A Thought on The MBC

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I want to share a few thoughts I have about the 2010 meeting of the Missouri Baptist Convention that just wrapped up in Springfield.

Newly elected 2nd Vice President, Micah Fries has done a great job recapping much of the optimistic news of the convention. I won’t try to reiterate his post here, but I will share an observation.

I am the kind of guy who reads into things a little much. Maybe too much. However, I’ve always thought that a good measure of the convention is the kind of buzz words we here in the nomination speeches. For example, “He has a proven track record of ministry in Missouri” may mean, “He’s older and that’s important.” Or, “He shares the values of many Baptists” may mean, “This decision is about [insert hot topic]” We’ve had this kind of speech before, but this year the buzz word was missions. At times, the nominations speeches almost sounded like a “I’m more mission minded” competition, but that’s not a bad thing. I’d rather that be our point of passionate discussion. I’d love to see the day where we bring the busloads in to passionately discuss the best way to spread the Gospel. This year, the nomination speeches were a step in the right direction.

Reinforcing this, the convention elected John “3:16” Marshall as president. Dr. Marshall’s church, Second Baptist of Springfield leads the way in missions and looks to be doing the same in church planting. The unanimous, unopposed election of Dr. Marshall shows that Missouri Baptists are ready for missions. Further, the convention chose Joshua Hedger, a church planter/pastor to preach next year’s annual sermon. Is this a new day of missions and church planting in the MBC? Lord, may it be so!

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Book Review: Michael Reeve’s The Unquenchable Flame

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Recently, The Economist published an article about the rise of Calvinism among evangelical Christianity and specifically, Southern Baptists. While that particular article offers a puzzling description of the “New Calvinist” movement, it’s publication illustrates just how significant the movement is across the evangelical landscape. In recent years, the popularity of Calvinism, Puritanism, and Reformed Theology has grown in leaps and bounds among young evangelicals in particular.

Yes, you read that right. Young evangelicals are rapidly embracing the age old doctrines of the reformation. It was at a conference for these types that I received a copy of Michael Reeves’ The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of The Reformation. As New Calvinism takes hold, I have noticed that it is not just the doctrines of the reformation that attract people. The reformers themselves are the heroes of the movement. Luther is a favorite, and the ability to discuss the differences between Calvin and Zwingli is crucial. Likewise, just as Erasmus was emboldened with the charge, “To the source!” so the New Calvinists clamor to read the works of the reformers and the puritans. Reeves book is a helpful volume for anyone trying to make sense of the new fascination for very old people.

The Unquenchable Flame is a short, easily read book which chronicles the reformation in order to uncover the true motivation and character of it. Reeves begins with a brief description of medieval Catholicism and the various tensions therein. The doubt of papal authority cast by the Great Schism ushers in a time of unrest and a desire for reform. From there, he gives a thorough account of the life of Martin Luther. After that, attention is turned to Zwingli and reformation in Switzerland. A chapter is devoted to Calvin, reformation in England, and the puritans, each. By the way, if your view of the Puritans is solely based on the works of Hawthorne, Arthur Miller, etc. then the chapter on Puritanism is a must. Finally, he considers arguments from Mark Knoll that the reformation is effectively over; that in general there is agreement between Catholics and Protestants on justification.

All is written from a very personable viewpoint. Reeves looks to the motivation of the various reformers. He does an excellent job differentiating between those reforms which came from a desire for be pure church, a desire for a pure theology, and a desire for political power. He seeks to present the reformers for who they were, not just what they did, and he succeeds.

Ultimately, Reeves argues for the heart of the reformation. Was it a negative movement of rebellion? Did it destroy or tear down? Reeves argues that it did not. It was not a movement to destroy but to build. It was not a movement away from Catholicism, but towards the Gospel. It is this that draws the reformers together and best describes the Reformation.

As more and more evangelical thought is influenced by the reformers, it is increasingly valuable to understand Reformation history. Reeve’s book is a great place to start.

Book Review: David Platt’s Radical

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“If you read one book this year, read the Bible. If you read two books this year, read Radical.” These were the words of a pastor friend of mine. It was not the first time someone recommended David Platt’s new book to me. I have listened to people talk about how challenging and moving the book is. I have heard it described as “dangerous” and I have listened to people talk of how God used this book to challenge them to huge steps of faith in their lives. I’ve also listened to very uneasy people question why their church suddenly wanted them to read this book. With such a buzz about it, I moved it to the front of the line of my reading list.

Dr. David Platt, pastor of the Church at Brook Hills, has been the envy of many pastors. That is, if pastors can be envious. When he became the pastor of the Church at Brook Hills he made national news as the youngest mega-church pastor. As success for a pastor is measured, Platt has it all. He has notoriety, an effective ministry, invitations to preach at large conferences and conventions, a large congregation to lead, lots of resources to do big ministries, and, unlike the average pastor, it is assumed that he has a large salary to boot. However, in Radical, Platt is quick to deny these things as any measure of success.

In this book, Platt challenges American Christianity with scripture. Where is the justification for spending so much money on luxuries and comfort, when there is a mission field and a clear command to go? These challenges do not come easy. He challenges everything from where money is spent to how the message is presented. Be warned, you may not like what he has to say. The hard part, however, is that he backs up what he has to say with scripture. We eventually must face the question: are we pursuing the American dream or Christ?

When I first began to read this, I wondered if this wasn’t a better book for other mega-churches. I can easily agree that those churches with lots of resources should better use their resources. Myself, on the other hand, I pastor a more average (or maybe smaller) church. Our church averages less than 100 people. We don’t bring in $100,000 in a year. Clearly, it is everything we have to keep things running. That reasoning may work if it were not for one thing. We are not judged according to what others have, or what we have, but the command we’ve been given. Even my church, with our limited resources, must admit that we don’t do all that we can for the mission to which our Lord has sent us.

Thus, Radical is a stinging book at times. It is ripe with stories of Christians that have far less and do far more; that face greater risks, and minister with greater abandon. In the end, I must admit that Platt is right. There is no way to claim to have surrendered our lives to Jesus and still live for ourselves. The book concludes with a challenge: Pray for the entire world, Read the entire Word, Spend time in a different context, Sacrifice your money for a specific purpose, and Commit to a multiplying community. I am praying through what that means for me. I strong recommend that you read this book and pray about the same.

Motive Makes the Difference

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Return, O LORD, deliver me! Oh, save me for Your mercies’ sake! For in death there is no remembrance of You; In the grave who will give You thanks? (Psalms 6:4, 5, NKJV).

Sometimes the motive of an action makes all the difference. In Desiring God, John Piper gives the example of the husband who arrives home on his anniversary with two-dozen roses. His wife is thrilled until the husband says, “Think nothing of it, it’s my duty as a husband.” It is the heart of our actions that we ought to be concerned about, for there is the difference between love and duty; between devotion and bargaining.

To some extent, I’m afraid that modern evangelism has ignored this in order to achieve a desired result. What is in a person’s heart is not as important as whether or not they walk an aisle, say a prayer, get baptized, etc. We’ve watered down talk of a changing of a heart to simply repeating a prayer and really “meaning it.”

Much of the focus of evangelism has been Heaven and Hell. Certainly, Heaven and Hell are realities of the Gospel, but what is lost when we convince a person to fear Hell and desire Heaven? Perhaps they strike a bargain or attempt to work out a deal, but is there a changing of the heart? Is there a desire for God that was once destroyed by sin?

In the sixth Psalm, David prays from weakness and brokenness for salvation. It might be easy to point out that in verses 4-5, David explains the urgency of such a prayer by showing that death is final. However, I think there is something more. The motive of David’s urgency is not his own condition in death, but whether or not God is remembered and praised. Motives make all the difference.

What will become of evangelism when the goal is no longer heaven, but the love and worship of the Lord?

Book Review: Mark Dever’s 9 Marks of a Healthy Church

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I have not had many books recommended to me more frequently than Mark Dever’s Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. As I read it, I could easily see that many of my friends and colleagues have read it. They echo it continuously. Apparently, it bests states the driving philosophy of many pastors today.

Anytime I began to read a book which comes even remotely close to instruction on how a church should operate, I have to ask two questions: Is it biblically and doctrinally sound? Will it work in my church? Granted, if the answer to the first is no, then there is no need to ask the second. Most books of this category end up that way. They are written more towards how to grow a fortune 500 company than they are a church. I’m not sure their authors would argue that point. They may argue that it’s the method to examine; a method that can be applied regardless of doctrine. Thankfully, 9 Marks is not that book.

9 Marks is loaded with scripture references that back up every point. Mark Dever displays his amazing ability to draw a solid point from passages throughout the entire Bible. He does not ever simply pull a verse out of thin air, but rather exegetes scripture to his points. The book is well founded in scripture and teaches doctrine as much as anything. Is it sound? Absolutely! Will it work?

Thankfully, this is not a method book. Dever is simply presenting 9 characteristics of a healthy church. They are:

Expository Preaching
Biblical Theology
A Biblical Understanding of the Gospel
A Biblical Understanding of Conversion
A Biblical Understanding of Evangelism
Biblical Church Membership
Biblical Church Discipline
Biblical Discipleship
Biblical Church Leadership

The temptation is to treat this as a method book. As I read, I began making mental notes of things I needed to begin, end, change, etc. in my ministry. Of course, quick and drastic change is rarely lasting and almost always results in more damage than it set out to resolve, so this temptation is to be avoided. Rather than a method to be followed, consider these principles to be a guideline for evaluating a church. The chapter on discipleship excellently discusses this, as does the first appendix.

Once a church leader understands the shortcomings of a church in these nine areas, they work to improve. Each “mark” is based on another, so the pieces will fall into place. This is a great book for better understanding a biblical ecclesiology. I strongly recommend it not only for pastors, but anyone in church leadership.