Monday, May 29, 2006

Apologetics to the Glory of God

“ ‘Contentious disputes arise,’ wrote John Calvin, ‘from the fact that many think less honorably than they ought of the greatness of divine wisdom, and are carried away by profane audacity.’ Calvin was commenting upon 1 Peter 3:15, a verse that has long been take as the biblical charter for Christian apologetic. His words were not directed, however, at the ‘profane audacity’ of the unbeliever who challenges the existence of God or the veracity of His word, but rather at those Christian apologists who fall short of recognizing and submitting ot the superiority of God’s wisdom as revealed in the pages of Scripture.”

Thus begins Greg Bahnsen’s explanation of Cornelius Van Til’s presuppositional method of apologetics in Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis. I don’t know where I’ve been all my life, but I first became aware of the existence of presuppositional apologetics by reading Dr. McCune’s Promise Unfulfilled. In his book on the failure of New Evangelicalism, McCune devotes an entire chapter to apologetics. That chapter peeked my interest and I knew that I needed to read up on an area that I had never given much consideration to before. Bahnsen’s book is not for beginners. I suspect there are better introductions to presuppositional apologetics but it was good for me to plod through this treatment. I would have to say that Van Til’s Apologetic is easily one of the most significant books that I have read in quite a while.

The format of the book consists of Bahnsen explaining the key points of Van Til’s apologetic and then following each explanation with several corresponding “readings” from Van Til himself. This process allowed me, as a novice, to process the information multiple time for each point – very helpful, even if it made the book quite lengthy. I found both Bahnsen and Van Til to be extremely insightful. Time after time I found myself thinking that they were exactly right about something and why didn’t I ever recognize that in Scripture before?

Those insights may be old news to many but I would like to highlight some of them to give the reader a feel for what I'm talking about:

“The Christian’s final standard, the inspired word of God, teaches us that ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge’ (Prov. 1:7). If the apologist treats the starting point of knowledge as something other than reverence for God, then unconditional submission to the unsurpassed greatness of God’s wisdom at the end of his argumentation does not really make sense. There would always be something greater than God’s wisdom – namely, the supposed wisdom of one’s intellectual starting point. The word of God would necessarily (logically, if not personally) remain subordinate to that autonomous, final standard. The situation is pictured will by C.S. Lewis: ‘The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. Fro the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock…The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the Bench and God is in the Dock.’” (Bahnsen, p. 3).


“[Van Til] insists (as does Scripture) that the way in which we use our minds—the way in which we reason, how we evaluate claims to the truth, the standards we adopt for knowing, etc. – is itself an ethical matter. This part of human behavior call ‘reasoning’ is as much subject to moral obligations and assessments as anything else we do in the world. The ‘greatest’ commandment teaches us to love the Lord our God with all our minds, too (Matt. 22:37) – to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).” (Bahnsen, p. 90).


“The non-Christian’s opposition to the truth about God or the gospel does not arise from legitimate intellectual problems with the faith, but from a rebellious and rationalizing heart.” (Bahnsen, p. 91).


“Thus, the very thing that most unbelievers demand – a neutral and autonomous investigation of the facts to see whether God’s word can be recognized as true and authoritative – already precludes the kind of God of which the Scripture speaks. Apologists need to come to grips with this, lest their method of defending the faith betray the object of their faith.” (Bahnsen, p. 97).


“So true is this, that I propose to argue that unless God is back of everything, you cannot find meaning in anything. I cannot even argue for belief in Him, without already having taken Him for granted. An similarly I contend that you cannot argue against belief in Him unless you also first take Him for granted. Arguing about God’s existence, I hold is like arguing about air. You may affirm that air exists, and I that it does not. But as we debate the point, we are both breathing air all the time.” (Bahnsen, p. 122.)

Those are enough quotes for now. I will probably follow up this post with further quotations as I have time to post them.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Finding a new pastor in 95 days

Some of you may have noticed a rather long delay between my last two posts. In fact, the few readers I did have doubtless grew tired of coming here and not finding anything new. My last post was “More ways to waste time on the Internet” and I probably should have added “Checking my blog for updates” to that list. While I will never be an everyday blogger, I do feel like I had a pretty good excuse for my three month delay between posts.

On February 11, Pastor Henderson called the deacons together for a special meeting. He had one item on his agenda and that was his announcement that he would be leaving our church to start a new church in the Tampa, FL area. Most of you know that we in the middle of our 6th year as a church plant and have recently moved into our first new building. We expected Pastor Henderson to remain our pastor for many, many years. Consequently, it came as quite the shock to hear how the Lord had been working on his heart, really from the first day we moved into our new building, to start all over again somewhere else.

The reality of his decision did not really hit me until the next day, the day he would announce to the church his intentions to leave the ministry here at Grace. At our church the deacons serve as the pulpit committee and the weight of that responsibility started to weigh very heavily on my heart. It was tense that Sunday, for me at least, knowing that the pastor was going to drop a bomb shell on the congregation latter on that day. Pastor Henderson asked me, as one of the deacons, to say a few words that evening after he made his accouncement. At that point, I had no idea where we would find candidates or how we would go about the selection process. The only thing I could think to say was that we knew that the Lord was in this, that He is the head of His church, and that He can move people around as He sees fit. I said at the time,that even though we love and appreciate Pastor Henderson, that I could not imagine the Lord moving him on unless he had someone “better” in mind for our church, someone who could bring different strengths to the table as we transition from a church plant to more of an established church with a real ministry in the area.

The next three months proved to be one of the most stressful times in my life as a deacon. The stakes are pretty high when you are talking about finding a new pastor. Decisions that are made can affect not only your own life but the lives of your entire church family. What if we make a mistake and half the church leaves? How we will pay the mortgage for our new building if things don’t work out? What if there isn’t unity among the congregation, or even worse, among those on the board? Everyone has their own ideals for what makes a perfect pastor. How do we show deference to each other while still holding true to your own principles? I don’t know about the other men on the pulpit committee but these were some of the things that I struggled with internally during that time.

Besides the internal pressures, there were also lots of things to do. We had to create an application, solicit names from various contacts that we had, prepare and mail packages to potential candidates, create an objective and subjective list of requirements, read the applications and doctrinal statements as they came in, construct an itinerary for when the man and his family would come to candidate, create lists of follow-up questions for the top candidates, create a new compensation package, schedule times to meet as a committee, interview the candidates, and come to a final decision on who we would call. All this took time and everything required gaining a consensus among the members of the pulpit committee. Honestly, I don’t know how we would have done this without e-mail. We had many regular Saturday morning meetings but we probably generated a good hundred e-mails as well. Serving on a pulpit committee is hard work and time consuming work.

To top it all off, none of us were experts in this search committee process. We had some resources to consult but, basically, we were making things up as we went. Sometimes we made decisions that, latter on, turned out to not be so wise. We had to stay flexible when those things happened, while at the same time not revisiting every little decision. I am thankful for the good and godly men that served with me on this committee. None of us got “our way” on everything and it was great to see understanding, forgiveness, and deference through the whole process.

In the end, the Lord led us to recommend Pastor David Wood from Shannon Baptist Church to be our new pastor. Pastor Wood has had a wonderful ministry there in Shannon, Illinois for the past 16 years. He has an obvious love for his people and a heart for doing the work of the ministry. He will help our church were I think we have weaknesses and we all look forward to seeing what the Lord has in store for our church in the upcoming years. He got a 100% approval vote from the congregation and accepted the call on May 17th, 95 days from when the whole process started on Feb. 11th. He will start sometime in late July.

Along with Pastor Wood, we also get his family. His wife and four girls were a joy to get to know. The girls all play string instruments and sing. When they were here they picked a rather fitting song for special music, My God is Good. The lyrics really captured the sentiments of the moment. They, of course, blubbered through the whole song, but that just reflected how everyone else in the congregation was feeling as well.

Though I may never understand,
I'll trust with all my heart.
And from the course that you have planned,
I never want to part.
In searching for your way and wisdom,
teach me if you would,
That for all time, In every place
My God is good.

Friday, May 12, 2006

A Call to Paleofundamentalism?

I have been meaning to read Robert Gundry’s Jesus the Word according to John the Sectarian for some time now. Gundry’s book, written in 2002, is one of several on the market now that express some level of distress over the present state of evangelicalism. It is particularly interesting to see Gundry entry this fray, especially considering that he himself was expelled back in the 1980’s from the Evangelical Theological Society for promoting redaction criticism and other anti-inerrancy views in his commentary on Matthew.

Gundry’s book consists of three chapters. The first, Jesus the Word according to John, is an exegetical tour de force that highlights the word/verbal Christology presented in the Book of John. I found this section to be quite interesting as I had never noticed before how John emphasizes the “Word” theme throughout his gospel. The second chapter, The Sectarian, attempts to show that John was a separatist, especially in regard to the believer and the world. The last chapter, and the one with the most interesting title, represents Gundry’s application of his exegesis and purpose for his book. He calls it a Paleofundamentalist Manifesto for Contemporary Evangelism, especially its Elites, in North America.

To see where he is going with this, I would like to quote Gundry’s conclusion and then make a few comments on it:

But the question is a serious one: Do our present circumstances call for John’s Word-Christology, for North American evangelicalism to take a sectarian turn, a return mutatis mutandis, to the fundamentalism of The Fundamentals and their authors at the very start of the twentieth century? Like that early fundamentalism and unlike the fundamentalism which evolved in the 20s-40s, this new old fundamentalism, comparable in its neopleoism to the new old commandment in 1 John 2:7-11; 3:11, would be culturally engaged with the world enough to be critical rather than so culturally secluded as to be mute, morally separate from the world but no spatially cloistered from it, and unashamedly expressive of historic Christian essentials but not quarrelsome over nonessentials. Such a renewed fundamentalism would take direction not only from fundamentalism at the very start of the twentieth century but also, and more importantly, from the paleofundamentalism of John the sectarian, whose Christology of the Word has Jesus come into the world (there is the engagement with it), sanctify himself (there is the separation from it), and exegete God (there is the message to it).

There is much here to commend and I appreciate his call to a Biblical separation from the world. I don’t know how culturally engaged we need to be or what he means by nonessentials, but overall I think it is a much needed message for today’s evangelicalism. His conclusion, though, also demonstrates a significant and common weakness in that these men who see the problems in evangelicalism will not, it appears, submit to the complete Biblical instruction in this area.

It is apparent that Gundry still views the emergence of New Evanglelicalism out of the “fundamentalism that evolved in the 20s-40s” as a good thing. In a footnote he specifically likens the “original neoevangelicals (Carl F. H. Henry, Edward J. Carnell, …)” to the original fundamentalists who wrote The Fundamentals. His call to paleofundamentalism seems to be nothing more than a call to a more careful New Evangelicalism. How is that an improvement?

I find it very interesting, though, that Gundry does seem to see the dangers of non-separation. Earlier he writes,

Penetration replaced separation. Evangelical biblical and theological scholars began holding their meetings in conjunction with those of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature, both of these societies populated with heretics, non-Christians of other religious persuasion, agnostics, and outright atheists as well as with true Christian believers. And in droves evangelicals (including me) started joining these societies and participating in their activities. Would John approve? I do not know and maybe it does not matter whether or not he would; but noncanonically he is said to have fled from a public bath on perceiving that the heretic Cerinthus was there.

The result, he says, is that “the sense of embattlement with the world is rapidly evaporating among many evangelicals, especially evangelical elites….”

Well, of course, so why return to a reasoned new evangelicalism when that strategy produced the very problems that concern him?