Parable of the SUV

January 21, 2016

He put another parable before them, saying, “A certain ‘mainline’ Christian denomination may be compared to an SUV. This SUV was large, and held many passengers. It was a vehicle that had been on the market for many years and the world was quite familiar with it.

For perhaps as many as 30 or more years, this make and model of SUV had an increasing tendency to swerve very sharply to the left when it was driven. In fact, it almost seemed as if the SUV would move to the left while it was parked. It was possible for drivers to steer this SUV straight down the road, but only with a great deal of difficulty. And sometimes, no amount of effort would keep it from drifting to the left.

This SUV’s tendency to swerve to the left was well known by most people. Drivers and passengers alike knew about this tendency, as did other drivers on the road. Some of the drivers of these SUVs hoped, some even prayed, that the SUVs would stop swerving to the left, but none of their efforts met with success. Interestingly, some drivers and passengers actually liked this characteristic of the SUVs and never wanted another kind of vehicle. They appreciated this left-swerving tendency.

Importantly, this tendency for the SUV to swerve sharply to the left was well known by the executives of the auto maker. Some of the executives were actually quite pleased that the SUV had this performance characteristic and encouraged the engineers to keep and even enhance this design feature. Some executives seemed mostly ambivalent about the matter. They did not say anything one way or the other about it. Finally, there were other executives, who, while they were very much aware of this characteristic, did nothing to correct it even though they had the authority to do so.

It so happened that one of these left-swerving SUVs was driving down the road. This particular SUV was being driven and occupied by people who really preferred that the SUV not pull hard to the left. Not surprisingly, the SUV went off of the highway to the left, and rolled over in the center median of the highway. By the grace of God, all of the occupants were able, without assistance, to exit the SUV. Miraculously none of the them were injured physically. Yes, they were shaken up, some were trembling from the experience, but by and large they were reflective about what just happened and importantly why.

They huddled together in the median a short distance from the overturned SUV and prayed with grateful hearts for God’s gracious protection of them. Almost the instant that they said their ‘Amen’, the SUV burst into flames and it burned until their was nothing left but a smoldering shell of twisted steel. Curiously, several other SUVs of the same model passed by on the roadway immediately after the accident, their drivers struggling to keep their vehicles from also going off into the center median, many of them alternately driving back and forth between the left shoulder and the main lanes of the road.

The driver of that burned-out SUV soon had a new vehicle. This time, one that was able to be driven without the dangerous tendency to swerve to the left. And all of the driver’s passengers were quite relieved.”



John Wesley

January 21, 2016

[Note:  I recognize that there are folks who will disagree with the conclusions of this post and perhaps even assume that I have some ax to grind in my writing of it.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I read the book and have written my conclusions.  Those conclusions are not necessarily flattering.  But even the editor of the book, who you will see was quite fond of Wesley, at least intellectually and academically, made note in the book that modern-day Methodists ought not be judged on the basis of the man who is credited with the founding of this stream of Protestantism.  If you hold some particular fondness for John Wesley, read the book yourself and see if you find me to be too far off base.  But read it objectively.]

John Wesley Albert OutlerJohn Wesley, (copyright 1964) edited by Albert C. Outler (1908-1989), is one of the volumes from the Library of Protestant Thought from Oxford University Press.

To my surprise, I have enjoyed skipping around through this book and reading sections from it.  The structure of the book allows for this approach, as it is a compilation of Wesley’s sermons, correspondence, and essays rather than a biography of Wesley or a history of his ministry.  Albert Outler, was regarded as a serious Wesleyan scholar.  He assembled a variety of these types of documents mentioned above, and wrote excellent introductory comments and provided numerous helpful footnotes and references to Wesley’s writings.

My enjoyment in reading this book was partly related to my acquiring information about one of the world’s better recognized  theologians (although one who held doctrinal positions that I disagree with) and partly because of what I found to be,  shall I say, unusual things about Wesley’s mind, his style and apparently his approach to theology.  The word that I would use to describe Wesley would be eccentric.  That characterization is certainly not unique to Wesley, and I concede that many might describe me using the same word.  But some of his eccentricities are curiously over-the-top.

The section of the book that I started with was one that Outler titled “Theologies in Conflict.”  Chapter IV of this section is called “The Struggle With Calvinists.”  (It only made sense for me to start here.)  “The Struggle” contains two essays that Wesley wrote and published; the first in 1752, the other in 1775.  Both dealt with his rejection of the doctrine of unconditional election, or predestination as Wesley usually referred to it.  The first of these two essays, Wesley titled “Predesitination Calmly Considered.”  I could not help but find the irony in that title because in reading the essay I felt like Wesley’s writing displayed neither calmness nor factual consideration.

Here are a few of my observations.  I hope that anyone who reads this will believe that these are not intended to be disrespectful of Wesley.  Clearly he was a brilliant man and his dedication to his understanding of the scriptures is beyond question.  Instead, the comments below are simply the impressions that I was left with from reading the very words of the man himself.

  • Instead of drawing comparisons between historic Calvinism and Wesley’s preferred Arminianism, he latches on to what would more accurately be described as Hyper-Calvinism.  This is the strange starting point for his rebuttals, which at times were pretty cranky.
  • Whereas historic Reformed theology, as I understand it, has never uniformly embraced supralapsarianism, (aka double predestination) that is the exact assumption that Wesley makes with respect to the meaning of unconditional election.  He contends that all Calvinists must necessarily believe in unconditional reprobation, if they (we/I) believe in unconditional election.  In Wesley’s words, “unconditional election cannot appear without the cloven foot of reprobation.”  In making this argument, he seems to overlook the teaching of Genesis 3 and elsewhere in scripture pointing to the doctrine of the natural depravity of mankind, which, as I understand it, is universally held in orthodox Christianity.  It would appear that on one hand he rejects the imputed sin of Adam (compounded by man’s personal sin), while at the same time receiving the imputed righteousness of Christ, for ALL mankind, mind you.  Oops, there is another area of dispute with the Calvinists he did not address…Limited Atonement.
  • There is comparatively little in the way of calm discussion in these essays.  Snarky and sarcastic at times, Wesley seems to get wound up the further he goes with his writings.  An apologist for Wesley would probably dismiss his tone as being passionate.  But one would have to be completely oblivious to the tone that was present in his writing to conclude that his argumentation was “calm.”  His style would be more accurately described as polemic.
  • As you read his essay, you can see that he is constructing a dialogue between a Calvinist and himself  But, the Calvinist is imaginary, and Wesley is playing both roles in this drama.  In so doing, he sets up all sorts of overstated straw men arguments (that generally have little to no basis in historic Reformed theology) and then knocks them down.  If this were parody it would be funny.  But, these were really Wesley’s writings.  The image I have is of an old man sitting on a bench rocking back and forth talking to himself.  But in this case, not just talking, answering his own questions, out loud.

Thanks to Albert Outler and his comments preceding each essay, as well as his excellent footnotes, we are given a peek into what I will call the psyche of Wesley.

  • There are several places in the second essay of this chapter, self-titled by Wesley as “Thoughts upon Necessity” where he identifies some particular theologian who he disagrees with and then quotes them.  One in particular was Jonathan Edwards.  Wesley indents the sections of text that are the “quotations” and then subsequently disputes whatever has been said.  Outler, however, sets the record straight with his footnotes.  It turns out that these are not, in fact, direct quotes of Edwards and others, just a “digest” or even a “rough digest” as Outler calls them.  I suspect a student in a modern-day seminary would be censured or even expelled for taking such liberties in quoting sources, especially if they were represented as direct quotes and then used as a part of a systematic rejection thereof.  I have to admit that I was simultaneously amused and alarmed by what had been revealed about Wesley.
  • In yet another example, similar in nature, Wesley cites a section of the Westminster Confession, in order to refute it.  But Outler notes that it is “a garbled version” of the Confession.  This, and the example above, have left me wondering if this apparent, shall I say, defect, was typical of Wesley, or if these were some rare exceptions that happened to be concentrated in one chapter, in one book.
  • Outler also notes, in his preface, that Wesley was so well versed in scripture that it was often difficult when reading him to know if his references to the word of God and his citations of it were direct quotations of an authentic translation or something else.  “The line between an obvious echo of Scripture and a definite quotation is often blurred” is the way Outler states it.  Does this mean that Wesley was prone to being a little loose with his quoting of scripture, even in his writing, when you might assume he could check his scriptural references?
  • Furthermore, Outler noted that Wesley was so well versed in the original languages, that he wrote his own translation of scripture AND quoted from it.  While on one hand, Wesley can and should be admired for his ability to translate the word of God from Hebrew and Greek, I have to say, for me, any translation of God’s word that has the benefit of a single human editor is something to be questioned.  Pick up a reliable modern, essentially literal translation, and there will have been a team of Biblical scholars working together to critically assemble the translated word of God.  This approach eliminates the potential of a single editor bringing his own doctrinal bias into the work product.  To suggest that Bible translation was not done by “editorial boards” during the time of Wesley is refuted by the fact that the Geneva Bible was translated by just such a board, and its first edition was in 1599.
  • That said, I was somewhat astonished that Wesley used comparatively little in the way of scripture to support his disagreement with Calvinism.  While simultaneously challenging his imaginary Calvinist sparring partner in the essay to provide scriptural support for “their” Reformed point of view, Wesley most often provided none in support of his contentions, as if they were to simply be accepted out of hand.

Not a book I would recommend to the casual reader, it is certainly a good one at providing a peek under Wesley’s “hood.”  Kudos to the editor, Albert Outler, who I gather was quite an admirer of John Wesley.  He referred to his interest in Wesley as “a rather tedious menage a trois” between Wesley, himself, and his wife.  (Eeeww!  I think I would have steered clear of that analogy.)  In spite of his obvious affection for the man and his theological legacy, Outler did a wonderful job of allowing Wesley, himself, to reveal his peculiarities, idiosyncracies, and eccentricities.

An Open Letter to Pastor Mark Driscoll

October 28, 2013

Dear Mr. Driscoll:

I have a hunch that you will never read this letter, but since you have used this same “open letter” technique as a means to communicate with someone (as evidenced by your open invitation letter to Dr. John MacArthur), I thought I would I would give it a try myself. Actually, it’s in regards to that letter to Dr. MacArthur that I write to you.

First of all, I would like to thank you for your ministry. You have done a remarkable job of reaching a highly secularized part of the United States with the gospel of Jesus Christ. And the Acts 29 network of churches is doing great work. I am acquainted with several men who are serving churches that are associated with Acts 29. Thanks also for standing against the unhelpful, even heretical theology that was typical of the so-called “Emergent” movement a few years ago.

Now, with regards to your open letter to Dr. MacArthur, I must say that I was somewhat surprised by it. I don’t presume to think that you care about my reaction since I am disconnected from the parties involved. But I’m not disinterested in the matter at hand. And since your letter was an “open” one and it could just as easily have been a private communication between just you and Dr. MacArthur, I am taking the liberty of responding as one who was an indirect recipient of the letter, given that it was posted on the Internet for any and all to read. Your letter to Dr. MacArthur was not some surreptitiously obtained, unauthorized posting of a private letter or email. You surely intended for it to be read by anyone with access to the World Wide Web.

Near the end of your “open letter”, you ask for suggestions on how your offer to Dr. MacArthur to attend and participate in your upcoming Resurgence Conference could be “more loving and reasonable.” I commend you for that. That’s a very gracious offer and request. So, I would like to offer a few suggestions, since you have invited feedback.

First, it occurred to me that a more “loving” approach to the invitation might have been to use the exact same means by which all of the other conference speakers were invited to participate. Were they were also invited in a blog post, that was fashioned as an “open letter”? If that was the case, then obviously you can disregard this suggestion. However, my guess would be that they received personal phone calls, personal emails, or personal letters of invitation. And I would not be surprised if I were to learn that some were even extended the invitation via an in-person, face-to-face conversation with you, or someone close to you. So, an “open letter” posted on the internet might fall a little short of the kind of expressed love you were maybe hoping for. Perhaps it’s only me, but the “open letter” could possibly be misunderstood as a bit of a stunt designed to elevate you and your thoughtfulness, while publicly shaming Dr. MacArthur if he fails to yield to your offer and drop everything he’s doing to accept your invitation. I’m sure that was not your intent, but I hope you can see how someone, including Dr. MacArthur, might draw that conclusion.

The second matter is perhaps a little delicate, but I hope you will indulge me. I trust that I am not the first person to tell you that you have a reputation for being a bit “edgy” when it comes to your inter-personal style.  I’m not sure I completely understand the expression, but I think I have heard or read your style described as “smash mouth.” I am guessing you know this since you point out in your “open letter” that you have been called to task for some of your words and deeds in the past. I bring this matter up now, because in your “open letter”, you go to great lengths to explain why you “dropped by” Dr. MacArthur’s conference in Southern California when you “happened to be in the area.” In the context of making your invitation to Dr. MacArthur more “loving and reasonable” you might want to reconsider the extensive explanation and defense of your actions, and simply apologize for the way that your actions might have been perceived. Again, I know this is delicate, but because of your history of doing, shall I say, knuckle-headed things, I’d like to suggest that it is entirely possible that some people might perceive that your actions during the Strange Fire Conference were intentionally provocative, maybe purposely antagonistic, even though you contend otherwise. I hope that you are tracking with me. What I am suggesting is that you should perhaps do less rationalizing and justifying of your actions and more acknowledging that because of your reputation and personal style, you are not really owed the benefit of the doubt, and that you then apologize (assuming you can do so sincerely) for taking advantage of the situation. And that you regret (if you really do) any problems or misunderstandings that may have resulted. Now, doesn’t that sound more loving than the self-righteous defense of your actions and your self-serving description of the incident that was presented in your “open letter”? In addition to being more loving and reasonable, it would also reveal a kind of humility that might surprise lots of people who may have incorrectly assumed that your appearance at the Strange Fire Conference was for reasons other than the ones you described in your “open letter.” I know that you cannot answer all the cynics, but I hope you can at least see how your reputation and personal style, mixed with the fact that you are on the record as being in disagreement with the particular doctrinal leanings of the Strange Fire Conference, might cause some cynical speculation about your real motives for simply “dropping by” for a visit without registering or being invited.

The third thing may be as delicate as the second, because I am sure that you are justifiably proud of your new book and are anxious for lots of people to read it. But I am trying to help you fashion a more loving and reasonable approach to Dr. MacArthur. Please accept this suggestion in the spirit in which it is intended, that is, of being helpful. The promotion of your book in the “open letter”, could appear to be more salesmanship and marketing than a loving and reasonable appeal for a man to adjust his schedule and change his plans on relatively short notice, to participate in your conference. Consider the discussion (promotion) of your book in the “open letter” in the light of the acknowledged fact that you were signing book copies and distributing them at Dr. MacArthur’s conference, on the property of a church for which you are not the pastor, without prior permission or invitation. Do you see how your mentioning the book so extensively in the “open letter” might be misunderstood? A relevant application of the teaching found in Ecclesiastes 3 might go something like this…there is a time for inviting a man to a conference, and a time for promoting a new book.

Finally, while I don’t question the authenticity of your offers, I hope that you will see the possibility that the various descriptions of your generosity (paying for travel, honorarium, you working without fee, waiving on-line charges live-stream, etc), could be misunderstood as singularly pointing out what a great and generous guy you are. After all, paying the travel expenses for out-of-town conference speakers and offering honorarium is not out of the ordinary, and Dr. MacArthur himself streamed the Strange Fire Conference for free (because the conference sold out). So, you are not really offering anything unusual or extraordinary, nor something that merits special attention by Dr. MacArthur. In other words, I am guessing that the descriptions of your benevolence will probably not be persuasive to your intended reader. But the way in which you present them for the benefit of all of the other recipients of your “open letter” on the Internet, seems to have at least the faint fragrance of some species of pride, maybe even hubris, though I am pretty sure that was not your intention…right?

There were a few other matters in your “open letter” that deserve some conversation, but perhaps another time. Like your assertion that because the “majority of Christians” are not cessationists, there must be something inherently right about continuationism. This logic falls in the category of “everyone is doing it”, and is not particularly convincing. Using that same approach, I could say that because all Christians continue to sin from time to time, it must be okay. Like I said, perhaps another time.

Thanks for reading and graciously receiving my suggestions. I hope that they will help you make the more loving and reasonable offer to Dr. MacArthur that you were hoping for.

God bless you and your ministry, and God bless your Resurgence Conference early next month,

Chuck Thomas

Reflections on T4G 2012

April 14, 2012

I returned home Friday afternoon from Together for the Gospel 2012, held in Louisville, KY.  It was a remarkable week, and Lord willing and if the resources are available, I am looking forward to attending the conference again in 2014, and this time taking Leigh with me, if she is interested.  This was the first time I have attended a T4G conference, although I have been aware of the conferences since 2008 which was the second time it was held, the first being in 2006.

For anyone unfamiliar with T4G, this page gives a brief background on its origins and also an entry into their website where more information can be found about this year’s conference.  In brief, T4G is a biennial conference held primarily for pastors, but others do and may attend.  However, since it is targeted to pastors, lay persons may find the topics and the vocabulary a rung or two higher than would be found at conferences aimed primarily at the laity.  While it is a bit of a strained analogy from the outset and breaks down on many levels, T4G could be thought of as for pastors, what Passion is for college students.

Following are a few reflections on my experience in Louisville this past week.

General Sessions  There were 9 General Sessions, each with a different man giving the session message.  By virtually any definition, each of these men would be considered a “celebrity pastor.”  And that description is not meant to be disparaging, but instead to state that each is well-known beyond the sphere of their primary pastoral responsibility.  The T4G founding four (Al Mohler, Mark Dever, CJ Mahaney, and Ligon Duncan) all delivered messages in the general sessions.  Conference regular Thabiti Anyabwile also presented, but because of conflicts, John MacArthur and RC Sproul could not attend this year.  In their place, David Platt, Matt Chandler and Kevin DeYoung were included among the general session presenters.  Each delivered excellent messages, all focusing in one way or another on the sovereignty of God.  It was my opinion, confirmed by others since the conference that David Platt is the one who may have delivered the Grand Slam of all General Session messages.  It was remarkable in many ways and can be watched here

Singing  Each General Session was initiated with congregational singing.  And this preparation for worship was nothing short of amazing.  The songs were either traditional hymns, or contemporary songs which for the most part are the product of Sovereign Grace Music.  Bob Kauflin from SGM led this singing and the only musical instrument was a Steinway grand piano.   Another thing that was remarkable was the singing in an octave (if that is the right word) that suited men, who represented probably 98% of the attendees of the conference.  And 7,500 +/- men singing together was really quite impactful.  The other thing that struck me was that the songs were without exception more theological than the usual “love songs for a savior” that have become so popular in recent years.  The distinction being that most if not all of the songs that were sung at T4G were expressions of the Gospel, which is God’s love song for sinners.

Oh, Brother  I am evidently more “Presbyterian” than even I thought, although this may not come as a great surprise to others.  I don’t recall another 3 day period of time, ever, when I have heard the word “brother” or been referred to as “Brother” more than I did between April 10 and 12.  I get that it is supposed to be an affirmation of our common position with other believers in Christ, but for me, a little of it goes a long way.  On some level its welcome was a bit worn out, not unlike how the term “dude” wears a bit thin.

Attendees  At the beginning of the conference, an informal demographic analysis was done by asking people to stand up, or remain standing as various criteria were set out.  Naturally, a great many were pastors, or on church staffs.  Attendees were of all ages from, 8 (sons of attendees, probably home schoolers) to in their 80’s.  Folks were from all over the world, with Malaysia and New Zealand being among the furthest distances.  And it was acknowledged that there were more women in attendance, although it is worth mentioning that none were pastors, although that certainly would have been newsworthy and would have created an interesting dynamic for the panel discussion on complementarianism.

Fanatics  I was actually quite surprised and bewildered by the number of young men in attendance who I would describe almost as groupies.  After each General Session message, they crowded the front of the arena floor seating area trying to get autographs from any the 9 presenters and photos of themselves with said presenter at the same time.  What was most unsettling was their requests that the presenters sign their Bibles.  It just seemed a bit odd.  I always think of authors signing the books they have written.  I was not alone in my bewilderment that this was happening.  I have to wonder if the profile of T4G attendees has changed to this, or if the fanatics have always attended.  The good news is that the VAST majority of attendees were content to simply let the messages delivered by the presenters be their take-away from the conference.

Welcome to their world!  The men attending T4G had a little taste of what women go through in most public places.  There were vastly too few restrooms for the number of men in attendance at the KFC Yum Center.  The solution was to dedicate some of the women’s restrooms to the use of men.  What was a bit disconcerting was the fact that the conference was nearly 2/3 over before the organizers saw fit to bring about this remedy.  How disconnected were they from the regular conference attendee to have not been able to see the lines form at each break between sessions?

Peretti should write about this.  The irony is rich that the headquarters of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is located directly across the street from the KFC Yum Center where T4G was held with literally thousands of Reformed pastors in attendance.  PCUSA is a dying denomination as a result of its questioning the veracity of scripture, the Lordship and exclusivity of Christ’s atonement unto salvation, and most recently abandoning historic orthodoxy with respect to the normalization of homosexual behavior for its elders.  I can imagine that there was plenty of activity in the spiritual realm and Frank Peretti has a skill for bringing this out in his novels.

The Up and Comers  Three of the General Session speakers are “young men”, at least relatively speaking.  But the founders of T4G openly affirmed them as guys for whom they have a great deal of confidence and feel good about entrusting the future of American Reformed evangelicalism.   And each of these three guys is the pastor of the kind of church that many new church planters hope to someday lead.  One of the things that struck me was that each of these three are regularly clean-shaven and none had any tattoos (at least none that were visible).  Draw your own conclusions.  But no matter how you land on these clearly and undeniably debatable matters, I would just say that there is very a thin line between contextualization and syncretism.  But that can be the subject of another post.

Grateful  While I know that none of the organizers of T4G will read this post, I do want to say that I am grateful for their efforts in putting together and executing the conference.  And I am grateful to Leigh who took care of things at home while I was away.  And I am grateful that I was chosen before the foundations of the world to be holy and blameless before him, adopted according to the purpose of his will to the praise of his glorious grace.

Washed and Waiting

March 5, 2012

Washed and Waiting – Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill is an important book to be read by anyone who finds themselves in a leadership role in the church, and frankly is a helpful one for anyone who finds themselves involved in ministry.  Given the protestant doctrine of the “priesthood of believers,” that would be everyone who claims the identity of “Christian.”

Wesley Hill is a believer and follower of Jesus Christ.  He grew up in a decidedly evangelical family setting, was educated at Wheaton College, holds an M.A. in Theology from Durham University in the U.K., and is working on a PhD. in New Testament.  He also candidly admits to having same-sex attraction.  And these, are not transient feelings.  By his admission, he is a homosexual.

But unlike some “gay-Christians,” Hill is not advocating for a tolerance of homosexuality within the Christian church.  He concedes that to do so would necessitate a rejection of the perspicuous teaching of scripture on the subject of homosexuality.  Instead, he vigorously embraces and defends the teaching of scripture and in light of it, has chosen to live a celibate life.

And it is this decision and its implications that make up the essence of his book.  He shares openly about his experience and his struggles and in so doing provides not only a very important insight into the ways in which the church is failing to be real ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a specific segment of unbelievers, but is also failing to be the kind of shepherds it ought to be of those who are believers and who struggle with same-sex attraction and homoerotic urges.  Understanding this failure of the church is critical if we are to be the body of Christ that we are expected to be.

But the book also provides great encouragement to those who are completely unacquainted with the struggles of homosexuality.  You see, every believer is both “washed” and “waiting”.  While we have been redeemed and set free from the bondage of sin in the matter of the doctrine of our justification, we still struggle with sin in the course of our being progressively sanctified, and as we look expectantly to our goal of complete Christ-likeness in glorification. Our persistent struggles may not be same-sex attraction and homoerotic urges.  But many of those struggles that we can name in our own lives, stand in opposition to the clear teaching of scripture.  If we are to live faithful lives, we know that we must resist them, taking on a form of celibacy against those sinful inclinations. Hill’s book describing his journey as a Christian and homosexual stand as a great example for those who are Christian and whose sinful proclivities have nothing to do with sexuality at all.

Read this book.  It offers some helpful and important insights into the subject of homosexuality in the church, and Hill’s testimony of his own life offers a great example for everyone who professes to be a Christian, washed and waiting.

Living for God’s Glory

February 29, 2012

Living for God’s Glory – An Introduction to Calvinism by Joel R. Beeke (along with 8 other contributors) is, well,…where to start?

I guess I might say at the outset that I enjoyed the book and am quite glad that I read it.  At 390+ pages, and 28 chapters in length, it’s not a “finish it in one or two sittings” sized book.  It took me a fair amount of time to get through it, although I had a number of major distractions in and around my life during the time I was reading it, so my perception may be a bit skewed.  And I generally only took on a chapter at time.  But that said, the content was helpfully categorized, and was presented in coherent and very manageable bites.  Questions at the end of each chapter (which I did not really use) were a nice touch to help with reviewing the content and I suppose could be useful for guiding or at least starting the discussion of the book in a study group.  

The book was incredibly informative and I thought well written, with a very accessible style, with sufficient substance to stretch me intellectually, but equally, very understandable.  I would say this book would be suitable for anyone who has a basic understanding of Christian theology.  But further to that point, the subtitle “introduction” while not inaccurate, but could be misunderstood with respect to who will find this book really helpful.  I would hesitate to suggest it to someone completely unfamiliar with Christianity or who is at the very beginning of their walk of faith, as parts of the content gets a bit deep in the weeds with respect to jargon. Or at least it seemed that way to me.  Perhaps it is a bit better suited to the “maturing” Christian who is really trying to sort out their theology, especially as it relates to their understanding of the Biblical doctrine of soteriology.  

I admit that the book dealt with a subject for which I have a favorable bias.  I am not sure how well it would be received by someone not favorably disposed to reformed theology.  However, even that person could learn a great deal from the book’s very objective handling of reformed theology from a historic perspective.  What the reader will find is that the earliest Christian theology in the “new world” was reformed, brought to what is now North America by the Puritans.  So, in many ways, this book is a portrayal of the “type” of Christianity that was found in the earliest history of what eventually became the United States of America. 

This book is a serious work.  For anyone who would like to go considerably deeper than a simple white paper description of the so-called 5-Points of Calvinism, this book will be very helpful to understanding the history of Reformed Theology, how it influenced western hemisphere civilization and it implications for regaining the ground that has been lost over the course of the last 300 years.

Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (aka: PC(USA) “light”)

January 23, 2012

Last week, a new Presbyterian denomination was born.  It will be called, at least initially, Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians.  Quite a mouthful I would say.  The name also feels about as clumsy as what they seem to be trying to accomplish in their formation.

While I will concede at the outset that the baby is still young, and how it grows over the years to come remains to be seen.  I am hoping that as it matures, it will distance itself from its “mother” to a greater degree than it has at its birth.

The idea behind the ECOoP is to form a new denomination, largely in reaction to the decision by the Presbyterian Church (USA) to ordain unrepentant, practicing homosexuals as teaching and ruling elders and deacons.  That was a move that was unacceptable to many members of the PC(USA), even as they have generally allowed their church to take socially and theologically liberal positions on other topics.

What speaks the loudest to me about this need for an altogether new Presbyterian denomination is that for the last few years, the PC(USA)’s more conservative congregations have been finding the exits and joining other pre-existing Presbyterian denominations. And I am not talking about members here, I am talking about whole churches, sometimes walking away from their property, sometimes taking it with them at great cost.  Many of these did so even before the PC(USA)’s decision to ordain homosexuals.  The particular denomination that has received most of these congregations is the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). 

The possibility of joining the EPC was still available to many, perhaps most of those PC(USA) congregations who are now interested in escaping the liberalism of their current denomination.  So, why do they not pursue that avenue, as so many others have?

The answer, I believe, lies in the fact that the PC(USA) congregations who are forming the new ECOoP are caught between their current church, that is too liberal for their liking, and another Presbyterian denomination that is not liberal enough.  Consequently, they find themselves needing to give birth to a new church that is nearly as biblically confused as the one they are trying to escape.  And the specific aspect of their need for a new hybrid church is the fact that while they may reject the ordination of unrepentant homosexuals on the basis of its incompatibility with scripture, they have yet to embrace the perspicuity of scripture with respect to its teaching that opposes the ordination of women to the office of teaching elder.  The result is a couple of denominations, one old and one new, with philosophical and theological positions that are only distinguished by one church’s willingness to ordain women and the other’s willingness to ordain women, and unrepentant homosexuals.  While the difference between the two may seem significant in a contemporary cultural context, there really is very little difference with respect to the compatibility of either ordination standard, with scripture.

Several years ago, Albert Mohler, who is president of Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY wrote:

The feminization of the ministry is one of the most significant trends of this generation. Acceptance of women in the pastoral role reverses centuries of Christian conviction and practice. It also leads to a redefinition of the church and its ministry. Once women begin to fill and represent roles of pastoral leadership men withdraw. This is true, not only in the pulpit, but in the pews. The evacuation of male worshippers from liberal churches is a noticeable phenomenon.

Furthermore, the issues of women’s ordination and the normalization of homosexuality are closely linked. It is no accident that those churches that most eagerly embraced the ordination of women now either embrace the ordination of homosexuals or are seriously considering such a move.

The reason for this is quite simple. The interpretive games one must play in order to get around the Bible’s proscription of women in congregational preaching and teaching roles are precisely the games one must play in order to get around the Bible’s clear condemnation of homosexuality. (emphasis, mine)

I hope that I am misreading the putt here.  But the very fact that the ECOoP claims as one of its distinctives that it is an  “Egalitarian Ministry (in which the spiritual gift of both genders and all racial and ethnic groups are “unleashed”)“, and the fact that it has taken the confessions of the PC(USA) as its own basis for its theology rather than the more orthodox Presbyterian, Westminster Standards, would suggest to me that the ECOoP is merely a “light” version of the PC(USA).