Monthly Archives: October 2009

 

Oct

31

2009

Trevin Wax|2:13 pm CT

N.T. Wright on Protestant-Catholic Relations

Earlier this week, Christianity Today published an article on how the current debate on justification is reigniting questions about Roman Catholicism. Francis Beckwith and Taylor Marshall indicated that the New Perspective is a major step toward the Catholic view. N.T. Wright gave a response, only a snippet of which was included in the CT article. Here is the longer version of his remarks.

1. I’m on sabbatical writing Volume IV of my big series, on Paul; so I don’t have time for more than a quick response.

2. “Sacramental, transformational, communal, eschatological”? If you gave me that list and said “Where in the Christian world would you find that?” I could easily and truthfully answer:

  • (i) in the best of the Reformed tradition — spend a couple of days at Calvin College, or read Jamie Smith’s new book, and you’ll see;
  • (ii) in much of the best of the charismatic movement, once it’s shed its low-church prejudices and discovered how much God loves bodies;
  • (iii) in the best of… dare I say it… Anglicanism… ;
  • (iv) in some bits (not all) of the Emerging Church movement . . .

3. Trent said both much more and much less than this.

  • Sacramental, yes, but in a muddled way with an unhelpful ontology;
  • Transformational, yes, but far too dependent on unbiblical techniques and practices;
  • Communal, yes, but don’t let the laity (or the women) get any fancy ideas about God working new things through them;
  • Eschatological? Eschatology in the biblical sense didn’t loom large, and indeed that was a key element in the Reformers’ protest: the once-for-allness of the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection as producing, not a new system for doing the same stuff over and over, but a new world.

Trent, and much subsequent RC theology, has had a habit of never spring-cleaning, so you just live in a house with more and more clutter building up, lots of right answers to wrong questions (e.g. transsubstantiation) which then get in the way when you want to get something actually done.

In particular, Trent gave the wrong answer, at a deep level, to the nature/grace question, which is what’s at the root of the Marian dogmas and devotions which, despite contrary claims, are in my view neither sacramental, transformational, communal nor eschatological. Nor biblical.

The best RCs I know (some of whom would strongly disagree with the last point, some would strongly agree) are great conversation partners mainly because they have found ways of pushing the accumulated clutter quietly to one side and creating space for real life. But it’s against the grain of the Tridentine system, in my view. They aren’t allowed to say that but clearly many of them think it. Joining in is just bringing more of your own clutter to an already confused and overcrowded room…

4. I am sorry to think that there are people out there whose Protestantism has been so barren that they never found out about sacraments, transformation, community or eschatology. Clearly this person needed a change. But to jump to Rome for that reason is very odd.

It reminds me of the fine old German NT scholar Heinrich Schlier, who found that the only way to be a Protestant was to be a Bultmannian, so, because he couldn’t take Bultmann, became a Roman Catholic; that was the only other option in his culture. Good luck to him; happily, most of us have plenty of other options.

To say “Wow, I want that stuff, I’d better go to Rome” is like someone suddenly discovering (as I’m told Americans occasionally do — sorry, cheap shot) that there are other countries in the world and so getting the first big boat he finds in New York to take him there . . . when there were plenty of planes lined up and waiting at JFK. Rome is a big, splendid, dusty old ocean liner, with lots of grand cabins, and, at present, quite a fine captain and some excellent officers — but also quite a few rooms in need of repair. Yes, it may take you places, but it’s slow and you might get seasick from time to time. And the navigators have been told that they must never acknowledge when they’ve been going in the wrong direction . . .

5. I spent three very happy weeks as the Anglican observer at the Vatican’s Synod of Bishops last October. They were talking about the Bible: about how for so long they have more or less banned the laity from reading or studying it, and how now they want to change all that, to insist that every Catholic man, woman, child, cat and dog should have the Bible in their own mother tongue and be taught to read it, study it, pray with it, individually and together. Hallelujah! Who knows what might happen!

Question: why did nobody say this in 1525? If they had, we’d have been saved a lot of bother.

Let’s engage cheerfully in as much discussion with our Roman friends as we can. They are among my best ecumenical conversation partners, and some of them are among my dear friends. But let’s not imagine that a renewed biblical theology will mean we find ourselves saying “You guys were right after all” just at the point where, not explicitly but actually, they are saying that to us . . .

 
 

Oct

31

2009

Trevin Wax|3:34 am CT

Kingdom People – October 2009 in Review

Articles

Book Reviews

LiveBlogging from the “Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, and the Future of Denominationalism” Conference at Union University

  1. Ed Stetzer: “Denominationalism – Is There a Future?”
  2. Jim Patterson: “Reflections on 400 Years of Baptist Movement”
  3. Hal Poe: “The Gospel and Its Meaning”
  4. Timothy George: “The Faith, My Faith, The Church’s Faith”
  5. Duane Litfin: “The Future of American Evangelicalism”
  6. Ray Van Neste: “Pastoral Ministry in SBC Life”
  7. Robert Smith: “The Church’s One Foundation”
  8. Mark DeVine: “Emergent or Emerging”
  9. Danny Akin: “The Future of the SBC”
  10. Michael Lindsay: “Denominationalism in a Changing America”
  11. Jerry Tidwell: “Missions and Evangelism”
  12. David Dockery: “So Many Denominations…”
  13. Panel Discussion
  14. Nathan Finn: “Passing On the Faith”
  15. Albert Mohler: “Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, and the Future of Denominationalism”

Interviews

Interview with Dr. Marvin Olasky, editor of World magazine

Blogging

Theology

New Endorsements for Holy Subversion

Prayers

In the Blogosphere

Notable Items from Octobers Past

 
 

Oct

30

2009

Trevin Wax|3:35 am CT

In the Blogosphere

If you are a regular reader of Kingdom People, please take this 4-question survey.

Not all evangelicals and Catholics together. InterVarsity president, Alec Hill, responds.

From a recent episode of Law and Order: “I grew up thinking Roe v. Wade was gospel. Now… I don’t know where my freedom ends and the dignity of another being begins.” Christianity Today covers the story.

new website that makes the case for life.

A quick and easy way to format the footnotes for your research paper

Baptist Messenger launches the Insight Podcast with Doug Baker. Check out the new website. First podcasts include Chuck Colson, Timothy George, and a panel on the Emerging Church.

An interesting article on the death of the book review. “Like news, book reviews have become crowd-sourced, with bloggers and Amazon readers leading the way. But these reviews, unlike those that appear in publications, do have an impact on sales, because they appear right next to the product being sold and persist in online perpetuity.” (HT – Challies)

On FaceBook: “If you want community without depth or commitment, go to Facebook. If you want community with depth and commitment (and if you are Christian) you should go to church.”

Chris Brauns on mixing the roles of church and family.

Pope Benedict encourages a personal relationship with Christ.

Memorial service for the last survivor of the Titanic.

Tullian shows us how we can identify a reliable preacher.

Top Post this week at Kingdom People: Seminary Online, By Extension or On Campus? The Benefits and Drawbacks of Each

 
 

Oct

29

2009

Trevin Wax|3:34 am CT

Understanding the German Mindset During World War II

They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 (Phoenix Books)The Enlightenment myth is dying a painfully slow death, painful because it is taking so long for people to figure out that it is a sham. The idea that humans are progressing in a continually upward ladder of freedom and power marches on in the 21st century, much like it did at the beginning of the 20th.

Two world wars and the slaughter of millions of innocent civilians have still not eradicated the Enlightenment myth. We continue to believe that now, at the dawn of the 21st century, civilized people are incapable of the atrocities committed during World War II.

But we are wrong. We deceive ourselves.

A book that exposes the vacuity of the “upward climb” perspective regarding human society is They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 by Milton Mayer. Published more than forty years ago, Mayer’s book offers a unique window into the hearts and minds of everday Germans during the rise of Hitler and his fascist movement.

Mayer interviews a number of “ordinary Germans,” recounting their conversations and then adding in his own thoughts and conclusions. The result is a chilling picture of ordinary people willingly being carried along by empty rhetoric as a way of ensuring the satisfaction of personal needs.

Instead of writing a typical review of this book, I would like to offer some of the more striking statements and excerpts, in order to (hopefully) lead you to consider buying this book for yourself.

They Thought They Were Free documents the slow progression of anti-Semitism and its role in blinding the populace from the atrocities of the government:

“Ordinary people – and ordinary Germans – cannot be expected to tolerate activities which outrage the ordinary sense of ordinary decency unless the victims are, in advance, successfully stigmatized as enemies of the people, of the nation, the race, the religion.” (55)

The massive self-deception of the German people should give us pause, especially when we consider how often we may indeed be blind to our own evil:

“The juridical effort at Nuremberg to punish the evildoers without injuring the losers – when punishment and injury came to the same thing and the losers were identical with the evildoers – was unlikely enough to succeed. The effort to convince my ten friends that they were evildoers was even unlikelier.

“In retrospect, there was one extremely remote possibility of its having been done more successfully in Germany than it had ever been done anywhere else: It might have been possible to exploit the Germans’ attachment to ‘the German spirit’ and to have convinced them that this spirit, instead of being good, is evil. How to have gone about doing this I do not know.” (151)

Mayer shows how distractions dulled the senses of German citizens, keeping them from truly considering the evil around them:

“Those,” I said, “are the words of my friend the baker. One had no time to think. There was so much going on.”

“Your friend the baker was right,” said my colleague. “The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway. I do not speak of your ‘little men,’ your baker and so on; I speak of my colleagues and myself, learned men, mind you. Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had.” (167)

And so, Mayer documents a frightening, steady progression toward evils perpetrated on a massive scale:

“But the one great shocking occasion, when tens of hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked – if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33.

“But of course, this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.” (170)

Mayer is not a dispassionate observer. As he writes, he confesses that he has a thirst for justice. He also expresses his uneasy conclusion that all humans are complicit in evil at some level. His thirst for justice points back to his own heart, which frightens him as well:

“What we don’t like, what I don’t like, is the hypocrisy of these people. I want to hear them confess. That they, or some of their countrymen and their country’s government, violated the precepts of Christian, civilized, lawful life was bad enough; that they won’t see it, or say it, is what really rowels. I want them to plead no extenuation. I want them to say, ‘I knew and I know that it was all un-Christian, uncivilized, unlawful, and in my love of evil I pretended it wasn’t. I plead every German guilty of a life of hypocrisy, above all, myself. I am rotten…’

“I want my friends not just to feel bad and confess it, but to have been bad and to be bad now and confess it. I want them to constitute themselves an inferior race, self-abased, so that I, in the magnanimity becoming to the superior, having sat in calumnious judgment on them, may choose to let them live on in public shame and in private torment. I want to be God, not alone in power but in righteousness and in mercy; and Nazism crushed is my chance.

“But I am not God. I myself am a national, myself guilty of many national hypocrisies whose only justification is that the Germans’ were so much worse. My being less bestial, in my laws and practices, than they were does not make me more Godly than they, for difference in degree is not difference in kind. My own country’s racist legislation and practices, against both foreigners and citizens, is a whole web of hypocrisies. And, if I plead that racism has been wonderfully reduced in America in the past century, that the forces of good have been growing ever more powerful, how shall I answer my friends Hildebrandt and Kessler, who believed, or affected to believe, that the infiltration of National Socialism by decent men like themselves would, in time, reduce and even eliminate the evils?” (184-5)

There are glimmers of hope in this book. Mayer does not ignore the Confessing Church and the brave resistance of certain Christians to the evil regime that had risen in their land:

“Being a German may make whining easier, but not inevitable. In October, 1945, the Confessional church of Germany, the ‘church within the Church’ which had defied Hitler’s ‘German Christians,’ issued the ‘Stuttgart Confession’: ‘We know ourselves to be with our people in a great company of suffering, but also in a great solidarity of guilt. With great pain do we say that through us has endless suffering been brought to many peoples and countries. That to which we have often borne witness before our congregations, we declare in the name of the whole church. True, we have struggled for many years in the name of Jesus Christ against a spirit which has found its terrible expression in the National Socialist regime of violence, but we accuse ourselves for not witnessing more courageously…’ Those, too, were German words.” (150-1)

 
 

Oct

28

2009

 
 

Oct

28

2009

Trevin Wax|3:35 am CT

Southern Baptists and American Culture

Uneasy in Babylon: Southern Baptist Conservatives and American Culture (Religion and American Culture)Whenever someone asks me why I am happy to be (and stay) a Southern Baptist, I usually point out three reasons. The first reason is theological. I agree with the Baptist Faith and Message (2000).

The second reason is missional. I know of no better mission force in the world than the International Mission Board. What Southern Baptists have accomplished together for world missions is truly remarkable, and I offer hearty support to this effort.

The third reason is historical. Thirty years ago, the trajectory of the SBC was heading towards liberalism. Our journey mirrored that of many mainline denominations. By God’s grace, we made a course-correction. I am thankful for the Conservative Resurgence and I hope we are seeing the beginnings of a Great Commission Resurgence.

For those interested in the controversy that took place in Southern Baptist life during the last decades of the last century, let me recommend Uneasy in Babylon: Southern Baptist Conservatives and American Culture (University of Alabama, 2002) by Barry Hankins. Hankins puts together a fascinating profile of Southern Baptist conservatives.

From the beginning, Hankins lays his cards on the table. He admits that he is more “moderate” than conservative, but he claims to be an outsider as he does his research. Though he leans to the moderate side, Hankins recognizes that there were major issues at stake in the Conservative Resurgence. He criticizes the moderates for downplaying the significance of conservative concerns. Hankins sees misinterpretation on both sides of the divide.

The best part of the book is Hankins’ profile of Southern Baptist conservatives, men like Al Mohler, Paige Patterson, Timothy George and Richard Land. Moderates tend to lump all these men together. Hankins ably demonstrates that there are significant distinctions in their overall vision. He shows that these men may be united on many essential doctrines, but there are enough distinctions to keep them from being labeled together.

Uneasy in Babylon tells the story of the Conservative Resurgence topically. One chapter focuses on the transformation of Southern Seminary from a left-wing institution, to a progressive evangelical school, to a politically right-wing seminary. Another chapter documents the differences between Southern Baptists on race issues. A third chapter focuses on church/state relations, specifically the development of church state relations throughout Southern Baptist history and in the past thirty to forty years.

Hankins proves his ability as an historian by dealing with complexity within the conservative ranks. Yet, he still finds it helpful to synthesize some of the beliefs and practices that are common to most on the conservative side. His ability to find a balance between complexity and synthesis is what makes this book valuable.

 
 

Oct

27

2009

Trevin Wax|3:30 am CT

Seminary Online, by Extension or On-Campus? The Benefits and Drawbacks of Each…

Southern-seminary-libraryIn December, I hope to graduate with a Masters of Divinity from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. It has taken 4 1/2 years to meet all the requirements, but the Lord has been good to us, and the end is in sight.

Seminaries today are offering a variety of ways to take classes. If you are a current or future seminary student, you may have some questions about the different types of seminary classes offered. Here are some benefits and drawbacks to the different options.

ON-CAMPUS CLASSES

The benefit of taking classes on campus is that you are in a classroom with students and the professor. Your professor is right in front of you. You can communicate with him easily. Conversations with students in the hall – before and after class – are also beneficial. When the class is good, you can rejoice with other students. When the class is hard, you can commiserate too!

The seminary environment fosters a desire for learning and growth. In my experience, nothing quite replaces the classroom setting on campus with other students.

The drawback to taking classes on campus? As you go from class to class, you will usually have different course mates. Meeting lots of students is great, but you might not be able to build the kind of camaraderie you would like.

EXTENSION CENTER

Taking classes at one of the seminary’s extension centers is much like taking class on campus. A professor travels to the extension center location to be with the class.

The greatest benefit to being at an extension center is that you usually have the same classmates from class to class. Because of this factor, the class becomes a corporate unit, and you can enjoy long-lasting friendships with your classmates.

Furthermore, most of the other students are already in ministry (like you), so the class discussions tend to be more practical in nature. There is little “learning for learning’s sake.” The mindset is, “How can I apply this truth this week in my current church setting?”

The drawback to the extension center is that you rarely have the very best professors. Sometimes, the prominent professors will travel, but many times, that is not the case.

Also, the classes tend to be a little less intensive than those on campus. For example, the on-campus course requirements for a particular course may include two exams and two papers. The same course, taken at an extension center, might instead ask for two exams and only one paper. I suspect that the professors know that students are in full-time ministry and want to ease the load just a bit.

INTERNET CLASSES

The internet option allows you to stream lectures live online, or watch DVDs of the professor going over the lesson.

The benefit of an internet class is that you can work at your own pace. You can take exams and quizzes early if you’d like. (Procrastinators would probably not do well with internet classes, but planners can maximize the flexibility to their advantage.) If you pace yourself, you can finish the class more than a month early.

The drawbacks to the internet classes are obvious. You have no camaraderie with students. (The online forums, where you participate with students in a mini-blog, are helpful, but they cannot replace face-to-face interaction.)

Neither do you have easy access to the professor. Internet classes help you work toward your degree, but they are not as satisfying as extension center and on-campus classes.

Another drawback to internet classes is the price tag. For some reason, they are much more expensive than taking classes on campus. I suppose the price is designed to discourage internet classes.

J-TERMS

J-Terms are intensive, one-week courses in months starting with J (traditionally January, June, and July, although a few classes are now being offered in May and December). Most of these classes are on campus, but some can be taken at extension centers.

The benefit of a J-Term is that you can do your reading and writing projects off campus before and after the class actually meets. You can pace yourself to do much of the work ahead of time. Then, when the week of the class arrives, you can knock out the classroom hours, quizzes and exams in a short amount of time. It’s like taking an entire semester’s worth of material and cramming it into one week.

The drawback of a J-Term is the difficulty of sitting in class for so many hours in one week. It’s nice to get it done and out of the way, but even the exceptionally gifted professor can rarely hold the attention of students for that long every day. Still, I have learned a lot in J-Terms and have been thankful for the flexibility they offer.

INDEPENDENT STUDY

The final type of class available is an independent study. You can participate in an independent study only under special circumstances.

For example, I had signed up for an extension center J-Term this summer. The class was later canceled. I needed those credit hours to finish my degree by December. So the professor of that class agreed to do an “independent study” with me.

For the class, I was required to do a significant amount of reading. I participated in several one-on-one conversations with the professor. I did a book review and a longer-than-usual research paper.

The benefit of doing an independent study comes from the way that the class is tailored to the individual student. It also provides ample time with the professor one-on-one. The drawback is that you are not among other students.

CONCLUSION

There is no “best” option for taking seminary courses. Each of the options has been helpful to me, depending upon my stage in life and ministry. The best thing a prospective student can do is consider the positives and negatives and figure out which option best suits the current need.

Those of you who are currently in seminary, what options have worked best for you? Feel free to share in the comments section below…

 
 

Oct

26

2009

Trevin Wax|3:06 am CT

Kingdom People Reader Survey

Three years ago this week, I launched Kingdom People. I have enjoyed having a forum in which to share book reviews, prayers, quotes, personal thoughts and (hopefully) interesting interviews.

As I look ahead to beginning my fourth year of blogging at Kingdom People, I would like to offer readers a chance to answer the poll questions below and then to leave comments below about the blog. I am considering some structural changes in the future and would like some feedback.

Thanks for participating!

 
 

Oct

25

2009

Trevin Wax|3:53 am CT

A Prayer for Suffering Children

afhgan-child-misery-cp-6jpg_50

Ever-watching Father:
we pray for the suffering children whom we do not see.

We know that your eyes see their tears,
that your heart knows their sorrow,
that your hands can reach them now.

We remember that Jesus was once a child,
that poverty stole his bread,
that tyrants sought his life,
that his mother tasted tears.

We ask you to send friends for the lonely,
food for the hungry,
medicine for the sick,
saviors for the enslaved,
rescue for the perishing.

Give us the wisdom to do our part,
share our possessions,
leave our comforts,
lend them our voice,
send them our food,
love them with more than prayers.

We call on you in the name of your child Jesus.
Amen.

(HT – Tony Kummer)

 
 

Oct

24

2009

Trevin Wax|3:25 am CT

Albert Mohler Endorsement of Holy Subversion

mohlerR. Albert Mohler, Jr. is the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the most significant cultural commentator in the Southern Baptist Convention. His recent books include He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World, Desire and Deceit: The Real Cost of the New Sexual Tolerance and The Disappearance of God: Dangerous Beliefs in the New Spiritual Openness.The remarkable turn-around of Southern Seminary since he has become president is an occasion for profound gratitude.

I am grateful for the leadership of Dr. Mohler and for his kind recommendation of Holy Subversion:

“Trevin Wax faithfully sounds the call for world-changing, Christ-exalting Christian practice. By unmasking contemporary ‘Caesars,’ he reveals the true dangers, and points to pitfalls of which many believers are completely unaware. This book serves as a helpful reminder and competent guide to draw out the implications of true allegiance to Jesus Christ.”

- R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY