There can be a tendency for those in the congregation to fail to appreciate the work of the pastor. The job is often misunderstood for a variety of reasons. People often feel that theological training is less intensive than in other fields and that they themselves could easily earn a masters degree if they had a little time on their hands. The task lends itself to the frequent joke concerning a pastor working just three hours a week. Obviously, this point of view is sorely lacking.

However, pastors are often guilty of the same flaw. During my time as a pastor, I discovered that I frequently formed and defended opinions concerning insurance, investments, construction, and a variety of other concerns. The problem was that I had not really earned the right to an opinion because I had not taken the time to become informed in that particular field. Occasionally, I would find myself clinging to my ideas even when opposed by men who had devoted their career to the topic at hand. Think of the incongruity of that scenario. I, whose only experience concerning insurance was that I compared three quotes for my car on progressive.com, debated an insurance agent. That shows both a lack of humility and a lack of judgment. I know I am not the only pastor to ever do this. Whatever the field, it is wise to allow those who have put in the hard work to become recognized leaders in their field the freedom to lead.

I think both sides need to step back and appreciate the unique skills and experiences that God brings to a local church. Both sides should feel free to ask questions. This is not a call for anyone to blindly follow another. However, both groups should humbly value the others’ contributions to their chosen profession. I think this is at least a small part of what it means to lead gently.

The only thing more challenging than defining Fundamentalism is identifying the mainstream. Since its inception a century ago, fundamentalism has been a conglomeration of dozens of loosely connected groups that shared little more than a common enemy. Each of these groups has grown and fought to become the dominant branch. The consequences have been ugly. Time has brought further fracturing and increasing distance among the groups. As a result, each version of Fundamentalism has grown to feel that they represent the mainstream, the reasonable, majority position. In light of this idea, watch this video.

The Hyles-Anderson branch feels that they are the true Fundamentalists. What makes their claim unique is that they are probably right. Confessional Fundamentalism is a minority position although they are unaware of it. They continue to think that they are in control and that they shape the direction of the narrative. It would be better to abandon this pretense sooner rather than later, for it would allow a serious consideration of the ideas and the history that bind us. It would be disingenuous to try to make the case that the other versions of Fundamentalism have nothing to do with ours. We share a common history and culture as much as it might be personally distasteful to admit. J. Frank Norris and Jack Hyles are in our family tree. Denying it is not noble; it is dishonest. However, the time has come to intentionally pursue a new path. We have potentially seen the beginnings of this at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA at their recent Advancing the Church conference. It is never easy to leave an inheritance behind. However, if we hope to leave something better to our children, we might need to abandon what we received from our forefathers.

I just finished reading Brian McLaren’s book A New Kind of Christianity. Here is my review from LibraryThing.

There is no longer any joy in reading McLaren. Admittedly, I’ve always disagreed with him, but there was always an element of excitement in previous works. He would make such provocative statements and then casually reject the face value of those same statements in the next sentence. You knew he was playing with the borders of orthodoxy, but you weren’t always sure what side he was on. In his latest book, A New Kind of Christianity, McLaren is much more definitive. For this I am both grateful and discouraged. Undoubtedly, there will be the masses who read this and love every word. I am concerned that they might not understand either the history or significance.

McLaren’s primary point is that the last 2,000 years of Christians have misread the Bible by foisting their Greco-Roman worldview upon the text rather than the Jewish worldview that the Biblical authors intended. Stop right there. The stunning arrogance of that proposition should be enough to discredit the entire work. For two millennia, the church failed, and along came Brian McLaren to set everything right. Aren’t we lucky that he showed up so soon. After establishing this proposition, he continues to build the case for a new view of Biblical authority, Theology Proper, Christology, and Soteriology. In light of all these changes, the church must act in new ways, specifically in relation to human sexuality, the future, and other world religions.

There are some major flaws throughout the work. First, McLaren is wrong concerning his history. His Greco-Roman/Jewish distinction is not in line with either the Biblical record or contemporary Jewish authors. The claims he makes on behalf of first century Judaism are of his own creation. Second, he is a poor exegete. There are frequent cases of bad interpretation that do not hold to the internal scrutiny of the passage that has been selected (his treatment concerning Romans comes to mind). Third, he destroys straw men. Undoubtedly, a man as well traveled as McLaren has encountered some strange folks. However, they do not represent entire movements. Fourth, this road has been traveled before. McLaren would do well to read the works of Shailer Mathews and Harry Emerson Fosdick. He will find men of like concern and belief. Then he should read several accounts of World War 1 followed by a summary of Karl Barth. McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity is the closest thing to pure theological liberalism in 75 years. It was discredited once before and will be discredited again.

There is so little of value here. If Machen were alive, he would write a book entitled Christianity vs A New Kind of Christianity. What McLaren offers is a piously hopeful, but redemptively bankrupt vision of the Gospel. It is sad how influential this book is bound to become.

Shoot the Dogs?

I am reading Mark Driscoll’s book Confessions of a Reformission Rev. I’m still too early in it to provide a meaningful evaluation, but I did come across a paragraph that caught my attention.

Dogs are idiotic ideas, stinky styles, stupid systems, failed facilities, terrible technologies, loser leaders, and pathetic people. Most churches know who and what their dogs are but simply lack the courage to pull the trigger and shoot their dogs. Therefore, it is vital to name with brutal candor the people, programs, structures, and ministry philosophies that are dogs needing to be shot. Be sure to make it count and shoot them only once so that they don’t come back and bite you.

The New Apologetic

I recently read the book Jesus Without Religion by Rick James. The book is a presentation of the ministry of Jesus supposedly unencumbered by centuries of theological contributions from some of the great minds of human history brought to you directly by the Rick James. Leaving aside the potential arrogance of the idea and the foolishness of thinking that one can be freed of his tradition, I want to focus on the style. There has been a trend recently among Christian writers to incorporate as many pop culture references as possible into their works, everything from South Park to Kanye West. These references are used as analogies, as illustrations, as proofs, but more commonly, as points of connection. The underlying purpose is to impress the audience with the idea that Christians are actually trendy.

My concern right now is not the content of the book which is fairly standard. I’m sure the author feels that he has made an original contribution, but most of the presentation can be found in any good New Testament introduction. The truth is, it is all about the style. Usually this style which mimics Saturday Night Live, Family Guy, and a variety of other television shows is chosen because it allows the author to find common ground with his audience. This is a flawed strategy for two reasons. First, not all genres of writing are fit to present the truth of the Gospel. By framing the Gospel in terms of pop culture, you cheapen the Gospel. There’s a reason that auto manuals are not written in limericks; the form betrays the message. When I replace the brakes on my truck, it is vitally important that I clearly understand which steps occur in which order. The technical nature of the work precludes any poetic license. In like manner, there are some genres of literature (and art in general) that make them unfit for the Gospel for any variety of reasons. When one tries to insert the Gospel, the result is that the form distort and ultimately destroys the message. Second, the attention is focused powerfully upon the author, not the topic. Jesus Without Religion was supposed to be an apologetic for Christ; instead, it turned into an apologetic for Rick James. There is a sense in which the author is trying to convince the reader that Christ is cool, and if Christ isn’t, at least the author is. He becomes the story. The same thing has happened in the last generation in sports writing. Once upon a time, a reporter wrote about an event. Now, he writes about his own feelings about that event. Sports is trivial enough that this can be forgiven. The Gospel is not that trivial. If you are trying to produce an apologetic work about Jesus, then focus on Jesus. If you can’t find enough interesting things to say about Him, then I suggest that writing is not your gift.

In the quest for relevance, the church is losing authority. If it simply sought to preserve authority, it would find that it has also gained relevance.

Step 5: Add Gospel

Recently I have been reading several older works concerning family and marriage counseling.  These books were written by a variety of authors, all evangelical and mostly fundamental.  It is a bit like stepping back in time.  Aside from some of the more archaic statements (A good coat of paint in the kitchen can do wonders since a wife spends most of her time there), there is a more serious problem with these books: they lack the Gospel.  This error is not immediately obvious.  In fact, most of the books state plainly in the first three chapters that only a Christian can overcome the difficulties that arise in the family.  Beyond this initial tip of the hat to the Gospel however, there is nothing.  They quickly devolve into either pleas for personal effort or wish lists of ethical responsibilities.  For example, one author states that after salvation, the husband and wife will then live a life marked by a variety of Christian virtues.  The reader cannot help but wonder “how?”

At this point, the lack of the Gospel is most acutely felt.  The authors offer several suggestions that all essentially involve the old adage of “try harder.”  This is the Galatian error all over again.  Paul clearly announces in Galatians 3:3 that the same force that justifies sanctifies.  If justification is by grace through faith, then so is sanctification.  To abandon the application of the Gospel in the continuing life of the believer is just as significant an error as to preach justification by personal effort.  Neither have any hope of success.

I think many of these men perceived the flaw albeit faintly.  Every now and then, usually at the close of a chapter, a plea for faith is inserted.  It is often out of place and awkward, but it is a step in the right direction.  Unfortunately, it is too late.  The Gospel is the beginning, the middle, and the end of the Christian life.  It deserves more than trivial acknowledgment.


The issue of building a mosque at Ground Zero has sparked considerable debate across the country.  That debate has taken shape politically, religiously, and morally.  Most of the essential angles have been covered.  However, it is unfair to characterize it as a debate.  A debate assumes at least two opponents producing rational arguments and responding thoughtfully to the arguments of others.  What we have seen is the summer of the straw man, specifically among those who are in favor of the mosque.  The pro-mosque group argues that any restriction would be a violation of first amendment rights.  They state that any protest must then be unconstitutional.  I’ll leave aside the irony that many who make this argument have shown frighteningly little regard for the Constitution in other aspects of life.  However, the anti-mosque group has responded that they are not interested in seeing any governmental interference.  The basis of their protest is not legal (it is against the law to build) but moral (it is indecent to build).  They wish the builders to stop because they recognize that it is wrong.  The pro-mosque group has frequently responded by repeating their original argument louder and slower.  Debate will not happen.

There is actually an analogy here that is frequently overlooked.  Let’s turn our attention to the actions of Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church.  They travel the country protesting at the funerals of fallen soldiers.  Their signs and sayings are extremely offensive.  In fact, their practices have been condemned by men of goodwill and common sense all over the country.  Yet, they continue unchecked because it is their legal right.  The courts have upheld the legality of their behavior several times.  What they do is not illegal, but make no mistake, it is wrong, not legally, but morally.  Even though we may not be able to ban it, we are right in condemning it.  So it is with the mosque at Ground Zero.  It is wrong.  That doesn’t mean the government should intervene to stop it (though I wouldn’t mind if it stopped trying to assist in its construction).  It does mean that I can simultaneously honor the Constitution and disagree with the mosque.