Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Is Entrepreneurism Bad for Christianity?

Sony's latest video gaming system Playstation 3 is one of the hottest Christmas items of the season. The system is on the cutting edge of gaming technology and is in high-demand with most retailers selling out of systems before they hit the shelves, while some businesses haven't even been able to meet their pre-order demands. PS3 retails for $599.99. . High demand always drives up prices and it has been reported that one PS3 system sold for $8000.00 on eBay not long after it was posted online.

When the system hit the market a little over a week ago, consumers could be seen standing in line, outside in the elements, literally days before the system was released in stores. I personally know of a person who stood in line just to see if someone would pay them for their spot in line. Someone did. $400 just for a space in line for the opportunity to purchase a PS3. My brother-in-law, who is the General Manager of a Best Buy in South Carolina told me that most individuals purchasing the PS3 were doing it to sell it, not because they wanted the system.

Then I heard about this story from Columbia, South Carolina related to the "Circuit City Six". There were only six systems available at the Circuit City in Columbia, SC. The six individuals who purchased them did not even intend to keep the system. They are looking to make a buck. Of the six individuals, there were two married couples. This means that two families purchased two systems. For some of you, you're thinking, "What's the big deal?". Others are thinking, like Karen Lewis who wroted the linked article above, "What a selfish thing to do. Some kid is desperately wanting a system that they probably won't get because greedy adults are buying them up to sell on eBay."

But there is another tidbit that leaves you scratching your head. The two couples who purchased 4 systems between them are Christians. Not only are they Christians, but they were youth pastors. Now, we all know that every youth pastor needs a PS3 (wanna wish me a Merry Christmas?), but these weren't for themselves. They bought them to sell. When told of the rumored prices on eBay, Carly Bain (one of the "lucky" ones) said, "Praise God I'm selling it!"

Mrs. Lewis is angry. She is angry because she thinks it is sinful for these two couples to purchase a PS3 just to sell it. And it is likely they will sell it for a price way above it's market value. But who determines market value other than those demanding the product. Isn't this just good economics at work? Of course, I am thinking, who in the right mind would pay thousands of dollars for a PS3? I guess people with money will.

I guess my question is, where do we draw the line when trying to make a profit? If I own a car dealership, should I only sell cars to provide just enough income to meet my financial obligations to my staff, cover my costs, and feed my family? Is it wrong for me to get as much as the consumer is willing to pay for a car, knowing that I will pocket much more than what the car is actually worth?

What is troubling about the "Circuit City Six" is that, regardless of where we stand on entrepreneurism, in this case, Christians look greedy. Perhaps they are selling the PS3 to raise support for a life on the mission field (one can hope). Will not likely, would such a cause justify selling a gaming system at a grossly exaggerated, market-driven price? I'd love to hear your thoughts about this. So, won't the seven of you who read this chime it. It would make my day.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

What Is Love?

I've been reading through John Piper's latest book What Jesus Demands from the World and this morning's reading was particularly challenging. The topic was "Love Your Enemies - Lead Them to Truth". Let me take the time to highlight several thought-provoking statements regarding the expression of love towards our enemies in an effort to lead them to the life-changing, life-giving, status-altering truth of Jesus Christ.

  1. Jesus assumes that we will have enemies (Matt 5:11; 10:25; Johnn 15:20). This, of course, is rooted in the world's rejection of Jesus and our identification with him in our confession of faith as His disciples.
  2. Jesus tells us to love both those who have the power to kill us (Matt 5:44; 10:21; Luke 6:27-29; 11:49) as well as those who merely slight us and harm our fragile egos (Matt 5:47; Luke 6:33)

This leads to two questions: a) What is love (meaning what does it look like and how is it expressed from us)?; and b) What is the root or origin of this love and how do we sustain it?

Love fights for the preservation and expression of truth. This, of course, is challenging in a culture where truth is scrutinized and questioned and where language is rapidly losing its meaning. In essence, love rejects bad interpretations of Scripture and sets forth the truth. This is precisely what Jesus did in Matt 5:43-44. The challenge, in our culture, is finding the courage and steadfastness to fight this fight in a generation that rejects propositional truth, when, in fact, Scripture is full of propositions about God and humanity, sin and the Fall, redemption and forgiveness, and what the life of one who truly loves God really looks like.

Piper begins with this expression of love because love is often contrasted with the defense of truth. Many people, particularly in the church, make statements like, "Love unites; doctrine divides." But Jesus would have seen truth, which expresses itself in right doctrine, as the root of unity. Therefore, when we minimize doctrine (right thinking about God), we expose the root of unity to corrosion. Jesus was primarily concerned about truth, not popularity or acceptance (John 7:18; 14:6; 15:26; 18:37; Mark 12:14). The reason for this is that Jesus astutely knew the reason behind people accepting or rejecting Him. This isn't an issue with truth; it is an issue within the hearer. Truth doesn't need to change; there is a need for deep, profound change within the heart of the one who hears truth. People who reject truth do so because they do not belong to God, not because the truth has been insufficiently expressed (when it is, in fact, expressed biblically). This is precisely why Jesus said, "Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God" (John 8:47).

This is a needed reminder for a generation bogged down in the quagmire of pragamatism. There is a sinister temptation to abandon or alter truth when it does not illicit the response we desire. The solution when truth falls on deaf ears is not to change or alter the truth in some way (although this does not adbicate us of the responsibility to look for the most winsome, compelling way to share truth), but rather to pray that the Spirit would enlighten the hearer to receive and understand that truth spoken (2Cor 4:4-7).

A final implication of Jesus' words in the gospels about love is that it is not unloving to call someone an enemy or to speak truth even when it hurts or wounds someone emotionally. People, especially today, are easily offended and emotionally fragile. The result is that if someone can claim that you hurt them by speaking truth, then somehow the world interprets your actions as unloving. Piper says that today "love is not defined by the quality of the act and its motives, but by the subjective response of others." The problem with this is that it gives the wounded one absolute authority in defining what is loving and what is not.

But according to Jesus, love is not defined by the response of the loved. We can act in a loving way towards someone and that love be received in offense, anger, retaliation or indifference. It does not mean that we have failed to love. It simply means that the recepient has failed to perceive and receive our love as absolutely, unconditionally loving. Is there any greater example of this than Jesus' loving response of obedience to the will of the Father to lay down His life on the cruel cross for the sins of the world, but especially for those who would believe? Not all men have accepted the loving sacrifice of Jesus by faith; many have rejected it. But it is not less loving because men have rejected it.

I was confonted with some of these thoughts last night as a student asked me how to deal with a friend who as being quite demanding of their friendship. This friend expected her to shut down her other friendships for the sake of being this individual's best friend. Essentially, this girl was being selfish in the demands she was making of her friend. The student asked me what to do. I told her to talk to her, share with her how they are different (one preferring only a small group of 2-3 friends while the other enjoys being friends with many people), and then share with her how her demands that she let go of some of her friends so that she could be more devoted to this one friend were rooted in selfishness. The student was shocked. She said, "How am I supposed to tell her she is being selfish, and won't she get mad if I say that? How can I say that without hurting her feelings?" Another student chimed in and said, "I would just look for a nicer way to say she is being selfish that doesn't sound so harsh." But I was unwavering in my response. I told the student that the loving thing is to speak truth in love as a friend. If her friend was being selfish and making unfair demands in their relationship, the loving thing to do was to tell her friend. A real friend doesn't let sinful actions slide by. Too much is at stake because sin has a hardening effect on our hearts.

I hope these words are as encouraging, challenging and comforting to you as they were to me this morning. May Jesus be magnified in the way we love our enemies by pointing them to truth.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Hebrews 10:1-18

One hundred years ago the message of Jesus was well-known in Western culture. The visible church and Judeo-Christian values were an integral part of Euro-American society, having unprecedented influence and prominence in secular culture and government. In many respects, it could be argued that America was a Christian nation.

But this is not so today. While the prominence of the church in our Southern culture colors our perspective so that it appears our culture is still somewhat “Christian”, Western culture is no longer Christian, in as much that society no longer openly and unquestioningly embraces Judeo-Christian morality and values, or reverently esteem the institution and value of the Christian Church, the visible manifestation of Jesus’ body. The relevance of the visible church has lost traction and the result has been the establishment and emergence of an evangelical Christian sub-culture designed to isolate and insulate itself from secular culture.

Tragically, the state of our culture is worse off than it would be if Western culture were a culture without any Christian history whatsoever. Arguably, those societies which have no memory of Jesus are much easier to penetrate and infiltrate with the message of Christ because they carry no post-Christian spiritual baggage, and thus no anti-Christian sentiments (those fueled by the failures of past Christian institutions), living only in ignorance of the Living God, than those societies (such as Europe, Canada, and to a quickly deteriorating degree, the United States) who are now post-Christian.

The significance of this is in what Flannery O’Conner describes as a “Christ-haunted” society, in that there is a fading memory of Jesus, but not enough of a memory to cause any reflection or serious consideration. Jesus is a ghost, and a friendly, effeminate, pacifist at that. Many people in Western culture remember (or at least can read about) the Judeo-Christian values of 100 years ago, but now embrace an attitude which says: “We remember that world. It birthed civil rights atrocities, World Wars I & II, blurred lines of authority and influence between church and state, male-dominance, homophobia, and sexual suppression. We’ve lived in the Jesus-dominated era of the past and have no desire to return.”

Thus, this fading memory of Jesus in Western culture, a memory that says we “been there, done that”, that has moved the communication of the gospel into uncharted territory. At no point in history has any society moved from pre-Christian to Christian to post-Christian and survived.

But what does this have to do with the book of Hebrews? In an increasingly spiritual, pluralistic, narcissistic society people have many questions about God, faith, religion and eternity. Most people are open to any kind of spiritual conversation or dialogue except that which revolves the expectations of an exclusive God with particular demands to be met through the person of Jesus Christ. This brings to the purpose of Hebrews 10:1-18.

Purpose: to crystallize for the audience the sufficiency, effectiveness and finality of Jesus’ sacrifice. Contextually, this was important because many believers who confessed Jesus were wavering in their faith because of persecution. Therefore the author is reminding them of God’s provision for the forgiveness of sins and right relationship with God through the sacrifice of Jesus, and the danger of willfully walking away from the Gospel.

I hope you see how relevant this passage is to a post-Christian, post-modern, secular society. In a culture where we value the sufficiency of man to accomplish whatever he sets his mind to, the effectiveness of all religions to secure acceptance by God, and a hostility to any final answers or solutions to anything, the message of Christ is never more needed, nor more under-minded than it is today.

Outline for Hebrews 10:1-18
  1. Christ is the Image, the Law His Shadow (10:1)
  2. The Conscience Must Be Cleansed for Acceptance by God (10:2; 10:10; 10:14; 10:18) Because Sin is the Issue Between God and Man.
  3. The Penal Substitutionary Death of Jesus is the Only Hope for Mankind (10:2-11)
  4. The Forgiveness of Sins is of First Importance in Regards to Right Relationship with God (10:10; 10:14; 10:17-18). This means that whatever is of importance or is a motive for people pursuing relationship with God, the personal acknowledgment of sin, repentance, and receiving forgiveness on the merits of Jesus’ work on the cross is preeminent.
  5. The Evidence of Forgiveness is the Pursuit of Jesus Character and the purpose of the New Covenant is God’s Means of Making Us Like His Son (Sanctification) (10:16).
  6. This Truth Has Been Revealed to Us by God (10:15…”The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this…”

War on Terror: Part 2

While the waters on the political front concerning the war on terror are murky at best, the Church’s role in the war on terror is even less clear, and Her response has been ashamedly less decisive. I remember thinking in the days and months following September 11 how little the Church really said in response to the problem of evil in the world, and what really would be the most God-glorifying, Christ-exalting response, not only to Muslim nations, but to all people’s of the world as we tried to make sense of the murderous madness that propelled the actions of the 19 hijackers who mercilessly ended the lives of thousands of people, all for the promise of a false paradise. Essentially, what we heard, from the culture and, surprisingly, even from evangelicals, is that: 1) Islam is a religion of peace; 2) The God of Protestants, Catholics and Jews is essentially the same as Islam’s Allah; 3) Islamic extremists hatred of the West is not representative of how most Muslims in the world feel about Western culture; 4) Islamic extremists are evil. Finally, the Church’s response to where God was on September 11 (or the tsunami of ’04, the AIDS epidemic in Africa, etc) has been tragically insufficient.

This begs the question: Why has the Church’s response to the problem of evil in the world been so surprisingly shallow? Why is our theology of evil and suffering so anemic? The problem lies, in part, on the abdication of social responsibility in many mainline( both evangelical and non-evangelical) churches in the West, a failure which exposes at its root an unwillingness to deal with the evil of our own heart that keeps us from pursuing justice the way Jesus' Kingdom requires. Western culture has become increasingly dependant upon the support and intervention of government to solve the world’s problems. In essence, government has become a Deity in the eyes of many, a captivating dispenser of goods, services and rescue missions to the fallen masses of Western culture. Years ago the Church bore the responsibility of caring for widows, orphans and homeless individuals and families. It wasn’t so long ago that the Church bore the burden of caring for the sick and dying in society.

But why is this a problem and what does this have to do with evil and terrorism? Government does not have the capacity to sufficiently analyze the problem of evil because government lacks, in most cases, the spiritual compass to point them to the root of many social evils today – which is fundamentally an issue of the heart. This is not to say that widows, orphans and people who fall on hard times and lose everything do so because of their sinful depravity. Jesus made it clear in the Gospels that suffering isn’t always tied to sin. We have an abundance of social ills and evils in society, ranging from homelessness to hunger to health care, primarily because we are culture that lives selfishly with no regard for the needs of others, particularly if it requires personal investment. The heart problem is not primarily within the suffering who need help, though this may be the case at times, but essentially is an issue of the self-focused unwillingness of humanity to look beyond our own lives and desires to see the needs of others in our world. Therefore, our response to evil and suffering is grossly insufficient, primarily because we are not so different, in light of the Kingdom of God, from those we label "evil" in this world. We are as selfish in our unwillingness to give to save lives as terrorists are in their willingness to take life.

Our pride cries out in denial of this accusation, but to think differently is naïve. The solution to evil is not more education or dropping bombs on terrorists in far away lands. The solution to evil in the world is not bipartisan cooperation between Republicans, Democrats and Independents. The solution to evil is not a focused spirit of cooperation or a more tolerant climate of the views, opinions and beliefs of others in the world. All of these “solutions” make up the fabric of our government’s propoganda. These aren’t solutions because the problem is much more radical and powerful than this. Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright said, “…the line between good and evil doesn’t lie between ‘us’ [Westerners] and ‘them’ [terrorists], but runs as a jagged line through each human being and each human society.”[1]

And so, one reason the Church’s response to evil and suffering has been insufficient is because of our ambivalence to the problem of evil within our own hearts. We do not know how to confront the face of evil when it forces itself upon us in the form of terrorism because we also don’t have a sufficient response to the evil that lurks within us all.
[1], 3.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The War on Terror: Part One

On September 20, 2001 President George Bush stood before a joint session of Congress and the American people and made an official declaration announcing the intentions of the United States to wage "war on terror". The President's remarks were met with bipartisan applause and affirmation as Americans all over the country could still smell the lingering stench of smoldering ruins from the ashes of the Twin Towers. The Bush Administration clearly defined the enemy as Al-Qaeda, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan harboring Osama bin Laden and likeminded Islamic extremists, and any other county of the world that openly endorsed and harbored known terrorists. His announcement and our intentions to eradicate terrorism and bring down any government that harbored terrorists seems so clear on that night. However, more than 5 years later, 700, 893 people have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, including 3043 U.S. soldiers. 1, 345, 821 individuals have been seriously wounded, including 42,845 U.S. soldiers. These numbers are staggering, but there is always a significant body count in war. We shouldn't be surprised that people are dying. But what is haunting is that our unilateral military response to 9/11, as justified as it appeared to be on September 20, has not ultimately made us safer, nor has it detracted terrorist efforts. Today we are still vulnerable to attacks on our soil (and we will always be). 9/11 only made us aware we aren't invincible. The instability in the Middle East has only emboldened terrorist organizations and there appears to be no end in sight in regards to the American presence and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. And sadly, there also appears to be no clear solution to what our foreign policy should be concerning Iraq and Afghanistan in the foreseable future.

There are many questions about whether or not the United States was justified in Her actions in the Middle East. We can blame many politicians and point finger at the Bush Administration. In fact, this is precisely what the American public did on November 7 and Americans voted to give the Democrats control of the House and Senate. Sweeping changes are inevitable as the Bush Adminstration scrambles to keep Bush from becoming a lame-duck President, and we are seeing the ripple effects of change with the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield, a resignation that many believe was long overdue.

Politically and geographically, the United States is in a proverbial quagmire in the Middle East. Progress has been slow in Iraq and the country is more unstable now than it was under the reign of Saddam Hussein. And while Hussein was an evil man who deservesd to be brought to justice, particulary for the crimes committed against his own people, it hardly seems that targeting his regime was the right thing to do - at this time - when it was clear than the primary culprits for the attack on American soil were in the bordering Afghanistan, and we have yet to sufficiently deal with them. There may have been a time to deal with the evil in Iraq, but hindsight clearly tells us that we overestimated how we would be received in toppling Hussein's power structure. This miscalculation is not solely the fault of Bush's Adminstration. The whole foreign policy in Iraq was approved by Congress. The blame lies, not at Bush's feet alone, but in the lap of Congress as well. But Americans have short memories and the Democrats did an outstanding job laying the blame for the problems in Iraq squarely on Bush's shoulders.

There are no clear solutions to the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan. Removing our troops will send the wrong message, a message of weakness and defeat, to those who are determined to bring down Western culture and society, and yet, the longer we remain, particularly in Iraq, the more people will die. Untold thousands of men, women and children who happened to have been providentially placed in this region of the world by God's sovereign hand will give their lives at the hands armies - both of whom think they are fighting for liberation.

Seeing as how I am no politician, I am left to wonder less about how our government should respond next - though I am clearly concerned about our foreign policy - and more about how the Church - the extension of Jesus' hands and feet in the world - has been called to respond to the chaos in the Middle East. Think about that. I am, and I'll write more on that later...

Monday, November 06, 2006

Hebrews 3:13

But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today", that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Today I had lunch with a friend. Before today, I would have called him only that, a friend. But after a hearty hickory-smoked burger from Big River Grille and a timely conversation, today Tony Souder became a good friend. I've always enjoyed my conversations with Tony. He is encouraging, perceptive, insightful, self-deprecating (in a good way), humble and wise.

Today Tony did the hard thing. He obeyed Scripture. He took the words of the author of Hebrews to heart and did the hard, but right thing. He exhorted me today. He challenged me about something he noticed about "me". And he did it so that I might not be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

If you know me you know that I am not short of opinions. I can be frank, and sometimes brutally honest. I think critically, sometimes in a good way, but often in a harsh way, about almost everything. As I told Tony, I can relate to the Jesus who called the Pharisees a brood of vipers and said the hard word, but sometimes I struggle to speak truth lovingly. On top of this, I am terrible at asking probing questions. I generally observe something, and then base a response on my observations and assumptions. Sometimes they are on target, sometimes they aren't, but my response always says something about the situation and me.

Today Tony cautioned me to be careful. He told me that he sees this in me sometimes, and while it isn't always sinful to respond to a situation with critical discernment, there are times that such a response is rooted in pride and arrogance. I've been guilty of both.

There is more to say, but let me stop by saying I thank God for Tony Souder. I am thankful that he loved me enough to help keep my heart from being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Thank you, Tony.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Demonizing Calvinists

A recent post by Tom Ascol offers another take on the "problem" of Calvinism within the Southern Baptist Convention. The article is in response to the recent comments by Pastor William Harrell, pastor of Abilene Baptist Church in Martinez, Georgia, who was recently named chairman of the SBC Executive Committee, which is perhaps the most important position in Southern Baptist Convention life. Ascol's post is brilliant (read it for yourself) and there is very little that I can offer to say better what he has already so eloquently said.

The comments by Pastor Harrell irritate me like sand in my bathing suit. I can learn to deal with the grit in my groin, but it isn't very pleasant or preferable. This is precisely the way I feel towards Southern Baptist leaders who continue in their efforts to demonize Southern Baptist pastors who believe that the 5 points of Calvinism most accurately reflect biblical soteriology. What I find interesting on the national scene in Southern Baptist life is that we often hear of non-Calvinistic SBC pastors volleying criticitical remarks, judgmental, broad-brushed mischaracterizations, and historically inaccurate or misinformed statements about Calvinistic SBC pastors, and yet we rarely hear of a public counter-volley from Calvinistic pastors in the SBC. It is curious that the assault is so one-sided.

In the past few months since the Southern Baptist Convention in Greensboro, North Carolina and the conversation amongst friends between Al Mohler and Paige Patterson concerning Calvinism, which both men agreed should not be a point of contention or division among Southern Baptists (no division), it is becoming clearer that the SBC wants to bring the doctrines of grace (Calvinism) into clearer focus in denominational life. What isn't clear is why. A recent study by Lifeway indicates that the "problem" of Calvinism is so widespread that only 10% of SBC pastors claim to be 5-point Calvinists.

Increasingly we are hearing rhetoric like that of Pastor Harrell, who clearly implies, like Paige Patterson, that Calvinistic Southern Baptists pastors are deliberately and willfully deceptive by not offering full-disclosure of their beliefs concerning Calvinism. What Harrell fails to account for is the fact that: 1) even in the cases where full-disclosure is offered, most lay persons don't fully understand even the plainest, most articulate explanation of the doctrines of grace because this issue takes time, prayer and study. I have been through multiple interview processes where I have explictely shared a statement of faith, even concerning these issues, only to find that people agreeing at the time, but discovering later they really didn't "get" what I was talking about; 2) the calling process of most SBC churches is so influenced by the business models of our contemporary culture that there is often very little discourse or discussion of theological matters of any weighty substance because emphasis is often on "important" issues such as strategies for church growth and worship style rather than doctrine. I think we would be appalled at how little theological conversation happens during a pastor/staff search at most SBC churches; 3) the ambiguity of our Baptist Faith & Message intentionally was written in such a way that both Calvinists and modified Calvinists (where most SBC'ers stand; they are few, if any, fully Arminian Southern Baptists), can affirm our adopted statement of faith and be innocent of any charges of deception should he not dot every "i" and cross every "T" of his theological views in the interview process with a search committee. Contrary to Paige Patterson's claim that every Southern Baptist prospective pastor should tell the pastor search committee of a non 5-point Calvinist church whether or not he is Calvinistic in the same way an amillennial pastor should tell a predominantly dispensational congregation his eschatalogy, this isn't an apples-to-apples comparison. These aren't the same issues or the same thing, and very few pastors, if any, offer full disclosure of all their theological persuasions, even though one could argue with great certainty that there is likely wide-ranging differences of opinions within any SBC congregation regarding eschatology, the doctrines of grace, gifts of the Spirit, the meaning of baptism (i.e., what is happening spiritually in baptism), church government, gender issues, and worship; 4) most Calvinistic pastors don't have an "agenda" and didn't come to their theological persuasion without careful thought, prayer and biblical study and contemplation over a period of months and even years. Because they have come to love the doctrines of grace and see them as wholly biblical, as a pastor, their intention is to take great care while patiently expounding the whole counsel of God's Word to their people - who as Southern Baptists, have historically claimed to be a "people of the book". Those pastors who have violated the shepherd's principle in loving and caring for their people, teaching with gentleness and patience, explaining those things which are "hard to understand" (2Pet 3:16), not indoctrinating with some hidden agenda, may be poor pastors, but their lack of pastoral care does not characterize all pastors of the Calvinistic persuasion.

The final irritating charge at Calvinists is that the doctrines of grace kill evangelism. Sadly, even the newly elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Pastor Frank Page, First Baptist Church Taylors, Greenville, South Carolina, believes this to some degree. In his book The Trouble with TULIP he writes: "If one does follow the logic of Calvinism, then a missionary or evangelistic spirit is unnecessary. If irresistible grace is the truth, then there is no need to share Christ with anyone, since those persons whom God has elected are irristibly going to be drawn into his kingdom anyway. If one studies the pages of history, one will see that Calvinistic theology (Five Point) has encouraged a slackening of the aggressive evangelistic and missionary heartbeat of the church" (74-75). Again, the rhetoric serves no purpose but to demonize the doctrine of Calvinism and those persons who believe it most accurately reflects the message of the Bible. Futhermore, it is patently false. Some of the greatest evangelists of any area were Calvinistic and Baptist, including Charles Spurgeon and the father of the modern missionary movement William Carey.

It is true that there are issues related to evangelism effectiveness in both Calvinistic and non-Calvinistic Southern Baptist churches. We are seeing fewer and fewer conversions in churches of both persuasions. A shockingly high percentage of church growth is transfer growth from other churches. But Calvinism does not kill evangelism, and though there are some Calvinists that are not as evangelistic as they should be, this charge is also true of non-Calvinistic pastors. What is ironic is that we are seeing fewer and fewer conversions amongst evangelicals whose approach to God and theology is patently more man-centered and man-focused than the theology and practice of Calvinists. It would seeem, logically, that an evangelistic ethic more concerned with the desires and preferences of people would be more effective, yet interestingly, it isn't. Perhaps there is something to the statement from Jonah 2:9: "Salvation belongs to the LORD."

If the demonization continues, I am convinced that it won't be too far off in the distant future that we begin to see a greater chasm opening between Calvinists and non-Calvinists in SBC life until we reach the point of no return and are faced with a division that some prominent leaders today are fighting desperately to avoid. But if non-Calvinists such as Pastor Harrell, Ergun Caner and others continue with the hostile, controversial rhetoric, labeling Calvnists as deceivers and continuing to paint Calvinists with the broad, inaccurate brush of hyper-Calvinism, then a split, it would seem, is unavoidable.

What I find most disturbing is that there are other more crucial issues facing the church today and yet Calvinism has become the focus in far too many circles. There are pertinent concerns in Southern Baptist life concerning gifts of the Spirit and missionaries; the current state of the Cooperative Program and the shocking disclosure that high percentages of CP dollars never leave the state they are given in; meaningless membership in SBC churches where 30% or less of our 16+ million members attend on a weekly basis; non-existent church discipline to guard the purity of Jesus' bride in a majority of SBC churches; the fact that 90% of SBC churches have plateaued or declining (90% are declining yet only 10% of us are Calvinistic - surely we aren't to blame for all of that lack of effectiveness in evangelism); the deconstruction of the family by high-divorce rates among evangelicals and a pro-homosexual movement sweeping the United States; the loss of "Truth" in the postmodern world.

The issues in our culture are many and the list above only scratches the surface. May God bring what needs to be our focus into view, and may we be discerning and wise in pursuing those things which bring God the most glory.