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Two Men Worth Commending

February 10, 2012

Praise where praise is due! In recent days, two men, both pastors, have done us a favor by setting a public example of taking a stand in an unpopular arena. The first is Hershael York, pastor of the Buck Run Baptist Church of Frankfort, Kentucky. He was invited to deliver the invocation before the Kentucky legislature on the night in which Governor Steve Beshear would deliver his budget speech. Beshear is lobbying hard for legalizing gambling in the state, largely because Kentucky dollars are going to neighboring states that allow gambling. Beshear is another politician in a long line of pragmatists who think that the end justifies the means. York, in striking contrast, offered this prayer for the legislators:

Help us to admit that we cannot truly love our neighbor as ourselves and then scheme to get his money by enticing him with vain hope. May they not lead this state to share profits from an industry that preys on greed or desperation.

Help us to foster salaries and not slot machines, to build cars and enable jobs—not license casinos and seduce the simple into losing what they have. May their greatest concern not be that we get our share of the family’s losses, but that we foster a sense of hope and justice that creates opportunity and leads to success.

Bully for York for offering a courageous prayer in the face of such pressure. In doing so, he is standing in a long line of preachers and prophets who had the opportunity and courage to cry out against the iniquity of the day. Like Nathan the prophet rebuking King David, or John Knox shaking his finger in the face of the Queen, York besought God publicly for politicians to put righteousness ahead of expediency. Sadly, his prayer fell on the governor’s deaf ears, as the video linked above demonstrates: Beshear followed York’s invocation by continuing to angle for legalized gaming.

The other man worthy of commendation, also a Southern Baptist, is Voddie Baucham, Pastor of Preaching at the Grace Family Baptist Church of Spring, Texas. Baucham was invited to fill the spot vacated by Mark Dever in James MacDonald’s Elephant Room 2. Dever bowed out when he learned that MacDonald had also invited Bishop T. D. Jakes of the Potter’s House; Jakes is a Oneness Pentecostal who preaches a prosperity gospel. With Dever gone, MacDonald invited Baucham to stand in. Baucham considered the venue and the invitation of Jakes and declined the invitation.

However, Baucham had already been scheduled to preach at a Harvest-sponsored Men’s Conference that followed shortly after the Elephant Room 2 conversation. Enough has been written on the lack of clarity with which Jakes answered the questions on his view of the Trinity and the shallowness of the nature of some of those questions. However, Baucham had to field questions from his own constituency about the Elephant Room conversation because of the following Men’s Conference.

Because of the lack of clarity on the Trinity and the failure of the ER2 participants to address Jakes’s prosperity gospel, Baucham responded publicly to the issue via his Facebook page knowing full well that he was to preach for MacDonald soon thereafter. Baucham showed up at Harvest and, after a brief conversation with MacDonald, was disinvited from speaking at the Men’s Conference. Baucham’s rationale for speaking out against the ER2 interview with Jakes may be found here.

Whether or not one agrees with these men over their association with the Southern Baptist Convention, we can certainly appreciate their forthright stand for righteousness in the face of a clear challenge to truth. York could have privately admonished the governor against the gambling issue and Baucham could have chosen remain silent after the ER2 meeting, but both men felt that silence on their part implied some form of tacit agreement. Both men are to be commended for the stand. They serve as models of gracious opposition.

I Am Puzzled!

January 16, 2012

It seems that we are in a mad race to the bottom of the barrel in evangelicalism, what with the notoriety in recent days of so-called “ministers of the Gospel” drawing our attention to marriage and sex. I get the fact that not everyone thinks that these guys are wrong. But I don’t understand why there isn’t a louder protest of this shameful pandering to the world’s agenda. Thankfully there have been some, but not nearly enough, in my opinion!

I get the fact that many Christians can use help in these areas. But is a “what wrong with _____” chapter or a “bed-in” really the solution? Do we need to add a class for our students counseling the sexually dysfunctional? Do pastors need to become sexperts?

How is it a nationally recognized speaker can excoriate a photographer in front of perhaps 500 witnesses for taking pictures during his public presentation, but that same voice can not withdraw his approval publicly from this kind of Christian voyuerism? I guess the gospel covers a multitude of sins! How is that we can get together for the gospel, but we cannot lift our voices together before a reprobate world that enough is enough! How about a conference on true spirituality? Where is Isaiah when we need him? Is there anyone who will throw the money changers out of the temple?

Maybe this is the real elephant in the evangelical room. We have no real voice in the darkening world, just a cacophony of confusion. Ichabod!

The Ethics of Rhetoric

October 17, 2011

Richard M. Weaver. The Ethics of Rhetoric. Washington, D.C.: Regenry/Gateway, 1953; reprint Davis, Calif.: Hermagoras Press. 234 pp with index.

The popular definition of rhetoric includes, at minimum, the elements of bombast and verbal trickery. This understanding has led to a kind of pseudo-sophisticated distrust of rhetoric. A speaker’s or writer’s ideas can often be dismissed simply by declaring, “That’s not an argument, that’s just rhetoric.”

This mistaken understanding is unfortunate. Rhetoric, together with grammar and logic, is a basic tool of thought, a fundamental component of the life of the mind. The failure to master rhetoric cripples careful thinking by leaving people illiterate. Those who cannot critique rhetoric thoughtfully are typically the first to follow demagogues and propagandists.

Some displays of rhetoric are clearly unethical. These occur, for example, when a speaker uses flourishes to make himself seem impressive or half-truths to manipulate his listeners. At its worst, rhetoric can become mere propaganda. These uses are probably what the apostle Paul has in mind when he denounces “excellency of speech” and “enticing words” in 1 Corinthians 1 (a chapter in which Paul shows himself to be a master of rhetoric).

Nevertheless, these are the abuses and not the uses of rhetoric. Rhetoric has a vital role in both speaking and writing. It involves the skill of ordering ideas so that people are able to follow a sequence of thought. It includes the removal of obstacles that would impede legitimate persuasion. An effective rhetor is able to lead his listeners or readers to observe the world from a new and different point of view so that they can intelligently consider its legitimacy.

In other words, rhetoric has an ethic. Richard Weaver is a rhetor. He understands the use and abuse of rhetoric. As the title implies, in The Ethics of Rhetoric he inquires into the nature of ethical rhetoric, contrasting it with the unethical.

Weaver proceeds by way of analyzing historical examples. He begins with a discussion of Plato’s Phaedrus, employing the Socratic dialogue as an analogy for the right use of rhetoric. He contrasts the rhetoric of Bryan and Darrow at the Scopes trial. He critiques Edmund Burke’s argument from circumstances, and he offers a lucid glimpse into the thinking and speechmaking of Abraham Lincoln.

Having led his reader to distinguish ethical from unethical rhetoric, Weaver turns to his contemporary situation (1950s America). He discovers plenty of unethical rhetoric in both press and politics. He notes the tendency to vest secondary terms with ultimate importance, then to load these terms to “great advantage to a nation bent upon organizing its power to be able to stigmatize some neighbor” by employing “the term’s capacity for irrational assumption.”

This is the kind of thing that makes Weaver worth reading. He is another of those authors who deserves an entire shelf in your library—whatever he writes merits pondering. Here is one of his concluding observations.

An ethics of rhetoric requires that ultimate terms be ultimate in some rational sense. The only way to achieve that objective is through an ordering of our own minds and our own passions. Every one of psychological sophistication knows that there is a pleasure in willed perversity, and the setting up of perverse shibboleths is a fairly common source of that pleasure. War cries, school slogans, coterie passwords, and all similar expressions are examples of such creation. There may be areas of play in which these are nothing more than a diversion; but there are other areas in which such expressions lure us down the roads of hatred and tragedy. That is the tendency of all words of false or “engineered” charisma. They often sound like the very gospel of one’s society, but in fact they betray us; they get us to do what the adversary of human being wants us to do. It is worth considering whether the real civil disobedience must not begin with our language.

The One Thing Money Cannot Buy

October 6, 2011

Yesterday, technology innovator Steve Jobs died. Jobs was the man in whose garage the Apple fell from the tree. Along with Steve Wozniak, he gave birth to what can only be described as technology revolution. Along the way, Steve became a Buddhist and a billionaire, eight times over. Whether or not he had everything money could buy, he certainly had the personal wealth to try. But in the end, one thing eluded him—his health. He had been sick with cancer and had had a liver transplant. He died a relatively young man. Today he is being mourned the world over.

Steve and I were born but one year apart. I turn 55 next month, so Steve’s passing hits a little closer to home. It reminds me (as it should remind us all) that life is fleeting and we are mortal. Lord, teach us to number our days and apply our hearts to wisdom! What shall a man give in exchange for his own life?

As the world of Apple mourns the loss of their captain and commander (Steve formally stepped down as Apple’s CEO in late August), let us all remember that life is a gift from God and our days are in His hands. Let us live them for His glory and remember that it is appointed for a man once to die, and after this the judgment. Steve had everything that money could buy, but money cannot buy life itself. That is completely in God’s hands.

Weep with Those Who Weep

September 22, 2011

I had opportunity to visit the MARBC meeting in Faribault, Minnesota this past Monday and Tuesday. I went in part to represent the seminary with Ron Gotzman, but I also wanted to hear the main speaker, my brother Doug Brown from Faith in Ankeny. I appreciated renewing fellowship with some longtime friends, having lunch with Paul Lobb, and meeting some new people.

I left the meeting, however, working through the emotions of listening to Jim and Susie Goodew talk about the loss of their 21 year old son Titus in February of this year. Everyone present was touched by the pain of their loss as the Goodews opened their hearts in a transparency seldom seen. Titus’s life and suicide have touched many lives. Jim and Susie expressed with unusual clarity the depth of their personal sense of loss, and also the ways in which their own healing process has helped numbers of people. The support of their church, encouragement from other brothers and sisters in Christ (over 600 cards), and the prayers of many helped them through a healing process that is still ongoing.

I am reminded to continue to pray for the Goodews and “to weep with those who weep.” Their recovery continues and so should our prayers.

Mentoring Partnership Meeting

September 22, 2011

I would like to invite all of those pastors involved with Central Seminary’s Mentoring Partnership program to a meeting after our Pastors’ Day lunch on Monday, October 10. If you are currently in the program, you are invited to the meeting whether you have a current student or not. In addition, we gladly welcome pastors not currently in the Mentoring Partnership who are interested in joining with Central Seminary to prepare men for ministry.

We will meet in Room 241 (the room where we have chapel). We want to see what is working and what we need to improve, and we will exchange mentoring ideas that have proven beneficial. Additionally, I want to encourage the pastors to find ways to help our students’ wives in the mentoring process.

Our Mentoring Partnership is designed to enlist the help of area churches in training men for the ministry. This partnership is founded on the seminary’s commitment to the local church and is designed to strengthen the relationship between its students and area pastors. The design is to meet the needs of students to learn the ministry from first-hand practitioners in the church while simultaneously learning skills in the classroom.

Please review the mentoring section of our website and come with suggestions. Contact me if you have any questions. I look forward to seeing you on Pastors’ Day after lunch.

Mark Your Calendar: Huge Book Sale!

September 20, 2011

With fall in the air and the seminary’s annual Fall Conference coming up, it’s time to clear Central Seminary’s library shelves of the duplicate and unneeded books that have accumulated during the past year. Last year, we had an excellent book sale that generated more than $700 for the library to use to secure new titles. This year promises to be an even greater sale. We will be offering several hundred books from the library of our founder, Dr. Richard V. Clearwaters, some with his signature and others with his book plate in them. Doc had a better-than-average pastor’s library for the 1950s, 60s and 70s. These books are in the condition which he had them on his shelves. Some may have his notes in them. (Sorry, we have kept the books signed by the authors—W. B. Riley, Carl F. H. Henry, John R. Rice, etc.) But there will be many more titles available to add to your personal library.

Typically, when we receive a donated book, we check first to see if it is needed in our own library, either to add to our collection or to replace a book that has been heavily used. Then we check our collection in Romania. If the book is in both collections, we offer it for sale to area pastors and our students at our annual book sale. These books are all reasonably priced: from $.50 for some paperbacks to $1, $2, $5 or $10. Only rarely will any book be priced over $5, and there are several sets that are being sold for less than $1 per volume.

Not all of these books are older and less useful books. Many are still being used in discussions of church history, systematic theology, and biblical exegesis. So make your plans accordingly! The annual seminary library book sale promises some real bargains for the avid Christian bibliophile!

Dates: Monday and Tuesday, October 10–11

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