Monday, July 31, 2006

What I did on my summer vacation, No. 1

I'm back from traveling all over the Carolinas and thoroughly enjoyed my time away. Though it was a working vacation of sorts, we had such a good time being in the mountains (and escaping the hot and power-less St. Louis region). We thought that we had missed the worst of St. Louis summer, although today the high is supposed to be 102. In case you are wondering, that's hot.

On our way down to NC, we spent the first weekend in Nashville, which is about half way. On Saturday, we went to the Hermitage, the ancestral home of Andrew Jackson, our seventh president and good (well, I'm not sure how good he really was) Presbyterian. The best part was seeing the old Hermitage Presbyterian Church, which no longer hosts the active congregation (their new building sits across the field from the old one). But the church building was restored after a fire in the 1960s and is a wonderful example of early 19th century Presbyterian architecture--very simple, white-washed church building with pulpit and box-pews.

We spent our first week in Black Mountain, NC, nearly a stone's throw away from Montreat, the historic assembly grounds for the old southern Presbyterian church. We love to run over to Montreat, use their large playground, and walk up the creek that runs through the property. It was interesting going back into the bookstore there--though they carry a wide (and unusual) assortment of books, I was struck by all the ecumencial worship resources they had. It signaled to me a church that has lost any sense of what it means to be Presbyterian by looking to Roman Catholic and Celtic worship traditions, rather than the Presbyterian past.

The other big thing I did that first week (aside from going to waterfalls, Biltmore, and Mast General Store) was to drive down to Atlanta to do a day of training for RUF Campus Ministers. I count myself as one of RUF's biggest fans, firmly believing in their mission of caring for covenant children and reaching out to non-believing college studies on America's college campuses. I think their work is vital for the future health of the PCA and for church planting throughout our country. Our future ruling elders and pastors, godly men and women, are coming out of RUF. And so, it was a great joy to be with them, teaching them material on Presbyterian polity that draws from my recent book.

On Being Presbyterian: Free Church of Scotland Review

On Being Presbyterian was the book-of-the-month in July for the Free Church of Scotland! You can read Iain Campbell's gracious review here.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Away from blogging, again...

I'll be away from blogging from July 15 to July 30. We will be away in Black Mountain, NC, for vacation along with side-trips to Atlanta (for RUF Campus Ministers' Training), Colubmia, SC (for Thornwell Lectures at FPC Columbia), and then for a week at Ridge Haven.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Someone call the cops...

...because Jim Bowden, former Cincinnati Reds GM and current Washington Nationals GM, just fleeced his former employeers in this trade.

How can you trade your starting rightfielder (age 26, who is finally healthy and is on pace to hit nearly 30 HRs and 100 RBI with nearly 40 doubles this year); shortstop (age 26, who made the All-Star game last year, and is on pace for almost 20 HRs--like last season--and 43 steals); and their 2004 no. 1 pick and not get Alfonsio Soriano in return?

Instead, they got a reliever with a 3.58 ERA and another reliever with a 3.91 ERA, a broken-down shortstop, and two other players who don't even have links on This, unequivocally, is a bad trade for the Reds and will prove to be the start of the rebulding of that Washington club.

The other question is this--if Kearns was available, then why didn't the Cardinals make some sort of play for him? After all, he would fit in perfect in rightfield and Encarnarcion could be moved to leftfield.

[You may now return to your regularly scheduled theological, pastoral, and historical conversations...]

The End of the Religious Right?

This article by Harvey Cox, long-time professor at Harvard Divinity School, in the Boston Globe was very interesting. Essentially, Cox suggests that the younger evangelical generation is both theologically conservative and politically liberal. As he notes, "Evangelical Protestants are becoming increasingly concerned about a wide range of issues-the Iraq War, the environment, torture, and poverty, for example-which put them at odds with much of the Bush agenda." As a result, he envisions (and hopes for) the coming end of the "antigay" "anti-abortion" Religous Right.

Cox may be right, although not for the reasons that he suggests. He belives that the reasons younger evangelicals are interested in traditionally "liberal" issues (enviornment, peace issues, poverty) is because they are paying more attention to what Jesus said: "The difference, one could argue, is that they are more concerned about actually following Jesus, who had much to say about violence and the poor, but said nothing about gays or a strong military, and who was put to death by torture."

I think the reason is actually more complex. It strikes me that a number of younger evangelicals are fed up with the cultural system called "evangelicalism," because it appears to identify certain issues as central to the Gospel which are actually not biblical or doctrinal issues at all. One great example of this was the lengthy debate that both the PCA and the OPC had over "women in combat." This issue because one of the dividing line issues for the Gospel, we were breathlessly told, because it represented a slippery slope--women in combat means weak men, which means feminism, which means male headship, inspiration of the Bible, and Christianity all fall like dominos. I think that most younger evangelicals just didn't (and don't) buy that.

The Iraq war is another example, for exactly the reasons that the Calvin College community suggested. The reality is that pre-emptive war (the Bush doctrine) can be found no where in just war theory and is not justified in most expositions of the Sixth Commandment. The way that most conservative evangelicals have supported President Bush and engaged in "Spread Eagle" patriotism leaves a younger generation cold--not because they necessarily disagree with Bush policy, but because it appears to link evangelical Christianity with Republican politics.

That doesn't mean, however, that younger evangelicals will be out in force for Hillary Clinton in 2008 for the simple reason that the Democrats continued to have such a strong pro-abortion lobby. Again, Sixth Commandment issues prevail here as they would on end of life issues, another weak point for the Democrats. Hence, the mass exodus to the Left that Cox and his colleagues long to see probably won't happen.

What will happen, though, is that younger evangelicals will probably be politically motivated over a wider range of issues than just abortion or tax cuts. Rather, they will demonstrate a critical independence that will make them a wild card in future national elections, looking for principles (and politicians) that agree with a broader sweep of biblical thinking.

[HT: SharperIron]

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

All-Star Game Observations

  • Is it any surprise that a team managed by Phil Garner blew the lead with two outs in the 9th inning? Since when did Trevor Hoffman become Brad Lidge?
  • Is anyone else bugged by the way the media fawned over David Wright? He is a very good player, probably the 2nd best third baseman in the game. But if you are a Baseball Prospectus person at all, and if you run his first two seasons against the best third baseman in the game (Scott Rolen), what you'd find is this:

Age 22, .306 BA, .388 OBP, .523 SLG, .911 OBP+SLG, 9.1 WARP
Age 23, .316 BA, .386 OBP, .575 SLG, .961 OBP+SLG, 7.0 WARP (projected to 162 games)

Age 22, .283 BA, .377 OBP, .469 SLG, .846 OBP+SLG, 8.9 WARP
Age 23, .290 BA, .391 OBP, .532 SLG, .923 OBP+SLG, 11.2 WARP

For those tempted to say, "so what?" or "those numbers are nearly equal," you have to come back with the fact that Wright has played on better teams his first two seasons compared to Rolen. Rolen had little protection in the line-ups of the 97 and 98 Phillies and still put up strong numbers. Plus, Rolen won the Rookie of the Year award in 1997; he also won his first of six Gold Glove awards in 1998 (when he was 23).

What does this mean? I think it means that the media fawns over players like Wright (and ignores players like Rolen) because of their New York bias. It is the same reason SportsCenter led with Yankee-Devil Ray highlights this past weekend, rather than Cards-Astros. If I think about it some times, it drives me nuts. Thankfully, I don't think about it often.

  • Another thing--if the NL had won the game, then Carlos Beltran (not David Wright) clearly was the MVP.
  • Coupled with that, what was Garner thinking putting Miguel Cabrera in as Wright's replacement instead of Rolen? Cabrera is so poor defensively; I think Rolen would have gotten Konerko's hit that started the rally in the 9th inning because he would not have been standing directly on top of the line (in the no-doubles defense).
  • Maybe it is just me--but I like Ozzie Guillen. I don't like what he does or says sometimes, but I like the way he manages games and engages his players. He never seems to forget it is a game--which means play hard, but have fun.

New Wendell Berry...

...coming in December 2006: Andy Catlett's Early Travels: A Novel.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Follow Up: The Unavoidable Issue

Some of the commentors on this post doubted whether I was right to suggest that Baptist theology is inherently sectarian. I think this brother's post (as well as the comments) demonstrates my basic contention. He strongly claims that "any believer who has not been baptized upon profession of faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord is failing to obey the authorative instruction of the Lord Christ and follow the apostolic pattern."

Really? Exactly which text from the Gospels demands baptism upon profession of faith? As this dear brother must know, Matthew 28:19-20 has the imperative, "Make disciples," followed by two participles, "baptizing" and "teaching." I would take those two participles as explaining how one makes disciples, which would suggest the exact opposite pattern than he suggests (that is, one becomes a disciple as one is baptized and then instructed).

Exactly which apostolic pattern? The pattern of the Ethopian (Acts 8) and Saul (Acts 9)? The pattern of Lydia and her household and the jailer and his (Acts 16)? Perhaps the Ephesian disciples who were rebaptized after giving no profession of faith and then spoke in tongues (Acts 19)? I know there are Baptist arguments to deal with all of these texts; still, it strikes me that "the authorative instruction of the Lord Christ and the apostolic pattern" is by no means clear-cut. To claim boldly this as one's standard for cutting off Presbyterian sisters and brothers strikes me as shaky and potentially dangerous.

Not only this, but to say that "we alone have the true baptism"--baptism by immersion upon profession of faith--and others who were baptized in the Trinitarian formula by an ordained minister are not baptized is to cut off the majority of the visible church around the world. And this is the heart of sectarianism. It runs against the apostolic affirmation that "there is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called--one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:4-6). What is important is that God identifies us with himself and with God's visible people in our baptisms, not whether it was by immersion after a spiritual awakening.

Perhaps this divisiveness over baptism was why Paul exclaimed: "Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Where you baptized into the name of Paul? I am thankful that I did not baptized any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized into my name" (1 Corinthians 1:13-15). To be baptized as a Baptist (and for some, baptized by a Baptist who was himself baptized by a Baptist) is less important than being baptized, identified with God's own people and granted the sign and seal of God's gospel promise. And this is the case especially for the household of Stephanus, and other households like his (1 Corinthians 1:16).

Monday, July 10, 2006

Blogging Pastors

The Washington Post had this fascinating article about "blogging pastors." It is striking to me, having worked in both retail and education, how the Internet cooperates hand-in-hand with "brick-and-mortar" establishments, whether bookstores, seminaries, or churches. It is also striking to me how few mainline Protestants understand (or care to understand) the importance of technology in our present age (as evidence by the fact that so few of them are mentioned in the article and are actively engaged in the blog/internet world).

One illustration of this came to me a couple of weeks ago. I attended the Association of Theological Schools Biennium and went to a seminar on incorporating technology into the seminary curriculum. The presenter was good, although his overview only highlighted the most basic technological incorporation--PowerPoint, CMap, use of Internet resources. However, several of the mainline Protestant deans and presidents kept asking whether their seminaries really needed to invest in technology--"was this the way things were and going to be or simply a current fad that is optional?"

Think about that for a minute--that would have been like the Catholics at the beginning of the Reformation saying, "This printing press thing--do we really need to use it or is it optional?" This amazing reluctance to utilize technology--even to supplement their ministries--is yet another reason why mainline Protestantism is dying.

One last thing on all this--even with evangelical Protestants recognition that various forms of e-media are important for supplementing ministry--another striking thing is how poor most church websites really are. At Covenant Presbyterian Church, we looked at a number of websites before redesigning ours and there were very, very few that could serve as a model. I don't understand how people can spend so much money on facitilites, advertising, and other things that are meant to present a "face" to one's church and fail to spend good money on web communications.

[HT: SharperIron]

Hope in the Midst of a Hostile World

Over the summer, I've been preparing for a fall preaching series on Daniel at Covenant Presbyterian Church, where I serve as an assistant pastor. One of the more helpful things I've read is the new book, Hope in the Midst of a Hostile World, by George Schwab, associate professor of OT at Erskine Seminary.

This book is the newest installment in the "Gospel According to the OT" series, edited by Tremper Longman and Al Groves. Unlike some of the other volumes, which tend to feel like sermonic material, this volume seems more techinical in orientation. Still, there is a wealth of helpful material here. Particularly useful was the first part, which made the case for reading Daniel as one book containing apocalyptic material that meant to convey wisdom to Israel in its exilic condition. Also useful were Schwab's demonstration that the main focus of the book was the hope granted to God's people by the recognition of his sovereignty, even over the Babylonians; his overview of Daniel 2-7, seeing this Aramaic section as a coherent whole; and his discussion of the various interpretative possibilities for Daniel 9:24-27.

While this book does not replace (nor was it meant to replace) the need for solid commentaries on Daniel, I found this a helpful and useful book that covered key issues in a winsome writing style, all under 180 pages.

Friday, July 07, 2006


One of the most common charges across the blogosphere, regardless of the theological conversation or Protestant denomination, is "slander." Generally, if the one making the claim has any knowledge of the ten commandments, there is also a reference to the 9th commandment as well. Yet it is not clear to me that "slander" is the proper charge to be making.

First, according to, slander is "oral communication of false statements injurious to a person's reputation" and "a false and malicious statement or report about someone." Since most of the exhibits of "slander" are in written form (books, presbytery reports, articles, websites), wouldn't the proper accusation be "libel"?

Next, both slander and libel have to do with injury to an individual's reputation. Generally, there has to be a malicious intent in order to be libelous; that is, someone has to be seeking to ruin another person knowingly by willfully distributing false statements. However, in current theological conversations, in which certain individuals publish things and then other individuals read those things, criticize them, and draw conclusions, it is not clear to me at all that what is going on meets the standard of libel.

As a historian who deals with written texts all the time and who has to connect various texts together into a pattern in order to offer an interpretation, I recognize that my interpretation of certain texts may be open to criticism. For example, not everyone has been pleased with my understanding of Robert Lewis Dabney's failures during the Civil War; it was my attempt to probe why Dabney only served five months during the war and why he was so bitter at the end. To accuse me of "libel," though, would be ridiculous; I tried to interpret the evidence to the best of my ability and if I failed, then so be it. Others can come along behind me, offer a different interpretation that corrects mine, note in their footnotes how Lucas blew it. That's part of the process; I'm not offended by it.

Another thing along this line: I'm not certain that interpreters of texts have the responsibility to engage in dialogue with the author of those texts if they feel they understand the materials adequately. I've wrestled with this myself as I've worked on my current historical project, which focuses on those leaders who fought liberalism in the old PCUS and who helped to form the PCA. The questions of whether to use oral history and whether to allow certain key players the opportunity to read drafts have come to my mind. I have decided not to do so, but rather rely on my own interpretation of the written record (which includes both published and archival materials). It may open me up to criticism when my work is published; however, I wanted to protect others and give them the opportunity to object to my understanding when they have the chance to read and engage my work.

By extension, I don't believe that it is necessarily incumbent for current theological analysts to engage with others when they are examining "the public record," if you will. Especially in some of the theological conversations going on currently in Baptist and Presbyterian denominations, it strikes me that dialogues over written words can inevitably devolve in ways that are simply not helpful.

In addition, I think there has to be a recognition that when one goes into print, it is inevitable that people will misunderstand things that you've written; they won't pick up on nuances in your argument; they will focus on niggling issues and miss the larger point. It is inevitable. If they fail to get it, others will compare the original materials and the critic's understanding of those things and make a determination: did the critic really understand the author? There is also the inevitability of peer review; when you put material out there for others to read, there will be disagreement and sometimes it will be strong disagreement. It is one of the more painful issues that I've faced when I've written book reviews; most of us do not like to review things negatively, but sometimes negative reviews must be written. But that is part of the bargain of going into print.

Finally, I do believe that the 9th commandment is at stake in these issues, but it is striking how quickly the Presbyterians Together document (and the 9th commandment itself) has been forgotten in these times. Just as a refresher, the Westminster Larger Catechism talks about the 9th Commandment this way:

Q. 144. What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?
A. The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own; appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever; a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocency; a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; discouraging talebearers, flatterers, and slanderers; love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requireth; keeping of lawful promises; studying and practicing of whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report.

Q. 145. What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are, all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbors, as well as our own, especially in public judicature; giving false evidence, suborning false witnesses, wittingly appearing and pleading for an evil cause, outfacing and overbearing the truth; passing unjust sentence, calling evil good, and good evil; rewarding the wicked according to the work of the righteous, and the righteous according to the work of the wicked; forgery, concealing the truth, undue silence in a just cause, and holding our peace when iniquity calleth for either a reproof from ourselves, or complaint to others; speaking the truth unseasonably, or maliciously to a wrong end, or perverting it to a wrong meaning, or in doubtful or equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of the truth or justice; speaking untruth, lying, slandering, backbiting, detracting, talebearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash, harsh, and partial censuring; misconstructing intentions, words, and actions; flattering, vainglorious boasting, thinking or speaking too highly or too meanly of ourselves or others; denying the gifts and graces of God; aggravating smaller faults; hiding, excusing, or extenuating of sins, when called to a free confession; unnecessary discovering of infirmities; raising false rumors, receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defense; evil suspicion; envying or grieving at the deserved credit of any; endeavoring or desiring to impair it, rejoicing in their disgrace and infamy; scornful contempt, fond admiration; breach of lawful promises; neglecting such things as are of good report, and practicing, or not avoiding ourselves, or not hindering what we can in others, such things as procure an ill

Surely there is enough sin here in the 9th Commandment for all to share; I certainly can think of times when I've misrepresented others, when I've engaged in scornful contempt, and other like sins. But there are also duties in the 9th Commandment as well--the duty to seek the truth as well as the good of a brother's name. What makes this so complicated in this matter is when other brothers appear to be pushing the theological envelope. How does one seek the truth as well as the good of a brother's name when he is worried that the brother is in error? How does one engage in theological dialogue (and even polemics) in a gracious and Christ-centered way?

Part of this has to be a more winsome approach to theological discourse than is currently being employed on the internet and other venues (e.g. one critique of a critique warned that the original critic was going to face "God's harshest judgment"; that strikes me as a little strong). Part of this is a recognition that most individuals seeking the truth, especially those who go through some sort of peer review process, generally are not trying to be malacious and are trying to understand others, even when they may disagree in the strongest possible terms.

Above all, it strikes me that the proper response when we feel that we've been misunderstood is not fire and brimstone and not accusations of libel (or slander, for that matter). Rather, a gracious correction and a hopeful engagement strike me as a better path. Even more, such also represents our better affirmations and the better angels of our (redeemed) natures.

On Being Presbyterian: Challies Review

Here was a generous review of On Being Presbyterian. The reviewer is Tim Challies, who may be known to some of you for his live-blogging of the Together for the Gospel conference a few months ago. Though he was raised Presbyterian and now is a Baptist, I thought his overview and conclusion was gracious.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Getting the Gospel Right

Most people in conservative Presbyterian and Reformed churches know that there is some movement out there called the "New Perspective(s) on Paul," but have neither the academic background nor inclination to wade through all the specialized studies in order to sort the matters out. That is why Cornelis P. Venema's little book, Getting the Gospel Right, is so useful. Venema, president of Mid-America Reformed Seminary, provides a brief, lay-oriented summary of the issues that highlights both the distinctive teaching of leading three leading NT scholars associated with the "New Perspective(s)" (E. P. Sanders, James Dunn, and N. T. Wright). He also brings solid criticisms to bear against the New Perspective(s). While some may wish for more detailed exegetical engagement, that is not the purpose of this little book. Rather, it will serve as a means for alerting church elders and deacons and other interested laypeople of the key teaching of an influential academic movement. As such, it is highly recommended.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

On Being Presbyterian: Reformation 21 Review

Here is a very generous review of On Being Presbyterian at the Reformation21 website. I was particularly gratified by Dr. Gleason's decision to give the book to his graduating high school seniors.