Friday, December 30, 2005

Goodbye 2005!

I know there's still a little more than a day left in 2005, but I am so ready for this year to be gone. On the other hand, if current trends hold, I'm not sure I'm ready for 2006. Since 2003 it seems that each successive year has been worse than the previous one. But at some point things have to turn around (I hope), so here's to 2006!

Here's a list of some of the bad things that happened in 2005:

  1. My wife lost her job toward the end of June, and she still has not found anything permanent. This has been a major problem because she has been the primary breadwinner in our family. (I didn't become a pastor because of the pay!)
  2. We dealt with car problems most of the summer. From July until September, the alternator belt on my wife's car kept breaking (once while traveling on the interstate). I'll spare you the details, but her car was out of commission most of this time and we had to take my car everywhere. Unfortunately, the A/C in my car doesn't work (why does my wife never have car problems in cool weather?), and the front passenger seat belt doesn't work (it's one of those automatic seat belts), so one of us had to ride in the back seat while the other drove. Her car also had a flat tire about 30 miles outside of town, and the jack was rusted shut. Of course the tire was shot and had to be replaced.
  3. Our computer died in July. Thanks to a timely insurance settlement check from a car accident in 2004, we were able to get a brand new computer. Had we known that my wife would still not have a job after six months, we might have skipped the computer or bought a cheap piece of junk.
  4. Our church's children's ministry went from thriving to dead almost overnight. The lady who brought most of the children decided that she could no longer attend services at two different churches on Sunday mornings, so she stopped attending ours to keep attending the one on the other side of town (even though her membership is in our church). In fairness to her, I probably would have chosen the other church as well, except I like our pastor better. ;-) Our children's director has offered to pick the children up (they didn't go to the other church with her), but they will not come with anyone except her. Then at this same time, the couple who brought the other children in our group (again, not their children) stopped attending our church to attend the same church as the other lady.
  5. The color on our TV messed up. The picture has a slight greenish cast, and blue doesn't come in. Watching the Colts-Steelers game a few weeks ago, the Colts jerseys looked burgundy.
  6. My wife's uncle died. He was the only one on her dad's side that the family was really close to, and his death was sudden. My wife had the extra burden of having to help her sister and brother-in-law with the estate. I was asked to read Scripture and pray at the funeral, then on the way to the cemetery the guy who preached the funeral asked me to do the graveside service. I had never done anything like that at a funeral; actually, I'd never even been to many funerals. So that was some unexpected stress.
  7. My wife has dealt with tightness in her throat since late 1998, but this year it got really bad. In the past doctors had not been able to figure out what it was, but now going to the doctor is out of the question financially. Then just about the time it started to ease up, her teeth began hurting.
  8. The sports world has been a disaster. The year started with the Steelers losing in the playoffs, then both the WKU men's and women's basketball teams lost in the Sun Belt tournament, the Lady Vols lost in the Final Four, the Braves choked in the playoffs again, the Titans were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention at the start of training camp, Tennessee didn't go to a bowl game, WKU missed the I-AA playoffs despite two stints at #1 in the polls, Vanderbilt missed out on a bowl game (despite beating Tennessee) because they lost to MTSU and Kentucky, and the Steelers let Cincinnati win the division!

Despite all these things, 2005 has not been a total disaster. Some good things have happened as well:

  1. We've had a real opportunity to experience the providence of God for an extended period of time. We've not missed paying any bills, we haven't had to do without any necessities, and we were still able to buy Christmas presents and a few extras along the way. We truly do serve a good and gracious God!
  2. My style and delivery in preaching finally reached a level that I am happy with. I now feel that I can engage people and not just lecture to them. Now if I could just learn to articulate clearly.
  3. We successfully rebuilt our relationship with a couple of good friends who had become upset with us about a year earlier as a result of poor communication. I had the privilege of officiating at their wedding this summer, and we are closer than ever before.
  4. Another Star Wars movie came out. I believe Revenge of the Sith was the best of all the Star Wars movies. And I also got all six movies on DVD for Christmas!
  5. We got a new computer. Now I don't get kicked offline every other minute!
  6. I discovered the world of blogging. I have met some wonderful people in the blogosphere (some of them in real life also), I have been challenged to think in new ways, and I have become more involved in matters that extend beyond the walls of my church. Now if I can just figure out a way to get more people to read my blog. . .

So overall, 2005 will not go down as one of the best years in my life; in fact, it will join 2004 near the bottom of the list. But I'm cautiously optimistic that 2006 will finish in the top 5.

Wade Burleson on "Who Can Baptize?"

Wade Burleson has an excellent post on the subject Who Can Baptize? at his blog. EVERY Southern Baptist needs to read this post, especially in light of the current IMB decision. After reading Wade's post, give your thoughts on these two questions:

  1. Can any Christian baptize a new believer, or should baptism be administered only by pastors?
  2. Does the validity of any baptism depend on the person who administers the baptism? Why or why not?

I'll let a few of you comment before giving my answers.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Stand Up and Be Counted

IMB Trustee Wade Burleson is asking all Southern Baptists who have heard about or read the new IMB policies on tongues and baptism and wish to register their opposition to the new policies to sign this post on his blog before the next IMB Trustee meeting in Richmond on January 9-11. Be sure to sign the post on Wade's blog and not this post.

Also, if you have not done so, contact your state's IMB trustees to register your opposition to these policies. Please be respectful, and be sure to give specific reasons why you are against the new policies. Marty Duren has a list of the trustees on his blog, and you should also be able to get their names from the IMB. In addition, write letters to the editor of your state Baptist newspaper. And if you can do so, attend the trustees' meeting in Richmond. Of course, the one thing we all can and must do is PRAY!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The IMBroglio Over Tongues and Baptism

Over the past couple of weeks I have followed with great interest the controversy over the adoption of new policies regarding glossolalia and baptism by the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board (IMB) . As far as I can tell, the controversy over these new policies has not received a lot of coverage by Baptist Press or state newspapers, but it is a hot topic in the SBC blogosphere. Before giving you my take on the issue, I want to list a few sites where you can get a more in-depth understanding of the issues involved:

  1. SBC Outpost---Marty Duren has provided the best coverage of this issue; he's the one who first brought it to my attention. In addition to stating his own views, Marty has printed (with permission) statements from some of the IMB trustees. Start with his blog. (To see all the posts and comments, go to the archives for November and December 2005.)
  2. Caught in the Middle---Over the past few days Paul Littleton has posted statements from IMB trustee chairman Tom Hatley and the primary author of the new policies, Dr. John Floyd.
  3. Grace and Truth to You---Wade Burleson is a trustee of the IMB who opposed the adoption of the new policies. He has several posts that list in detail what the new policies are and why he opposes them.
  4. The Road We Travel---Rick Thompson is another IMB trustee who opposes the new policies.

Here is what the IMB article said about the new policies regarding glossolalia:

“In terms of worship practices, the majority of Southern Baptist churches do not practice glossolalia (speaking in tongues),” states the policy approved by trustees as a framework for the Office of Mission Personnel staff to use with new candidates regarding a private prayer language.

The policy also says the New Testament speaks of glossolalia as a gift that “generally is considered to be a legitimate language of some people group,” and adds that “prayer language as commonly expressed by those practitioners is not the same as the biblical use of glossolalia.” Also, the policy says the Apostle “Paul’s clear teaching is that prayer should be made with understanding.”

“In terms of general practice, the majority of Southern Baptists do not accept what is referred to as ‘private prayer language,’” the policy further states. “Therefore, if ‘private prayer language’ is an ongoing part of his or her conviction and practice, the candidate has eliminated himself or herself from being a representative of the IMB of the SBC.”

I would agree that the majority of Southern Baptists do not practice glossolalia in any form, including a "private prayer language." At the same time, we have no way of knowing with 100 percent certainty how speaking in tongues was practiced in churches in New Testament times (with the exception of Acts 2, where the context makes it obvious that it refers to speaking in foreign human languages). Furthermore, I'm not sure that Paul's "clear teaching. . . that prayer should be made with understanding" can be taken as a blanket prohibition of using a private prayer language, especially in light of Paul's statement in Romans 8:26 that "We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express." Also, in the context of 1 Corinthians 14 (especially v. 2-5) "tongue" seems to refer to an unknown language rather than foreign languages as in Acts 2. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:2 that "anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God," while in Acts 2 the apostles were speaking to men when they spoke in various tongues. I bring all of this up not to defend the practice of speaking in tongues or using a private prayer language, but simply to point out that there is sufficient uncertainty regarding the Bible's teachings on this issue so that we should exercise extreme caution when drawing doctrinal boundaries regarding tongues.

While I have some misgivings about the new policies regarding tongues, the new baptism guidelines are the primary source of contention both for me and for most opponents of the new policies. Here is what the IMB article said about the new guidelines regarding baptism:

Regarding a candidate’s baptism, trustees voted two to one to establish a guideline that specifies (1) believer’s baptism by immersion; (2) baptism follows salvation; (3) baptism is symbolic, picturing the experience of the believer’s death to sin and resurrection to a new life in Christ; (4) baptism does not regenerate; and (5) baptism is a church ordinance.

The guideline establishes that candidates must have been baptized in a Southern Baptist church or in a church of another denomination that practices believer’s baptism by immersion alone. Also, the baptism must not be viewed as sacramental or regenerative, and the church must embrace the doctrine of the security of the believer.

I would imagine that almost every Southern Baptist would agree completely with points 1 through 4 in the first paragraph cited above. I believe, as do most Southern Baptists, that the Bible clearly teaches these characteristics of baptism. And I would say that most Southern Baptists agree with point #5 as well, although we need to be careful that we don't take this idea too far. Baptism is a symbol of our uniting with Christ, not of our uniting with a church.

The problem I have with the new baptismal guidelines is found in the second paragraph cited above. Baptism is not biblically valid on the basis of what church it was done in or who administered it. Baptism is biblically valid if it is done by immersion following salvation as a symbol of our salvation and not as a means of regeneration. In other words, baptism is valid if it conforms to points 1 through 4 above. There is no biblical basis for rejecting baptism just because the administrator was wrong on certain theological issues. If that were the case, then no baptism would be valid because I guarantee that no pastor or other believer is 100% correct in his or her theology. And I would hope that no one would expect a new convert to hold the right position on all doctrinal issues before he or she could be baptized.

Furthermore, the Bible does not teach that baptism must be done in a church or under the authority of a local church. When Philip went into the desert, whose authority was he operating under? The only authority I see in that passage is the Holy Spirit. What does Philip do when the Ethiopian requests to be baptized? Does he wait until he can present the Ethiopian for membership before the body at FBC Jerusalem? No, he baptizes the man right there, without the sanction of any local church. I guess that the IMB would see this as an invalid baptism, so would they say that the Bible was wrong to include this story?

I believe that if most faithful Southern Baptists knew what was happening that they would be concerned. Not only has the IMB supplanted the rightful role of the local church in determining whether a person's previous baptism was biblically valid, but it has imposed extrabiblical standards on prospective missionaries. If we truly believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God, and that the Bible is sufficient as our guide in faith and practice, then any guidelines or policies that our entities adopt should be based solely on clear biblical teachings. Instead, it appears that some of our leaders are elevating their particular interpretations of Scripture to the same level as Scripture itself.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Can Evangelicals and Emergents Dialogue with One Another?

One of the most widely discussed subjects on many of the blogs I read is the Emergent Church. I had heard of the EC, but it wasn't until I entered the blogosphere earlier this year that I really began to look at it. I must admit that I haven't been able to decide where I stand on the EC. On one hand, I really think they're on to something with their focus on being missional and living out the gospel in every area of our lives. In fact, these are themes that are often discussed in my preaching and teaching. On the other hand, I am bothered by the apparent unwillingness of many in the EC to declare where they stand on a number of theological issues. The statements I have seen tend to use broad, general language which really doesn't say a whole lot. As a Southern Baptist and an evangelical, doctrine is very important to me.

On his blog, Scot McKnight has made an effort to help evangelicals and those in the EC (what he calls "EMers") communicate with and understand each other. He has listed Seven Habits of Successful Emerging Discussions and followed that up with some pointers on How to Talk to an Evangelical (If I May). Both posts contain a number of principles that are intended to facilitate dialogue between evangelicals and EMers (and tone down the rhetoric as well).

Scot's principles are very helpful, but I believe his first point on "How to Talk to an Evangelical (If I May)" touches on the main barrier to dialogue:

First, there are two central issues for an evangelical and they need to be respected: evangelicals believe personal faith is necessary for salvation, and they believe in theological integrity and consistency. Evangelicalism is a theologically-defined movement within the Church rooted in personal faith, and when EMers assert that it prefers a praxis-defined movement, there will have to be lots of sitting around a table to make sense of one another. As there is no such thing as a theology-only movement (though some try), so there is no praxis-only movement (though some try). The two are always involved.

While Scot does a good job of defining this barrier, he really doesn't offer any ideas about how we can overcome it. I can’t see many evangelicals being willing to discuss matters of praxis with someone who appears to be unwilling or unable to affirm certain doctrines, since for many of us praxis is shaped by theology. Since a number of EMers come from evangelical backgrounds, they know the evangelical language (and the importance of doctrine in our faith walk) and should be able to express their doctrinal views in a way that we can understand. It seems to me that the one who has first-hand knowledge of both sides should be the main bridge-builder. I believe this is the greatest thing EMers could do to help facilitate dialogue.

There are also a few things that we as evangelicals can do to help facilitate dialogue:

First, we need to recognize that neither we nor our interpretations of Scripture are infallible. We need to practice the famous quote: “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” Personally, I would see no reason to engage in a dialogue about how the church should do ministry with someone who believes that salvation comes by any means apart from faith in Christ, but I would be more than willing to discuss issues of praxis and ministry with someone who had different views about the end times or women in ministry.

Second, we need to understand that praxis is as important as theology (but not more so). It is not enough merely to believe the right doctrines; we must live the Word as well. Lifeless orthodoxy is as deadly to the church as theological heresy. Remember, we’re not called to believe a set of facts. We’re called to follow Jesus.

Third, we also need to keep in mind that praxis is shaped not only by theology but also by context. Just because someone ministers differently than we do does not make them wrong, nor does it mean their theology is flawed. EMers seem to be quite adept at shaping their praxis to fit in their cultural context. I believe that evangelicals could learn a lot from the EM about this if we could get away from the one-size-fits-all approach to ministry.

Do you think my ideas would help facilitate dialogue, or am I off base in my assessment? What are some other things that both evangelicals and EMers can do to communicate better with one another and engage in meaningful dialogue?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Basics of Salvation

On Scot McKnight's blog there is a discussion about the "tug of war" between evangelicalism and the Emerging Movement over how the EM should be defined. (You can read the discussion here.) I made the following comment:

I don’t expect the EM to have a detailed statement of theology on every issue, such as women in ministry or the character of the end times, but it is not unreasonable to expect ANY Christian group to be able to agree on certain basic doctrines (things like the nature of Jesus, the means of salvation, and the nature of the Bible) and be willing to define their beliefs on such core doctrines. Even if we move “across the borders” there are certain core doctrines that we should be able to unite around.

Scott M (not Scot McKnight) made the following response to my comment:

I just want to point out that one of the things you define as a “basic” doctrine, the means of salvation is, in fact, something that (in my mind) indisputable “Christian” groups have disputed over. While all agree it involves Jesus, the specifics have varied widely. So I see some danger in too narrow a perspective.

My response was:
I maintain that the means of salvation is a basic doctrine. This particular issue is not directly pertinent to the topic at hand, so I don’t feel that I should clutter up the post with a discussion of various views of salvation. My point was that there are certain basics about the nature of salvation that are essential. We can disagree on other issues related to salvation, but on the basics there should be consensus.

Here is the question for discussion: Are there certain basics about the means of salvation that are essential doctrine for all Christians to agree on? If so, what are those basics?

Here's my list of the non-negotiable basics about the means of salvation:
  1. Salvation cannot be achieved by any human goodness, works, or effort. Salvation is not attained through religion, baptism, church membership, or partaking of any sacraments. It is entirely the result of God's grace.
  2. Faith in Jesus Christ is the means by which we receive God's saving grace.
  3. Salvation was made possible by Jesus' sinless life, His death, and His physical resurrection.

Remember, we're focusing on the means of salvation, rather than the broad implications of what salvation is all about.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Well, after commenting on several other blogs during the past year, I've finally created my own blog. The real reason I created it was so I could post comments on other blogs that require a Blogger account. I don't know how regularly I'll post on here (creative writing is not my strength), but as I become more disciplined I will probably post more regularly, and maybe I'll post something that somebody else might be interested in reading.

You may be wondering why I titled this blog "The View from the Hill." There are two reasons, I suppose:

  1. I am a graduate of Western Kentucky University, home of the Hilltoppers! And yes, the name accurately describes the campus (especially Cherry Hall, where most of my classes as a history major were).
  2. Climbing a hill can be a metaphor for going through life. Hopefully as I progress through my life I will continue to grow closer to God and become more like Christ.

So if anyone is actually reading this, post a comment to let me know. The more comments I have, the more likely it will be that I will try to make other, more substantive, posts.