Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Reformation the Goal of Every True Child of God

Reformation Day. That is what I call today. I know others call it Halloween, but this day, October 31, will always be known by me as Reformation Day.

It was on this day 490 years ago that a Catholic priest named Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses Against the Sale of Indulgences on the Door of Wittenberg (pronounced Vittenberg) Castle. Indulgences were those pieces of paper you purchased at your local parrish when you were promised protection against divine wrath for your future sin. So, if you knew you were going to sin (or 'indulge' yourself), you bought an indulgence from the church and you could sin without guilt. Other indulgences were purchased for family members who had already died with an abundance of sin in their lives, and you paid the church to in essence bribe God to remove your loved one from 'purgatory' where your loved one was being 'purged' by God for his sins on earth. The money you gave to the church in the purchase of indulgences for your loved ones, according to the Catholic priests of the day, would not only be used to finish the magnificent St Peter's Basilica in Rome, it would remove your loved one from Purgatory. As the monk Tetsel used to sing in his little village ditty (translated from German):

"As soon the coin in the coffer does ring,
the soul from Purgatory it shall spring."

Luther's 95 Theses explained why the Roman Catholic doctrine of indulgences contained no real power or efficacy. Luther explained patiently that the very concept of indulgences was a denial of the gospel of the atonement of Jesus Christ. He urged his fellow Catholics to return to the gospel, the love for the truth of God's Word, and to work together for the advancement of the kingdom. He nailed his Theses on the community internet bulletin board of his day (the door of the castle church), and the Reformation began. Western Civilization, including the United States, is composed of hundreds of vibrant evangelical denominations and tens of thousands of evangelical (gospel or 'good news') churches because of the Reformation. Martin Luther was eventually put on trial by the Pope at the Diet (German word for 'meeting) of Worms (pronounced Vurms; a city in Germany) and convicted as a heretic. It was at this meeting at Worms (January 28 - May 25, 1521) that Luther concluded his defense of his actions by making this famous statement:

Unless I am convinced by Scripture and by plain reason and not by Popes and councils who have so often contradicted themselves, my conscience is captive to the word of God. To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. I cannot and I will not recant. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.

People forget that Luther had no intention of leaving the Roman Catholic Church. He considered himself a reformer, and thus the title of his movement was known as 'The Reformation' of the Roman Catholic Church.

Of course, those who were in control and held the power considered Luther a heretic, a liberal, a trouble-maker - nothing but a 'Protestor.' Thus, the word 'Protestants' was coined by the Roman Catholic church to label Luther's followers and they were eventually banished. I wonder what would have happened had Luther not been thrown out - 'ex-communicated' - from the Roman Catholic Church? What would the world look like today had his reforms actually worked during the end of the Middle Ages? We will never know, and in God's Providence it was not meant to be, but Luther's attempt at Reform were noble - even if not successful. Reformation toward a more gospel oriented belief that the Scripture is sufficient in themselves for Christian doctrine and practice should be the goal of every true child of God.

Have a great Reformation Day, and may you and I work toward reform in our churches and our convention that leads to our collective conscience held captive to the word of God - and nothing else. Man's rules, religious regulations or denominational traditions that pretend to be on par with Scripture and lead anyone away from faith in Christ alone, trust in Scripture alone, and rest in God's grace alone are to be resisted with as much energy as Luther resisted indulgences. Here we stand, we can do no other.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Discovering That Which Is Most Alive In You

In my previous post I attempted to show that, according to Scripture, God alone is the creator of the very thing that separates you from animals - your soul. No scientist can create a person's soul in a laboratory. No human being can create the human soul by procreation. God alone forms the soul of man.

It is your soul that provides you communion with God. This communion with your Creator gives rise to an inner strength regardless of your temporal circumstances. Soul communion with God is the very source of genuine life. It is what makes us alive - really alive. But many Christians have fallen into the trap of believing that God desires His people to live in comfort, and that He cooperates with those who believe in Him to bring a life of temporal blessing. This "Joel Osteen" type of mentality makes the very dangerous mistake of putting second things first. Rather than communion with God being the center of one's life, blessings from God become the focus of one's life. God created you to enjoy Him. He formed you for communion. Your soul was made by God, for God, and will return to God.

Therefore, God will often allow the loss of blessing in your life to tear down every idol and draw your soul back to the only thing that truly and eternally satisfies - a heartfelt, passionate soul-satisfying relationship with God. And NOTHING and NOBODY can steal that from you. Larry Crabb in his new book SoulTalk tells a heartwarming story that illustrates the importance of knowing the importance of the soul.

We moved my aging parents closer to family when it became apparent that Dad's health was declining and Mother's Alzheimer's was advancing. Shortly after their arrival in Denver, it became necessary for Mother to receive full-time care in a facility designed for people whose minds were ravaged by that terrible disease. For the first time in more than sixty years Mother and Dad lived separately.

They each suffered terribly, though in different ways. Mother was terrified by her confusion. Dad was devastated by the loss. So many times, I would drive home after visiting each of them in their adjoining facilities and break down. At times I screamed at God: "Is this how you treat your children? They have been your faithful servants for more than eighty years. Their last days should be spent together, enjoying each other's company until they go home. I can hardly bear their pain. Do something!"

I watched Dad visit Mother, sit next to her with his arm around her, and say, "The best is yet to come. We'll be together soon." Then Mother would be led by an attendant back to her room, behind locked doors to keep her from wandering off, and Dad would walk unsteadily back to his, with shoulders slumping, looking like the weary, worn-out old man that he was, bewildered by why he was still alive, bearing the sadness of an empty existence with no hope of things improving.

A few weeks beore he died (he preceded Mother by fourteen months), I sat with him at breakfast. By this time, he was in a wheelchair, unable to walk, barely able to lift his coffee cup, unable to get a forkful of scrambled eggs to his mouth without dropping half of what was on the fork to his lap.

As I watched the life drain out of my once lively father, a strange impulse came over me that morning. I asked him a question I had never before asked, never even thought to ask in my fifty-seven years.

"Dad, have you ever had a vision?"

His eyes became instantly alert. My decidedly noncharismatic father sat up straight, filled with excitement. "I wasn't going to tell you unless you asked. Yes, I had a vision last night. It was so strange, different than anything I've ever experienced. But I don't know what it means."

"What was it?" Now, I was sitting up straight.

"Well, you know how weak I've become. I need help to get out of bed and into this wheelchair. Last night, I was lying in my bed, wide awake but thoroughly tired, feeling more alone and helpless than I've ever felt, and more confused than ever by why God was allowin all this to happen, and to go on so long - Mother's Alzheimer's, my weakness. I was really depressed.

"Then I could feel myself gently being carried to a different dimension. I was still in my room, but I was in another world The door opened - Larry, this wasn't a dream; I was wide awake; somehow this really happened - and a man came in. He was huge, muscular, and had a look of sheer evil on his face, absolutely mean. He said, "I'm going to tear you apart. I'm going to break every bone in your body.'"

"I felt terrified. I knew he could do what he said and that I was helpless to stop him. And I somehow knew God wouldn't stop him, though he could. I didn't even pray for protection. Then the man looked puzzled and said, 'I'll be back in a minute to destroy you.'

"He walked out and I just lay there, trembling. I couldn't reach the buzzer to call for help. I couldn't move. All I could do was wait. I thought of Habakkuk when he waited for the destruction he knew was coming.

"But then another thought occurred to me. He said he'd come back to destroy me. But I realized that he couldn't do that. He could break my body, but he couldn't destroy my soul. I'm alive, and he has no power to take that away. It was the strangest thing. Lying there helpless, I felt indestructible. I was indestructible. That guy seemed pathetic.

"He came back in, looking mean as ever. As he walked toward me, I very calmly said, 'Look, you can do what you say. I know that and you know that. You can beat me to a pulp. But what I know and you don't know is that you can't kill or even harm my soul. I'm alive in Christ, and there's nothing you can do about that. I'm going to heaven, maybe with broken bones, but I'm going. And as soon as I get there, I'll get a new body, healthier and stronger than you'll ever be. You're a pathetic enemy. You have no real power at all.'

"The man looked a me with sheer hatred then turned to the door and left. And I lay there, more peaceful than I've felt in months. That's it. That's the vision."

I almost came out of my chair.

"Dad, I know what your vision means." I couldn't believe what I heard myself saying. I've interpreted dreams before, but never had a vision. Yet I knew exactly what this vision meant.

"Dad, this world and Satan have thrown everything at you they can. You can't walk. You have next to no Christian fellowship. You've enjoyed Mom for sixty-three years, and now she doesn't even know who you are. Almost every blessing you've been given has been taken away.

"But what the Spirit has revealed in your vision is that what you want the most, you have - and no one, not even your strongest, meanest enemy, can take it away. You have God, he loves you, you're in his hands, and somehow in the middle of all this, Dad, you really are indestructible!" I was nearly shouting.

Dad listened to every word I said. His eyes danced with a life I hadn't seen for a long time. When I finished, he said, "That's it! I'm more than a conqueror. This is wonderful." And then he added, quietly, "I'm glad I told you my vision."

"Me, too," I replied.

In that moment, my father was more completely on the spiritual journey than anyone I've known. He was delivered from religion filled with "the love of God unto the forgetfulness of self," and yet, by losing his self he had found himself.

The experience of communion with God, of being in Christ and kept safe by the Spirit, meant more to him as we sat at breakfast that morning than any experience of blessing he could imagine. Restoring Mother's mind, enabling him to walk, giving him back the joys of fellowship in a church - nothing compared to what the Spirit revealed to him in that vision. It was all about God. First things were first.

Mother detoriated further. Dad never walked again. He died a month later. But he had been given an experience of wholeness and life and hope and joy that not even a restored marriage could have provided. The best second things, the experience of wholeness and life and hope and joy, were granted, in the midst of ongoing sadness, because my father put first things first.

And that's the Spirit's vision, that we might value his presence above every other blessing, even when the experience of his presence is withdrawn. That's faith. And that's why Jesus died, to give us the reality of the Father's presence that we can believe in and treasure no matter what happens to us or what we feel.

That, my friend, is the value of knowing your soul was created by God and for God.

In His Grace,


Friday, October 26, 2007

The Creation of the Soul: The Image of God In Us

I have recently read an excellent book entitled The Language of God by Francis S. Collins. Dr. Collins is an unapologetic evangelical Christian and the scientist in charge of the United States Human Genome Project which resulted in a complete DNA genetic blueprint of man - what some are now calling the most significant scientific discovery in the history of mankind.

I do not agree with all that Dr. Collins writes in his book about evolution, the age of the universe, etc . . . but I do appreciate the reverance he displays for God and the love in his heart for God's Son. There is, however, one thing that Dr. Collins suggests in his book that I wholeheartedly affirm. Dr. Collins believes the genus-differentia (what makes man different from animals) is the imprint of God in the soul of a man.

Many Southern Baptists and evangelical Christians err, in my opinion, on the subject of the origin of the soul. Most have the opinion that the souls of men are ex traduce, or generated by and derived from their parents with their bodies. This concept of the natural generation of the soul has led to the often used statement by evangelicals 'life begins at conception.' However, biological life existed in the egg, as well as the sperm, prior to conception, so when most evangelicals say, "life begins at conception," they mean "human life (i.e. the soul) exists at conception because it is traduced from the parents when the sperm and the egg unite."

This, however, is not what Scripture teaches. The apostle makes a distinction between "the fathers of our flesh" and "the Father of spirits" (Heb. 12:9). God speaks of man's souls as "The souls that I have made" (Isaiah 57:6). Zechariah the prophet said God "forms the spirit of man within him" (Zech. 12:1). Job declared "The breath of the Almight hath given me life" (Job 33:4). In other words, the souls of man are God's immediate creation; the making of them God claims absolutely for himself.

Dr. John Gill, the 18th Century Baptist theologian, Hebrew and Greek linguist, and the most renowned Baptist scholar of the English speaking world in his day agrees:

"The soul of man comes immediately from the hand of God, and is the image of God . . . Man only generates the body . . Souls are created one by one, when their bodies are prepared to receive them; they are not created without the body, and then put into it; but they are formed in it by God. When the embryo is fit to receive it, it is created by God, and united to it; but how is united, and what is the bond of that union, we must be content to be ignorant of. (John Gill; A Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity; The Baptist Standard Bearer, Paris, Arkansas; pages 272-273).

The implications of this Biblical truth are enormous in our modern age. Let me give a few of them for your consideration:

(1). Human life begins when God uniquely and sovereignly forms the soul of man within the generated embryo that has been traduced by the union of a man and a woman. However, in some cases in our modern day, the embryo is formed by means other than the sexual union of a man and a woman (i.e. "test tube babies," "cloning," "in vitro fertilization," etc . . .). Scientists no more have the capability of creating the human soul in a test tube, by cloning, or by genetic fusion than parents have in creating the soul of their infant through sexual union. The soul of man is formed by God alone.

(2). When God forms the soul of a man is a mystery. Some evangelicals may choose to say God forms the soul at conception. Spontaneous abortion, which is the loss of a pregnancy without outside intervention before 20 weeks' gestation, affects up to 20 percent of recognized pregnancies. Many pregnancies, some estimates as high as 31% are lost spontaneously before a woman even recognizes that she is pregnant, and the clinical signs of miscarriage are mistaken for a heavy or late menses. Think through the practical implications of the natural flushing of fertilized eggs through the mother's system without her knowledge. IF the souls of children are traduced from the parents at conception, then many Christian parents will have dozens of children in heaven - children they don't even know exist. But if God chooses to form the soul at a time later than biological conception, when the embryo is formed to receive the soul - say around the time of quickening - then there will be no surprises in heaven.

(3). Since God forms the soul within the prepared embryo at the time of His choice, then abortion should be opposed not so much on the basis of the quaint phrase "life begins at conception," (because nobody really knows when God forms the soul within a body), but rather, "fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell" (Matthew 10:28). In other words, instead of attempting to be moralistic and quaint in our opposition to abortion, we ought to be be spiritual and serious. Example: "Do you realize that you and the man you had sex with have formed the child's body that God is now preparing to form the soul within? What does God think of your desire for an abortion? How would you feel if somebody interrupted your very special and creative work? Oh? You don't care? All you care about is your fear that you can't care for the child? You fear your family and their rejection? You are afraid that no other man will ever desire you again? So fear is driving you? You should not fear those who can only kill the body but cannot kill the soul (i.e other people), but rather you should fear him who can destroy both your soul and your body in hell (God)." Of course, in our modern day of pragmatic moralism we have lost sight of the eternal.

(4). Since God forms the soul - and the soul is the very image of God - and the soul is formed within the body, then male and female characteristics are physical not soulish, for the soul is without gender. The Bruce Willis/Russell Crowe macho-warriors and the Nicole Kidman/Meg Ryan goddess stereotypes are insufficient models for a God-being. Culture, the age in which we live, and male/female physicial characteristics drive most of our understanding of the value and worth of human beings, but in the economy of God, what makes a person valuable is his or her soul - created in the image of God. Therefore, the body may be deformed, the male or female may have differing roles in culture, but in the economy of God there is neither male or female because each of His children contains His image.

(5). What makes a person complete is when the soul, created by God, is united with Jesus Christ by faith and spiritual union. The life of God in the soul of man, which occurs at spiritual regeneration, vivifies the soul toward God. The body with the soul alive to God learns the importance of soul talk, soul health, soul life. Spiritual things transcend the physical. A relationship with God becomes the source of happiness instead of relationships with others. The soul is immortal. Upon death, the body returns to the earth, and the soul to its maker. If you are spending more time on caring for your body than your soul you are a blind fool. We are to measure our days and get our house in order. The time is coming when the God who formed our souls within our bodies will "untie the silver cord" and we will find ourselves in the presence of our Creator.

It is my desire, as Larry Crabb says, to develop SoulTalk in our church. We must get to the place where we get beneath the surface of life in general. No more petty talk in Sunday School. No more 'nice weather' or 'how's the golf game' conversation among fellow Christians. It's time we took seriously the Biblical truth that God created our souls and stamped His image within, but without the life-giving power of Jesus Christ, our soul rots and corrupts because of the sin of Adam and our own desires to live after the things of the flesh rather than the things of the Spirit.

How's the health of your soul today?

Wade Burleson

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Tyranny of Omnipotent Moral Busybodies

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. C. S. Lewis

That last half-sentence is dynamite to my mind. Lewis is in essence saying, ‘The worst thing you could do for the people you love is hound them about changing, constantly harangue them ‘for their good,’ and perpetually concentrate on their problems.’ I could not agree more. I believe the greatest secret to real transformation in relationship is to so concentrate on your own issues that you ignore the problems in others. In other words, when your focus is on Christ and what He can do and is doing in your heart, you will free others up to focus on the Holy Spirit doing His work in them – because they aren't distracted by your torment of them.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Disagreement Is Not a Sign of Corrupt Character

On October 18, 2007, California IMB trustee Jerry Corbaley sent a one hundred and fifty three page letter, via email, to all International Mission Board trustees.

My response to Mr. Corbaley's email - sent to all trustees:

Friday, October 18, 2007

1:48 p.m. Central Standard Time

Dear Fellow Trustees,

I am thankful for God's mercy in relation to the answered prayers of our trustee body in terms of health and family. I continue to pray for each need that arises and I am grateful for the prayer ministry of the IMB board and the email updates sent to all trustees. Our church spent time in prayer last night for the family of the 29 year old Christian in Gaza who operated the Palestinian Bible Bookstore and was murdered for his faith in Christ. The IMB's administrative decision to send us a timely update with information on this Christian martyr made our prayer time for all our missionaries very real, very fervent, and very personal.

I visited with my wife Rachelle, and we felt it wise to send to you just this one email in response to the 153 page letter from Trustee Jerry Corbaley. This letter has been sent to either select trustees or to every trustee. I have made it a practice these past eighteen months not to respond to personal attacks on me or my character and I am choosing not to respond to this letter. I would encourage us all to keep our focus on missions and the support of our missionaries in the field. I will continue to pray for our work and for each of you who serve as a trustee of the IMB.

In His Grace,


Mr. Corbaley requested in his email that the trustees of the International Mission Board take official 'action' against me at the Springfield, Illinois trustee meeting in two weeks. Jerry did not contact me privately before sending the email. However, I called Jerry as soon as I received it. He informed me over the phone that unless I was calling to confess to him my repentance before God, he would not talk with me. He then proceeded to hang up while I was in mid-sentence.

Attempts at building a relationship with Mr. Corbaley have been continually rebuffed for the past eighteen months, including the May 2006 Albuquerque, New Mexico commisioning service where, with my wife at my side, I expressed my love for Jerry and a desire to build a relationship with him. He informed me that we could not have a relationship because of my 'sin.' I approached Mr. Corbaley again in July of this year while he was eating in the cafeteria of the International Learning Center outside Richmond. I sat down beside him to visit with him, but he refused to converse with me. He got up from the table and told me if I followed him he would make it a public issue.

After reading Mr. Corbaley's email, I am frankly at a loss. Jerry seems to think I should be responsible for the comments people make on my blog. I keep an open, unmoderated comment section and am not responsible for what others write. I take full responsibility for what I write, and I hope every person in the Southern Baptist Convention reads it again - and again - and again. With the help of some who don't understand how relate to people who disagree, that just may happen.

I could let it go, but the pattern has been established in the past that some will make reckless character charges in an attempt to convince people of their conclusions, the logic of which is beyond my comprehension. I have chosen not to defend myself. I am more than happy for every Southern Baptist to read what I have written on my blog and what I have written is my defense. I have not deleted one post. I write for Southern Baptists, and everything I post is with a desire to make our convention better, to advance the kingdom of Christ and to treat all people, especially those who disagree, with respect.

From the emails, letters and phone calls I have received from thousands of Southern Baptists around the world, it seems that I have struck a chord. People are ready to focus on cooperative missions and evangelism and are disinterested in any further narrowing of Southern Baptist doctrinal parameters. I have continued to advocate for the past two years ceasing the narrowing of our doctrinal parameters for convention fellowship and cooperation. We have gone far enough.

If Mr. Corbaley insists that what I have written on this blog is 'sin,' then let Southern Baptists decide. I fully realize other Southern Baptists may disagree with what I write. Disagreement is not only the perogative of individual Southern Baptists - it is the Baptist way. But to disagree is not sin. It definitely is not gossip or slander. It has never been my intention to do anything but cooperate in missions and ministry with other Southern Baptists who see things differently on matters that should never divide us.

We Southern Baptists are a COOPERATING group of Christians, and the very essence of cooperation is diversity. However, I have pledged never again to allow, as long as I can help it, Southern Baptists to go behind closed doors and attack the character of fellow Southern Baptists who are different. No more labels. No more name calling. No more sanctimonious finger pointing. No more attempts to destroy a person's reputation behind closed doors. If you have something negative to say about the doctrine or character of a Southern Baptist leader, say it so all Southern Baptists can hear it, and then be ready to defend it with your name and reputation. Don't whisper ugly things behind closed doors and hide behind anonymity.

I personally believe it is a waste of time, Cooperative Program dollars and personal energy for those of us who are IMB trustees to deal with Mr. Corbaley's email in our next trustee meeting, scheduled for November 5-7, 2007, in Springfield, IL. Yet, Jerry seems desirous to force the issue - again. I am more than capable of dealing with any eventuality that arises. I've done it before. I'll do it again. I will continue doing whatever is necessary to stop the attacks on, and exclusion of, Southern Baptists who disagree with narrow interpretations of tertiary doctrines that are being forced on the entire convention.

However, I believe we as IMB trustees are ready to get on with missions business. On one hand I feel sympathy for Mr. Corbaley and people like him. On the other hand I believe Jerry's email illustrates one of the problems we are facing in the Southern Baptist Convention. Some people can't seem to let others simply disagree without making it a matter of morality. Some people can't seem to let others express a different opinion without questioning their character, spirituality or denominational fidelity.

I called Mr. Corbaley several times over the weekend to discuss his concerns, but he would not receive my calls. I finally left a message on Mr. Corbaley's cell phone giving him a deadline of last night to call if he did not wish his letter to be made public. I told him that if he chose not to call me about his concerns I would take that as permission to post his letter.

I do not intend to post about Mr. Corbaley's email again unless it become necessary because of further action initiated by others. Unlike a year and a half ago, I have advance notice of Mr. Corbaley's intentions and wish the people of the Southern Baptist Convention to know prior to our trustee meeting. I believe wisdom will prevail and my fellow trustees will focus on our mission work at this next meeting. Either way, I plan to keep you informed.

May God bless our missionaries. May God continue to bless our mission work. May we keep our eyes on the advancement of His kingdom and take them off anything else.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Sunday, October 21, 2007

If Christ Were in Charge . . .

If Christ were truly in charge of our churches . . .

(1). We would be more focused on reaching people in need of Christ's transforming power than we would our personal comforts.
(2). We would be less concerned about corporate worship styles and preferences and more concerned about personal holiness.
(3). We would never enter a worship service without the expectation of meeting Christ in terms of His presence and power over the corporate body.
(4). We would spend more time listening to Christ than we would talking about Christ.
(5). We would be very intentional to ensure that all that is said, sung or done in the corporate gathering would be honoring and pleasing to Christ.

If Christ were truly in charge of our convention . . .

(1). We would never deceive anyone about the numbers of people who truly belong to Southern Baptist churches.
(2). We would never exalt Baptist identity above our Christian identity and the brotherhood we have with all who name Christ as Lord.
(3). We would be more interest in the advancement of the kingdom of Christ, not the kingdom of Southern Baptists.
(4). We would be less interested in positions of power and far more interested in being found faithful to Christ as His stewards.
(5). We would treat people in the convention with whom we disagree with respect, Christian charity and acceptance.

If Christ were truly in charge of me . . .

(1). I would not care what you think of me, only what Christ thinks of me.
(2). I would respond to criticism with thoughtful reflection and silence, not defense.
(3). I would be bold for righteousness' sake, and soft to others for forgiveness' sake.
(4). I would be more concerned about my walk with Christ than my reputation.
(5). I would be aware of Christ's presence with me at all times.

Just a few personal thoughts as I begin my week.

In His Grace,


Friday, October 19, 2007

The Use of Exclamation Points in Press Releases

My father tells the story of coming across a preacher's handwritten outline where the preacher had made notations to himself in the margins. One such note said, "Weak point - shout loud." I laughed when I first heard my father tell this anecdote. But over the years I have found that in my own life, and among people in general, there is a tendency for all of us to shout when we feel our arguments may be weak. When we sense weakness in our arguments, or when we expect someone to challenge us, or when we make an appeal and are so vested in the outcome that impartial or objective thinking is impossible - we tend to shout our arguments verbally. The equivalent of shouting what we write is the use of the exclamation point.

This week, the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Board of Trustees issued a statement in support of Drs. Paige and Dorothy Patterson. Professional writers will tell you that when an institution releases a public press statement, exclamation points should be avoided at all costs. Take a moment and read the White House press statements this past week. If you were to take the time to go back through the past year you would not find one exclamation point.

In the public press release issued by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary there were three statements with exclamation points.

We cannot conceive how anyone can be any more open and honest than is Dr. Patterson!

A contribution given to SWBTS is a wise investment in God’s kingdom work!

Our Baptist forbearers were wise to set up the trustee system that Southern Baptists have in place. It works extremely well!

The trustees may feel all the above about their President and First Lady, financial gifts to Southwestern, and their role as trustees of the institution, but it would be wise to present their feelings without exlamation or overstatement. Why?

(1). Recent experiences at the North American Mission Board, the Baptist General Convention of Arizona, and other Baptist instutions and agencies show us that sometimes the trustee system can fail Southern Baptists - especially if trustees lose sight of their impartial and objective role of oversight and accountability.

(2). The public proclamation that trustees cannot conceive of anyone more 'open' and 'honest' than their President is unwise. Besides the obvious that every trustee ought to conceive of Christ as more open and honest, a Messiah-like acceptance of the character of their President places them in a very awkward position when it comes time to ask hard questions. Read carefully: I am not saying the President of SWBTS is not open and honest - I am saying that trustees of SWBTS should refrain from making such statements as long as they sit in a role of fiduciary accountability and institutional oversight. Something like: 'The office of President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary demands integrity and we, the trustees of SWBTS, demand complete openness and honesty from our President. We have no reason to believe that our President has not met our expectations.'

(3). A student at Southwestern in the late 1990's, named Paul B., took another portion of this week's Statement of Support, simply changed the names and wrote:

"We believe that the incessant public attacks on Dr. and Mrs. Russell Dilday and other Baptist leaders of late are harmful to our mission of reaching the world with the Gospel. What the world, both Christians and non-Christians, sees is not Christ-like. Indeed, some of the actions are contrary to what the Bible teaches"

Southern Baptists would do well to remember that our institutions belong to the people of the Southern Baptist Convention. The cooperative ministries of 45,000 Southern Baptist Churches are not the personal kingdoms of individuals. Those ministries, whether they be the mission boards, the seminaries, or any other agency involved in kingdom work belong to the people.

Trustees would do well to remember that the Southern Baptist people are watching. We are interested in kingdom work. We are interested in reaching people for Christ. We are interested in our SBC institutions being governed by impartial, objective Southern Baptists who serve as trustees of the Southern Baptist Convention at large. We are not interested in favoritism, cronyism, or protectionism of personal kingdoms.

We are all better off when we leave out the exclamation points.

In His Grace,


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Kudos to Tenured Expositional Pastors/Teachers

In our day of McDonald's, USA Today, YouTube videos, and instant text messaging, the art of solid, expositional teaching from the pulpit is often neglected. Many Christians seem to desire short, easy listening,"relevant" teaching, and many pastors are giving in to the wants of the congregation. But sometimes our wants are not necessarily our needs. I'm not saying there are not those occasions that serendipitous or "how to" messages are never appropriate - they are. But it seems to me that the pastor who uses them ought to dispense them like parents would candy to their kids.

One of the advantages of a pastor moving from church to church, or becoming an itinerant evangelist, is that he can preach the same message over and over again. Whereas, the pastor/teacher who stays for a long period of time with the same congregation must maintain a consistent diet of fresh expositional teaching.

We have a various interesting journal entry in the diary of Benjamin Franklin regarding the preaching of itinerant evangelist George Whitefield. Franklin was an unbeliever, but he considered Whitefield a friend. Read carefully this 1740 evaluation of Whitefield's preaching by Benjamin Franklin:

"He had a loud and clear voice, and articulated his words so perfectly that he might be heard and understood at a great distance, especially as his auditories observed the most perfect silence . . . By hearing him often, I came to distinguish easily between sermons newly composed and those which he had often preached in the course of his travels. His delivery of the latter was so improved by frequent repetition, that every accent, every emphasis, every modulation of the voice, was so perfectly well turned and well placed, that, without being interested in the subject, one could not help being pleased with the discourse."

(Cited in Edwin S. Gaustad, The Great Awakening in New England, p. 29).

One of the more difficult challenges for the preacher of the Word of God, even George Whitefield, is to give fresh, "newly composed" sermons with clarity, unction and power. Itinerant evangelism and easy listening messages have their place, but a round of applause should be given to those tenured pastors (i.e. Gill, Keach, Lloyd-Jones, MacArthur, Piper, etc.) who have made - or make it - a practice to expositionally teach the Word of God to the same congregation for decades.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Abandon Doctrinal Preaching at the Peril of Souls

Jim Ehrhard has written an excellent biography of the early 19th Century American Baptist evangelist Asahel Nettleton (see link for footnotes). The difference between the methods and results of the ministry of Nettleton and contemporary Charles Finney are astounding. Ehrhard points out that while the converts under the ministry of Nettleton remained faithful unto death, many of the 'converts' under Finney's ministry did not. Ehrhard writes:

Perhaps what is most significant about Nettleton’s ministry is not the shear number of conversions but the number who remained faithful to Christ many years later. Most evangelists today would be delighted to “find” even a small percentage of their converts, much less to see them living for the Lord. Nettleton’s converts were surprisingly solid. For example, of the eighty-four converts in an 1818 revival at Rocky Hill, Connecticut, all eighty-four had remained faithful according to their pastor’s report twenty-six years later. Similarly, only three spurious conversions out of eighty-two professors were noted in another pastor’s report on a revival in Ashford, Connecticut.

In contrast, toward the end of his life, “after reflecting on the many who had claimed conversion [under his ministry] but had since fallen away,” the great evangelist Charles Finney “had mixed thoughts on the genuine results of his work.” He was not alone. In a letter to Finney, one of his co-workers raised some interesting questions about their work:

"Let us look over the fields where you and I have laboured as ministers and what is now their normal state? What was their state within three months after we left them? I have visited and revisited many of these fields and groaned in spirit to see the sad, frigid, carnal, contentious state into which the churches have fallen and fallen very soon after we first departed from among them."

B. B. Warfield also tells of the testimony of Asa Mahan, Finney’s closest friend and long-time co-worker:

"No more powerful testimony is borne ... than that of Asa Mahan, who tells us -- to put it briefly -- that everyone who was concerned in these revivals suffered a sad subsequent lapse: the people were left like a dead coal which could not be reignited ...."

Nettleton’s ministry was decidedly different from that of Finney, not only with regard to conversions, but also with regard to the lasting impact upon the communities which he visited. One contemporary pastor, Bennett Tyler, noted the differences between the revivals of Finney and Nettleton:

"These revivals were not temporary excitements, which like a tornado, sweep through a community, and leave desolations behind them; but they were like showers of rain, which refresh the dry and thirsty earth, and cause it to bring forth 'herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed.' These fruits were permanent. By them the churches were not only enlarged, but beautified and strengthened; and a benign influence was exerted upon the community around."

Although Nettleton and Finney were contemporaries, Finney has eclipsed Nettleton completely. Today, these questions must be asked: Who was this man so specially used by God in the conversion of many souls? Why has one of such significance been sadly forgotten in our generation? And what makes his ministry so different from the evangelistic ministries seen today? (emphasis mine)

Ehrhard goes on in the article to answer the above emphasized question:

While most modern preaching seeks to avoid doctrinal topics, Nettleton, like Whitefield and Edwards before him, preached the great doctrines of the faith.

In the accounts and descriptions of the great revivals in which Nettleton laboured, one thing comes across very powerfully, and that is that he was able to bring home the awesome realities of the eternal world home to the souls of men. When he talked about the heinousness of sin, they felt its sting. When he portrayed the sufferings of Christ, they felt the trauma of Calvary. When he proclaimed the holy character of God, they trembled at the vision. When he thundered forth the judgements of hell, men were moved to escape that place.

May the Lord give us all grace to love souls enough to preach the great doctrines of Scripture and resist the temptation to minimize doctrinal preaching for the sake of 'relevancy.' Truthfully, the application of the eternal doctrines of Christ's grace and love for His people and the glorious gospel of truth that brings freedom are the only true sources of 'relevancy.'

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Christian Civility in an Uncivil World: A New Book

A group of Christian men and women have been brought together by Mitch Carnell, Editor, to publish a book on the subject of Christian civility. I have been asked to write a chapter about Christian civility on the Internet.

One of the contributors to this new book is Dr. Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary, and the author of a twelve-year-old book entitled: Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World

On there are four reviews of Dr. Mouw's book. One reviewer, Daniel B. Clendenin, Ph.D., writes:

Mouw shows how and why Christians should not only be people of conviction, but people of compassion and civility. We are, he reminds us, to "pursue peace with everyone" (Hebrews 12:14), and to "show every courtesy to everyone" (Titus 3:2). Civility does not mean we have to like everyone we meet, forfeit our convictions to a relativistic perspective, or befriend people as a manipulative ploy to evangelize them. Rather, it means caring deeply about our civitas and its public life, because God so cares. After defining the nature and parameters of Christian civility, Mouw investigates its implications for our speech, attitudes, pluralistic society, sexual mores, other religions, and leadership in a fallen world. He explores the limits of civility, when there is no "on the other hand." His chapter on hell asks whether we can believe in hell and still be civil. In his final two chapters he cautions against out tendencies to triumphalism, and trying to usher in the kingdom of God right now, as opposed to appreciating the ways and means of a patient, slow-moving God who loves His creation deeply and longs to redeem it.

Well said.

I would like your thoughts on Christian civility, particularly as it applies to interaction with people on the internet. I have plenty examples of what Christian civility is not on the internet, but I would like your thoughts, comments, anecdotes, and suggestions on what Christian civility on the internet should look like.

In His Grace,


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Brad Pitt and the Guilt Christ Bore for His People

It is always interesting when Hollywood actors begin to speak theologically. They usually give us insight into culture's collective thinking about God. Actor Brad Pitt was born December 18, 1963 in Shawnee, Oklahoma, the same town and hospital where my daughter Charis was born. When Brad was a kid his family moved to Tulsa, then to St. Louis and, by the time he was in kindergarten, the Pitt family lived in Springfield, Missouri where Brad spent his growing up years. Brad's father was a trucker and eventually owned a trucking company and though he came from a very poor background, he made sure his family was never in need.

In the mid-1980's Brad enrolled at the University of Missouri, but in 1986 he decided to leave the University of Missouri before graduation and go to Hollywood. In an interview with Parade Magazine Brad mentions a girlfriend he met his first year at Missouri who helped straighten him out in terms of "religion."

“She was a Methodist preacher's kid. She wasn't that into me, truthfully, although we were together for a semester. She was tough, man, although really cool. She had an older brother who was killed in a four-by-four accident, which was not uncommon out there. She was a hardcore realist. She called me on so much bull—about any romantic ideas that I had grown up with about life. It was my first year in college and I was pushing back against the religion thing."

The Parade Magazine article says that Brad was raised a Southern Baptist and then something Brad said to the reporter raised my curiosity regarding which Southern Baptist church he actually attended. Brad said . . .

In my eyes religion was a mechanism of guilt, this engrained system, used to keep the flock in servitude. Guilt is the thing I find most evil about (religion). It's the thing I rail against the most. She helped me in defining what I believed.

I think the reason guilt bothers Brad Pitt so much is because he doesn't know what to do with it. The gospel is not good news to him because He doesn't comprehend it. If I could, I would help him understand that guilt is to sin what pain is to injury. It is not the problem - only the symptom and consquence of the problem. The problem is sin.

When my eldest son was little I taught him a Keach's catechism that defined sin as "any transgression of the law of God." Before I could help my own children understand guilt, I had to help them understand what sin and transgression against God are all about. What does it mean to transgress God's law and be found guilty in the eyes of God?

Transgressing the law of God is a little like trespassing on the property of a man. The boundary is established by someone other than the trespasser. The breach may or may not be in the conscious awareness of the offender, but the owner has every judicial and legal right to hold the trespasser accountable. The guilt of trespassing is real whether or not the offender feels it.

God has established boundaries and erected a fence we call "God's law." This law is often called "natural law" by philosophers and "the moral law" by theologians. It is a boundary, and for the most part it is innate in the senses of man - but God has codified it in the Ten Commandments. When a person transgresses the law of God, he is guilty - and except for those whose natural consciences are seared, every individual created in the image of God will feel an inward guilt because of sin.

There are only two ways to deal with the guilt of sin and transgression against God's laws. (1). You can either pretend it is not there by denying there is such a thing as the law of God - and rail against anyone who speaks of the law and guilt associated with trangressing it, or (2). You can believe that Christ died for the guilty, and trust that your guilt was borne by Him. The first, exemplified by Brad Pitt, is simply postponing the day of reckoning when the transgressor will stand before God. But the latter manner of dealing with guilt brings joy unspeakable and love unbelievable to the sinner who trusts that Christ has removed sin's guilt at the cross.

The greatest weapon against sin is not a law prohibiting it - but a love for the One who gave the law and provided the means for sin's guilt to be removed. Anybody who breaks God's law is guilty before God - except the one who trusts Christ. The believer in Christ realizes that all the guilt of his transgressions and sins has been borne by Christ. Eventually, it is my love for Christ and what He has done for me that will keep me from even desiring to sin against Him. The law of God provides no means through which I may avoid the desire to sin. In fact, as the apostle Paul stated, the law increases my sinfulness.

In other words, it is my love of Christ that constrains me from sin – not guilt. For Brad Pitt, it is the dismissal or ignorance of the law of God that keeps guilt at bay in his heart. Yet, he is guilty. I am not. He is guilty because he bears his sin and guilt. I am not guilty because Christ bears my sin and guilt. We both live our lives without guilt in our consiences - but Brad Pitt bears his guilt before God and I do not.

I would much rather believe that the Law-giver died for me than that there is no Law-giver. The good news is so sweet to my ears. My prayer today that my fellow native Oklahoman Brad Pitt may have his eyes opened to the beauty of Christ. I also pray for my fellow Southern Baptists that we would avoid using guilt as the tool to keep the flock in servitude. Guilt for us is gone. Christ bore it. It is the comprehension of what Christ has done to rid us of our guilt, and our subsequent love for Him, that compels us to serve Him.

In His Grace,


Thursday, October 04, 2007

LIVE via the INTERNET: A Conference with Sam Storms and Daniel Brymer, October 7 - 10, 2007

Let me invite you to watch LIVE this week's Fall Bible Conference at Emmanuel Baptist Church, Enid, Oklahoma beginning this Sunday morning, October 7th, and going through Wednesday night, October 10th. The theme of the Conference is 'The Power of Prevailing Prayer.'

Dr. Sam Storms will be the guest teacher with Daniel Brymer's Worship Team leading the congregational worship. The third service on Sunday morning will be broadcast LIVE at 11:00 a.m. Central Time and the Sunday evening service will be broadcast LIVE at 6:00 p.m. Central Time.

The Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday night services will all be broadcast LIVE at 7:00 p.m. Central Time. To watch any of the services, go to Emmanuel's LIVE broadcast viewer

The title of Dr. Sam Storm's messages are as follows:

Sunday morning at 11:00 a.m. ---- Praying for Others and the Expanse of the Gospel

Sunday night at 6:00 p.m. ---- Praying for Healing of Body and Soul

Monday night at 7:00 p.m. ---- Praying for Renewal and Revival of the Church

Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m. ---- Praying for Deliverance and Defeat of the Devil

Wednesday night at 7:0o p.m. --- Praying for the Experience of Intimacy with Christ

Get in your favorite chair in the house, pull out your laptop, and join us for this conference. I know you will enjoy Dr. Storms, who is a fellow Southern Baptist and one of the most erudite and passionate theologians of our day. Those of you who have heard Daniel Brymer lead worship know you will be able to worship with us in your own home as he takes us before the throne.

I will leave this post up until the conference is over. We do not have our four new studio cameras in the auditorium - they arrive the end of next week - but you will be able to view and hear the conference with our stationary remote control cameras. We would like to hear from those of you who have watched the LIVE broadcasts, particularly how the Lord spoke to you through the worship and message. Feel free to post your comments and observations in the comment section here or on 3:16 Ministries.

Again, join us LIVE for Emmanuel's 'The Power of Prevailing Prayer' Conference with Sam Storms and Daniel Brymer.

In His Grace,


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Building an Unnecessary Theological Argument That Is Doomed to Later Destruction

Dan Reid, chief editor of Intervarsity Press Academic Publishing, has written on his blog about Wayne Grudem's new book Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism. Dr. Reid disagrees with Grudem's thesis that evangelical feminism is a new path to liberalism and cites for support The Civil War as a Theological Crisis, written by theologian Mark Noll. Dr. Noll shows that orthodox Christian abolitionists in the North fretted that their stance against slavery might undermine their literalist 'plain-meaning' hermeneutic, the same hermeneutic Grudem strives to defend in his book Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism.

I read on Dr. Reid's blog a statement from Knoll's book that I believe may well go down as one of the classic lines in Christian literature on how orthodox 19th Christians eventually made up their minds regarding the Bible's position on slavery. Noll wrote . . .

'It was left to the consummate theologians, the Reverend Doctors Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, to decide what in fact the Bible actually meant.'

This funny quote should cause all of us to at least pause - and be careful - before dogmatically asserting we fully comprehend the mind and ways of God. Sometimes I think the Lord allows His children to be embarrassed in order that we might remember that He is God and we are not.

Francis S. Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, is one of the world's leading scientists. He works at the cutting edge of the study of DNA, the code of life. Dr. Collins came to faith in Christ through reading the works of C.S. Lewis, and has recently written a book entitled 'The Language of God.' Though Francis is a proponent of evolution, he is unquestionably a believer in, and apologist for, a worldview that God is not only present, but actively at work. Though I am a creationist and disagree with Dr. Collins on evolution, I have enjoyed reading Collins book. Dr. Collins articulates well on page 93 the caution any theologian should have when it comes to dogmatism.

"Faced with incomplete understanding . . . believers should be cautious about invoking the divine in areas of current mystery, lest they build an unnecessary theological argument that is doomed to later destruction."

I wonder if dogmatism against women in ministry might one day be viewed the same as we now view Southern Baptists former dogmatism in defending slavery. I don't know. I'm just asking. It's one of the reasons I refuse to be dogmatic on my complementarian beliefs and will listen to my friends who are egalitarian.

This does not mean I doubt the Word of God. I fully trust God's Word. It means I fully comprehend my own fallibility in properly interpreting the Word of God. Let's dialogue about the issue. Let's debate the issue. Let's disagree over the issue. But we should never DIVIDE over the issue. There are far more important doctrines that UNITE us.

In His Grace,


Monday, October 01, 2007

The Free Use of the Word 'Heretic' Is Unhelpful

I have never met Cheryl Schatz, but I have read some of the articles she has written and have listened to her teach a couple of times on tape. She is an advocate for women to be free to minister according to the gifts God has given them, and though I may not agree with everything Cheryl says or writes, I do admire her love for Christ and desire to understand the infallible Word of God. Yesterday Cheryl emailed me with a link to a radio interview she did with a pastor named Matt Slick. Pastor Slick has a radio show called 'Faith and Reason' and he interviewed Cheryl on the question of whether or not a woman is able to teach the Bible to men. You can listen to the full radio interview here.

(1). Pastor Matt begins the radio show with remarks that sound to me very patronizing toward Cheryl. I realize that my opinion is subjective, but patronization is not hard to identify. It's a little like stepping in manure; you smell it for what it is.
(2). Pastor Matt at times comes across as rude. Though he is to be commended for frequently acknowledging his desire not to be rude, it's better to actually not be rude than to simply express the desire to not be rude - particularly to a woman you invited on your show.
(3). Pastor Matt, toward the end of Cheryl's patient explanation of her interpretation of the I Timothy 2:11-15 text, interrupts Cheryl to declare her a 'heretic.' He then tells Cheryl she should obey Scripture and be and 'quiet and in full submission.'

Don't believe it? At the 54 minute 20 second spot of the interview, the following exchange occurred between Pastor Matt and Cheryl.

Cheryl: "Is it a sin for you Pastor Matt to listen to me teach?"
Pastor Matt: "I listen to heretics all the time teach. That's what I do for a living so that I can refute it."
Cheryl: "So I am a heretic?"
Pastor Matt: "(In this) Yes you are."

I about fell out of my chair when I heard that exchange. Cheryl has already told the radio audience that she believes "every single word of the Bible is inspired by God." Cheryl further expressed her firm belief that "The grammar (of the Bible)is inspired."

Yet, Cheryl is called a 'heretic' simply because she disagrees with Matt over the interpretation of a text of Scripture. There is no dispute over the nature of Scripture, only the interpretation of it.

You can read Cheryl's full exegesis and explanation of the I Timothy 2:11-15 text for yourself.

My desire is not to affirm or deny Cheryl's exegesis. She is entitled to her interpretation. Anyone who listens to the patient explanation of her beliefs, or reads her well thought out interpretation of the sacred text, will come away with a sense of her deep appreciation for the inspired, inerrant Word of God. I do admire her tenacity and patience in the face of syrupy patronization. She has much she could teach Pastor Matt on this subject. :)

My desire in this post is to call attention to the ease with which some evangelical Christians want to attach the label 'heretic' to other conservative, evangelical Christians - just because there is a difference of interpretation at certain points of Scripture. I think it is time that the word heretic be reserved for those who are Christian in name, but 'deny' the Person or work of Christ. It should NEVER be used against those who simply interpret the Bible differently than we do. Too many evangelicals - including some Southern Baptists - are so much into heresy hunting that they have contributed to the tearing down of our fellow evangelicals.

I have seen the enemy, and it isn't us.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson