What We Believe- Article IV, Salvation (part 1)

January 31, 2009

In our fourth week of looking at the Baptist Faith & Message we find ourselves walking directly in upon the tightrope act that this document is traversing in trying to maintain its status as a neutral document on the issues of Calvinism vs. Arminianism. The article itself contains an exposition of salvation in general, and then further detail as we explore the four broad components of salvation, which are regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification.

IV. Salvation

Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer. In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

Let’s talk about the good stuff first. Speaking of salvation as including “the redemption of the whole man” is a very strong statement. There should be no part of our life untouched by salvation. God is not redeeming our souls while condemning our bodies. It is a total, all or nothing deal here. Also, making it clear that “eternal redemption” was obtained by Christ’s “own blood” is a statement which, unfortunately, many people who say they are Christians would reject today, even though it is clearly affirmed in Scripture (Hebrews 9.11-14). I agree whole-heartedly with the four broad aspects of salvation, and am thankful that justification, a key component of God’s working of salvation, is recognized individually in this version instead of as a piece of regeneration as in 1963. Lastly, that “[t]here is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord” is a beautiful idea and coincides with Peter’s wonderful declaration of such in Acts 4.12.

With all of that good, unfortunately there comes some bad as well. Already from the beginning we catch the awkward language being used here. We are told that “Salvation . . . is offered freely to all who accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.” That just sounds weird. It makes it seem as if we accept Jesus as Lord and then God says “Now, do you want salvation?” It seems as if salvation is guaranteed of all who accept Jesus by faith, and instead what this is trying to say is that, “We believe that the blessings of salvation are made free to all by the gospel,” as it is stated in the New Hampshire Confession. I;m not sure why this change was made, though we can look back and see that it first arose in the 1963 version, so possibly the reasoning has passed us now.

Also, saying that Christ, by “His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer” makes me curious. Certainly the last doctrine which the authors of this text would all agree on would be limited atonement, or else called particular redemption, and yet by way of not saying anything more, one may be left with this impression from what is written. My instinct is that they would argue that it is the word “eternal” which makes the difference. A person holding to universal redemption would simply claim that Christ obtained redemption for all and eternal redemption for those who believe on him, but still here, the eternal part of the redemption is conditioned upon the receivers faith, not the givers work, and persists in sounding funny in a passage which is talking solely about what the giver has done. Again, this is a creation specific to the 1963 version and later.

I will now list parts B, C, and D of this article as they are all solid and I really have no complaint on any of them. I am saving part A, Regeneration, for another post because it will require substantially more space than I would devote to it in this post.

B. Justification is God’s gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer unto a relationship of peace and favor with God.

C. Sanctification is the experience, beginning in regeneration, by which the believer is set apart to God’s purposes, and is enabled to progress toward moral and spiritual maturity through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him. Growth in grace should continue throughout the regenerate person’s life.

D. Glorification is the culmination of salvation and is the final blessed and abiding state of the redeemed.

Genesis 3:15; Exodus 3:14-17; 6:2-8; Matthew 1:21; 4:17; 16:21-26; 27:22-28:6; Luke 1:68-69; 2:28-32; John 1:11-14,29; 3:3-21,36; 5:24; 10:9,28-29; 15:1-16; 17:17; Acts 2:21; 4:12; 15:11; 16:30-31; 17:30-31; 20:32; Romans 1:16-18; 2:4; 3:23-25; 4:3ff.; 5:8-10; 6:1-23; 8:1-18,29-39; 10:9-10,13; 13:11-14; 1 Corinthians 1:18,30; 6:19-20; 15:10; 2 Corinthians 5:17-20; Galatians 2:20; 3:13; 5:22-25; 6:15; Ephesians 1:7; 2:8-22; 4:11-16; Philippians 2:12-13; Colossians 1:9-22; 3:1ff.; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24; 2 Timothy 1:12; Titus 2:11-14; Hebrews 2:1-3; 5:8-9; 9:24-28; 11:1-12:8,14; James 2:14-26; 1 Peter 1:2-23; 1 John 1:6-2:11; Revelation 3:20; 21:1-22:5.

These are all three excellently done pieces, maybe the nicest theology we’ve seen so far in the BF&M. My favorite part is the statement in the blurb on sanctification which says, “Growth in grace should continue throughout the regenerate person’s life.” I don’t know that all Baptist’s actually believe this (like those who hold to Free Grace Theology) but I believe it to be the truth and am happy to see our confession take such a clear stance on the matter.

And Now from the Rest of the World . . . – A Smattering of Links of Interest

January 30, 2009

I don’t usually do this, but in the last couple of days I have come across several things which I found interesting and wished to link on my blog.  The first one is a post on Dr. Russel Moore’s blog concerning the recent passing of American writer John Updike.  Dr. Moore is the Dean of the School of Theology at Southern Seminary (nice school they’ve got there) and his post offers many insights into why Updike was important to understanding American thought.  I liked the fact that in this psuedo-eulogy for the writer Moore was unafraid to admit that he has “read all Updike’s novels but the last one,” which, given the content of most of these novels, may surprise some.  To me it is just comforting to know that I’m not alone in thinking that Christians enjoy literature outside of the Left Behind series.  the article can be read here.

The second bit I want to offer is another article that was forwarded to me by a missionary out of Europe.  As you know, I have spoken often about my heart towards restoring the church in the great city of London, and in this article from Time magazine the presence of Christianity there today gets addressed.  The focus is a recent rise in Christian beliefs among the young adult high society in London, particularly as associated with the evangelical Anglican fellowship at Holy Trinity Brompton.  This is definitely encouraging, but as you read, know that when they say “London has quietly become one of Britain’s most Christian areas,” this means that it is weighing in at a whopping 9% population attending church, versus 8% nationally.  Also, note that it is rising in immigrants and the elite, but nothing seems to be happening among the working class Londoner, which is a majority of people.  Still, this is encouraging.  Read here.

Lastly, I would want to link you guys to Paul David Tripp’s sermon from this past Sunday night at Tenth Presbyterian in Philadelphia, PA.  He was covering 1 Kings 1.1-10 about David nearing death and the power grab attempted by his son Adonijah.  This was a strong message and contained at least two wonderful exhortations.  The first was about parents responsibility in raising their children appropriately and the second, which hit me hard as I have also been meditating on it this week in considering 1 Thessalonians 5.12-28, was about the role of man’s responsibility as being the ordained means to completing God’s ends.  Paul Tripp is quickly becoming one of my favorite teachers and would certainly be worth your time to listen to as you devote your time to study and learning.  Link to it here.

Picture of the Past or Projection of the Future?- Recovering the Eschatological Church

January 29, 2009

Tell me if you have heard this: a sermon from Acts 2.42-47 proclaiming the wonderful, communal nature of the early believers and how, if we are to impact the culture today, we need to recover this same spirit of the true New Testament church?  I thought so.  Honestly, and not to be nasty or anything, but it has gotten to the point where, even if it’s a podcast I listen to religiously (haha!) I avoid the episode if I see it is a sermon over these 6 verses.

My question is, is this even the model we are to be looking at to set our bearings?  To start, we must fess up to the abuses of the “had all things in common” idea, since clearly, reading ahead into chapter 5, we see that this does not mean the type of new monasticism which many emergent types want so badly for it to endorse.  It would surely be better for us to understand their relations not in this communal sense, but instead in the supporting sense of the next verse, “as any had need.”  It wasn’t that they sold off everything and holed up in John Mark’s mothers house with organic foods and home schooling, but that they considered the things of this world fleeting and were willing to part with them “as any had need” so that the poorer of the believers were cared over.

So again, is this where we should look to discover how to fashion the church in a biblically appropriate manner?  If we are talking about leadership and structure, certainly.  Read Acts 6, 1 Timothy 3, and Titus 1 and find out how the Holy Spirit through the Apostles prescribed for us to judge and appoint leaders in the church.  However, if it is a question of makeup, if we are searching to see what the church should look like in the world, how the believers should relate to one another in it, I would have to conclude no, the early church of Acts 2 should not be our role model.  It should be Revelation 21.

Revelation 21?  What?  Yes, that’s what I meant.  For those of you unaware of this passage, here’s how it starts:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (vv.1-4)

Revelation 21 is the consummation of God’s plan in all of creation.  We see that he has judged the wicked and is now restoring the original purpose of the land.  The first heaven and first earth, the creation that has been groaning in the pains of childbirth (Romans 8.22), is now cleared away and a new heaven and new earth come into being.  And upon the new earth is the holy city, the New Jerusalem, where God tabernacles with man freely, as he did in the Garden, as he will do forevermore.  Here all bad and evil things are gone and only the praise of the glory of God is known.

But how is this what we are to be looking towards?  Why is this the model for the church, and what does that even mean?

Ephesians 2.19-22, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

1 Peter 2.9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

The church is the coming kingdom of God manifested in the world today.  It is the embodiment of the “Now-Not Yet” tension created when Christ said, “[B]ehold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17.20-21).  The King has come and he has established the church, who speaks of him, to show his kingdom.  But this kingdom will not be revealed fully until the end, until the events of Revelation 21.  From now till then we are to show forth the kingdom of God, live as we are, as citizens of heaven (Philippians 3.20), proclaiming what has already been revealed to us, “the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

Reading the book Worldliness, edited by CJ Mahaney, I found the following paragraph which really nailed it home for me:

God holds up his church as Exhibit A for the reality of the gospel.  As people called out of a fallen world, living transformed lives with transcendent values, the church displays the character of God, illustrates the power of God, and exemplifies the saving purposes of God.  In fact, the church at this stage in salvation history has the privilege of signaling the next stage.  Our life together gives the world a preview of life in the coming kingdom. . . .  Who dreamed that their church participation was so significant?  Giving the world a glimpse of the consummated kingdom of God!  Does such a grand vision govern our attitude toward our local churches? [p.165]

“Who dreamed that their church participation was so significant?”  I think this is the problem.  If even for a good cause, we have gotten so caught up in trying to be like the church of Acts 2 that we often times forget that the church in Acts 2 was just trying to be the “church” of Revelation 21.  They weren’t our model, they were an example of what following the model does.  When our desire is to “[signal] the next stage” then we are focused on fulfilling what God says that next stage will include.  No more tears, no more mourning, a spring of water to the thirsty.  The presence of God dwelling among us.  This is our model.  This is what we are to imitate and initiate in the world.  The New Testament church is the eschatological church, the kingdom of God manifested in a fallen world, proclaiming a king who is coming to reign, who has done sufficiently well to reconcile all of creation with its creator in glory in the holy city, the promised land, New Jerusalem.

Does such a grand vision govern our attitude toward our local churches?  It should, and oh the power if it did.

America at Unrest- A Word on the Passing of John Updike

January 27, 2009

When I am not reading books concerning Christian theology or practice (currently reading Worldliness edited by CJ Mahaney, waiting on my copy of Lost and Found by Ed Stetzer to arrive), there is one other literary area of which I am quite fond: 20th century American fiction.  And, to be specific, not just all 20th century American fiction (since things like Steinbeck, King, and Grisham aren’t really on my list), but 20th century American fiction that focuses on the secret parts of society, the dirty areas that we all too easily gloss over when we look back in awe of how much better it was back then.  I’m talking about guys like Jack Kerouac, Frank O’Hara, William S. Burroughs, Hubert Selby Jr., and, the man who passed away this Tuesday, John Updike.  What I find so compelling about these men, though their novels are mostly filled with profane images and filthy words, is the picture of human depravity which they paint for us.  It is our desire to look back and talk about “the good ol’ days,” about how there was a time when God had a place in American life and following Christ was a way of life and not just a slogan.  But this was never the case.

I want to particularly focus on Updike, in observation of his recent passing.  My experiences with him come largely through his works in the Rabbit novels (Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit is Rich; and Rabbit at Rest).  In this series we follow the meandering life of a former Pennsylvania high school basketball star who finds himself constantly struggling between living the comfortable life in front of him or the exciting life just around the corner.  Through numerous adulteries and drug-filled, wild-eyed experimentations, Rabbit always seems to find his way back home to his wife and son and some version of God that he can never quite shake.

I was enthralled by this story because I saw in it so clearly my own propensity to run from comfort, to detest stability, and to always be seeking the new adventure.  I saw how in my own attempts at tossing things up I was just as guilty of minimizing God and placing him in a cabinet somewhere while I chased whatever sinful desire had tickled my nose.  And I saw in it how no matter what I do, at the end of my escapes there is always the cold fact of reality and the inescapable presence of a God who can not just be locked away.

Updike, speaking on his own personal struggles said,

“I remember the times when I was wrestling with these issues that I would feel crushed. I was crushed by the purely materialistic, atheistic account of the universe. I am very prone to accept all that the scientists tell us, the truth of it, the authority of the efforts of all the men and woman spent trying to understand more about atoms and molecules. But I can’t quite make the leap of unfaith, as it were, and say, `This is it. Carpe diem (seize the day), and tough luck.’”

“The purely materialistic, atheistic account of the universe.”  How astute is that?  Reading these words just lights up everything that is troubling about our society.   We have tried to depersonalize all of what’s around us.  We have depersonalized sex, so that it is just an encounter where two animals satisfy their natural urges.  We have depersonalized the family, where it is no longer Mom, Dad, Brother and Sister, but it is whomever and whatever wants to play house for awhile.  We have depersonalized religion so that there is no right way to believe and there is no punishment for not putting faith in anything, and in the end it’s singing “Oh Happy Day” and a bucket of lollipops for everyone who simply tries to “do good.”  Yet, no matter how much we try to depersonalize it, God is still there.  “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them” (Romans 1.18-19).  No amount of depersonalization can get rid of our guilty knowledge of God.

This to me is the larger theme of Updike, particularly in the Rabbit novels.  There are many paths to try and find happiness, but after a life in which Rabbit has tried to exhaust them all, there is still no satisfaction to be found.  The only satisfaction, the only hope, is to be found in God; and God is never too far away.  This is not only the message from Updike, it is the message of the Bible, and I think seeing this ancient truth applied in such an engaging, artistic, and ultimately depressing way, makes it ever more clear how far we all wander from God and how dependent we are on him to keep us from realizing the extent of our own depravity, calling us “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2.9).

Though he was not theologian, and his writings are probably more than most theologians could stomach, I am thankful for the common grace God gave him to be able to write such eye-opening works.  From accounts, John Updike attended church regularly throughout his life.  I pray that he had himself experienced God’s transforming work on his heart and that today, though he is now absent from the body, he will be present with the Lord.

Preparations for Wisdom- A Devotion on Proverbs 15.33

January 26, 2009

The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom,
and humility comes before honor
.” -Proverbs 15.33

The Proverbs are full of wisdom and words to delineate between the wise man and the fool, but if we are to approach these sayings as a prescription for good living without any prerequisite conditions then we shall miss the point entirely.  Before these words can profit us, before we may apply their pithy solutions to our lives, we must rightly assess our standing with God.

It is not the Proverbs that are instruction in wisdom, not the 31 chapters of “The wise man this, the fool that.”  Instead, instruction in wisdom comes by fearing the Lord. ‘Our God is an awesome God!’  How shall we stand in his presence and not be crushed by the weight of our sins in light of his holiness.  ‘He alone is worthy,’ and he alone is righteous in all he does.  Failure to realize this, to take this to heart and apply it to all our thoughts and actions, will result in foolishness no matter how closely we adhere to the letter of the Proverbs.

Similarly, “humility comes before honor.”  Men seek wisdom that they may be glorified by peers and subordinates.  The image of a wise man in our understanding is someone deserving of honor due to their insight and intelligence.  And yet God makes it clear that to be crowned with true honor one must first be caked with the dust of humbling their self at the feet of the Lord.  “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9.35).  There is no room for competing lords in heaven.  ‘You are God alone’ (2 Kings 19.19) and we are sinners saved by grace; may we reflect this in our lives.

Embracing the Multi-Faceted Gospel- Tim Keller on Contextualization

January 25, 2009

As a follow-up to yesterdays post on contextualization, I would like to point you guys towards some resources by Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. This past year he gave both a magazine article as well as a couple of messages which all dealt with the idea of “one gospel” and the “different forms in which that one gospel can be expressed.” Pastor Keller is an amazing teacher, scholar, and communicator (as evidenced by the deep respect paid to him by many young reformed ministers), and his views on the appropriateness and extent to which contextualization should be used by Christian evangelists are among the most complete and well-developed that you will find anywhere. If you have time and are interested in this topic it will be well worth your investment to check these resources out.

Tim Keller- The Gospel in All its Forms (article)

Tim Keller- Dwelling in the Gospel (sermon)

Tim Keller- Persuasion (sermon)

“Contextualizing” is Not a Dirty Word- Surveying Contextualization in the Acts of the Apostles

January 24, 2009

With the growing distinction between emerging and non-emerging (or traditional/institutional) churches in American Christianity (and abroad) we are seeing a rise in buzzwords that tend to be championed by one side and demonized by the other. “Contextualizing” (and “contextualized,” “contextualization,” “context-driven,” etc.) is one such word.

A rough definition of “contextualization” for the church is “being aware of the cultural context in which lost people around them live, and [making] every effort to bring the love and truth of Jesus in word and deed to be ‘all things to all people’ using ‘all means’ to ‘save some’” [Mark Driscoll, Vintage Church, p.228]. It is “not making the gospel relevant, but showing the relevance of the gospel” [ibid.].

This last portion is the place where I think a lot of traditional churches miss the boat and sell-out the idea of contextualizing. They see any attempt to use means outside of their comfort-space as being a compromise of the gospel and the commands of Scripture. Any flux from the bubble of G-rated movies, button down shirts, Charles Wesley hymns, and home schooling is seen to them as a departure from the revealed Word of God and is a method which will not lead anyone anywhere except into further debauchery and wantonness of the truth. As a Southern Baptist, this is a position which I have seen people in my denomination and theological tradition taking a little too frequently for my liking.

Now, I know I have come out awfully harsh against the apprehension towards contextualization, and yet I have not offered any evidence for why we should use this. At this point the standard argument develops from Paul in 1 Corinthians 9.19-23 where he says,

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

I think by now everyone on both sides is familiar with this passage, and since this is the case those who still stand against contextualization seem to have found some way of arguing against its fairly obvious face meaning. As well, this has gotten to be a bit cliche, and so I think perusing over a fresh idea might do us some good in defending context-driven ministry and evangelism. To do this I ask that we look to the book of Acts.

Throughout the record events in Acts we see many sermons and gospel presentations made by the leaders of the early church. Among these I would particularly like to focus on Peter’s sermons, first to the Jews in Acts 2.14-36 and then to the Gentiles in 10.34-43, and Paul’s sermon to the philosophers of Athens in Acts 17.22-31.

In Acts 2.14-36 we find Peter and the Apostles (or the whole early church, however you read it) filled by the Holy Spirit, “speak[ing] in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (v.4). This occurs on the day of Pentecost, a harvest festival celebrated 50 days following the Passover in Jerusalem by Jews from all over the known world. Thus, when Peter goes out to preach, he addresses the “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem,” meaning the pilgrim and native Jews (v.14). The sermon which follows is unmistakably Jewish in audience, as Peter quotes from the Prophet Joel (vv.16-21) and from David (vv.25-28, 34-35), as well as making statements such as, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (v.36).

Later on, in chapter 10, after having been sought out by the Lord in a vision (vv.9-16) and by the men representing Cornelius (vv.17-23), Peter realizes that God is moving in him to deliver the Gospel to the Gentiles as a people, specifically to the house of Cornelius, the Roman Centurion. This he does, only now, unlike when amongst the Jews in Acts 2 (and Acts 3), he does not speak of the fulfillment of the OT prophets words, but instead points to the mighty works of God in salvation and in the miracles surrounding Jesus’ anointing (v.38), his death on the cross (v.39), and his resurrection (v.40). He then bears witness to his calling to proclaim the gospel and tells that “everyone who believes in [Christ] receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (v.43).

Finally, in Acts 17, we find the Apostle Paul fleeing from the Jewish mob, wandering about Athens. While in Athens “his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols” (v.16). Because of this Paul began reasoning with the Athenians, both Jews in the temple and Gentiles in the marketplace (v.17). Eventually Paul finds himself before the philosophers at the Areopagus where they ask him to give “this new teaching” that Paul has been speaking about (v.19). This Paul does, delivering the gospel message to the “Men of Athens” (v.22). However, unlike Peter to the Jews in Acts 2, Paul does not argue from the prophets, nor like Peter to the Gentiles in Acts 10 does he speak of his witness to the life of Christ, but instead he appeals to the Athenian philosophers search for God, testifying to them of God’s sovereignty over creation (even using the words of Greek thinkers to support himself, v.28) and of God’s coming judgment upon the sins of mankind, a judgment which is only survivable by repentance and Christ’s righteousness imputed to believers through his death on the cross (vv.30-31).

So, three sermons, three proclamations of the gospel, three different audiences, and three different contextualizations. To the Jews we see Christ preached as the fulfillment of prophecy, to the common Gentiles he comes as a Spirit-filled servant of God dying on the cross and being raised to life for the forgiveness of sins, and to the intellectuals in Athens he is the only hope for avoiding the wrath of an Almighty God. The pattern of evangelism, ever since day one, has been contextualization. Yet, at no point do we see Apostles pervert or weaken the message they have been entrusted with. Instead what we see is them pointing to different facets of the one great jewel that is the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the Christ and what all this entails.

This has never been about compromise, it has always been about reaching people for Christ in a way which is most appropriate for their life. It is not a thing we should be afraid of; “contextualizing” is not a dirty word, it is the way of biblical evangelism.

Visitors Not Welcome?- Analyzing the Relationship Between Acts 29 and the SBC

January 23, 2009

One of my focuses with this blog is to actively engage the ideas and rhetoric of Christianity as it is practiced and taught in western culture.  In the past I have done series such as The Laodicean Project and Rebuilding the City which focused on how we should be viewing ourselves as the Church and how we should move forward with the Great Commission in a way which is both biblically faithful and culturally appropriate.

Two groups which I think have an eye towards doing this (one maybe more than the other, you decide which) are the Southern Baptist Convention and the Acts 29 Church Planting Network.  Both of these organizations have an arm which focuses on planting young, growing churches in major urban areas of North America and around the world (in fact, Acts 29′s sole purpose is for the evaluation, commissioning, support, and further instruction of urban church planters).  Both groups have a high view of the Scriptures and both are determined to see transformation wrought out of an understanding that Christ died so that we may live.

However, there are some issues where they don’t see eye-to-eye.  Over the next little bit I will be hitting a couple of these, starting today with an article I just posted over at SBC Voices entitled Acts 29 vs. the SBC (One Year Later).  This post takes a look at the December 2007 dust-up between Acts 29 and the Missouri Baptist Convention and the fallout since.  Soon I will also come to you with reports from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary where Acts 29 founder Mark Driscoll will be participating in there 2009 collegiate conference, and from the Pastor’s Conference at First Baptist Jacksonville where this year Matt Chandler, pastor of the SBC and Acts 29 affiliated The Village Church, will be delivering two messages.

Tomorrow I will have up a post giving an argument for contextualization coming from the Bible.  As well, you can check out a post I did last year entitled “Dirty Words and Beer” that offers a cursory handling of this debate.   Hopefully you will find these resources helpful in thinking out where you stand and will engage in discussion over these pertinent and highly volatile issues.

What We Believe- Article III, Man (part 2)

January 22, 2009

Continuing now with the elements of the third article that I disliked, I will focus on three statements; two I think just say too much and one I feel is doctrinally inadequate and inconsistent with other statements that are made.

In the opening thought the writers add the sentence, “The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God’s creation.” This strikes me as awkward and, seeing as how it is an addition to the 2000 version over and above what is said in the 1963 version, it seems like this must be in essence meant to deal with some bad teaching which would be addressed by such a statement. I am unaware of what controversy this might be, unless it is meant to counteract any charges of sexism from the outside as pertains to certain issues of marital submission and women in ministry. Still, seeing as these concerns are also addressed in articles XV and XVIII later on I do not see a reason for including such an unusual statement in this place, nor am I familiar with any passage of Scripture which they would be using to justify this remark.

Similarly, at the end of the article we see the statement made that “every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love.” Again, this is not saying something I disagree with in any way, but the placement of it in a church affirmational document just hits me kind of funny. I understand that there is a historical record of real and/or perceived racism in the SBC, but I question (1) is it the place of a confession of faith to address cultural, pragmatic issues of a certain day?, and (2) is this not covered later in article XV? If the BF&M chooses to have articles covering untraditional topics such as the fifteenth one,”The Christian and the Social Order,” then that seems like a more appropriate place to put statements of this nature than forcing it into a more traditional article on anthropology and the fall of man.

Next, the place where I take issue with doctrinal clarity is at the end of the following statement:

Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. [emphasis mine]

This just comes off to weak to me. I know it may be a symptom of my conviction towards a Calvinist doctrine of man’s total depravity, but saying this in the way they did makes it sound like man is simply in a situation where the odds are against him not sinning, though his hand is not forced. But then this seems to contradict the following statement which says, “Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.” If man is only “inclined toward sin” then what is it that makes him sin “as soon as [he is] capable of moral action”? There is no “therefore” unless the statement of him being inclined actually means that he is incapable of not doing it, which I am sure they are not trying to say since that would for all intents and purposes be the doctrine of Total Depravity. This is one of the nuances of the non-Calvinist view which makes it untenable to me.

I like better what we see attested in regards to this in two prior Baptist affirmations, the Abstract of Principles and The New Hampshire Baptist Confession:

God originally created Man in His own image, and free from sin; but, through the temptation of Satan, he transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original holiness and righteousness; whereby his posterity inherit a nature corrupt and wholly opposed to God and His law, are under condemnation, and as soon as they are capable of moral action, become actual transgressors. [Abstract of Principles, emphasis mine]

[A]ll mankind are now sinners, not by constraint, but choice; being by nature utterly void of that holiness required by the law of God, positively inclined to evil. [The New Hampshire Baptist Confession, emphasis mine]

It is unfortunate that we have seen the SBC move away from such strong, orthodox confessions in recent years and beginning to affirm weak, seemingly inconsistent attempts at putting man in greater control of his salvation.

What We Believe- Article III, Man (part 1)

January 21, 2009

This week we are picking up on the third article of the Baptist Faith & Message, the section concerning anthropology. It reads as follows:

III. Man

Man is the special creation of God, made in His own image. He created them male and female as the crowning work of His creation. The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God’s creation. In the beginning man was innocent of sin and was endowed by his Creator with freedom of choice. By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race. Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation. Only the grace of God can bring man into His holy fellowship and enable man to fulfill the creative purpose of God. The sacredness of human personality is evident in that God created man in His own image, and in that Christ died for man; therefore, every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love.

Genesis 1:26-30; 2:5,7,18-22; 3; 9:6; Psalms 1; 8:3-6; 32:1-5; 51:5; Isaiah 6:5; Jeremiah 17:5; Matthew 16:26; Acts 17:26-31; Romans 1:19-32; 3:10-18,23; 5:6,12,19; 6:6; 7:14-25; 8:14-18,29; 1 Corinthians 1:21-31; 15:19,21-22; Ephesians 2:1-22; Colossians 1:21-22; 3:9-11.

To be fully honest, this is the first article of the BF&M which I really just don’t like.  It is not that I disagree with what is said in toto, but just that I feel an agenda was being brought to the table in this article which led to the writers simply saying too much.

Let’s begin with some positive stuff though.  The statement that “By his free choice man sinned against God” is well received, even by Calvinists such as myself, who recognize that the fall was wholly attributable to Adam’s failure during the probationary period in the Garden.  There may be a deeper philosophical argument as to why Adam failed, but the fact is we see this as being the free choice of man to deny God.

As well, we must heartily affirm the fact that “Only the grace of God can bring man into His holy fellowship and enable man to fulfill the creative purpose of God.”  Again, an area where Calvinists and Non may disagree on the specifics, but where we should all stand in accord on the principle.

Finally, the statement that “The sacredness of human personality is evident in that God created man in His own image” strikes me as a very powerful understanding of the imago dei.  What does it mean to be created “in [God's] own image”?  Surely we know we are not claiming that God looks like us, since God the Father is not even flesh and bones.  Then what we are left with is that man is consciously in the image of God, reflecting God’s attributes in our spirits, not our bodies.  We can love like God, we can be angry like God, we desire justice like God, we desire unity like God.   It is the spiritual aspect of our being, not the physical, which shows the glory of the image of God in us.

That is the basic extent of the pieces I found positive and enlightening here.  Tomorrow I will try and show which parts I think are either wrong or just unnecessary for the development of this article on man.