September 2005

It's Time for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood to Close Up Shop...

Several days ago I sent a copy of the following to my brother Tim, co-author of this blog and former executive director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). During the period Tim served as CBMW's executive director I worked as a volunteer for CBMW, establishing their first internet site and helping with a variety of tasks from the planning of CBMW's 2000 conference to attendance at ETS meetings and CBMW board meetings to editing of the CBMW Journal. My work with CBMW ended after Tim's resignation as executive director in 2000.

Tim responded to this piece by sending a letter of resignation from the Council to CBMW president Ligon Duncan. I had no intention in writing this of causing Tim to resign. Nor do I have anything but sympathy for the position of Ligon Duncan and CBMW executive director Randy Stinson, men who have inherited rather than caused the culture described below.

CBMW's positive work was largely concluded with the formulation of the Danvers Statement and the publication of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Those were worthy initial steps. But it is now time, I believe, for CBMW to consider whether it has become an impediment to the cause of Scriptural truth. I suggest this for the following reasons....


...for Funniest Books of All Time

Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreth
My Life and Hard Times by James Thurber
The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter Thompson
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain
The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse
The Education of Hyman Kaplan by Leo Rosten
Life of Johnson by James Boswell
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
The First Rumpole Omnibus by John Mortimer
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift

Read the Barth Letter!

Friends, I urge you to read the letter from Barth to Madame Visser 't Hooft that Tim has posted here.

Not only are you unlikely ever to see this letter anywhere else, I can assure you that you will find Barth's response to Mrs. Visser 't Hooft's proto-feminism bracing, remarkably biblical and unbending.

For more background on Henriette Visser 't Hooft's proto-feminism, the difficulties it caused her husband (a leader in the WCC ecumenical movement) and Barth's scathing response, see this fascinating article (though sympathetic to Mrs. Visser t' Hooft) by Jurgen Moltmann.


Idolatry: First Degree and Second Degree

In thinking about images and idolatry, it is important to remember that idolatry begins with graven imagery. Graven imagery is first degree idolatry. Second degree idolatry is one step removed from graven imagery--mental idolatry versus physical. When Paul warns the Colossians of "greed which is idolatry" Scripture endorses the concept of second-degree idolatry.

There are, in other words, mental idols. The second commandment can be broken in the heart as can the sixth, seventh, and virtually all the rest.

But, of course, second degree violations of any commandment are dependent upon the existence of first degree violations. If it were impossible to kill your neighbor physically, there would be no basis for Jesus' second-degree extension of that commandment in the Sermon on the Mount. The same goes for adultery: mental adultery is inconceivable in the absence of physical adultery.

Thus, when we consider only second degree violations of the second commandment without ever linking them to first degree violations, we eviscerate the commandment of reality: life and blood, warp and woof. It becomes entirely an academic, cerebral violation, and thus a cold sin. But idolatry is a sin of passion and enthusiasm. It is not cerebral. It is pulsating.

And Scripture routinely warns against first order idolatry. In fact, it primarily and overwhelmingly warns against physical images when it speaks of idolatry. Nor have we advanced beyond first degree violations of the second commandment. We are as image-besotted and beset as any culture in any age of human existence. Yet we do not worship any graven images? We do not commit first-degree idolatry?

In fact, nothing is more common to our condition than first degree idolatry. Hear the Word: "Little children, guard yourselves from idols." What weak little children we truly are. God protect us from thinking we stand in regard to the second commandment.

Barth on similarity between feminism and antisemitism...

On a certain day in 1983, only months before graduating from seminary, I was browsing the new arrivals shelf of our seminary's library and came across a feminist tract just published under the auspices of the Women in Church and Society Committee of the World Council of Churches. Flipping through its pages, it all seemed the normal feminist claptrap to me. Then I came to the appendices and discovered a gem--correspondence between Henrietta Visser 't Hooft and Karl Barth concerning the Scripture's teaching on the relationship between the sexes.

In all my reading on this subject in the intervening years, I've never run across a single reference to this correspondence. It's time to stop hoarding it and share it with our good readers. So with no further ado, here is an exchange between Karl Barth and Henrietta Visser 't Hooft, wife of the first General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Willem Adolph Visser 't Hooft.

Most fascinating in this exchange is Barth's statement:

For instance, a great many Christians in Germany today object to the fact that Christ was a Jew. Time will show whether their objections are salutary. And women can object to the fact that the Bible says that "man is the woman's head." Time will show whether it is good to reverse this disposition or (as you would like to do) to neutralize it.

Have I piqued your interest?...

Power to the people...

A new laptop will be unveiled by MIT's Media Lab in November. The laptop has been designed to sell for under 100 US and to open the information age to billions more.

A few years ago a missions leader in eastern African asked me for book recommendations in a number of areas of biblical studies and theology. He was writing material for the church leaders of his nation and needed some foundational material himself. After collecting my recommendations, I prepared to order the books and ship them to him.

Then it occurred to me that what I was doing was foolish. A number of my recommendations were available electronically (often PDF documents), and those too new to be available electronically were often easily replaced by similar works that were available. Here (scroll down for the free books--caveat non-emptor: there's chaff in this wheat), here, and here are representive links.

So I ended up shipping a few printed books, but also a number of CDs with hundreds of electronic books burned onto them. And of course, it was all at a fraction of the cost with the added benefit of not being susceptible to mildew or theft! And for the cost of the media (a CD at ten cents) my friend could duplicate the books for others.

So I'm excited about this new laptop. It could do much to open up excellent material to Christians around the world.

By the way, the computer will run a stripped down version of Linux (hip hip hooray for open source); its screen will switch from color to black and white on the fly, with four times the resolution in black and white (able to be viewed in sunlight); and its screen hinge will incorporate a small crank to make it independent of a plug-in power source.

Ringo's lead is slipping...

The latest result from our web survey on the identity of the voice which shouts at the end of Helter Skelter, "I've got blisters on my fingers," reveals a steady erosion of Ringo's once-commanding lead.


I'm nothing because you didn't vote for me?

When debate on our blog turns nasty I frequently turn away. Tim and I are reluctant to remove comments--a philosophy developed back when I moderated CBMW's mail list in the 90s. Once you start trying to moderate tone, you're fighting a losing battle with subjectivity. But that doesn't mean we don't find ourselves incensed by comments people make.

Speaking of odious comments, earlier today I came across a days-old comment in which a pseudonymous individual spoke slightingly of John Piper's leadership within the Church:

By the say I've made accusations against a "respected leader." Really? Whose respected leader is he? And on what grounds is he a respected leader? Moreover, who made him the leader, you? Perhaps to some he's "God's voice," as the Pope is for Vaticanites, but he's not for me. I didn't vote for him, and I don't put much stock in him. He doesn't speak for me.

Though I won't take the comment off, I must respond to this grievous display of rebellion:

First, John Piper is an ordained minister of the Gospel whose ordination by a Bible-believing ecclesiastical body conveys the same gift conveyed to Timothy by the "laying on of hands" of Scripture. And Paul warns Timothy not to permit men to despise that gift because of his youth. Mock and jibe all you want, the authority John Piper wields is real. God will deal with those who disdain it.

Kick him out...

Although some might see this post as politically partisan, please believe me when I say it's not. I identify with no political party and agree with Samuel Johnson that "schemes of political improvement are laughable things." But I care very, very much about the slaughter of the unborn which daily pours the blood of innocents out on our precious soil. And it's clear to me that, bottom line, this is the reason for the Democrats rejecting Roberts: he may be a part of Roe. v. Wade being overturned.

So please understand my real motives in calling for the removal from office of those who have announced that they will vote against the confirmation of John G. Roberts Jr. as Chief Justice--including particularly my own state's junior senator, Evan Bayh.

As the Indianapolis Star said in its lead editorial yesterday, there's no longer any doubt that Bayh has his eyes on the 2008 presidential primaries and he's already running.

So, let's kick him out of office. Bayh is willing to sacrifice the lives of little babies in their mothers' wombs to his own political ambitions. He's a sad excuse of a leader or, for that matter, a MAN.

Is church membership biblical...

It's almost trite to say Americans are individualists. The impact this individualism has on church life is toxic. If you won't take offense at my saying so (fat chance, huh?), my greatest concern with the baptist movement is the degree to which it appears to endorse this unscriptural aspect of American ideology. But more on that later.

American individualism is an equal opportunity employer and presbyterians are susceptible particularly, I think, in the matter of church membership. Frequently I've heard and read my fellow presbyterians calling into question the biblical basis of church membership. And while allowing that we don't find in the New Testament any record that the church maintained a sessional record book containing names of members and the date of their reception into the particular church, I believe that the attack upon church membership actually goes much deeper than an attack upon writing things down.

At it's heart, the attack on (or feeble support for) church membership is an acceding to another major theme of American culture. We despise authority. And in a culture that despises authority, who in his right mind would enjoy exercising it? Hence the "servant leadership" mantra which so often is a simple cover for no leadership at all...

For physicians of the body and the soul...

This short exhortation was written by Thomas Sydenham to members of the medical profession. It's equally (or more) pertinent to the work of those entrusted with the care of men's souls, particularly pastors and elders:

It becomes every person who purposes to give himself to the care of others, seriously to consider the four following things:

First, that he must one day give an account to the Supreme Judge of all the lives entrusted to his care.

Second, that all his skill and knowledge and energy, as they have been given him by God, so they should be exercised for His glory and the good of mankind, and not for mere gain or ambition.

Third, and not more beautifully than truly, let him reflect that he has undertaken the care of no mean creature; for in order that he may estimate the value, the greatness of the human race, the only begotten son of God became himself a man, and thus ennobled it with His divine dignity, and far more than this, died to redeem it.

And fourth, that the doctor being himself a mortal human being, should be diligent and tender in relieving his suffering patients, inasmuch as he himself must one day be a like sufferer.

-Thomas Sydenham (1624-1689)


Degrees of Wrong....

It is perhaps beneficial and even necessary to occasionally point out the obvious. On this occasion, the obvious that needs restating is that there are degrees of wrong in the eyes of God. There are shallower and deeper sins which correspond with levels of judgment and suffering in hell. All sin is sinful, but not all sin calls forth the same degree of Divine wrath--on earth or in eternity.

We must reaffirm this clear Scriptural truth today in the face of Christian denials. For instance, when overdrinking is equated with overeating, we must know enough biblically to be able to say, "Yes, but..."

And when deniers of God's wrath in the elements of nature tell us that all have sinned and fallen under Divine judgment, not just the citizens of New Orleans or San Francisco, we must be able to say, "Yes, but..." and quickly point to the lessons inherent in the stories of Sodom, Gomorrah, Nineveh and Jerusalem.

Proof that hell has degrees of punishment:

"And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more." (Luke 12:47-48, NASB95)

Proof that one sin can be greater than another in the eye of God:

Jesus answered, "You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin." (John 19:11, NASB95)

Proof that judgment varies in accord with light and duty:

"Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. " (James 3:1, NASB95)

Proof that cities are judged corporately for sin, and that the sins of one city can provoke greater Divine wrath than the sins of another:

"Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. "Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. "And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. "Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you." (Matthew 11:21-24, NASB95)

Proof that there is greater and lesser condemnation:

"In His teaching He was saying: "Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, who devour widows' houses, and for appearance's sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation."" (Mark 12:38-40, NASB95)