The Whisper of Plagiarism

Dr. Ed Litton, pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, Alabama, was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention after contentious debate and a lot of dirty political maneuverings by his supporters. He was hailed by the academic elite in WokeEVA Inc. and the secular media as this moderate choice for the SBC after the convention attendees were able to beat back those terrible legalistic ultra-conservatives.

I’ll let readers do their own research regarding the aftermath of the 2021 convention and what all of it forebodes for conservative, Bible-loving Southern Baptists. What came to light within the week or so after the convention is what is most concerning.

Back in January 2019, then SBC president J.D. Greear, “preached” a sermon (really more of a TEDtalk) on Romans 1:26-32, where Paul condemns homosexual sin. Greear downplayed the seriousness of the sexual perversion by declaring homosexuality as no more sinful than heterosexual sin and saying how God speaks much more loudly about injustice, theft, and other similar lesser sins, and “whispers” about sexual sins. We as Christians, he says, should only whisper about those sins God whispers about. He was rightfully criticized and his sermon was another sad illustration of how big megachurch elites in the SBC were not only wildly off-target regarding the wickedness that struts throughout our culture, but also terrible handlers of God’s Word.

Fast-forward to the week of the 2021 SBC convention. Some alert soul happened to remember that Ed Litton had said something similar to Greear regarding God whispering about the sin of homosexuality. People who take sin seriously and know God has never whispered about any sin, especially the gross perversion of same-sex attraction and homosexuality, just face palmed and wondered why Litton wasn’t vetted before he was nominated to be the SBC president. Of course, he was vetted. Lots of solid men posted articles and podcasts detailing the problems with the man’s thinking and overall direction his leadership would take the SBC. But, no one really cared. They only wanted to beat those MAGAtard, white Christian nationalists who hate women.

While the SBC tumultuously wrestled over who would be the next president, another curious individual noticed that Litton’s whispering comments sounded way too familiar to what Greear said. He took the time to find Greear’s original sermon and then listened to Litton’s sermon preached exactly a year later in January 2020 on the same subject and was shocked — SHOCKED — to discover that there wasn’t a few similar comments, but entire sections literally plagiarized, including the opening illustrations and the exact outline of the passage! He edited the the two sermons together:

Many evangelical elites have roundly condemned plagiarism in sermons over the years. For example Justin Taylor contributed to an article at Desiring God, What is Plagiarism? back nearly 15 years ago. The same for Al Mohler who spoke against pastors plagiarizing sermons in one of his The Briefing daily podcasts, Plagiarizing in an Internet Age. Jared C. Wilson wrote for the 9 Marks blog an article entitled, “Thou Shalt Not Steal” that tells pastors that any plagiarizing of sermons is breaking the 8th commandment. And unironically, J.D. Greear wrote an article back in 2012, What Counts as Plagiarism in a Sermon? In it, he lays out 5 rules he follows so as not to plagiarize other men’s sermons, and Ed Litton broke every. single. one. of them.

Litton’s sermon on Romans is such a flagrant example of plagiarism that in a born-again, God-fearing Christian community that values holiness, obedience to God’s law, and personal integrity among it’s pastors, it should cause an instant disqualifying scandal for Litton. He should not only resign as SBC president, but also as pastor.

Regrettably, that won’t happen. Those who voted him in are not spirit-filled God fearing individuals who value God’s Word and personal holiness. It may be that a number of them aren’t even born-again, but I digress. In fact, all of those men who thundered against pastors plagiarizing sermons won’t say a word. Everyone will rush to defend him with some contorted, deformed version of the truth.

The sad reality is that such sermon mining has been going on for at least 2 decades since the advent of the internet. It’s not only practiced regularly by pastors at all levels, it’s actually encouraged by various websites who host prepared sermon outlines for either free download or purchase. The mindset excusing this naked intellectual laziness is that it frees up a pastor from having to spend his time in the study so as to concentrate on people and spreading the gospel. Why spend hours on a Thursday afternoon preparing a sermon when you can have one already made for you!? That way you can counsel, and hospital visit, and whatnot, and just read over the prepared sermon on Saturday afternoon.

It reveals the heart of a lot of what is wrong with the SBC and honestly, with the Church throughout the United States. No one values the Word of God anymore. They don’t want to study it or disciple others how to study it, and until that foundational attitude toward Scripture is changed in the heart of pastors and the people they shepherd, Bible-loving Christians will continue to be rolled by those latte-sipping worldlings.

Update as of June 27, 2021: Litton has responded to his plagiarizing by essentially confessing to it. In his statement, he says that he had permission by Greear to swipe his sermon. In a similar statement, Greear affirms that he did in fact give Litton permission to use it, so all is good and everyone should calm down. The problem, however, is that Litton at no point during the sermon alert his audience that he was borrowing heavily from Greear’s message from the previous year. That doesn’t help at all. Greear’s very first point in his article outlining his five rules for preventing plagiarism states,

1. If I ever preach the gist of another person’s sermon, meaning that I used the lion’s share of their message’s organization, points, or applications, I give credit. I don’t ever think it’s a good idea to preach someone else’s sermon… but in those rare times when you feel like you just can’t help it, you have to give credit. A sermon is a major thought unit. If it’s not yours, you have to acknowledge where it came from.

Litton’s sycophantic “yes men” all cheered those statements as “demonstrating integrity,” and said the charges of plagiarism need to be dropped. Well, if Greear’s rules are right, Litton certainly violated that first one.

Furthermore, as of Sunday morning following the revelation of his plagiarism, Litton’s church has scrubbed his Youtube channel or privatized over 100 videos of his sermons. That’s bizarre, and demonstrates a cover-up rather than the so-called transparency he and the SBC are supposed to be operating under these days. I have it under good authority that there are many other plagiarized sermons of his out there that are word-for-word verbatim. He and his team can scrubbed all they want but they must remember that the internet is forever.

A “Literal” Pop Quiz

While doing my blog surfing, I was directed to an important pop quiz from a few years ago that will help determine how “literal” I read the Bible. Heaven forbid I read it too literally. I mean, I could embarrass myself by writing a dopey book that displays my ignorance of what the Bible really says.

The opening challenge states:

No one reads or interprets the Bible literally – regardless as to what they profess. To do so is simplistic, if not dangerous. All of us read our bias, our theology, and our social location into the text. There is no such thing as an objective reading; all readings are subjective.

Really? No one reads it objectively? Not one person? Literalism is dangerous!?

The quiz was given by a guy named Miguel De La Torre. I had never heard of him before in my life. He teaches at a school in Colorado called Iliff School of Theology. I have never heard of it before, either. When I did a search, I learned that Iliff prides itself on being diverse. Checking the faculty page, the diversity is manifested by having a lot of women who teach comparative religion courses. They even boast of having 1/3 of their faculty from all sorts of backgrounds, including a person who is the professor of “American Indian Cultures.”

We never had studies in American Indian Cultures at Master’s. I am sure my seminary education is severely crippled as a result.

According to prof. Miguel’s bio page, he has written a lot of books. A professor who has written a lot of books on the Bible certainly can teach us much on how literal I may read the Bible. At least you would think.

I do find it curious that prof. Miguel doesn’t even bother to define what he means by “literal,” not to mention what the traditional understanding of “literal” means to the historic, Bible-believing Christians he wishes to bash. He begins with the presupposition that the Bible contains contradictions, and the closest he comes to even defining “literal” is charging those who read the Bible “literally” are worshiping the book, not the God who gave the book, because the Bible was never meant to be the fullest revelation of who God is.

I consider myself to be a “literalist.” I read the Bible “literally,” but I understand “literal” simply as interpreting the Bible in its natural, normal sense. The words of Scripture are to be treated the same way we treat any other words in ordinary daily use. Moreover, when I seek to understand the literal meaning of Scripture, I seek to understand the Bible in its historical, cultural, geographic, linguistic, and religious context in which it was originally written. I want to know what the originally writer meant to convey and I trust he can be understood literally as when he wrote. I also trust the God who ordained Scripture meant for His words to be understood in all cultures throughout all history because God has ordained human language to communicate His revelation to mankind.

Prof. Miguel thinks “literalists” like me are morons. He presents his pop quiz with the smug confidence his “literalist” readers learned all they know about the Bible from Chick comics and tracts and flannel graphs in junior church. His quiz could easily have come from the rantings of some atheist website.

With that in mind, let’s have a look at prof. Miguel’s pop-quiz he thinks exposes the ridiculous idea of reading the Bible “literally.”

1. The biblical definition of a traditional marriage is one between a man and: a) many wives or concubines, b) sex slaves, c) prostitutes, d) his harem, e) all of the above.

In the answers provided at the end of the quiz, the correct answer is “e” according to prof. Miguel. He believes that because the Bible records all those instances of “marriage” the Bible nowhere defines traditional marriage. In unspoken words, James Dobson has wasted 40 years of his life with that needlessly divisive ministry, Focus on the Family.

But notice how prof. Miguel ignores the first two chapters of Genesis, as well as Jesus’ words in Matthew 19 affirming Genesis, along with Paul’s in Ephesians 5. Those passages provide the standard definition of God ordained marriage: one man and one woman. All of those sins listed were truly (dare I say “literally”) practiced in Israel, but that is not because no one knew how God defined marriage. They engaged in those sins in spite of their knowledge of God’s established pattern, and in some instances were judged for it. Additionally, God gave specific laws to regulate those practices in order to protect the people involved, especially the women.

2. Homosexuals are to be: a) tolerated, b) encouraged, c) killed, d) banned.

The correct answer is “c” according to the Levitical law. So the unspoken question by prof. Miguel is, “Then why aren’t they killed today, you hypocritical, idiot literalist?”

As I noted in another post addressing Levitical law against homosexuality, homosexual sin was dealt with harshly in a theocratic kingdom. Christ has come and grace is extended to all sinners, including homosexuals. But, that does not mean homosexuality is no longer a sin, just that the immediate death penalty is postponed. Paul makes it clear that no homosexuals will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9ff.). They will be dealt with just as harshly as they were in theocratic Israel, only this time by God Himself in eternal punishment.

3. Women are saved: a) through baptism, b) by reciting a sinner’s prayer, c) through child-bearing, d) accepting Jesus, who died for their sins, as Lord as Savior.

rheThe answer is “c” according to 1 Tim. 2:15. I take it that prof. Miguel provides this passage because he thinks it contradicts the idea of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone and “literalist” Christians are  left wringing their hands thinking a contradiction exists in the Bible between salvation by works and salvation by grace. I wonder if he thinks “literalists” are stupid? Does he believe none of them read the Bible at all? I mean, how can a literalist be “literal” if he doesn’t read the Bible?

For a guy who has written a bunch of books on the Bible and teaches at a “school of theology” you would think he would know about grammar, syntax, semantic range of words, and the plain ‘ole context of a given passage.

Bill Mounce talks about the overlapping semantic ranges for the word “saved” in this passage in an insighful article, and Andreas Kostenberger thinks that semantic range suggest the salvation Paul was speaking about implies a salvation from the deception of Satan. There are some other possible understandings of Paul’s words here. But to conclude we can’t read the Bible literally because Paul is, as the apostle Peter even wrote, “hard to understand” at times, does not mean we can’t know what the Bible says literally.

4. God tries to kill Moses, but does not because God is appeased by Moses’ wife Zipporah, who: a) cuts off the foreskin of her son’s penis and rubs it on Moses’ penis, b) offers up a bull as sacrifice, c) takes a vow of silence, d) prays for forgiveness.

That event is recorded in Exodus 4:24-26.  Prof. Miguel says the answer is “a” but nothing in the texts suggests Zipporah rubbed the foreskin of her son on Moses’s penis. Where he is getting that is beyond me. At any rate, I am stumped why he included this account in his quiz. Is he suggesting Zipporah did not literally circumcise her son and get angry at Moses about it? Why would it be a bad thing to not read the account literally as Exodus records it?

5. Evil and evil spirits come from: a) God, b) Satan, c) neither a nor b, d) both a and b.

The answer is “d.” Again, I am guessing Prof. Miguel thinks it is a contradiction of sorts to have God commanding evil spirits to do His will with regards to confounding the enemies of His people. This question tells me he not only has a disdain for people who read the Bible literally, he also doesn’t care for God’s absolute sovereignty over everything, including evil spirits He sends to do His bidding.

6. Every year, one must take a tithe of all the land has yielded and: a) give it to the priests, b) give it to the church, c) give it to the poor, d) convert it to cash to buy wine, strong drink, or anything else their heart desires.

The answer is “d” for the quiz sake, but again, this is one of those questions that leaves me scratching my head as to why it challenges the literal reading of Scripture. I imagine prof. Miguel threw this one in to chide the moral legalists he has encountered from the fundamentalist wing of the SBC who believe drinking wine in any form is sinful. But this passage does more to correct the legalism coming from the teetotaler arm of the SBC and what they promote at their yearly Ephesians 5:18 Conferences, than it does with reading the Bible literally.

7. The Bible makes provisions for offering a sacrifice to: a) nature, b) the demonic god named Azazel, c) God, d)a and d, e)b and c.

azazelThe answer is supposed to be “e,” a sacrifice to both God and a devil god named Azazel. Of course, prof. Miguel chose that example because he sides with the group of so-called modern “scholars” who believe “Azazel,” rather than being translated “scapegoat” as it is in nearly every English translation, is really the personal name of a demon. But this view is a rather new perspective on Leviticus 16 that reveals more of a shift away from orthodox views of Christianity. Prof. Miguel being a professor at a progressively diverse “school of theology” would pretty much side with any perspective that is opposite traditional, biblical Christianity (the “literalists”).

Leviticus 16 pictures the dual work of the Day of Atonement. One goat was offered to God to cover sins, the other was let go to die in the wilderness, picturing the removal of sin. Azazel literally means “a goat for sending away.” Both the LXX and the Vulgate translate the word to mean, “a goat who is sent away.”  Only the intertestamental book 1 Enoch at 8:1 and 9:6 suggests this was a real demon god of some sort.

Eventually, the picture of the scapegoat typified the dual work Christ did on the cross for His people. He both covered over their sin from God’s wrath and removed the penalty of their sin from them. It may had been that the wilderness was seen as the dwelling place for demonic spirits just because the place was, and still is, desolate, but nothing in the text suggests Israel offered one sacrifice to God and another to a devil god they happened to fear. Besides, Leviticus 17:7 forbids any offering of sacrifices to devils. (And I got that from just literally reading the Bible).

8. To call somebody a “dog” during biblical times was: a) a term of endearment meaning “my little one,” b) an epithet of contempt, c) slang for “favorite one,” d) a term meaning “young puppy.”

This is another strange question. Because the term “dog” can mean different ideas depending upon specific contexts, just like the term can today in our language (i.e., an ugly kid was called a “dog” when I was in grade school), I guess prof. Miguel wants us to conclude no one can read the Bible literally. Which means to say he thinks context is pointless or that if anyone appeals to context that person is ignoring the obvious problems in the Bible.

9. My response to taking this test will be: a) stick my fingers in my ears and loudly sing “na na na na na,” b) question De La Torre’s salvation again while again stating never to read such commentary in ABP, c) ignore these parts of the Bible so I can maintain my literalism, d) read the text for what it says and struggle with it in the humility of knowing that a clear answer may not be evident in this lifetime.

Allow me to offer up my final question to prof. Miguel: Now that I have debunked the purpose of your quiz and shown you that your view of “literalism” is born from bigoted ignorance you will respond by:

A) sticking your fingers in your ears and loudly singing “na na na na,”

B) question my ability to read the Bible,

C) ignore my answers so you can continue to live comfortably in your bubble of postmodern diversity and never have to acknowledge the reality of biblical absolutes,

D) repent of your man-centered view of Scripture, admit that God has clearly and precisely communicated His Word to us to be understood literally, and submit to its authority in your life.

Of course, the choice is yours, but something tells me you will do everything but “D” because it would mean you would have totally retool your view of God, Scripture, and your ministry.

Words for Young, SBC Calvinist Firebrands

calvinDear young, SBC Calvinist firebrand,

Even though I don’t consider myself a Southern Baptist at this point in my life, God was pleased to save me in a SBC church.  I then joined as a member of that SBC church, and became a regular participant in my campus BSU.  I even seriously thought about enrolling in a SBC seminary in Memphis. So I can gel with where you all are coming from.

I’ve been reading the last couple of weeks about your all’s trials. Having run in your all’s circles when I was a college punk, it is regrettable that various leaders, pastors, and Bible college administrator types are so vehemently opposed to your Calvinistic convictions. It truly is sad, really.

I can say with gratitude that when my Calvinist fervor began to ignite in my heart, I didn’t experience opposition from the leadership at my church. In fact, rather than extinguishing my newly kindled theological passion, my college pastor, a former linebacker for the Chicago Bears (before Refrigerator Perry and the 85 Super Bowl),  was the person who loaned me his copies of Lorraine Boettner’s “The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination” and Thomas and Steele’s little primer defending Calvinism. Where I felt any noticeable push back was from my fellow pew-sitting laymen who thought I had gone off the rails as one who was “way too serious about “doctrine.”

Still; that’s nothing like having a Bible college president causing a St. Bartholomew’s Day-like expulsion to rid the school of Huguenots.

Even so, I was once a young, SBC Calvinist firebrand like yourselves, though that was 20 years ago now.  I know how you all like blog posts that “lists” things, like “13 ways to become an effective church planter” or whatever, so I wanted to offers up a “list” of exhortations for your consideration.

1) Keep some perspective. You need to face a couple of hard facts:

A) People are misinformed about your new found beliefs. As a result they have cultivated ignorant, bigoted opinions about what it is you believe. Those opinions may run the spectrum of thinking you are just “going through a phase” to perceiving you as a viable threat to their church.  You already have a difficult road to travel with them. Telling them they are ignorant and bigoted doesn’t help.

B) The spiritual condition and overall health of the SBC does not rest on your shoulders. Remember that it is Christ who builds HIS church.  Be happy you don’t have to carry that burden and relax. Maybe even smile.

2) Don’t throw books at your detractors. If a person is challenging your Calvinism, the last thing he needs to hear is “well, if you’d just read thus and such book, you’d be convinced of my position.” While it may be true there are a handful of recommended sources on that subject that could be helpful, it’s better to recommend them to more serious inquirers who genuinely want to learn.  Throwing out unsolicited book recommendations after a heated conversation at the men’s breakfast only serves to make the head of the deacon committee think you believe he’s an illiterate rube.

3) Do talk with the folks about the Bible. That is the core of your beliefs anyways. Make any disagreement be with the text of Scripture, not your personality or even “Calvinism.” I always like to ask people, “what does Ephesians 1:1-4 still tell us about election if Calvin had never existed?”

4) Don’t run leadership down. If the leadership at your church or college is your primary antagonists, in spite of their resistance, you need to honor them. That means you aren’t running them down among your friends and other congregants. Also, you aren’t leading an underground “secret Reformed Bible study” behind their backs. And whatever you do, don’t start a blog detailing how unbiblical, man-centered Arminians have overrun your church.  Such attitudes are factious and plays into their erroneous misconceptions that Calvinists split churches.

5) Do support your leadership. By praying for them, respecting their decisions, and avoid being a troublemaker. Serve them in whatever capacity you can find. Be the first one to show up and the last one to leave.

6) Support any evangelistic efforts. Springing from the previous point, one of the ways you as a young, firebrand Calvinist can support your leadership is by being involved with any community outreach opportunities. By exhorting you in this regard, and knowing SBC churches these days, I completely understand “outreach” may be trite, seeker-sensitive oriented endeavors. Regardless of that, put your back into helping out as best you can as long as you are not compromising Scriptural principles.

Look at it this way: Calvinist have the reputation of being anti-evangelistic. All you Calvinists care about is your ivory tower and theology. What better way to dispel that myth than by supporting the biannual “revival” service, youth pizza bashes, or harvest festivals at Halloween. Besides, you’ve probably read a hundred books about the “Gospel”® written by all the TGC authors or John Piper®. It’s high time you put the theoretical knowledge into practice.

7) Don’t turn every college/home Bible study into a lecture on Calvinism.  I’ve been there; I’ve done that as a young Calvinist firebrand.  You’re so excited about your newly discovered theology that you want to tell everyone without exception. It’s like being born-again, again.

This may come as a shock to you, but everyone else isn’t where you are (See #1). In fact, SBCtNpthey probably think you are an obnoxious obsessive compulsive because every conversation – I. mean. “every. conversation.” – with you is turned into a dissertation about total depravity or limited atonement. The last thing you want happening is people avoiding you at church and fellowship because they see you coming and they don’t want to hear about Calvinism for the umpteenth time.

8) Realize that Church History didn’t start in 1517.  I realize there is a famine among the rank&file SBC church goer regarding the subject of church history. That is a crying shame to be sure, and it needs to be remedied. However, at the same time, please understand that church history didn’t start and end with the Reformation.  There was 1500 years before that and there has been 500 years after.  And, when you do a talk on the Reformation do so accurately and with balance, warts and all. Don’t white-wash our Calvinist/Puritan heroes. They were fallen men like us and at times it showed.

9) Covenant Theology is not necessary to be a Calvinist. A lot of the books and websites you are probably reading from these days on Calvinism are written by guys who adhere to covenant theology. The authors probably write in such a way so as to suggest that if you are a serious “Calvinist” and want to be “theological consistent” and whatnot, you’ll abandoned any premillennialism and Dispensational leanings you were taught at your SBC church and become a full on amillennial/postmillennial supersessionist (and even baby-dipping) covenant theologian. The folks at your church who are the most resistant to Calvinism are reacting toward those virulent ideas of covenant theology.  They think you want them to become wet Presbyterians, and they’re not into that.

Remember that Calvinism is derived from the exegesis of the relevant texts of Scripture, not a system of theology. You do not need to embrace Covenant Theology and a strict adherence to the LBC1689 in order to be a consistent Calvinist. Put those ideas out of your head now.

10) Don’t ever play the “That’s just your tradition” card. When you young Calvinist firebrands get into a verbal tussle with a group of stodgy, life-long SBCers about the doctrines of Grace, there is a temptation to repeat what James White (I know a lot of you are listening to James White!) wrote in an open letter to Dave Hunt and accuse your detractors of being blinded by their “SBC traditions.”

Listen: I know what you mean, and there is a hint of truth to that accusation. However, Calvinists have traditions, too. You need to recognize them and be prepared to defend them; but in the meantime, it is just better to stay away from playing that card.

11) Leave graciously and without animosity. After exhausting all your efforts to maintain a good relationship with your SBC church, or even college, there may come a time when you may need to bow out and leave. That is understandable. However, such a move should be done ONLY as a last resort after all avenues of reconciliation have been weighed and considered, but have ended.

When that happens, you need to leave with graciousness, without leaving a stink. Even though you no longer share the same perspective of ministry, more than likely, you are leaving the church where you were either saved or that got you headed in the right direction as a new believer. They are your extended “family.” Burning the bridge behind you is not only foolish, but unloving. There is no need for it.

And most importantly, before you pull that trigger and leave, you want to make sure you are leaving TO a good church that reflects the convictions you insist are so foundational you’d be willing to go nuclear on your current church. If not, then you seriously need to re-evaluate why you are leaving.

Do We Have to “Redeem” Everything in Pop Media to Give God Glory?

harrypotterPastor Jared Moore took time out from welcoming a new baby into the world in order to offer up ten rebuttals to my review of his book, The Harry Potter Bible Study.

Did Paul “Christianize” a Pagan Poet? A Response to Fred Butler

Regular readers may recall that I did a review of his book and made some rather critical conclusions as to what he was attempting to accomplish with it.   In short, I thought his book, centered around turning the last four Harry Potter movies into “Bible studies,” diminished the ability of the Holy Spirit to sanctify individuals and trivialized the teaching of biblical doctrine.

Pastor Moore, on the other hand, believes his Harry Potter “Bible study” is teaching Christians how to discern and “redeem” the pop culture that is so prevalent in our society.  Because, as the summary on the back of the book implies, learning how to discern God’s truth in the Harry Potter movies will help Christians to distinguish between Satan’s lies and God’s truth in the media, and draw our hearts to worship and enjoy Him which is the ultimate purpose of life.

As I noted in my original review, the fad among young, Reformed folks these days is to “redeem” everything for God’s glory.  However, they typically define the “everything” in need of “redeeming” for God’s glory as drinking beer and how much movie and TV watching a Christian can do.

The second category of pop entertainment has been the subject of a number of books in recent years.  Some of these titles include, Finding Meaning at the Movies by Grant Horner, Everyday Apocalypse: The Sacred Revealed in Radiohead, The Simpsons, and Other Pop-Culture Icons by David Dark, Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture by William Romanowski, and Popologetics: Popular Culture in Christian Perspective by Ted Turnau.

So the overall concept pastor Jared presents in his book of “redeeming” pop entertainment isn’t necessarily new.  He just focuses his attention upon Harry Potter specifically.

Now. Just so I am clear: I am not a fundamentalist alarmist like David Cloud who says Christians are forbidden to watch movies and TV (or read Harry Potter) and if they do so they are woefully compromised with the devil. Though I believe watching movies and TV is a terrible waste of time, I watch select TV programs and enjoy a movie on occasion.

The larger problems I take issue with pastor Jared’s response are two-fold:  First is the entire idea of developing a small group Bible-study curriculum from four secular fantasy movies about wizards that I detailed in my original review, but the second, which comes from this most recent response to me, is the insistence that I, as a Christian, am required to watch all movies and TV with the intent of “giving God glory.”

“Giving God glory” being defined, at least in this context, as proactively attempting to locate Christian themes in whatever it is I am watching so I can learn proper discernment and challenge the worldview of unbelievers. It is what pastor Jared describes as learning to “recognize God’s fingerprints in the entertainment” and connecting those “truth-claims” back to God.  If I don’t do that, then I am, as pastor Jared concludes, “sinning against God.” It’s that “sinning against God” comment that makes the bumps stand up on my arm.

Rather than offering up a point-by-point rebuttal, it may be helpful to hit upon the more  salient disagreements I have with his overall argument, because I am of the strong opinion that Christian’s do not have to always “redeem” culture.  I’m truly certain they aren’t sinning against God if they can’t find God’s “truth claims” in a fantasy movie.

First. Pastor Jared writes that I am treating the engagement of pop culture as a “neutral” endeavor.  In other words, he believes I am ignoring the fact movies, television programs, and secular music are mediums that are actively presenting a “worldview” in the messages they proclaim.

For instance, Jared writes under point #4,

Unfortunately, many Christians view interacting with popular culture as a neutral endeavor that is neither good nor bad. God’s glory is not their goal, and in my book I attempt to train Christians to enjoy God through rejecting and enjoying various elements of pop culture.

And then under point #6,

To answer Butler’s question, “No, you cannot interact with pop culture for the glory of God by believing pop culture is neutral (fun).” Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

And finally under point #10 he concludes,

You are required by God to live for His glory in all that you do. You cannot participate in Harry Potter or any other form of popular culture as if God is silent and Christ is not Lord.

He mistakenly assumes that by saying I watch the Harry Potter movies for “fun” I am concluding entertainment is “neutral” or doesn’t have a message.  So in his mind, saying I watch a movie for “fun” equals watching it in a “neutral” fashion and thus silences God by excluding His sovereignty and Christ’s Lordship.

But I am not excluding God at all when I enjoy watching something just for “fun.”  Am I denying Christ’s Lordship any less when I watch a basketball game for “fun”? Christ is still very much Lord over all the earth for that 90 minutes or so I sit in the gym cheering on my team whether or not I may have varying degrees of “spiritual” conversation with my friends. Oh, and I recognize that watching a sport is not the same as pop entertainment, but I am working from the larger principle pastor Jared insists must control my life, that being: God is Lord overall.  That axiom would apply just as equally to interacting with a sporting event as it would pop culture. Hence, taking pastor Jared’s directive, I can’t watch a football game in a “neutral” fashion, either.

In the same way, one can watch Harry Potter, or any movie for that matter, just for “fun” and still maintain a distinct understanding of Christ’s Lordship clearly in one’s mind.  By merely enjoying the film for “fun” sake, I am glorifying God. The key difference is that I am not doing what pastor Jared claims to do when he supposedly “identifies” God’s fingerprints in the stories.  And, I’m certainly not developing a Bible Study curriculum for small groups based on the movie.

Second.  Pastor Jared wrestles a couple of passages from their context in order to bolster his case against my criticism. I’ll consider them in turn.

First is 1 Corintians 10:31, which says, Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  I think the mistake  a lot of these “redeeming culture” advocates make when they cite this passage is they wrongly believe the “eating and drinking” Paul is writing about means the mundane things in life.  In other words, in every simple thing we do, as simple as just eating and drinking, we are to give God glory. So, in the same manner when we watch a movie or TV program, we are to give God glory by redeeming the activity of movie going and TV watching. That’s the identifying God’s fingerprints part that pastor Jared says we must do.

But Paul isn’t writing about the mundane, simple things in life when he tells the Corinthians to give God glory in whatever they do.  His exhortation is part of a larger context about eating and drinking food that had been offered to idols in a pagan temple. Paul goes on to explain that “giving God glory” is giving no offense to either the Jewish believers, who may still maintain a kosher kitchen and the gentile believers, who are coming out of rank paganism and may still believe eating food offered to idols is sinful (10:32).  Thus, this verse is not a directive to seek out God’s fingerprints in popular entertainment.

Next is Acts 17:28 which is Paul’s citation of two Greek poets, Epimenides and Aratus, when he was preaching to the intellectual elites on Mar’s Hill in Athens.  He says, for in Him we live and move and have our being as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Jared writes this under point #6 about Paul’s words,

Butler is welcome to argue that I have failed at training Christians to interact with pop culture for God’s glory, but he is unfair if he acts like my goal for interacting with media is not found in Scripture. Paul quoted a pagan poet since this pagan ripped off God’s truth. That’s not “Christianizing,” that’s “Recognizing.”

As Jared goes on to explain his use of this passage, I kind of agree with him in that unbelievers who unwittingly acknowledge their creator in the things they say or do can be shown the inconsistency of such actions with their overall unbelieving worldview.  The problem I have, however, with appealing to Paul’s sermon on Mar’s Hill as a Scriptural proof-text for “Christianizing” American pop-culture, is that it stretches his words beyond their intended purpose. Paul wasn’t turning those poems into the Epimenides and Aratus Bible Study.  It’s one thing to point out worldview inconsistencies within pop culture, its another to build a small group Bible study curriculum around that same pop culture in question.

Third. Under point #9, Pastor Jared took great umbrage that I likened his work to “the Arminian classic apologist trying to show unbelievers that Christianity is a viable option in the market place of ideas.”  The reason I drew that conclusion had to do with his stated objectives he had with his book. Even though he insists in his response, as well as in the comments under this response posted over at SBCvoices.com that his work is meant merely to train Christians in biblical discernment and not to teach the Bible with Harry Potter, I didn’t perceive such a motivation when I originally read his book.

He writes in the introduction about the best way to utilize his book and under the second suggestion he states,

In Neighborhood Outreach.  Although it is difficult to reach out to  our neighborhoods, this Bible study may help.  For example, you  can  invite your neighborhood over to your own home for a specific night on the weekend for successive weeks to watch the  Harry Potter  movie series and to participate in this Bible study.  You can offer popcorn, soda pop, etc. as you engage  Harry Potter  unto the glory of God. Moreover, the gospel is presented numerous times in this Bible study.  All hearers will be confronted with the good news of Christ’s finished work saving sinners from Satan, God’s wrath, and themselves.  What a wonderful opportunity to present the gospel!

Pastor Jared says he is not going the way of pragmatic “seeker-sensitive” evangelism, but how else am I to read this? You invite the unbelieving neighbors over to watch Harry Potter and then incorporate a Bible study fashioned around the film they just watched? This just screams Saddleback/Purpose Driven Life pragmaticism.  Inviting neighbors to watch a popular movie and then surprise them with how relevant the Bible can be when applied to Harry Potter.

The reason I tie Jared’s material to Arminianism is that the method of engaging the culture is anthropocentric. It’s man-centered. It places something that allegedly stirs up the sinner, in this case, a fantasy movie about a wizard, and then sneaks the Bible in behind it. My old church use to do these kind of tricks with folks at our college. Promise a pizza bash, but only after you hear a revivalistic hitman smash you with a Bible.  A truly Reformed approach will trust God’s Spirit to draw the neighbors to hear the Bible taught minus any regard to Harry Potter. It is God who saves people and He does so without the gimmicks of making secular movies supposedly tied back to God’s “fingerprints.”

I’ll wrap up with a couple of thoughts.

First, I don’t believe Christians are required to ask quasi-spiritual questions of a particular movie they just watched in order to “glorify God.” In an ironic twist, because I know this isn’t pastor Jared’s intention at all, to insist that a Christian must engage pop culture in the way he proposes or you’re “sinning against God” hints of a veiled legalism that says a Christian isn’t truly spirit-filled or glorifying God UNLESS he identifies the fingerprints of God sprinkled throughout the movie.  Certainly he doesn’t want to be guilty of placing such a burden upon his audience.

Second, and this is just my personal opinion here, but I think pastor Jared is overly fixated upon identifying God’s so-called truth claims in popular media to the point he is in danger of shipwrecking the souls that have been entrusted for his care at his church. By that I mean I believe he is providing unwarranted license for members of his flock to wrecklessly engage pop culture with abandon because they are under the impression that because the pastor wrote a book about how we can recognize God’s truth in the Harry Potter movies, we can be safe watching anything just as long as we are recognizing God’s fingerprints.

Of course I understand that pastor Jared would respond with a “God forbid,” but in this instance, Christians are rightly identified as “sheep:” they can be slow, dim-witted, and easily misled.  It is their pastor who sets the trajectory of their spiritual life and it shouldn’t be directed to evaluating pop culture.

How then do we train Christians to “discern?” I do recognize this is an important spiritual discipline, however, it is not accomplished by teaching them to identify God’s fingerprints in secular movies and television. It is accomplished by directing them toward a high view of God and the authority of His written Word.  A pastor should aim to cultivate those passion in the hearts of his people and only then will they learn true discernment.

Confronting the Navel Gazing Churches

navelgazingAt least once a week, a “big-time” Christian blogger links to a compilation of analytical bullet points addressing some issue deemed important within the Christian church.  The list will be titled such things as, “8 Reasons Pastors Burn-out,” “12 Ways to Make Your Church Sign Catchy,” “11 Signs Your Deacons are Plotting a Mutiny,” etc.

The internet rabbit trail led me to this recent list compiled by Thom Rainer, who is the CEO of Lifeway, and appears to like those kinds of lists.

The 10 Warning Signs of an Inwardly Obsessed Church

I come from out amongst the SBC fold in the buckle of the Bible-belt, so I thought I would offer up my personal commentary, drawn from my anecdotal experience, as a response.

I’ll say at the outset that I believe the reason for these “warning signs” has to do with a failure of leadership in shepherding the people toward a high view of God and Scripture.  It’s really that simple.  That doesn’t mean these “warning” signs will just evaporate overnight for a pastor(s) who change the way he shepherds.  But it does show where there is a significant need for correction.

1. Worship wars. One or more factions in the church want the music just the way they like it. Any deviation is met with anger and demands for change. The order of service must remain constant. Certain instrumentation is required while others are prohibited.

The last couple of decades has seen a rise with churches using CCM in worship.  Contrary to the hysteria generated by fundamentalist alarmist like David Cloud, there is nothing particularly sinful or compromising or worldly with the use of CCM in worship.

Why there is a “war” over worship music is that many church goers, particularly the older generations, have a problem with the trend to completely abandon traditional worship music for CCM that totally alters the church service.  The individuals pushing the trend are under the erroneous belief that traditional hymn music is boring and the lyrics old-fashioned and a church can’t draw the younger family demographic for long term commitment.  In response, the older generations react negatively to what they perceive as worldliness taking over the church.

So, instead of shepherding the older people to appreciate CCM and instill in the younger families a love and deep appreciation for classic hymns of our faith, they solve the problem by creating multiple worship services. “Traditional” services are held at 8 am, where as the CCM worship service is at 9:30.  All that does is to divide the body of Christ.

2. Prolonged minutia meetings. The church spends an inordinate amount of time in different meetings. Most of the meetings deal with the most inconsequential items, while the Great Commission and Great Commandment are rarely the topics of discussion.

That is nothing less than a failure of leadership.  If a pastor(s) can’t keep a meeting focused upon important matters, he (or they) need to retool how to lead people.  He also needs to muster the intestinal fortitude that gives him the ability to shut down members who keep pulling the meeting toward the issues of minutia.

Of course, the problem would be greatly diminished if a church was biblical and practiced elder rule.   Rather, most SBC churches are congregational ruled in which every spiritually immature narcissist, who isn’t even qualified to teach a Sunday school class, is allowed an equally controlling decision in the matters of the church.

3. Facility focus. The church facilities develop iconic status. One of the highest priorities in the church is the protection and preservation of rooms, furniture, and other visible parts of the church’s buildings and grounds.

It depends upon what the facilities are and who assigns the iconic status.  A Sunday School room that has been successfully used by the women’s weekly Titus 2 meeting for the last 40 years now slated to be assimilated with the music room expansion is certainly “iconic” to Myrtle Haynes and her ladies group.

Here is where a wise pastor will step in with gentle reverence and shepherd the ladies as to why there needs to be a change and walk them to the new area where they will be meeting.

Unwise leadership, on the other hand, who brag of not being beholden to a mindset that places iconic value on church facilities, announce to Myrtle and her group that they will be losing their room and they’ll try to find some other place for them to meet.

4. Program driven. Every church has programs even if they don’t admit it. When we start doing a ministry a certain way, it takes on programmatic status. The problem is not with programs. The problem develops when the program becomes an end instead of a means to greater ministry.

Such can be true.  I just note a bit of irony with this warning sign because Mr. Rainer is the CEO of Lifeway, the Christian bookstore company that heavily marketed Rick Warren’s PDL materials.  Warren’s 40 Days of Purpose stuff was adopted (“forced upon” in some cases) by many, many churches across the land and those churches started doing ministry a certain way because they were told by the marketing that it was the only way for a church to do greater ministry.

5. Inwardly focused budget. A disproportionate share of the budget is used to meet the needs and comforts of the members instead of reaching beyond the walls of the church.

I would be curious as to what is considered “needs” and “comforts?”  Does that mean taking care of the church facilities? I don’t see a problem with a church directing their budget to maintaining a nice place for people to meet.  It would also be helpful to define what is meant by “reaching beyond the walls of the church.”  Is that local outreach? Short-term missions?  With the SBC model, as with other denominations, there is a bureaucratic office that raises money from the churches for international missions through their Lottie Moon Christmas offering. That model sets in place the idea that if I give 500 bucks at Christmas to the denominational office, I’m involved with missions. and I didn’t even have to leave my pew.

6. Inordinate demands for pastoral care. All church members deserve care and concern, especially in times of need and crisis. Problems develop, however, when church members have unreasonable expectations for even minor matters. Some members expect the pastoral staff to visit them regularly merely because they have membership status.
7. Attitudes of entitlement. This issue could be a catch-all for many of the points named here. The overarching attitude is one of demanding and having a sense of deserving special treatment.

I thought those two “signs” went together.  I figured if members demanded a pastor’s unflinching attention to minor matters, the reason they would is because they believed they were entitled to it.

I have mixed feelings about these “signs.”  Pastoral visitation is just part of the territory.  I’d think a pastor would want to mingle regularly with his people.  If not, then there is a problem with the pastor.

Still, I can understand how a pastor can get “busy,” and unreasonable expectations on his time is inappropriate.  Depending of course on what is defined as “unreasonable expectations.”  But how much of this entitlement attitude is fostered by the pastor himself because he doesn’t guard his time by properly prioritizing his responsibilities, especially with sermon prep. When minor matters pop up, he welcomes such unexpected interruptions as a way to get out of the office and away from the greater task at hand.

8. Greater concern about change than the gospel. Almost any noticeable changes in the church evoke the ire of many; but those same passions are not evident about participating in the work of the gospel to change lives.

I can understand the “concern” for change when the change is a cockamamie plan to contract a high-end architect to redesign the worship center in such a way that a new “stage set” can be erected every Sunday to provide a living illustration for that week’s message. Or a massive loan is taken out just so the church can build an unnecessary, yet gianormous sanctuary complete with cyclopean pillars just to have curb appeal.   (And I am not making either of those up).

9. Anger and hostility. Members are consistently angry. They regularly express hostility toward the church staff and other members.

I have to ask: Why aren’t those people confronted with their sin? They are church members doing nothing but causing division and stirring up strife among the body.  I would hope strong leadership, after hearing of the angry and hostile members, would seek them out to meet with them about their sin issues.  If they are teachable, disciple them to repent of their bitterness and seek reconciliation with those whom they are angry.  If they are unteachable, get other leaders involved and explain to them that in no uncertain terms are they to continue with this behavior or they will be kicked out of the fellowship.

10. Evangelistic apathy. Very few members share their faith on a regular basis. More are concerned about their own needs rather than the greatest eternal needs of the world and community in which they live.

A lot of this can easily go back to what I noted under #5.  If the denomination maintains a “missions” office where all the affiliated churches are expected to pay into a general fund to support the endeavors of professional missionaries, then I can understand why few members regularly share their faith.  In their minds, they are paying someone to do this.

But a denominational missions office is not necessarily a bad thing, so obviously there is more.

I would also add there is a problem with the evangelistic model a lot of churches promote.  That being, a weekly “evangelism” time where teams from the church aimlessly drive around for two hours knocking on doors and visiting church going families that filled out a “visitor’s card.” If they get really desperate to meet their soul-winning quota after several failed door knocking attempts, they slum around at the laundry mat.

However, if evangelism is reduced to a manufactured two hour block of time every week, I can understand why evangelism is devalued.

Now I will not pretend I have it all figured out.  Certainly there are individuals who can offer up counter examples to my “opinions.” Yet in each of these examples Mr. Rainer outlines, from my perspective as a member, deacon, and lay leader in my Church, pretty much everyone of these “inward obsessions” would be eliminated if the pastor commits himself to solid, doctrinal teaching and challenges his people to have a high-view of God and a low-view of one’s self.  It takes long, patient work, I know; but it can be done by the grace of God.

Predictions

I do believe we are seeing the unraveling of a Christian celebrity. 

Over the weekend, high school year book photos of Ergun Caner were published, and contrary to his claim that he was a hardcore, Jihad training Muslim who wore Islamic clothing to high school, the year book photos show a kid who looked a whole lot like my high school acquaintances in Arkansas with all the awkward hair cuts and gangly physical features typical of all high school kids.  The Associated Press released a report on the Caner situation which is probably the more accurate one I have read in the mainstream media since this whole thing has gone down. 

Liberty University has set out an investigative probe to  look into Caner’s background and whether or not he embellished his past.  Of course, I am amazed that in light of the crushing amount of evidence demonstrating he has, an investigative probe of this nature is even necessary.  But, the leadership has to look as though they are taking these matters seriously now that the MSM has gotten involved and they are no longer able to ignore anonymous, “hack” bloggers with a personal vendetta against the Caner brothers.  

I personally predict a face saving attempt will be made to put these accusations off their back.  I can see Caner resigning, perhaps shortly after the June 30th deadline for the probe to finish, and his excuse will be something along the lines of having to sacrifice himself to save the university he loves from the mean-spirited Calvinists and angry Muslims and other anti-Christian hostilities who only wish to see the school ruined. When reputations on this level are at stake, I rarely see the person in question acknowledge the truth. 

Caner in Christianity Today

Squirrel alerted me to the recently posted, on-line article covering the Caner/integrity scandal.

Bloggers Target Seminary President

I personally don’t like the way CT framed Caner’s opposition as some personal attack against him by a small league of unknown bloggers. I have no animosity against the guy and would be ignoring the complaints charged against him by the 22 year-old Muslim critic if I thought Caner and Liberty were doing a good job answering his objections and those from other folks like James White. But the fact that he has run off to hide while sending out emails lambasting his critics, both Muslim and Christian, and framing the whole thing as if he were an innocent martyr doesn’t look good for him.

And shame on the Liberty officials for brushing all this off as just personal persecution against Caner by mean Calvinists. This will only make matters worse for you.

Updated: I appreciate Squirrel’s Response as of today, as well as James White’s.

The Draw Bridge Parable

Back in the first month of 2006, I was blogging in obscurity, pecking out my thoughts for those few faithful readers who had accidentally stumbled across my blog when they were searching for joint pain medication. That January, I had the idea to deconstruct the various horrible preaching stories I had heard growing up in rural fundamentalism. The kind of goofy stuff I heard at youth camps and the like.

Regrettably, I only did one. I got distracted, I guess, and the series died right out of the gate.

At any rate, the first and only one I deconstructed was the classic drawbridge story about the father crushing his son to death in the gears of a raised drawbridge in order to save the passengers on a swiftly approaching train. The story was meant to play as an emotional shaming. We were thoughtless and wreckless teenage youth who cared for nothing but our AC/DC records and playing video games, all the while the God of heaven sacrificed his son on our behalf. “HOW CAN YOU CONTINUE IN YOUR SINFUL TV WATCHING WHEN THE GOD OF HEAVEN HAS SACRIFICED HIS ONE AND ONLY SON ON YOUR BEHALF!” the evangelist would weepingly yell.

The story is a theological disaster as I will note below and I would never use it as some soul stirring crescendo to any of my sermons.

I learned yesterday from some Facebook friends that the story has been turned into a movie.

A MOVIE!

It’s called Most. Most? Not only is it a terrible theological story, it also has a terrible title. But I digress.

It apparently stands up there along side “The Passion of the Christ” and the “Chronicles of Narnia” gushes one reviewer. Readers can watch the trailer at the link, and if you are so inclined you can purchase multiple copies of the movie with disciple kits for the low cost of just 24.99 plus shipping and handling.

Now evangelical youth camps no longer need a shouting youth evangelist to share the story. All they need is a DVD player and the movie does the rest.

Seeing that it has been a while, and in light of this new movie, I thought I would repost my one and only horrible preaching story.

I heard this story on many occasions growing up, generally at youth revivals or some other Christian camp, where after the service, those kids really, really, really serious about living for Jesus were encouraged to write all their sins on a piece of paper and throw it in a bonfire.

Once I can remember a preacher who retold the story claim the events were true. I have read alternate versions of the story on the Internet. Whatever the case, they all contain the same moralistic conclusion: A loving father sacrifices his son’s life to save a passenger train full of people from disaster.

Once there was a man who was an attendant for a railroad drawbridge. His job entailed raising the bridge to allow the river boats to pass and making sure the bridge was in place for the trains. One day the man took his only son with him to work. He was a four year old boy who enjoyed watching his father raise the bridge to allow the boats pass and lowering it to let the trains rumble by.

As the day wore on, the man and his only son went to eat lunch out on the raised bridge. As they watched the boats pass underneath them, they both fell asleep. Sometime later, the man was awakened from his nap by the sound of a distant train whistle. “Oh no,” he thought, “the bridge is still up, I need to get back to close it or all those people will be killed!” Making his way back to the control room, he started to lower the bridge when he heard a cry from outside. It was his only son, who had slipped through the catwalk when he started following his father back. He had fallen down onto the massive gears and he was unable to free his foot.

The man didn’t know what he should do. He had to find a way to save his only son, but there would be no time to save him and then return to lower the bridge to let the train pass. As the train drew closer, the man remember how God sacrificed Jesus, His only son, to save humanity, so he made the fateful decision to sacrifice his son to save those hundreds of people on the train. The bridge closed, all the while the anguished father knowing it crushed to death his only son. As he wept for the death of his only son, the train rushed by safe and sound with all the passengers waving and laughing as they went by, completely oblivious to the great sacrifice that just occurred to save them.

Now the problems with this story, both practical and theological, are a multitude.

First, what sort of idiot father takes his only son, especially a four year old boy, out on the end of a raised drawbridge? Particularly when there is a great possibility for him to slip off a catwalk and be entangled in the gears of the bridge? This is highly irresponsible of the father. Moreover, what about his jumping up from his nap and running back to the control room without grabbing his kid? Are you telling me that he is so absent minded he would forget his boy laying there next to him?

Second, what sort of safety standards were the engineers of this drawbridge working under so that they could get away with building a bridge with exposed gears which in turn could potentially entangle a four year old who slips through a catwalk? Moreover, wouldn’t this catwalk be considered poorly designed? If it is that easy for someone to slip through, I don’t know if I want to be walking on it to begin with.

Third, was there a moron driving this train? Are you telling me he wouldn’t take notice of a raised drawbridge in the distance? I mean, it’s not like a raised drawbridge just sneaks up on you. Surely he would had been made aware of that section of the track where a drawbridge could possibly be raised, so that he could be alert to slow down if he needed to. Are you telling me this guy was so engrossed in his newspaper or book that he wasn’t paying attention? This is gross incompetence. Additionally, the train company should be held criminal negligence for not having some warning system in place to alert a train engineer of a raised draw bridge a mile or so up the track. I smell a big pay off in a lawsuit with this one.

But these are sniggling little practical details. What about the mangled theological implications gleaned from this woeful tale? There are two serious ones:

Generally, the main point raised in the conclusion of the story is the great sacrifice of the father for the people on the train being likened to the great sacrifice God offered in Jesus Christ for all humanity. Yet if we allow that comparison, it makes Christ’s death into a cosmic accident, something God the Father was not expecting and couldn’t avoid.

The Bible is clear God had planned Christ’s death before the foundation of the world. It was not an unavoidable accident. Peter affirms this truth in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost when he said, Him [Jesus], being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death (Acts 2:23). The father in the story did not go to work that morning with the intention of crushing to death his only son in the gears of the bridge so as to save a passenger train from doom.

Then second, note the blatant universalism presented in the story. The train supposedly represents the whole of humanity; everyone in the entire world without exception. One point I have heard preachers make when relating this story is how all the folks on the train were smiling, waving, and laughing as it drove over the bridge, all the while completely unaware of the death of a four year old boy to save their lives. This is how the world acts, the preacher will say, they don’t realize God the Father sacrificed Jesus to save them and they go about their blissful lives completely unaware of what God did.

This not only makes Christ death purposeless, but also implies everyone in the world is saved, they just don’t know it. Am I to guess they all learn about it later, after they die and are in heaven? I imagine this would be similar to the people who were on the train once they reached their various destinations and read about what the father did in the newspaper. The Bible is also quite clear that Christ’s death was not designed to be a universal atonement which saves all humanity, whose members are saved, but live their lives without Christ now, only to realize what Jesus did for them once they reach heaven. Such a notion is rank heresy.

If anything, this drawbridge story goes beyond the theological foibles of Arminianism to being one embracing the heretical teachings of open theism and universalism.

The Ergun Caner Bio.

I am telling you, if any of this stuff this particular blogger dug up on Dr. Caner is true, WOW.

Ergun Caner’s Secret Biography

I cannot see how anyone who is a “very” public figure like Ergun Caner can think he can get away with “faking” the background to his life just for emotional testimonial effect in today’s internet driven world. This is why I said Dr. Caner is swiftly becoming the Mike Warnke of this generation. There is a reason why the first qualification Paul lists for spiritual leaders is to be “above reproach” (1 Tim. 3:2). That means behave yourself with personal integrity so no one can come along later and blame you for lying.

HT: The Turk

Caner New Speak

Ergun Caner writes,

One gentleman believes it is misleading to call my interaction with people from other faiths and world religions “debates.” Since his definition of debate is limited to moderated, formal debates, that is his prerogative. He can call them whatever he wishes.

….

The truth is, several evangelical apologists employ the “formal” debate template and are very effective in their presentations. Norman Geisler, Gary Habermas and William Lane Craig come to mind. Nevertheless, I will continue to do exactly as I have done. In fact, in order to attempt a measure of peace, I am more than happy to call my engagements “interviews,” or even “dialogues.”

….

However, I would caution all evangelicals that no single method meets consensus. Nor is there only one exclusively biblical model. Certainly there is much good to be found in formal debates, and I also believe that there is enough room for all types of interaction. In fact I believe there is great value to be found in all forms, including conversational and informal methods. [Ergun Caner Statement 2/25/10]

It never ceases to amaze me how the zeitgeist of postmodern relativism has soaked to the bones of our society, even with those who supposedly loathe postmodern relativism. This is most noticeable in the use of language. The meaning and context for words begin to lose their precision. Such is plainly evident in these comments by Ergun Caner as he attempts to defend his chosen definition for the word “debate.”

Dr. Caner has made the claim on numerous occasions that he has “debated” individuals from many different religious groups: Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. He further boasts that he isn’t afraid to debate any one, any where. Dr. Caner has recently been challenged as to the legitimacy of that claim. In other words, if he has debated these individuals from various religious groups, we would like to hear the audio or watch the video of those encounters. None is available, however, because Dr. Caner seems to define “debate” with the widest possible definition so as to mean any dialogue or discussion with an opponent of a differing point of view. Plus, those “debates” can take place in any location, like an airport lounge, on an email discussion group, in the university cafeteria.

Granted, the word “debate” can mean any exchange between individuals of opposing view points. But the context also adds clarity and precision to a word. In the case of Dr. Caner, he is the President of Liberty Theological Seminary. Moreover, he is the professor of theology, church history, and apologetics. His role as a seminary president and theological professor help narrow down the definition of the word “debate” when he employs it to describe the extent of his ministry in the secular world.

Let me illustrate what I mean: I have had a presence on the internet since I had a personal email account and access to the web at my current work place. It’s been around 10-12 years or so. During the decade or more, I have participated on theological internet forums, on email discussion groups, and in the comments of many blogs. I can confidently say I have “debated” many different kinds of heretics, non-Christians, and secularists. I have “debated” JWs, Mormons, Church of Christ, Oneness Pentecostals, Socinians, Universialists, Muslims, and atheists, on such countless subjects as baptism, the Deity of Christ, KJV-onlyism, evolution, the nature of spiritual gifts, election, the existence of God and the list could go on.

Now, suppose out of God’s providence, I was invited to join the faculty of a theological seminary. When I submitted my resume for review, how honest would I be in listing a few memorable email exchanges I had with some progressive creationist, an Arminian guy, a KJV-onlyist gadfly, and a couple of post threads on some internet forums with a charismatic and an atheist and describe them all as having participated in “debates”? In that academic context, how would my reviewers define the concept of “debate”?

Hopefully you can see my point as to why there is a deeper matter of integrity and commitment with Dr. Caner’s precision of language and his claims of debating.