Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Evangelicals: Children, Education and the Poor are Not Priorities

According to the latest survey from the Barna Group, evangelicals in America do not consider children, education and poor people as priorities ... while non-evangelical Americans consider these three issues as the most important issues facing America over the next decade.

The top priorities for evangelicals? The health of Christian churches, "upgrading the state of marriage and families," and improving spiritual conditions in America.

Jesus himself taught that his followers are to care for children and the poor. Are evangelicals too consumed with themselves to the point of being unable to see the needs of people around them? Are non-Christians in America more in tune with Jesus' worldview than are many Christians?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Faith and Money

Recently Colorado Christian University fired a professor for daring to question free enterprise. The school's president, Bill Armstrong, explained the firing by essentially declaring that Jesus teaches free enterprise, and therefore free enterprise is a foundational principle of the school.

Of course, a private school can do as they wish. But ironically, Colorado Christian's claim to be based on a biblical foundation references the following verse:

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - His good, pleasing and perfect will." Romans 12:2 (NIV)

For some odd reason, school administration does not seem to recognize that capitalism - merits notwithstanding - is one of those worldly "patterns" that Paul refers to.

Today's young generation, on the other hand, seem to realize the fallacy of placing one's faith in the accumulation of money and things. A nationwide survey of college students conducted by the Associated Press and MTV, reveals that youths care more about family and religion than sex and materialism. In what may be surprising to many Americans, "almost no one replied 'money' when young people were asked what makes them happy." Instead, young people pointed primarily to relationships with family and friends as their source of happiness. Religion also ranked high as a source of happiness.

Perhaps Bill Armstrong should listen to his students. They just might be able to teach him a thing or two about not conforming to our materialistic - and worldly - culture.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Separating Marriage from Government

It is now old news (from a 2000 Barna survey) that conservative Christians have higher divorce rates than any other religious groups, atheists and agnostics. And it is also old news that Baptists have higher divorce rates than any other established denomination.

While Southern Baptists continue to deny their high divorce rates, Ron Barrier, Spokesperson for American Atheists, declared of the Barna survey: "These findings confirm what I have been saying these last five years. Since Atheist ethics are of a higher caliber than religious morals, it stands to reason that our families would be dedicated more to each other than to some invisible monitor in the sky. With Atheism, women and men are equally responsible for a healthy marriage. There is no room in Atheist ethics for the type of 'submissive' nonsense preached by Baptists and other Christian and/or Jewish groups. Atheists reject, and rightly so, the primitive patriarchal attitudes so prevalent in many religions with respect to marriage."

Fast forward seven years, to the present. Baptist Press, the promotion arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, is now publishing about one story a day that deals with the topic of marriage. Southern Baptist leaders, in short, seem to be infatuated with their own "sins," condemning others for what their own are extremely guilty of. Or perhaps they are trying to be disingenuous, hopeful that their rhetoric will blind the world to the sins of Baptists.

Yet there is another dimension to the Southern Baptist marriage propaganda, as Southern Baptist leaders routinely seek to use government money and muscle to force others to do that of which their own are the worst offenders. For Southern Baptist leaders to claim that they are the champions and guardians of traditional marriage is like a fox claiming to be the champion and guardian of the hen house. But at least the fox doesn't solicit tax dollars to cover his dirty deeds.

John Fife, a retired Presbyterian minister from Tucson, Arizona, suggests that the time has come to separate marriage from government by recognizing only civil unions, and leaving marriage to the church:

So how do we begin to clean up this marriage mess?

How about going back to a basic American value and tradition - the separation of church and state?

The state should confine its interest to the legal registration of couples in civil unions. Those couples would then avail themselves of all the legal rights and responsibilities that a registered civil union would provide.

The state could legislate certain qualifications for civil unions that are in the state's interest (no polygamy), but could not define marriage for the church and could not discriminate against any groups.

Marriage would become solely a matter of faith and the traditions of diverse religious communions.

Marriage vows would be restored to sacred vows before "God and these witnesses" within a community of faith interpreting its own sacred texts.

It seems that Fife is thinking more like a Baptist than many Baptists today.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Interpretations of the Baptist History Celebration

The diversity among the Baptists gathered here at First Baptist Church Charleston is telling, resulting in different accounts of just what is going on here. Yet I continue to sense a definite Calvinistic bent, followed by fundamentalist and Landmarkist influences, to the overall program. Tom Nettles further confirmed this observation last night, interpreting the Philadelphia Confession as the vehicle for spreading the 1689 Second London Confession in American Baptist life of the 19th century both North and South, opposing the heresy of Arminianism. In fact, all three Southern Baptists participating in the plenary sessions are from the Calvinistic Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (two other Southern Baptists, breakout speakers, are not Calvinists, that I am aware of). In addition, the absence of Free Will Baptists at this gathering also is noteworthy.

Indeed, it is odd to see Primitive and Landmark publications (including the Trail of Blood) for sale alongside Judson Press. On the other hand, having the smaller Baptist groups represented here is refreshing. The gathering together of historians from across the theological spectrum of Baptists in North America, in and of itself, makes this meeting worthwhile. Should there be another meeting such as this, Free Will Baptists should be invited, and women historians need to be on the program (none are speaking here in the plenary sessions, and only two, that I am aware, are speaking in breakouts).

Few are blogging about this event, but their observations are noteworthy:

Tony Cartledge notes the disproportionately large number of Primitive Baptists at this meeting.

Southern Baptist Pastor Steve Weaver takes exception to Leonard and Brackney. A Calvinist, Weaver otherwise is excited about the Celebration meeting.

Perhaps others will weigh in after the Celebration concludes

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Ghosts Past and Present

The First Baptist Church of Charleston, founded in 1682, is the oldest Baptist church in the South. Next door to the church lives an 18th century ghost; so says the historical plaque. On the other side of the ghost resides the pastor of First Baptist, a rather young man. This morning, Ann Judson, or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof, appeared in the midst of the morning gathering of the Baptist History Celebration. The past and present, the dead and the living, dwell together in harmony here in historic Charleston as we are surrounded by history.

Bill Leonard, now speaking, joked that the widely diverse group of Baptist historians presently gathered at FBC Charleston are able to come together because "we only talk about dead people, and they are not a threat to us." Speaking on the topic of "Understanding Our Global Witness," Leonard unequivocally declared that the late 18th century / early 19th century missions movement led Baptist Calvinists to "change their theology." And although some modern day Calvinist Baptists uphold Andrew Fuller as a staunch Calvinist, Leonard argues that Fuller and "Fullerism" opposed and presented a sharp challenge to traditional Calvinism.

I suspect that if a question and answer time were allowed following Leonard's remarks, his views of certain dead Baptists would be challenged by some in attendance this morning. Perhaps dead Baptists can be a threat to Baptists today, after all. But for now we all sit in harmony in downtown Charleston. Nonetheless, at the end of this day, Calvinist historian Tom Nettles will have today's last word. So the future has been predetermined - by someone.

Diverse Baptist Historians Gather in Charleston

I am sitting in the box pews of the sanctuary of First Baptist Church, Charleston, South Carolina, surrounded by Southern Baptists, Cooperative Baptists, American Baptists, African-American Baptists, Independent Fundamentalist Baptists, Landmark Baptists, Canadian Baptists, and probably others that I've not yet identified. The Baptist History Celebration, as it is called, is one of the more ideologically diverse gatherings of North American Baptists I've witnessed, although the annual gatherings of the Baptist History and Heritage Society witnesses similar diversity.

The occasion of this meeting is the 300th anniversary of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, America's first Baptist association. And the meeting is not free of ideological slant. Gary Long, srict Calvinist and the publisher of Particular Baptist Press, led the way in putting together this event. The Calvinist/Reformed slant shows: last night the three-day conference opened with a profile paper on John Gill, renowned hypercalvinist British Baptist (although last night Gill, rather than hypercalvinist, was somewhat touchy-feely, full of humility and piety). The remainder of early Baptists highlighted last night were also Reformed, although well-known Baptist historian Bill Brackney, the featured speaker, clearly noted that tremendous diversity existed among 17th and 18th century Baptists (read: not all, by any stretch, were Calvinists).

The Calvinist slant notwithstanding, the roster of speakers (in addition to Brackney) includes such noted Baptist historians as Bill Leonard, Edwin Gaustad and Tom Nettles. Independent and Landmark Baptists are also represented.

Last year, when describing what this meeting would be like, Gary Long, visibly excited, told me that "Baptists may not be able to agree on anything else, but we can agree on our history." I found that a rather odd statement, as our differences in Baptist life have much to do with competing interpretations (and emphases) of our history. But perhaps he meant that Baptist historians can at least agree that our denominational history is important.

Finally, this Charleston gathering marks the beginning of Baptists Today's foray into blogging. Tony Cartledge, recently retired as editor of the North Carolina Biblical Recorder and now writing for Baptists Today, headlines the new Baptists Today Blogs, offering his initial take on the Baptist History Celebration.