Friday, October 31, 2008

Reformation Day round-up

Happy Reformation Day! (And happy Hallowe’en, as well.)

There’s a lot of good stuff around commemorating today. Here’s quick round-up.

My friend Paul has a good summary of why Reformation Day is significant.

My friend James does too. (Also, check out his introduction to a good Reformation hymn.)

GA Junkie offers a different perspective on Reformation Day, also interesting.

Ligonier Ministries is giving away a nice Reformation Day gift: a “free” Reformation Study Bible with any donation.

Ed Stetzer offers an interesting perspective on haunted houses and “hell houses”.

Along the same subject, Internet Monk asks: where does the Bible say that Satan wants people to go to Hell?

You want to know what scares me? This (video below)-- which combines both Reformation Day and the scarier parts of Hallowe’en: the false gospel that is the prosperity gospel.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Books for October, 2008

With the twins being born, I didn’t get as much reading done this month as I would have liked. Nevertheless, here’s my list for October:

  • Churched by Matthew Paul Turner. I’ve already reviewed this book here. (9+)
  • Preaching to a Post-Everything World by Zack Eswine. Nevermind that Zack is a friend and a former professor of mine; this was one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. It was like a post-graduate course in homiletics (the study of preaching), and a much-needed and appreciated re-charge of my vision for my own preaching. Zack picks up where Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preaching leaves off and runs many miles further down that road. My one regret of reading this book is that I was only able to absorb about 10-15% of it, which means I need to re-read it every 6-12 months for the next several years. If you’re a preacher or teacher, this should go to the top of your must-read list. (10)
  • How Would Jesus Vote? by D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe. I’ve reviewed this one already, too. (5)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Book review: How Would Jesus Vote? by D. James Kennedy

I have to confess, I was skeptical from the outset of the new Waterbrook Press title How Would Jesus Vote? by D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe. In my view, this could have (and maybe should have) been the shortest book Waterbrook has ever published, with a single page declaring, “He wouldn’t.” And I feared that this would be one more piece of Christianized political propaganda in a time when the church really needs solid, biblical wisdom.

Was I right? Yes and no-- but, sadly, mostly yes.

The book is divided into three sections-- Jesus and Politics, The Issues, and Final Thoughts. The first section is very good, with good rationale for why a Christian ought to be concerned with the political process, a check on the notion that all of the answers are found in political solutions, and an encouragement toward a well-considered “World and Life View.” Though Kennedy’s political views are present in the three opening chapters, it isn’t
offensively present. I found my skepticism being challenged, and I began to have hope that this book may be exactly the resource the church needs.

Let me take a moment to say what I mean by “offensive” in this context. Everyone has political opinions, even if their opinions are simply, “I don’t care.” But when someone who is influential in a non-political arena-- such as the church or an educational context-- utilizes their position to advance their personal political preferences and opinions, they are abusing their position and deceiving those under their leadership. I find this offensive, especially in the case of a pastor or other church leader.

Which leads me to the second section, The Issues. There are 10 important and considerable issues discussed here, and in spite of my initial skepticism I had hopes that Dr. Kennedy would handle them fairly and biblically, based on the general appreciation I had for the first section.

I was wrong. In almost every case, Dr. Kennedy presents only scant biblical support for the views and opinions he proffers in The Issues. Instead, he puts forth his opinions and biases, sometimes with Scriptural support and sometimes without much biblical input at all. Worst of all, he concludes each chapter in the section with a “How would Jesus Vote?” summary of his opinions.

Take the environment as an example. Are there biblical texts that speak to the environment and the Christian’s view of it? Absolutely. Can a believer extract a balanced understanding of how he or she ought to view matters (especially political matters) of environmental conscience? I think so. Does Dr. Kennedy expose us to these texts, and explain how we might derive a biblical worldview about the environment? No-- what he offers amounts to an attack on the current positions of the political liberals, especially the Democratic party, and pronounces arguments and evidence against them that is little different from any other Republican attack. There is little biblical support, and no consideration for a number of biblical texts that speak to the issue.

By and large, that is the case for all of the issues. In some of them, Dr. Kennedy does better, in others worse, with drawing out a full sense of the biblical position on a topic. The chief exception for that is the issue of immigration, where Dr. Kennedy actually does a very good job of working through the biblical words on the issue, and a good job of applying them (in general terms) to our context.

Other than that, though, much of what counts for biblical support is often Dr. Kennedy declaring his opinion, then searching for a proof-text to back it up. I cannot recommend the second section at all, and would urge readers to simply skip over it.

The closing section is something of a mixture of the other two, in terms of approach. The content in the final section is hit-or-miss, but largely it is acceptably good. I do appreciate the general tenor of it, proclaiming that there is something more important than politics.

Dr. D. James Kennedy is a dyed-in-the-wool, straight-ticket Republican. There is no denying that having read this book, and there’s nothing wrong with that, either-- he certainly has the right to hold whatever political convictions are his. But in
How Would Jesus Vote? he draws a direct equation between his Republican positions and biblical Christianity. And there IS something wrong with that.

There is no doubt that a book that looks at each of the issues from a strictly biblical perspective is a needed tool and guide for Christians today. Make no mistake, though:
How Would Jesus Vote? isn’t it. Such a book would need to at least straddle the various parties and where they are closer to a biblical perspective, or at best transcend the parties and consider only the biblical views-- NOT baptize a particular party’s platform under the auspices of biblical support.

I rate this book as a whole as a 5. (If Waterbrook were to cut out the middle section and just publish the first and last sections as a book (about 88 pages), I would probably rate it as an 8.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sermon texts for November 2008

November 2 Guest preacher: Doug Barcroft
November 9 Guest preacher: Doug Barcroft
November 16 Luke 9:37-62 -- (Mis)Understanding discipleship
November 23 Luke 10:1-24 -- The work of the disciples
November 30 Isaiah 25:6-26:6 -- The gift of anticipation
November 30 (evening) Various texts-- The gift of presence (Chrismon Service)

Bits & Tidbits, 10/28/2008

Monday, October 27, 2008


Here are some pictures of the twins, who were born safely on Friday at 4:31 (and 4:32) pm. They are in the NICU, and are improving in their eating.

This is Abbey (Abigail Ellis), who has been having difficulty learning to eat (thus the tube for feeding). Marcie worked with her to feed her right after this picture, and she drank only 3ccs of the 8ccs they wanted her to have. (approx. 30ccs is one ounce!) She was first-born, and weighed 5 pounds 4 ounces at birth.

Since these pictures, she has begun regulating her own temperature-- which means that she is bundled up with blankets when she isn’t being fed or changed. She hasn’t required any medication, but she has had a couple of episodes of apnea, which means that she has stopped breathing briefly. (The second time was very minor, and she corrected herself without assistance.) But her feeding is getting better-- the tube is out now, and she is eating from a bottle, although it takes a lot of time, work, and patience. They bumped her up to 16ccs yesterday morning, and 22ccs last night.

Here is Caroline (Anna Caroline), who was born at 4 pounds 13 ounces. She is a champion eater, and usually finishes her bottles in a couple of minutes. This bottle (only 8ccs, like her sister) took her less than two minutes; when I fed her this morning, she had 20ccs in less than five minutes.

Caroline hasn’t had difficulty with breathing at all, and she hasn’t had to have any medication either. But she has struggled with keeping her temperature up, so they have kept her bed heated.

You can see from the second picture that they are very small. Caroline’s head is a little bigger than a baseball, but much smaller than a softball. Abbey is a little bigger, but neither has begun to gain weight since birth. They are healthy and doing well, and the nurses are usually more encouraging and affirming about their improvements. Still, they are going to be in the NICU for a while longer yet.

Here’s another picture of Abbey:


And here’s another picture of Caroline:


Friday, October 24, 2008

Twins update

Marcie is scheduled for a C-Section today at 4pm! Caroline's fluid levels were still low this morning, so the doctor felt that the safest thing would be to move ahead.

As of yesterday, all indications were that both girls (well, all three really) are healthy. Both twins are over 5 pounds, both are showing signs of breathing movement, etc. Marcie is 34½ weeks right now, and 36 is considered full-term for twins-- which means that they were pretty close.

Marcie is feeling well, though a bit tired-- and both hungry and thirsty, since she hasn't had anything to eat or drink since midnight or so. She's a little anxious about the surgery, anesthesia, etc., but is otherwise bearing up.

Please join us in praying:
  • For Marcie's preparation and endurance for surgery
  • That the surgery would go smoothly, without pain or complication
  • For the health of the twins and Marcie as they come out of delivery
  • For wisdom about follow-up issues: whether the twins need intensive care, how long before they could come home, etc.

Poll: How far to drive to worship?

I asked this question of my book giveaway for Matthew Paul Turner’s Churched, but if you didn’t want a chance at the book (or you preferred more anonymity than I offered), here’s a poll that will shield your identity while allowing you the opportunity to answer:

By the way, there’s still time to get your name in for the book drawing!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What does it mean to think theologically?

Here’s a good video of Harry Reeder, a great pastor and leader in the PCA and a man I have learned a lot from over the years. He’s answering the question: “what does it mean to think theologically?”

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

LTD: The Either/Or Fallacy

I read the following comment recently on a website discussing the report that the 2008 General Assembly voted NOT to form a study committee on deaconesses and women in diaconal service, which the Philadelphia Presbytery (and others) had overtured the assembly to do:

I ponder the intention of the Philidelphia Presbytery in bringing this to the GA. Is it women seeking power over men, as was part of the Genesis curse, or is it men cowering from their mandate to lead the church?

Friends, you have before you a classic example of the logical fallacy known as the “Either/Or Fallacy,” the “False Dichotomy Fallacy,” the “False Dilemma Fallacy,” or “Bifurcation.”

In essence, this fallacy asserts that there are only two options to choose from, possible directions to move in, or answers to a question-- AND that both of them have been represented in the argument.

[An aside: the meaning of the prefix “di” is that there are two-- if there are more than two, that would change the prefix. For example, C.S. Lewis famously described a “trilemma” when he talked about the fact that Jesus was either a liar, a crazy person, or who He said He was.]

Now, it’s possible for there to be TRUE dichotomies, dilemmas, and either/or situations. We often face these-- this is one of the reasons why this fallacy so often appears acceptable. But when there is more than two options, it is fallacious to suggest that there are only two. (Thus, such a dichotomy is false.)

Very often, the false dichotomies or fallacious either/ors will be one (or more) of a few types:
  • An over-simplification of a situation, attempting to categorize all of the options or choices into just two (or maybe three) ideas
  • A misunderstanding of the full range of the problem, which leads to falling short of understanding the solutions or answers.
  • A misunderstanding of the full range of the answers or solutions, often because of innocent ignorance or insufficient familiarity with the issues at hand.
  • The result of a substantial bias which blinds the arguer from understanding the problem or issue, the answers or solutions, or both. (See the above example.)
Clearly, all of these can contain some innocence in the situation-- in other words, false dichotomies are not always willful attempts to deceive (though they sometimes are). What it all boils down to is this question: is there an option present that is not contained in the argument?

So, here are some ways to prevent false dichotomies in your own arguments. Ask yourself:
  • Do I have a full understanding of the problem or issue I’m discussing? Self-awareness of the limit of your knowledge-- whether due to a lack of study, a lack of experience, or the presence of bias-- is the best place to start.
  • Have I been fair to the issue at hand? Would an “opponent” in this argument agree that I have dealt with all of the options clearly and fairly?
  • Do I have a full understanding of the options, answers, or solutions to the matter at hand? Like the first question, this gets to the issue of limit of knowledge. This can be a more difficult question to answer, and might require consulting another person to verify your answer.
  • Have I attempted to categorize or group ideas that don’t fit well together? Have I forced one or more options into subordination under another for the sake of my argument?
And here are some responses to the presence of false dichotomies in other peoples’ arguments:
  • Identify what other options are truly present. If you recognize options that aren’t presented, note them to yourself.
  • If possible, draw connections between the missing options and the reason(s) for them. Likely, it will be one of the four types or reasons given above.
  • Present both ideas at the same time. It’s best to do this in a question. For example, someone might say to the person who wrote the false dichotomy about the Philadelphia Presbytery: “You clearly stand on one side of this argument. Is it possible that your determined position has prevented you from seeing other options? It seems to me that the Presbytery might have had other issues that brought the discussion about, such as...”

Monday, October 20, 2008

Book giveaway: Churched by Matthew Paul Turner

I reviewed Churched by Matthew Paul Turner the other day. Waterbrook generously gave me two extra copies to give away, and here’s your chance to get one. I’ll have a drawing for the two copies, chosen randomly from any names who answer the following question:

How far is it reasonable to drive to worship?
  • 10-15 minutes (10 miles) or less. I think we should worship as close to home as we can.
  • 15-30 minutes (15-25 miles) or less. It's okay if I don't live that close to where I worship.
  • 30-60 minutes (25-45 miles) or less. I don't mind going across town to worship at my church.
  • More than 60 minutes/45 miles -- no limit. If I have to drive a long way to worship, then so be it.
  • Other...

Please choose one of the above answers. If you choose “Other...” then explain, please. Thanks!

Bits & Tidbits, 10/20/2008

  • An interesting quiz at Parchment and Pen: what are the essentials and non-essentials of belief? (Bonus points if you take the quiz and comment here, on my blog, with your results.)
  • Is this going to change the way that football is played? If so, I might actually consider letting Jack play...
  • I’m curious about Seeds Music-- family worship that actually sounds pretty good. Maybe we’ll pick some up. (HT: Nikki)
  • Rant: yes, the man’s name is Gene Edward Veith-- but he goes by Ed. Not Gene. I know this may surprise some of you-- perhaps you think that Gene is a better name than Ed (I happen to disagree). And it doesn’t help that his blog’s URL is “”-- but still, he goes by Ed. So here’s my plea for those of you out there who like to refer to Gene Edward Veith as if he had supper at your house last night: either refer to him as Ed Veith, or referring to him in such a familiar way. (End rant.)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Book review: Churched by Matthew Paul Turner

Waterbrook Press sent me a copy of Churched by Matthew Paul Turner to review, as well as two copies to give away! (More on that in a moment...)

Churched, Turner reflects on his childhood memories of growing up in the local “fundamental Baptist” church. We’re given a child’s view (and an insider’s look) at how a Baptist church in the 70s and 80s looked and felt. I won’t say that this is how ALL Baptist churches looked then (or today), but obviously at least one did... and I’ve seen a couple that could fit the bill here, too.

What’s so great about Turner’s portrayal is funny, and delights in the irony and awkwardness of these situations, yet it is also humble and stops short of bashing or attack. Turner does a good job of making this as much about him and his family-- and their understandings (and misunderstandings) about faith and practice-- as it is about the church and its teachings.

Churched is funny, and it does expose some of the aspects of the Christian sub-culture that are at least embarrassing, if not shameful. There are other books that take more in-depth and pointed shots at this; Dave Burchett’s When Bad Christians Happen to Good People (also published by Waterbrook) comes to mind. Turner’s book is different in two ways: it is more personal, coming across as more of a memoir than just an idea book; and it refrains from an attack position, instead merely pointing out observations.

The critique aspect can still be found, because Turner is a great writer who communicates the damage and problems of a fundamentalist and sub-culture mindset through his personal story. In his wrap-up chapter, Turner gets a little bit closer to the critique, but even here it is more inwardly-focused, almost self-effacing. His insights-- in the closing chapter and throughout the book-- offer me, as a pastor, a helpful perspective. Maybe the most stinging words came in this paragraph (in the final chapter):

Even though I’m in my midthirties, I still struggle with being alone with a pastor. Furthermore, and more detrimental to my spiritual health, I also have a hard time trusting pastors. Whenever I find myself in the presence of one of God’s official spokespeople, part of me clams up with fear. It didn’t matter that Pete and I were the same age or that he looked like Ryan Seacrest. I still felt fear.

Which simultaneously makes me want to invite Turner to my church, and afraid of whether I give off the same impressions of the pastors of his past and present. Probably, both of these are good instincts for a pastor to have. Thanks, Matthew.

(My rating: 9+)

I’ll post an announcement about my give-away copies next week. Stay tuned-- you’ll want to read this one.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Love me some free hugs

This is an interesting and moving video. The power of connection and community is amazing.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day 2008: Poverty

UPDATE: Marcie reminded me of another good piece of information on poverty-- see the Miniature Earth link below.

Today is “Blog Action Day” according to someone. The point is to bring awareness about poverty to those who read our blogs. I think it’s a good idea.

My friend
John Allen recently posted an amazing set of myths and facts on his blog (which he himself copied from the Food Bank of Northeast Louisiana), and I’m shamelessly copying it here:

Myth: They are not hungry. They are fat!

Fact: This is called the Obesity Paradox. The population that is forced to live on cheap, starchy foods are, in many cases, fat. In some cases they are morbidly obese. They are getting a lot of calories and little real nutrition. The end result of this is all kinds of health problems.

MYTH: They do not need help– they get food Stamps.

Fact: According to studies done by America’s Second Harvest, 40% of the people eligible for food stamps do not receive them. And , almost 84% of the families contacted for the 2000 hunger study reported that the food stamps they receive last for three weeks or less.

MYTH: Low-income families who need help do not work.

Fact: Seventy-one percent of low –income families work. In fact, the average annual work effort for low-income families is 2,500 hours, equal to 1.2 full time jobs.

MYTH: The kids get enough food through school lunch and breakfast programs.

Fact: These programs do not provide an evening meal the vast majority do not provide food during the summer, school breaks, and holidays.

MYTH: Low income families are illegal aliens, or immigrants.

Fact: Seventy-two percent of the low-income families have American-born parents only.

I’ve heard some of these statements (complaints? excuses?) used to justify inaction toward addressing poverty. We’ve got to stop. We have to begin to own the fact that Jesus himself spoke far more frequently about loving the poor and needy than he did about marriage, homosexuality, abortion, or war (incidentally, Jesus didn’t speak directly to either abortion or homosexuality, though other parts of Scripture-- all God’s Word-- do address these). Jesus-- and the New Testament apostles-- were equally as concerned with right belief AND right practice, the latter of which James summarizes as caring for those who are marginalized and without means (James 1:27).

For another look at the reality of poverty and wealth,
this video from Miniature Earth is amazing.

Here’s my encouragement: check out these very helpful documents that the PCA offers, thanks to the amazing ministry of Randy Nabors:

Find more at
the PCA’s urban and mercy ministries page under “Resources.”

Essential man-skills quiz

I got all but 1 right. How about you?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Truth and opinion: assertions and logic

This quote was mentioned to me recently, and it brought to mind some important ideas regarding logic-- thus, a continuation of my Logic for Theological Discussion series:

From a profile on CNN anchor Campbell Brown:...when you have Candidate A saying the sky is blue, and Candidate B saying it’s a cloudy day, I look outside and I see, well, it’s a cloudy day. I should be able to tell my viewers, ‘Candidate A is wrong, Candidate B is right.’ And not have to say, ‘Well, you decide.’ Then it would be like I’m an idiot. And I’d be treating the audience like idiots.

The difficulty is that there are different sorts of sentences that a candidate (or anyone else), and the media wants to categorize all of them into the same group when they aren't.

It is possible for a sentence to not be a "statement" or a truth claim. In logic, the term "statement" denotes a sentence that can be said to be true or false. Questions, exclamations, and declarations of opinion are not considered to be statements.

A real statement also can be subcategorized, into what we would call "supported" and "unsupported" statements. Those that need further verification in order to determine their truth value are considered supported, while those that are self-evident are unsupported.

Some sentences appear to be supported statements but are actually matters of opinion. For example, "it is cool in here" is only supported if the temperature is low-- let's say, close to freezing, or below 50 degrees. If it is 65 degrees, I might consider it comfortable while someone else may think it cool-- but it is then a matter of opinion. Meanwhile, some sentences are supported regardless of someone’s preference. For example, “That closet is dark when the light is off” is something that can be verified to be true, and no amount of opinion or preference for darkness will change that.

Furthermore, the difficulty with supported statements is that they are often made with reliance on evidence that itself is often questionable. So, if an expert in the field of economics, say, wages an opinion about the status of our financial crisis, his declaration may be quite credible (since he is an expert) but is nevertheless a matter of opinion. Someone else may offer a true statement about the matter, relying on the word of that expert as the supporting evidence for their statement. But this supported statement is based on expert opinion, which can be scrutinized, challenged, or counter-argued by other experts.

And here's the kicker: by far, most of the statements made by political candidates are either supported statements or declarations of opinions. So, for Campbell Brown (or any other journalist) to complain about whether they are allowed to report on them is spurious. NO journalist can adequately report these things with anything other than verbatim quotes, without becoming something of a wonk. It would simply take too much fact-checking and explanation to accomplish it in a journalistic way that is also reliable.

How does this apply to theology? Because we often do the same thing with theological matters. It is essential to see what claims are unsupported statements, which are supported statements, and which are
not statements at all but simply matters of opinion.

Consider the following:
  • Everyone understands that there is right and wrong. (Unsupported statement)
  • When Paul refers to the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, he means the body of Christ. (Supported statement)
  • The writers of the Westminster Confession would not have seen playing catch on a Sunday as permissible. (Opinion)

All of these are claims that might occur in a given theological discussion. Yet, they must not be treated with the same weight of authority, because they cannot all be taken in the same manner. An unsupported theological statement may be assumed in a way that the supported ones may not. My opinion may be correct, but you must come to that conclusion because of reasons that persuade you of it, not simply because I have said it.

How might we deal with different types of claims and sentences in theological (and other) discussions?
  • Determine which type of sentence(s) you’re being offered-- or, that you’re offering. This alone can be all the difference in recognizing how acutely you need to deal with the truth claims involved.
  • If the claim is an unsupported statement, is it true? This may seem like a simple question at first, but it isn’t. Does everyone really understand that there is right and wrong? Is darkness really dark? At least at a philosophical level, many such truth claims cannot be taken for granted these days. (Perhaps another time we’ll discuss how to address assertions of relative truth.)
  • If the claim is a supported statement, ask yourself, “What evidence and supporting information would be needed to demonstrate the truth of this claim?” Then find out if that evidence and/or information is available. If the claim is yours, can you demonstrate its truth with support? If the claim is someone else’s, ask them key questions that would reveal how well-supported the claim is. In other words, make sure that enough is disclosed to verify the claim being made.
  • If the claim is a statement of opinion, be constantly aware of this. Upon what is that opinion based? How much of an “expert” is the person waging the opinion? How vital is the reliability of this opinion in the overall argument? We place far too much weight on opinion when there is no merit for it; don’t allow this to become the deciding factor for you too easily.
  • Keep this in mind: if you’re dealing with the opinion of someone else, you’re probably not going to change their mind in a single conversation (or maybe ever). Especially if they have arrived at an opinion through some significant consideration, they will remain unmoved for some time. There’s nothing wrong with this-- but you don’t have to share their opinion. By and large, conversations and discussions that boil down to one person’s opinion vs. another’s-- with little evidence or reason involved otherwise-- only bruise relationships. If you want to change their mind, ask if you can discuss the things that led to their opinion, and be willing to do this in small, incremental units.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bits & Tidbits, 10/13/2008

Thursday, October 9, 2008

An open letter to the organizing generation

To the generation of faithful men who, as Pastors and Elders, led the formation of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA):

Dear fathers in the faith,

Thank you for the work that you did 35 years ago, in the years leading up to then, and in the years that followed. You stood against attacks on orthodoxy and biblical truth and refused to compromise in your deep commitments to the authority of Scripture and to the faithful teaching and preaching of the Bible. At great sacrifice, personally and-- in many cases-- professionally, you remained faithful to the essential convictions that the truth of Scripture was the final authority for faith and practice.

With grief and mourning, you fought for orthodoxy in a denomination that seemed committed against it, and when you recognized that you would not win that battle, you chose to separate and form a denomination for whom the commitments to the authority of Scripture, the faithful teaching of the biblical gospel, and the brotherly association of congregations would always remain pre-eminent. What you did was difficult and costly, yet, unselfishly, you did it for the sake of the gospel and Christ’s church.

Thank you. For your convictions, commitments, sacrifices, and leadership, Thank you.

The PCA is a wonderful denomination to serve in, and I am so grateful for her. Since her foundations, she has grown substantially through the efforts of church planting. Other congregations, seeking a friendly orthodoxy, have found refuge here. The uniting of two like-minded denominations increased the PCA’s size, stature, and reach in many ways. Ministries conventional and unconventional, in all manner of contexts and to all manner of people-groups, have spread the good news of Christ’s Kingdom where it was absent before. A worldwide emphasis on missions has made the PCA one of the strongest missionary denominations in the country. All of this had its seed in your labor to form this new denomination.

I hope you hear in my words above a sincere admiration, appreciation, and gratitude for your labor and service. I have only respect and praise for you. I know that you love the PCA deeply. I have come to love the PCA too-- not in the same ways that you do, of course, but deeply nevertheless. So I hope you will therefore receive the following questions in all sincerity, not as attacks or dismissals, nor as trick questions or traps. They are asked out of love, for you and for our denomination, and most of all, for Christ and His gospel.

  • Through the years, you have remained vigilant in your efforts to protect the PCA from “liberal” theology. Again, thank you for this. But are there other things that we must be vigilant against as well? In the past 35 years, our culture has largely shifted from a world that generally believes in Christianity-- or at least something close too it-- and needs the perfecting of their belief, to a world where Christianity and anything close to it falls under suspicion. Is the new fight for the PCA not merely a battle against liberalism, but also against unbelief itself? In your wisdom, how might we find a balance between these two fronts?
  • Surely theology is essential; we must have sound, biblical theology taught in our churches, as you have, for so long, labored for. But is not orthopraxy as important as orthodoxy? I’m thinking of Luke 8:21 and James 1:22-25 in this question. Of what use is our sound theology if it is not merely taught, but also practiced? How deeply do we understand our commitments to the doctrines of grace, if we are not consequently gracious? How much have we understood the Father’s mercy, if we are not merciful as the Father is merciful? From your experience, how might you advise the next generations of Pastors and Elders to live out the grace of God?
  • You have shown through the years a great effectiveness for building and growing the church, and we are indebted to your capability in this way. The Book of Church Order is a model of efficiency and the very embodiment of gracious church governance, and the practices of worship and other ministry that have defined the PCA for the past decades have driven many to have a deeper heart of worship and a greater understanding of the truth. Are there ways to accomplish ministry in strict accordance with the principles that undergird our denomination without following the form and practice those have taken historically? As I consider Paul’s ability to adjust his ministry style and approach to accommodate the hearer without compromising the truth (Acts 17; 1 Corinthians 9:19-23), I wonder if we have granted the freedom of our ministers to do the same. Have we constrained our people not only in principle but in practice?
  • Your readiness to defend against true theological threats is so valuable, and needed. Yet we often perceive threats where there are none, particularly when we have been attacked before. Is there a way to remain vigilant against heterodoxy without operating from a default posture of suspicion? Practically, it seems that an initially defensive response becomes a hindrance to growth and ministry. Biblically, Paul challenges us to deal lovingly with each other, even when declaring-- and defending-- the truth (Ephesians 4:15), and to hope and believe out of love that our brothers are acting in earnest (1 Corinthians 13:7). Shouldn’t our attitudes toward one another at presbytery and General Assembly meetings-- toward fellow Ruling and Teaching Elders in good standing-- embody this loving, trusting spirit?
  • You were right to depart from a body that had abandoned its commitment to biblical truth. Yet, could it be that a contributing factor that drove them toward liberalism was a deep association of conservative theology with unloving, ungracious practice? Christ is a model of commitment to true orthodoxy in the face of bad theology, yet his manner toward even those with whom he disagreed was vitally loving and gracious (Mark 10:17-22; Luke 13:34). Ought not our practice toward one another-- and even toward those who oppose us-- be so gracious and loving that they may not mistake false teachings and poor theology as more closely following the model of Christ?

I am among the newest to join you as a Teaching Elder, Pastor, and Presbyter-- I haven’t yet been ordained for a year, and I’ve barely been a member of my presbytery a year. I wasn’t yet one year old when you were instrumental in forming the PCA. While I have enjoyed membership in the PCA for almost 20 years, and service in (non-ordained) ministry for 12, I realize that, often, I may be too young and too inexperienced, too brash and overconfident to know very well what I speak of. Had I not been confirmed in my thoughts by many other brothers-- some of whom have many more years of experience than I-- I may be inclined to second-guess myself here, as well.

I pray that these questions might be received for what they are: a genuine hope for the ever-increasing fulfillment of our vows to be zealous and faithful in maintaining the truths of the gospel and the purity, peace, and unity of the Church.

Your servant,
Ed Eubanks, Jr.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Bits & Tidbits, Political Edition

For your edification and linkification, I’ve gathered the best resources (in my humble opinion) about the political stuff we’re surrounded by:

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Great insight into our current crisis

Carl Trueman, Chair of the department of Church History at Westminster Seminary (Philadelphia), has offered one of the most insightful and relevant reflections on the current economic and political crises that I’ve encountered.

I’ve cherry-picked a few of the choicer quotes below, but the entire essay is, I think, a must-read.

Regarding our current election, Trueman says:

Despite the Manichean, apocalyptic rhetoric that you get from both sides, the current American election is, indeed, an election about almost nothing, given that, if past records are anything to go by, a victorious Republican will likely be as socially liberal in practice as a Democrat, and a victorious Democrat as fiscally prudent (or not) as a Republican.

On who bears the responsibility for the economic collapse:

When we look at the crisis in the markets and try to play the blame-game, then we should avoid reducing the problem to one individual or even to groups. Cries of `It's the President', `It's Congress', `It's the Democrats', `It's the Republicans' and `It's the banks' all have a certain appeal. After all, it's always good to blame `them' rather than 'us.'

Why the markets didn’t self-correct:

Market forces are ultimately functions of human behaviour, albeit on a macro-level; and human beings, being as depraved and as blinded as they are, generate market forces which reflect that depravity.

How Christians should respond:

How should Christians respond to all this? I want to sow three thoughts in your minds. First, realize that, while free markets might be the best way of organizing economies at the moment, they are simply the best of a bad lot.

Read the entire essay here.

Monday, October 6, 2008


adjective (chiefly historical)

of or characterized by dualistic contrast or conflict between opposites.

Heard or read four times (and counting) over the past three days to describe the current political race.

What it means to love the sinner and hate the sin

My daughter wrote on the sofa the other day. It wasn’t an accident-- it was a letter “p” and a little design beside it. When Marcie and I discovered it, we were naturally upset. We asked her about it, and she said she did it “because she wanted to.” She confirmed that she knew she wasn’t supposed to do this sort of thing. So we disciplined her for it, and talked with her about how writing on anything other than paper is very bad behavior.

But here’s the thing: throughout the discussion and discipline, I noted in my head how many times we also affirmed that we loved her so much, unconditionally, and no amount of disobedience would cause us to stop loving her. After the discipline was done, she wanted to snuggle, and though she cried for a moment she did not withdraw her affection or affirmation that she trusted our love deeply.

I read something not long ago surrounding a discussion of how the church treats homosexuals. This particular comment came from someone who professed saving faith in Jesus Christ, and who also stated their inclination toward homosexuality. It was clear from his comment that he had been treated with varying degrees of “badly” over the years, particularly by the church.

The discussion they were participating in focused on how the church
ought to treat those who are homosexuals, or who are inclined toward homosexuality. One phrase that kept coming up was the old standby: “love the sinner, hate the sin.” This fellow, though, responded strongly to that, saying, “I hate ‘love the sinner, hate the sin.’ If you hate my sin of homosexuality, then you hate me.”

I can understand how he might have arrived at this conclusion. Chances are good that some of those who he had encountered in the past had done a poor job of loving the sinner while hating his sin-- it probably didn’t feel much like love OR a differentiation between the sinner and his sin.

But, just as we faced when we disciplined our daughter for her sin, it is possible to love the sinner deeply, forgivingly, even unconditionally, while despising their sin and its effect. Had we overlooked Molly’s sin and disobedience-- had we simply said, “that is no big deal” and not addressed it at all-- we would have loved her
less, not more. I think we instinctively know this about parenting; often, the judgments that are waged against “bad parents” are focused on their willingness or ability to discipline their children.

But we don’t seem to instinctively know this in other relationships. Somehow, loving another in a non-parental relationship implies that we overlook their sin and error more than we address it. In fact, the precedent suggested by this hurting young man creates an environment where it is impossible to love someone AND keep them accountable.

Luke 6:41-42 is often invoked in defense of that view. How dare we discuss the speck in our brother’s eye? Of course we must deal with the log in our own eye first. But a more careful reading of Luke 6:42 reveals that, in the end, both the log in my eye and the speck in yours are removed.

What would it look like to love those who’s sins are highlighted in our Christian culture? How do we love the sinner and hate the sin, when the sin is child abuse or molestation, or adultery, or homosexuality? And are we right to elevate those sins above the others as sins we hate?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Essential Church

I like books-- especially free ones. And I really like author Thom Rainer, and his son Sam.

That’s why I was excited to see this: their book
Essential Church? is available for free as a downloadable e-book (PDF format). Only until Monday. Get it here.

Books for September

  • Beyond Bells and Smells by Mark Galli. I was surprised by this book, as I had thought (and hoped) it to be something that would introduce the reader to the spiritual foundations of the liturgy, explaining the elements, etc. It wasn’t that, or anything like it, though I wasn’t disappointed with it overall. It is more a collection of essays on the spiritual impact and importance of liturgical worship, offering something more like a devotional approach to liturgy rather than an analysis of it. (8)
  • The Power of Speaking God’s Word: How to Preach Memorable Sermons by Wilbur Ellsworth (re-read). This book is very good, offering a perspective on preaching and the preparation for preaching that is different and fresh. Beginning with the premise question of “what makes a sermon memorable?” Ellsworth quickly moves in the direction of an increased oral approach to preparing and delivering sermons, instead of the more common written/literary approach. Great words on the “what” and “why” of orality, but lacking a bit on the “how” aspect-- a factor that I find myself both disappointed with (who doesn’t like “method” and concrete advice on something like this?) and grateful for (because the approach I’ve developed is fairly different from his, and I like the freedom to do it my way). (8+)
  • A Mile in My Shoes: Cultivating Compassion by Trevor Hudson. Hudson, it turns out, is one of the original “Christ-Followers”-- those who have eschewed the term “Christian” as being over-used and lacking the oomph they want in a label. If that suggests something about the ethos of this book, then you’re probably right on. Hudson’s contribution here is one part helpful reflection on the need for deeper compassion in a Christian’s (oops-- I mean Christ-Follower’s) life, a la Henri Nouwen; and three parts method for how to do what Hudson did. In all, sadly, the book amounts to only a little more than a planning resource for a Hudson-style spiritual exercise-- which is really a shame, since had the ratio been reversed it really could have been something. I give it slightly higher marks only because the gold to be mined within the method is good stuff, and maybe worth the work. (8)
  • Calls to Worship: a pocket resource by Robert Vasholz. Following his pocket guide to Benedictions, Vasholz has produced another very helpful book for pastors and worship leaders, opening the door to fresh material that is too easily overlooked. A useful addition, this time, is to break them down into sections-- Vasholz offers the following sets of calls to worship: for special occasions including the Church calendar (42), responsive readings (36), and those to be read by Pastors only (39). A great resource. (9+)
  • The Encore Effect: How to Achieve Remarkable Performance in Anything You Do by Mark Sanborn. I’ve already reviewed this one elsewhere. (6-)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The urgency of the preaching moment

In the front pews the old ladies turn up heir hearing aids, and a young lady slips her six-year-old a Life Saver and a Magic Marker. A college sophomore home for vacation who is there because he was dragged there, slumps forward with his chin in his hand. The vice-president of a bank who twice this week has considered suicide places his hymnal in the rack. A pregnant girl feels the life stir inside her. A high school teacher, who for twenty years has managed to keep his homosexuality a secret for the most part even from himself, creases his order of service down the center with his thumbnail and tucks it under his knee... The preacher pulls the little cord that turns on the lectern light and deals out his note cards like a river boat gambler. The stakes have never been higher. Two minutes from now he may have lost his listeners completely to their own thoughts, but at this moment he has them in the palm of his hand. The silence in the shabby church is deafening because everybody is listening to it... Everybody knows the kinds of things he has told them before and not told them, but who knows what this time, out of the silence, he will tell them.

Frederick Buechner,
Telling the Truth. New York: Harper and Row, 1977, pp.22-23. (Quoted in The Power of Speaking God’s Word by Wilbur Ellsworth, Fearn, Ross-Shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 2000.)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Would David Hasselhoff win America's Got Talent?

I don’t think so.

So why is he a judge?


Book review: The Encore Effect by Mark Sanborn

Waterbrook Press once again sent me a book to review: this time, it was The Encore Effect: How to Achieve Remarkable Performance in Anything You Do by Mark Sanborn. (I was actually supposed to blog this review by last week, but I hope they’ll forgive me of it.)

There’s no doubt that
Mark Sanborn is an effective communicator. A motivational speaker and a Christian, Sanborn has built his business and reputation offering wholesome leadership and personal achievement advice, peppered with biblical truth and spiritual reflections. The Encore Effect follows this model exactly.

There is a lot of good advice in this book, and a lot of good examples of how to put the advice into practice, whether personal stories from Sanborn’s life, accounts of others historical or contemporary, or analogies. Following something of a modern-day Norman Vincent Peale approach, Sanborn offers a classic take on life: “you can do it! Here’s how to focus your time, energy, and attention.”

Therefore, someone who is doubting their capacity for living a full life might find this book a great encouragement. Others, needing a few nudges in the direction of the pursuit of excellence, may also profit from a quick read. (The book isn’t long, and it reads fast-- I found it no trouble to put away 40-50 pages in a matter of 15 minutes or so.)

But here’s my concern, both for Sanborn and for Waterbrook: the book is published by a Christian publisher, and I suppose that Sanborn may present himself as a Christian author (though his website doesn’t make any specific mention of his faith). But the book doesn’t do great justice to the connection to biblical faith-- and in some ways, it does harm to it.

Each chapter ends with a section called “Intersection,” typically containing a quote of a Bible verse and a brief reflection about how Sanborn sees that verse applying to the content of the chapter. But there are two problems with this: first of all, these verses were frequently taken out of context, and Sanborn’s reflections further distanced the verses from their biblical meaning. It is a too-frequent commitment of a common mistake: having an idea, then finding a verse that
appears to have some sort of connection to that idea, and claiming the verse is then a support for the idea. Sanborn’s ideas aren’t bad ones-- they may be a bit saccharine, but they aren’t bad-- but his claim of their support from Scripture IS bad.

Secondly, and on a larger level: the whole “intersection” idea bugs me. Too often, Christians relegate their faith to a compartmentalized, segmented aspect of their lives. The idea I get from Sanborn’s “intersections” is that he views faith this way, too: live your life-- you can be remarkable!-- and every now and then, what you do and who you are will intersect with biblical Christianity. The fact that Sanborn almost never incorporates Scripture or even people or events from Christendom in the rest of the book underscores this; he quotes from secular philosophers and even leaders of other religions more than Christian folk in the main body of the chapters. I’m making some judgements here about Sanborn’s views on faith that may be unfair, but they are based on the portrayal he has put before me.

The net effect is like trying to straddle the two worlds, and it doesn’t really work: taking something popular among the unbelieving world, frosting it with a bit o’ Christianeze, then re-presenting it as something new and better. This is the model that most Christian popular music applies, and the results are little-satisfying to either side. Or perhaps it is like co-opting “
Free Ride” or the chorus from “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” to be used as praise songs; it just doesn’t really fit.

The Encore Effect isn’t a bad book; like so many other self-help and motivational books, it offers some nuggets of truth. It would have been a much better book had Sanborn resisted the temptation to spiritualize it and present it as something that is Christian in nature.

My rating: 6-

Sermon texts for October 2008

As we approached October, I’ve been really excited about our study in Luke and how it is progressing and developing.

As before, take these dates as tentative, since the twins may come at any point!

October 5
Luke 8:1-21 -- The work of the Word
October 12 Luke 8:22-56-- Wonder-working power
October 19 Luke 9:1-17 -- Power to the people
October 26 Luke 9:18-36 -- What it means to be the Christ