Video Documentary of Todd Bentley and the Lakeland Revival

In my lifetime hardly anything has caused as much of a stir, religiously speaking, as the Lakeland Revival. Personally I was distant from it, since I do not run in charismatic circles and have a huge heaping helping of skepticism concerning what appears to be almost amoral “outpourings.” I have not once understood the attraction of Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, who I actually grew up with on TV with their puppet ministry. I knew as a kid that this was a duo that I wasn’t going to be around. Could anybody have really been surprised about how all that ended up?

But I have a breadth of appreciation for the craziness of excitement when people in mass begin to hand their lives over to Christ. And so I am not terribly judgmental on the emotionally charged atmospheres that occur in peak periods of Kingdom come. Read Jonathan Edward’s Narrative and so many of the accounts of the two Great Awakenings in America. This isn’t church as normal. Many of your sensibilities will be offended. I get it. Jonathan Edwards went through his own extremes – guarding the deeply affectionate nature of the outpouring in his own time and then watching his own people grow cold, Edwards’ combative spirit and the loss of his church ministry. If that was spread over the media, that would have been quite a story, and I am not sure Edwards would have recovered from the humiliation and his own role in the controversy.

Edwards, however, kept centered biblically, theologically and morally and went on to do some his deepest spiritual and intellectual work. Bentley is of another kind. Some of it is the circles he runs in. He isn’t being held accountable by any kind of serious theological heritage. There is nothing in his teaching he is being held accountable for. The roughness and rowdiness of his circles have no problem with the appearance of it all to the world.

Challies posted a video documentary that is up for only a short time before the publisher takes it down. I think it is worth the look. It’s stretching and uncomfortable, at least for someone of my trajectory. Once again, I am not as censorious as Challies. When he shoots, it’s between the eyes.

 

In the middle of my seminary studies I am glad I missed this, or, even more to the point, passed it by

Here is an article on Rousas John Rushdoony from UC Berkely, from which Rushdoony graduated.

Rushdoony was becoming a big deal at my seminary, Westminster Theological Seminary, which I attended 1975-79. His books and teachings were emerging big time as well as those of his son-in-law, Gary North. The school of thought was called Theonomy. It was a theocratic movement raging through the conservative ranks in the heyday of the re-engagement of Evangelicals with the political process, guided by such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. I am not adequate to state its central teachings. I got enough to stay very far away. But from time to time it would come up in class, pressed by a few eager students and mostly dodged by the seminary faculty. Israel was seen as the model for a nation state, what it looked like for a country to be ruled by the laws of God. There was modification to make room for New Testament dynamics, but those dynamics seemed edged out in the enthusiasm to be a nation under God.

Just a couple of observations:

1. Van Tillian apologetics gave Rushdoony his theological and apologetical firepower. Van Til, faculty at Westminster, made much of asserting that there is no real point of contact between the Christian and the nonChristian other than the message to repent. The nonChristian was viewed of using his powers in all ways and at all times to rebel against God and that any societal constructs he attempted would in all ways be opposed to Christianity. While I do buy into what I perceive of as the biblical teaching that all parts of us are infected by and affected with sin, I do not posit that all human constructs must be fully anti-God. I make much more room for the role of reason and the image of God in man to provide platforms for human society that contain some of the good that God would do. As Reinhold Niebuhr put it, there is both the Christ Against Culture model and the Christ in Culture model. We are incurably spiritual and have desires that are not thoroughly quenched by possible human utopias, per the Tower of Babel in Genesis 10.

2. I believe in a theocracy a la NT Wright, Jesus is God becoming King through the church which by God is planted in the middle of human history, not that the church may rule but that the church may save. But I do not essentially see this in the conversion of nation states but in the thorough “saltiness” of the church in human society in such a way that the loaf is leavened. I believe there is sufficient basis by means of common grace for society to be preserved by the best of human aspirations, subject as they all will be to the pervasive presence of evil and that just when things seem at their best in human history humans will often do their worst.

3. Theonomy encourages conflict where no conflict need exist. It is an all or nothing proposal, something that we do not get in this world – unless you are more radically postmillenial, which I am not.

4. Theonomy ultimately leads to the marginalization of the church, not its influence. We, the church, are not so divinized that I trust the church to rule in the affairs of nations. Has church history taught us nothing?

The susceptibility to theonomy by Reformed theology was surprising to me. It seemed to have more in common with Bob Jones University, a culture from which I was fleeing, having been raised in such as a child. And here it was again in the very place where I least expected it. Note the transformation of Francis Schaeffer into a culture warrior, a most disappointing turn of affairs for me.

I have some confidence in the power of natural theology to sway culture and politics as long as the church in itself is being transformed by the Gospel into serious “Kingdom Come” realities. We preach the Gospel but we also reason with people who by virtue of their sin have not become demons! God is able to enliven His image in sinners and quicken them in conscience, even if not unto new life.

Holy Spirit is “her” at American Baptist Churches of Rhode Island Annual Celebration

Yesterday I attended the Annual Celebration of American Baptist Churches in Rhode Island. The event was held at The Baptist Church in Warren, RI, a beautiful sanctuary of a historic (1764) church. The diversity of ABCORI is a wonderful thing and provides a cross section of ethnicities that is difficult to duplicate in any one denomination, except perhaps the United Methodists and maybe the Assembly of God.

Rev. Joe Kutter was the keynote speaker. The subject, no matter the announced topic, was an expression of concern about the decline of the American Baptists. It’s a well known story. The ABC isn’t merely declining. It is redefining the meaning of the power of gravity. Like all mainline denominations, after the heyday of the 1950’s under the influence of leaders like Reinhold Niehbuhr, the decline has been so rapid that no one can find the brakes. It is not just a decline. It is a “fall off the cliff” decline. See Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion. Niehbuhr and company provided American Protestantism a way out of the Enlightenment Protestant Liberalism of the early 1900’s without the full robust Christian orthodoxy of the historic Protestant creeds, particularly their insistence on the miraculous and the infallibility of Holy Scripture.

American Baptist churches make up 1.2% of the population. In 2008, the denomination had 1,331,127 members in 5,469 churches. In contrast explicitly evangelical churches with no mainline denominational affiliation make up 26.3% of the population. The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest grouping among the Evangelicals, is 6.7% of the population.

Rev. Kutter’s jeremiad provided no way out. His preference is that the Biblical literalists back off (my characterization) and realize that those who are of the supposed Pauline stream of Christianity (not rooted in the literal school of biblical interpreters represented by the Judaizers but in an “encounter” with the risen Christ) have a place at the table, too.

My responses are several:

1. I reject the asserted characterization of Pauline Christianity. Paul’s theology was the theology of the apostolic band. Each author of the New Testament books surely brings a diversity to the many angles of Christian revelation, but Paul submitted his interpretation of Christ to the pillars of the church and had it affirmed as their own. The reality is that the Judaizers, to use Rev. Kutter’s characterization, were considered by all of the church as not Christian at all, for they were found teaching a “gospel” that was no good news, that salvation was first determined by Gentile believers keeping the Jewish holiness codes that had to do with ceremonial laws. There was no room there for the core truth of our faith, grace. This characterization of division in early Christianity is 1950’s scholarship of the mainline. Sure, it hangs on. But it no longer has a major place at the theological table. See J Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism.

2. Rev. Kutter exhorted the Judaizers in the ABC to back off their literalistic hermeneutic and make way for “fresh truth.” We can’t expect, he reiterated, something true 20 years ago to be true today. It depends on what he means by that. He didn’t say. If you are going to make that statement, you had better say what that means and what it doesn’t mean.  In light of where the ABC has been and is theologically, my guess is that it doesn’t mean good things for a Protestant Evangelical.

3. There were no exhortations for the supposed Pauline stream of Christianity in the ABC. I wonder why. Have they nothing to learn from the conflict?

4. Rev. Kutter’s reference to the Holy Spirit as “her” came across as cutesy and unworthy of a keynote address. I guess he is not a Judaizer. People around me snickered and laughed in a manner that didn’t indicate any censure or concern. I was deeply saddened, my soul troubled. This is not because I am an uptight conservative Evangelical. I know metaphor when I see it and can appreciate it, such as The Shack’s portrayal of God the Father as a black woman who oversees the family with deep parental love of the strong but affectionate and seriously humorous kind. I love The Shack and recommend it and take a bit of heat for it. We know that God is not male or female. But the Bible does speak of Father and Son in the male gender. The Holy Spirit is in the neuter, without a feminine or masculine ending. Nowhere is the personal pronoun “she” applied to the Holy Spirit, and since the Holy Spirit is given the attributes of personality, the Christian Tradition never gives the appellation “it” to the third person of the Trinity. In keeping with the attribution of personality to the Trinity, the Christian Tradition for 2,000 years addresses the Holy Spirit as “he.”

4. The one thing that everyone knows about the American Baptist decline is that it is a theological decline. It’s not demographic decline, ministry methods decline,  an urban as opposed to suburban decline, or an East Coast as opposed to Midwest and West coast decline. The fact is that nobody is buying what ABC seminaries are putting on the theological table. Sure, there are many Evangelicals in the ABC, but it is not a denomination that can be characterized as maintaining historic Protestant orthodoxy as part of its DNA. This is the one thing Rev. Kutter should have said. It is the elephant in the room. Then he could make his case for why things should be as they are with the ABC and why “literalists” should support it. One thing is for sure, the ABC will not emerge as a major force in American Christianity (as they now are not) if the conservatives back off. Actually they are backing off by leaving.

5. While I am an Evangelical, I work very hard to extend charity and generosity to those who are making substantial points and expressing real concerns about wooden interpretations of Holy Scripture. I think that I usually draw a larger circle than most Evangelicals. That would be a whole other post, or several posts. But I also remain convinced that there is an anti-supernaturalism at work that must be tracked and identified when it raises its head and diminishes the Christian Tradition. It will always be seen as “judaizing” when the conflict is engaged. The charge against such as me will always be that I am a literalist. Like Thomas Oden, I prefer the word he coined, Paleo-Orthodox. Essentially I seek merely to express the Christian consensus of the church’s four ecumenical councils in the first five centuries. I am a Baptist (through and through), and while I teach the Bible with my heritage of biblical interpretation in mind, knowing that the Bible alone is final arbiter of all things theological (and otherwise), I know the difference between being denominational and being Paleo-Orthodox.

Here I am going to stop. The pot I am stirring is bubbling and soon there will be mess in the galley of the church.

I used to feel sorry for pastors – now I feel sorry for churches

When I was a young pastor (just yesterday, I think), I was convinced that the major problem in churches was the church. It was amazingly clear to me that if only the church would change and get in line, things would be so much better. Just get with the program and stop being so petty, small minded, tradition bound, whatever.

I have changed my mind. Now I feel sorry for churches. Unfortunately, my conclusion is that in most church struggles the source of the confusion and adversarial spirit is the pastor. A bit of an overstatement there for effect, but not much.

Churches have no choice but to pastored by mere human beings who are broken, each in his own way. You don’t get to choose a perfect pastor. And whatever doesn’t work right in the pastor flows into the veins of the life of the church in a way that is true of no other person.

I do not mean that the church is mostly right about this or that and the pastor is mostly wrong. Actually I find that pastors are amazingly insightful and have fairly accurate diagnoses of what ails the church. But that is never enough.

It is what is done, and how it is done, with that diagnoeis that keeps things in unnecessary turmoil. There is such a thing as necessary turmoil. But most pastors don’t manage the “necessary” very well and turn it into “unnecessary.” Managing conflict and patient, tender care of souls get lost when parishioners don’t quickly go along. And before you know it, the issue is no longer the issue. The issue is what the pastor is doing with the issue. And this is the point where I start feeling very sorry for churches that have to endure just plain ole bad pastoral leadership.

Of course, I am pointing fingers at me. I can see things now that I didn’t want to see back then. Not couldn’t see. But didn’t want to see. Blame it on the youth of a pastor, his inexperience, his personality type, or whatever. You still can’t get past the fact the he is the point guard and putting the ball into play so that the team can score is his job. No one else’s job. His job. He is part of a team, for sure, and needs a team. But he stands at a place no one else can be.

Yep, I know the “nobody’s perfect” routine. And I freely and quickly admit it. But what does that change? Not much. The damage is just as real and the consequent suffering just as damaging.

A significant contribution to the damage done is that younger pastors have not had much exposure to pastors who are walking in the Spirit, abiding in Christ and able to represent well Christ’s true priestly ministry. All of our models are executive leadership – powerful speakers, persuasive and charismatic personalities, confident and rational decision making, etc. When I look back at the models who shaped me, they were by and large “get it done” kind of men. Most of them got “done in.” The practice of the “exchanged life” was just missing. The life of prayer was nonexistent. The ability to shut up and stay quiet for significant periods of time so God could get a word in edgewise was never developed in any compelling way. The insight into the complexities of the soul was not even on the map.

The fact is that there are many brothers and sisters sitting the pews who do know these things and exercise these virtues. But they aren’t the pastors and are often passed over by the pastors. They don’t look like the shakers and movers. They don’t sign up for every committee and go to every meeting. They don’t enjoy the multiplied battle cries shouted out from the pulpit. They extend grace and support – and wait, wait until the pastor “gets it.” He often doesn’t it. And still they wait.

Why is the church declining? Sometimes the answer is easy.

Here is the preaching schedule I saw in a local church newsletter.

Sept 2-Planet Earth Sunday

Sept 9-Mountains and Valley Sunday

Sept 16-Sky Sunday

Sept 23-Humanity Sunday

Is it just me or will people actually roll out of bed early on Sundays, get the kids ready, packed into the car and rush to get a pew in anticipation of these topics?

In significant measure this is mainline denominational Christianity. I picked a mainline denomination off the web to attend the Sunday after Easter. The Pastor’s message was on why Jesus was not God and why Jesus’ mother used cuss words at the foot of the cross, like any disappointed mother would do. Of course, they did the obligatory confession of the Apostles Creed.

Oh my!!!