Thursday, August 31, 2006

A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future, No. 1

On August 25, Robert Webber and Phil Kenyon released a document called "A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future," through Christianity Today. The theological advisors included Hans Boersma, Howard Synder, Kevin Vanhoozer, and D. H. Williams. They are circulating it for signatures and expect around 600-800 to comply eventually.

There is a lot of what they say with which to be sympathetic. I affirm with them that each generation needs to "examine its faithfulness to God's revelation in Jesus Christ." And I affirm that by looking at the whole of Christian history, Christians today might find wisdom for living in this world under Christ's Lordship. Plus, as someone who recognizes the importance of narrative for embedding beliefs and practices into a coherent web of meaning, I can affirm their stress on narrative.

However, I do have questions about the document as well. For example, while I affirm the "primacy of the biblical narrative" in its big story (whether stated, as they do, as creation, incarnation, re-creation, or in a more "Reformed" way as creation, fall, redemption, consummation), I worry that the way this is stated could be placed in stark opposition to "propositions": "Today, we call evangelicals to turn away from modern theological metehods that reduce the gospel to mere propositions." Well, I don't know too many theologians who do theology merely by propositions, i.e. without paying attention to genre, context, narrative, etc.

But do the writers mean "merely" or do they really mean "primarily"? If the writers mean primarily, then I wonder how it is possible to do theology at all--anyone who has sloughed through Vanhoozer's Drama of Doctrine knows how "propositional" the entire book is. The opposition of narrative and proposition is not only not good, it is not possible, in my estimation. I worry that the writers may unwittingly suggest such.

Further, by stressing the "biblical narrative," the writers may unwittingly be flattening the multiplicity of genres and meanings generated by the individual biblical texts themselves. There is an overall "history of the work of redemption" (to use Jonathan Edwards' phrase) that the Bible relates, but that doesn't mean that the history merely shapes us by being told. There is also content in that narrative. As J. Gresham Machen put it, "Christ died" is a fact (or a part of the narrative, we would say), but "Christ died for us" is a doctrinal statement (or a proposition) that we cannot do without.

Another quibble I have with the document is how the writers place the problem of individualism on evangelical Protestantism: "individualistic evangelicalism has contributed to the current problems of churchless Christianity." Well, no doubt evangelicalism has to shoulder some of the blame and so can be said to have "contributed." But what about mainstream Protestantism? Did their overstress of the corporate nature of sin and salvation lead to the problems of churchless Christianity? I think that is an ironic consquence of the Social Gospel--the overstress on the corporate as actually fueled individualism, reasserted against that overstress. A biblical balance needs to be maintained between the individual and corporate relations.

Perhaps the biggest problem I have with the document is the historical claim in the third point: "we call for the church's reflection anchored in the Scriptures in continuity with the theological interpretation learned form the early fathers." While that sounds neat and sort of emergent-trendy, my question is this: which early fathers? Origen? Chrysostom? Augustine? Jerome? Ignatius? There were actually profound disagreements among the fathers on how texts should be read and what they should mean. Such an evaluation of the patristics--placed on the same level as the apostolic tradition, as D. H. Williams suggests in his books--ultimately (again) flattens out the historical record. It simply not that easy to find an authorative resource in the early church that will solve the problems of "theological interpretation."

The tradition(s) do need to be paid attention to--remember, I'm a church history prof. But I'm not nearly as sanguine as the authors of "A Call" to believe that a turn to the tradition bring the solution they seek: they believe the current problem is that "modern methods compartmentalize God's glory by analyzing its separate parts, while ignorning God's entire redemptive work as recapitulated in Christ." Well, one of the few works of epic history in the patristic period that would help in this regard is Augustine's City of God. And yet how many seminary curricula allow enough space to have students read that great work? Other patristics do not demonstrate such a grand vision--so how will reference to the Fathers solve the problem observed?

Again, the document as a whole is useful. There is a great deal to agree with here. Still, it seems that ours is an age of manifesto-writing and conference-attending; it seems that it may be more useful to focus our attentions on actually living the life of "cruciform holiness and commitment to God's mission in the world" to which the document actually calls us. That may make a greater impact in the world than all the manifestos and calls and blogs combined.

(HT: Fullness of Time)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Curt Schilling: Hall of Famer?

Today, Curt Schilling struck out his 3000th batter, making him the 14th to reach that plateau. Historically, that has generally guaranteed entrance into Baseball's Hall of Fame; the only retired player with 3000 strikeouts who is not in the HOF is Bert Blyleven. The question I want to ask is: does Curt Schilling belong in the HOF?

Well, one problem here is Schill's win-loss record: 206-137 is a good win percentage (.600), but 206 wins ranks him around 93rd all-time, behind such luminaries as Bob Welch (211), Rick Reuschel (214), Jerry Reuss (220), Joe Niekro (221), Frank Tanana (240), and Dennis Martinez (245). It appears that Schill simply was hurt too many seasons to have piled up the wins needed for election into the HOF: 1994, 2 wins; 1995, 7; 1996, 9; 2000, 11; 2003, 8; 2005, 8. In the other 9 seasons where Schilling was a full-time performer, he averaged 17 wins. If he had won 17 in those other six seasons, he would have 52 additional wins for a total of 261. Suddenly, it is a more realistic conversation.

Another problem with Schilling's candidacy is who is currently NOT in the HOF: namely, Blyleven and Jack Morris. Morris, I think, should be in the HOF because he was one of the most consistently dominant pitchers of his generation--if you average his 18-year career out over 162 games, his numbers would be 16-11, 241 innings per season, 156 Ks, 1.219 WHIP (Walks plus Hits over Innings Pitched; any number around 1.0 is excellent). Add this together with the fact that Morris was one of the great big game pitchers (4-2, with a 2.96 ERA in 3 World Series victories with the Tigers, Twins, and Blue Jays), especially in that memorable 1991 Game 7, 10-inning, 1-0 victory against the Braves. For that, he was the World Series MVP.

Blyleven bears a lot of basic similarity to Morris. If you average his 22 year career out, he would be 14-12, 243 innings per season, 182 Ks, 1.198 WHIP. He was as dominate in the postseason, with a total record of 5-1, with a 2.47 ERA in the postseason, which included two World Series victories (with the Twins and Pirates). The big problem was that Blyleven was not viewed as dominate by his peers; he only made two All-Star teams (73 and 85) compared to Morris' five teams in ten years (81, 84, 85, 87, 91). If one had to choose between Morris and Blyleven, then Morris should get the call.

Schilling should be in the conversation, but is probably behind both men. Averaging his 18 year career out would yield a 14-9, 3.40 ERA, 215 Ks, 1.12 WHIP. In the postseason, Schill is 8-2, 2.06 ERA with two WS victory. Schilling has 6 All-Star appearances (97-99, 01-02, 04), was the NLCS MVP and WS MVP, and was second in the Cy Young balloting three times. In overall averaged numbers, Schilling compares favorably. But Morris's numbers are overall more impressive and consistent; he should go in before Schilling would be considered.

The one difference, to come full circle, is the strikeouts: does Schilling's 3000 strikeouts mitigate the win total (Morris had over 2800 strikeouts)? Probably not. However, there is one other factor here--does the fact that Schilling led the Red Sox to the 2004 World Series, their first in 86 years, pitching on a bum ankle, merit additional consideration? I wouldn't be surprised if that would factor in more to his election than his numbers.

In the end, though, Schilling is probably 30-40 wins away. If he could pitch three more strong seasons and end up with 250 wins and around 3400 strikeouts, I think it would be hard to keep him out of the HOF. But first, the writers should elect Jack Morris.

Designed for Worship

This is a very cool website, put together by Nashville Public Television, on church architecture in Nashville. I particularly liked (surprise) the Presbyterian churches. I wonder what it was like to hear James I. Vance, who was quite the orator as well as a theological progressive, at First (now Downtown) Presbyterian Church in that Egyptian Revival monstrosity. Likewise, I wonder what it would have been like to worship in that simple building at Hermitage with Andrew Jackson, who became a member there after he retired as president in 1837.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

John Owen

When I read Mark's reflections on his disappointment with reading Owen's Death of Death, I felt deep sympathy with him. Because--and this is probably shocking to say as a church history professor--I have a hard time reading John Owen. And I have the same sense of disappointment and it is all J. I. Packer's fault (well, I say that last line with my tongue planted in my cheek).

I first came at the Puritans through Packer's A Quest for Godliness and Martyn Lloyd-Jones' The Puritans. And both of those men felt that John Owen was the primer Puritan theologian, a Puritan's Puritan, if you will. I thought that would never truly be Reformed nor a worthwhile PhD in church history if I didn't read him. Plus, both Lloyd-Jones and Packer presented Owen as the supreme doctor of the soul, the one Puritan who would fire both mind and heart.

Well, that sounded pretty good. So, one of the first two books I bought when I arrived at Westminster Seminary was John Owen, Works, vol. 5: Faith and Its Evidences, which also had material on justification (the other book, incidentally, was D. G. Hart's Defending the Faith). As I plowed into Owen's weighty tome, I found it generally indescipherable, in terms of prose. His sentences were ponderous; his distinctions interminable. Plus, the print was small (which set me back reading the Banner of Truth version of Jonathan Edwards' Works as well). I think I made it about 80 pages in and gave up.

I've subsequently spent a lot of money on Owen--Death of Death in paperback, other volumes in the Works, even "modernized" Owen in the Puritan Paperbacks--and have had the same result with one notable exception: Works, vol. 2: Communion with God. For whatever reason, in that volume, Owen didn't write like Owen. Rather, he seems almost mystic, rapturous, delightful and delighting in his love-relationship with the Triune God. I was able to "conquer" that volume in short order, because it was so delightful to read.

The other "Owen book" that I was able to make it through was Sinclair Ferguson's John Owen on the Christian Life, which was his PhD dissertation. I once remarked to him that since I had read his book, there was no need to read Owen; to which he replied, "No, Sean, no--read Owen, not me." Well, I've tried--and have been thoroughly unsuccessful.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Presbyterian Church in "America" (or at least east of the Mississippi)

I ran across this fascinating picture of where PCA churches are on Mark Bates' blog. Each push pin represents the location of a PCA congregation in 2005:

(If you want to see this picture better, go to Mark's blog and click on the picture there.) What it appears is that the PCA is especially strong in the northeast (especially the corridor between NYC and Philly) and in the southeast. We have a strong (and growing) concentration in Chicago and Los Angeles and churches in the major metro areas of Texas.

Now there are a number of things you can conclude from this map. On the one hand, those who see the PCA as a "southern Presbyterian church" have some justification for this. Statistically, there are simply more PCA churches in the South than anywhere else. Another thing that you could say is that the PCA is showing a greater awareness for planting churches in metro areas throughout the country--Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Indy, Chicago, Denver, Seattle, NYC, Orlando, etc., all have healthy representation of churches.

But the thing that strikes me as a historian who does about Presbyterianism is this--our strength lies exactly where Presbyterianism has historically been strongest. If you know anything about Presbyterianism in America, you know that the centers of Presbyterianism have been places like Philadelphia, Chicago, NYC, Charlotte, St. Louis, Atlanta. In fact, if you think just where the old PC(USA) had seminaries, we have a strong presentation of churches in those places. That certainly has to mean something.

I think it means that, while we certainly have a great deal of work to do to reach the west coast, the fact that Presbyterian churches are flourishing in the parts of the country where you'd expect them to do so should give us great hope as well. People who grew up believing that Presbyterians stood for solid doctrine, careful government, reverent and biblical worship continue to flock to that same kind of Presbyterianism, even in a younger version (such as the PCA).

But another thing here are the oddities. For example, historically Virginia has been strong Presbyterian country, but there are relatively few PCA churches in the state, save along the I-95 cooridor. We simply have to do a better job planting churches in northern Virginia and in the Valley; as we continue to do RUF in the state at the major universities, church planting should proceed apace. In addition, there is a huge blank space in the state of Missouri; this has been good ground for Presbyterianism in the past, but our efforts have been restricted mainly to St. Louis (even Kansas City has relatively few PCA churches). Other parts of the Rust Belt are similarily sparse--Ohio, Indiana, Michigan all are fairly "light" when it comes to the PCA.

Still, this was a fascinating map that should encourage us as well as motivate us to continue to seek God's Kingdom in biblical, Presbyterian churches throughout our entire country.

Cluster Map

I've got a new do-hickey (technical jargon) on this blog: a cluster map, so you can see where in the world people are accessing this blog. I saw it on Mark Horne's blog and thought it was so cool-looking that I thought I would try it.


Sorry that I've not blogged over the past week--last week was chewed up retreating and preparing: President's Cabinet retreat, faculty retreat, new student receptions, getting my syllabus ready (I'm teach two sections of Ancient and Medieval Church History this semester), etc. I hope to be more faithful this coming week.

Monday, August 21, 2006


I am becoming a big Robert Louis Stevenson fan. A year or so ago, I re-read Treasure Island. And on Saturday, I read his Kidnapped. I find a number of things fascinating about Stevenson, which I would pursue more, especially if I was an English literature professor instead of a church historian.
  • There are some obvious parallels with his career and Mark Twain's. They both find their initial popularity in writing "travel" books, but they make their huge successes in writing profound novels that have subsequently become viewed as "children's books." Both Kidnapped and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have important commentary on place, religion, dialect and language, and identity. In addition, they wrote at the same time, both explored the South Pacific, and wrestled with/against their native Presbyterianism.
  • That leads to the second thing that would be interesting to explore, namely Stevenson and religion. Most of the quick hitting biographies in the internet suggest that RLS rebelled against his father's "rigid Calvinism." And yet, at least in Kidnapped, Church of Scotland ministers are presented in a positive light, offering guidance and friendship that is only paralleled by the lawyer, Rankeillor. It would be fun to comb through Stevenson's letters, especially; my guess is that he was something of a rake, but doesn't appear to have the same agnst over a "benevolent" diety as other Victorians (like Twain or Charles Darwin) .
  • One other thing that might be interesting would be RLS's reception in America. It doesn't appear that he was as popular in the US as he was in Scotland and England. I wonder why that would be--was it because he wasn't as high brow as Henry James or William Deans Howell? Was it the result of Twain's own huge popularity and marketing brilliance? Was it because he was too easily lumped together with Walter Scott? Was it because the height of his powers (1883-1894) were during a time of economic recession and political upheaval? Was it because this period was followed by a time of heightened "realism" that would eventually produce Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dresser, and Mencken?


Just a follow-up to my post last Monday on Tiger and Phil--all you need to know: Tiger, -18, wins his third PGA Championship and ties his own PGA Championship scoring record in relation to par (which he had set, with Bob May, at the 2000 PGA Championship at Valhalla in Louisville, Ky.); Phil, -6, blew up on the weekend. Also, I said that it was a strange tournament: Shaun Micheel, who had missed seven straight cuts, finished second with a number (-13) that would have won the last five PGA Championships. When does Tiger get to 19 majors? One projection was the 2011 British Open; he'll be 35 when that happens. Yikes.

Oooh, Daaad!

My daughter is seven years old. The expression in the title has become her favorite response to just about everything I say or do. Isn't she a little young for that? Doesn't she have to hit puberty before she becomes utterly embarassed by me? To think, I have at least 14 years of hearing, "Oooh, Daaad!"

Thursday, August 17, 2006

More Sean Lucases

Actually, I found that last Sean Lucas in the Wikipedia by doing a Google search on my name. It is interesting to find all the different people who share your name. I guess for John Smith or Bob Jones, it is probably not very interesting. But Sean Lucas is a relatively unusual combination (at least, I've always thought so). Not only is there is a Sean Lucas who plays cornerback for a Canadian Football League team, but in the first two hundred hits, I also found:
  • Sean Lucas, first year student at Cambridge University in the arts program
  • A strange looking Sean Lucas, apparently a confused lad living in Dublin, Ireland
  • Sean Lucas, junior baseball player at Youngstown State University
  • Sean Lucas, medical doctor who specializes in obesity, breahtlessness and asthma (see page 3 of program; he is speaking at 2:50pm]
  • Sean Lucas, drummer for the rock group, Raze
  • Sean Lucas, director of sales and marketing for Parts for Scooters

This raises all sorts of questions about naming and identity that I may explore in a future post. For right now, it all seems creepy and eerily familiar, like a bad John Travolta movie.

Truth in Love?

I'm not sure this advances the conversation in the spirit of "speaking the truth in love." Somehow I have to believe that, among accusations to be lodged against Don Carson and other critics of N. T. Wright, it is hard to list "laziness" or "stupidity." Just a thought.

Wikipedia, No. 2

Sean Lucas is in Wikipedia, but it is the "wrong one." The questions that occurs to me: does this Sean Lucas even deserve an entry? Shouldn't he have waited before he made it into the NFL (instead of the lame Canadian Football League) before he entered himself (our name) in there? It reminds me of D. James Kennedy's story that he tells about Alexander the Great: "Change your behavior or change your name..." Or at least, make it to the NFL first. Whatever.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Shepherding (1 Peter 5:1-4)

[note: these are the notes from an ordination sermon that I preached for John Roberts, assistant pastor for children's nurture and outreach, delivered this past Sunday evening at Covenant Presbyterian Church, St. Louis, MO]

I hope it is fitting to mention Wendell Berry at the ordination of a former city planner. Many of you have at least heard me bring up Wendell Berry, a farmer and author from Henry County, Kentucky. One of the reasons why Wendell is worth mentioning again tonight is that he can help us think properly about pastoral ministry.

Reflecting on the differences between industrial and agrarian mindsets, Berry contrasts the work of the strip miner with that of the farmer:

“I conceive a strip-miner to be a model exploiter, and as a model nurturer I take the old-fashioned idea of ideal of the farmer. The exploiter is a specialist, an expert; the nurturer is not. The standard of the exploiter is efficiency; the standard of the nurturer is care. The exploiter’s goal is money, profit; the nurturer’s goal is health, his land’s health, his own, his family’s, his community’s, his country’s…The exploiter thinks in terms of numbers, quantities, ‘hard facts’; the nurture in terms of character, condition, quality, and kind.”

Those of you who have lived in rural communities know, the farming life, the nurturing life is hard work. It means getting early to feed and milk the cows, collect the eggs, and let the animals into a different lot. It means long hot hours on the tractor or behind the mules or horses. It means potential disaster in every summer storm or lack of storms.

But it is also a good work with its own rewards. For it also means going to the County and State 4-H fairs and seeing the produce, the animals, the healthy results of the land and the work that has been done. It means blue ribbons and elephant ears, lemon shake-ups and prize animals.

If we take this and apply it to our life as the church, then the agrarian mindset is more conducive to the ministerial task—after all, this is pastoral ministry.

We often use that word, pastor or pastoral, so often that we forget what it means. That word pastoral relates to “shepherds, animal husbandry, the rural life.” By the very nature of the case, our calling as pastors is to nurture, to care for God’s flock in such a way that it knows health—healthy character, healthy condition, healthy life together.

And this ministerial task, this life of shepherding God’s flock, is hard work—it means late night phone calls and hours in the hospital; it means stressing over the sermon that never seems quite right; and it means praying and weeping over the brokenness that God’s people know. But it is also good work—and we long to see the full and final fruit of this work at the end of age, when the Chief Shepherd appears and we hear, “Well done, good and faithful shepherd.”

It is helpful for to push our minds into the rural life in order to hear Peter’s words afresh again and to reflect on what we do as pastors, on the life for which John is being set apart by the laying on of hands. Our text tonight is actually closely connected with what precedes it. In 4:12-19, Peter urges God’s scattered people not to fear persecution and suffering. In fact, one should expect that this suffering and judgment should come to the household of God; and so, God’s people should entrust their souls to their faithful God even as they know persecution.

But Peter goes on to explain that this determination to bear suffering must characterize the church’s leaders above all else. Even if others falter and fail to name Christ during this fiery trial, the leaders must be willing to continue to lead, even if in doing so they may make themselves a larger target of persecution.

And in order to encourage them, he appeals to these elders as a fellow elder, one who is a fellow witness to Christ’s suffering and a fellow participant in the glory about to be revealed, the glory of the living hope and imperishable inheritance (1 Peter 1:3-4). Peter’s appeal to them was actually quite simple—in the face of hardship, difficulty, challenge, and opposition, Peter reminds us that

1. An elder shepherds.
He actually reminds us with an imperative, “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you.” In charging elders in this way, Peter was drawing on a rich biblical metaphor. And most often throughout Scripture, God is presented as the one who would shepherd his own people through the wilderness through his presence, provision, protection, and guidance.

We know that best, of course, in the 23rd Psalm: Because the Lord is our shepherd, we do not lack any good provision; we know the protection of his rod and staff; we feel his presence even through the valley of the shadow of death; we have his guidance in paths of righteousness.

By reminding his fellow elders that their calling was to shepherd God’s flock, Peter was reminding them of very specific asks of their calling in Christ’s church. We can see this by asking three questions:

A. Whom do the elders shepherd? God’s flock
In other words, this church, John, is not your church; it doesn’t belong to you. This is God’s church, Christ is king over it, and God himself by Christ’s own Spirit cares and shepherds it. But he also condescends to use you and me and others to nurture and care for his people.

In fact, one of the reasons God judges the leaders of the OT people of God is because they presumed that Israel actually belonged to them. And because of this presumption, they abused, neglected, and tore apart God’s people. As God says in Ezekial 34: 7-10:

Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for him.

Notice, throughout this word of judgment, God reminds his leaders—these sheep belong to God, not to us.

And even in Peter’s own letter, we find this. In 1 Peter 2:25, Peter reminds God’s people that they “were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” And God brought about this return, through the blessed wounds of Jesus our Savior—he sent his Son to buy his sheep back and return them to his own flock. And God himself is the Shepherd; he himself is the Overseer of his own people. Remember then, John, that these people belong to God. Never presume that this church belongs to you or any other pastor.

B. Where are we to shepherd? God’s flock that is among you
This has everything to do with our presence as shepherds of God’s people. Just as God’s presence comforts us, so we comfort God’s people by our presence. That means, John, that you must be bodily present in those times of trial and difficulty that God’s people experience. Your presence is vitally important to care for them, to shepherd them.

But this also suggests that our presence as pastors is for people in a given place, community, and time. In 5:3, Peter talks about those people whom God has entrusted to you, those in your charge, those allotted to you by God. We can’t pastor everyone in every place; rather, our nurture and care must be given to a local community. And your commitment is to live your life with this particular people for this time.

Even more, as we live among a given people, not only will we know their spiritual condition, but they will also know ours. They will know our faults and failures, our stammering and indecision, our weakness and foolishness. And yet, as we love God’s people because they belong to God, so they will love us because they will know that we have been sent by God. This connection between pastors and people is so precious because we are among them, caring and weeping and loving and speaking to and for them.

Remember, John, that it is to this people for whom you are called to care. Love them, pray for them, care for them, be among them.

C. How are we to shepherd? By exercising oversight
That word for oversight is the same that we find in 1 Timothy 3. But this pictures more than simply a CEO, overseeing operations and making sure everything runs smoothly. Rather, this oversight is an intimate knowledge and care.

In the same way that farmer wanders through his fields to check his crops or his animals—picking off bugs, examining leaves, checking predator tracks—so pastors protect and provide for God’s people, guiding them into paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

But Peter qualifies this oversight in three ways:
Pastors oversee God’s people willingly; it is not begruded service. It is easy to understand why pastoral service could be seen as an unwanted burden—pastoral care is hard work, it involves the risking of ourselves, it involves our hearts being broken and betrayed. And in Peter’s context, it could even involve persecution all the way to death. But pastors who are called by God do this care willingly, joyfully, knowing that their own dying, there is a rising again in Jesus. We are willing to be criticized and broken, betrayed, disappointed, counting these things as part of the sufferings of Christ overflowing into our lives (2 Corinthians 1:5). For as we partake of Christ’s suffering, so we partake in Christ’s resurrection glory.

In addition, pastors oversee God’s people eagerly, not calculatingly. There is no thought of “shameful gain,” or a desire to get; there is no thought of personal advantage. Rather, those called to oversee God’s people recognize the cost and yet are eager to give themselves away to God’s people for Christ’s sake.

But finally, pastors oversee God’s people in an exemplary fashion, not by domineering them. A friend of mine once observed that pastors shepherd flocks, they don’t herd cattle. And the way we shepherd is by modeling the Christian life, by going in the front to lead the way toward holiness, by engaging our hearts as lead worshippers. We are the head repenters, the chief believers, the most persistent lovers, the most ready forgivers.

Thus, Paul’s words to Timothy are good for all pastors, regardless of age: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). Our oversight is such that we are called to set an example of what Christian discipleship looks like.

And so remember, John, as you pastor this church to oversee them willingly, eagerly, and exemplarily. Do so for their and your spiritual good, knowing that this is God’s call to you.

But never forget, John, that we as elders are called to shepherd God’s people, longing for the appearing of

2. The chief shepherd.
Though we don’t look for earthly rewards, we do look forward to a heavenly one. But that heavenly reward is far more than riches or power, fame or adulation. The heavenly reward is a never-fading crown of glory, the glory that we share with our older brother and the Chief Shepherd, Jesus.

Our great reward of glory is tied to the fact that the victory is already won and is tied to Christ’s own appearing. And when Jesus returns and sets all things to rights, he will acknowledge us as his own, acquit us from all wrong doing, fill us with inconceivable joy by granting us such a sight of himself that all our pains will be forgotten (LC 90).

At the appearing of our Chief Shepherd, we will fill full the meaning of Samuel Rutherford’s great hymn:

The bride eyes not her garment, but her dear bridegroom’s face
I will not gaze at glory, but on my King of grace;
Not at the crown he gifteth, but on his pierced hand;
The Lamb is all the glory of Emmanuel’s land.

And then we will echo the last poem in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress:
Now, now look how the holy Pilgrims ride,
Clouds are their Chariots, Angels their guide;
Who would not here for him all hazards run?
That thus provides for his, when this world’s done.

John, remember that this glory is not your own, not the result of your work and labor for God. Rather, by God's grace and by your union with Christ, you share in Christ's glory as he shepherds his people through you. Keep your eyes then on the Chief Shepherd as you nurture this people for his glory and their good, to the praise of his glorious grace, Amen.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Tiger and Phil

It appears that Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Geoff Ogilvy will be grouped for the first 36 holes at the PGA Championship at Medinah this week. The group has all three major winners (Phil-Masters; Ogilvy-US Open; Tiger-British Open) together through the first two rounds. Several thoughts:
  • Can you imagine what those galleries will be like? Forget trying to get remotely close.
  • Who will the galleries be pulling for? I tend to think they will be louder for Phil initially, since he is reprising the Arnold Palmer role; but if he struggles and Tiger continues his strong play, then they will turn toward Tiger.
  • Why did the PGA do this? Wouldn't make more sense to space the Masters, US Open, and British Open champs through the field? If nothing else, to speed play?
  • Who is going to win? While it would never surprise me to see Tiger win, especially at a course where he has won a major before (PGA Championship in 1999), the PGA is such a wild card among the majors (see Rich Beem, Shaun Micheel, Mark Brooks). It could be someone like Carl Petersson, who has been in contention in the last several majors. Another strong possibility is Jim Furyk, who has played really well over the past couple of months.
  • I can't see Phil winning--after his disaster at the US Open, he has played pretty poorly the last several times out (T65 at Western Open; T22 at British; missed cut at International). Still, if he rises to playing with Tiger and especially if he puts out a low round on Thursday, then perhaps he can get the mojo going. It just seems unlikely.

Highway Companion

Tom Petty's new solo album, Highway Companion, is excellent. Produced by Jeff Lynne (of Electric Light Orchestra fame), all of the songs relate life to a journey in which we search for grace and identity and in which we confront issues in our identity that continue to influence the present. One of Petty's better recent efforts.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Thy Kingdom Come

I recently purchased Randall Balmer's most recent book, Thy Kingdom Come, but am waiting to read it until I can buy D. G. Hart's A Secular Faith and Greg Boyd's The Myth of a Christian Nation. I then hope to write a review essay of the three books together. But Balmer is already stirring up dust--read the Institute for Religion and Democracy's engagement with him as well as this review in First Things.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

All for Jesus available...

at for 37% off. It is the Covenant Seminary faculty book in celebration of our 50th anniversary. For information on contents, see this.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Sandra McCracken

I'm a huge Sandra McCracken (Mrs. Derek Webb) fan; in fact, I like her music more than Derek's--more subtle, less preachy. She is a Missouri native, long involved in the Indelible Grace projects, and attends City Church (PCA) in East Nashville. For those who'd like to give her a try, she has a brand new album out, GravityLove. I highly recommend her!

Third book in Horton's Triology

According to the Riddleblog:
Just to whet your whistle, I am reading through the draft manuscript of the third volume in Horton's prolegomena. His response to Sanders, Dunn, and Wright is positively brilliant and will change the nature and course of the debate once and for all. I can't wait to see this in print! Great stuff!

Amazon Book Reviews

As someone who in grad school once wrote a book review on under a pseudonym and another anonymously (I was "the reader"), I have to tred somewhat lightly here. Still, the Amazon book reviews are a fascinating little sidelight on the politics of book reviewing.

[As an aside, some of the best advice I got on book reviewing was to make sure your positive review had "bumper stickers"--phrases that could be cut and used for future editions of the book! One of mine ended up on the paperback version of Brooks Holifield's Theology in America--a truly fine book. Really. Anyways, I digress...]

My example is Guy Waters' new book, The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology. Leaving aside the relative merits and demerits of that particular book, what is striking are the book reviews. Look at them--no subtlety here:
  • On the "pro-" side: "Waters does an excellent job proving that though the concerns of this group may be valid at points, their answers are inadequate at best and dangerous at worst. He is to be commanded for undertaking this task with such an irenic spirit and yet with an equally powerful commitment to the truth of the gospel, which is in danger of being blurred in the hands of the Federal Vision."
  • Also on the "pro-" side: "For those frustrated by the doltish petulance and delinquent arrogance of so-called Federal Vision people just see it like this: they are exposing themselves as those within the camp who were never with us to begin with. They are with the kingdom of Satan, and so be it. It's good when heretics and non-believers finally come out of the their closets."
  • On the "con-" side: "I wish I could recommend this book, but I cannot because it is so full of mischaracterizations and exaggerated claims about the men and positions being reviewed. Apparently the author did not read his opponents charitably and with an open mind. Consequently, I believe he failed to follow the first commandment of scholarly debate, which is to try to understand and appreciate what one's intellectual opponents are trying to say before attacking them from a position outside of their own circle of presuppositions and theological commitments."
  • Also on the "con-" side: "His analyses are based upon exegetical assertion (of the Scriptures and the Westminister Standards), employ quite a bit of question begging, create false dilemmas, and don't account adequately for the qualifications and nuances given by the men in question (though he records many of those qualifications and nuances). Waters may win many people pre-disposed to being against these men, but by just a little closer scrutiny the reader will find that he employs poor argumentation."
Hmm. It is hard to imagine a better argument for reader response theory than these reviews. Either Waters is a genius or he is a dope. Either his book is incisive or is libelious. No nuance or suggestion that there are strengths and weaknesses in the presentation. Now, either the reviewers are just unable to analyze properly (which I do not believe) or there is something more here than meets the eye. And I think that something would be the politics of book reviewing--the attempt to influence people's perceptions of a book's credibility and usefulness based on one's review of it.

After all, the book reviews are supposedly written by lay people who are interested in books, people "like you and me," who want to share their off-the-cuff reactions to a book. I think this is the intent because the "professional" reviews (NY Times Book Review, for example) are generally bracketed off and supplied by Amazon themselves. And what better way to attempt to influence than to present yourself as an interested reader or (in this case) an interested pastor who reacted to the book, either pro or con.

What is also interesting is how little recorded "influence" is occuring. This can be gauged by the "was this review helpful" numbers. The positive reviews only were "helpful" to between 4% and 16% of the responsdents while the negative reviews were "helpful" to 86% of respondents (that number was consistent across the board). That suggests to me that the majority of people visiting that page (and perhaps purchasing the book) are already disposed to view the book negatively. In addition, it suggests that they are agitated enough to "vote" whether various reviews were "helpful."

In the end, those responding also desire to participate in influencing the way people perceive this particular book. By agreeing overwhelmingly with the negative reviews, these people are trying to send the message that this is a REALLY, REALLY BAD book. And this, of course, is equally unnunaced and inaccurate. Even more importantly, it indicates how polarizing this issue and this book is, how badly people desire to influence the way people think about the issues involved (which should itself raise questions for critical thought). Above all, I think it demonstrates how Amazon book reviews can be used in a political way, even to influence debates in denominations, such as my own.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Monday Morning Quarterback

One thing I never miss on Mondays, starting the first Monday of August, is Peter King's MMQ column on I learn more about what I going on in the NFL from this column than anything else. And since I am generally a zombie on Monday anyway (from ministry the day before), it is about the right pace for me.

Why I don't like the NBA

I don't like the NBA because mediocre players, like Jared Jeffries, can sign 5-year, $30 million dollar contracts. How does a guy (an IU forward on our 2002 Final Four team) who averages 6 ppg/5 rpg deserve $6 mil a year? As a fan, I don't begrudge the money that superstars make, but this kind of thing is hard to swallow.

One other point on this--I'm not sure how this signing helps the Knicks at all. They are already overloaded at forward (David Lee, Quentin Richardson, Jalen Rose, Renaldo Balkman); exactly when is the new six million dollar man going to play?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Wikipedia, No. 1

As someone who uses the Wikipedia all the time for quick shots of fact-checking and information, I thought this article in the New Yorker was profoundly insightful. And a little scary.

[HT: Etcetera Whatever]

If the church were like baseball...

...then this blockbuster trade could actually happen!

[HT: SharperIron]

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Who is the greatest third baseman ever?

Well, if you've read this blog at all, you know that I'll reflexively say, Scott Rolen. But the statistics back this up--Rolen is a better third baseman than even Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson (15 Gold Gloves) and Mike Schmidt (10 Gold Gloves).

Baseball Prospectus has created a number of stastical measurements for fielding. The most important is the one called "rate," which emphasizes the number of runs a player saves at his position. The stat is based from 100--so a player with 110 saves 10 runs more a season than average; a player with 87 allows 13 more runs a season than average from his position. (There is a second measure, called "rate 2" that adjusts for ballparks and leagues.)

For their respective careers, the numbers go like this:
Brooks Robinson...107 (+7)
Mike Schmidt...108 (+8)
Scott Rolen...109 (+9)
In terms of fielding, then, Rolen is slightly more valuable at 3rd base than either Robinson or Schmidt. David Wright, the NY Met phenom, is not even close right now, with a 98 (-2) in this area. Also, Rolen and Robinson have nearly equivlent career fielding percentages (Robinson .971; Rolen .967).

Couple this together with Rolen's hitting. In their common years, ages 21-31, Schmidt's wins over replacement was 88.8; Rolen's 76.1--this marks the numbers of wins Schmidt and Rolen contributed to over these years above their average replacement. When you figure that Rolen was hurt most of last year and that this year is not yet completed, then Rolen's number is very close to Schmidt over the same period. Also, Rolen's career batting statistics (.286 BA, .376 OBP, .516 SLG, .892 OBP) measure favorably to Schmidt's (.267 BA, .380 OBP, .527 SLG, .917 OBP).

Compared to Brooks Robinson, Rolen is again favorable. Robinson's WARP from ages 21-31 was 81.1. Rolen's number will be very similar by the end of this season. By Robinson's career batting stastics are inferior to Rolen (.267 BA, .322 OBP, .401 SLG, .723 OBP). Of course, Robinson never hit more than 9 HRs over the last six seasons of his career (ages 34-40); it is hard to say how Rolen will decline after age 34.

Which is all to say that St. Louis Cardinals fans are very fortunate to have Rolen at 3rd base. In fact, one could make a very strong case that we are not only watching one of the best 1st basemen to ever play the game (Pujols), but perhaps the greatest 3rd baseman as well. What is shocking is how underappreciated he has been throughout his career, both in Philadelphia and St. Louis.

Four in a Row

This past Saturday, the Covenant Presbyterian Church softball team won its fourth straight PCA league championship. Braving extreme heat, we defeated three teams from Chesterfield PC to win the title.

After we played our first game on Saturday, everyone scattered to go buy coolers full of Gatorade. I ran home, took a shower, and put on dry clothes--I had soaked through everything, including my socks. I was simply thankful we were playing on a grass field; if it had been a dirt field, it would have been as hot as the old Busch Stadium when it had the astroturf.

What I did on my summer vacation, No. 3

After we left Columbia, we wandered back to western North Carolina, via Greenville. We stopped in at my alma mater and purused the bookstore. It certainly has made great strides since I graduated in 1993. The amount of Reformed and Puritan literature there is astounding, particularly when you considered that students were "shipped" in the 1970s for reading and discussion John Murray's Redemption Accomplished and Applied. I keep hoping and praying that the University continues to move slowly away from the Far Right, even if it only makes it to the center of the Right Wing. It could make a grand contribution to conservative Protestantism if it wanted to do so.

We spent the rest of last week at Ridge Haven, where Donald Guthrie and I spoke for the Covenant Family Conference. We had a good time talking about the church as Christ's new community of character and practices. We made a number of new friends, especially Sam Brown, the ministry coordinator, and J. D. Wetterling, the resident manager. J. D. just published a useful little evangelistic book called No One: When Jesus Says It, He Means It. It draws from six passages in the Gospel of John that present the doctrines of grace in an evangelistic fashion.

It took us eleven hours to make it home Friday, but we were glad to be back after two weeks away with four kids. It is hard to believe that school starts in three or four weeks. It feels like the summer is just getting started!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

On Being Presbyterian: The Last Homely House review

I am gratified by this kind recommendation of On Being Presbyterian from the Last Homely House. I was hoping that the book would be useful for a variety of applications--new members classes, elder/deacon training, prospective Presbyterians. And it is good to know that the book is meeting those types of needs in the church.

On Being Presbyterian: In Through the Front Door

Three guys--Patrick Miller, Eric Ashley, and Greg Henry--are blogging through On Being Presbyterian. This is the link to their discussion on chapter one. I'm grateful and humbled that they are taking the book seriously enough to do that, even if they end up disagreeing with the way I treated some of the issues.

What I did on my summer vacation, No. 2

One of the real highlights of our trip was our "swing" Sunday, which we spent at First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, SC. I was there to do a session of the Thornwell Lectures on "Kingdom Vision with Presbyterian Identity" and to preach the Sunday evening service.

A few things about that time:
1. FPC has to be one of the friendliest large churches which we have attended. During Sunday school, our kids made friends immediately and our five year old even got to ring the church bell (a really special memory; he wore the sticker that said he rang the church bell all day). After the Sunday evening service, the church hosts a wonderful dinner in Jackson Hall. My family all had people talking with them and caring about them. When we left the hotel Monday morning, my daughter cried because she didn't want to leave all her new friends at First Pres!

2. We were hosted so well by Duff James, assistant pastor for adult education. It was wonderful to get to know him a little bit; I hope that we will be able to develop a friendship over time. I was equally disappointed that we didn't get to hear Sinclair Ferguson (who was in Scotland) or Duff preach.

3. One interesting tidbit that I suspect few people know--on the pulpit chairs, there are wonderfully cross-stitched seat covers. And on those covers is the logo of Presbyterian Church, U.S. (the old southern Presbyterian church). I asked Duff if I was one of the few people who knew what that was; he suspected that to be the case!

4. I had forgotten it, since it had been 13 years since I last lived in South Carolina. Columbia in July is hot. Very, very hot. But it rained both Saturday and Sunday, which was desparately needed in that region.