By popular demand, here it is:
- 1985 Sen. Bill Armstrong, R-CO
- 1986 Sec. Donald Hodel (Interior)
- 1987 ?
- 1988 Lt. Col. (Ret.) Oliver North
- 1989 W. A. Criswell
- 1990 Pres. George H. W. Bush
- 1991 Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-GA)
- 1992 Pat Buchanan
- 1993 Dr. James Dobson
- 1994 ?
- 1995 Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX)
- 1996 AJ Clarence Thomas (SCOTUS)
- 1997 Billy Graham
- 1998 Dr. John Borek Jr.
- 1999 John Maxwell (?)
- 2000 Tony Evans (?)
- 2001 ?
- 2002 ?
- 2003 ?
- 2004 Karl Rove
- 2005 Sean Hannity
- 2006 Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)
- 2007 Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-GA)
- 2008 Chuck Norris
- 2009 Ben Stein
- 2010 Glenn Beck
- 2011 Randall Wallace
- 2012 Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA)
I’m always looking to fill gaps here; I’ve had no luck tracking down copies of various Liberty publications for the years I don’t have here. Also, I’m always interested in knowing who spoke at baccalaureate various years. I have to admit that while I remember who spoke at my graduation, I don’t remember a thing about baccalaureate that year. I may have skipped it.
A few weeks ago school ended and we had family visiting, and we took them about an hour and a half north to visit Taos, NM, home of the Taos Hum [link], some of the scenes in Easy Rider (1969), and KTAO, which has the largest broadcast area of any solar-powered radio station in the world [link]. Taos is also situated in the Southern Rockies mining area, and Chevron still has an active facility north of Questa on what is locally called The Enchanted Circle.
We were passing through a canyon near the Chevron facility when one of the visitors announced that the buckled strata we could see in the road cut was “clear evidence of The Flood,” by which he meant Noah’s Flood. We were then treated to a recitation of the ways in which a collapsing water canopy along with the rupture of underground water features could have produced the broken striations we saw in the rock faces around us.
I couldn’t bring myself to point out that while a flood may have produced some of the features we could see in the rocks there was no reason to believe that it was a particular flood, let alone Noah’s flood. It is my understanding that there’s evidence that New Mexico has been under water multiple times [link]; there are even mountains down south made mostly of coral. I have no idea how this sort of thing gets sorted out, and how people know when they’re correct, but I’d be willing to wager that there’s no good reason to point to a particular rock cleft and say it has any definite connection to Noah.
And this is one of the difficulties of growing up fundamentalist and becoming some sort of modern. There’s great value in having a simple faith, in prizing simplicity itself as a virtue, but I’m not sure this is what the Scriptures are meant to do, namely, to provide us with easy answers and to give us fixed opinions about things we otherwise know nothing about.
This is more or less what James White was talking about during a recent episode of The Dividing Line [link] regarding “being of two minds,” except he was dealing with the question from the other side, suggesting that science doesn’t offer answers to particular kinds of questions regarding purpose and meaning in the face of natural disasters. I’d encourage readers to give the episode a listen: I don’t think he asks the right questions, so as a result I can’t say he comes to the right answers.
As somebody who lives more or less with one foot in each world (a premodern world and a modern world) I think I have to argue that the Scriptures as we understand them answer one kind of question and Science as we understand it offers us answers to a different kind of question, and on close examination the two don’t really meet as neatly as we’d like. I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask the scientific method to produce answers to e.g. moral questions, and I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask the Bible to tell us why a road cut looks the way it does. And of course that’s just scratching the surface; there are plenty of questions left even if we have answers for those.
I stopped by The Wartburg Watch to have a look around today; I have been so busy with one thing and another I haven’t read more than a handful of blog posts in the last couple of months, but it seems like the folks at TWW occasionally comment on topics I’m interested in that I don’t see much elsewhere.
In particular there was a link to Bruce Gerencser’s blog; he’s a former Baptist preacher and current atheist. Let’s just take it as read that I mentioned that it disturbs me somewhat how many people who start out devout, lose their faith in a particular group within Christianity, and end up losing their faith altogether. Not all who wander are lost, I suppose, but some are.
Gerencser offers an article on sermon craft [link] that starts out headed in the direction of sharing secrets of sermon craft but ends up being mostly a collection of anonymous anecdotes about poor preaching. Here are a couple of pull quotes:
Many pastors recycle their sermons. The average Baptist pastor changes churches every 2-3 years. No need to craft new sermons. Just reuse the sermons you preached before. If they worked well in Ohio surely they will work well in Texas.
I remember one well known, Bob Jones associated, evangelist who kept long silver cases filled with recordings of his previous sermons. After doing this for many, many years he would just pick a recording to re-familiarize himself with the sermon and then preach it that night. Rarely did he preach “new” material.
I don’t know how to make sense of the “2-3 years” point here; most of the preachers I knew who were gone in two or three years were either failed preachers or were transitional figures in failing churches. The churches I attended were dominated by career men who lasted ten years or more. Gerencser’s comment about preachers with no new material is apt, though; I have yet to figure out why someone would continue to attend a church where the preacher mostly recycles a handful of his own “goodies.” I’d be inclined to start looking for a new church the first time I heard a preacher’s candidate sermon recycled.
Years ago I was acquainted with a pastor who had horrible preaching skills. I mean horrible. He was a Bible college graduate and didn’t even know how to make a sermon outline. I tried to show him how to do so but he had a hard time understanding the whole process. His approach was simple: read the text, chase the rabbits, bring it back to Jesus. pray, and give an altar call.
Yes, I’ve sat through some of these, and so have you.
Many pastors would have you believe that their sermons come directly from God. I know I believed this for many years. I was certain God was leading and directing me to preach on a particular text. I believed that God was guiding me through the delivery of the sermon all the way to the altar call. I was simply a mouthpiece for God.
As I look back over the thousands of God inspired sermons I preached I can now see who it was that was guiding me. It wasn’t God. It wasn’t the Holy Spirit. It was me. Through my own thought process I decided what the church needed to hear. Sometimes I had an agenda that I wanted to advance and what better way to do so than to couch my agenda in “thus saith the Lord.”
This is a tough topic, and one I rarely hear discussed. Gerencser, now an atheist, is mostly obliged to say he was never lead by the Holy Spirit, but I would be inclined to agree that it’s fair to ask where a sermon comes from, and in particular what’s inspiration, what’s revelation, and what’s something other, lesser, or baser. We might hope for some sort of interleaving between what the Scriptures have to say and what’s just the preacher’s opinion, but I don’t know that we think much about how to distinguish them.
It wasn’t news to me that preachers sometimes borrowed or recycled content in sermons; I’d seen books of sermon illustrations and basic sermon outlines for sale in Christian book stores back in the early Seventies, and couldn’t imagine they went away in the meantime. But I have to admit I was surprised to discover that some preachers sometimes reuse other peoples’ entire sermon series. See e.g. the feedback section at Creative Pastors [e.g. link]; here are a couple of comments, one from the static page, one from the feedback pool:
“I’ve been teaching the In the Zone message series at our church and God has really been blessing us with supernatural results. The last several weeks our budget giving is up approximately 40%!” -John Cross, Senior Pastor of South Biscayne Baptist Church, North Port, Florida
We are a brand new church plant that has reached young couples. A church our size (200) should be able to receive a good offering; but we didn’t. This series got such great feedback from new church attenders and those who have been in church for years. After the second week, about bringing the tithe, we received more than half our monthly budget! I thank God that there are creative ways to present His Word to people who don’t understand God’s principles. Jamie Noel, The Journey Church, Springfield OH.
I’m at a loss here; one the one hand I wonder what Mr Cross and Mr Noel are thinking when they decide to preach Ed Young’s sermons, and on the other I wonder if the people who attend their churches have any idea they could have skipped church and just used Ed Young’s “downloadable mind map” instead.
If I had to offer you a single simple takeaway here, I’d encourage you to be a careful consumer of messages, as much if not moreso than you would be watching television or reading a mainstream publication.
We are a brand new church plant that has reached young couples. A church our size (200) should be able to receive a good offering; but we didn’t. This series got such great feedback from new church attenders and those who have been in church for years. After the second week, about bringing the tithe, we received more than half our monthly budget! I thank God that there are creative ways to present His Word to people who don’t understand God’s principles.
The Journey CHurch
A year or so ago I posted for a while about what it was like being at Liberty University in the mid-Eighties; recent events (some involving Liberty, some not) have me thinking about this again. The upshot is this: I entered Liberty as a kind of “early Modern” person, and left as a kind of modern person with postmodern tendencies.
I think it’s fair to say that despite the occasional claim that Jerry Falwell and Liberty University herald the end of the Enlightenment, etc. Liberty is a very modern place full of people who see the world in a very modern way. And by this I don’t just mean that the vast majority of graduates enter fields that are industrial or postindustrial; I mean, there are lots of Business and Psychology graduates. But there’s more to it than that.
If we think of the history of Christianity as stretching from Antiquity through the Middle Ages and the Modern Era to whatever we are today, we have to acknowledge that the New Testament was written during the latter part of Ancient history, and the Reformation occurring on the cusp of the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Era, but we are/were thoroughly modern. We tended to think in terms of “absolute truths,” “propositional logic,” and finally “propositional truth,” it didn’t occur to us to ask whether e.g. Paul’s readers would have read his letters the same way we read them, or whether they would have thought the same thing we did when they read them. We read our understanding of Paul’s words back into the text, mostly because we didn’t know of another way to read Paul.
One consequence of thinking this way was that I tended to see the world as existing in a kind of fixed matrix of truth, anchored by fixed points of divine revelation. Or as we often put it “all truth is God’s truth.” And since God is omniscient, everything true can be known.
It was at Liberty, and in class no less, that I stumbled onto two problems: one from Kurt Gödel and the other from Thomas Kuhn. Gödel dealt with issues of decidability; he proved that if a logical system is of sufficient complexity then it is either inconsistent or incomplete. Kuhn was more of a historian or a philosopher of science, and he argued pretty convincingly that while most of the time science consists of problem solving, and so is fairly stable and logical, there are occasional crises where science as it is practiced jumps more for social reasons than for logical reasons. What’s worse is his claim that scientists before and after the crisis are not mutually intelligible to each other. Or as he puts it “they talk past each other.”
Gödel led me to question that everything that is true could ever be known; I still haven’t worked my way out of that one. I’m not entirely sure it has theological implications per se, but I think I’d have to say that before reading Gödel I believed the correspondence between revelation and “ordinary truth” was close; afterward not so much.
Kuhn in a sense was and is more of a problem; his recasting of “scientists do science” as “science is what scientists do” plagues me still. I tend to see a lot of theological discussions as being centered in the theologians discussing rather than in an observable external theological phenomenon being discussed. Strictly speaking it’s a misapplication of what Kuhn argued, but unfortunately it’s a perspective that’s hard to shake.
So there you go; I’m still very modern in a lot of ways. I still believe that an author’s intent matters when reading a text, for example, but I lost a lot of the fundamentalist (or if you which presuppositionalist) certainty I took with me to Liberty. And I’m not entirely sure I would have gone through the same transition if I’d gone to school elsewhere. There was something jarring about hearing respectable authority figures claim both
“All truth is God’s truth”
“These [people] believe that there’s only one moral absolute, and that’s there are no moral absolutes.”
While at the same time reading Kuhn and realizing that not only do thinkers organize themselves socially as much as logically, but also that how these thinkers think varies from one period of history to another, with grave implications for whether they are mutually intelligible. I suppose it’s entirely possible that if I’d been someplace less linear (for lack of a better term) I might never have reached my own crisis.
This post is a pale follow-up to the prior article about the article of the same name at The Chronicle Review [link].
The comments are, as they are almost anywhere, a mixed bag, but a couple of them caught my eye: one because it suggests an appropriation of the redemptive theory of history; the other because it suggests that the Reformed Resurgence (or whatever you want to call it) has been overlooked by the mainstream press. Here’s part of the first (#16), talking about Francis Schaeffer:
But, it’s foundational to the Evangelical worldview, which itself rests on a quasi-mythological structure that everything must begin with an initial paradise, followed by a fall, then an increasing degradation, then a final redemption. This is how Schaeffer sees the world, though he thinks the world begins with the Renaissance, presumably because that’s the period where his favorite paintings come from. This is also how Evangelicals see the world (note their fundamentalist understanding of America and its constitution: the US begins as a paradise (the “Founders”), there’s a fall (FDR?), followed by degredation (the 60s), then comes the redemption (the Christian Right).
I think as fundamentalists we would have to plead guilty to seeing history on the pattern of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream: one age gradually giving way to the next, each grand in its own way but lesser somehow, until some sort of cataclysm of external origin destroys history itself. I’m not sure this view of history is necessarily redemptive; Dispensationalism is linear, not cyclical. The rest I’m not so sure about; I think Schaeffer had a better argument for the relevance of the Renaissance than just his preference for one kind of art over another. And finally, I don’t know many evangelicals see the Christian Right as any redemption of or restoration of the actual Founding Fathers; they just consider the Constitution a contract, and the definition of who we are as Americans. Because as much as it pains me to say it, I think we tend to like the Founders as symbols but we tend to ignore them as people, etc.
The second comment (#25) starts off well and gets strange right away:
I read Michelle Goldberg’s _Kingdom Coming_ and she missed the entire Calvinist/Reformed/neo-Calvinist movement that is threatening to tear the Southern Baptist Convention apart.
I would have to agree that there is some sort of ongoing Reformed Resurgence somewhere. If it is “threatening to tear the SBC apart” I haven’t heard anything about it. The stories I’ve seen (see e.g. [link]) suggest that the SBC is suffering more strain from tension between its megachurches and the rest of the SBC than anything else.
Much of this neo-Calvinist movement is disseminated by home schooling networks and materials, now including lots of blogs. Several prominent Southern Baptist seminaries are headed by adherents of this neo-Calvinist movement and the Baptists are just trying to keep it from taking Baylor and Liberty (as far as I know.) Falwell, supposedly, before he died, said “Liberty will never go Calvinist.” Or something like that. Patrick Henry College, too, had some kind of blowup over St. Augustine who is one of the darlings of the neo-Calvinists. Liberty just got rid of the main guy standing against Liberty going to this movement, Ergun Caner. Forgive me if I get some of this wrong–I would LOVE to read ALL about it accurately, but even the Michelle Goldbergs and Jeff Sharlets miss this whole movement. I am convinced this is why Kenneth Starr, a non-Baptist at the time, was made head of Baylor. The Baptists didn’t want Baylor to go the way of Southwestern and Southern Baptist Theological Seminaries (I THINK.)
At the heart of this movement is, as someone else pointed out, a strong desire to undo the 1960′s, especially feminism. Many in this movement teach that women shouldn’t go to college. I thought that would get y’all’s attention. Mark Driscoll, a “four-point Calvinist” who heads a very popular megachurch in Seattle, preaches that women shouldn’t “waste money” going to college. Patriarchs in the neo-patriarchal movement (just a step to the right of the “Complementarian” movement in Baptist and Neo-Calvinist circles) say that no unmarried daughter should live out from under her father’s roof, even to go to college. Google “Visionary Daughters” to see about this movement.
I hate to admit it, but I initially read “neo-Calvinist” as some sort of neologism that’s meant to be scary; it has three of the markers of a scare word:
- It has a prefix (“neo”) suggesting that the concept is related to something the reader might understand and dislike, but is different and worse somehow
- The dread hyphen
- It ends in -ism, -ist, or -ology; this is often a sign that the speaker is going to wrap up a bundle of concepts into a term, show that the described has some of them, and then criticize the described for having the others; see e.g. modern uses of “Gnosticism” to describe people who aren’t Gnostics; also “moralistic therapeutic deism.”
But as the kids say nowadays “Neo-Calvinism is a thing” [link]. It’s a term used to describe people who read and and influenced by Abraham Kuyper [link]. This would of course include Schaeffer and by implication the Evangelicals, so I’m not sure this is what the author means. I think he means something else here, some other kind of new Calvinists: evangelicals who for whatever reason move from an Arminian or third (neither Calvinist nor Arminian) perspective to a Calvinist perspective, with the usual pitfalls.
I really had no idea that Calvinism was prevalent among Christian home-schoolers; if this is true it doesn’t include any of the home-schooling families I know.
The passing mention of Mark Driscoll is not surprising, but the author’s take on Complementarianism strikes me as odd: I’m more accustomed to hearing Driscoll’s views on gender roles described as liberal (e.g. not conservative Pauline) rather than authoritarian. But maybe that’s more a byproduct of the company I keep.
But the author’s suggestion that Ergun Caner was “the main guy standing against [neo-Calvinism]” at Liberty is an interesting take on Caner’s demotion: Caner was demoted, he did tangle with at least one Calvinist, but he was demoted because of his repeated mischaracterizations of his personal story while representing Liberty during speaking engagements, not for failing to be sufficiently Calvinist.
I could be wrong; Caner’s demotion could have been the final act of some Calvinist coup. I guess we’ll have to wait to see whether Liberty starts e.g. observing Reformation Day in say 2011 or 2012. Hint: I wouldn’t hold my breath.
A couple of weeks ago an article by Timothy Beal titled “Among the Evangelicals: Inside a fractured movement” appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education’s publication The Chronicle Review [link]. It’s a neatly-written survey article, laying out the main strands of evangelicalism within American Christianity, discusses some of the history of the study of evangelicalism by academic writers, and provides a pretty good reading list. I recommend it with a couple of clarifications (and maybe corrections), and I’d like to point out something from the comments section that made my head spin.
Beal breaks down evangelicalism into “revivalist, fundamentalist, and charismatic movements that feed into contemporary evangelical Christianity” and that’s as good a set of distinctions as any, since it gets the revivalist and fundamentalist movements before what we know as evangelicalism and positions the charismatics as different but still part of the movement. Because I come out of a background with elements mostly of the first two and almost none of the latter I tend to think of charismatics by turns as “not one of us; probably not Christians” and “second-rate interlopers,” neither of which is likely fair or accurate.
Beal points out that evangelicals are typically ahistorical, having no sense of their own history and little of anyone else’s; this is a fair criticism but as it’s a byproduct of our tendency to think of ourselves as being just two generations removed from Pentecost (okay three if you count the English Reformation) and at most one generation from the Rapture it’s probably not going anywhere. It does as much to explain why we think e.g. the Founding Fathers would have been at home in Eisenhower America as anything else. Anyway, if I understand him correctly it’s the fact that evangelicals have gotten rich, together, and politically involved that we’ve come to the attention of second-generation academic researchers (e.g. not Balmer, Carpenter, or Noll).
I think Beal makes a mistake by lumping Jeff Sharlet’s book in with Kevin Roose’s; those people Sharlet studied for the most part aren’t theologically Christian and their behavior is almost entirely political. I’d offer his portrayal of Senator Sam Brownback as being typical. On the other hand Beal gets kudos for mentioning Ned Flanders.
The article devotes a substantial section to books published in 2009, including a study by Shayne Lee and Phillip Luke of various megachurch leaders as savvy innovators in a religious marketplace, a book by Johnathan L. Walton on “the ethics and aesthetics of black televangelism,” and one by anthropologist James Bielo which is a field study of interpretive practices in small-group Bible studies. Of these three the first two make me wince just to think of them and the latter sounds fascinating. Here are the numbers:
Bielo observed 324 Bible-study meetings of 19 groups of evangelicals over more than a year and a half. Within those meetings, he often noticed tensions among different readings of particular biblical passages, as well as different understandings of the Bible itself, that potentially threatened group identity and coherence.
There’s a lot there: imagine attending 300+ Bible studies with nearly 20 different groups. Imagine the worst of the browbeating behavior you’ve ever seen in a Bible study multiplied over numbers like that. “We don’t interpret the Bible; the Bible interprets us” indeed.
There are also paragraphs devoted to home-schooling and pro-life activism (but surprisingly no mention of the Quiverfull movement); unfortunately it seems like any discussion of evangelicalism nowadays starts and ends with politics, as if evangelicalism had no internal narrative of its own, but only makes sense in terms of its politics. Beal also doesn’t really mention evangelical alternative (not to say derivative) culture; maybe there haven’t been enough serious treatments of it to merit mention. I don’t know.
I will have to come back to the comments on this article in a later post; hint: they mention Mark Driscoll and Ergun Caner.
I’ve been catching a lot of search hits where people appear to be looking for articles mentioning Chuck Swindoll and ghostwriting, so I went to see if there was some sort of scandal that I had missed. I usually catch enough articles on unfolding scandals with the Google Alert “megachurch,” I guess partly because only scandals involving big churches are sufficiently newsworthy most of the time. That would be sufficient if something went wrong for Swindoll, since his current church draws some 4000 per Sunday [link], so it qualifies as a megachurch.
I did, however, discover a reprint of an old article about ghostwriting by Larry Witham [link] from the defunct magazine Insight on the News [link] with the title “Ghostwriting Haunts Christian Publishing.” It’s from August 2000, so it’s 10 1/2 years old, but a fair amount of the article is still worth reading:
For years, top ghostwriters in the industry have penned works that fill the evangelical best-seller firmament — unknown professional writers have penned books by Pat Robertson, the Rev. D. James Kennedy, megachurch pastor Bill Hybels and marriage guru Gary Smalley. Insiders estimate that 85 percent of the Rev. Billy Graham’s books have been ghostwritten.
It would of course be helpful to know who the insiders are here, and whether the Graham quote refers to total books or total pages.
Yet pangs of conscience have struck Christian publishing since the early 1980s, when the evangelical monthly Christianity Today decried the practice. Masking true authorship, the magazine held in an editorial, “is a canny but this-worldly approach to life, a playing of all the angles, a cunning attempt to skirt the edge of moral forthrightness.”
This latter quote I think brings the issue into focus: Christians are supposed to be different from the world around them, and that goes for Christian leaders, too, no matter how pressed they are for time.
The issue was highlighted again in a 1993 World magazine expose by Edward E. Plowman, a veteran news writer for Christian publications. Nearly every form of Christian writing is “grist for ghosts, grinding away for people long on reputation but short on time, self-discipline, or writing ability,” he wrote. But Christian publishers will continue to use celebrities as “marketing gadgets” until readers kick the celebrity habit, he predicted correctly. “There are gifted but lesser known writers out there with something important to say” he added. The article raised some dust in publishing circles, Plowman recalls, and did change things slightly. “More publishers are willing to use `and’ or `with’ on book covers to credit the ghost-writer,” he says.
Christian publishers often view ghostwritten projects as “team writing” — helping the well-known minister package books, his “original thoughts” so readers may benefit. Yet the day may come when a Christian work “is a celebrity preacher’s ghostwritten book of ghostwritten sermons bearing a ghostwritten foreword by another celebrity and ghostwritten endorsement blurbs on the dust jacket by still more celebrities, none of whom has read the book” complains Plowman.
This latter quote from Plowman is standard-issue scare story passed off as example, but it opens up the question of ghostwriting to include sermons and blurbs.
I honestly don’t know how widespread the practice of high-profile preachers delivering ghostwritten sermons is; there was a persistent rumor at Liberty that Harold Willmington wrote Jerry Falwell’s sermons, but I have no way of knowing if that was actually true. Jerry did use Mel White as a ghostwriter for his book If I Die Before I Wake, and I suspect lived to regret it, but for other reasons.
A few best-selling Christian authors write their own books, including Philip Yancey, a Colorado-based essayist and stylist. “He writes every word” says Cryderman. “To us, that’s the ideal.” The Rev. Charles Swindoll, president of Dallas Theological Seminary, has crafted best-selling books from his sermons and has felt the need to defend their authenticity. “I have no writing staff or team of researchers who provide me with historical and illustrative material or serve as my `ghostwriters,’” he asserted in his 1992 book, The Grace Awakening. “Every word comes from my own pen through the age-old process most authors still use: blood, sweat, tears, sleepless nights, lengthy stares at blank sheets of paper, unproductive days when everything gets dumped into the trash, and periodic moments when inspiration and insight flow.”
Clashes over who truly shed sweat and tears — and got paid accordingly — sometimes erupt after a best-seller climbs the CBA charts. In the early 1990s, Colorado radio minister Bob Larson, whose name is on a novel trilogy that began with Dead Air, sued a woman who broke confidence by claiming she was the real author. The top-selling Christianity in Crisis by radio host and “Bible Answer Man” Hank Hanegraaff ended in a lawsuit by a ministry staffer who claimed to have done much of the work.
Articles like this aren’t complete without lists of good guys and bad guys, and this one has them: Yancey and Swindoll good, Larson and Hanegraaff bad.
I don’t know what to say about ghostwriting of books generally; I spent enough time in academic circles to know that authoring of some books is as much an administrative effort as a creative effort, and it often pays to beware “instant books” and read acknowledgments very closely. I tend to think that if a Christian is such a celebrity that you can’t go see them and get a sense of what sort of person they are, etc. you’re better off holding their books at arms’ length no matter how well-recommended they are.
The Archbishop of Santa Fe used to be a big deal; if you’ve ever read or heard of Willa Cather’s novel Death Comes for the Archbishop, that’s Archbishop Lamy, who was at the time Archbishop of Santa Fe, and for whom the nearby town of Lamy is named. The town of Santa Fe still looks very Roman Catholic, but isn’t as Catholic as it used to be: St Catherine’s Indian School closed years ago and sits decaying on the northeastern side of town waiting for a buyer, the Cathedral School at the St Francis Cathedral has closed and been replaced by yet another arts school, and the former Church-run hospital closed years ago; last year when the archdiocese wanted to tear it down the city told it no, the hospital building is of historical significance. So it sits idle waiting for a new occupant too.
The current archbishop is Michael Sheehan, and he’s been at his post since 1993 [link]. He makes fairly frequent appearances on the local Immaculate Heart Radio station, but I’ve heard him only rarely. Most of what he’s had to say is fairly straightforward Catholic party line, except when he talks about Evangelicals. On the basis of his comments I gather that there have been a fair number of local Catholics who have left the Roman Catholic Church for Evangelical churches.
Archbishop Sheehan made the paper recently for his comments on cremation [link], where in an official press release [PDF] he reminded faithful Catholics that they should be sent off with a Burial Mass and at the very least entombed in a Catholic cemetery:
From ancient times, the heart of the funeral of a Christian has been the celebration of the Eucharist for the departed, with the earthly remains of the deceased present whenever possible. This is the Mass of Christian Burial.
I urge the use of our Catholic Cemeteries if possible and the burial of our deceased loved ones in consecrated ground. This provides a sacred place where loved ones may visit and pray.
I have a certain sympathy for Archbishop Sheehan here; after all, it’s his job to mind the budget of the archdiocese, and if he doesn’t do stuff like this occasionally a great many programs and buildings will fall into disrepair. On the other hand, it’s hard not to see what he’s doing here as self-serving; he isn’t just reminding parishioners that services are available, and that their time in Purgatory may be extended if they don’t avail themselves of them, he’s also creating and sustaining jobs for Church employees.
In the handful of conversations I’ve had with lapsed Catholics over the years, especially the ones who became born-again Christians, there was typically some story involving money that caused them to leave the Catholic Church some time before they became Evangelicals, or born-agains, or what-have-you. The priest wanted too much money to marry them, or did a less-than-workmanlike job of burying some family member, or made it entirely too clear that Church services were necessary for the salvation of one’s soul, but only available for a fee.
I have been surprised how often a person’s conversion story was as much a social story (“I fell in with X and his friends…”) as a theological story (“I gradually realized the Gospel must be true…”) and I’m equally surprised how often someone’s apostasy story is as much a social story as a loss-of-faith story.
So I won’t say there are lots of decaying unoccupied Catholic buildings here because the Church has a bad attitude about money, because all I’ve got to go on is a handful of anecdotes. But I would say that other churches would do well to be careful when making spending decisions the messages about priorities these decisions suggest.
Here are a couple of quick blog postings, both of them related to Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) churches. The moniker is used by some fundamentalist Baptist churches but not all of them: I attended several fundamentalist Baptist churches in the South as a child, but none of them called themselves IFB then. Back then you had to piece together the relationships among fundamentalist Baptist churches according to what school their pastor attended and what missions board they belonged to.
Anyway, here they are: a posting from Wade Burleson regarding “authority” and its use in IFB circles [link]. Since he uses only the first name and home country of the woman who was being held against her will I have to assume that this is a story that has been cleaned up, simplified, composited, or what-have-you. Here’s the pull quote:
I tell you that story for one purpose. In my opinion, the greatest danger in the churches of America is that pastors and “leaders” have a warped view of authority. Rather than seeing “servant-leadership” and mutual submission as the norm for Christian living, pastors have this bizarre view that they are “God’s anointed” and if anyone does anything to cross them, then God will avenge them.
His use of the term “servant leader” here is a telling one, and is just as oxymoronic [link]as it seems. Hint: if someone tells you they’re serving you by telling you what to do they don’t get it.
Second, here’s a guest appearance by someone named Jason Wredberg regarding IFB identity and the perceived crisis facing IFB churches [link]. He talks about the tendency of IFB types not to know their history, much less their place in it or what it means.
Therefore, the cultural/separatist Baptist will functionally make the gospel an issue of secondary importance when he separates from someone like John MacArthur because of his associations but continues to invite Joe Evangelist who butchers the gospel but associates with all the right people.
In other words, as best I can tell, Wredberg is reconsidering what IFB folks call secondary separation: the announced separation from people who don’t separate from people we’ve already separated from.
I’m glad to see IFB types discussing topics like this in mostly straightforward language, and wish Wredberg et al well.
By the way: what is a “church planter?” That’s someone who expects all the honor due a pastor without the commitment implied by the term “pastor,” isn’t it? I have no idea when this term came into fashion, but I’m tempted to lump it in with “worship leader” in that category of terms we’ll someday wince to have ever used.
Anyway, I’m recommending both of these articles as evidence of what I hope is a healthy reconsideration of the cul-de-sac the IFB movement has wandered into; as someone who misses certain aspects of the Baptist churches I attended twenty-plus years ago (making me what? a post-Baptist?) I’m glad to see this tiny bit of examination within the cultural Baptist church, even if not always by the most doctrinaire Baptists.
Oops: I’m a BrianD reader, and he linked to the Wade Burleson article above about a month ago [link]. Credit where credit is due.
I had heard that this little artifact existed but never thought I’d see a picture of a copy [link]. It’s a 14-page collection of things Bob Jones Sr said from the pulpit at chapel at Bob Jones University over the years. A handful of quotes can be seen here [link]. It was published by Bob Jones University in 1976 but is apparently currently out of print. Instead the BJU Press offers a collection of posters with similar sayings [link].
This little document figures as Exhibit A in the case against Bob Jones University in Jeri Massi’s book Schizophrenic Christianity [link]. As I recall she took it to mean something unhealthy about Bob Jones (the man and the school) that such a book existed; her detractors thought she was making a mountain out of a molehill.
As a Liberty grad I feel I must confess that there is a relatively small, relatively mild cult of personality surrounding the late Jerry Falwell, but so far as I know people tend to speak kindly of one or two of the chapel sermons he gave essentially unchanged from year to year, but collections of his chapel sayings [link] are relatively rare and small.
Regardless, I’m thrilled to see that this little artifact exists, but not so thrilled I’d pay $3.50 plus $4 shipping and handling to read its 14 pages.