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Do You Literally Interpret the Bible Literally?

Feb 07, 2015 | Justin Taylor

It is a futile desire, to be sure. But there are times I wish we could have a moratorium on the word “literally.”

I am not referring to the use of literally as an intensifier or a stand-in for the word actually or really, which Vice President Biden uses liberally. (For what it’s worth, Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and James Joyce were all known to use this form of “literally.”)

Instead, I am thinking of the use of the term when someone doubts the historicity of the Bible and asks if you “take the Bible literally.”

I am also thinking about intramural Christian debates about interpretation—whether we are talking about Bible translation or the days of creation or the fulfillment of prophecy—where one side will insist that they interpret the passage “literally.”

I am not a fan of linguistic legalism and I recognize the need for terminological shortcuts, but I am an advocate for clarity, and the use of an ambiguous term like literal can create confusion. It’s a single term with multiple meanings and connotations—which is true of many words—but the problem is that many assume it means only one thing.

So my proposal is that if we have a moratorium on this word, we have a chance of speaking and hearing with greater understanding.

Since I have no real authority to call for an actual moratorium and it has little chance to succeed, my alternative proposal is that when someone asks you if you take the Bible “literally” or a passage “literally,” you ask what they mean by the word and then proceed to answer in accordance with the definition they provide.

In order to show that the word literal and its usage has multiple meanings, shades of nuance, and varying connotations, consider this analysis from Vern Poythress. In it, he identifies at least five different uses of the term.

1. First-Thought Meaning (Determining the Meaning of the Words in Isolation)

First, one could say that the literal meaning of a word is the meaning that native speakers are most likely to think of when they are asked about the word in isolation (that is, apart from any context in a particular sentence or discourse).

This I have . . .  called “first-thought” meaning. Thus the first-thought meaning of “battle” is “a fight, a combat.” The first-thought meaning is often the most common meaning; it is sometimes, but not always, more “physical” or “concrete” in character than other possible dictionary meanings, some of which might be labeled “figurative.” For example the first-thought meaning of “burn” is “to consume in fire.” It is more “physical” and “concrete” than the metaphorical use of “burn” for burning anger. The first-thought meaning, or literal meaning in this sense, is opposite to any and all figurative meanings.

We have said that the first-thought meaning is the meaning for words in isolation. But what if the words form a sentence? We can imagine proceeding to interpret a whole sentence or a whole paragraph by mechanically assigning to each word its first-thought meaning. This would often be artificial or even absurd. It would be an interpretation that did not take into account the influence of context on the determination of which sense or senses of a word are actually activated. We might call such an interpretation “first-thought interpretation.”

2. Flat Interpretation (Taking It Literally If at All Possible)

Next, we could imagine reading passages as organic wholes, but reading them in the most prosaic way possible. We would allow ourselves to recognize obvious figures of speech, but nothing beyond the most obvious. We would ignore the possibility of poetic overtones, irony, wordplay, or the possibly figurative or allusive character of whole sections of material. At least we would ignore such things whenever they were not perfectly obvious. Let us call this “flat interpretation.” It is literal if possible.’

3. Grammatical-Historical Interpretation (Discerning the Meaning of the Original Author)

In this type one reads passages as organic wholes and tries to understand what each passage expresses against the background of the original human author and the original situation. One asks what understanding and inferences would be justified or warranted at the time the passage was written. This interpretation aims to express the meanings that human authors express. Also it is willing to recognize fine-grained allusions and open-ended language. It endeavors to recognize when authors leave a degree of ambiguity and vagueness about how far their allusions extend. Let us call this “grammatical-historical interpretation.”

If the author is a very unimaginative or prosaic sort of person, or if the passage is part of a genre of writing that is thoroughly prosaic, the grammatical-historical interpretation of the passage coincides with the flat interpretation. But in other cases flat interpretation and grammatical-historical interpretation will not always coincide. If the author is trying to be more imaginative, then it is an allowable part of grammatical-historical interpretation for us to search for allusions, wordplays, and other indirect ways of communicating, even when such things are not so obvious that no one misses them.

4. Plain Interpretation (Reading It As If It Was Written Directly to Us)

“Plain interpretation,” let us say, is interpretation of a text by interpreters against the context of the interpreters’ tacit knowledge of their own worldview and historical situation. It minimizes the role of the original historical and cultural context.

Grammatical-historical interpretation differs from plain interpretation precisely over the question of the primary historical and cultural context for interpretation.

Plain interpretation reads everything as if it were written directly to oneself, in one’s own time and culture.

Grammatical-historical interpretation reads everything as if it were written in the time and culture of the original author.

Of course when we happen to be interpreting modern literature written in our own culture or subculture, the two are the same.

5. Literal in the Technical Sense (The Opposite of Figurative)

Of course the word “literal” could still be used to describe individual words that are being used in a nonfigurative sense.

For instance the word “vineyard” literally means a field growing grapes. In Isaiah 27:2 it is used nonliterally, figuratively, as a designation for Israel. By contrast, in Genesis 9:20 the word is used literally (nonfiguratively). In these instances the word “literal” is the opposite of “figurative.” But since any extended passage might or might not contain figures of speech, the word “literal” would no longer be used to describe a global method or approach to interpretation.

You can read the whole article here.

The bottom line: literal is an ambiguous word, and in many contexts I think it should either be avoided or defined in order to facilitate clarity in communicating meaning.

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Jim Crow, Civil Rights, and Southern White Evangelicals: A Historians Forum (Sean Michael Lucas)

Feb 06, 2015 | Justin Taylor

The movie Selma reminds us that white clergy protested and marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and other African Americans in the 1960s on behalf of Civil Rights. But it also reminds us—as Anthony Bradley recently observed—that many of those clergy were from the North and were Protestant mainliners, Greek Orthodox, Jewish, and Roman Catholic. One has to wonder: where were the conservative evangelicals?

I recently posed the following questions to several historians who have studied segregation and religion in the Southern United States during the years of Jim Crow and during the Civil Rights Movement.

Did white evangelicals in the South respond to the Civil Rights Movement in different ways from their counterparts in other parts of the United States? Is it fair to say that the majority not only refused to engage but actively opposed it? If so, what historical forces formed their particular responses and attitudes? How did evangelical theologies form or undermine their engagement?

I will be posting the historians’ answers at this blog throughout the week.

The first respondent was Matt Hall of Southern Seminary.

SMLToday I’m pleased to welcome to this forum Sean Michael Lucas (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary), who is an associate professor of church history at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS, and the senior minister of the historic First Presbyterian Church, Hattiesburg, MS. He is the author of Robert Lewis Dabney: A Southern Presbyterian Life and the forthcoming For a Continuing Church: The Roots of the Presbyterian Church in America.

* * *

While it is the case that conservatives in the old Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS, often called “the Southern Presbyterian Church”), taken as a group, opposed the Civil Rights movement, the story is a little bit more complex than that in two ways.

First, there were different positions on how to think about racial integration; and, second, there was also change over time for the movement as a whole.

1. Positions

That there would be differing positions on the most explosive issue to face the American South is not surprising. What perhaps is surprising is that these differing positions are reflected in a generally conservative religious and political subset.

Segregationists

WAGW. A. Gamble, stated clerk of Central Mississippi Presbytery, represented hardline racial intransigence. Featured in Citizen’s Council events in the Jackson area, Gamble frequently defended Jim Crow laws, warning that “it cannot be forgotten that the removal of segregation laws, and the consequent mingling of the races more and more, will inevitably result in miscegenation.” He also held that those who opposed “segregation by law” would be complicit “in developing a mongrel population, a development I believe God disapproves.” Racial traditionalists like Gamble tried to frame their defense of segregation in theological terms, appealing especially to Acts 17:26; however, their most powerful arguments were emotional, playing on white fears of mixed race marriages.

Moderates

BellLNWhile Gamble’s position was likely held by a wide number of southern Presbyterian conservatives, there were other positions. L. Nelson Bell, the long-time associate editor of the Presbyterian Journal and founder of Christianity Today, held what was viewed to be a moderate position. On the one hand, “forced segregation is un-Christian because it denies the rights which are inherent in American citizenship.” In addition, as Bell’s son-in-law Billy Graham demonstrated, the Gospel needed to be preached “to all on an unsegregated basis.” To demand continued legal segregation would undercut the preaching of the Gospel in America and abroad. On the other hand, though, forced integration opened the door to the possibility of race mixing that was unthinkable. Better to do away with the legal barriers for blacks’ participation in American society, but then let Christian love and prudence take its natural course.

Integrationists

hillWEThere were still others, and especially among the younger generation who would take PCUS pulpits in the 1960s, who believed that segregation in society and church was repugnant to the Gospel and that the church should work toward modeling an integrated community. Bill Hill, who pastored West End Presbyterian Church and First Presbyterian Church in Hopewell, Virginia, simultaneously, worked toward racially inclusive meetings, especially in his evangelistic work during the 1940s and 1950s. In many ways ahead of his time, Hill modeled the same race-blind evangelistic imperative as Billy Graham.

Likewise, Donald Patterson, James Baird, and Kennedy Smartt—all members of the steering community that would birth the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) in 1973—all worked toward racial inclusion in their respective ministries. These PCA founders, along with Frank Barker and D. James Kennedy, made it plain that the continuing Presbyterian church would not be a “white man’s church” nor stand for racial solidarity. Like Hill and Graham, these founders believed that the Gospel should produce a racially inclusive church.

2. Changes

This last group represents the second point: that there was change over time on the racial issue for these southern Presbyterian conservatives. While there were very few southern Presbyterian conservative voices in the 1940s urging racial inclusion, by the late 1960s, it was unthinkable to most young conservative leaders that the church would remain racially separated. The question to ask is why: why were the larger theological and cultural arguments for continued racial segregation unpersuasive to the younger leaders who would form the PCA?

Billy Graham

martin-luther-king-sin-billyI think the answer comes back to Billy Graham. For southern Presbyterians, Graham represented what they most wanted for their church: a thorough commitment to the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, a gentle and winsome evangelical theology, and a determined zeal for evangelism and missions. When Graham determined in 1952-53 that he could no longer preach the Gospel to segregated meetings because that would represent a betrayal of the Gospel itself, younger southern Presbyterian conservatives nodded their heads in agreement. They too would work toward preaching the Gospel to all men and women regardless of race because the Good News was for all.

But Graham also modeled their thoughts on cultural engagement. Committed to the “spiritual mission of the church,” even these younger southern Presbyterians believed that the way to effect cultural change was through preaching the Gospel. Graham’s crusades brought such social effects, not because he preached a “Social Gospel,” but because he preached the true Gospel—and changed men and women brought about a changed society. By preaching the Gospel to racially inclusive groups like Billy Graham did, southern Presbyterian conservatives hoped that the Gospel itself would produce the “beloved community” that they too wanted for their country. They longed to see an America that reflected the Gospel itself.

Of course, that does not mean that the founders of the PCA or their sons and now grandsons have seen that sort of transformation. Far from it—our own theological beliefs have still been trumped far too often by other deeper-seated commitments to race, class, or region. However, from a historical perspective, this explains why I believe that the PCA—the continuing, conservative mainline successor to the PCUS—must continue to work toward racial reconciliation and inclusion that the Gospel itself demands.


Editors’ note: The 2015 Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission Leadership Summit, sponsored by The Gospel Coalition, will address “The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation” to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families, and their churches. This event will be held in Nashville on March 26 and 27, 2015. To learn more go here. Save 20 percent when you use the code TGC20.

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Jim Crow, Civil Rights, and Southern White Evangelicals: A Historians Forum (Matthew J. Hall)

Feb 05, 2015 | Justin Taylor

The movie Selma reminds us that white clergy protested and marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and other African Americans in the 1960s on behalf of Civil Rights. But it also reminds us—as Anthony Bradley recently observed—that many of those clergy were from the North and were Protestant mainliners, Greek Orthodox, Jewish, and Roman Catholic. One has to wonder: where were the conservative evangelicals?

I recently posed the following questions to several historians who have studied segregation and religion in the Southern United States during the years of Jim Crow and during the Civil Rights Movement.

Did white evangelicals in the South respond to the Civil Rights Movement in different ways from their counterparts in other parts of the United States? Is it fair to say that the majority not only refused to engage but actively opposed it? If so, what historical forces formed their particular responses and attitudes? How did evangelical theologies form or undermine their engagement?

I will be posting the historians’ answers at this blog throughout the week. [See now the responses by Sean LucasRusty Hawkins, and Carolyn Dupont.]

MJHThe first respondent is Matthew J. Hall (Ph.D., University of Kentucky), who serves as vice president of academic services at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also teaches courses in church history and American history. He is co-editor of the forthcoming Essential Evangelicalism: The Enduring Legacy of Carl F. H. Henry (Crossway). His dissertation was on “Cold Warriors in the Sunbelt: Southern Baptists and the Cold War, 1947-1989.” You can follow him on Twitter at @MatthewJHall.

* * *

As a historian who is also a Southern Baptist, I am in something of a perpetual quandary. In all of my research on the long history of racial justice and the black freedom movement, I find that my fellow churchmen who supported the cause of justice were more often the exception, not the rule. Instead, my research—and that of historians far more accomplished than me—makes quite clear that white evangelicals throughout the South were overwhelmingly opposed to the civil rights movement. They may have couched their opposition in more genteel ways than the Klan—yes, the White Citizens Councils would do the job—but oppose it they did nonetheless.

A couple caveats here. First, it’s worth noting that the evangelical canopy has always been a broad and unwieldy one. Broad enough to include Anabaptists and Campbellites, Wesleyans and Presbyterians, Pentecostals and Lutherans—we should be leery of speaking of it in monolithic terms. But it does seem that in its most traditional forms, regardless of geography, evangelicals were often those not only skeptically removed from the civil rights movement, but directly opposed to it. There were notable exceptions, of course. And, as noted by historians such as David Swartz and Brantley Gasaway, there has always been a stream within the broader evangelical river that has prioritized social action and justice.

But it does seem self-evident that, in the main, white evangelicals—particularly those in the South—were deeply invested in efforts to either uphold Jim Crow or to try to slow down its dismantling. While a previous generation of historians suggested this was symptomatic of “cultural captivity,” I’m not so sure. In fact, in many cases, it seems that evangelical theology—or at least distorted models of it—were part of the reason segregationist beliefs and structures took shape the way they did. The unfortunate reality isn’t that evangelical theology in the South was muted when it came to racial justice, it’s that it was actively used to undermine justice and to perpetuate a demonic system. And that’s the cruelest historical irony of it all: those who loved the “old rugged cross” were often also those who torched crosses in protest of desegregation.

Why was this? Why did this particular subgrouping of evangelicals seem especially vulnerable to this cultural and theological blindness? It was a malady not unique to southern white evangelicals, but it did afflict them in particularly pronounced ways. Let me try to give some historical reasons.

1. Many white southern evangelicals had a deficient doctrine of sin.

Let me be clear. These evangelicals had a very clear understanding of the personal realities of behavior contrary to revealed biblical norms, or at least a somewhat selective list of them. But where they fell short was in articulating a fully-orbed doctrine of sin, one that has deep roots in the Christian tradition and is far more pessimistic about the extent and effects of sin. A classic Protestant understanding of sin might have helped them recognize the ways in which sin infects not only personal individual choices, but also social structures, economic systems, legal codes, etc. But by relegating sin only to the realm of individual choice, it allowed white evangelicals to denounce anything broader as political entanglement that had no connection to Christian ethics or witness.

2. White evangelicals often capitulated to the racist hysteria surrounding fears of intermarriage.

Those who denounced the civil rights movement routinely trotted out the allegation that the cause was fundamentally about “mixing the races” and marrying off blacks and whites. For many southern whites, the thought of their white daughter married and sexually united to a black man was unfathomable. A long and horrendous tradition had developed citing clumsily applied biblical passages that were purported to demonstrate God’s prohibition of such marriages. Evangelicals should have known better and been immune to such poor biblical interpretation. But when opponents of the civil rights movement tried to delegitimize the movement by “warning” of the secret motives of its leaders, far too many evangelicals were susceptible to their tactics.

3. White southern evangelicals were blinded by their majority status to the injustice around them.

Other historians have noted that blacks and whites often inhabited two different worlds. Southern whites often thought they knew the world of subordinate blacks, assuming all was well in the racial hierarchy. Jim Crow allowed for southern whites—including the large number of them who claimed membership in churches—to sincerely believe that everyone within the system was content. Only a few “troublemakers” ever seemed to voice dissent, and those that did often could end up on the other end of a rope, hanging from a lynching tree due to allegations of some impropriety or questionable criminal allegation. In part, this helps explain why so many southern whites excoriated the civil rights movement as merely the fabrication of a group of “outside agitators” sent in to stir up strife among the otherwise docile and happy black population. While they were eventually disabused of that notion, it seemed to them to be the only rational explanation for the powder keg that seemed to have exploded out of nowhere.

4. White southern evangelicals imbibed and perpetuated the Lost Cause mythology.

Developing at the end of Reconstruction and the closing of the nineteenth century, white southerners constructed memories of the Old South and the Civil War that perpetuated assumptions about white superiority, the necessity of racial segregation, and the seemingly victimized status of the region. It found expression among trained historians, but at the more popular level—one deeply infused with religious meaning—it became even more influential as a form of civil religion. For many southern whites, including evangelicals, it provided a worldview that told them that slavery was an unfortunate institution that would have naturally run its course, that the South was marked by a different chivalrous—and more Christian—moral code than the rest of the nation, that the “War of Northern Aggression” was an unconstitutional incursion into southern states’ rights, and that the South still represented the only great hope for long term American stability and prosperity. Well in place by the 1950s, the Lost Cause mythology inoculated massive numbers of white southerners—including Jesus-loving, gospel-preaching, soul-winning churchgoers—to be leery of anything that suggested that the status quo was characterized by injustice and unrighteousness.

Evangelicals are right to prioritize the work of racial reconciliation and its rooting in the gospel of Jesus Christ. But reconciliation by its very nature requires some sometimes unpleasant conversations and mutual understanding to answer the question, “How did we get here?” I’m hopeful for the future of evangelical racial reconciliation in part because I see a new generation willing to look to the past with honesty and to listen, even when it’s uncomfortable and unpleasant. Even more, I am confident that the gospel that reconciles sinners to God and to one another is as powerful as ever.


Editors’ note: The 2015 Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission Leadership Summit, sponsored by The Gospel Coalition, will address “The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation” to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families, and their churches. This event will be held in Nashville on March 26 and 27, 2015. To learn more go here. Save 20 percent when you use the code TGC20.

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The Sequel for “To Kill a Mockingbird”—Written in the 1950s—Will Be Published in July 2015

Feb 03, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 10.42.13 AMHarper Lee (b. 1926) wrote her first novel, Go Set a Watchman (304 pp.), in the mid-1950s while she was in her thirties. The setting was roughly contemporary to Lee’s own time, featuring Maycomb County (an imaginary district in southern Alabama) during the 1950s. One of the main characters was an adult woman named Scout (Jean Louise) Finch, and the novel included flashback’s to her childhood.

Harper Lee’s editor was captured by these flashbacks and persuaded her to write a new novel with young Scout as the narrator, set in the same Alabama town 20 years earlier in the early 1930s. Lee recounts, “I thought [Go Set a Watchman] a pretty decent effort.” After being asked to set the book aside in order to write the prequel, she notes, ”I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told.

That second novel became the famed To Kill a Mockingbird, which was published on July 11, 1960. It went on to sell 40 million copies worldwide, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961, and was enshrined in the American canon of literature.

In the fall of 2014, attorney Tonja Carter—family friend and successor in her sister’s law firm—discovered the manuscript in a secure location, affixed to an original typescript of To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee was unaware that the book had survived, and was surprised and delighted to hear about its existence.  She writes, “After much thought and hesitation, I shared it with a handful of people I trust and was pleased to hear that they considered it worthy of publication. I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years.”

In the next book, “Scout (Jean Louise Finch) has returned to Maycomb from New York to visit her father, Atticus. She is forced to grapple with issues both personal and political as she tries to understand her father’s attitude toward society, and her own feelings about the place where she was born and spent her childhood.”

The book will be released on July 14, 2015, with an initial printing of 2 million copies. You can pre-order it from Amazon here.

The title of the book is apparently an allusion to Isaiah 21:6, “For thus the Lord said to me: ‘Go, set a watchman; let him announce what he sees'” (ESV).

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6 Principles for Effective, Redemptive Communication

Feb 02, 2015 | Justin Taylor

One thing that strikes me about some pockets of conservative Christian writing on the internet is how little attention is given toward the art of persuasion. It’s one thing to be right; it’s another thing to present true doctrine in a compelling way that adorns our doctrine (Titus 2:10). We are sometimes satisfied merely to proclaim instead of following the apostle Paul who sought to “persuade Jews and Greeks” and who said that the “knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Cor. 5:11).

Several years ago, David Powlison was invited to answer some questions for a secular journal, Psychology Today, seeking to introduce a wide range of religious therapies. (Also answering the questions were advocates for counseling from within the worldviews of Judaism, Native American Spirituality, Catholicism, Islam, Hinduism, Mormonism, African Spirituality, Secular Humanism, Twelve Step Spirituality, Christian Psychology, and Buddhism).

In seeking to provide compelling answers to genuine questions from those outside the faith, Powlison studied the biblical model for effective, redemptive persuasion. He notes that “Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman in John 4 and Paul’s speech at the Areopagus in Acts 17 provide rich examples of what these communication tasks look like in action.” [For a whole book analyzing one of these interactions, see Paul Copan and Kenneth Litwak’s The Gospel in the Marketplace of Ideas: Paul’s Mars Hill Experience for Our Pluralistic World (IVP Academic, 2014).

Below is an outline of what he saw in Scripture. I find these to be helpful reminders for evangelism and for all of our discourse as we seek to win the world to Christ.

1. Know those with whom we wish to speak.

What do my readers believe, do, assume? What are their intellectual and professional habits? What is their reality map? What are their goals and expectations? . . .

2. Genuinely seek the welfare of those you are speaking to.

I must care. I must love. I must treat with respect. . . . It has been life and joy for me to come to Christian understandings—I want my readers to share the same, to know the goodness and wisdom of the same Savior who mercifully found me.

3. Enter the hearers’ frame of reference.

I’ve been asked to enter a conversation that they initiated. To do so, I must be willing to speak a foreign language, as it were, to talk in their terms, to answer the questions they are asking. I am willing to speak the language that expresses the experience of people who are outsiders to Christian faith . . . And I am willing to get personal, disclosing who I am as a person. In each answer, in attempting to explain what I believe and do, I start in their world and seek to stay connected to that world—even as I explain the world that I think all of us actually inhabit. I take their questions seriously. I hope that every answer stays on point and answers the question asked—rather than ignoring their questions in order to assert my own predetermined talking points.

4. Shake readers’ habitual frame of reference.

I want to take what is familiar and portray it in a different light. The very things that readers know best actually mean something quite different from what they assume. So, though I take their questions seriously, I reshape the meaning of those questions. I redefine terms. I overturn implicit assumptions. I seek to retell their version of reality to demonstrate how they miss very important things. Not only do they have significant blind spots, but they misconstrue things they take as givens. The things they see most clearly and care about most deeply don’t actually mean what they imagine. I want to arouse dissonance, to rattle the cage, to create a dilemma. So even while speaking in their terms, I am retelling their story in a way that brings fatal flaws, inner contradictions, illusions, and blind spots to light.

5. Portray Christian faith in a fresh, relevant way.

I want them to understand “religion” in ways they’ve never heard or understood before. . . . I assume that they do not know how true Christianity pointedly illumines their questions, explains the people and problems they deal with, and reframes everything they do in trying to be helpful. I want to show and tell better ways of making sense of people. I want to show and tell better and more significant solutions. I want to show and tell better, truer, and more enduring hope. I want to surprise readers with how the gospel of Jesus Christ intercepts who they are and intervenes in what they do.

6. Woo, invite, and open a door for readers and hearers to change their minds.

So I include the reader in almost every paragraph—“This is for you. This is about all of us.” I want a reader to know, “You live in the same world I do. . . .” We live in God’s world—wittingly or unwittingly, willingly or unwillingly. Awaken. Understand yourself within this new, better reality that I am portraying. Understand who you are and what you do in a bright new light. Come to the Lamb of God. . . .

Powlison writes:

A redemptive communication strategy not only engages people winsomely, but also serves a larger purpose. It opens the door to the three stages of a living, lifechanging faith: knowledge, assent, and trust (notitia, assensus, fiducia).

  • Real faith starts with coming to know something.
  • Then I must come to agree that it is true.
  • Finally I must shift the weight of my life onto that truth.

This correlates to three aspects of pastoral communication:

  • informing,
  • convincing, and
  • persuading.

Writers and speakers make a judgment call about the necessary balance between these activities in any piece of communication.

You can read the whole thing here and also see how he actually answers the questions Psychology Today posed to him: David Powlison, “Giving Reasoned Answers to Reasonable Questions,” JBC 28:3 (2014): 2-14.

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CROSS: A One-Night Missions Conference Online for Free: Friday, February 27, 2015

Feb 02, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Here is a wonderful opportunity for individuals, families, small groups, co-workers, youth groups, college groups and dorms to gather together for four hours to hear from gifted teachers on the need and means of taking the gospel to the nations.

You can watch the Cross conference live, for free, here.

Just register to watch. And if you’re hosting a viewing of the simulcast and want to invite others to, sign up here. (That link will also let you see other viewing locations in your area.)

Here are the speakers, their message titles, and the times (all times Eastern).

Friday, February 27, 2015

7 pm — Main Session 1

  • John Piper, “Undaunted by the Darkness: Invincible Joy for the Sake of the Nations”
  • Panel, “Who On Earth Are We Talking About? Naming the Unreached and Unengaged and Why”

9:30 pm  — Main Session 2

Note: The following three talks will only be 15 minutes each.

  • Kevin DeYoung, “Putting the Spread of the Gospel at Risk One Click at a Time”
  • Mack Stiles, “Clever Missionaries Need Not Apply”
  • Thabiti Anyabwile, “Don’t Mortgage the Mission”

10:15 pm — Main Session 3

  • David Platt, “Undaunted by Resistance: Sustaining Missionary Zeal for the Sake of the Nations”

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You Don’t Need to Be Able to Define a Word Before You Know What It Means

Jan 30, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Winfried Corduan:

The possible objection that I cannot know what a term means unless I can provide an exhaustive definition for it rests on a thorough misunderstanding of the nature of language. We do not know what words mean because we know their definitions. Such a requirement would mean that all nonreflective language users (e.g. children) do not know the meaning of their talk—an absurd proposal. Surely definitions are quite helpful, e.g. when looking up the meaning of unknown words in dictionaries. But dictionaries also only report meaning; they do not legislate it.

—Winfried Corduan, Mysticism: An Evangelical Option? (1991; reprint, Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2009), 22 n. 2.

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The Foremost: A New Documentary on the Beauty and Power of Grace and Forgiveness

Jan 29, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Moving Works—a film company that makes films that live up to its name—has produced a new film

An astonishing story of God’s love and grace, The Foremost chronicles the journey of Christopher LaPel, a Cambodian pastor who escaped the clutches of the Khmer Rouge regime only to return and cross paths with one of the most feared men in the country’s dark history. It’s an honest and hope-filled film that will challenge your views on forgiveness and grace no matter what you believe.

Here is a preview:

You can watch the whole film (45 minutes long) below for free:

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Biblical Reasons to Doubt the Creation Days Were 24-Hour Periods

Jan 28, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 1.22.36 PMR. C. Sproul, who drafted the original Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy, once said, “When people ask me how old the earth is, I tell them I don’t know—because I don’t.”

Contrary to what is often implied or claimed by young-earth creationists, the Bible nowhere directly teaches the age of the earth.

Rather, it is a deduction from a combination of beliefs, such as (1) Genesis 1:1 is not the actual act of creation but rather a summary of or title over Genesis 1:2-2:3; (2) the creation week of Genesis 1:2-2:3 is referring to the act of creation itself; (3) each “day” (Heb. yom) of the creation week is referring to an 24-hour period of time (reinforced by the statement in Exodus 20:11); (4) an old-earth geology would necessarily entail macroevolution, hominids, and animal death before the Fall—each of which contradicts what Scripture tells us; and (5) the approximate age of the earth can be reconstructed backward from the genealogical time-markers in Genesis.

These five points may all be true, but I think it’s helpful to understand that the question “how old is the earth?” is not something directly answered in Scripture but rather deduced from these and other points.

It is commonly suggested that this is such a “plain reading” of Scripture—so obviously clear and true—that the only people who doubt it are those who have been influenced by Charles Darwin and his neo-Darwinian successors. The claim is often made that no one doubted this reading until after Darwin. (This just isn’t true—from ancient rabbis to Augustine to B. B. Warfield—but that’s another post for another time.)

So it may come as a surprise to some contemporary conservatives that some of the great stalwarts of the faith were not convinced of this interpretation.

  • Augustine, writing in the early fifth century, noted, ”What kind of days these were it is extremely difficult, or perhaps impossible, to determine” (City of God 11.7).
  • J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937), author of the 20th century’s best critique of theological liberalism, wrote, “It is certainly not necessary to think that the six days spoken of in that first chapter of the Bible are intended to be six days of twenty four hours each.”
  • Old Testament scholar Edward J. Young (1907-1968), an eloquent defender of inerrancy, said that regarding  the length of the creation days, “That is a question which is difficult to answer. Indications are not lacking that they may have been longer than the days we now know, but the Scripture itself does not speak as clearly as one might like.”
  • Theologian Carl F. H. Henry (1913-2003), one of the most important theologians in the second half of the twentieth century and a defender of Scriptural clarity and authority, argued that “Faith in an inerrant Bible does not rest on the recency or antiquity of the earth. . . . The Bible does not require belief in six literal 24-hour creation days on the basis of Genesis 1-2. . . . it is gratuitous to insist that twenty-four hour days are involved or intended.”
  • Old Testament scholar and Hebrew linguist Gleason Archer (1916-2004), a strong advocate for inerrancy, wrote ”On the basis of internal evidence, it is this writer’s conviction that yôm in Genesis could not have been intended by the Hebrew author to mean a literal twenty-four hour day.”

I want to suggest there are some good, textual reasons—in the creation account itself—for questioning the exegesis that insists on the days as strict 24 hour periods. Am I as certain of this as I am of the resurrection of Christ? Definitely not. But in some segments of the church, I fear that we’ve built an exegetical “fence around the Torah,” fearful that if we question any aspect of young-earth dogmatics we have opened the gate to liberalism. The defenders of inerrancy above show that this is not the case. And a passion for sola Scriptura provides us with the humility and willingness to go back to the text again to see if these things are so.

What follows are brief sketches of biblical reasons to doubt young-earth exegesis.

1. Genesis 1:1 Describes the Actual Act of Creation Out of Nothing and Is Not a Title or a Summary

Genesis 1:1 tells us that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

This is not a title or a summary of the narrative that follows. Rather, it is a background statement that describes how the universe came to be.

In Genesis 1:1, “created” is in the perfect tense, and when a perfect verb is used at the beginning of a unit in Hebrew narrative, it usually functions to describe an event that precedes the main storyline (see Gen. 16:1, 22:1, 24:1 for comparison).

Furthermore, the Hebrew conjunction at the beginning of Genesis 1:2 supports this reading.

If Genesis 1:1 is merely a title or a summary, then Genesis does not teach creation out of nothing. But I think Genesis 1:1 is describing the actual act of God creating “heaven and earth” (a merism for the universe, indicating totality—like “high and low,” “east and west,” “near and far,” “rising up and sitting down,” “seen and unseen”). Genesis 1:1 describes the creation of everything “visible and invisible” (Col. 1:16), with Genesis 1:2ff. focusing upon the “visible.”

After the act of creation in Genesis 1:1, the main point of the narrative (in Gen. 1:3-2:3) seems to be the making and preparation of the earth for its inhabitants, with a highly patterned structure of forming and filling.

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2. The Earth, Darkness, and Water Are Created Before “The First Day”

In Genesis 1:1, God creates the “heavens and the earth.” (In Joel 3:15-16 we see that “heavens” encompasses the sun, the moon, and the stars.) Then in Genesis 1:2 we are told that this earth that was created is without form and void, that darkness covers the waters, and that the Spirit is hovering over it.

If Genesis 1:1 is not the act of creation, then where do the earth, the darkness, and the waters come from that are referred to in Genesis 1:2 before God’s first fiat? Further, if the sun is created in day four (Gen. 1:16), why do we have light already appearing in Genesis 1:3?

It helps to remember that in Hebrew there are distinct words for create and make. When the Hebrew construction let there be is used in the phrase “Let your steadfast love . . . be upon us” (Ps. 33:22; cf. Ps. 90:17; Ps. 119:76), this obviously isn’t a request for God’s love to begin to exist, but rather to function in a certain way. Similarly, if the sun, moon, stars, and lights were created in Genesis 1:1, then they were made or appointed for a particular function in Genesis 1:13, 14, 16—namely, to mark the set time for worship on man’s calendar.

3. The Seventh “Day” Is Not 24 Hours Long

In Genesis 2:2-3 where we are told that “on the seventh day [yom] God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day [yom] from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day [yom] and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” The question we have to ask here is: was God’s creation “rest” limited to a 24-hour period? On the contrary, Psalm 95 and Hebrews 4 teach that God’s Sabbath rest “remains” and that we can enter into it or be prevented from entering it. 

Miles Van Pelt observes:

In Exod 20:11, the command for the people of God to remember the Sabbath day is grounded in God’s pattern of work and rest during the creation week. The people of God are to work for six solar days (Exod 20:9) and then rest on the seventh solar day (Exod 20:10). If, therefore, it can be maintained that God’s seventh day rest in Gen 2 extends beyond the scope of a single solar day, then the correspondence between the “day” of God’s rest and our “day” of observance would be analogical, not identical. In other words, if day seven is an unending day, still in progress, then our weekly recognition of that day is not temporally identical. As such, there is no reason to maintain that the same could not be true for the previous six days, especially if the internal, exegetical evidence from Genesis 1 and 2 supports this reality.

4. The “Day” of Genesis 2:4 Cannot Be 24 Hours Long

After using “the seventh day” in an analogical way (i.e., similar to but not identical with a 24-hour day), we read in the very next verse, Genesis 2:4: “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day [yom] that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.”

The precise meaning of this is debated. But what seems clear, if we believe the Bible does not contradict itself, is that this (singular) “day”—in which the creation events (plural “generations”) occur—cannot refer to a single 24-hour period. In fact, it does not seem to correspond to any one of the creation week days, but is either a reference to the act of creation itself (Gen. 1:1) or an umbrella reference to the lengthier process of forming and fitting the inhabitable earth (Gen. 2:2ff). In either case, this use of yom presents a puzzle for those who insist that “young-earth” exegesis is the only interpretation that takes the opening chapters of Genesis “literally.”

Defenders of the 24-hour view acknowledge that yom can mean more than a single calendar day but often insist that “[numbered] yom (e.g., “first day”) always, without exception, refers to a 24-hour day in the Hebrew Bible. This is not true, however. Not only does the rest of the canon tell us that the ”seventh day” is not 24 hours, but Hosea 6:2 (“third day”) seems to be used in an analogical way that does not refer to a precise 24-hour time period.

5. The Explanation of Genesis 2:5-7 Assumes More Than an Ordinary Calendar Day

In his article “Because It Had Rained” (part 1 and part 2), Mark Futato of Reformed Theological Seminary explains the logic of Genesis 2:5-7 and shows its role in OT covenantal theology.

Futato sees in this passage a twofold problem, a twofold reason, and a twofold solution.

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The twofold problem?

  1. No wild vegetation had appeared in the land.
  2. No cultivated grains had yet sprung up.

The twofold reason for this problem?

  1. The Lord God had not sent rain on the land.
  2. There was no man to cultivate the ground.

The twofold solution to this problem?

  1. God caused rain clouds to rise up from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground.
  2. The Lord God formed the man.

Note the reason why there were no shrubs or small plants in the Garden: because “it had not yet rained.” The explanation for this lack of vegetation which is attributed to ordinary providence. But if the sixth day is a 24-hour period, this explanation would make little sense. The very wording of the text presupposes seasons and rain cycles and a lengthier passage of time during this “day [yom]” that God formed man. This doesn’t mean that it refers to thousands of years, or hundreds of years. It just means that it’s very doubtful it means a 24-hour period.

So What Does God Mean by “Days” in Genesis 1?

Let’s go back to the “seventh day.” On the seventh day, according to Exodus 31:17, God “rested and was refreshed.” Why would an omnipotent and inexhaustible God need to be “refreshed”? It’s the same Hebrew word used for getting your breath back after running a long race (Ex. 23:2; 2 Sam. 16:14). The reason it is not improper to say that God was refreshed is the same reason it’s not improper to say that God breathes, hovers, is like a potter, gardens, searches, asks questions, comes down, etc.—all images of God used in Genesis. God’s revelation to us is analogical (neither entirely identical nor entirely dissimilar) and anthropomorphic (accommodated and communicated from our perspective in terms we can understand).

So when God refers to “days,” does he want us to mentally substitute the word “eons” or “ages”? No.

Does he want us to think of precise units of time, marked by 24 exact hours as the earth makes a rotation on its axis? No.

Does he want us to think of the Hebrew workday? Yes, in an analogical and anthropomorphic sense. Just as the “seventh day” makes us think of an ordinary calendar day (even though it isn’t technically a 24-hour period), so the other “six days” are meant to be read in the same way.

This is what the great Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) believed: “The creation days are the workdays of God. By a labor, resumed and renewed six times, he prepared the whole earth.”

This is also what the Presbyterian theologian W.G.T. Shedd (1820-1894) advocated:

The seven days of the human week are copies of the seven days of the divine week. The “sun-divided days” are images of the “God-divided days.”

This agrees with the biblical representation generally. The human is the copy of the divine, not the divine of the human. Human fatherhood and sonship are finite copies of the Trinitarian fatherhood and sonship. Human justice, benevolence, holiness, mercy, etc., are imitations of corresponding divine qualities.

The reason given for man’s rest upon the seventh solar day is that God rested upon the seventh creative day (Ex. 20:11). But this does not prove that the divine rest was only twenty-four hours in duration any more than the fact that human sonship is a copy of the divine proves that the latter is sexual.

Augustine (the most influential theologian in the Western Church) believed something similar, as did Franz Delitzsch (perhaps the great Christian Hebraist). It was the most common view among the late 19th century and early 20th century conservative Dutch theologians.

God is portrayed as a workman going through his workweek, working during the day and resting for the night. Then on his Sabbath, he enjoys a full and refreshing rest. Our days are like God’s workdays, but not identical to them.

How long were God’s workdays? The Bible doesn’t say. But I see no reason to insist that they were only 24 hours long.

For more on this interpretation, see C. John Collins, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (P&R) and Vern Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-centered Approach (Crossway).

For short and helpful resources on this, see Vern Poythress’s booklets, Christian Interpretations of Genesis 1 and Did Adam Exist? Also, it looks like the new book by Kenneth Keathley and Mark Rooker may now be the best introduction to the issues of creation and evolution in a concise and accessible yet thorough manner: 40 Questions About Creation and Evolution (Kregel, 2014).

Update: For a couple of good models of Reformed believers discussing these issues charity and care (instead of with rancor), I’d recommend Keith Matthison’s free ebook, A Reformed Approach to Science and Scripture (originally a blog series) and the PCA’s Report of the Creation Study Committee.

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The Drop Box: A Heart-breaking and Hope-giving Documentary on Orphan Care

Jan 28, 2015 | Justin Taylor

In December 2009, Korean pastor Lee Jong-rak built a wooden “drop box” on the outer wall of his home. It wasn’t designed to collect clothes or food or toys—but unwanted babies. Several children—many with deformities or disabilities—were placed the the “drop box” each week. Now a new documentary profiles the work of this man with little education and no public notoriety, trying his best to care for the voiceless and defenseless.

Here’s a brief scene from the documentary The Drop Box, which will be released in over 700 theaters across the U.S. for three nights only (March 3, 4, and 5). To buy tickets and view the theater map, go to www.thedropboxfilm.com.

You can see the full trailer below:

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Is “Let Us” in Genesis 1:26 a Reference to the Trinity? Tom Schreiner on Authorial Intent and Canonical Reading

Jan 27, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Here is an interesting answer to the question of whether the “Let us” of Genesis 1:26 is referring to the Trinity. In The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Baker, 2013), New Testament scholar Tom Schreiner (Southern Seminary) argues that (1) it is doubtful that the author of Genesis was specifically thinking about the Trinity when he used this expression, (2) it is doubtful that the earliest Israelites read it this way, but (3) it should still be understood as a reference to the Trinity when it is read as part of the whole canon of Scripture.

Here is his explanation:

Recent developments in hermeneutics, however, have rightly corrected an overemphasis on authorial intent. Interpreters of sacred Scripture must also consider the canonical shape of the Scriptures as whole, which is to say that we must also take into account the divine author of Scripture. Nor does appeal to a divine author open the door to arbitrariness or subjectivity, for the meaning of the divine author is communicated through the words and canon of Scripture. It is not the product of human creativity but is textually located and circumscribed.

A canonical approach supports a trinitarian reading, which is suggested by the actual words of the text and confirmed by the entire canon. The Spirit’s role in creation is signified by his “hovering over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2). Psalm 33:6 . . . probably alludes to the work of the Spirit, for the word “breath” is the word used for “Spirit” (rûaḥ), and hence here the writer attributes the creation of the world to the Spirit.

In light of the NT revelation on the divinity of the Spirit, it is warranted to see the Spirit as creator. The Son’s role as creator is even clearer from a canonical perspective. John’s Gospel commences, “In the beginning” (John 1:1), an unmistakable allusion to Gen. 1:1. Another allusion to Genesis immediately surfaces, for John 1:3 speaks of the role of the “Word” in the beginning, claiming that “all things were made” by the one who is the “Word.” Hence, the “Word” that spoke creation into existence (Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26) is identified as the Son of God—Jesus the Christ (John 1:14).

Hence, from a canonical perspective, the “let us” in Gen. 1:26 should be understood as a reference to the Trinity.

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Conversations with Christian Leaders: 3 New Podcasts

Jan 23, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Am I Called

Dave Harvey interviews key Christian leaders on pastoral calling in particular and pastoral leadership in general. You can listen to all the episodes on iTunes, or you can listen to them here.

In the Room

Pastor Ryan Huguley talks with Christian leaders a couple of times a month about life and pastoral ministry. Listen to it or subscribe on iTunes.

The Way Home

Dan Darling interviews key Christian leaders on church, community,  and culture. Podcast is available in iTunes, Stitcher, and Tune-in and via RSS.

Other podcasts in a similar vein worth knowing about include:

Any you would add to this list as particularly informative and edifying?

 

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3 Types of Fundamentalists and Evangelicals After 1956

Jan 23, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Yesterday I linked to an address by David Dockery on the state of evangelicalism in the 21st century.

On Twitter, I highlighted the somewhat tongue-in-cheek definitions from Dr. Dockery:

In its most simple terms,

an evangelical is someone who likes Billy Graham;
a liberal is someone who thinks Billy Graham is a fundamentalist; and
a fundamentalist is someone who thinks Billy Graham is apostate.

This is a riff on the statements by George Marsden that “A fundamentalist is an evangelical who is angry about something,” and that during the 1950s and 1960s, “the simplest, although very loose definition of an evangelical in the broad sense was ‘anyone who likes Billy Graham.'” (Fundamentalists had their own clever definitions. Bob Jones Sr. once defined an evangelical as someone who says to a liberal, “I’ll call you a Christian if you’ll call me a scholar.”)

These are basically aphorisms, of course, and can’t be used as airtight definitions. Marsden’s first one is not entirely fair (though it points to something all-too-often true), but his second one gets at an important factor: how conservative Protestants viewed Billy Graham was usually a pretty good indicator of how they saw themselves and interpreted the virtues and vices of others in the church, especially after Graham’s 1957 crusade in Madison Square Garden, in which fundamentalists were dismayed at his partnership with modernists.

In my opinion, the two best introductions to fundamentalism—indispensable treatments, really—are George Marsden’s Fundamentalism and American Culture (though I disagree with some of his analysis on the Princetonians and inerrancy) and Joel Carpenter’s Revive Us Again: the Reawakening of American Fundamentalism. Marsden focuses upon 1870-1925 and Carpenter focuses upon 1925-1950.

For an excellent analysis of mid-century fundamentalism up until the rise of the Religious Right (with special attention on the Baptist South), see Nathan Finn’s currently unpublished doctoral dissertation, “The Development of Baptist Fundamentalism in the South, 1940-1980.”

Finn shows that one common mistake in analyzing fundamentalism and evangelicalism is the assumption that they are simple, monolithic categories. In reality, there are subcultures within both, containing different visions and suspicions, even if united in some significant ways.

Using Finn’s analysis, we can map the three varieties of conservative Protestants after 1956 in the following way:

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Fundamentalism is a fascinating subject of study, still under-explored when it comes to its relationship to evangelicalism. But hopefully the introductory analysis above helps us begin to avoid the reflex to assume we are only talking about one unitary thing when we employ these labels.

Update: For those who want a helpful overview article before reading a whole book on this subject, see John Fea’s “Understanding the Changing Facade of Twentieth-Century American Protestant Fundamentalism: Toward a Historical Definition,” TrinJ 15:2 (Fall 1994): 181-99, who identifies four phases:

  1. irenic (1893-1919), which had more continuity with 19th century evangelicalism than 20th century militant fundamentalism
  2. militant (1920-1936), including the fundamentalist-modernist controversies
  3. divisive (1941-1960), which saw the intramural fragmentation into evangelical and separatist factions
  4. separatist (1960-present).

Fea’s concluding three points of application are spot on and should be taken to heart:

First, such a methodological treatment of fundamentalism should have some effect on how American religious historians understand the movement. Very few historians of American fundamentalism are aware of the subtle changes that fundamentalism has undergone through this century. Many historians tend to define a fundamentalist by certain doctrinal distinctives such as a belief in biblical inerrancy or dispensational eschatology. To interpret American fundamentalism solely through a doctrinal grid is to miss some of the social and ecclesiastical issues (separation, social concern, etc.) that have shaped the movement. While most fundamentalists and evangelicals have been united on certain creedal convictions, disagreements over minor doctrinal issues and the social and ecclesiastical implications of the Christian faith have historically created a great deal of diversity.

Second, such an interpretation of American fundamentalism has implications for religious pundits and observers, whether in the media or the academy, who tend to clump all religious conservatives under the banner of fundamentalism. It is clear that historically not all conservative Protestants desired the fundamentalist label. If religious observers were to examine the history of this popular and often pejorative label, they would find that many of the groups they label as fundamentalist have long traditions of opposing this descriptive religious term. Many such pundits may be surprised to find that only a small percentage of American Protestants use this label to describe themselves because of both the past and present implications surrounding the term.

Third, such an interpretation of fundamentalism should have implications for church leaders in American evangelicalism. Pastors, missionaries, educators, and religious leaders of all kinds should be aware that fundamentalists of the separatist variety do exist and have made up an important part of the “born-again” heritage in American culture. Most of their religious convictions stem from historical evangelical concerns such as personal holiness, revivalism, and the authority of Scripture. While there is a tendency to treat fundamentalists as extremists or ecclesiastical outcasts, for the most part they make up a unique part of the American evangelical tradition and should be understood in that light.

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David Dockery on the State of Evangelicalism and Its Future

Jan 22, 2015 | Justin Taylor

David Dockery (president of Trinity International University) delivered the following lecture on January 14, 2015, at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary:

After his lecture, Jason Allen (president of Midwestern) hosted a panel discussion with David Dockery, Jason Duesing, and John Mark Yeats on issues related to evangelicalism:

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Fearfully and Wonderfully Made: 9 Months in 4 Minutes

Jan 22, 2015 | Justin Taylor

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.1
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

—Psalm 139:16-19


In January of 1973 the Supreme Court decision of Roe v Wade (taken in conjunction with its companion decision, Doe v Bolton) effectively permitted the legal destruction of the life you see above at any point in the pregnancy, from conception until birth.


Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.

—Proverbs 24:11

Richard John Neuhaus:


We contend, and we contend relentlessly, for the dignity of the human person, of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God, destined from eternity for eternity—every human person, no matter how weak or how strong, no matter how young or how old, no matter how productive or how burdensome, no matter how welcome or how inconvenient. Nobody is a nobody; nobody is unwanted. All are wanted by God, and therefore to be respected, protected, and cherished by us.

We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until all the elderly who have run life’s course are protected against despair and abandonment, protected by the rule of law and the bonds of love. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every young woman is given the help she needs to recognize the problem of pregnancy as the gift of life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, as we stand guard at the entrance gates and the exit gates of life, and at every step along way of life, bearing witness in word and deed to the dignity of the human person—of every human person.

Against the encroaching shadows of the culture of death, against forces commanding immense power and wealth, against the perverse doctrine that a woman’s dignity depends upon her right to destroy her child, against what St. Paul calls the principalities and powers of the present time, this convention renews our resolve that we shall not weary, we shall not rest, until the culture of life is reflected in the rule of law and lived in the law of love.


If you need help or someone to talk to, call 1-800-712-HELP.

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