CBA,” the dismissal is as if this is not the point – that somehow it’s self-evident that Mormons have it wrong, but to think that TD Jakes has it wrong, or Randy Phillips has it wrong, or Rick Joyner has it wrong, or Mary K. Baxter has it wrong ... dude: you’re a divisive person. You’re a trouble-maker. As if the ones making the trouble with truth are the ones telling the truth like the Presbyterians, and Baptists, and the better Anglicans, and even some of the non-conformist Charismatics.

CBA and ECPA does not perceive that while orthodoxy may be a broad net it is also a threshing floor – a place where the wheat is allowed to stay and the chaff has to get blown into the fire. Being “sensitive” to stuff like the rejection of the Trinity or someone claiming to be a Prophet in the “thus saith the Lord” OT sense of the word ... I have foresworn using the vulgar barnyard expression which means empty and worthless, but if we can’t tell which doctrines are and are not “Christian”, and we’re allegedly selling books, we better call Hercules out to clean the stables because it’s getting mighty deep and stinky in here.

And let’s not kid ourselves: Amazon and CBD and LifeWay.com do not do any kind of a decent service in sifting out the raisins from the rabbit pellets. I don’t want to get all Grad School on anybody here, but what’s the interpretive grid? If the grain of the grid is so big that you can sail baseballs through it, it’s not a filter. The filter ought to be applied at the publisher’s end and it ought to be reviewed at the local church end. That’s accountability. Challies new adventure in relaunching DR is interesting and I have high hopes for it, but it’s barely a start.

I disagree with the “clearing house” methodology of having a database of books with 500-word reviews that tell the user blah blah blah. It’s hardly comprehensive, and only barely useful. In my bookstore, my employees are tasked with reading books. When they have questions about books, they talk about them with me. I have one young feller who started off as a rank Wesleyan (¡madre tamale!) and, after working in the bookstore for a year while attending the local university and taking a couple of courses (like “theology of worship” from a [!]Presbyterian) he finds himself in the under-appreciated position of knowing he was wrong about a lot of things when he started. But because his boss was ardent that he ought to read up first on what he thinks he believes, then also to read what is required of employees to know in order to assist customers, and then read because it’s pretty great to be a reader, and because he also had to pass a class being taught by someone who has a much more traditional and systematic view than he had, he is no longer mired in a theology that today he will admit was pretty flimsy. Is this young feller a reformed storm trooper? Why no: he is not. My point in relating this is simple: if you ask him to tell the difference between what he believes and what, for example, Charles Spurgeon believed, he could tell you. And CBD can’t. It doesn’t have that kind of time.

And that, in my book, is better than a static blurb. Some young guy who is studying his theology and reading books is a better resource than some fixed corporate web page every day. That is also why Christian retail ought to be beautiful: it is missional in the broadest sense, reaching both inside the church to bring some to maturity and reaching outside the church in a non-church setting to those who have questions, if I can say “missional” without condemning myself of being Emergent.

The strength of the local retailer ought to be that we are a bunch of crazy (in a nice way) people who love the Gospel and the church, and who read books as if they were more important than our next meal – which is something no chain and no web site can replicate. CBD and Amazon are price/assortment market strategies, and if they try to make “service” (as in: there’s someone you can talk to about your purchase before you make it) part of their paradigm, they are going to go out of business. It’s too expensive to do at a 4% gross margin.

This is question 6 in this series

This is question 4 in this series

This is question 2 in this series

interrupted by jimbob

Jimbob at iMonk’s blog:
Interesting. What was even more interesting to me was a link at Frank’s blogsite to what seems to be a TR cruise:


It’s a theme cruise, the theme being “Pulpit Crimes”. Woohoo, let’s stir up a little romantic fun in the sun!

Absolutely surreal. Rod Serling would love it.
Now, I think that in the context of my actual comments that I gave to iMonk, that’s a little more than a little unfair.

I didn’t say, “stadium events are all bad”. I said (in words to this effect), “the local church cedes its responsibilities to traveling sideshows in the contemporary American church.” There’s a pretty big gap between those two things.

Also, the AO Min cruise is itself a lot different in scope and expense than a Billy Graham event or what have you. And in no way can you walk away from the former and interpret that you have received the message “my local church is irrelevant”, but frequently people walk away from the latter with the understanding that they do not have to “go to church” now because they got everything they needed from a counselor on the stadium floor.

It’s hardly surreal to think that a discount vacation around an apologetic topic can be edifying, and that it doesn’t violate the idea that the local church is still the best place for the Christian to grow up and grow out in the faith.

If jimbob wants to defend his remarks, he can do it here in the meta. Otherwise, I’ve said what I have to say about this.

White Elephant in the room [2]

You can follow the whole "interview" with these links:
[Q1] Q2 Q3 Q4 Q5 Q6 Q7 Q8 Q9 Q10

As we continue this little series, I was re-reading yesterday's post and I wanted to make a clarification really for the sake of conscience. Yesterday, I said this:
To answer your question more narrowly, I think the greatest single damaging "event" which intersects both ECPA/CBA and the local church is the explosion of media ministries, beginning with the grand-daddy of media minsitries: the Billy Graham Crusades. Hal Lindsey is a small fish in a dirty pond compared to the damage I think has come about in the exercise of the local church mission due to media-based ministries which have convinced people they don’t need to "go to church" in order to "be a Christian".
And in thinking about how that statment reads, it is possible that some people might read that to say, "Billy Graham and his ministry is of the devil." That's not at all what I mean by that. Do I have some problems with some of Dr. Graham's most recent views on ecumenicism and the interpretation of the Gospel? Sure I do. But for decades -- nearly half a century -- Billy Graham was frankly the public face of American Protestant Christianity, and as an ambassador he represented us well enough that to dismiss his life-long work is callous and somewhat stupid.

My statement from yesterday, in its context, should be understood this way: the local church has work it ought to be doing, and when it cedes that work to any other organization it has done something wrong. The trend to do this started when people -- with good intentions, and for what we can only interpret as Gospel-minded labor -- started making evangelism a stadium event rather than a personal event.

The ripple effects of this, I think, are wide-reaching, and it goes directly to iMonks Q2 which he posted on his blog yesterday.

Thanks. Back to the questions.

3. Should every church have a bookstore? Should every church be supporting a bookstore run by its members?

Before I answer that, I am about to use a lot of retail words -- like "overhead" and "transactions" and "wholesale buys". I use those words rather than fluffy spiritual words because we are talking about practical matters and not matters of doctrine. So forgive me for being a crass retail wonk.

Having said that, you ask an interesting question. I think the simple answer is "no", but is that answer really very simple? For example, how can a small church of 50 people support an actual "bookstore"? Frankly, it can't. It can't generate enough transactions to make wholesale buys. You need a base of about 2500 bodies to generate enough transactions to cover your costs -- even if your costs are part of the church's overhead. But what about a church of 3000 – should it open up a bookstore? Would it be “books” or “books and CDs” or “l’il Barnes & Noble complete with café pomo outreach”? The simple “no” covers a lot of cases that really have different reasons behind “no”.

But the problem -- which I see as a very real need and a very real problem for the contemporary church -- is that most little churches deperately need a local bookstore to assist in discipleship. A bi-vocational pastor desperately needs a place where he can have a partner in ministry which is bigger than his flock of 10 who are meeting in his dining room in order to give people what they need to grow up as ministers of the Gospel.

In that, we have the problem I mentioned in my intro to this little jam session: the CBA/ECPA channel takes itself too seriously and also to lightly. It is too serious when it tries to make every activity a spiritually-enriching activity. For example, loss prevention and inventory accounting are, in the best case, good for one's retail practice. However, anyone who can do either one of those without feeling the need to employ vicious idioms of frustration and rage is qualified for canonization. Everything one does is not necessarily a step toward sanctification®, or an act of worship™. But at the same time, one of the things that ECPA/CBA refuses to do (and therefore takes itself too lightly) is establish a working confession of faith which defines what the "C" is in their funky names. You know: we shouldn't accept false prophets, deniers of the Trinity, or blasphemers as viable authors in "Christian" bookstores. But there are whole publishing houses (and TV channels) devoted to this sort of thing, and their goods are right on the shelf today at Family, and LifeWay (sorry SBC), and Berean, and Mardels. And, to be totally transparent, my store, too. We bat about 95%, but I admit we aren’t perfect.

So CBA/ECPA ought to be more concerned with what it is doing to and for the local church. Instead, it is worried that it isn't pan-denominationally friendly and it isn't selling enough neo-Marcionist literature to baptists and presbyterians.

If the world was a perfect place, my opinion is that Christian bookstores would be run by people who are under the accountability of their own elders with a somewhat-ecumenical ideal in mind. That word “ecumenical” is going to come up a few more times in this exchange, so I’m going to flesh it out here.

“Ecumenical”, as I am using it, does not mean “blindly taking everyone’s word for it that they are Christians”. For example, wherever you come down on the AA/FV issue, it doesn’t really have anything to do with the baptism of the author of a given book. Since she comes up later in iMonk’s list, for example, Joyce Meyer may actually be a Christian. I say good on her for following Jesus. That doesn’t mean that all her books – or any of her books – are worth reading from the perspective of spreading faith in Jesus Christ or maturing one’s faith in Jesus Christ. She’s a Christian? Fine. Is she growing up disciples in Christ? The answer to that question is what’s at stake in the CBA/ECPA industry.

“Ecumenical”, then, actually does mean “unity in TRUTH”. That means first we seek TRUTH, and in our admiration of the Gospel and its truth we find unity in those things indicative of that truth. Like grace -- when was the last time you read a book or heard a sermon about grace in which you found out that it is through grace one becomes a fantastic husband? That is, not only by giving grace, but by experiencing the grace of God and living inside the gratitude of a sinner who not only got off light, but got love in place of justice? Do you have to be a Methodist to read that – or a Lutheran? How about a Baptist – can a Baptist read that and not call out the hounds? Could it be that we have this truth in common with Presbyterians as well?

See: the upside of “church” bookstores is that they almost certainly (and there are exceptions) are being timoneered by pastors and elders. But the downside is that these bookstores tend to be denominationally narrow – about 5 microns more narrow than the most conservative overseer of the assembly. So in that, questions like, “why do Presbyterians baptize babies” or “why do Baptists use grape juice” or “what should I think of the Koran” or “I’ve always been taught that I got saved when I made a decision and walked down the aisle, but I accidentally read Romans 9 and it says that God wants to save, and in fact decides to save, without any regard for who I am or what I have done; what’s up with that”, or “I’m 13 and I really like my youth pastor; should I dedicate my life to ‘the ministry’ before I even know anything about girls” never get asked or never get answered in most church bookstores.

Being under submission but being free to demonstrate the discussion about very hard subjects like these is one of the benefits of being a bookstore outside of the 4 walls or polity of a church. Think about it: what if, rather than mutter in darkness about “those crazy Baptists” or “those liberal Methodists” or “those muttering continualists” there was a place where these questions of denominational abstraction could be learned about with a stern eye focused on the Gospel. Personally, I think it would lead more people to being Baptist, but of course I am well known for having a disastrous hermeneutic. My point is that while a church bookstore can serve a particular purpose well, it is not (in my view) the best possible purpose for Christian retail and publishing.

You know, Michael, we’re going to toss around a good bit of tough talk about this industry as we walk through these questions of yours, but let me say something: I see Christian retail as a very God-honoring thing and a very spiritually-beautiful thing – when it has all its ducks in a row. But that is so rare, so obscure today that it’s like finding a Hershey’s Kiss made of gold in a urinal in Grand Central Station in NYC. At a glance, you’re sure it’s prank meant to get you to put your hand into something vile; if you stare at it long enough and you realize that it’s real, you can’t figure out how to touch it without looking giddy or disturbed; and if you don’t grab it, somebody else with less sanctification than you is bound to grab it and waste it on sterno and summer sausage. This thing we are talking about is one of the great lay ministerial opportunities in the history of the church, but so many people have no idea how to get the kiss without touching the porceline that we just wind up with a lot of people trying to wash their hands quickly and forget that they ever saw the confounded thing to begin with.

So, no, I don’t think that every church should have a bookstore in a one-to-one kind of correspondence, but yes: I think every church should “have” a bookstore that they can rely on and do turn to in order to be more than a bunker full of people who never experience or fellowship with the rest of God’s people, intellectually or spiritually.