In Case You Missed It

Recently at The Gospel Coalition, Dr. Bruce Ashford shared how Abraham Kuyper, a Dutch Prime Minister changed his life. Dr. Ashford writes:

Rarely will a reader be trampled by a herd of evangelicals stampeding toward the Abraham Kuyper section of the bookstore. Though there are a number of reasons (like the impediment caused by display stands full of Test-a-mints and Precious Moments figurines), perhaps no reason is more important than this: We Americans rarely read old books, and Kuyper’s books are old.

 

Kuyper lived in 19th-century Holland, served as a pastor, founded a Christian university, started a newspaper, served in Parliament and as the prime minister, and wrote influential books on theology, culture, and politics. His deepest convictions might be summed up in one sentence:Jesus Christ is Lord of all, and because of that fact, our allegiance to him should shape not only the private but also the public aspects of our lives. If Christ is Lord, he’s not just Lord over private spirituality and church attendance, but also Lord over public affairs like art, science, business, politics, economics, and education. Reading Kuyper got me started on the path toward viewing Christ’s lordship as directly relevant to public life.

 

Dayton Hartman recently posted an article at Acts29 titled: “Pastors and Culture.”

I had a brief stint as the manager of a Christian bookstore. One day, as I spoke with a customer about our music selection (while comparing Christian artists to their secular counterparts), it dawned on me that much of what we were selling wasn’t good. The issue was the derivative quality of the content. Many artists weren’t focused on creating good music; instead they sought to emulate the style of a certain secular artist.

 

The rest of the day, I noticed myself and associates making statements like, “If you like Youtube, you will love Godtube,” or, “If you like Stephen King, then you will feel right at home reading Frank Peretti’s latest novel.” It was jarring. I was suddenly confronted with the harsh reality that Christians spend far too much time consuming secular culture or cheap Christian subcultures instead of producing good culture. We parrot the culture around us. We look like they do and sound like they do, but we claim there’s something about us that makes everything different: Jesus. But where’s the difference?

 

At the Intersect Project website, Laura Thigpen shares five reasons why Christians should be more engaged about the environment.

As conversations increase about Christians’ engagement with culture, our scope of understanding what “culture” includes continues to broaden. Yet one cultural topic that we often neglect is the environment.

 

My conversations with my friend Carly Abney have helped me see this deficiency. Carly is an NC State student finishing her degree in Sustainable Materials and Technology. She is passionate about Christ and His Church, and she’s passionate about the environment and what it means for Christians to be good stewards of God’s creation.

 

In her degree path, Carly has seen environmentalists express apathy and skepticism toward Christ and the gospel because their experiences with Christians on the topic have been less than winsome. Even so, Carly sees the value and importance of the Christian voice in these conversations, particularly when Christians are willing to enter them with a high view of the gospel and a fundamental understanding of how God views creation.

 

In her own words, here’s some practical advice from Carly to help us think better about the environment.

 

Keelan Cook posted at The People’s Next door explaining why Christians need to get out more. Keelan writes:

Adult Americans have a real hard time making friends, at least that is what most recent research claims. There are reasons. Interpersonally speaking, our lifestyle choices have hemmed us in. The shift in America toward single-family housing, the total dependence on automobiles, and the seemingly endless amount of land we have to develop spreads us out and walls us in. While it all makes sense, it certainly has its downsides.

 

This walling off of people from each other has significant social consequences. It is most likely one reason our cultural and political views are increasingly atomized. Many people only participate in interpersonal relationships with people who are like them. If we choose not to, we no longer have to interact with people different than us. It also leaves people with a sense of loneliness, despite the fact that we are more connected than ever through a web of social media.

 

For Christians, we have an even more important reason to push against this state of existence. We have a gospel reason. Christian, if you are like me, you need to get out more.

 

Aaron Earls published an article earlier this week asking: “Who can cast a stone at Hillary Clinton’s selfie takers?

2016 has been a divisive year, but one photo brought virtually everyone together over the weekend. No, it was the adorable photos of Michelle Obama and President George W. Bush embracing. That image made at least one writer lose his mind.  It was this photo of young people with their backs all turned, taking a selfie with Hillary Clinton.

 

Upon seeing the photo the collective internet exploded in annoyance and rage at the self-absorbed millennials who could not be bothered to turn face the influential person in their midst.

 

Ligonier Ministries recently put up a brilliant website using data from a recent Lifeway Research project discussing the state of theology.

What do Americans believe about God, salvation, ethics, and the Bible? Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research partnered to find out. These are the fundamental convictions that shape our society.

Some Thoughts on Southern Baptists, Baptism, and Communion

When I teach Baptist history, I argue that there are three perennial debates among Baptists. The first (and oldest) is soteriological: where should we fall on the spectrum of beliefs historically identified as Calvinism and Arminianism? The second is related to the application of a key Baptist distinctive: what is the best way to articulate and defend liberty of conscience for all people? The third is ecclesiological: what is the relationship between baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and (sometimes) church membership? All three are alive and well among contemporary Southern Baptists.

LifeWay Research released a study yesterday demonstrating that a slight majority (52%) of the Southern Baptist pastors they polled believe that any professing believer can participate in communion. Only about a third of those polled (35%) believe that baptism is prerequisite to the Lord’s Supper. Still others advocated other positions, which are less relevant to this post. (The poll also had some interesting statistics about how frequently Southern Baptists celebrate communion, but that’s another topic for another day.)

What is interesting about LifeWay’s findings is that they suggest a disconnect between what the Baptist Faith and Message (2000) affirms and what is practiced by the majority of our churches. The BF&M says of baptism that, “Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.” This language is present in all three versions of the BF&M and is similar to language used in most Baptist confessions except the Second London Confession and its daughter confessions, all of which are silent on this issue.

So according to LifeWay Research, a majority of Southern Baptist churches practice some form of open communion, even though the BF&M affirms close communion. Frankly, I’m not surprised by these findings. I’ve long argued that most Southern Baptists, whether by conviction or apathy, practice some form of open communion. This was not the case two generations ago, but the momentum has been in the direction of open communion since at least the 1970s.

There are probably many reasons why so many of our churches have moved in this direction. Bart Barber suggests some on his blog (see also the comments by Malcolm Yarnell, David Rogers, and Ben Stratton). Steve Weaver offers a brief defense of close communion, urges churches to consider taking their confessions more seriously, and pleads with Southern Baptists of different views to work together. Dave Miller at SBC Voices reported on the study and offered his own support for open communion, though the comments section demonstrates the variety of perspectives on this issue.

I think I have an interesting vantage point on this debate as a professor who teaches Baptist history courses. As best as I can tell, a sizable majority of my students have never thought about this issue prior to my class. Once we start talking about the debate, most of them lean towards open communion and have a hard time believing that close communion advocates would restrict the Lord’s Table to a particular group (i.e. baptistic Christians). Some, however, hold to close communion and have a hard time believing that open communion advocates would depart from the New Testament example of conversion, baptism, membership, communion. I actually think LifeWay’s statistical breakdown (52% open communion, 35% close communion) is fairly close to what I’ve observed in my classes among students who offer their opinion on these matters (I’d guess my students who speak up are 60/40 in favor of open communion).

The elephant in the room, of course, is the Baptist Faith and Message. Some will argue we should revise the BF&M because the majority is out of step with the confession. Others will argue that the BF&M is descriptive rather than prescriptive and local churches are autonomous anyway, so nothing should be done with the confession at this time. Still others will argue that the BF&M offers the more biblical position and suggest that open communion churches need to revisit this issue. I would agree with the latter two positions.

I do want to mention one word about our denominational ministries, however. While the BF&M is descriptive in terms of our churches, it is prescriptive in terms of denominational servants such as missionaries and seminary professors. In other words, denominational employees are expected, in theory, to believe the entirety of the BF&M. I think it is at least worth asking if trustee boards should be allowed to grant exceptions on this issue in light of the fact that a majority of Southern Baptist churches practice communion differently than the BF&M affirms. I’ve actually argued, in print, that trustee boards should have the freedom to allow exceptions on this very issue, since it seemed to me at the time (and has been verified by LifeWay Research) that the BF&M is out of step with what most Southern Baptist churches practice.*

For what it’s worth, I’ve written fairly often on this issue in the past. I wrote a descriptive essay for Between the Times titled “Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Southern Baptists: Some Options.” I’ve also written a prescriptive white paper for Southwestern Seminary’s Center for Theological Research titled “Baptism as a Prerequisite to the Lord’s Supper.” I’ve also written a prescriptive blog post for my personal blog titled “Consistent Communion: Baptism as a Prerequisite to the Lord’s Supper.” I would also refer you to Russ Moore’s excellent essay “Table Manners: The Welcoming Catholicity of Closed Communion.” See also the positions defended by Mark Coppenger and Paul Chitwood in “The Lord’s Supper: Who Should Partake?

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* See Nathan A. Finn, “Priorities for a Post-Resurgence Convention,” in David S. Dockery, ed., Southern Baptist Identity: An Evangelical Denomination Faces the Future (Crossway, 2009), pp. 277-279.