July 2012

Holiness in a hook-up culture

July 31 2012 by Candi Finch, Baptist Press

FORT WORTH, Texas – A few months ago I heard an eye-opening presentation by Dr. Joe McIlhaney, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist, who came to speak to our college students at Southwestern about what he has observed over his lengthy career caring for girls and women. His conclusion?

Western culture has stopped protecting its girls.

He argues that we have abandoned our protective role for young women, especially in regards to guiding them in male-female relations, romance, love, sex, marriage, etc. Young women are made to grow up much too quickly – clothing stores are advertising push-up bra bathing suits to seven- to nine-year-olds, 12-year-olds can buy shorts with “sexy” written across the back of them and Hollywood programs geared to teens and young adults often glamorize the idea of young women who are sexually aggressive and loose. Have we lost our minds?

It was heartbreaking to hear from Dr. McIlhaney about the impact, both physically and emotionally, that America’s sexual culture is having on young women. The back cover of Dr. McIlhaney’s book “Girls Uncovered” states, “Our daughters live in a culture that sees sex as both a sacred right to be exercised with anyone, at any time, and also as ‘no big deal.’ This culture of ‘hooking up’ among teens and young adults is no longer a secret.” And, it is having disastrous and long-term effects on our young women.

So the question for those of us involved in ministry to young women and parents of girls and young women: How can we help our young women live holy lives in a “hook-up” culture?

The end of James 1:27 exhorts us to keep ourselves “unstained by the world” and 1 Peter 1:16 says we should “be holy” as God is holy. How can we encourage this in our young women, knowing full well that they are bombarded daily with messages that do anything but encourage holiness?

Parents: Talk to your students
Studies show that parents still have the number one influence over their children’s thoughts about sexual activity. One young women quoted in McIlhaney’s book said that her ideas come “probably mostly from my parents and seeing the way my dad treats my mom.” This may come as a shock to you parents who get eye-rolls and long sighs when you try to offer instruction, but your children and teens are listening to you. They are watching what you do.

Sex and relationships are uncomfortable and difficult topics, but parents, you cannot relegate your role as your children’s primary teacher to culture. I remember being on a trip with more than 300 students several years ago, and we had one beautiful young woman who struggled to dress according to the dress code for the trip. Her mom was also on the trip and also dressed inappropriately, and the mom actually argued with the staff about the guidelines we had set. We weren’t trying to be legalistic by setting a dress code – we were just trying to help encourage modesty. The mom was modeling immodesty before her daughter instead of encouraging modesty that is appropriate for those who profess God (1 Timothy 2:9-10).

Be careful little eyes what you see
I was in the airport in early July waiting to catch a flight, and I was scrolling through the newsfeed on my Facebook page. The movie “Magic Mike” must have been coming out that day because several girls were posting about how excited they were to see the movie. It made me really sad because the movie is about male strippers, and I can’t imagine that it will encourage pure thoughts. The psalmist said “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless” (Psalm 101:3), and Job said “I have made a covenant with my eyes” that he would not look upon a girl with lust (Job 31:1a).

What we see impacts what we think about and how we think about things. I believe one of the reasons we have become such a sex-saturated culture is that we have become numb over time to the images we see in movies, media and TV. A high school young woman that I worked with a few years ago told me that it was hard not to have sex with her boyfriend because he kept telling her “everyone was doing it” and that all the shows that she watched showed teenagers having sex. She just felt so much pressure and felt alone in her stand. We can’t and shouldn’t shut our students away from the world, but we must help them set standards in what they put before their eyes.

Set appropriate standards for relationships
I get the question several times a year about “how far is too far” to go in a relationship. I understand it, but it is really the wrong question because it essentially asks how close we can get to the line without crossing it. Instead, we need to ask things like: How can I encourage holiness in my dating relationship or how can I protect my boyfriend’s purity so that, if he is not my future husband, I would not be ashamed to meet his wife one day in the future? Song of Solomon 8:4 pleads with the daughters of Jerusalem that they not “stir up or awaken love until it pleases.” That is my plea for our young women as well.

Dr. Joe McIlhaney has a chapter in “Girls Uncovered” that discusses the significant influence physical (holding hands, kissing, hugging) and sexual activities can have in bonding a couple emotionally. This should not be a surprise because God designed us this way! Oxytocin, a hormone that is released in a new mother when she breastfeeds to help her bond to her new baby, is also released when a girl or women “has close physical contact with a man,” even hugging and holding hands. This hormone helps in bonding and can cause a young woman to trust another person. You can see, then, how a teenage girl’s judgment can be clouded when it comes to upholding physical boundaries with her boyfriend. When a relationship gets physical, many girls make compromises they never thought they would make.

Living holy lives in a hook-up culture is difficult, but it’s not impossible!

Help your daughters and the young women you work with see that God has a beautiful plan for sexuality and a setting for it to be expressed – within the boundaries of marriage.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Candi Finch serves as assistant professor of theology in women’s studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. This column first appeared at BiblicalWoman.org, a blog of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.)
7/31/2012 1:42:35 PM by Candi Finch, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Response: SEBTS agenda is Great Commission

July 30 2012 by Ken Keathley, Guest Column

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Please see Les Puryear's guest column that he submitted to the Recorder. Puryear is pastor/church planter at Cornerstone Community Church in Lewisville.)

Is there a Calvinist agenda to reform traditional Southern Baptist churches? 
Les [Puryear] and I agree in three important areas. First, neither of us embraces the Calvinist understanding of salvation. I’ve written extensively about the subject where I’ve argued against the typical Calvinist doctrines of limited atonement and irresistible grace. My view of salvation is closer to what he calls “the traditional Baptist view” (with a few notable exceptions) than to the five points of Calvinism (TULIP) that he enunciated.
Second, both of us agree that pastor search committees need to be better informed about the theological issues of the day. Some have claimed they were misled by pastoral candidates when actually they didn’t understand fully the answers they were given.
And third, we both believe that pastoral candidates must present their views with candor and integrity. They need to tell prospective congregations where they stand on issues such as the inerrancy of scripture, gender roles in the home and in the church, church governance matters (i.e. plurality of elders versus the single elder model), and of course, where they stand with respect to the five points of Calvinism.
Les and I strongly disagree on one point: he intimates that Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) is complicit in a Calvinist attempt to takeover [Southern Baptist Convention] SBC churches. Absolutely not. Perhaps others have such a scheme; SEBTS does not.
Even though he doesn’t say so explicitly, Les seems to imply that Southeastern is a major player in a Calvinist coup when he warns that a “majority of these Southern Baptist Calvinist pastors are coming from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, Ky.) and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Wake Forest, N.C.).” Does Southeastern have Calvinists on its faculty? Yes, as do all six SBC seminaries. 
Calvinism is a part of our Baptist heritage, so Calvinists deserve a place at the SBC table. But the majority of faculty at SEBTS do not subscribe to TULIP. And we have no faculty members who evangelize more for John Calvin than they do for Jesus Christ. Puryear also seems to assume that the typical rural church in North Carolina is a “traditional” Baptist church (“traditional” as defined recently in a statement published by Eric Hankins). Maybe; maybe not. During the 10 years I have lived in the Carolinas I have had the opportunity to preach in many rural churches. Instead of finding many “traditional” Baptist churches, to my dismay I have encountered numerous churches with practically no theological moorings at all. Many historic churches have had pastors who held to a low view of biblical authority with few doctrinal commitments, and the results have been very damaging. Without apology I contend that I would rather see the pastorate of those churches filled with mission-minded, Spurgeon-type Calvinists than to have those congregations remain in the theological murkiness in which many are wandering. 
Southeastern Seminary does have an agenda – the Great Commission. When we say that SEBTS is a Great Commission school we are not pitting obedience to the Great Commission against commitment to doctrine. Quite the opposite: few things are more doctrinal than the Great Commission. The Great Commission entails certain powerful theological truths: all humanity is lost and is in need of salvation, Jesus Christ is the only Savior, people can get saved only if they hear the gospel, and our Lord has commanded us to preach the gospel to everyone in the world. These are the truths that motivate us. 
Every professor at Southeastern, without exception, affirms these Great Commission truths (and those faculty members who have theological affinity with the teachings of John Calvin would not subscribe to the five points the way Puryear presents them). Every professor affirms that God loves the world and every human being in it. Every faculty member believes that God genuinely desires the salvation of all.
Everyone teaching at Southeastern affirms that the blood of Christ is sufficient to save every man, woman and child who’ve ever lived. We all believe that every person who hears the gospel has a genuine opportunity to be saved and has only himself to blame if he rejects it. Every one of us is broken hearted by the lostness of humanity and by the reality that lost people go to hell. We believe in and practice soul winning.
Any faculty who taught otherwise would find himself or herself giving an account to Dr. [Danny] Akin and me. The [SBC] exists for the purpose of enabling churches to collectively obey the Great Commission. We at Southeastern take seriously our role in fulfilling that mission. SEBTS has one mission and one mission only: to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the local church and fulfill the Great Commission. That is our agenda.  
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ken Keathley is senior vice president of academic administration/dean of faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.)
Opposing view: Is there a Calvinist agenda
to reform traditional
SBC Churches?
7/30/2012 2:31:59 PM by Ken Keathley, Guest Column | with 1 comments

Is there a Calvinist agenda to reform traditional SBC churches?

July 30 2012 by Les Puryear, Guest Column

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Please see Ken Keathley's response to this column. Keathley is senior vice president of academic administration/dean of faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

Recently, I [spoke] with a pastor search committee about a pastor search they were conducting. When I mentioned that Calvinist candidates may not be forthcoming in regard to their true beliefs, they asked, “What is a Calvinist?”
I wasn’t surprised that a small rural church was not aware of the Calvinist plan to reform [Southern Baptist Convention] SBC churches.
What is a Calvinist? Calvinists believe in five specific doctrines regarding salvation which are framed in the acronym: TULIP. Here’s what TULIP stands for:
T = total depravity. Man is incapable of coming to Christ without first being regenerated by the Holy Spirit.
U = unconditional election. Before time began, God predestined who He would save. Unless one is a part of this special group, known as the elect,” one will not be saved.
L = limited atonement. Jesus did not die for the whole world. He died for the elect.
I = irresistible grace. In the case of the elect, they will ultimately come to Christ because God will cause them to come through an irresistible pull from Him.
P - perseverance of the saints. The elect of God will persevere in their faith in Christ and will not fall away.
Now let me make a couple of points regarding this doctrine of salvation which Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says is our “future.”
Here are some of the logical conclusions to what Calvinists believe. If God chose who was going to be saved before time began, then nothing can change His sovereign decree. Thus, if you are not one of the elect, you will not come to Christ. You can hear the word of God preached but it will have no saving effect on you because you are totally depraved and cannot come to Christ unless God causes you to come to Christ. And if you are not one of the elect, God will not cause you to come to Christ. The flip side of this theology is that God does nothing to draw the non-elect to Himself, thus they will not come to Him through Christ.
The majority of these Southern Baptist Calvinist pastors are coming from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, Ky.) and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Wake Forest, N.C.). In North Carolina, small rural churches have been particularly vulnerable to Calvinist graduates from these seminaries because of their close proximity to churches in our state.
If Calvinist candidates, who are seeking pastoral positions in traditional Southern Baptist churches, would be honest about their beliefs, then I would see no problem. Our churches are autonomous and can choose to hire whom they please.
If a church wants to hire a Calvinist pastor, then God bless them. Unfortunately, many Calvinist pastoral candidates are not revealing their Calvinism during the pastor search process in order to secure a pastoral position. Many times after the Calvinist is called as the pastor of the church, they begin to teach Calvinism in order to “reform” the traditional Baptist church in ecclesiology, polity, and worship. In many of these churches, the result is either a church split or the church is traumatized by the process of firing the pastor.
Is there an issue with pastoral candidates not being truthful to search committees about their beliefs? Apparently it is an issue that Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Seminary, thought was worthy of comment. [In an article published on the Between the Times website] he wrote:
“Act with personal integrity in your ministry when it comes to this issue. Put your theological cards on the table in plain view for all to see, and do not go into a church under a cloak of deception or dishonesty. If you do, you will more than likely split a church, wound the Body of Christ, damage the ministry God has given you, and leave a bad taste in the mouth of everyone. …”
Is there a Calvinist agenda to reform traditional Southern Baptist churches? Absolutely.

Ernest Reisinger, the chief architect of Founders, a Calvinist ministry, describes in great detail [in an article on the Founders Ministries website] how to “reform” a traditional church. He even gives the agenda a name: “The Quiet Revolution.” Make no mistake, there is an intentional effort to “reform” traditional SBC churches into “reformed” (code word for Calvinist) churches.
Traditional SBC church leaders and their churches need to be informed about this Calvinist agenda. They need to be informed on how to ask the right questions to determine the true theological positions of their pastoral candidates. Not only would this process identify Calvinist candidates but other candidates who may not be a good fit for their church, such as candidates who speak in tongues, candidates who believe that one can lose their salvation, or candidates who believe that the Ten Commandments are no longer valid. 
But the main difference between Calvinists and other nontraditional Baptist candidates is that only Calvinists are actively trying to change local SBC churches to their beliefs.

In response to the Calvinist efforts to reform non-Calvinist churches, a group of traditional Southern Baptist leaders and scholars wrote a “Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” The list of signatures includes over 250 pastors (representing small, medium, and large churches in 29 states), six former SBC presidents, seven state Baptist convention executives, four members of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 committee, over 20 associational directors of missions, five Baptist seminary and college presidents, and hundreds of other evangelists, church staff members, and lay ministers. After the release of this statement, many Calvinists said they wanted unity in our convention.
Traditional Southern Baptists also desire unity, and I believe that unity is an attainable goal but only when Calvinists cease trying to reform traditional SBC churches to their views.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Les Puryear is pastor/church planter at Cornerstone Community Church in Lewisville.)
Opposing view: SEBTS agenda is Great Commission
7/30/2012 2:30:13 PM by Les Puryear, Guest Column | with 5 comments

Want to be a leader? Then love & serve others

July 27 2012 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. – He didn’t have time to encourage a confused kid, but he did anyway.

He was Hoffman Harris, the busy pastor of fast-growing Briarlake Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga. The confused kid was me.

I was a new member of his church back in the ’70s. I was finishing college and struggling with a call to serve God. Pastor Harris had sermons to write and things to do. He had hundreds of other people and priorities clamoring for his attention. But he made time on a regular basis to talk to me, patiently answer countless dumb questions and connect me to key people he knew from his many years in ministry.

When I became a Mission Service Corps volunteer with the Home (now North American) Mission Board, he persuaded an understandably doubtful mission committee at Briarlake to provide partial support for an untested, untried young man. After I left the Atlanta area to join the International Mission Board (IMB) staff in Richmond, Va., he kept in touch with me – more faithfully than I kept in touch with him.

There was something about “Hoff.” When he preached or talked to you, he wasn’t just saying words. He was giving you his heart. You felt you were the sole focus of his attention. Jesus’ disciples must have felt that way during His earthly ministry.

If not for Hoffman Harris, I probably never would have gotten involved in mission communication. If not for Bill and Joyce Dillard, I probably would have quit after the first few years. Bill was pastor of Parham Road Baptist Church, the congregation I joined after moving to Richmond. The Dillards not only welcomed me as a member, but fed me countless meals (the sure way to a single guy’s heart) and let me sleep on their couch when I was feeling lonely and discouraged. No advance notice was required: The door was open, the place at the table was set. They had their own sons, but happily “adopted” many guys like me through the years.

I could name other friends, relatives, mentors and missionaries who have freely given me their time and wisdom, with no agenda beyond love and no expectation of return beyond the joy they received in giving. If you look back, you will find people in your life who have done the same for you. They are the people you will remember with gratitude when the finish line comes into sight.

I am amazed at the number of books, articles, speeches, sermons, seminars and videos about “leadership” flooding the market these days when so little real leadership is on display. Never has so much been said about something so rarely practiced. Why are so many institutions, businesses, churches, families and relationships crumbling? There are many reasons, but one of them is lack of authentic leadership at every level of society.

“Leadership is about influence,” writes Jeremie Kubicek. “Influence is power. And how you use that power will affect your world and those around you. Will you choose to empower or overpower? To liberate or dominate?”

Kubicek, who runs a company that coaches and develops leaders, is author of “Leadership is Dead: How Influence is Reviving it,” published in 2011. Yet another book about leadership, you groan. But Kubicek is on to something. He thinks leadership is dead because many so-called “leaders” have abandoned their real responsibility in pursuit of self-aggrandizement, which devalues others, or self-preservation, which defines mediocrity.

“You don’t need massive power or a prominent position to lead positive change in an organization,” he says. “You need only influence: the most potent and underutilized professional resource on the planet. ... Great leaders with true influence build relationships by serving the needs of those within their spheres of influence, even as they serve the needs of their businesses. This isn’t just a business tactic; it is a lifestyle.”

And it applies to every area of life. Influence comes from trust, according to Kubicek. No one trusts – or willingly follows – a leader who looks out only for No.1. But people will follow a generous influencer almost anywhere. “To have influence, you have to reach beyond your walls and give yourself for the benefit of others.”

That takes time, commitment and humility.

Maybe this sounds familiar: “For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed – God is witness – nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:5-8).

That’s the Apostle Paul, who knew something about leadership, and he didn’t need a fancy seminar to learn it. He mastered the art of true leadership under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit – and the guidance of faithful believers who prepared him to be the great missionary and disciple-maker he was.

Above all, Paul loved and served the disciples he made. His words were powerful, his example more so.

I learned that truth from Hoffman Harris and Bill and Joyce Dillard, who understood what real leadership is all about.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is overseas correspondent for the International Mission Board. Visit “WorldView Conversation,” the blog related to this column, at http://worldviewconversation.blogspot.com/.)
7/27/2012 12:47:03 PM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

The need for spiritual revival in the SBC

July 26 2012 by Frank S. Page, Baptist Press

(EDITOR’S NOTE – This first-person is part of a series in anticipation of the 40/40 Prayer Vigil for Spiritual Revival and National Renewal, an initiative of the North American Mission Board and Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission to encourage Southern Baptists and other evangelicals to pray for 40 days from Sept. 26 to Nov. 4. To learn more, visit www.4040prayer.com.)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In my almost two years in the role I now hold, I have traveled a great deal across our nation and some across the world. I am met with an almost universal understanding by God’s people that we are in dire need of a Holy Ghost revival in our nation, in our churches and in our lives. This refrain is repeated over and over.

I have long stated that God has a plan for our nation, for our churches and for our lives. I also constantly state that Satan has his own plan for all of the above. We all agree that he has won far too many battles. God’s desire has been thwarted too long.

Psalm 85:6 asked the question, “Will you not revive us again?” This cry from the psalmist is a question that all of us must ask today. When this was written, conditions in Judah were desperate as God’s people had shortly returned from the Babylonian captivity. People had expected great things from their deliverance and homecoming but the harsh realities of their return brought bitter disappointment and discouragement.

There is much discouragement, disunity and hopelessness today. We find ourselves theologically and methodologically divided. We find ourselves thwarted on every hand to see our nation touched for the Gospel. One of the saddest realities of today is that personal evangelism has reached a new low of emphasis in many of our churches and has led to disengagement from lost people that frightens me deeply.

Many people are asking the same question today that was asked by the psalmist, only rephrased: “Is revival coming?”

Our 21st century churches to a great extent have become ease loving churches. Such being the case, too often churches are not willing to pay the price that revival costs. It is true for individuals as well. At times we hate our deadness, our lack of spiritual vitality, but we hate still more to be bothered into action. That may sound a bit pessimistic and unkind, but I am confident that this is the reality in which we live. There are many, no doubt, who would like to have a true revival, but many would also ask that revival come without much serious alteration of behavior and priority. We must understand today that revival is costly. It always has been. It always will be.

My main point in this article is simply to help us realize it is time to quit talking about it and start doing what God tells us to do! His Word is clear. He has told us what must take place for revival to come. His precious Word gives the outline, highlights the need and provides the answer. Look at 2 Chronicles 7:14: “[If] my people who are called by My name humble themselves, pray and seek My face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.” Where is humility? Where are earnest prayer warriors? Where are those who seek His face? Where is genuine and life-altering repentance? Are there hearts being broken as we realize the answer to those questions? We fall far short of what God would wish.

May God break our hearts and bring us to the point where we not only see the need, but we are willing to do whatever it takes to see the Holy Ghost revival fall upon our people!

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Frank S. Page is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.)
7/26/2012 1:57:59 PM by Frank S. Page, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

God is at work in teen lives in Vt.

July 25 2012 by Terry Dorsett, Baptist Press

BARRE, Vt. – Parental suicide. Sexual molestation. Cutting. Drug addiction. Attempted suicide. Childhood brain tumor. Mother murdered. Bullying. Near fatal car accidents. Family member died of cancer. Family member battled cancer. Depression. Pill addiction. Many other problems too numerous to list.

But one God who has the power to overcome it all.

These were the stories of teens and young adults who gathered at Faith Community Church in Barre, Vt., one night in late June. As they do every Wednesday, young people played games, ate lots of food, hung out with friends and heard a challenging lesson from a caring youth worker. In this case, the teacher was Leo Dutil, a 20-year-old young man who grew up in the youth group and is now preparing to become a youth minister. After sharing from James 2 on why we should be joyful when difficulties come into our lives, he then invited those present to come to the front and share a testimony of a time in their lives when God was there for them in the midst of great difficulty. At first, it was awkwardly silent as the microphone laid on the podium waiting for someone to share their story of God’s transforming grace.

Then, one young lady came. Her story was painful, but God had been with her. Then another came. And another. A steady stream came to the front to share their story of pain, hurt and heartache and give God the glory for walking with them in difficult times. Nearly an hour later, when the Spirit was finished doing a deep work in the hearts of the nearly 100 young people present, the closing prayer was finally said.

The stories were moving. The praise that God was given was nothing short of miraculous considering that most of the young people come from non-Christian homes. But it is evident that the Spirit is calling many to faith in Christ and He often speaks through pain and difficulty. One young lady, whose mother died when she was two and whose father committed suicide the following year, said, “I’ve been angry at God and I’ve tried running from Him. But I cannot get away from Him. He is always there. I need to run to Him, not away from Him.” Another young person, one of the few who did grow up in a Christian home, said, “Outwardly I was living a happy Christian life, but inwardly I was lonely and miserable. I decided to kill myself and as I put the razor blade to my wrist, my older brother knocked on my door. He asked me to watch a Christian video and it changed my life.” One young man said, “I was in a really bad car accident a few weeks ago. The car rolled over many times and I should have died. But someone kept me alive, I think it was God. Though I have never been religious, I’m coming to church now because I think I’m going to become religious.”

One young lady, whose siblings have bounced from foster home to foster home and whose biological family lost nearly everything they owned in a flood last year, said, “When you have lived the life I’ve lived, it is hard to believe in God because it does not seem like He has done much for you. But I know I need to believe because God is the only one who is always there for me.”

Though some churches may be struggling to reach young people, other churches are seeing waves of unchurched young adults come to faith in Jesus. God has not given up on this generation, and neither must we. God has a plan for these young adults. What a blessing to be the means through which the God of the universe chooses to work. The next generation is a mess. Jesus is the answer. Let’s stop complaining about how few of them come to church and let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work reaching them.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Terry Dorsett serves as the director of the Green Mountain Baptist Association and is the bivocational pastor of Faith Community Church in Barre, Vt. For information, visit VermontBaptist.org. Visit his blog at TerryDorsett.com. He is the author of “Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church,” and “Bible Brain Teasers: Fun Adventures Through the Bible.”)
7/25/2012 2:02:50 PM by Terry Dorsett, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

The dark night in Denver – groping for answers

July 24 2012 by R. Albert Mohler Jr., Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The news hit the airwaves like a sudden onslaught, and the truth began to sink in. It has happened again. This time, 71 people shot while attending the midnight premier of the last in the Batman sequence, “The Dark Knight Rises.” According to press reports, a 24-year-old man burst into the crowded theater, wearing a gas mask and carrying an arsenal. After deploying what is believed to be tear gas, he opened fire with a shotgun, a rifle and two handguns. At least 12 people are dead, and dozens are injured, many critically.

More than 100 police officers responded to the scene in Aurora, just a few miles from Columbine High School, where in 1999 two high school students killed 12 fellow students and one teacher in a rampage that also injured 21 other students. That school massacre became a milestone in the nation's legacy of violence. Now, yet another Denver suburb joins that tragic list.

The inevitable media swarm focuses on the data first – the who, what, when and where questions. Then they, along with the public at large, begin to ask the why question. That is always the hard one.

The same vexing but inescapable question comes every time a Columbine happens or an Anders Behring Breivik attempts to justify his mass homicide. How could such a thing happen? How could a human being do such a thing?

There is no easy answer to this question. The easy answers are never satisfying, and they are often based in the confused moral calculus of popular culture. We assume there must have been a political motivation, a psychiatric disturbance, a sociological pressure … anything that will offer a satisfying explanation that will assure us. Wave after wave of analysis is offered, and sometimes some horrifying clues emerge. But the moral madness of mass homicide can never be truly explained.

Christians are driven by instinct to think in biblical and theological terms. But, how should that instinct be guided?

The reality of human evil
First, Christians know that the human heart is capable of great evil. Human history includes a catalog of human horrors. The 20th century, described by historian Eric Hobsbawm as the century of “megadeath,” included a list of names such as Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Pol Pot and Charles Manson. But those murderers did their killing from a distance, at least usually. Those who carry out the murders themselves are even more haunting to us. The young man arrested in this case, 24-year-old James Holmes, looks disarmingly normal.

The Fall released human moral evil into the cosmos, and every single human being is a sinner, tempted by a full range of sinfulness. When someone does something as seemingly unthinkable as this, we often question how anyone could do such a thing. The prophet Jeremiah spoke to this when he lamented, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

Human beings are capable of unspeakable moral evil. We are shocked by such atrocities, but only because we have some distance from the last one. We cannot afford to be shocked when humans commit grotesque moral evil. It tells us the truth about unbridled human sin.

The grace of moral restraint
Second, we must be thankful for restraints on moral evil. Christians must not underestimate the potential of any human being – ourselves included – to commit moral horror. We know ourselves to be sinners, and we know ourselves to be capable of sins we do not actually commit. Why do we not commit them?

God restrains human sinfulness. If the fullness of human sin was set loose, humanity would destroy itself. God restrains human evil by several means. First, he has created us in His image, and at least part of this image is what we call conscience. The moral conscience is a powerful restraint on human evil, and for this we must be exceedingly thankful. At the same time, the human conscience is also warped by the Fall and no longer fully trustworthy. We have developed the capacity to ignore the conscience, torture the conscience and even misdirect the conscience by moral rationalization. Nevertheless, the restraint of the conscience is fundamental, and for that we must be very thankful.

God has also established institutions and orders that restrain human evil. As the Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 13, God gave us the institution of government in order to restrain evil and to punish the evildoer. He has also given us the institution of marriage and the family and the larger order of society in order to restrain evil. We are surrounded by a complex of laws and statutes and social expectations and civic associations. All these function to restrain evil.

At the foundation of these restraints is the fear of God, which, even in an increasingly secular society, still retains a more powerful force than is often acknowledged.

Evil answered at the cross
Third, we must admit that there will be no fully satisfying answer to these questions in this life. Christians know that God is sovereign, and that nothing is outside of His control. We also know that He allows evil to exist, and human beings to commit moral atrocities. We cannot allow the sovereignty of God to be denied and evil allowed its independent existence. Nor can we deny the reality of evil and the horror of its threat to be lessened. We are reminded that evil can be answered only by a cross.

Theologian Henri Blocher explains this truth vividly in these words: “Evil is conquered as evil because God turns it back upon itself. He makes the supreme crime, the murder of the only righteous person, the very operation that abolishes sin. The maneuver is utterly unprecedented. No more complete victory could be imagined. God responds in the indirect way that is perfectly suited to the ambiguity of evil. He entraps the deceiver in his own wiles. Evil, like a judoist, takes advantage of the power of good, which it perverts; the Lord, like a supreme champion, replies by using the very grip of the opponent.”

We must grieve with those who grieve. We must pray for gospel churches in the Denver area who will be called upon for urgent ministry. We must pray for our nation and communities. And we must pray that God will guard ourselves from evil – especially our own evil. And we must point to the cross. What other answer can we give?

(EDITOR’S NOTE – R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This column first appeared at AlbertMohler.com.)

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7/24/2012 2:09:05 PM by R. Albert Mohler Jr., Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Opt out of the gay marriage debate? That’s no longer an option

July 24 2012 by Owen Strachan, Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – There’s been a lot of talk about evangelicals opting out of the culture wars recently. Some of that could be good. Few of us want to identify the church with the Republican Party, or to act as if anything is more needful than the promotion of the gospel.

But some of this discussion has been deeply harmful. Why? Because there is a desperate need for the church to be the church in this fallen world. Now is not the time to back off from a robust cultural ethic. Now is the time to engage.

Some still think that they have the luxury of sitting out the national debate over homosexuality. They think, “Well, the battle over marriage is for those frothy-mouthed Christians who send out the weird newsletters and are always sounding the doomsday bell. I don’t really have the stomach for that; I don’t want, after all, to be weird, or unliked, or out of tune with The New York Times and NPR crowd. I’m educated and above the fray. Culture wars, as I’ve come to understand from the media, are for hillbillies and fear mongers, the God-and-country set. Nope. No thank you.”

Others are more biblical in their convictions, but still think they can opt out of the conflict over marriage and homosexuality. They think, “I don’t want my Christianity to be political. The church should do what the church does. I’ll sit this one out, as I usually do, and go on my way, trusting in a sovereign God.”

Both positions suffer from a common flaw: lack of moral realism as it relates to our cultural moment. You see, there is not going to be an “opt out” option in the coming days. Actually, let’s change that – there no longer is an “opt out” option. The conflict over homosexuality and marriage is here to stay. It’s only going to pick up steam. Barring a miracle from God, the clock will not be turned back. Most every Christian in every place in America is going to face a direct, confrontational challenge on this issue. You can’t escape this.

Do you see this? It’s different from abortion, which everyday Christians didn’t have to really get involved with. Because abortion happens behind closed doors in nondescript clinics, Christians like you and me could pretend it didn’t happen. We could occasionally pray, and occasionally give and serve, but because this menace was unseen, we didn’t have to get whipped up about it. We could leave that to “weird,” “in-your-face” Christians, whom we might subtly demean for their outspokenness.

But things have changed. I just learned on Facebook that gay pride groups marched in my hometown of Machias, Maine (and other Maine towns). Machias is a tiny coastal town. It’s a long ways from Manhattan, culturally speaking. But just a few weeks ago, in the Fourth of July parade, a group of gay and lesbian supporters marched, just as they did in numerous other small Maine towns.

I’ll ask this again: Do you get what’s happening? This is a Fourth of July parade. Over the years, there’s been no more “safe” cultural event for Americana. Everyone cheers the Shriners, the small-but-vigorous community band, the fire department as it blares its siren and throws candy to skittering children. Everyone. But that all, in a flash, changed in Machias, Maine. Here’s what I can guess: This will happen all across America.

There is no perfect nonbiblical argument we can make to repudiate and oppose same-sex marriage. We can cite statistics and studies, and we should. We can offer sound logic and clear moral guidance. But at the end of the day, you and I have a choice as Christians: We either can sit this one out and let our society embrace a flagrantly sinful lifestyle. Or we can stand up and oppose these efforts. That’s it. Two options: capitulation or challenge.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t fully trust our sovereign God to work out His perfect will, which may mean hardship and many earthly defeats for American and Western Christians. Sometimes God wills this for His people, who are then challenged to remember that we serve a spiritual Kingdom, not an earthly one. Our hope is the gospel, not a political end.

But these glorious truths should not cause us to retreat from the world. Pastors, churches and individual Christians will all have to work out their own unique ways to engage this and other pressures. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach here. Churches are not to be political bodies or political action committees. But no Christian should excuse himself or herself from this fight – and make no mistake, it is a fight. You can engage the other side in a godly manner, yes, and you must as a believer. But do not stoop to such breathtaking naïveté as to think that if you are clear on the issue of same-sex marriage you can avoid being disliked and even hated by unbelievers.

An hour of winnowing is coming and has come to America, even as it has already come to other western countries. Those who have previously defended marriage from a “neutral” set of presuppositions are not going to last; examine one-time traditional marriage advocate David Blankenhorn’s recent defection. That will happen in increasing measure in coming days, I think. Get ready to feel lonely, Christian, and to be unliked. It’s unavoidable for ethical, gospel-driven evangelicals who know that they cannot sit this one out. Actually, we may even see a measure of unity in this battle; complementarians and egalitarians, for example, must and surely can find common cause on this issue, to cite just one common point of division. We need to do so. This is by no means only a complementarian issue.

Step up. Contribute to organizations that are contending in the political realm for biblical marriage. Contact friends to alert them to this hour of need. Figure out a way in your own corner of the world to get involved here. Collect signatures for petitions and send them to your legislators. Do whatever you can. Above all, pray. And do not – please do not – opt out. As always, engage this issue and those with whom you disagree with the love of Christ. We’re not opposing flesh and blood here, and even as we contend for biblical truth (Romans 1), we seek to win those who are lost just as we were lost before God’s marvelous grace saved us.

Lastly, remember Matthew 5:10-12. Let these familiar words ring in your ears, and let the resurrection hope of the One who said these fateful words wash over you even as you celebrate righteousness and oppose darkness:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Owen Strachan is assistant professor of Christian theology and church history at Boyce College in Louisville, Ky. This column first appeared at his website, http://owenstrachan.com.)
7/24/2012 2:06:17 PM by Owen Strachan, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Dan Cathy’s views are in the majority

July 23 2012 by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press

ALEXANDRIA, La. – Dan Cathy, Chief Operating Officer of Chick-fil-A, supports the traditional definition of marriage.

“Well guilty as charged,” is how Cathy responded to the Biblical Recorder when it was pointed out that some are critical of Chick-fil-A’s support of traditional values. “We are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit.… We are a family owned business, a family led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.” (View the story here.)

For daring to express his view, he has been labeled homophobic, bigoted and his restaurant chain has been targeted by homosexual activists for a boycott.

The way Cathy and Chick-fil-A have been vilified by some homosexual activists and media reports, you would think that his view is aberrant, marginal and out of step with mainstream America. However, the truth is quite the opposite.

Based on the ballot box, a significant majority of Americans agree with Cathy. To date, 32 states have voted on the issue, and by an average margin of 67-33 percent, Americans in those states have said marriage is between only a man and a woman. North Carolina, in May, was the latest.

If you did not already know this, allow me to point out that if a candidate or issue garners 67 percent of the vote in an election, it is considered to be a landslide of epic proportions. Traditional marriage has even been affirmed by voters in liberal states like Oregon and California. The Golden State affirmed it twice – once with an initiative then with a constitutional amendment.

In spite of what the media seeks to portray, in spite of polls touted by special interest groups, in spite of what homosexual activists insist, if you support the concept of traditional marriage, you are not in the minority in America. Quite the contrary, you are part of a significant majority.

What you are witnessing with Chick-fil-A is an “end justifies the means” political effort to convince society to endorse homosexuality as natural, normal and healthy. This will be achieved if same-sex marriage is ever accepted in America.

There are millions of people like Dan Cathy who affirm a biblical and traditional view of sexuality.

So when the activists want to brand Dan Cathy as a hateful homophobe, don’t be deceived. They are actually calling the 67 percent of the American population who have voted to support traditional marriage hateful, homophobic and bigoted.

Dan Cathy is a hardworking, good man. He operates a good company. In many ways he is just like you and me.

Like many of us Cathy ascribes to traditional values. As a result, many brand him as hateful and his company worthy of boycott. Keep in mind that when they hold Cathy in contempt, they hold the 67 percent of us who agree with Cathy in contempt as well.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message www.baptistmessage.com, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)

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7/23/2012 1:24:18 PM by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press | with 5 comments

The atheist and the discriminating discount

July 19 2012 by LaShawn Barber, WORLD News Service

[Recently] while out sightseeing, I walked past a restaurant that advertised free meals for children under 10. I envisioned a family with several small children, and the parents paying for only two meals. What a nice deal, and a great way to pull in tourists, I thought. The restaurant probably offered a discount for seniors as well. I don’t qualify for either discount. Both discriminate in that they make a distinction in favor of or against a person on the basis of group, class, or category. In that sense, the restaurant discriminates against me.
Most people don’t have a problem with private businesses offering discounts based on age or even sex. Raise your hand if you’ve ever attended “ladies night” at a bar or club where women were admitted free. Let’s say a government facility offered a discount based on sex. The legal foundation becomes shaky. The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment bars the state (or a state actor) from discriminating on the basis of race or sex.
What if a private business offered a discount based on race? The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits racial discrimination in public accommodations (hotels, restaurants, theaters, etc.). Does the same apply to a business that offers a discount based on religion?
John Wolff, an 80-year-old Jew-turned-Catholic-turned-atheist in Pennsylvania, filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission against Prudhomme’s Lost Cajun Kitchen in Columbia, Pa., which offers a 10 percent discount to patrons who present a current church bulletin on Sundays. According to the York Daily Record, the man has never eaten at the restaurant. He read about the discount on the restaurant’s website.
“I did this not out of spite, but out of a feeling against the prevailing self-righteousness that stems from religion, particularly in Lancaster County,” the atheist said. “I don’t consider it an earthshaking affair, but in this area in particular, we seem to have so many self-righteous religious people, so it just annoys me.”
Wolff sounds like a curmudgeon who has a personal problem with Christianity and intends to waste government resources on a non-earthshaking affair. If he’d spoken to the restaurant’s owners, he’d know that patrons don’t have to attend the service. They only need to present the bulletin. And the discount appears to apply to any faith. Even if the restaurant offered discounts only to patrons who could prove they sat through a sermon, would it be illegal?
Wolff would qualify for a discount based on age, but we know this isn’t about saving money on meals. He’s an angry hater of God with too much time on his hands trying to stir up dissension and redistribute his misery. Wolff probably spends a lot of time thinking of ways to “challenge” religious beliefs in a country undeniably founded on religious belief.
My first reaction to the story was annoyance. But when I considered Wolff’s age I felt something else: pity. So close to the end of his life, he stubbornly hangs on to his unbelief. But there may yet be hope.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – LaShawn Barber writes for WORLD Magazine. La Shawn Barber is a freelance writer and blogger. She is a WORLDmag.com columnist and Christian Research Journal contributor. Her website: lashawnbarber.com.)
7/19/2012 2:13:53 PM by LaShawn Barber, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

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