Optional page text here. The Beast's Lair: September 2007

Friday, September 28, 2007


I am finished with mid-terms. They were the most difficult exams I have ever taken, so I am planning on doing a lot of nothing today and tomorrow.

Have a great weekend!

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Hold on to your hats my friends, the launch of RexandtheBeast.com is only a few short weeks away. I knew it was going to be cool, but this project is going to blow away even my own expectations. Rex and I have seen the preliminary designs and you just won't believe your eyes.

To remind my readers, RexandtheBeast.com is a website that will be launched in mid-October. The site will follow me and Rex (my brother) on our various Theme, Thrill, and Amusement park adventures across the country. The site will feature all kinds of interactive possibilities, including pictures, videos, merchandise, a blog, and weekly articles written by Rex and yours truly. Much more detail will come when the site is about to launch, but for now, just know that this is going to blow your mind.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Providence and Free Will - Can A Person Say "No" To God?

In a recent Lair post a comment was made raising the question of whether it was possible to resist, viz. "say no" to God, primarily in reference to salvation. This is one of those issues that has been debated for centuries, countless books and journal articles have been written, seminars have been conducted, churches have been split, and seemingly nice people turned into ravenous wolves. So, this is not the forum to go into nauseating detail the ins and outs of this controversial issue. What I would like to discuss is a very brief clarification of the two sides followed by my history and current belief.

The question of "can we say no" is in fact a question of the kind of grace God offers to sinful people. Most (not all) evangelical Christians will agree that humans are totally depraved. Sometimes referred to as the "T" in TULIP, this is the one point in the "5 Points of Calvinism" that both camps, Armininian and Calvinists, agree on. Total depravity is a descriptive reflection of the inability for humans, born into a sinful body, to please God. In short, there is nothing we are able to do that is pleasing to God, including have faith, because we are so corrupted by the fall. God would be completely just in allowing his wrath to destroy each and every human who ever lived. But, He is rich in mercy. (pause here and praise God today!) Even though we were completely and totally dead in our sins, God provided His grace so that we "might be raised up" with Christ. Read again with me the power of Ephesians 2:1-7:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience--among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved-- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

So, both "sides" agree that grace is required before salvation is possible. But, what is the nature of God's grace? Again, without going into too much detail, Arminians (those who would say humans can say "no") hold to what is call prevenient grace. Calvinists (those who would say humans cannot say "no") hold to what is called effectual (irresistible) grace.

Prevenient Grace of the Arminians describes God as initiating salvation by enabling the human to seek and choose God by placing faith in Christ. For this view, all are "elected" to salvation. Unfortunately, some will choose to not follow Christ, but they will be without excuse on judgment day because the grace sufficient for them to know and choose Christ was offered to all people. John Wesley solidified this view and it is by far the most common understanding of the way God works in salvation throughout our churches.

Effectual Grace of the Calvinists describes God as enabling those whom he has specifically chosen to seek and choose Christ. Since God has chosen them for salvation, when he extends his grace for them to believe, they will in certainty come to faith. In other words, it is impossible for a person who God chooses not be saved. Effectual Grace is coupled with "unconditional election." There is nothing we can do, not a single element of our person, that made God choose us. In His sovereignty and for His good pleasure, he elects those whom He will.

The difference between the two models is obvious. In the first, the final decision is up to the person. They either choose salvation or reject it. In the second, the final decision is up to God.

My journey through this difficult and important doctrine has been and continues to be challenged. I have in the past found myself somewhat contradicting myself. For as long as I have been preaching and teaching, I have stressed the providence of God. I have on audio cassette a message I preached several years ago simply called "The Providence of God." In the message I describe, rightfully so, the universal governing by God over all his creation so that not even a leaf falls to the ground without his counsel. If I could magically summon all the teenagers I have taught and all the laypeople to whom I have preached, the majority would say, I think fairly quickly, that what drives my theology is the bigness of God who controls all things. May God be glorified if they can say that about my ministry. But, having said that, I would never in the past make a clear argument concerning election despite the repetition of the question from curious laypeople. The two really just can't harmonize. If you trust the providential nature of God to bring about and govern all things, even the "sparrow", then how could God not govern what is absolutely most important to him, viz. the salvation of people? If one holds to the prevenient grace, ability to say no model, then that person is acknowledging that God does not bring about all things through his sovereignty, something most are willing to give up for the "greater good" defense of free will. For me, that is simply not an option. I am convinced that God controls, governs, and brings about all things. In short, all things are from God and for God.

What I, and most, will continue to struggle with is the "this just can't be" argument. To think that God would elect and effectually call some and not others is abhorrent to our understanding of fair play. No matter what the issue, this line of argument must be done away with! Scripture's teaching alone should shape our thinking about God. If we operated consistently out of a "this just can't be" mindset, we can do away with the Christian faith altogether. Let's face it, it just can't be that God is born a baby in a virgin's womb only to later raise from the dead.

The last word on this issue must be this: God saves sinners. He saves them by the Word being preached. He has called us to preach the Word! Both sides affirm the need to spread the Gospel to all nations, so that is where our convictions must rest at the end of the day. I will happily discuss the more delicate issues of theology with anyone, just so long as after the discussion, we both go share the Word with the lost.

Friday, September 21, 2007

JF is still kickin

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Southern Seminary Quote of the Day

Taken from Dr. York's chapel message.

"If my joy is rooted in my comfort, it will never last. If my joy is rooted in His glory, it can never fade."

I think that speaks for itself.

Monday, September 17, 2007

New Baptist Covenant, The Model Prayer, and Eschatology

Over the last few months I have written a few articles expressing some reservations I have about the forthcoming “New Baptist Covenant” (NBC). The focus of my concern, developed primarily through the reading of blogs and articles, is a fear of an unbalanced missiological purpose to place a social justice emphasis above and before a redemptive. As I have written elsewhere, any effort to improve the socio-economic status of the impoverished without an ever-present concern for their spiritual condition is not how we want to “re-shape the Baptist image.” That is a fine and welcomed humanitarian outreach organization, but not a Baptist one. What we would inevitable face without an “eye on ourselves and the doctrine” is a backward march to the social-gospel movement of the 1920’s. No, things must stay in proper balance. One of the keynote speakers for the NBC is Tony Campolo. Concerning this balance, Campolo has said. “I think that Christianity has two emphases. One is a social emphasis - to relieve the sufferings of the poor, to stand up for the oppressed, to be a voice for those who have no voice. The other emphasis is to bring people into a personal, transforming relationship with Christ, where they feel the joy and the love of God in their lives. That they manifest what the fifth chapter of Galatians calls 'the fruit of the Spirit'. Fundamentalism has emphasized the latter, mainline churches have emphasized the former. We cannot neglect one for the other.”

With that balance in mind, I intend to favorably argue for an increased emphasis in social justice among our denominational lines, and in particular, the NBC. Of course, this seems like a fairly risk-free thesis. After all, who would say that feeding the hungry, promoting peace, and finding homes for the homeless are things to be avoided? Granted, most of us fall wearily short of putting feet to our faith, but we would surely all agree that these are good and noble things. Our denominational leadership appears to moving slowly, if at all, to make differences in these areas. I have been in contact with KBC leadership for several months about what can only be described as a lackadaisical concern for racial diversity among SBC churches in KY. *There are, of course, those within all denominations who actively do their part to make a difference in these areas. The Father sees them and they will receive their reward.

The NBC is using Luke 4:18-19 for their purpose statement. The events in Luke 4 find Christ announcing the beginning of his ministry and the fulfillment of prophecy. The text he chooses to read, or least what Luke lets us in on, is Isaiah 61. Although this is a fine place to establish the urgency of a social agenda, basically a model of WDJD (What Did Jesus Do?), I find an even stronger case for the NBC mission in Matthew 6. Luke 4 is in context of Luke 3 where John the Baptist is speaking of Christ as the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit so that all flesh will see the salvation of God. John adds the memorable line, “behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Luke 3 is in context with Luke 2 where shepherds are traveling to see the “Savior” that has been announced. Luke 2 is in context with Luke 1 where Zecharias prophecies about the “knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of sins.” Although there are certainly physical elements in these passages as well, a complete reading of Isaiah 61 coupled with the context of Luke 1-4 more than likely brings about images of redemption and salvation before images of social reform. Luke stops Jesus at “to declare the favorable year of the Lord” but Christ probably finished Isaiah 61, the very next line says “and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who morn.” This reminds us of the beatitudes and the blessed nature of those who mourn their spiritual condition.

I am somewhat nit-picking because I do still believe there are social elements in Luke 4 and I believe the NBC is right to use the verse, but consider with me Matthew 6:10. Christ is reciting the Model Prayer to his disciples. He says “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Had the Kingdom of God come? I will answer in a way that will make Andi scream: Yes and no. (that is a pet peeve of hers.) The disciples have found themselves placed in the midst of inaugurated eschatology, sometimes referred to as the “Already/Not Yet” order of things. It would be a reality for the 12 which they would never fully comprehend. For example, in Acts 1, the disciples ask Jesus if he was now going to restore the kingdom to Israel. I have heard preachers scorn the disciples from this text, suggesting that they should, at this point in the narrative, understand what is happening. The truth, however, is that the disciples knew their Scripture. They knew that Christ was the fulfillment of Ezekiel 36 and Isaiah 61 and they knew that those prophecies describe the Messiah as setting up the kingdom of Israel against her enemies. The disciple’s question, then, demonstrates their sincere conviction that Christ was the Messiah. They were expecting him to do these things. John the Baptist acts in a similar way. After baptizing Christ and telling others that he was unworthy to untie Christ’s sandals, he later sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he really was the prophesied one. This seems strange since John was so confident and even heard the voice of God! But again, he knew his Scripture. He would have been somewhat confused by his imprisonment and the grim outlook for Israel since Christ was the one who would restore the kingdom. Jesus’ answer to John is classic. He says “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Luke 7:22). Christ lets John know that the Scriptures were being fulfilled. Not all at once, but it was happening. This is what is meant by the cute children’s shirts that say “God is still working on me.” One day, the fulfillment will be complete; we will be blameless and holy. Has our redemption already happened? Yes. Has it fully happened? No. The best is yet to come!

So, back to Matthew 6:10. It is interesting that Jesus does not pray for God to “get them out of here.” Instead of “bring our chaos up to your perfect order,” he prays for God to “bring your perfect order down to our chaos.” It is in that sense, of working toward the kingdom coming to earth, that I believe the NBC is on to something. But again, the specifics of the work must be kept in view. The purpose is not for a John Lennon “imagine” world. The purpose of our work is for God’s kingdom to be shone about. He will ultimately one day finish the job. As the old song says, “What a day that will be!”

Monday, September 10, 2007

Divine Power and Salvation

Andi and I enjoy reading through "Morning & Evening", the classic devotional by Charles Spurgeon. Like all devotionals there are better readings than others, but this quote from the evening devotional made quite an impact.

What will we say of those who think that conversion is accomplished by the free will of man and is due to his own kindly disposition? When we begin to see the dead rise from the grave by their own power, then may we expect to see ungodly sinners turning to Christ by their own endeavors.

Any commentary I might add would only ruin such a powerful word, but suffice it to say that the dead do not make the choice to live. So it is with us being "dead in sin." Ephesians 2:1.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Family News

Check out some cool stuff that is happening with my family.

My brother is currently competing in the National Laser Quest Tournament in Atlanta, GA. I was unable to make the event because of church and school related activities. In the last text message I received from him, he had placed 4th in a practice game before the real competition. I can't describe how good that is.

My niece played a soccer game today (she is 4). She called to tell me that she actually kicked the ball once.

My sister and brother-in-law are continuing to mature and develop into crucial leaders at their church in Nashville. Missy is all but running the children's department and Andy is a prominent figure in the youth department and an integral part of the media team. They are a relatively new family at the church, but God has provided wonderful opportunities for them to be used. I am so proud of them.

My mom recently worked hard at throwing a surprise party for my sister and it was so special. She is still the glue the holds everything together and when I reflect on the unmerited blessings God has given me, and there are many, mom is at the top of the list.

My sister-in-law is doing everything imaginable. Name it, she is doing it. I will have more info on a project I am working with her on soon.

Andi (my wife) is even busier than I. She works so hard, but she is also beginning a discipleship course where she will be leading other ladies through an Elisabeth Elliot book. She is also taking a course at the seminary on the books of Judges and Ruth, as well as developing an increased interest in racquetball. I still can't believe I wake up next to her each day!

I thank God for my family.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Bill Clinton

President Bill Clinton has been busy promoting his latest book entitled "Giving" and has appeared on several talk shows including Oprah and David Letterman. The book has a purpose to enlighten the reader on how "each of us can change the world." I have not read the book, but from what I have gathered from his discussions, the content centers around people who are giving of themselves to make a difference in other people's lives. The former president has come across very passionate and sincere about his book and it sounds as though the theme is a noble one. Of course, we learned this lesson years ago when Gene Wilder portraying Willie Wonka gently sang the tune "you want to change the world? There's nothing to it."

Two quick comments from what I have heard from Clinton:

1. During his conversation with David Letterman, Clinton described the opportunity he had to travel to Africa as part of his giving and it seems he has sincerely made a difference. But, as he was describing the breath taking views of another country and culture, he remarked on how humbling it was to be standing where the first homosapien walked out of the sea unto dry land some 150,000 years ago. Apparently, scientists have somehow traced where they believe human life first began. I was no longer thinking about his book, but I was now pondering the New Baptist Covenant. Bill Clinton, along with Jimmy Carter, are two of the "ring leaders" for the New Baptist Covenant that is continuing to grow in recognition. Although I understand that 2nd tier doctrines are not something that the New Covenant folks want to get hung up over, and rightfully so, I just have a hard time with this. To have a lead spokesperson for the New Baptist Covenant speak in front of millions of viewers on national television and all but undermine the doctrine of creation is not acceptable. God as creator is the foundation of everything else. This is not 2nd Tier!

2. My second concern, and I hope to be proven wrong here and I welcome comments to my erroneous conclusions (assuming they are erroneous) is that Bill Clinton's book might as well have been called "The Mission of the New Baptist Covenant." I have been reading commentaries written by distinguished faculty concerning Luke 4, the center of the New Covenant's formation, and it has primarily centered around injustice. Redemption has been mentioned, more by some than others, but without question in the shadow to world justice. From what I have seen, perhaps the New Baptist mentality (not all of course, but as a whole) would say this, "so long as he is determined to make a difference in people's lives, we are not so concerned with his view of creation, etc." Listen, we Baptists are lazy, and even worse, unconcerned about the impoverished, poor, and oppressed. Yes, we have much to improve on here and much to repent for. But any effort in the name of God that places an emphasis on anything before the salvation of people through Jesus Christ and sacrifices the important, historical doctrines of God for an effort to "get along" is a failed effort.

There is still much to learn and witness concerning the New Baptist Covenant. I have some friends and some mentors who are completely on board, so I know there are good, God-fearing people who will be a strong asset to the meeting. For me, the jury is still out.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Southern Seminary Quote of the Day

This quote comes from Dr. Pennington during today's lecture in Matthew Exegesis:

"If you think about it, what Jesus actually said is irrelevant."

I have, of course, done Dr. Pennington a great discredit by taking this quote out of a 15 minute lecture context. Nevertheless, I figured it might turn a few heads. His ultimate point was the need for us as ministers/bible students and the laypeople in our pews to be confident in our bibles. Today's seemingly noble quest to "get behind the text" to discover what was really going on is not only impossible, but not helpful. Several of the students today in class expressed concern over the commentary we are reading for our discussions. It is heavy on "redaction criticism", which is just a fancy way to say how an author might place his own theology or ideas into the text. Pennington was reminding us that the bible, inspired by the Holy Spirit and breathed out by God, is given to us in the way God has providentially purposed. So, what we have is what we are supposed to have. To get bent out of shape because Jesus said something a little different in Luke's account than in Matthew's account is missing the point.