SWBTS Social Media Faux Pas: Why It’s Both Unwise But Not Racist

I had a post on limited atonement lined up for today, but a controversy hit my school recently and I wanted to address it.

Social Media Fail

Yesterday, I bought Dr. David Allen’s The Extent of the Atonement for Kindle and scanned through some of it.  I wholeheartedly encourage the reader to buy it also for a measly $10 (though the physical version is like $40).  Little did I know that later that night, Dr. Allen would be apologizing for something outside the scholarly world.  He and some professors posted this picture on Twitter:

swbts prof photo

Lol, wow.  Predictably, cries of racism flew around the internet, both from within and without Southern Baptists, and the pictures were taken down.  Everyone involved apologized.  Dr. Patterson, the school’s president, also wrote a lengthy apology.  Dr. Allen in particular gave an apology without qualification and said that “context is immaterial” for their joke picture.

And here is where I would disagree with Dr. Allen, though I understand his wish to give an unconditional apology.  Context is not immaterial.  We should always, always, look at context and also give charitable interpretations, even if we do still end up disagreeing with someone’s words or actions.

This picture was apparently given to a preaching professor here who recently got a job at a church and was therefore moving on.  Dr. Vern Charette evidently raps as a hobby and even had a section where he rapped in a chapel sermon, so some professors thought they would give him a silly picture as a going-away gift.  With this context in mind, does it make it wise to post a joke photo like that, knowing that the entire internet is not going to immediately know the context?  No, it doesn’t.  I’m actually very surprised none of those men thought, “Hey, this can easily get misinterpreted, so let’s either not do this in the first place or at least just keep it as a private joke among friends who know our intent and the context.”  Given our hyper-sensitive culture these days, where even stating bare facts like “There’s a very high rate of single-motherhood in the black community” can draw accusations of racism, it was foolish to post that online.  That’s not to excuse our hyper-sensitive culture, but surely a joke like that is not worth the controversy and potential damage to the witness of the professors as well as that of the seminary.  It also does not help that the Southern Baptist Convention started on the wrong side of American slavery back in the 19th century and had to repent of that many years ago.

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Local Prosperity Church Opens Up a Spiritual Gift Shop

HOUSTON, TX – Land of Silk and Money (LSM), a local church pastored by Jerry B. Pound, has added a new spiritual gift shop to their already existing store full of self-help books, motivational audio, prayer cloths, the pastor’s prayers in tongues, and pamphlets about seed-planting (no Bibles were reportedly seen).  The church boasts 25,000 members and 269,000 square feet of land, but Pound says that many of those members have asked what spiritual gift they have.  In order to help them out, he decided to add this spiritual gift shop that allowed anyone to purchase the spiritual gift of their choice, either for themselves or someone else.

“I got asked so many times about spiritual gifts, and I thought, ‘Hey, Jerry, isn’t this another example of planting seeds?'” said Pound, who flies back to his Florida beach house every week on his private jet.  “If you can plant seeds and get the car of your choice, I don’t see why you can’t also get the spiritual gift that you want.”

Though spiritual gifts aren’t tangible, they are represented in the store by cards with text on them and envelopes for future giving that increases those gifts.  The initial price of a spiritual gift varied based upon its importance, a level deemed by Pound and his staff.  Here is a list of some of the gifts and their price tag:

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A Blessed Time in Brooklyn Again

Two years ago, I went to Brooklyn, NY to help out with a children’s summer program.  We worked alongside high school youth and somewhat less so with older middle school youth, who were the primary workers for that seven-week period (a new outside team comes every week to help them out).  Though most of our team was not able to spend as much time with the youth as we would have liked, we still enjoyed working with them and hanging out with them.  That was the first time our church went to their “Summer Splash,” and our church sent another team last summer which I was not a part of.  Our English pastor in particular has developed a bond with the youth there, so this year, we tried something new: A youth retreat of sorts.

Our church sent a team of four to run this conference/retreat which was primarily aimed at the youth, though there were a couple of kids who were younger.  It is spring break for them, but spring break in Texas tends to be in March; it came at an awkward time because this is when school kind of picks up with papers and assignments (I had to do one while I was there).  Still, it was a great blessing to come, teach, and get to know these youth more.

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Prooftexts for Limited Atonement and the Negative Inference Fallacy

I’ve written several articles critiquing the interpretation and logic of those who advocate limited atonement, the contention that Christ died only for the elect.  I’ll now discuss their use of verses that they think give a positive case for limited atonement.

Intellectually honest Calvinists will admit that no text in Scripture explicitly teaches limited atonement: There is no verse that says that Christ died for the elect only or at least explicitly denies that Christ died for everyone.  However, many Calvinists will argue that this is no big deal.  There is no verse, after all, that explicitly spells out the Trinity or Incarnation, yet those are considered not only clear scriptural teachings but central doctrines of the faith.  The reason that the Incarnation is certain, for example, is that there are texts that teach that Christ was a man and others that teach that he was God.  It takes only a small step of logic to put them together and conclude that Christ was both fully God and fully man.  Likewise, all it takes, according to Calvinists, is a small logical step from certain passages to reach limited atonement.

The texts they typically use are passages that teach that Christ died for a select group of people.  Here are a few examples:

John 10:11: “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”

Acts 20:28: “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”

Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her…”

Other verses can be offered, but these are enough to get the picture.  While none of these verses state that Christ died for the elect only, Calvinists argue that it is nonetheless reasonable to make this conclusion.

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Asian Christian Parents Criticize God the Father For Not Pushing Jesus Into a Respectable Career

LOS ANGELES, CA – Several parents of Asian descent at local churches were surveyed and interviewed in the Los Angeles area concerning the parenting of one of the highest profile parents that they know, God the Father.  Surveys showed that 64% of them strongly disapproved, moderately disapproved, or slightly disapproved of the Father’s parenting skills and of how Jesus his Son turned out.  An additional 13% did not necessarily disapprove but chose the option of “Kind condescension.”

“Look, Jesus was a nice guy, but his Father obviously never pushed him in school and to get good grades,” said Dae Jung Cho, ruling elder of Korean Presbyterian Church of Koreanness.  “Now look at his Son, Jesus.  He did not become a lawyer or a doctor.  He didn’t even become an engineer or an accountant.  He became a carpenter, a carpenter, like his step-dad… and that’s not even mentioning how shady that is.”

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Faith, Works, and an Elusive Quotation in James 2:14-26

One of the major reasons why there was the Protestant split with the Catholic church was over the nature of justification.  Luther and others argued for justification by faith alone, while the Catholic Church reiterated its commitment to justification by faith and works.  I affirm justification by faith alone, though I know that Catholics understand justification a little differently (they do not make a sharp distinction between justification and sanctification), so it is an oversimplification to accuse the Catholic Church of teaching a gross works-righteousness.

Protestants are armed with many texts, such as Eph. 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (NASB).  However, while the Reformers harped on passages like this, the Catholic Church had James 2:14-26, which includes the famous phrase, “Faith without works is dead” (2:26b).  Due to this and other issues, Luther had doubts about the book of James and is famous for calling it “an epistle of straw.”  While he seems to have retracted that statement and eventually accepted a harmonization between it and the Pauline epistles, he clearly favored the latter.

Protestants have since readily explained that while salvation is by faith alone, a true faith will always produce good works if given the time.  This is often stated, “Salvation is by faith alone, but faith is never alone.”  This is why Paul states after Eph. 2:8-9 in v. 10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”  However, while this seems straightforward, it turns out that this is not so easy to see in James 2:14-26 on face value.  James says in 2:24: “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone,” which a Catholic might say is about as clear a repudiation of justification by faith alone as you can ask for.  Thus, Protestants should give a careful account of this passage, just as Catholics need to deal carefully with passages like Ephesians 2.  I hope to do so below, though I will neglect giving background information for space considerations.

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Navigating Romans 9 Exegetically and Theologically: Part 2

In part one, I laid out my methodology and analyzed the argument that 9:30-33 is discontinuous with the first 29 verses of chapter 9.  I looked at the usages of the phrase “What shall we say then” and concluded that it does not in fact signal a major shift in perspective but rather a smooth transition that readily connects with what comes before.  I think this preliminary analysis tips the scales towards a non-Calvinistic interpretation of Romans 9 because 9:30-33 clearly emphasizes faith, so Calvinists like Thomas Schreiner are not justified in trying to make a big point that Paul neglects to mention faith before this.

We now get to the meat of chapter 9.  Again, to prevent this from being even longer than it is, I will not address every single issue in absolute detail, but I do hope to give a textually-driven interpretation of this chapter that shows that a non-Calvinistic view is not only plausible and responsible, such that Christians who hold to some similar interpretation are not obviously flouting good interpretive principles, but may also be superior to the Reformed case.  This is also a good time to reiterate that I respect my Calvinist brothers and have read several of their commentaries and listened to a few of their sermons on this (I’ll repeat that Schreiner’s work is especially very good).  This is just disagreement within the body of Christ.

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Navigating Romans 9 Exegetically and Theologically: Part 1

I and a partner are currently teaching through a series on Romans for our church’s Sunday School, and we have recently gone through Romans 9-11.  All of these chapters can be challenging, but Romans 9 in particular is notorious for being one of the most difficult and debated chapters in the Bible.  It is also one of the most, if not the most, important prooftexts for the Calvinist position, and that makes it a hotbed for a lot of disagreement (some Arminians, in turn, claim that Romans 9 proves their position).  I hope to address the chapter here succinctly, carefully, yet civilly, though it will not be possible to address every single issue fully without making these posts absurdly long.

Tackling a chapter like this in an efficient manner is challenging, but I’ll try to lay out my methodology:

-It is widely accepted that 9-11 is one unit, but for space considerations my focus will be on chapter 9.  The other two chapters will be mentioned in passing when helpful.  This will no doubt be a deficiency in these posts, but it is practical.

-Paul uses several Old Testament references that cause a lot of interpretive issues.  My working assumption will be that the original contexts of those references will be helpful to look at because while NT writers may do some new things with OT texts, I don’t think we can say that they changed what they meant to their original audience without seriously jeopardizing the trustworthiness of God’s Word.

-I will focus on what Paul wants to answer and largely assume that he avoids wild tangents.  To see his argument, I think it will be particularly helpful to first focus on both his introduction and his conclusion, similar to how one might get the gist of an academic paper by reading its introduction, scanning its body, and then reading its conclusion.  This helps one see where the author starts and where he plans to end up.  Granted, not all academic papers are written well and coherently, but in this case, I think it is fair to expect the inspired writer Paul to make sense.

-This post will focus on issues regarding the introduction and conclusion, and the next will address the body.

With these things in mind, I’ll begin.

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Girl Apparently Breaks Up With Jesus to Date Guy She Actually Likes

AUSTIN, TX:  A local Christian college student has seemingly ended her longstanding relationship with Jesus to start dating a guy she finds attractive.

Miranda Cho, a junior at the University of Texas, has been part of a Christian fellowship for her entire time at school.  During this time, she has received numerous requests from male peers to go out to coffee, to have lunch, and to generally be their girlfriend.  In all cases, she has turned them down because she claimed that Jesus was her true love.

“Miranda would always say, ‘Sorry, but I’m dating Jesus, and there’s no room for another guy,'” says Ashley Lee, her friend.  “That would often confuse Christian guys, but it would also make them like her more for being so spiritual.”  Ashley then started to pout.  “Frankly, I don’t understand why so many guys go for her.”  When asked if she felt forgotten due to the attention her friend received, Ashley abruptly turned defensive and walked off.

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On the Trigger-Happy Use of the “Heretic” Label

Though I’ve written several articles criticizing Calvinism, one may notice that there is one thing I have not done: I have never called Calvinism a heresy or any particular Calvinist a heretic.  In fact, I’ve made clear that even if I disagree with Calvinists, I still respect many of them as preachers of the Gospel and consider them brothers in Christ.  The use of the word “heresy” is very serious, and because of that, I tend to have little patience for those who use it quickly and carelessly.

Uncharitable Immaturity

For example, several years ago I was listening to a Mark Driscoll podcast as a passenger in a car (back in his heyday of popularity), and he mentioned the story of Noah.  Unfortunately, the clip is no longer up on Youtube, though you can still find many references to his message online.  You can also still download the original sermon (date: April 5, 2009), though the relevant quote is this:

What do we do with Noah? Hi Noah! Genesis 6. Let me tell you the story of Noah. Here’s the deal. If you grew up in church you probably don’t know the story because it gets butchered! It freaks me out; there is this long of things that freak me out and this is way up on the list. Every children’s Bible I get, I get white-out and I fix this part and I get a sharpy, and my kids all know that dad freaks out on the Noah story. Dad does freak out on the Noah story, because every kids Bible I’ve ever seen preaches a false gospel in the story of Noah. I don’t want my kids to be heretics, so I white it out and fix it. (emphasis added)

And the story in every kids Bible is told like this: Noah was a righteous man, he was a good guy. Everybody else was bad, Noah was good, Noah got a boat, everybody else swam for a little while. Moral of the story is be a good guy, you get a boat named Jesus, don’t be a bad guy, you’re going to have to swim for it. It’s ridiculous! Alright Genesis 6, Noah, verse 5, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” We call that total depravity. Who was bad?  Everyone. How bad? Totally. When? All the time. That’s pretty all inclusive. Now this is a heart-breaking statement, “And the Lord was sorry that he made man on the earth and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man from the face of the land. Man and animals and creeping things and birds of heaven for I’m sorry that I made them.’ But, here’s the big idea. Noah found what? Favor; it’s the Hebrew word for grace. Noah found grace or favor in the eyes of the Lord. God looked at the earth, everyone’s only bad all the time, including Noah. And God looked a Noah and said, “I’m going to love that guy.”

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