Monthly Archives: December 2013

CONSERVATIVES AND LIBERALS

Conservatism and liberalism have different understandings of human nature.

“Conservative, n.  A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.”

From Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary.  As quoted in Ralph C. Wood, Contending for the Faith, p. 30.

 

WORDS MATTER

Looking for a great Christmas present?  Get a copy of Booked by Karen Swallow Prior.  And while you are at it, buy a copy for yourself.  You will thank me later.  

Karen will soon come out with a book on Hannah More, writer, philanthropist, and so much more (no pun intended).

On Karen’s Twitter account, I found this wonderful quote from Hannah More:

“It is therefore no worthless part of education, even in a religious view, to study the precise meaning of words.”

ACCOUNTABILITY

I am grateful for friends who lovingly keep me in check.  Sometimes they probe into matters which make me uncomfortable, but I have no doubt they love me.

Many leaders (and I have seen it up close) do not have such accountability.  

Pray that you have Prov. 27:5,6 friends!

A SHORT, WELL-LIVED LIFE!

Ronnie blessed our family with his compelling “history of redemption” which you can see in the second link below. 

May God use Ronnie’s life and death to be a continuing witness of the greatness, joy, and wisdom of living for Jesus Christ alone.

http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/12/05/21770272-very-much-loved-american-teacher-ronnie-smith-slain-in-benghazi

http://www.historyofredemption.org/

http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/when-we-send-a-person-to-his-death

PLEASE POST YOUR SIN HERE!

It is always good to remember (and I mean many times each day!) that we are all sinners.  It devolves so easily into a religious platitude, but it is the undeniable truth of Scripture.

I may not struggle with a particular sin which is a wonderful mercy of God to me.  Unfortunately, this can make me unduly harsh with others who do struggle with that sin.

One of the best antidotes I’ve applied when I sense my unrighteous judgment taking over (because there is a righteous one) is to remember areas where I am probably more tempted than many Christians.  It is humbling.  And it is healing.  

As a person who has the gift of discernment focusing on my own sin brings a much greater level of patience and love when I am in acute disagreement with someone.

I am not going to name names, but will say I have had many wonderful and mutually respectful conversations with various people over the plagiarism issue.  

Though my own perspective has not changed, I can say my many conversations have been truly free of rancor, name-calling, and straw men.  

What a tribute to God’s great generosity!

 

IN A WORD, BAFFLED

I had several candid, and I believe mutually respectful conversations about the charge Mark Driscoll plagiarized.

There is one thing that absolutely baffles me.

Why don’t key people simply say something like, “Plagiarism is serious.  No one is above scrutiny.  Let’s pray God is truly honored.”

It didn’t need to be long.  It didn’t need to be specific.  But massive amounts of silence is baffling.  

One thing that makes me wonder how healthy things can be is when the constantly quoted Carl Trueman has all been ignored, even though he has written several, important pieces.  Thabiti Anyabwile is the only major figure I could find who quoted Trueman on the celebrity problem in evangelicalism.

Yes, I am aware of Kevin DeYoung’s recent piece and the helpful interaction of Justin Taylor.  But so many others who tweet and blog on all kinds of things are absolutely mum.

Finally, some have said this needed to be handled privately and not in the blogosphere.  Granted, Janet Mefferd should have approached Driscoll privately.  She has acknowledged as much.  However, plagiarism and ghostwriting are rife within evangelicalism.  I have talked to quite a few leaders about ghostwriting and publicly wrote about my own experience:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/08/24/is-ghost-writing-unchristian/

Everyone agrees ghostwriting is a huge problem.  And that gets us back to the blogosphere and “Christian journalism” as Carl Trueman has written about:

http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2013/12/04/areopagitica/

Many Christian leaders know about the problem of ghostwriting.  They know it is pervasive within the evangelical camp, but it is almost never talked about.  So the track record of Christian leaders addressing plagiarism and ghostwriting is not particularly strong.  

When we are willing to speak out about every imaginable issue, yet disregard something so wrong and rampant, there is a need for others to say what is clearly problematic, but clearly not popular.  

So with all the problems of the Internet and social media, we ought to be glad for the  potential good which can come from these kinds of checks and balances. 

 

 

THE AX IS FALLING!

I am 55.  My lovely wife is 53.  And she is lovely so many ways, not the least of which she loves to read (more below).

We have a very good library: diverse and some of the best books in their respective categories.  It was put together over a lifetime.  Our library did not cost a lot because we have gone to library sales, used bookstores, received books from friends and family, and get many wonderful books to review from publishers.

I read on Scot McKnight’s blog that Michael Quicke is “retiring” from teaching at Northern.  In one of Quicke’s posts about his move back to England, he talks about the painful process of downsizing his library.  Quicke has about ten years on me, but for years I’ve been whittling a little bit every month to make the process a bit easier.  Not easy to be sure.  For the foreseeable future our library will most likely hover around 2500-3000 books.  Without my regular whittling it might be twice that size by now, and much more painful to address.

As I get older, I find myself rereading more frequently, especially the books which have truly formed my convictions.  And the books which showcase a craftsman at work.

So I will keep chopping up our library with my metaphorical ax.

Here is Quicke’s wonderful, but poignant piece:

http://michaelquicke.blogspot.com/2013/11/changing-life-4.html

If you don’t want have time to read the entire piece, consider these words of wisdom:

“And saying goodbye sometimes comes with cruel reality checks as I realize I cannot possibly read all that I once hoped to delive into.  For example, I have collected books on particular subjects that I was going to dive into,  that I even imagined that I could write books about, but I now realize time is running out! I remember an athletic deacon in my first church saying that he had suddenly realized that certain things would never happen for him, like playing cricket for England. I remember being amused, but then realizing he was being serious.  (I appreciate US friends would not likely take this seriously anyway!)   Yes, what once seemed limitless pastures are now ring-fenced.  I am grateful that I shall still be able to graze but I can see a fence.”

 

MIXING IT UP WITH BILL BRIGHT AND MARK DRISCOLL

If you need some context, radio host, Janet Mefferd, charged popular preacher, Mark Driscoll, with plagiarism.  You can read more about it in the link below, the three pieces so far from Carl Trueman (see my Dec. 2 post), and several things at www.janetmefferd.com.

http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2013/11/27/mark-driscoll-silent-amid-mounting-allegations-of-plagiarism/

One troubling aspect is the widespread silence among the Reformed community. 

Before you read my own reflections, one editor wrote me a gracious note explaining the reason he would pass on my piece:

Thanks for sending this along to X.  I love the point you’re making.  Let me say, as editor of X, I want more of our celebrities to absorb this message. It would save me a lot of grief.

Unfortunately, this piece won’t work to that end.  It inadvertently makes you the hero of the story, and it will get readers to wondering why you used yourself as a chief example.  This is certainly not your intent, but it will be what is heard. 

Sorry this didn’t work out.  I’m glad we’ve been introduced, and I trust our paths will cross some day.

Here is my response:

Thanks.  I certainly understand your point.  

However, I do think evangelicalism desperately needs more people who can say, albeit with an understanding of their own sin, “to follow me as I follow Christ Jesus.”  I have loads daily to repent of, but do wish in this area more Christians would in fact follow my own example.  

Now on to my own reflections…

Bill Bright started Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru) in 1951.  A former businessman, Bright caught a vision for reaching college students with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

As a college student, I often heard Bill Bright speak at conferences.  His messages were simple and became predictable over time.  He seemed a bit naïve and out of touch with the complexities of college ministry at a secular school, but I never doubted his sincerity.

After seminary, I joined the full-time staff of Cru.  I was placed as the campus director at Stanford University.  It was a trial by fire as my training for this role came after being in this position for an entire year.  I was greatly helped by many wise and patient people.

For various reasons, Bill Bright took a personal interest in the ministry at Stanford.  And trust me, it was not because we were the biggest!  He even visited us for an intimate luncheon.  After the meal, our small group of about twenty peppered Bright with all kinds of questions.  Stanford students are not known for pulling their punches.  One student waxed on about the name Campus Crusade for Christ.  The name needed to change.  There was way too much baggage from the annals of history.  Bill Bright listened attentively and then shocked all of us with his disarming response: “That makes sense. What should we rename it?”  This was the 1980s, long before the change to the abbreviated Cru.  A stunned silence filled the room.  No one had anything to offer by way of a change.  Bright then invited the students and staff to write him with any ideas they might have for making Cru better.  Suffice it to say, those who were skeptical about Bill Bright’s approach going into the meeting were decidedly changed upon leaving.

A few years after our luncheon, I found myself in a hotel ballroom with the full-time Cru staff who ministered throughout the state of California.  There were about one hundred of us.  Bill Bright was addressing us on various issues.  Towards the end of the talk, Bright rather abruptly shifted to speaking about the “drinking policy” of Cru.  Bright’s personal convictions about drinking alcohol were well known by those in the room.  He did not want any full-time staff drinking under any circumstances whatsoever. He went on to say that if we knew of any staff who drink, we were to tell them to stop.  If they were unwilling to do so, they would be required to leave.  It was the most animated I’d ever seen Bill Bright.   

Bill Bright closed by asking if there were any questions.  A few softball questions were initially thrown his way, but I was troubled.  I was sitting in the back of the long, rectangular room.  I raised my hand high so as to be easily spotted.

I knew, as most in the room knew, that there was in fact freedom to drink. The official policy of Cru did not prohibit drinking.  

My give and take with Bill Bright started out with voicing my respect for his reasons regarding abstinence from alcohol.  That said, I wanted him to clarify whether he was articulating the official policy of Cru or simply conveying his own personal desire.

Dr. Bright did not address the nub of my question. He simply gave reasons why he personally did not want Cru staff to drink.  I pressed him on the issue.  At this point I had little doubt many in the room were not happy with me for challenging Bill Bright.  After the meeting, my hunch was confirmed.

After going back and forth several times with Bright underscoring the dangers of drinking, he conceded that this was in fact not Cru’s policy, but his own deeply held conviction.  As we finished, Bright graciously paid me a public compliment.  He said I was a person he could trust to tell the truth.  

Over the years, other opportunities have presented themselves to speak up about “sacred cow” issues.  Sadly, I have seen many men in positions of leadership freeze when the opportunity came their way.  My own dad modeled in more ways than I can mention here how it is always right to stand up for what is right.  By God’s grace, I have not been too tempted to be silent by the consequences which many times come from saying unpopular things.  And the cost at times has been significant.  And yes, I remind myself regularly to “take heed lest I fall” for the temptation to be quiet when one should speak needs to be vigilantly monitored.

Speaking “truth to power” is never easy.  The possibility of being tagged with jealously over someone’s superior status, making a name for yourself by questionable means, or being labelled as having a martyr complex are all too real.  The difficulty becomes more acute when the one needing the challenge is surrounded by those who benefit in various ways from that particular association. 

The recent controversy over whether Mark Driscoll plagiarized is not really of much interest to me.  Plagiarism is certainly a serious matter, but I can imagine how Driscoll may have been sloppy with his citations.  I leave it for others to decide.

What I do find troubling is how silent the so-called Neo-Reformed community has been up to this point. The quick and incisive commentary of Carl Trueman is a breath of fresh air, but his is pretty much a lone voice.  Yes, there are others like the jolly gadflies at Pyromaniacs, but they are not really insiders like Trueman.  Like Driscoll, Trueman has written for Crossway.   Trueman is also friends with several of the Neo-Reformed and even speaks at some of the same conferences.  Those relationships however, did not hinder Trueman from saying what he labels “the celebritydrome of the evangelical subculture.”  Trueman cited Driscoll as a “classic case in point.”

It is a sign of health not disloyalty when friends within the same institutions are willing to challenge one another.  All of us need accountability and history demonstrates that leaders typically get the least amount.  We are wise to remember the words of Isaiah: “Stop regarding man whose breath is in his nostrils, for why should he be esteemed?”

I have no doubt Carl Trueman would have appreciated my willingness to challenge Bill Bright, as I am deeply grateful for his willingness to challenge Mark Driscoll.