Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Straitgate Needs Your Assistance
06/29/2006 - James WhiteAs many of you know, for years www.straitgate.com hosted various of our real audio files for free. Then it went down. Now, its proprietor, Steven Luker, is ready to get it going again, but he needs your help. If you find Straitgate to be useful, please click here to read how you can help keep it around.
Monday Morning Quarterbacks
06/28/2006 - James WhiteYou've seen the phrase before. It refers to those who through the omniscience of hindsight can tell you exactly what Brett Favre or (let's date ourselves a bit) Roger Staubach should have done on that last drive of the big game. When we say "hindsight is 20/20" we are simply acknowledging that we are time-bound creatures, and we cannot see the future. Speculation about "what might have been" can either result in really cool science fiction or in the sad spectre of a person who cannot come to grips with what really did take place in the past. But in either case, as time-bound creatures, we simply cannot do anything about "what might have beens."
I appreciate all who have been writing in and expressing their opinion on the "to continue/not to continue" topic. As I have said, I am reading the e-mails, and am thankful that the vast majority are supportive, even those who are saying, "Don't do it." But what I do not understand is the Monday morning quarter-backing that is going on in some instances. Since there seems to be plenty of blame flying around, let me make a few comments.
First, don't shoot any of it Tom Ascol's way. He graciously agreed to get involved when Ergun Caner rather unilaterally demanded a two-on-two debate. But he said from the start that apologetics and debating is not his "thing," so he would follow my lead and let me take point. Which I did. So if you are one of those who feel that despite bending over backwards to treat the Caners as brothers that "our side" has erred in even trying to reason with these men, aim your guns my direction.
Next, I am uncertain how anyone could have known, unless you work at Liberty, I guess, that Ergun Caner would behave in the fashion he has behaved. It is one thing to arrange debates with unbelievers or rank heretics. This challenge grew out of repeated statements by Ergun Caner in the context of the Southern Baptist Convention. He has been open about his anti-Calvinism in many contexts, and that long before he and his brother showed up on the Founder's blog. But it has been my desire, from the start, to arrange this debate not as some prize fight with handlers and agents and the like, but as a discussion between fellow believers on vital and important theological issues. As such, I did not see any reason to be impersonal or to even avoid honest discussion of key issues from the start. And if my overtures of brotherhood had been accepted and returned, none of this would have happened. But they were not. If you wish to blame me for that, please feel free. Like I said, hindsight is 20/20, and if you wish to live looking backwards, I can't stop you. Just be careful. Those who are always looking backwards tend to end up running smack dab into the future.
A Couple of Quick Notes
06/28/2006 - James WhiteThe e-mails keep pouring in. Many thanks.
Our audio server site, which hosts the DL and our mp3s, crashed last night. They say they have been working on it all night, but last we checked, their work has been somewhat in vain. We hope to see it back on line soon. The joys of technology!
Finally, was reading an article last evening in the Reformed Baptist Theological Review, and wanted to once again make sure folks know about this tremendous resource (well, except for my articles in it, the rest are great!). www.rbtr.org.
Hide, or Don't Hide, the Credit Cards! :-)
06/21/2006 - James WhiteMike over at Solid Ground let me know of a big inventory reduction sale they have going at the moment, including some great stuff on justification and all. I like to let you know when folks like Solid Ground offer great deals since these kinds of books just don't appear very often on the shelves of your local Christian bookstore...well, at least most Christian bookstores I encounter, anyway. I know there are some out there that have doctrinal standards, but let's face it, they are few and far between. There's all sorts of stuff on this sale list. Lots of stuff on justification, the covenant, and I noted some of Tom Nettles' books there, too. So take a look, if you dare. Go ahead. The wifey went grocery shopping. She'll never know. [ big grin ] Here's the list.
More Sneak Previews
06/08/2006 - James WhiteActs 10:42 "And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead."
Let's consider what we can learn from this description of preaching in the early church. First, we see that it is a divine command. "He ordered us to preach to the people." Christ, to whom all authority in heaven and earth has been given (Matthew 28:18), commands us to preach. It is not an optional activity. It is not, "Well, if it is convenient, we will invest a little effort." It is a command of Christ to His church. Preach. It is an imperative.
In this context preaching "to the people" had a particular meaning; those doing the preaching knew there would be resistance and a cost (John 9:22). This was due to the content of the message. To proclaim the One crucified by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem as the "One appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead" was to take a stand that admitted no compromise. Anyone who would knowingly confess Christ in this manner was taking a definitive step with lasting results. But given that this is a command, obviously, those fulfilling the command could not choose to edit, alter, or soften, the message itself. It was an all-or-nothing message. They were not testifying that Jesus might be the Judge of the living and the dead. They were not testifying that Jesus was the Judge of some of the living and some of the dead, either. This was a message that was directed at each and every person in whatever audience they addressed (since, we would assume, everyone fits into the two rather all-encompassing categories of the "living" and the "dead").
Note as well that proclaiming Jesus as the Judge of the living and the dead is not quite the same thing as saying Jesus will be your best buddy. It is not the same as saying believing in Jesus will fix your financial woes and straighten your teeth and improve your marriage. In fact, accurately identifying Jesus as each person's judge is anything but attractive. In fact, outside of the work of the Spirit of God in a person's heart, this message will repel. Think of it: "Hello Mr. Criminal. You know you are guilty. And here comes the judge."
This message was delivered in the form of a testimony. We testify to these things. "I swear that this is true. I've experienced it myself. I have acknowledge Jesus to be the judge of the living and the dead, and I have put my faith in Him so as to receive forgiveness of sins." By testifying we are putting ourselves on the line as a matter of integrity, but we are also joining our audience as fellow sinners in need of grace and forgiveness. It is only as the redeemed that we point others to the Redeemer, as those forgiven testifying of the source of forgiveness.
And finally, there is a key term used here that has truly been lost in the large portion of preaching and proclamation today. Solemnly. This is actually part of the term "to testify." Our testimony is to be solemn, serious, fitting of the subject of proclamation. There is something unnatural about speaking of eternal judgment, redemption, forgiveness, lordship, and life, in the context of light-hearted entertainment and Hawaiian shirt informality. I'm sorry, but it is hard for me to take a man seriously who rides a Harley into the service, for example, or who is going out of his way to be viewed not as a herald of a majestic person with a weighty message but as my buddy, my pal, my next door neighbor. This kind of seriousness, fervency, gravity, is not inconsistent with the joy that marks one's own testimony of redemption and forgiveness. Nor does it mean one's proclamation has to be boring, stiff, or lacking in interest or even appropriate humor. Sadly, we live in a day when many who come into the fellowship lack basic listening skills or the discipline to listen for almost any length of time at all. An appropriate, topic-sensitive use of humor can "refocus" an audience so that you can press home an important statement. But humor can never become the vehicle of real Christian preaching. When we testify that Jesus is the judge of the living and the dead, that is not a joking matter. One cannot but speak of such weighty matters with a solemnity fitting the subject.
Another Pulpit Crimes Sneak Peek
06/07/2006 - James WhitePaul knew he was going against popular intuition. He wrote, "For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (vv. 22-24). Please do not miss his self-confession. "I preach Christ crucified" he says. "I preach a message I know will offend both main groups in my audience. It will offend the Jews because they seek for signs, they have a particular view of what the Messiah is supposed to be, so, I know that to preach Him crucified is to put a stumbling block in their path. And the Gentiles seek after wisdom, and the idea that the Jewish Messiah's death is God's means of reconciliation is ridiculous in their eyes."
How completely unlike the attitude that prevails today! Can you imagine if Paul were to present this preaching strategy in many college and seminary courses today? "I know what my audience will find attractive. So I intend to give them just the opposite." He would never graduate! Today we are taught to take surveys of our areas, learn what is attractive to our "target audience," how long the service should be, what tempo the music should have, what colors most attract and have the best emotional appeal, how the pastor should dress (you don't want to intimidate!) whether you should even have a pulpit (it should be warm and attractive and friendly-though a bar stool is enough for most), and how long the preacher should go in telling his heart-tugging, sentimental stories before closing with affirming the essential goodness of the audience and assuring them of God's love for them. The Apostle would not have the slightest idea what has possessed us, it would seem. He knew what would automatically attract, and he purposefully, willfully, said, "No, I will not do that."
Another Quick Sneak Peek
06/06/2006 - James WhiteA quick unedited sneak peek at Pulpit Crimes:
I have come to view this concept of preaching as one of the greatest signs of the decay of modern evangelicalism in Western culture today. It is so blatantly unbiblical, in fact, so patently absurd in light of even the briefest scripturally-inspired reflection, that it must be a sign of God's judgment that so many can so easily imbibe such a perversion of God's truth. Do these words strike you as harsh, even unwise? I fully understand. We live in an age where right and wrong, truth and error, have become matters of opinion and dispute. The language of the New Testament crashes upon the modern ear with offense, leading many to consider the Lord Jesus, His Apostles, and those who seek to emulate them down through history to our very day, harsh and out of step with our enlightened, if yet obviously confused, age. Error and falsehood today are excused as artifacts of our coming to understand that truth is not really knowable, and that we are arrogant if we dare forget our creatureliness long enough to say "what I am saying is right, and what that man is saying is wrong." "Yeah, hath God said?" (Genesis 3:1) has become the watchword of the modern mindset that has been taught to disbelieve God's ability to reveal Himself to His own creatures, and sadly, this way of thinking has infected major portions of what is widely identified as "Christianity" as well. Believing that God is the Creator is foundational to any kind of Christian worldview; but the corollary that if God is the Creator then we as His creatures can communicate only because He is the origin and source of that ability is forced upon us by logical necessity. A Christian world view that does not look to Scripture for its lifeblood is a pretense.
Working on Pulpit Crimes
06/04/2006 - James WhiteI am currently "out of pocket" working on writing Pulpit Crimes (which also explains the blog silence). So, here are a couple of unedited sections from a "notes file" I have put together. This material then becomes incorporated into various chapters in the process or organizing the book. Since I am often asked about the writing process, I thought some might find seeing these early stage notes interesting.
2 Timothy 2:2 2 The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
The foundation of Christian education is in the church. Obviously, Timothy had to 1) know what was truly Pauline/apostolic 2) know the men well enough and long enough and observe their lives so as to know that they are faithful and that they have the ability to teach, and 3) know how to entrust these things, teach these things, to these faithful men. Sound theology is something that is precious and must be entrusted to the next generation.
2 Timothy 4:1-4 2 Timothy 4:1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
Solemnly (tie in Acts 20). That is one's primary attitude toward the ministry of preaching. Solemnity. First priority: preach the word. At all times. Not just at convenient times. Reprove, though no one likes to do so. Rebuke, because it is necessary. Exhort, because there will always be those who are faint-hearted. With patience and instruction, since it takes repetition and teaching. Things won't get easier. Sinful men hate the consistency of sound doctrine. Men will allow their desires, their emotions, to determine who they will and will not listen to. They will accumulate to themselves, like people hording up treasure, teachers who will tell them exactly what they want to hear. They will purposefully turn their ears from truth, since they know what the truth is, and they will turn aside to myths. Truth, or myth. No middle ground. The apostle knew nothing of the modern state of confusion that reigns in academic circles and trickles down to the pulpit.