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CBTS Fall Conference Audio available, plus some by Greg Stiekes

November 9, 2009

A couple weeks ago, I gave some of my initial thoughts on the Fall Conference by Central Baptist Theological Seminary. I highly recommended your listening to several sessions when the became available. They may now be downloaded. Again, I recommend those lectures by Kevin Bauder and the final one by Robert Delnay (yet I stress that all sessions are very worth while). We are apparently still waiting for Kevin’s session to be posted to the website.

Here are direct links to the audio:

Also, my church, Bible Baptist Church of Otsego, Minn., recently hosted its annual Bible conference with Pastor Greg Stiekes of Bethany Bible Church in Hendersonville, NC. Pastor Stiekes spoke on the unity of the body in Ephesians 4, the subject of his master’s thesis at Erskine. Our church recently posted those sermons, and you may download those as well.

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Iain Murray on the best use of pastors' time

November 4, 2009

Mark Dever’s most recent 9marks interview is with Iain Murray of the Banner of Truth Trust. Iain Murray has himself authored many books, including an important biography of Jonathan Edwards from a confessional and evangelical perspective.

I thought that this aged saint’s advice concerning the pious use of our time was most helpful:

Dever: What good things are, do you think, common distractions you find among pastors today? . . .

Murray: . . . It may be hard to generalize. I think. . . we need to know ourselves, and some men certainly are spending far too long on websites and computers [Dever interjects, “Listening to interviews.” Murray responds, “Yes.”]. I think the right use of our time is probably the first priority for pastors, and we need constantly to be reviewing it. And It’s interesting that John Stott would be aside one day a month to get quite out of his schedule and self-examination. That was an old Puritan practice, wasn’t it? We can get caught up in our routine, but to check are we giving our time to the best things? Sometimes controversies take up far too much time, and I am sure the devil, one of his aims in stirring controversies, is just to distract. And there can be important controversies, but they may be all over in 5 or 10 years, and that time we can’t recover that we’ve lost. Dr. Lloyd-Jones was very strong in insisting that we shouldn’t let others set the agenda, and that this was a major mistake for evangelicals. And in that regard he was concerned with evangelicals giving too much concern to responding to liberals, answering it with our own scholarship. However that’s done, he would say, “That’s not the first thing.” We need our best minds, our best instructors on the fundamentals of preaching of the gospel and so on.

Dever: Other precedents in history you think should be instructive for us today? . . .

Murray: No minister I’ve ever read has come to the end of his life regretting that he prayed too much or that he was too much in the Scripture. We can be in the Scripture in an intellectual way and not in it in a devotional, prayerful way. And that’s the thing that strikes about M’Cheyne and Bonar and these men. Their reading of Scripture was bathed in prayer, and it was part of their communion with God. And I think Adolphe Monod’s little book, A Pastor’s Farewell, dying he gave his final thoughts about Bible reading and prayer, and these are the sort of things he says, you know, we can’t give too high a priority to that, and we can easily get our time stolen by secondary things.

To order the set Iain Murray mentions of Calvin’s Tracts and Letters, see the Banner of Truth website.

Bands in the back?

October 18, 2009

I know that some churches, like Tenth Presbyterian in Philadelphia, have their church choir and musicians perform from the back of the church, in order that (among other reasons) they may not distract from the message of the song or hymn. Other churches have their musicians perform from behind a screen. These churches consider it unfit to draw attention to the musicians; they take real and practical steps to emphasize the music and text over the performers. (This is a pretty good example of the way culture works.)

A friend of mine and I were discussing our church’s building and the sparsity of space on the platform. This lack of space, he reasoned, ensured that any future “church band” at our church was an impossibility.

Not so, I jested. We could put the band in the back of the meeting hall, like these other churches do.

This made us wonder just how many church bands perform out of sight in order to avoid causing improper distraction.

I determined that I could assert without any doubt or possibility whatsoever of contradiction that no such church band exists.

Some thoughts on the recent Central Seminary Fall Conference

October 13, 2009

Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Plymouth, Minnesota, recently concluded its Fall Conference. This used to be known as the Foundations Conference, and was a fairly “big event,” but the seminary decided to change the format a bit. It was still well attended (as far as I could tell), but they combined it with what they call a “Pastor’s Day” and made it into two “half-days” of lectures.

This year’s keynote speaker was the venerable Robert Delnay, the Chair of the Bible Faculty at Clearwater Christian College in Florida. I have great admiration for Delnay as a genuine man of God, as a man of great piety and love for God. His wisdom is like a rare jewel, and should be treated and handled as such.

Delnay introduced the conference with a discussion of what binds fundamentalists together. I have heard Delnay present this before (or something like it). What many consider most controversial in his understanding of fundamentalism is usually his assertion that all fundamentalists should be dispensationalists, but this is not enough for me to disregard his remarks altogether. The marks we fundamentalists do share are our love for the Scriptures, our proclivity towards separation, our conviction concerning the importance of our faith, and the importance of fellowship (including fellowship with God).

The second address was by Kevin Bauder; he addressed “Fundamentalists and Conservative Evangelicals.” This lecture was important for a number of reasons. In many respects, it was one of the first times I had heard a fundamentalist publicly speak this candidly about the “issue” of conservative evangelicals. What Bauder stressed was that “conservative evangelicals” were not really a “new” problem. He listed the four biggest differences between fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals as:

  1. The prevalence of “anti-dispensationalism” among conservative evangelicals,
  2. Conservative evangelicals have an openness toward miraculous and sign gifts,
  3. Conservative evangelicals tend to be more trendy in their adoption of popular culture, and
  4. In how conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists appropriate and view “indifferentists.”

There are other remarks in this address that well be worth hearing and considering. He has some very good advice, I think, of how fundamentalists should relate to conservative evangelicals. I’m not going to run the risk (more than I already have) of misquoting or misrepresenting Kevin, but you would do well to seek out the recording of this message and hear it.

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On the second day of the conference, Jonathan Pratt gave a very thoughtful address on the history of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College. I wish every fundamentalist leader and minister would listen to Jon Pratt’s lecture. He offered many good lessons to learn from Pillsbury, and the lecture was delivered, even the controversial parts, with humility and conviction. (Jon Pratt has addressed some of these matters at the “Theology Central” blog in posts like “ethical dismissal” and “ethical departure“).

The second day of the conference also heard Robert Delnay address:

  1. “How We Lost our Good Name”
  2. “What Use Can We Be Now?” and
  3. “How We Lost Our Young People”

These were all very good. I was especially challenged by the third, the one on losing our young people. This is well worth your pursuing and hearing. It might be a bit different than you expect. It was not directed towards our enemies who are luring “our young people” away from us, but at us fundamentalists who have (if I may put it this way) “driven” away our young people through our “unreflectiveness” and hypocrisy. I will try to publicize its availability once I see the seminary has made it so. As I said earlier, I always enjoy listening to Robert Delnay.

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I could not help but get the impression during this conference–and this was striking to me–that fundamentalism the movement was either dead or dying. It was not so much in the “deadness” of the attendees (though some might have automatically accused of this, since we were far from “rocking the place out”), as much as from the comments of the presenters. For instance, Delnay referred to fundamentalism as “the shattered wreckage of what was once a movement.” Really, this perception should come as no surprise since Kevin has said as much in a recent In the Nick of Time article. David Doran has also recently made similar comments.

Although I tend to agree with this appraisal of the state of fundamentalism, the life or death of fundamentalism is not a question terribly important to me. What is most important is that we actually care very little whether the fundamentalist movement even exists or not. We believers should not be about movements, even movements like fundamentalism (though  there will differing amounts of love among my “many” [heh heh heh] readers for fundamentalism). Our main energy should be in faithfully doing our part to strengthen churches. God’s sovereign plan does not live or die with fundamentalism. I very much consider myself a fundamentalist, but I would much rather see individual “post-fundamentalist” churches thriving in holiness and the Christian faith than the fundamentalist movement thriving at its national conferences and youth rallies.

God’s plan for this age in his church, in healthy churches doing all that God tells them to. We know that these kinds of churches are rare, and it is by God’s grace we are involved in this great scheme of his for this age. Let us be about faithfully leading healthy and godly churches, and let the movements take care of themselves.

Yale works of JE now available in paperback

September 9, 2009

Yale recently released three volumes of its 26-volume Works of Jonathan Edwards in paperback, volumes which in hardback retail north of $90. The volumes are available all over, but Westminster Theological Seminary Bookstore has the best price I have seen. The three volumes are:

Freedom of the Will (volume 1) for $17.80 This is Edwards’s masterpiece, a carefully argument tour-de-force against Arminianism. It is edited by Paul Ramsey. I found the last part of this book most helpful. (Part 4: Wherein the chief Grounds of the Reasonings of Arminians, in Support and defense of Their Notions of Liberty, Moral Agency, etc. and against the Opposite Doctrine, Considered.)

Religious Affections (volume 2) for $19.00 Edwards seeks to define how one can distinguish the genuine marks of the Spirit against those spurious ones. John White edited this volume. Careful and meditative reading of this work reaps great spiritual rewards for the believer. And it is very convicting.

The Great Awakening (volume 4) for $19.00 This volume collects all Edwards’s writings on the awakening, including Faithful Narrative, The Distinguishing Marks of the Work of the Spirit of God, Some Thoughts Concerning the Revival, a handful of relevant letters, and a preface Edwards wrote to a book by Joseph Bellamy. The editor’s preface by C. C. Goen is a very valuable resource. I believe Edwards’s Some Thoughts Concerning the Revival (though it does not quite represent his mature views) is under-rated among his corpus.

A special day

September 5, 2009

Today is the 3,333rd day of the marriage of me and my lovely bride.

It is has been 3,333 days of uncheckered happiness (or, at least 3,331 days thus). And it seems like just yesterday we were celebrating 3,000 days. How the time flies!

As many of you know, 3+3+3+3=12, and 12 is the number of apostles and tribes in Israel. And, while 4 3’s makes 12, the sum of 3 and 4 is 7, which is the number of perfection. St Augustine said in the City of God that we “must not despise the science of numbers.” Medieval Christians, had, as Peter Gay reminds us, “seven virtues, seven works of mercy, seven planets, seven sacraments [I only hold to two!], seven liberal arts, seven degrees of sanctity, seven deadly sins, seven ages of man; they knew twelve prophets, twelve patriarchs, twelve apostles, twelve months, twelve sacred jewels in the vision of John.” He adds,

Seven and twelve have mystical connections: seven is three plus four while twelve is three times four; now, three is sacred because it represents the Trinity–the world of spirit; while four is the number of the elements–the world of matter. The seven virtues dramatize this relationship; there are four cardinal and three revealed virtues, combining into a perfect mathematical whole. Seven and twelve, then, stand for the holy conjunction of three and four.*

Today’s date is September 5, or 9/5, and 9 + 5 = 14, which is 7 x 2. The year is A.D. 2009, and 9+5+2+0+0+9 = 25, and 2 + 5 = 7.

To put this day in perspective, 3,333 days is 79,992 hours. 7+9+9+9+2 = 36, and 36 is 12 x 3, or (3 + 3 + 3 +3) x 3.

3,333 days is also 4,799,520 minutes (how quickly these millions of minutes have flown!). Interesting enough, 4 + 7 + 9 + 9+ 5 +2 +0 (which is seven numbers long) totals, again, 36, which is (again, I stress) 12 x 3. And, since I know you’re wondering, that’s 287,971,200 seconds (this time, it’s nine numbers long, which is 3 cubed), and 2 + 8 +7 + 9 + 7+ 1 + 2 + 0 + 0 = 36 yet again.

Try to explain that coincidence.

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*Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: The Birth of Modern Paganism (New York: Norton, 1966), 253.

D. G. Hart on worship and a reflection on worship as a "tertiary" issue

August 21, 2009

Mark Dever recently interviewed D. G. Hart, a notable historian of American Christianity and confessional Presbyterian. It is worth hearing. Here’s a selection:

MD: How is the church compromising today the average pastor should be on the alert to avoid?

DGH: I guess I’m still very much concerned about worship and the nature of it, and what worship does. And I’m concerned especially that people will not go to certain churches because of the kind of music that is sung.

MD: But you wouldn’t.

DGH: Right . . . it’s only because it’s thirty minutes of praise songs I would have to endure. If it was only a praise song for every hymn was sung, and you had the same order of service, it wouldn’t work as well, but it still would be bareable.

MD: It works pretty well.

DGH: … It’s increasingly difficult then, for people who go to these other churches, to come to my own congregation, which is a very vanilla sort of Protestant service–a lot of Scripture, four or five–well, four hymns maybe—tops, monthly observance of the Lord’s Supper, but they would be put off by this because it’s too stuffy somehow. And I don’t understand why people don’t feel like they have more to do as far as they have an obligation to worship God, and I need to do that wherever I can do it.

I tend to agree with Hart that the choruses-mixed-with-hymns approach does not work very well. At very least, it’s like blue-jeans at a funeral–there is something unfitting about it. But let’s leave that point alone for a moment.

I think D. G. Hart is on to something here. The progressives out there like to argue that music is “tertiary,” or that it does not matter. They argue that it is not a matter to divide over. But I ask them: if music is not a matter to divide over, if it is tertiary, then why not give it up completely? Why not go to a “stuffy” church that simply sings hymns?*

If music is truly “tertiary” or “not worth dividing over” for the progressives, then hymns, theoretically at least, is an acceptable medium to the progressives for congregational singing in public worship, as are choruses and praise-and-worship (P&W) songs. Now imagine with me two circles, one (circle C) representing the music acceptable to conservatives. The other circle (circle P) represents the music acceptable to the progressives. Theoretically, again, circle C would nearly all fit within circle P. That is, nearly all the hymn tunes and other traditional music acceptable to conservatives is acceptable to progressives, since music, to the progressives, is a “tertiary” or “secondary” issue. Conservatives, however, in no way find the music of the progressives to be acceptable. In fact, they find it irreverent. In theory, the progressives should have absolutely no problem attending congregations whose worship is conservative or traditional, especially if that music deeply offends other believers. In theory, the progressives should not desire in the slightest to move a congregation among whom one finds conservatives toward more progressive forms of worship, especially if that music deeply offends other believers and music is so-called “tertiary.” The fact is that neither of this theories are usually seen in practice.

My point is that the music issue is not tertiary for either conservatives or progressives. When the progressives say music is a tertiary issue, a matter of no importance, what they actually mean is that the conservatives should not declare the music of progressives unfit for public worship or immoral. They do not want to be judged. That’s what they mean. If it were truly “tertiary,” then they would capitulate on this point, especially since the music of progressives is so morally repulsive to conservatives.

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*Here I mean hymns, not pseudo-hymns, such as gospel songs or camp-ish fare.