Saturday, March 26, 2011

Onwards to Orthodoxy!

Rob Bell's book Love Wins is the hot news topic right now. I doubt, however, whether it will be the hot news topic in a century - assuming for the same of argument that there is another century ahead of us.

Bell is, as Al Mohler has correctly pointed out, nothing more than a modernist liberal - albeit a modernist liberal in really hip glasses. Modernist liberal books simply do not last long, because they are dictated largely by the spirit of the age. The liberal is a man (or woman) who is concerned that historic Christianity does not chime with the spirit of the age, and is therefore in earnest to make it do so. The trouble is that this simply does not work. William Macgregor noted, "The victories of the faith have commonly been won not by the proclamation of a bare minimum of belief but rather of things strange and hard to accept, because they are so full of God" (Persons and Ideals [Edinburgh, T. & T. Clark, 1939] P. 5). The liberal may, if he is well-placed enough, and his words are surprising enough, cause a stir, but liberalism has never built up churches.

Bell and his ilk are reacting against two things, what they perceive as the commericalness (if that is a word) and superficiality of the megachurches, and the self-righteousness of fundamentalism. We confessional Protestants are in complete agreement with him that both of these movements are false and dangerous.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, probably the greatest preacher of the 20th century, was asked in an interview in 1970 whether he had reacted against the liberalism of his father. He replied that he felt that he had not, rather he and his father had both reacted against the respectable moralism that had replaced the Gospel in the Calvinistic Methodist pulpits that they were familiar with. His father had adopted the left-wing theologically liberal 'New Theology' of R.J. Campbell. Lloyd-Jones returned to the confessional Calvinism of the Calvinistic Methodist fathers. He returned, in other words, to the Gospel. What the post-Victorians rejected as "Puritanism", Lloyd-Jones found was anything but - it was moralism. True Puritanism was Gospel-centred, it was centred on Christ and him crucified.

And once again we see the reaction against moralism going in the same two directions. I have always said that I think that, at least in their initial critique of American Evangelicalism, the Emergents were basically right. They recognised the problem. But the solution they have found is no solution at all, it is just to follow the liberals of a century ago. On the other hand there are the 'Young, Restless and Reformed' people, and those who have embraced Confessional Calvinism such as myself. We have discovered that, as Lloyd-Jones put it, the true way is to go "on to orthodoxy." Not to go backwards, for it was the moralists who did that. The liberals want to beat a still further retreat. But we must go onwards to orthodoxy.

I am afraid that today's liberals are far behind their counterparts of the last century. Campbell's manifesto The New Theology is a solid hardcover of over 260 pages. Rob Bell's ignorance of the history of the Church, and of ancient civilizations, is quite apparent to all who saw his Nooma video that dealt with Mithra, Attis, etc (Nooma 15). Compare this with 20th century liberal T.R. Glover, who taught classics at Cambridge. Meanwhile confessionalists are producing good quality, thoughtful works. Now, literary quality is no proof of orthodoxy (otherwise we would all have to be Roman Catholics like J.H. Newman), but it is an indicator of the health or otherwise of a movement. For all their claims to be thoughtful, the new liberals of the Emergent Church are intellectually shallow. Now, when an intellectually shallow writer encourages people to change their theology and to abandon the theology that the Church has always held, we should have serious pause for thought!

Let us then go onwards towards orthodoxy, with all the intellectual rigour that is called for. That is what is called for. It is the orthodox that are read today, not Campbell and Glover. It is the orthodox who form, and have formed, Christian thinking. Truth endures, error passes away.

Friday, March 25, 2011

"The Church Should be Warned!"

And so the saga of Michael Horton being seen in a picture with Rick Warren rumbles on. Conflicting reasons are given for why it's a bad thing, and conflicting accounts of what Horton did wrong. As I see it there are two complaints going round:

1). The problem is the picture, nothing more. Horton was unwise to pose like this, and the picture could be used by Warren's supporters to say that Horton approves of Warren

2). Mike Horton went to Saddleback, shared a platform with Rick Warren and failed to explicitly warn against Warren. He ought to have used the opportunity to denounce Warren as a false teacher.

The same people have made both claims, leading me to conclude that in fact what we have here is good people feeling uneasy about the picture, and then looking for ways to articulate that unease. The picture jars. Claim 1 is basically subjective, it is about possible interpretations of a picture.

Claim 2 is different, it is about strategy, and underlying it are two points. The first is a probable misunderstanding of what the Lausanne event at Saddleback was. It was not about Rick Warren per se. Lausanne was not founded by Rick Warren, it predates him. It was a 'conversation on global evangelisation'. To go there and to talk about Warren would be accepting an invitation under false pretenses. But to go there to put your point about the need for gobal evangelisation to be based on... well, on the evangel, the Gospel, is to take the invitation as offered. To present an alternative to Warren's ideas is the most effective way to undermine him in that context. What was the alternative? To leave it as a cosy chat between people of like mind.

I am concerned that a lot of the discussion has missed the context, and committed a serious category error in comparing Michael Horton participating in a conversation hosten by Saddleback to two other different matters. The first is John Piper explicitly saying that Warren is sound an inviting him to speak at the Desiring God conference. The difference is plain - it was Piper's ground, and Warren was explicitly said to be sound. The second is Ken Ham's being dropped from two homeschooling conferences. In these cases Ham was a speaker at a conference, giving an address, not a participant in a conversation. A conference speaker has far more freedom in what he can say.

To my knowledge, Horton was not booked to speak at any other meeting at Saddleback, nor has he done so since the Lausanne meeting last summer. Thus he could not be 'kicked out' of any. Note also that Ham did not refuse to speak at meetings where Peter Enns was speaking - he was given the boot. Finally we need to understand that different people may take different approaches in different contexts. A homeschooling convention is liable to be made up mostly more conservative Christians, many with little formal theological training. The audience at the Lausanne conversation would be less conservative, middle-of-the-road evangelicals. It would be reasonable to assume that the homeschoolers would not know who Peter Enns is (most people don't) or what he teaches. The same cannot be said for Rick Warren and a crowd at Saddleback.

Finally, let us be most careful not to lump Horton together with Piper. Piper has explicitly said Warren is sound. Horton has never said this. Well, you may object, no-one is saying that he did! Precisely, and that is why we must not lump him together with Piper.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Worship - Ecstatic and Christian

The title of this post is of course meant to say that ecstatic worship is not Christian. Our worship is "with the mind also", the prayers of the Christian are contrasted with those of the pagans who babble and think that they will be heard for their many words. It is the worshippers of Baal on Mount Carmel who work themselves into a frenzy, and Elijah who calmly prays for God to answer.

In the 19th century the Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier wrote a poem about revivalism. The last part of it, beginning Dear Lord anf Father of Mankind is a popular hymn today. It is viewed with suspicion in evangelical circles, mostly (if not entirely) because its context is not known.

The first stanza of the hymn reads:

Dear Lord and Father of mankind
Forgive our foolish ways!
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.

Now, if you did not know its context you could be forgiven for thinking that "foolish ways" referred to sin. If it did, this would be a heretical poem. Only it doesn't. Instead it refers to revivalism. There are in fact 11 stanzas in the original poem before these words, all of them about ecstatic worship, pagan and 'Christian'. So 'our foolish ways' in fact refers to the revivalism of Finney with all its excitement and excess, its hot-house methods of 'conversion'. Whittier contrasts with this the calm of Christian worship:

O sabbath rest by Galilee!
O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee
The silence of eternity
Interpreted by love!

At the old Quaker Meeting-House at the Pales, near Llandrindod Wells, one can get a good idea of what Whittier was about - a restful calm that, rather than exciting the emotions, calms and quiets them. Now, I would not go as far as the Quaker, but I would say this - worship that tries to induce an altered state of consciousness and to work on the emotions while bypassing the mind is dangerous, and is not Christian. No, rather we pray,

Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind and fire,
O still small voice of calm!

Evangelical worship has become increasingly foolish, and liberal worship has done the same, when we have 'clown services', barking like dogs, rock concerts and the like. Whatever we may think of Whittier himself, or even of the hymn that has been made from his poem, we have never been more in need of the prayer he gives us to pray, "Forgive our foolish ways."

Secondary Separation

It is clear that Christians ought not to have any fellowship with false teachers. What is less clear is what is meant by that word, 'fellowship'. In its narrowest sense it would refer to table and pulpit fellowship - that is to say that we are not to admit to the Lord's Table or to the pulpit of the Church those who do not teach according to the truth as it is in Jesus. By the same token we are not to participate in their table, or sit under their teaching. Thus a Christian cannot, and should not, participate in the Mass. To be a member of a congregation that is committed to heresy, either in its basis of faith (for example, a Unitarian congregation) or de facto (e.g. a liberal Methodist Church) is clearly wrong.

But what after that? Is it wrong for a Christian to be a member of an evangelical congregation that is part of a mixed denomination such as the URC? If so, Spurgeon was in error when he told people who had not left the Baptist Union to remain in the Union and to go on fighting to regain it. Is it wrong for a minister to accept an invitation to speak in a liberal congregation? If so I can think of a dear brother in Christ who himself left the Baptist Union after years as a BU pastor who still preaches at BU Churches. He is as valiant for truth as a man can be, even if we disagree on certain minor points of what we should be contending over. If anything he's perhaps over-zealous. Is he wrong to accept preaching invitations from such churches? Does that constitute 'Fellowship'? These are grey areas, and we need to acknowledge that they exist.

Secondly we need to acknowledge that good, sound men differ on their way of dealing with these grey areas. That's why some of us are not members of denominations we once were members of, while other good evangelical men are members of those denominations. We disagree, but we affirm that the situation is complex and there are no easy answers. Good and godly men facing the same grey areas may come to different conclusions. The fact that I think another man's approach is wrong does not mean I should denounce him in print or on the internet as a compromiser! Instead I should seek to understand why he does what he has done. A rush to judgement helps no-one and in fact damages the body of Christ. It also opens the one rushing to serious misinterpretation. To condemn someone because they have done something that someone, somewhere might possibly interpret, if they were thick as two short planks, as an endorsement of a false teacher is going too far and begins to wear the appearance of a witch-hunt.

Thirdly, we have to credit our fellow believers with some intellect. To take the recent Michael Horton example, Michael Horton is a seminary professor. His books are not exactly light reading, and are full of warnings against false teaching (my introduction to Horton as an author was through his book The Agony of Deceit). His readers are not typically ignorant, shallow evangelicals. He is best known for his work on The White Horse Inn, a programme that aims to help Christians to understand what they believe and why they believe it. It is a rather cerebral show, and Horton's followers are typically quite cerebral. In other words they are the last people on the planet to take a photograph of Horton with Rick Warren as a sign that Warren's fine and we are all to link arms with him and sing Kumbaya. Those who are likely to take such a shallow approach to a photograph are unlikely to know who Michael Horton is in the first place. Those are the people Warren appeals to, not Horton.

Thus we come to the question of 'secondary separation', as it has been called. No, in my opinion this can only meaningfully be done where one was actually united with someone in the first place. So, I am a pastor of a rather conservative Independent Evangelical Church that is a member of the FIEC, and of a local body called NoSFEC. John Piper is not a member of either of these groups, and nor is his Church. Thus, however much I may disagree with John Piper having Rick Warren speak at Desiring God, I cannot separate from Piper in any meaningful way, because I was never in fellowship with him in any meaningful way in the first place! I may voice my disapproval, but I cannot do anything else!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

An Unbridgeable Chasm

I watch in amazement at the flurry of activity that has followed the (now vanished) blog post about Michael Horton and Rick Warren. The poster of that has now as good as said that people should be warned about Michael Horton because he has been at Saddleback and was photographed with Rick Warren. The substance of what Horton said has, to be best of my knowledge, never been addressed by this person, or any of her partisans.

Now, first of all we need to separate any response to the post made by others to the content of the post itself, and the defences that have been mounted. I have no part in actions others may have taken, this is what I have said, in public, responding to vague accusations made in public. The accusation seems to amount to this: Michael Horton spoke at an event held at Saddleback, and was photographed with Rick Warren afterwards. This means that he is acting as a 'Bridger' between the Reformed world and Rick Warren.

Now, when the term was used of Dan Kimball, I thought I understood what was meant - that Kimball had a foot in each camp, a foot in the Emerging camp, and another in the broader Evangelical camp. Fair enough, I suppose you could argue that he is a bridger in that sense. But if speaking at a conference that is part of a parachurch organisation (not, as some have said, "shared the pulpit with Warren", which implies a Saddleback service), and being photgraphed with a man makes one a 'bridger' whom the Church must be "warned about", then we are being amazingly narrow.

Others have tried to take the focus off Horton by bringing in John Piper - but Horton and Piper are not in the same circles, Horton teaches at Westminster Seminary California, and is a confessional Reformed man. Piper has said Rick Warren is basically sound, Horton has said he isn't. I understand that people are worried, disappointment with Piper led to fears about Horton. But those fears are being expressed irrationally. It seems that some of Horton's critics will not be satisfied with anything short of Horton expressing a sort of second-degree separation, and simply cannot conceive of anyone going to anything like the Lausanne conversation unless they approve of everything that goes on there. The idea of a man going to such a thing therefore alarms them.

And how is this defended? By saying "well, people will assume he approves." My friends, do we really think that Reformed Christians are that shallow and foolish? That they base their opinions on pictures and reported facts? Or are not Reformed people readers, people who listen to multiple podcasts? Are they not in fact the least likely Christians to be led astray by a picture taken out of context?

And what is the alternative? Let me tell you what it is. It's giving up talking to people outside of our own little bubble. It's making absolutely sure that our message never troubles people in the Warren camp. And the result of "warning people about" Horton will be awful. After all, What are we warning them about? What is the content of that warning? That's what I can't see. Really, I cannot see the content of the warning about Michael Horton! And that worries me.

Friday, March 4, 2011

On Disagreeing

I have had my attention brought to this blog post - by someone who wants me to take sides. I shall now attempt not to. On the other hand, take a look here as well as here.

Things are rarely simple. The picture is just that, a picture. It does not actually tell us what Michael Horton's attitude towards Rick Warren's theology is. I quote Horton: "Rick Warren believes that he is simply translating the gospel in terms that the unchurched can understand. However, the radical condition of sin is reduced to negative attitudes and behaviors and the radical redemption secured by Christ’s propitiatory death and resurrection are reduced to general and vague statements about God giving us another chance."

Obviously you don't go to pictures to find out what a person thinks about another as a theologian - Spurgeon was a friend of Edward White, a leading Annahilationist of the 19th century. You could have photographed the two of them together, smiling. Anyone who takes the photograph of Warren and Horton together as proving that Horton thinks Warren is fine, is being massively naive.

"What?" the reader may say, "haven't you read that blog post?" Yes, I have. I'm not saying that the poster thinks Horton is approving of Warren. Rather she's worried that Warren and his fans will use the picture to say as much. That would be an abuse.

So what about Horton's involvement in the Lausanne Movement? One commenter (and I find that the comments are where the irresponsible charges of heresy appear) cries "ecumenism!" Well, what do you mean by Ecumenism? The word is used in different ways by different people. Used positively it refers to dialogue between different Churches. It is sometimes used in the more negative sense by conservative evangelicals to describe interfaith dialogues. The term "Ecumenical Movement" is often used to refer to the World Council of Churches. It is very important to ask then what is being meant by calling the Lausanne movement ecumenical - I am assuming of course that the word is not just being used as an insult. The WCC united Protestant Churches from all traditions, Lutheran, Reformed, Methodist, Anabaptist and Disciples of Christ, Eastern Orthodox Churches and other Orthodox Churches, etc. It contains liberals, Evangelicals and Catholic and Orthodox Traditions with all their variations. There are almost 350 denominations in the WCC. Its basis is wooly, and deliberately so. The confession of Jesus as "God and Saviour" of the original basis has been removed to allow for Unitarian involvement in the movement.

So, having considered what the WCC, the flagship of Ecumenism, is, we can move on to ask what the Lausanne movement is. Its website is here. It will be seen from this brief history that Lausanne began with Billy Graham, and is fundamentally different from the WCC. It is not an inter-Church body at all, and (as one might expect from its roots) is concerned chiefly with evangelism. The statement of faith of Lausanne is first of all there - the WCC really doesn't have one - and secondly it is evangelical. Is it sufficiant? No, not really, but then this is not a Church! Am I at all involved in Lausanne? No, I'm not. But I have to say, to say of Lausanne "that's ecumenism" is in fact a meaningless statement. Yes, the general secretary of the WCC spoke at the 3rd Lausanne congress - which concerns me - but to confuse the two at this juncture is unhelpful. That Lausanne is moving in an ecumenical direction is undeniable, however. Incidentally, this blog post on the WCC website rather amused me!

Which leads to the final point - should Michael Horton be involved in it? There I cannot comment. That is up to him, not to me, to him and to the United Reformed Churches of North America, of which he is a member. Fundamentally, however, the question that faces us as regards the matter is this: is it something that sound men can be involved in? Not should, but can. There comes a time in the drift of organisations when they have to be left. But the choice to leave is up to the conscience of the individual. Of all people, Baptists should understand this. Horton has two choices, as I see see it, to take no part at all in the Lausanne "conversation" and leave it to the Rick Warrens of the world, or to engage and try to be a sane voice. I cannot tell him which he should do - that's up to him to work out in consultation with the people he works with. Just as I cannot be an Anglican, but would not dictate to those Anglicans who are in the C of E, faithfully preaching the Gospel. Or the Baptist Union evangelicals, for that matter. To stay or leave has to be a personal decision. Now, if asked for advice, I'd say get out of the C of E!

But the Church of England is a denomination. Lausanne's supposed to be a conversation. I suspect Horton will find that it is, like the Emergent "Conversation", fast becoming a monologue. Still, if he's going to be reminding them of the Gospel, that's all for the good.