‘Current Affairs’ Category

I’m a Historian, Not a Prophet

March 29th, 2013 Posted in Church History, Current Affairs, Great Quotes, Historians

 By Nathan A. Finn

Historians are often asked to be prophets. In my classes at Southeastern Seminary, hardly a week goes by that one or more students don’t ask me to speculate about how the past might influence the future. This phenomenon is even more pronounced when I teach on church history in local churches. It is most common, both in class and in the church, when I teach on Baptist history. Many folks suppose that being relatively learned in Baptist history means that one is able to discern what will happen in the future. That might be true of Michael Haykin or Lloyd Harsch or Jason Duesing or Jim Patterson, but not this historian.

Recently, I was reading George Nash’s fine book Reappraising the Right: The Past and Future of American Conservatism (ISI Books, 2009). Nash has spent his career studying the conservative intellectual movement in modern America (see his landmark monograph on this topic). Apparently, historians of conservative intellectual history are similar to historians of Christian thought when it comes to requests for one don the prophetic mantle. I like what Nash writes in the introduction to Reappraising the Right.

“Historians are not necessarily good prognosticators, but by deliberately taking a longer view we can try to liberate our readers from the provincialism of the present” (p. xviii).

Now we’re talking. I have no idea if the Cooperative Program will go the way of the buffalo, if the SBC will divide on account of soteriological debates, if the Convention will become less southern and southwestern in its cultural ethos over the next generation, or who will be the next president of such-and-such theological seminary or mission board or other denominational agency (to mention but a few of the questions about which I’m regularly asked to prophesy). I’m a historian, not a prophet.

However, I do know that history reminds us to take the long view on each of these issues. The Cooperative Program has only been around for about half of Southern Baptist history and took a generation to catch on after its inception. Though critically important and worthy of our generous support, the CP is not intrinsic to our identity. The relative center of Southern Baptist soteriology has shifted over time because of a variety of factors, some of them non-theological in nature. Besides, its rather difficult to tell to what degree grassroots Southern Baptists have been in step with the relatively small handful of SBC leaders writing on soteriology at any given point in SBC history. The contemporary SBC is far less southern and southwestern (and Caucasian) than it was two generations ago, even if this isn’t entirely clear at the SBC Annual Meeting. But then the Convention is also more age diverse than is evident at the SBC Annual Meeting. As for denominational ministry presidents and other leaders, you simply never know when someone might retire (or not) and who will arise as a good candidate in such kairos moments. Nobody would have guessed in 1975 that Paige Patterson would become the president of not one but two SBC seminaries, to give but one example.

Historians aren’t prophets, and they shouldn’t pretend to be. But historians have something to offer our students and ministry colleagues as we ponder the great questions of our day. That something isn’t some infallible or even possible future, but rather historical perspective. And maybe, just maybe, if we inject a bit more historical perspective into our discussions of said great questions, such conversations might prove to be more profitable (though not prophet-able) than they so often are.

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Nathan A. Finn is associate professor of historical theology and Baptist Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also an elder at First Baptist Church of Durham, NC and a senior fellow of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies.

The Pope: Antichrist or Friend?

March 19th, 2013 Posted in 17th Century, Current Affairs

By Ryan Patrick Hoselton

About four years ago, I traveled with my former pastor to a conference where he was one of the speakers. During a break, one of the other speakers was asking me about my church’s confession (a classic “ice-breaker” at Reformed Baptist conferences). I told him that we hold to the London Baptist Confession of 1689 but with one exception. He responded, “Oh, the article about the Pope being the antichrist?” Perplexed, I said, “No, I was referring to the one about Sabbatarianism.”

My church really did not think that the Pope was the antichrist, I just did not know that the LBC of 1689 mentioned it. Chapter 26.4, says this:

The Pope of Rome cannot in any sense be the head of the Church, but he is that antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, who exalts himself in the church against Christ and all that is called God, who the Lord shall destroy with the brightness of his coming.

The Philadelphia Confession of Faith of 1742 reiterates this statement. However, most of the popular Baptist confessions of the past few centuries, such as the New Hampshire Baptist Confession, 1833, and the Baptist Faith and Message, 1925, 1963, and 2000, drop any mention of the Pope. I’m sure that multiple variables factor into this shift, but charting them is not the purpose of this post. My concern is that modern Baptists do not have a consensus about how we should view the election of a new Pope last Wednesday.

I do not agree with the seventeenth century Baptists that the Pope was the antichrist. But I think that Baptists must still affirm that the “Pope of Rome cannot in any sense be the head of the Church.” It may not be wise to restore a mention of the Papacy in our confessions, but believers should be aware of the important differences. Baptists through the centuries have maintained that the classic doctrines and practices of Catholicism are harmful to the world because it offers a misleading gospel and leadership. The election of an Argentine, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as Pope obviously indicates the strength Catholicism has gained in the Global South. Thus, Baptists today (and evangelicals generally) must not dismiss the countries saturated by Catholicism as sufficiently “Christianized.” Mission agencies need to continue extending gospel work in catholicized areas, obeying the Great Commission issued by the first, truly non-European head of the Church—an Israelite. And no, it wasn’t Peter.

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Ryan Patrick Hoselton is pursuing a ThM at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Louisville, KY with his wife Jaclyn, and they are expecting their first child in August.

Diarmaid MacCulloch: All history writing is autobiography

February 25th, 2013 Posted in 21st Century, Books, Church History, Current Affairs, Historians, Reformation

By Ian Hugh Clary

Recently I had the opportunity to hear Sir Diarmaid MacCulloch give a lecture on the history of Christianity and sexuality. MacCulloch is a church historian from Oxford who specializes in the English Reformation. As an evangelical, I find that his interpretation of history squares with my own, so I was perplexed by his talk.

For those who may not know, Prof. MacCulloch is an out-of-the-closet homosexual—just check the acknowledgements section of his masterful biography of Cranmer. He is also an advocate in the Church of England—where he was once an office-bearer—for gay rights. He recently left the church and now considers himself a “friend” of Christianity. As you can imagine, his lecture provoked questions. I believed that I would hear a very careful handling of sources, though admittedly there may be revisionist elements. I was wrong in my assessment.

Before I explain why, I should say that MacCulloch is an exciting lecturer—the hour or so he took in his first talk went by quickly. He addressed the role of sexuality from the Old Testament to the late Middle Ages; it was fast-paced and he covered a lot of ground, but it was never confusing or boring. I could only imagine what it must have been like to take one of his classes.

As the lecture progressed, however, I became troubled. From beginning to end, MacCulloch gave a large polemic against traditional interpretations of scripture and history. I also became more and more incredulous. This was not due to hearing an historian defend gay rights, that doesn’t shock me—it’s commonplace in academia. My upset was due to my hearing one of the world’s leading ecclesiastical historians be so shaped by his personal bias that it allowed him to crudely handle texts and history. As for scripture, MacCulloch used Boswell’s hermeneutic, alluded to gay relationships between figures like David and Jonathan, and drove a wedge between the sexual ethics of Jesus and Paul (saying the latter was the more liberal); all of this has long since been repudiated by scholars like Robert Gagnon. MacCulloch was dishonest to his audience by making his case seem so open and shut, when such is far from the case.

MacCulloch based his historical arguments on Hellenization that he argued infected the early church so that it denigrated the physical world and thus sexuality. He also hammered against the celibacy that has so dominated the western church. While I have sympathies with his views of monastic celibacy, he did not give a rounded view of the early church on the goodness of sex and marriage—the work of David Hunter offers a needed corrective. Though I was not able to attend his second lecture the next day, a friend told me that MacCulloch also did not deal with the Puritans and their views of sex, marriage, and the body—the Puritans, as Leland Ryken and others have shown, had a healthy view of sex, and were not Platonists in their view of the material world.

In the Q & A I shocked myself by raising my hand. Seemingly without control I stood and asked, “If you will allow me to ask a personal question, that is not at all meant to be cheeky, I wondered how you view your reading of history in light of your own personal story and struggles in the church. Could traditional historians not accuse you of allowing your own bias to inappropriately control your historiography, as you have accused Augustine?” He was gracious in his response, and even acknowledged the importance of the question. He replied that “all history writing is autobiography.” I found this so perplexing to hear from a scholar who has been such a model historian to me. For one who could appropriate the findings of Catholic revisionists like Eamon Duffy, yet do so while being true to the English Reformation and vindicating earlier historians like A. G. Dickens, I was disappointed to hear him justify a reading of history that would not square with his earlier historiographic methods.

Professor MacCulloch serves as a reminder to all of us: as historians, now matter how great or prestigious, we must be aware of our personal biases and strive towards objectivity. While pure objectivity is impossible, I do believe that historians can put forth a body of work that can withstand scrutiny from specialists. And while my autobiography may lurk, I cannot allow it to so colour my work that it misleads readers.

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Ian Hugh Clary is finishing doctoral studies under Adriaan Neele at Universiteit van die Vrystaat (Blomfontein), where he is writing a dissertation on the evangelical historiography of Arnold Dallimore. He has co-authored two local church histories with Michael Haykin and contributed articles to numerous scholarly journals. Ian serves as a pastor of BridgeWay Covenant Church in Toronto where he lives with his wife and two children.

Politics and Christianity: oxymoronic?

November 26th, 2012 Posted in 19th Century, Current Affairs, Great Quotes

I am a firm believer in the fact that Christians should be involved in the political realm. Not the Church per se, but individual believers.

One of the reasons Christian shun this realm—though do they not often mightily complain about it?—is because of the stumbling-blocks in the whole sphere of politics. This is nothing new.

Here is a letter from the Welsh Baptist Benjamin Davies, the one-time Principal of Canada Baptist College in Montreal, writing from London, England, in the 1840s  to his good friend John Gilmour, the Scottish Baptist then resident in Canada, and who was such a force for good on the Canadian scene.

Davies has been complaining about the British political scene of his day—1845—and then he observes:

“Is it vain for us to expect honest and sterling principle in political men? It seems a desperate case, at least in the present day.”

Not much has changed in this regard, it seems. Oh, for politicians who truly love justice and right and righteousness—and not adulation and power.

Book Review of 28 Seconds: A True Story of Addiction, Tragedy, and Hope

October 10th, 2012 Posted in Books, Current Affairs

Dr. Haykin has recently reviewed 28 Seconds: A True Story of Addiction, Tragedy, and Hope by Michael Bryant. This book tells the story of former Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant whose entire world was turned upside down in 28 seconds.

Find this review and others here on our Book Review page.

Posted by Steve Weaver, Research Assistant to the Director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies, Dr. Michael A.G. Haykin.

The seminary and piety: a surrejoinder

August 10th, 2012 Posted in 16th Century, 17th Century, 18th Century, 19th Century, 20th Century, 21st Century, Biblical Spirituality, Church History, Current Affairs

If we define a faithful minister of the Word along the lines of Acts 6, a man devoted to the Word and prayer, it seems to me that in the twentieth century faithful orthodox seminaries have done fairly well in training men in one half of this equation: the Word. But what of the other? Well, I think many leaders in former generations expected these things to be caught by osmosis even though Jesus responded positively to the disciples’ request that he teach them how to pray. Spirituality needs to be “taught” and handed on.

And while all professors in a seminary need to approach their specific subjects with an answerable spiritual frame, it is not wrong for some to focus on spirituality. Given the fact that spirituality and spiritual formation are increasingly huge engagements for both our larger cultural “moment” and within the boundaries of the Church, it is not unrealistic to ask certain men to specialize in the praxis of spirituality and the history of biblical spirituality.

As an historian, I feel the latter is very important: during the course of the twentieth century for a variety of reasons many of those who loved the Scriptures as the inerrant Word of God and faithfully upheld biblical orthodoxy failed to pass on the rich piety of their forebears in the Reformation, Puritan, Pietist and early Evangelical traditions. And surely this is one of the reasons why certain communities within the broad stream of twentieth-century English-speaking Evangelicalism became enamoured of the Spirit and talked as if they were the first to discover him since the Pentecost: they looked around and saw a tradition that seemed to have little place for piety, experience, and dare I say it, rapture (no I am not talking about an eschatological item!). Incidentally, here is where a man whom Carl has been writing about in recent days, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, is so helpful: his balance of Word and Spirit is admirable (re other matters Carl has raised about the Doctor, this is not the place to go into those, though I agree with Carl that the recent collection of essays on the Doctor is by and large a welcome addition to the books on that remarkable servant of God).

Maybe, I need to take up Carl’s offer and we can do a book together on this subject of the seminary and piety—and maybe Dr Lucas, if he is so inclined, could also be involved!

Spiritual formation and the modern seminary

August 7th, 2012 Posted in 19th Century, Biblical Spirituality, Books, Current Affairs

One of the classic introductions to theological studies is B.B. Warfield’s The Religious Life of Theological Students, where his primary concern is to argue for the necessity of personal piety in the life of those studying at a theological seminary. He expects that the seminary be a place of piety, where piety is inculcated and where the students experience what we call today “spiritual formation.” Reading my dear friend Carl Trueman’s recent post at reformation21 on “Witsius, Character and Cleaning Rosters” I was honestly surprised to find the following remarks in which he clearly disagrees with his distinguished Presbyterian forebear:

“I find the whole notion of ‘spiritual formation’ within seminaries to be somewhat problematic: seminaries impart knowledge and skills which are essential for ministry and which cannot be acquired with like ease in a practical mentoring situation; they also provide a context for developing important and useful friendships which will last a lifetime; but they cannot really engage in spiritual formation in any deep way.”

Trueman argues that this is because seminaries are not centers where the means of grace like the Lord’s Supper and the preaching of the Word are observed:

“Certainly, the professor can and should strive to model Christian behaviour; but the real, deep, lasting spiritual formation for ministerial candidates takes place in a church context just as it does for every other Christian. The church is where the word is preached, the sacraments administered and discipling takes place.”

To be sure, seminaries are not churches and I agree wholeheartedly that as such a seminary is not the place where baptism (albeit Carl and I differ somewhat about this ordinance/sacrament) and the Lord’s Supper are carried out. But surely the Word is preached at Westminster? What does Carl expect should happen as that Word is heard by students there? And surely the lifelong friendships formed are a central means of grace in the lives of the students—or maybe my dear brother has forgotten the way that our Evangelical (or should I say Reformed?!) forebears prized friendship as a means of grace? And would he disagree that part of the seminary professor’s role is to mentor the students (or some at least) under his care? Surely seminaries are places where more than places where “knowledge and skills which are essential for ministry” are imparted? If this is all our idea of a seminary, I would not be surprised if the long-term result were a hall of dry orthodoxy!

I am sorry, I think I shall stick with the perspective of B.B. Warfield, or one of my favorite models, D.A. McGregor (1847–1890), professor of systematic theology at and then principal of Toronto Baptist College. A former student said of his teaching: “He not only thought out the…doctrines upon which he lectured, but he felt their power, and falling tears often evinced his emotion while he spoke of some particular aspect of the truth. This made us all feel that we had before us not only a theological professor but also a Christian man whose life was swayed by the great principles about which he spoke… He not only made us see the truth, but he made us feel its power and perceive its beauty.” Were not lectures like this a rich vehicle of spiritual formation?

In fine, spiritual formation is a vital part of what should be happening at the seminary as well as the local church.

Math and the Future of Religion

July 18th, 2012 Posted in Current Affairs

In a recent piece entitled “Religion in Canada is going extinct as atheists come out of the closet” communications professional Daniela Syrovy argues that it “doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that religion [in Canada] is in decline.” She buttresses this remark with some impressions—church attendance noticeably in decline, church buildings being sold off—and stats from a recent study by three mathematicians (“Mathematicians say religion heading toward extinction”; for the actual piece of research, see Daniel M. Abrams, Haley A. Yaple, and Richard J. Wiener, “A mathematical model of social group competition with application to the growth of religious non-affiliation”) that seem to indicate that religion is headed for extinction in nine western democracies, including Canada.

To a math ignoramus like me (I don’t think that my father, who nearly did a PhD in mathematics, ever got over having such a numskull for a son!), the stats, supported by a host of mathematical formulae, look very impressive. The one big glitch is that we are talking about human behavior. First-century Rome—things looked grim for organized religion. Just around the corner was the fervour of Christianity. As Barry Kosmin, a demographer of religion at Trinity College in Connecticut rightly noted, “Religion relies on human beings. They aren’t rational or predictable according to the laws of physics. Religious fervor waxes and wanes in unpredictable ways.” So true.

Actually, this study by Abrams, Yaple and Wiener is simply a mathematical variant of a model that has been employed and found wanting in historical studies, namely, the secularization thesis. In a nutshell, this thesis argued that as societies became more sophisticated technologically, religion waned and declined. The thesis sounds pretty convincing: as more is explained about the world in which we live, the less we need to rely upon religion and deities. Kind of like that episode of the first Star Trek, where the adventure-loving humans encounter the god Apollo, who sees an opportunity to reassert his control over mankind through superstition and fear. But Capt. Kirk—the quintessential rationalist—tells him that mankind had outgrown their need for such gods and such beliefs.

This view seemed to make sense in the 1960s, when humankind seemed on the verge of great advances and the future seemed so rosy because of science. But fifty years on, western men and women are not so sure, and, as Syrovy admits, “Faith exists and is evident in everyday life” [what she means by “faith” is not at all clear]. Or to put it in more (post-)modern jargon, spirituality is flourishing as never before since the sixties, replete with crystals, Buddhism meditation, vampires, and converts to Islam.

Syrovy notes that “an estimated 12% of the world’s population are atheists and if the mathematicians have it right, over half of Canada is headed in that direction. Today, it feels great to say it loud and proud: religion is going extinct. Thank goodness.” Of course, majorities this way or that are not what this issue is about: rather, it is about truth. If 90% believe one thing and 10% another, and the minority are right, what matters that I am in such plentiful company? And when I look back at the twentieth century with its great social experiments in atheism—Stalinist Russia, Maoist China, the Pol Pot regime—I confess I am not as thrilled at the prospect of nationwide atheism as she is!

New Book Review: The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi

July 17th, 2012 Posted in Books, Current Affairs

Dr. Haykin has recently reviewed The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi by Peter Popham. Find this review and others here on our Book Review page.

Posted by Steve Weaver, Research Assistant to the Director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies, Dr. Michael A.G. Haykin.

Of university and college bookstores

July 10th, 2012 Posted in Books, Current Affairs

“If the college you visit has a bookstore filled with t-shirts rather than books, find another college.” —Al Mohler.

Wise advice indeed! About a year ago, one of the best bookstores in the Greater Hamilton area in Ontario, namely McMaster University’s bookstore, decided to trade in most of its books for McMaster kitsch, including oodles of t-shirts and hoodies with the Mac logo. I was utterly horrified and, as I would say in British English, I was gobsmacked! I could not believe my eyes when I saw the transition taking place. Thankfully, we have Bryan Prince’s bookstore down the road in Westdale. Still it is quite amazing that a first-class University like McMaster has a piddly number of books in their bookstore—or whatever the store should be called now that it has denuded itself of books.

In this regard, I was glad to see the bookstore at the University of British Columbia, where I was last week, it is still the real thing—I hope it stays that way!