May 27, 2022

The Evangelical Reformation

Here are Three Trends Evangelicals will face due to new revelations of the longterm Abuse Crisis:

1) Evangelical culture, especially in the south, was bound with constructs of hierarchical authority. More Evangelicals will now begin extricating themselves from those cultural ideologies.

2) Evangelism will become more difficult. The willingness of persons to receive a message is affected by perceptions of a speaker’s credibility. Listeners’ presumptions going into evangelistic conversations will be increasingly negative. The Evangelical voice has lost integrity.

3) The widespread argument going into the strident culture wars dominating the later Twentieth Century was that Evangelicals had a claim to moral probity. Those claims were buttressed through working alliances with Roman Catholics. Both Catholics and Evangelicals lost probity.

Catholics and Evangelicals have been able to bring the nation to see the moral problem with abortion. Now they face headwinds on every front of the culture wars. The pugilist attitude of culture war will be increasingly challenged by desire for more peaceful forms of engagement.


What are the Key Theological Emphases which will help Evangelicals build a better future? In my opinion, there are three recoveries that must be made:

1) Imago Dei — Humans treat other people  according to their understanding of who they are. We must recover our sacred dignity.

2) Divine Perfections — Evangelical Christians must recover a high anthropology, but a high anthropology depends upon a high theology, for human beings are created “in” the Image of God. We must dwell upon both divine transcendence and immanence, divine holiness and love, etc.

3) Discipleship — Evangelicals have been busy about evangelism and cultural engagement, but these are mere pieces of a greater truth. Christ Jesus commissioned his church to “make disciples.” Filling his commission depends entirely upon Christ’s presence and power, and teachings.

These theological recoveries are, of course, bound tightly with divine revelation and Holy Scripture. But make no mistake about it: Until Evangelicals recognize our errors and return to a radical dependence upon God, which results in Christians who look like Jesus, we will die.

April 15, 2022

If You Must Speak the Hard Words, Speak with a Humble Spirit

As with other pastors, against my preference for peace, the Lord sometimes called me to deliver a strong prophetic word to rebellion among his people. It always grieved me deeply to do so.

When I see controversial pastors revel with relish in the same task, I reevaluate myself. 

If my voice relishes the opportunity to blast the deceived… If the one conveying God’s Word speaks hard truths without love… Then I am not filled with God’s Holy Spirit but with my own spirit, and that is very dangerous.

What brings this to mind this morning is my devotion. Ezekiel was told, “These are the men who plot evil and give wicked advice… Therefore, prophesy against them. Prophesy, son of man!” (11:2,4)

When he did, one man died in judgment. But Ezekiel did not laugh, as I saw one pastor do. No, Ezekiel “fell facedown and cried out” on behalf of the people of God (v 13).

If I as a pastor do not love the people whom God loves—I mean really love them, such that I rush to rejoice and weep with them in their triumphs and trials—then I do not really shepherd them in his name.

Yes, brothers, let us speak God’s truth with power, but always with love, always recognizing we are all sinners saved by grace alone, we are all guilty in ourselves, and we come to the throne only by grace through faith in the humbled man on the cross. 

Only through his righteousness and resurrection do we have hope. 

Remember Him, remember yourself.

April 7, 2022

The Man with Jesus on His Chest

Suppressing my emotions as our daughter was disappearing, we turned our minds to this man’s needs.

Yesterday, as Karen and I sent our daughter from DFW airport to work with Afghan refugee children, a man came up asking for bus fare from the airport to Cleburne to see his mother.

We don’t really carry cash any more, so we were at a loss. He kindly walked away.

Another man walked up and gave us two waters as he couldn’t take them through security.

We watched our girl go.

Then I remembered someone recently gave me a $50 bill, which I stuck in my phone.

I chased the poor man down as he walked away. I gave him the bill. He started rejoicing, saying he could now see his mother and get a good meal, too.

I blessed him in the name of Jesus.

He stopped and said, “I believe in Jesus. I have Him with me, too.” Then he raised his shirt.

As several passersby stared in shock, the poor man revealed this large, intricate, and well-drawn tattoo of Jesus crowned and hanging on the cross emblazoned on his chest and side.

It was a light-hearted moment for me in the midst of a difficult time as I mourned my daughter.

I hope this poor man’s mother was glad to see her son. She is sick, and they had not seen each other for awhile. I know we will be glad to see our daughter again. In that, we were the same.

I will never forget the poor man with Jesus emblazoned all over his chest.

April 6, 2022

The Pharisaic Hermeneutic

A Short Essay on Pharisees in the Church Today:

There is nothing like a Pharisaic party to bind a church. They love, “The Law requires,” rather than “Jesus saves.”

“But some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses.’” 

Note the apostle’s enlightened response: “Now then, why are you testing God by putting a yoke on the disciples’ necks that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way they are.” Acts 15

Peter’s response was not a rejection of the Old Testament Word of God but a rejection of a legalistic hermeneutic. Legalism reduces Scripture to a static human law code, demotes Jesus to a supporting role, denies the priority of the gospel, and inhibits the saving proclamation.

The spirit who says, “You cannot do this,” in spite of the commandment of Jesus to all believers… in spite of the example of Jesus in everything He did… in spite of the call of Jesus upon each life—This is not the illumination of the Holy Spirit but the darkness of another spirit.

Theology Is for God’s People

I am happy to announce that the good people at B&H Publishing Group and I have contracted for a major 3-volume popular-level systematic theology.

The Lord has long impressed me with the truth that theology is the responsibility of his people in the local churches.

This conviction began under the preaching of pastor Wayne DuBose, now of Minden, Louisiana.

It was then reinforced by the teaching of James Leo Garrett of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Research on the biblical and historical doctrine of the priesthood of all believers with the ThM at Duke Divinity (on the continental Reformation) and the DPhil at University of Oxford (on the English Reformation) cemented this conviction. (The latter was published by Oxford University Press).

Significant pastorates in Texas, Louisiana, and North Carolina showed in practice the truth that our people in our local churches want to know how to think properly about God, his work in the world, and his Word. These pastorates above all developed a deep love to teach God’s Word.

When Lakeside Baptist Church Granbury called me to be their Teaching Pastor, I was overwhelmed with joy to ground academic theology in church theology. The combination of the roles of Teaching Pastor and Research Professor have proved beneficial for both classroom and pulpit.

In important ways, the ongoing Baptist struggle with theological modernism has been exacerbated by a divorce between church and academy. The churches rightly claim theology is for their use in worship, mission, teaching. The academies serve best when we support the churches.

The theological construction undergirding this conviction was written up for academic theological audiences in “The Formation of Christian Doctrine,” a detailed methodology published by B&H Academic in 2007. Theologians in the academy may consult that work for more detail.

Now, in my writing ministry, I plan to turn in the direction that, as my wife Karen Searcy Yarnell recently reminded me, Leo Garrett long hoped I would do: popular theology.

The American Evangelical and Southern Baptist academy is maturing theologically by leaps. Let us now build on that.

Stay tuned for more details from B&H Publishers in the next few years. For now, however, you know where my focus will be dedicated.

Theology is for God’s People.

March 5, 2022

The Ontology of Jesus Christ: A Lament for Modernity

The widespread effort in modern biblical scholarship to downplay the ontological and metaphysical claims of the New Testament terms, and thus their Trinitarian and Christological implications, is particularly frustrating and damaging to orthodoxy, in the academy and the church.

Take, for instance, Jesus’s self-referential uses of ἥκω (“I have come”) and of ἐγώ εἰμι (“I am”) in John’s Gospel. The first “denotes the coming of the deity to men” in the Greek world (Schneider), while the second explicates the Hebrew Tetragrammaton. Both invariably reveal Jesus is the eternal God.

However, because of the downgrade in modern commentary on John in particular, as seen for instance in the highly influential New Testament Theology of Rudolf Bultmann, scholars are checked in their full-throated affirmation and inhibited from a deep appreciation of Christ as God.

Instead, the modern commentaries focus upon the function of Jesus rather than the ontology and metaphysics of Jesus. Let us be clear: Jesus was pursued to death by the Israelite religious leaders precisely because of his ontological claims, his theological self-identification.

And if Jesus was willing to state his deity so clearly, then his followers must state his deity clearly, not merely as a datum but as a thoroughgoing identification.

Christ does not merely function as the means to our salvation. Christ is God, the theological end of salvation!

March 4, 2022

On Christian Freedom: The Sausage Affair

The Affair of the Sausages is as historically significant among the Reformed churches as Luther’s Nailing of the 95 Theses is among the Lutherans. On Ash Wednesday in 1522, Christoph Froschauer and his publishing team were physically tired after printing a new edition of the Letters of Paul. So Froschauer served his famished crew what he had on hand: hard meat sausages.

However, the medieval church’s laws regarding Lent required Christians to fast from eating meat, eggs, and cheese. When the Catholic authorities found out, Froschauer was arrested. Ulrich Zwingli, the preaching pastor at the Grossmünster in Zürich, had been at Froschauer’s place when this all happened. He had not himself participated but was ready to defend the freedom of others to participate.

Zwingli’s sermon, On Rejecting Lent and Protecting Christian Liberty from Man-Made Obligations, addressed the crisis. For Zwingli, the eating of meat at Lent is a matter of Christian freedom, as is choosing not to eat meat. The gospel of Jesus Christ frees people from self-justification. This includes the tradition of fasting for 40 days prior to the celebration of Easter.

For Zwingli, the choice to participate in Lent is a matter of “Christian Liberty.” The Good News sets the believer free from any effort to make himself or herself acceptable before God.

Zwingli’s passionate defense of Christian liberty in the practice (or not) of the Lent tradition led to the First Disputation, which in turn sparked the Swiss Reformation. Switzerland long remained the center of Reformed Christianity. The Anabaptists and the Baptists emerged primarily from the Reformed and related churches, so the theological lessons learned in 1522 belong to those traditions, too.

I agree with Zwingli in this matter: Observe Lent if you feel led to do so, but do not demand others observe Lent. Don’t observe Lent if you feel so led, but do not demand that others reject Lent to satisfy your own conscience. Celebrating Lent won’t help save you; neither will rejecting Lent save you. 

Trusting in the Gospel of Jesus Christ alone saves you. Everything else in the Christian life is free gravy, including sausage gravy on your biscuits, if you like.

 

February 27, 2022

Prayer for Ukraine

Lord God, King of Kings, Ruler of Rulers, Governor of All Things, we pray for peace, justice, and hope. 

We pray for the peoples of Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus. We pray for the area in Eastern Europe known by historians as the Borderlands and the Bloodlands, for Ukraine in particular. We pray for this nation of your precious image-bearers, comprised of Jews, Christians, and unbelievers, who suffered tens of millions of their own people dying due to Soviet starvation policies in the 1930s, under the genocidal armies of the anti-Semite Adolf Hitler in the 1940s, and the senseless purges of the anti-Christian Josef Stalin. We pray for these people, who are even now in the fourth day of a relentless assault on their very lives.

We pray, King of Kings, that you will protect the grandmothers cowering in their homes as missiles strike all around them, that you will provide for the mothers and babies seeking shelter even being born underground, that you will protect the men and women who block the advancing tanks with nothing but their own bodies. And we pray for the men and women who have taken up arms to defend the defenseless in their cities, villages, and farms.

We pray also you will empower the churches of your Son, Jesus Christ, to be bold in their witness to the only hope any human being has. We pray you will be with Yaroslav Pyzh and other Christian leaders as they convey both humanitarian relief and the gospel to the hundreds of thousands of women and children fleeing west toward safety. We pray you will be with Dasha and the many Christian missionaries from Ukraine who now find themselves classified as refugees in Africa and elsewhere with no way to check on their strife-torn families. We pray for the churches and synagogues who awake to find their places of worship were bombed.

We know that ultimately this conflict is not about man versus man but about the heavenly war in which Satan has declared a world rebellion against you, Lord God of Hosts. We pray you will shatter the demonic princes who mislead the nations. We pray you will not allow evil human leaders to prevail in this mortal conflict but bring them to justice by their own people. Please give all three nations democracy, personal liberty, freedom of conscience, and real religious liberty. Topple the tyrants, deliver the oppressed, elevate the lovers of liberty.

We pray for peace in our time. We pray for justice in our time. We pray for hope in eternity through faith in the Good News of Jesus Christ to be carried on every set of lips in Ukraine in our time. We pray for every ear in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine to hear and receive your forgiving love for all people through the Cross of Christ. We pray this horrific event will be the last of history’s brutalities visited upon these great nations and the beginning of worldwide revival even as we await your Second Coming, Lord Jesus.

Father in heaven, our hearts are broken. Hear our prayers in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord. Send your Spirit to execute justice, to heal the hurting, to offer life in the place of death.

______

Note: Today, Pastor Mark Forrest asked me to pray for Ukraine during our morning service at Lakeside Baptist Church. My prayer came immediately after we learned that the Russian Nuclear Forces had been put on alert. Many of the congregants have asked me for a copy of the prayer. Perhaps it will help you voice your own prayers for the Lord to intervene. As you pray, please remember the lessons of Daniel 10: There is a greater spiritual battle occurring above the visible events we see. God answers the prayers of his people. There is no need for his people to be afraid.