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The Next Step for Reality TV

Last night, I was watching "Nightline" on ABC and saw a truly disturbing story on a new reality television program to be hitting the airwaves in the Netherlands this Friday. The title of the show is "Big Donor Show" (or at least that is the English equivalent). The premise of the show is that three contestants will vie for the sympathy of the organ donor and the television audience in order to receive their votes and get the kidney. The donor is a 37-year-old woman with terminal brain cancer. Rather than going through the normal process of donating her organs, she wants to meet the recipient before she dies. The producers agree that the program is tasteless, but they want to draw attention to the poor system of organ donation in the Netherlands (according to the story, the founder of the television station airing the show waited for 13 years to receive a kidney through normal procedures).

While the issue of organ donation is certainly one that needs to be addressed, using reality television to "outplay" other contestants for a kidney is horrendous. Nathan Finn wrote an article expressing his disdain for another reality program that played on the contestants’ greed. This reality program plays with the contestants’ lives. No longer is the prize a sum of money that could change someone’s life. This prize will give someone life.

Has our society lost its moral compass? Did we ever have one to begin with?

Ethics and the SBC (Part 1)

Amidst all the controversy swirling around the SBC and the Christian world in general, I thought it might be interesting to explore the role of ethics in the life of the believer, and specifically within the SBC since that is our context. Certainly, there are many approaches to this subject, and not even Baptist, much less evangelicals, agree on the best approach to ethics. Since this is my field of study, however, I will throw my hat into the ring.

To provide a little historical perspective, there are three major systems of ethics that pre-date the birth of Christ. These are virtue ethics (roughly 4th century B.C. with Plato), natural law ethics (roughly 5th century B.C. with Sophocles, but made famous by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century A.D.), and deontological ethics (dating back to the Exodus, but made famous by Immanuel Kant in the 18th century). Of course, there are other systems that play a role in the development of ethics, but it is my opinion that most other systems can be seen as an offshoot of one of these (if not just virtue and deontological).

Virtue ethics focuses on the character of the person rather than the act. It emphasizes a life of excellence in light of the character of the person. Aristotle famously set forth the four cardinal virtues of temperance (self-control/moderation), justice, prudence (wisdom), and fortitude (courage). Aristotle considered the virtues to be the "golden mean" (though he never used that terminology) between two vices. Hence, fortitude is the virtuous mean between the vices of cowardice and rashness. Augustine came along and subsumed the cardinal virtues under Christian love. Then Thomas Aquinas developed the concept of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. In his Summa Theologica, Aquinas discusses more than 60 virtues, but all of them fall under the categories of the cardinal or theological virtues. Virtue ethics seemed to fall off the face of the map for a few centuries but has seen a revival in the last 50 years or so, especially from the pens of Alasdair MacIntyre, Stanley Hauerwas, and Stanley Grenz.

Natural law theory saw its beginning with Sophocles and Cicero, but it was made famous by Aquinas (in combination with his virtue ethics). At the heart of natural law ethics are the following principles: natural law is given by God in laws of nature together with human reason; natural law is naturally authoritative over all human beings—necessarily binding on everyone, not subject to individual choice; natural law is naturally knowable by all human beings—those with defective reasoning must defer to those with better reasoning; good is prior to the right; and when there is more than one way to reach our common ends, human law is introduced to supplement natural law. Natural law has typically been the approach to ethics for the Roman Catholic Church since the days of Aquinas. Current natural law scholars include Robert George, John Finnis, and J. Budziszewski.

Deontological ethics is a duty-based, or obligation-based, system of ethics. It generally dates back to the days of Moses in the exodus, but did not become influential until Immanuel Kant developed his categorical imperative. Kant’s imperative includes a universalization principle and a means-end principle. The universalization principle states: "Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." The means-end principle states: "Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end." This system of ethics focuses on the act and the duty, or obligation, fulfilled by performing (or not performing) that act. Deontological ethics still holds some influence among academic circles due to the vast influence of Kant. However, the greatest concentration of deontology, I would argue, can be found in the typical conservative, evangelical church.

So how does this relate to the SBC? Stay tuned for part 2.

Rice and Patterson

Bart Barber over at Praisegod Barebones has written an excellent post comparing Luther Rice and Paige Patterson. It's well worth the read.

The Conservative Resurgence, Convention Bureaucracy, and the Renewal of Southern Baptist Churches

In commenting on the SBC Controversy, Timothy George once quipped that the replacement of one bureaucracy with another bureaucracy does not a reformation make. Others have echoed George's sentiment, most noticeably Nashville pastor and conservative historian Jerry Sutton. I used to as well,but lately I have wandered a bit from my earlier interpretation of the Conservative Resurgence on this particular point. It is not often that I disagree with Timothy George, and on this issue I want to affirm his general sentiment but cast the matter a bit differently. The replacement of one bureaucracy with another is exactly what the Conservative Resurgence was intended to accomplish. But it does not a reformation make. Which is one reason we find ourselves at something of a crossroads as a convention.

When we talk about the Conservative Resurgence, especially those of us who are post-Controversy conservatives, we sometimes claim that our convention agencies and board have been fixed, but our churches still need renewal. Or, to quote one megachurch pastor who spoke at Southeastern's chapel a few years back, "the battle for the inerrancy of Scripture has been won, but the battle for the sufficiency of Scripture has just begun." I think what he means is that the bureaucracy has been rescued, but the churches are still in need of reform. And I agree with him 100%. But first we need to decide just what exactly the Controversy was really all about.

First, we need to recognize that the Conservative Resurgence was never about reforming the churches of the SBC. Far from it. The Conservative Resurgence was about a small group of pastors and others who believed that their churches were already in pretty good shape. Their pulpits were occupied by inerrantists. Their congregations were evangelistic. Their cultural convictions were conservative. And these men were convinced that the vast majority of SBC churches were more like them than they were like the progressives who taught at the seminaries and served as agency heads. So they convinced other conservatives, most of whom were connected with conservative churches, to go to the SBC and vote for presidential candidates who would undermine the progressive bureaucracy that had dominated convention leadership for the better part of half a century. The Resurgence was not about reforming SBC churches, but rather was about folks from conservative churches replacing progressive convention leadership so that the churches would not need renewal at some future date. They obviously succeeded, at least in the immediate goal of changing the character of convention leadership.

Second, this means that the Conservative Resurgence was precisely about replacing one bureacracy with another. It was not about renewing churches, but making sure that theological conservatives were teaching future ministers, training future missionaries, administering Cooperative Program funds, and accurately representing the moral convictions of most Southern Baptists in the public square. The Resurgence was not revival, and it was not intended to be. The resurgence was bureaucratic restructuring.

Third, it is good that the Conservative Resurgence was not about reforming churches. You see, if the Resurgence was about church renewal, then it would have represented an abdication of historic Baptist polity. We are not a "top-down" denomination. The highest spiritual authority on earth is a local church that is self-consciously submitting itself to the lordship and leadership of Christ. For the Resurgence to change churches for good or ill would have meant taking the "Baptist" out of Southern Baptists. The Resurgence was the churches sticking it to the man.

The Conservative Resurgence was a resounding success because it effectively replaced one bureaucracy with another bureaucracy. But Dr. George is right that this leadership overhaul does not a reformation make. At very best, the Conservative Resurgence created an atmosphere where we can begin to ask some hard questions about what it is going to take to see spiritual renewal among the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. Which goes a long way toward explaining why the SBC is currently embroiled in so much controversy among theological conservatives.

Notice the things that Southern Baptists are not fighting about. We are not fighting about the historicity of some biblical miracles. We are not fighting about the need for non-Christians to consciously place their faith in Christ in order to be saved. We are not fighting about the ordination of homosexuals. We are not fighting about whether or not God knows all future events. Unfortunately, progressive Baptists are not fighting about all of these issues either. But for different reasons. Which is why we needed a Conservative Resurgence.

Now think about the stuff we are fighting about. We fight about baptism. We fight about the Lord's Supper. We fight about miraculous gifts. We fight about church discpline. We fight about elders. We fight about Calvinism. We fight about worship styles. Most of those things are not issues that progressives even care about, let alone fight about. They are too busy debating whether or not they should allow unrepentant homosexuals to join their churches and whether "those who have never heard" will be saved.

So, back to the part about renewing our churches. One of the problems in the SBC is that the churches felt that it was the bureaucracy that needed renewal, not the majority of Baptist congregations. And let me say loud and clear that if the choice is between even the most problematic of conservative churches and the pre-1988 faculty of Southeastern Seminary, I'm with the First Baptist Church of Carnal every time. But it is definitely a choice between the lesser of two evils, and I would much rather their be no evils in the equation.

The first thing We need to do is admit that many of our churches are in need of renewal. Maybe even most of our churches. We have confused the gospel with responses to the gospel. We have replaced evangelism with salesmanship and gimmicks. We have cheapened worship by making it a matter of preference. We have traded a robust Baptist theology for a lowest-common-denominator commitment to inerrancy and immersion. Well, sometimes immersion. We have rejected prophets in favor of pretty-boys, we have exchanged expositors for life coaches, we have confused pastoral care with syrupy self-help. We are a mess, and I find it highly unlikely that the solution to our problems will be found in glitzy programs, catchy slogans, or even more baptisms, especially if so many of the latter continue to be preschoolers and recovering Methodists.

Ironically, many of those issues we bicker about are intended to offer the hope of renewal, whether it is practicing miraculous gifts, embracing Reformed soteriology, rediscovering our Baptist (or for some, Anabaptist) roots, or preferring a particular style of worship. And maybe some of these things can contribute to the renewing of Southern Baptist churches. You never know.

This much I do know–the SBC, by which I mean the churches of the SBC, will not experience authentic renewal until we are willing to confess that we need renewal. The first step in that process is admitting that the Conservative Resurgence is over. It was over by the mid 1990's. But the Resurgence was only the first step, the initial impetus to get Southern Baptists to the place we now find ourselves: a convention of conservative local churches wrestling with the implications of the gospel that is the central story line of our inerrant Bibles. It is my prayer that this wrestling will result in genuine spiritual renewal among the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. Because the replacement of one bureaucracy with another bureaucracy does not a reformation make.
 

BBQ

 There are a few things in life that people will never agree on. Such issues are which college football conference is the best, baptist polity, and barbeque sauce.

I've lived in a few different places in my life. Growing up in Columbia, SC, I thought that the only type of barbeque sauce that existed was a mustard-based mixture. However, a friend from Georgia introduced me to a tasty ketchup-based style that excited my pallet.

When I lived in Texas I had some type of sauce that was good but it gave me heartburn.

When I moved to North Carolina I fell in love with vinegar-style.

We here at the Witness are vastly interested in which type of sauce you think is the tastiest.

If you look at the post below this one, you'll see a very scientific poll and we want you to take it.

What type of of barbeque sauce is the tastiest?

Full of Potential

Today as I placed the last minute details on a trip that has been months in the making, I was struck with awe and wonder at the plans God prepares for His children. In two weeks I will be on the road with a group of twelve teenagers in my care, five hours away from home, for six whole days. Honestly my mind has been glued to thoughts of the impact we hope to have on the children in the area where we will be doing Backyard Bible Clubs. It wasn't until late today that I stopped to reflect on my first missions experience.

I was a goofy seventh grader excited to be venturing outside of the city limits of my small town. I had no clue what to expect, but God knew what I would experience. It was there in New Orleans that I had my first touch with a ministry surviving on the backs and prayers of volunteers, instead of on the cash of a wealthy congregation. It was the first time I had ever seen poverty or homelessness in person. It was also the first time I had ever heard the gospel being shared, amazingly enough, outside the walls of a church. As I look back, I can see how God was laying the very first building blocks of my call into the ministry.

This will be the first missions experience for almost every student leaving with me in two weeks. They will be sretched to give without receiving in return, to love because they were first loved, and to tell because they have heard. Oh how I wonder what they will touch, see, and hear! I am both honored and humbled that God is allowing me to lead these twelve students on part of the journey with their Creator.

What were some of the "firsts" God used to prepare you for ministry?

Does Theology Matter?

BibleIt seems that in our current evangelical culture the "does it work?" question or even the "is it cool?" question comes before the "is it right or true?" question. Obviously questions of practicality and theology are essential. The problem is the order. Many rush into the practical or the hip. If the practical starts working or the hip gains a following, then we take a breath and search for the Bible verse, Old Testament Narrative, Proverb, etc. that legitimizes our practice. In an age where sermons are more about "how to's," corvettes, and "come on the journey with me" the question begs to be asked, "Is this the kind of preaching that turned the world upside-down?" When so many are dragged away by pragmatism and pop-cultural fads that are baptized as evangelical, but lead ultimately to liberalism or worse, the question begs to be asked, "Does theology really matter?" The answer must be "Yes!"  Dr. Danny Akin answered that question for his students with a "yes," when he wrote the following:  

 "Theology Really Does Matter"

Theology was once called "the Queen of the Sciences."  Given the way it is treated by many Christians and churches in our day, it perhaps should be identified now as the "court jester."  If it is not ignored all together, it is viewed as ivory tower and esoteric.  Those who love and do theology are not in touch with real people and the real problems and needs of everyday life.  Theology is like bad medicine.  Take as little as you can possibly get away with.

The Church has suffered greatly as a result of this atheological mindset.  As I look across the landscape of the Southern Baptist Convention, it appears that we are at an all time low in our ability to explain what we believe and why we believe.  The sad but tragic fact is we do not love God very well with our minds.

George Barna made the point when he reported that "only 4% of adults [in America] have a biblical worldview as the basis of their decision making."  That observation, though sobering, was not shocking.  However, it was his next statement that really got my attention: "Only 9% of born again Christians have [a basic, biblical worldview]." (Barna Update, December 2003). 

The Church has been seduced by the sirens of modernity, and we have jettisoned a word-based ministry that is expository and theological in nature.  We have, in our attempt to be popular and relevant, become foolish and irrelevant.
Skiing across the surface needs of a fallen, sinful humanity we have turned the 'church' into a pop-psychology side-show and a feel-good pit stop.  We have neglected teaching the whole counsel of God's Word and the wonderful theology embedded in that Word.  Too many of our people know neither the content of Scripture nor the doctrines of Scripture.  In too many pulpits, if the Bible is used at all, it is usually as a proof-text out of context with no real connection to what the biblical author is saying. 

The words of the prophet Amos were never more piercing, "Behold, the days are coming," says the Lord GOD, "That I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine of bread, Nor a thirst for water, But of hearing the words of the LORD.  They shall wander from sea to sea, And from north to east; They shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD, But shall not find it."  Ours is a day when people are more familiar with the story lines of Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings than they are the grand redemptive story-line and themes of Scripture.  Too many Christians handle the Bible in a way that is irresponsible, dishonest with the text, and therefore devoid of solid theological substance.

Some fear that the SBC is in danger of being submerged into Calvinist theology.  I am far more convinced the real danger is being swallowed whole by shallow and sloppy theology.  If we will teach our people solid biblical theology rooted in biblical exposition, extreme agendas from any direction will be easily recognized and quickly rejected.

As we study and teach the Bible, we must engage, with a balanced and responsible method, the discipline of theology.  Drawing on classic categories we should ask of every text a series of important and necessary questions:

1. What does this text say about the Bible (and the doctrine of Revelation)?
2. What does this text say about God (also Creation, angelology)?
3. What does this text say about humanity (and sin, our falleness)?
4. What does this text say about Jesus Christ (His person and work)?
5. What does this text say about the Holy Spirit?
6. What does this text say about Salvation?
7. What does this text say about the Church?
8. What does this text say about Last Things?

Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe has sounded a much needed warning in this area.  Considering these sobering words:

  "I don't think the average church member realizes the extent
   of the theological erosion that's taken place on the American
  exegetical scene since World War II, but the changes I've witnessed in 
  Christian broadcasting and publishing make it very real to me.  Radio
  programs that once majored in practical Bible teaching are now
  given over to man-centered interviews ('talk' radio is a popular
  thing) and man-centered music that sounds so much like what the
  world presents, you wonder if your radio is tuned to a Christian
  station.  In so much of today's ministry 'feeling good' has
   replaced being good, and 'happiness' has replaced holiness."
      -(Warren Wiersbe, Be Myself, 301.)

We need, we must have a steady diet of exegetical and systematic theology if we are to be cured of the spiritual anemia that afflicts too many of our churches.  It is my prayer that Southeastern will be out front in dispensing this much needed medicine.

 Danny Akin

Unity or Doctrine? A Critique of the NBCC’s Goal

Here is an interesting question: What is more important as Baptists: unity or doctrine?

Former President of the United States, Jimmy Carter and Mercer University President Bill Underwood have organized a conference entitled the "New Baptist Covenant Celebration." It will meet in Atlanta in January 2008.

The purpose of the celebration is to, "have a major demonstration of harmony and a common commitment to personify and to accomplish the goals that Jesus Christ expressed in his sermon to His hometown of Nazareth," stated Carter.

The conference lists 28 Baptist organizations and 5 media outlets which do not respectively include the Southern Baptist Convention or the Baptist Press (an SBC entity).

There will be, however, some the 16 million Southern Baptists in attendance, despite being left off of the website's participant list. Again, part of the stated goal is to demonstrate harmony.

This begs two questions:

1) What are the goals that Jesus Christ expressed in his "hometown homily?"

You may recall that Jesus entered the synagogue on the Sabbath (as became His custom) and picked up the scroll of the book of Isaiah and read a passage of Scripture that pointed to Himself. It said,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19, ESV)

Was Jesus just speaking to the financially poor? Was Jesus just speaking to those who are physically blind and physically oppressed? No. He was and is also speaking to those who are spiritually poor, those dead in their sins. He also speaks to those who are spiritually oppressed, living under the tremendous weight of the power of sin. He also speaks to those who are blind to the Gospel and are waiting to sing the refrain of the old hymn, “was blind but now I see” when their spiritual eyes are opened to the life-saving power of Jesus Christ.

However, this message, the message of a life-changing and life-saving Jesus-power, was not popular then, is not popular now and will not be popular in the future. The real meaning of Jesus’ message to his countrymen was rejected then and it is rejected now and will be rejected until He comes back to judge the living and the dead.

After doubting who Jesus said he was simply because he was speaking to his homeboys, Jesus spoke a word of condemnation to them and compared himself to the prophets Elijah and Elisha while comparing the Nazarenes to a famine-starved land and unhealed lepers. After this comparison, the Gospel of Luke records:

“When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.” (Luke 4:28-30, ESV)

They cared not to hear Jesus speak the Words of Truth and drove Him out of their city while trying to erase His name from this earth. Many have tried to do the same to the message and the man of Jesus from that day onward but Jesus continues to “pass through their midst” as His message lives on and will forever live on throughout eternity.

This leads us to a second important question:

2) What is more important? Being united or being doctrinally sound?

I am not proposing that the supporters of the NBCC are not doctrinally sound. They have their own rational hermeneutic of interpreting Scripture that is beyond the scope of this short essay to delve into. Is it better for Baptists to unify themselves, despite doctrinal differences (some being major) just because we all prefer dunking to skimming?

No doubt the minds behind the NBCC are more concerned with people’s temporal needs (which are important) then their eternal need.

Republican presidential candidate and former SBC pastor, Mick Huckabee, was scheduled to attend and speak at the January gathering but has recently withdrew his name and time from the event because of the "unprecedented personal attack” on current President and Christ-follower (member of the United Methodist Church) George W. Bush by former President Carter. Carter recently stated that the Bush administration's foreign policy was "the worst in history."

It seems that former President Carter would rather hub-bub with Credo-Baptists while simultaneously attacking anoother Christ-followers’ job performance.

Carter further stated, “the overt reversal of America's basic values as expressed by previous administrations, including those of George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon and others, has been the most disturbing to me.” That statement smells of old-time politics and un-buried hatchets.

Baptists, even Southern Baptists, eventually have to answer the question: What is more important? Unity or Doctrine? Fortunately, Southern Baptists have been answering this question in the latter for years now and will continue to answer this in the future despite the cries of “unity” from other hermeneutically-challenged organizations.

But most importantly, the life-changing power of Jesus will continue to be preached throughout SBC churches because eternal salvation and unity with Christ through spiritual reconciliation is mankind's ultimate need, rather then financial salvation and unity with itself through temporal relationships.

The Myth of Hard-Hearted Southern Baptist Conservatives

I would not presume to speak for my fellow Witness contributors, but one of my favorite bloggers is Dr. Bart Barber. Bart serves as pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, TX, and teaches Baptist history adjunctively at Southwestern Seminary. He also has the best named blog in the Southern Baptist blogosphere, Praisegod Barebones. Over the last ten months or so (since I discovered Bart's blog), I have agreed with about 98.4% of what he has written. And that's saying something, 'cause I am pretty doggone opinionated. Just ask my wife. Or my mom. Or Philip Tyre. Or Jason Fowler. But I digress …

The way I see it, Bart has hit a grand slam with his most recent post, "The Myth of Hard-Hearted Southern Baptist Conservatives" (read it here). I agree with Bart 100% on this one–Southern Baptists need to be more involved in the mercy ministries we are already involved in, but our number one priority should be taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. Its the gospel plus social justice, not social justice in lieu of the gospel. Lets put a coat on the man and see the man in that coat come to saving faith in our Triune God. 

Anwyay, you should really read the post for yourself.