Why is the church in America Dying?

Thom Rainer gives a summary of his findings here. The gist of it is that the church in the USA is not reproducing itself, and, if things continue as they are, Christianity in America will go the way of Christianity in Europe, where it’s all but gone.

Here’s a summary:

1. Churches are doctrinally ineffective.
2. Church leaders are less evangelistic—half the pastors Rainer surveyed had made no evangelistic efforts for 6 months.
3. The minor distractions (such as budgets and furniture) are effective in distracting us from major tasks, like evangelism and discipleship.

Read the whole thing here.

What we need is another great awakening. We need a move of God’s Spirit like what we see in the book of Jonah, where in spite of his sinfulness the man of God is forced to minister to the Ninevites. May God use many of us like Jonah, who in spite of his disobedience was heard first by the sailors, who feared Yahweh and sacrificed to him in response to Jonah’s message (Jon 1:16). And then on his arrival in Nineveh, Jonah’s proclamation results in everyone repenting (3:5), and the king and his great ones even proclaim a fast (3:6–9): “Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish” (3:9).

O God, please do again in our day what you did in Jonah’s: force the one who speaks your word to proclaim it! And please, Lord, let not the word fall on deaf ears, let not those who speak your word meet the response found by Jeremiah. O God, in mercy, send your Spirit and kindly lead many to repentance, for the glory of your name and the good of these people. O God, please pity Houston like you pitied Nineveh (Jon 4:11), for like them, we don’t know our right hand from our left and there is much cattle!.

A Tribute to John Hannah, and where to find him on the web

There was a time in my life when I had doubts about whether orthodox Christianity was derived exegetically from the Bible or illegitimately forced on a Bible that meant to communicate no such system. I had spent too much time around some “exegetes” who claimed that they were “just interpreting the Bible.” As they went about “just interpreting the Bible,” they scorned Systematic Theology, and some of them even flirted with open theism. God mightily used two men named John at that time of my life—one John is a first class exegete who also loves theology (John Piper); and the other John is a church historian whose love for Christ rings all through the profound thoughts expressed as he teaches. Walking into Dr. John Hannah’s classroom in those days when the doubts of some were giving me pause was like stepping out of shifting sand onto solid rock, and the rock was Christ.

If you’ve never met Dr. Hannah, you can get a taste of his ministry online here (http://djchuang.com/hannah/), where you can read snippets of transcribed lectures and listen to some sermons.

I must also mention that the semester in which Dr. Hannah so profoundly helped me was not a semester in which I was actually enrolled in one of his courses. I had taken all the Church History classes I needed, but because of the lingering questions in my mind I decided to audit Dr. Hannah’s course on the History of Doctrine. The class, however, was full. All the seats were taken. So I went to the administration and asked if the class could be moved to a bigger room. No. So I went to Dr. Hannah and asked if I could sit on the floor, and, don’t tell the fire department, he gave me permission. So for half the semester I showed up for a class I didn’t need for a degree to hear lectures I needed for my soul. I didn’t stop going half-way through the semester, but enough other students either dropped the class or stopped attending to allow me to have an actual chair to sit on.

Praise God for John Hannah.

The Future of Baptist Theology according to Timothy George

Timothy George ranks with Al Mohler as one of the SBC’s leading intellectuals. In a volume co-edited with David Dockery titled, Theologians of the Baptist Tradition, George writes the opening essay entitled “The Future of Baptist Theology.” The whole thing is worth reading, and I give you these snippets to whet your appetite:

“What are the benchmarks for shaping Baptist theological identity in the new world of the third millennium? Rather than put forth subtle speculations or a new methodology, I propose that we look again at five classic principles drawn from the wider Baptist heritage. These five affirmations form a cluster of convictions that have seen us through turbulent storms in the past. They are worthy anchors for us to cast into the sea of postmodernity as we seek not merely to weather the storm but to sail with confidence into the future God has prepared for us” (p. 5).

The “Identity Markers” George then identifies are as follows (he writes more on each of these points than I will quote—what I transcribe is just to give the flavor, from pp. 5–10):

1. Orthodox Convictions. “Baptists are orthodox Christians who stand in continuity with the dogmatic consensus of the early church on matters such as the scope of Holy Scripture (canon), the doctrine of God (Trinity), and the person and work of Jesus Christ (Christology).”

2. Evangelical Heritage. “Baptists are evangelical Christians who affirm with Martin Luther and John Calvin both the formal and material principles of the Reformation: Scripture alone and justification by faith alone.”

3. Reformed Perspective. “Despite a persistent Arminian strain within Baptist life, for much of our history most Baptists adhered faithfully to the doctrines of grace as set forth in Pauline-Augustinian-Reformed theology. . . . Baptists would do well to connect again with the ideas that inform the theology of such great heroes of the past as John Bunyan, Roger Williams, Andrew Fuller, Adoniram Judson, Luther Rice, and Charles Haddon Spurgeon.”

4. Baptist Distinctives. “One of the most important contributions that Baptists have made to the wider life of the church is the recovery of the early church practice of baptism as an adult rite of initiation signifying a committed participation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In many contemporary Baptist settings, however, baptism is in danger of being divorced from the context of a decisive life commitment. . . . We must also guard against a minimalist understanding of the Lord’s Supper. . .”

5. Confessional Context. “Baptists have historically approved and circulated confessions of faith for a threefold purpose: as an expression of our religious liberty, as a statement of our theological convictions, and as a witness of the truths we hold in sacred trust.”

Timothy George and the SBC

Would that Timothy George’s voice would be heard loud and clear in these days. His recent piece in First Things titled “Evangelicals and Others” is a must read for any Southern Baptist in these troubled days. Can we hold tenaciously to our theological positions while maintaining a cooperative ecumenism? George suggests that we can learn how to do just this from our Southern Baptist forbears such as Carl F. H. Henry and W. A. Criswell. Warning us against those who follow the father of Landmarkism, J. R. Graves, George writes,

“But I suggest that ecumenism is a central portion—a core concern—of the evangelical faith and the evangelical church. Such a vision is rooted in the holy scriptures, in the great tradition, in the deepest insights of the Protestant reformers of the sixteenth century, in the renewal impulses of the Spirit-anointed awakenings, and, yes, even the sectarian roots of the movement shaped by the likes of Carl McIntyre, Carl F.H. Henry, and W.A. Criswell.”

The whole piece is worth reading. May the tribe of Timothy George increase, and may we pursue the unity for which Jesus prayed.

The OT in Light of Progressive Revelation: The Epistle of Barnabas

The Epistle of Barnabas is not part of the New Testament canon, though it was included in Codex Sinaiticus and Origen referred to it as a catholic epistle! Eusebius and Jerome, however, categorized it as a disputed writing and it was classed with the apocrypha.

Modern scholars label it “anonymous,” even though early church tradition (Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Jerome, Serapion of Thmuys, Codex Sinaiticus) attributes it to “Barnabas.” This attribution, along with its inclusion in Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Hierosolymitanus, and Codex Corbeiensis, appears to point to a belief that the Barnabas described in the book of Acts is the Barnabas in view. Modern scholars cite internal evidence against the view that Barnabas wrote the epistle, but it seems to me that this internal evidence is not altogether conclusive. As for it being “anonymous,” it is “anonymous” in the same way that the Gospels are “anonymous,” and I think Martin Hengel has shown pretty conclusively that these Gospels never would have been circulated without a title, nor would the titles of the Gospels be so uniform if they were not original (or at least practically original) to the first production of the respective Gospels. So, I think it is as plausible as not that the document we know as The Epistle of Barnabas was written by the sometime companion of Paul in Acts.

All these prefatory comments prepare the way for what I am about to say about the way that Barnabas cites the “Let us make man in our image” statement in Genesis 1:26–28. Twice in the Epistle of Barnabas, at 5:5 and at 6:12, the “let us” statements are cited as words spoken by the Father to the Son.

Barnabas 5:5
There is yet this also, my brethren; if the Lord endured to suffer
for our souls, though He was Lord of the whole world, unto whom God
said from the foundation of the world, Let us make man after our
image and likeness, how then did He endure to suffer at the hand
of men?

Barnabas 6:12
For the scripture saith concerning us, how He saith to the Son; Let
us make man after our image and after our likeness, and let them
rule over the beasts of the earth and the fowls of the heaven and
the fishes of the sea. And the Lord said when He saw the fair
creation of us men; Increase and multiply and fill the earth.
These words refer to the Son.

I have heard people I love and respect describe the first person plurals here as “plurals of majesty,” and this is a valid category in Hebrew grammar (at least it’s in GKC). But I wonder if what we have in Barnabas 5:5 and 6:12 doesn’t fall nicely in line with early Christian “wisdom Christology”—“wisdom” pointing to God’s work in creation (cf. Prov 8:22–31), and “wisdom Christology” pointing to the consistent teaching of the NT that God created through the Son (see, e.g., John 1:3; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2).

If this is correct, then just as John, Paul, and the author of Hebrews speak of Jesus as the agent of creation, the Epistle of Barnabas speaks of Jesus as active in creation and reads Genesis 1 in a way that comports with early Christian wisdom Christology.

In the light of progressive revelation, this early Christian writing, perhaps written in the first century (but probably no later than AD 135), perhaps written by a companion of Paul, reads the words of Genesis, “Let us make man in our image,” as words spoken by the Father to the Son. I have no quarrel with such a reading.

Spurgeon on Elders

I recently bought Spurgeon's Autobiography and hope to read it soon, and that prompted me to look up this Spurgeon quote from Mark Dever's Baptists and Elders:

“To our minds, the Scripture seems very explicit as to how this Church should be ordered. We believe that every Church member should have equal rights and privileges; that there is no power in Church officers to execute anything unless they have the full authorization of the members of the Church. We believe, however, that the Church should choose its pastor, and having chosen him, that they should love him and respect him for his work’s sake; that with him should be associated the deacons of the Church to take the oversight of pecuniary matters; and the elders of the Church to assist in all the works of the pastorate in the fear of God, being overseers of the flock. Such a Church we believe to be scripturally ordered; and if it abide in the faith, rooted, and grounded, and settled, such a Church may expect the benediction of heaven, and so it shall become the pillar and ground of the truth.” Spurgeon, “The Church Conservative and Aggressive” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 7, pp. 658-659.

Yeah! What he said!

The Old Testament in the New

Justin Taylor recently posted on Greg Beale’s question, Did the Apostles Preach the Right Doctrine from the Wrong Text?, and that prompted me to ruminate on the progress of my thinking about the use of the OT in the NT.

When I was introduced to the academic study of the Bible, the focus of those who taught me the Old Testament was definitely on the meaning of OT texts in their original, ancient near Eastern context. From time to time one of my profs would acknowledge that our interpretation can’t stop there: we have to trace things through the New Testament. The problem was that we never got around to actually doing that. We always stopped in the ancient near Eastern context of the OT. Not only did we always stop there, on plenty of occasions it was communicated in various ways that the authors of the NT were not doing the kind of exegesis that would earn “A’s” at most institutions of higher learning!

The standard line was, “The apostles did what they did with the OT because they were inspired. You are not inspired, so you are not in a position to interpret the OT the way they do.”

I’ll never forget the Sunday morning I visited a church pastored by Joe Blankenship. I don’t remember if he was preaching Luke 24 or if he just read the whole chapter (a very good thing for pastors to do in church, see 1 Tim 4:13), but when he got to Luke 24:25–27 I felt like I had been slapped! Then I got slapped again when he got to 24:44–46. I was stunned. The question ringing in my ears was, “Do my OT profs know these verses are in the Bible!?”

Why did these verses take me by surprise? Hadn’t I read them recently? Well, seminary is a very busy time. Between class and work and a new wife, I didn’t always have time to sit still and read the Bible slowly and compare what I was hearing in class to what the text said.

So I started to question the standard “the apostles were inspired but you’re not” line, but I really didn’t know of any alternative ways of approaching the issue.

Then, in the mercy of God, I went to Southern Seminary to do a Ph.D. under Tom Schreiner. I took a course from Dr. Schreiner on 1 Peter, and when we came to 1 Peter 1:10–12, something happened that was very much like the Sunday morning slap from Luke 24. There we were in class, diagramming the Greek text and tracing its argument, and Dr. Schreiner said something like, “The apostles set an example for us as to how we should interpret the OT. We should pattern our reading of the OT after theirs,” and as he went on to his next thought, I almost fell off my chair! He saw my surprise and asked me why I looked so astonished. I blubbered out something to the effect of, “Well, I guess I’ve never heard anyone legitimate say something like what you just said about how we should interpret the OT!” Dr. Schreiner is so humble, he replied, “Maybe I’m not legitimate!” We all laughed, but that incident fired my interest in this topic once again.

Thankfully, the Ph.D. program at SBTS was unlike my masters program in that I was not running from assignment to assignment, class to class, meeting to meeting. I had time to explore topics that were not assigned, time to sit still and read the Bible and meditate on it. I also read about the OT, about the OT in the New, and about the NT.

I have come to the conclusion that people who question the way that the apostles interpret the OT, for all their protestation about reading it “on its own terms” and “in its own context,” have actually failed to understand the OT itself! I agree with John Sailhamer’s argument that the OT is not the national literature of Israel, rather, it was written to sustain the messianic hopes of the messianic remnant in Israel. The whole of the OT, I would argue (following Sailhamer), is messianic.

Showing the plausibility of such a claim, to say nothing of substantiating it, will require at least a whole volume. I hope the Lord grants me time and energy and insight to eventually pull that off, but for now I can offer some initial forays into the question.

Can the thesis that the OT is messianic be sustained without recourse to “allegorical” methods of interpretation? Can we come to a book like the Song of Solomon and read it messianically without allegorizing it? A few years ago at SBL I presented a paper titled, “The Messianic Music of the Song of Songs: A Non-Allegorical Interpretation.” This essay should be published in the fall 2006 issue of the Westminster Theological Journal.

What about a text like Isaiah 7:14, which is cited in Matthew 1 as being fulfilled in the birth of Jesus? The difficulty with this is that in the context of Isaiah 7, this looks like a prophecy that applies to Ahaz’s lifetime (see esp. 7:16). Last summer at the Biblical Theology Study Group of the Tyndale Fellowship in Cambridge, I presented an essay called “The Virgin Will Conceive: Typology in Isaiah and Fulfillment in Matthew.” This essay is due to be published in a volume forthcoming from Eerdmans called Built upon the Rock: Studies in the Gospel of Matthew, edited by Dan Gurtner and John Nolland.

The thesis that the OT is messianic through and through depends, of course, on the existence of a promised deliverer from the very beginning. In other words, this thesis depends on a messianic reading of Genesis 3:15. Many conclude that the so called protoevangelium in Genesis 3:15 cannot, in fact, be a protoevangelium because they do not see it exercising wide influence in the rest of the OT, nor do they see it cited in the NT. In an essay called, “The Skull Crushing Seed of the Woman: Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Genesis 3:15,” I try to show that while there might not be explicit quotations of Genesis 3:15, imagery from Genesis 3 is used across both testaments. This essay will be published in the Summer 2006 issue of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology.

In another attempt to demonstrate the wide influence of Genesis 3:15 on the rest of the Bible, I argue that the blessings of Abraham in Genesis 12 is a direct answer to the curses of Genesis 3. This essay, “The Seed of the Woman and the Blessing of Abraham,” was presented to the Southwest Regional meeting of the Institute for Biblical Research in March 2006.

May the Lord open our eyes to see wonderful things in his law, and may we search these Scriptures that testify to Jesus (cf. John 5:39).

Fundamentalists and Liberals: What Characterizes Each?

On his always stimulating blog Euangelion, Mike Bird has posted a nice summary of what characterizes both fundamentalists and liberals. These words get thrown around a lot, and Prof. Dr. Bird insightfully clarifies 12 major characteristics of each tendency. Check out Fundamentalist versus Liberal.

Baptists and Elders

Someone recently asked me for evidence of a plurality of elders in SOUTHERN BAPTIST CHURCHES, and I did not have an answer for that person. I can’t remember who asked me, but the evidence is beautifully summarized in a piece by Mark Dever available at the 9 Marks site called Baptists and Elders.

In view of the evidence that Dever cites—evidence that includes an endorsement of the plurality of elders by the first president of the Southern Baptist Convention, William B. Johnson (you really should go read Baptists and Elders)—it is surprising to me that some Southern Baptists are suggesting that having a plurality of elders in a local congregation is “semi-presbyterian.”

Dever also summarizes the biblical evidence for a plurality of elders in every church in Baptists and Elders, so I won’t rehearse what I have said earlier on this blog.

If you’re looking for more on a plurality of elders, you might be interested in a new book called Elders in Congregational Life, which is also reviewed on the 9Marks site. If you do a search on the 9Marks site on elders, you’ll see that Dever has written several short pieces on this issue.

I’ll never forget hearing John Hannah say that we owe two things to everyone with whom we enter into theological dispute. We owe them understanding. We must understand what they are saying. And we owe them fairness. We must treat them as we would want to be treated.

I hope that we Baptists can dialogue about our differences on these matters in a way that reflects that we understand the position taken by those with whom we disagree, and I hope that we’ll be fair to those with whom we disagree (in other words, I think the charge that a plurality of elders is "Presbyterian" is both unfair and fails to understand those of us who take this view).

Counseling and the Authority of Christ

Praise God for Russell D. Moore. And praise God for the new direction in which he is pointing the Biblical Counseling program at Southern Seminary.

Hallelujah! I am elated to see somebody stand up and call it like it is. Somebody with the guts to “sell the mills” (see Good to Great).

I cannot commend the address Dr. Moore gave at SBTS in the Spring of 2005 on Counseling and the Authority of Christ highly enough.

May many institutions that train servants of the churches follow this path blazed by Southern Seminary. And may God continue to bless Russ Moore. . .

Piper on Pain

I don’t know anybody in the world who thinks about life like John Piper. Right before he had prostate surgery he wrote Don’t Waste Your Cancer.

Here’s a preview, which will hopefully prompt you to read the whole thing:
1. You will waste your cancer if you do not believe it is designed for you by God.
2. You will waste your cancer if you believe it is a curse and not a gift.
3. You will waste your cancer if you seek comfort from your odds rather than from God.
4. You will waste your cancer if you refuse to think about death.
5. You will waste your cancer if you think that “beating” cancer means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ.
6. You will waste your cancer if you spend too much time reading about cancer and not enough time reading about God.
7. You will waste your cancer if you let it drive you into solitude instead of deepen your relationships with manifest affection.
8. You will waste your cancer if you grieve as those who have no hope.
9. You will waste your cancer if you treat sin as casually as before.
10. You will waste your cancer if you fail to use it as a means of witness to the truth and glory of Christ.


Listen to the Greek NT for Free!

You can listen to the Westcott Hort Greek NT for free here.

Or, part of the NT is up here: http://www.greeklatinaudio.com/, and note that this greeklatinaudio page also has part of the OT in Hebrew up as well as part of the Latin translation of the NT read aloud posted.

Read, listen, and may God write it on our hearts!

Reading and Hearing Biblical Hebrew

The Central Library for the Blind in Israel has a phenomenal tool for anyone trying to learn Biblical Hebrew. They are offering their recording of the Hebrew Bible, the whole thing, in Hebrew, for $50! Go here: http://www.clfb.org.il/index-e.htm and click on the link near the middle of the page on the right that says, “The Bible Recording Narrated by S. Bertonov.”

While I’m posting on Hebrew, I should mention that the main factors in learning the biblical languages (or any language) are persistence and consistency, not intelligence and good grades in the courses. Anyone can learn this stuff if they never quit. No one should expect to be able to read a sentence full of words and forms and constructions they have never seen before simply because they have taken 2 (or 8!) semesters of the language. Yet we all, and I include myself, get discouraged when we come to something that we can’t quite make out. The key is to go over it and over it and over it again. If we hope for success, we must read Hebrew and Greek every day. Let the discouragement go to the birds, and keep reading and re-reading the text!

This recording of Hebrew is a great tool, and listening to the reader while following along with an open Hebrew Bible can move us through a lot of text quickly. I recommend working through the translation of a chapter, then listening to Sholomo Bertonov read it a time or two.

May God bless the reading and the hearing of his most holy word!

Les Bollinger joins the blogroll!

While Jill and I were in Louisville studying at Southern, we worshiped at Clifton Baptist Church. It was a joy to be a part of that vibrant body, and it is a joy to see where the Lord has taken the members of that body.

I recently heard from Les Bollinger, with whom we worshiped at Clifton, and I am rejoiced to know that he is now pastoring in Beaver, PA and blogging at http://eutychus.blogspot.com/.

Les is a faithful pastor scholar, who, from what I know of him, loves God, loves God’s word, and loves God’s people. May his tribe increase!

The Septuagint as Christian Scripture

As with most everything Martin Hengel writes, this volume contains a treasure-trove of information. He makes some startling proposals here, and his inclusion of an essay by Robert Hanhart makes this almost a “two views” book. If you’ve ever wondered how the church fathers viewed the LXX, how they regarded the apocrypha, or why most Bible translations rely on the Hebrew rather than the Greek OT, this is a book that might interest you. You can read my review here.