Month: August 2008

Failing the sobriety test

Western culture has too high a tolerance for silliness. There is a delightful draw to infantile behavior, especially for men. Behaving as children, wearing funny hats, telling stories on one another, and then collapsing in fits of laughter is more a guy thing than something that predictably blesses the hearts of the fairer sex. Either way, there’s a place where doing things to make people laugh becomes counterproductive.

Without roosting here too long, I think graduation ceremonies might be an example. My daughter’s graduation was held in a church. We had prayer, exhortations to godly service, a hymn or two, and we had a couple of dolts in the back with a Freon horn (like you hear at football games). Other people, seemingly impatient with not being the center of attention, had to make do by yelling and whooping. Very few were blessed by the racket and those very few laughed like fiends at their own cleverness.

School teachers, Sunday School teachers?all those who deal with minor children?are tortured all through the day by the tendency of children to have frequent “look at me” moments. I think many television programs have added to this syndrome. All the kids are smart-mouthed, all the adults are witty or stupid, and a laugh track goes wild at every tedious quip. Kids seem to think that the world should come with a laugh track.

And then there’s this item from the news yesterday. A judge in New Zealand has enforced a law there that bans children’s names that would cause offense or embarrassment. Examples of banned names are: Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii, Fish and Chips, and Keenan Got Lucy. Lest you think this censorship has gone too far, Number 16 Bus Shelter was ruled an acceptable name for a child.

Celebrities in the U.S. have a history of embarrassing their children by naming them silly things. Frank Zappa gave us Moon Unit, Dweezil, and Ahmed. Grace Slick, of Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, and Starship, named a child “god.” Good sense overcame her later and she changed the name to China. Gwyneth Paltrow, perhaps in revenge for her own name, named a child Apple. Bruce Willis has children named Rumor and Scout. Perhaps these don’t rise to the glories of Fish and Chips but they’re not different.

I’m fairly sure we will never have a Supreme Court justice named Apple and that New Zealand will never have a Nobel Laureate named Number 16 Bus Shelter. The names alone will ensure the children’s paths will not go that direction.

A dictionary definition of “silly” is “exhibiting a lack of common sense or sound judgment.” A good antonym of silly is “sober.”

The pastoral letters of Paul and 1 Peter use exhortations to be “sober” and “sober-minded” as calls to be clear-headed and sensible. You can see the relationship with the concept of sobriety as a contrast to drunkenness. It does not mean somber or humorless. I interpret this word to additionally include an aspect of knowing and respecting the difference between important and trivial things.

The sober-minded among us can celebrate a child’s graduation without being rude or foolish. Someone who can tell the difference between the significant and the trivial will not answer every question with a smart remark. Sensible people don’t name their kids something that only seems funny when they’re drunk.

I think being silly has its place, albeit a fairly small place. Joking around is conducive to bonding within a family or friendship. Silliness can lighten the mood when that is appropriate. Little kids love it when Grandpa is goofy or Grandma acts like one of the kids. That’s all precious and it’s a bit intimate. Maybe that’s why public foolishness is not so funny to most looking on?it immodestly displays something personal to a general crowd.

And I also see a difference between someone who performs in an intentionally silly way and amateurs who foist their own attempts on an unwilling audience. It is not, by definition, inappropriate to tell a joke or goof in a performance for people who want to experience it. Even so, some comedians become rude, even irreverent, when they make light of things that matter or make innocent people the victims of the joke.

Innocent people are the victims when parents name their kids after fast food. I’m somewhat sympathetic with the idea of a law that protects 9-year-old girls (such as Talula Does The Hula, etc.) from being humiliated by the names inflicted on them by juvenile parents.

This might be a good place for Christians to be countercultural. While we might not be so energized as to initiate laws against silliness, maybe we should work harder to teach our own children what’s appropriate. Maybe Dad (speaking to myself here) shouldn’t fall back on the goofball role quite so often. I think pastors should consider humor to be the cayenne pepper of their sermons and use it very sparingly. Turn off sitcoms and cartoons that teach your kids to be relentlessly mouthy.

When Christians model joy and good sense at the same time, we season a culture that easily loses any understanding of moderation. If we avoid the desire to be the constant center of attention, we just might attract the interest of that one who’s looking for a grownup to help him answer important questions. When that happens, it’s good to be sober.

Bibliolatry’ charge confounding

It’s hard to get a radar on the logic behind accusations that Southern Baptists place the Bible above Jesus. This tired old charge has been flying since at least 2000, when the Southern Baptist Convention firmed up its faith statement. A document I read recently was a reminder that the “bibliolatry” charge is as alive and well as those Internet rumors about Madalyn Murray-O’Hair?she’s dead, by the way?pushing to get Christian broadcasting off the air.

The bibliolatry charge was employed in the last century by opponents of biblical inerrancy. Of late, Baptist moderates have found it useful.

In the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message confessional statement, Jesus was described as the “criterion” by which Scripture should be interpreted and Scripture as “the record of” revelation rather than revelation itself. This language was omitted in the 2000 BFM revision to help clarify the SBC’s stance on biblical inerrancy amid challenges in semantics.

As most Texas Baptists know, the changes are the cause of some perpetual soreness with critics.
What you won’t hear from some quarters is that a problem developed in post-1963 Baptist life that needed solving: Those who held that Scripture, while “containing” God’s Word contained errors also, could easily affirm the Bible as the record of God’s revelation while privately holding neo-orthodox views or so-called limited inerrancy. The latter holds that the biblical writers got it right in the salvation message and things pertaining to it, but erred in historical narratives and “non-revelatory” details.

One could claim to believe in “the authority of Scripture” on the one hand, and dismiss Genesis 1-11 as partially or totally allegorical on the other.

Or if one were a red-letter Christian, he could, for example, question Paul’s insistence about male leadership in the church and home as cultural blindness by appealing to Jesus’ elevation of women during his ministry. In this scenario, the question “What would Jesus do?” is applied in creative new ways.

Thankfully, with the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, the wiggle room was taken out and the hems were sewn back taut to fit a doctrine of inerrancy in the autographs, the original writings, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22 and all points in between down to the jot and tittle. The SBC has spoken in the spirit of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon and other notable saints: What Scripture says, God says.

I recall sitting in on an interview with the late Garth Pybas, who at the time was one of the last living members of the 1963 BFM committee charged with revising the 1925 BFM statement. At the time, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Ralph Elliot’s book “The Message of Genesis,” originally published by the Baptist Sunday School Board’s Broadman Press, had shocked most Southern Baptists for denying the historicity of Genesis 1-11.

Pybas was adamant: “There wasn’t a liberal in the bunch.” His understanding of the Jesus-as-criterion language, he explained, meant that Jesus believed in the full inspiration of the Old Testament, including Genesis, based on his frequent quoting of the Torah and the prophets. In other words, when Jesus spoke of Abel or Noah historically, that settles it for us.

If only everyone was as clear-minded and well-meaning as Pybas was.

Unfortunately, what was intended as a faithful response to Elliott’s book over time became a loophole for some as the WWJD? question was answered by appealing to a Jesus of one’s liking.

The BFM 2000 provided much-needed clarity on several issues, not the least of which was the article on the Bible.

Everything we know about the Trinitarian God (that includes the Son) he has graciously breathed out for us through human writers at particular places in time so that, as Paul told the Athenians, “we might grope for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”

I’m not exactly sure how one would place Scripture above Jesus, save for praying to the pages in the NIV or Holman or KJV and bowing down before them each day in front of the fireplace.

No doubt, some who have repeated this charge likely don’t know what they are saying. They are simply repeating what they have heard without critically thinking. But others, doubting the full inspiration of the Scripture, continue the rumor.

A reader, concerned about our running a story last issue about the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship meeting where a presenter questioned Christ’s deity, wanted to know where we stood on the issue.

I happily explained we did, indeed, believe in the deity of Jesus, and added that “we affirm the verbal, plenary inspiration of Scripture; its inerrant nature is foundational for sound doctrine and a sure-footed faith, and from it flows all that we believe.”

See, it’s hard to hold absolutely to the deity of Jesus while denying the absolute truth of the very revelation that tells you about him. That’s tantamount to building a house on sand, and Jesus had something to say about that.

SBTC hosting multihousing ministry seminar

A generation ago, the American dream was a home in the suburbs, white picket fence included, and a community built on the same values, hopes, and dreams. But in today’s America, the house in the suburbs and the white picket fence are out of reach for some and out of fashion for others.

Many people are choosing to live in multi-housing units such as apartments, condos, and mobile homes, bypassing home ownership for a variety of reasons, including lifestyle and financial considerations. According to the National Multihousing Council, one-third of Americans live in multihousing communities.

The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s church planting team reports the number of Texans living in multihousing communities is even higher than the national average, with half of Texans living in multihousing units.

But more staggering is the fact that only 5 percent of these people attend church.

To help churches reach into these multihousing mission fields in their own communities, the SBTC is offering The Multihousing Missions and Ministry Conference from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sept. 25 at the SBTC offices in Grapevine. There is no cost to attend the conference, but registration is required.

Barbara Oden, founder of Texas Multihousing Consulting, will be a primary speaker for the conference. She has had many years of experience with multihousing communities.

“Since I was an apartment manager for eight years myself, I have a unique look into those communities as well as 23 years of assisting churches in preparing, beginning and sustaining this kind of ministry,” Oden said.

Working with Oden will be John Sanchez, a native of Colombia. Sanchez has been working with apartment ministries since 1990.

“Under the leadership of Barbara Oden, we began to establish programs in apartment complexes, serving residents with their needs and providing them with activities, Bible studies, kid’s clubs, ESL classes and other educational programs to encourage the community to build healthy values in the society in which we live,” Sanchez said.

During the conference, Oden and Sanchez will discuss understanding multihousing communities and cultures; crossing cultural and social barriers; starting on-site ministries and Bible studies; reaching the lost through ministry-based evangelism; working with apartment management; and training your church for multihousing ministry.

The conference will include both English and Spanish.

The Multihousing Conference is open to any SBTC church and Oden believes that it can be a benefit to any church, including those in smaller communities with fewer multihousing units.

“The principles that will be discussed and the resources given can be used by any church for any kind of local outreach,” Oden said. “We will show how to specifically use it for apartments, condos, townhomes, mobile homes, duplexes, nursing homes and retirement communities.”

In addition to showing how a wide-range of multihousing communities can be reached, Oden said the conference will deal with common issues in multihousing outreach.

“Practical information will be given on how to deal with community management, as well as how church membership can become aware and move out to reach these communities for Jesus Christ,” Oden said. “Even smaller towns are finding multihousing communities being built there. I have also personally used these principles in other kinds of community outreach. I believe every church can gain important information on how to reach out to the area where their church is located.”

Registration for the conference is open until Sept. 18. For more information or to register online, visit Registration is also available by phone at 817-552-2500, ext. 249 or 1-877-953-SBTC.

The Multihousing Mission and Ministry Conference is made possible by gifts to the Cooperative Program and the Reach Texas State Missions Offering.

Criswell says accrediting agency erred

DALLAS?Criswell College is off probation from its accrediting agency after a year of the school seeking recourse for what it said was a $6 million auditing error from the agency that resulted in a “PR nightmare.”

In spring 2007, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) charged Criswell College with financial instability and mismanagement and placed the school on probation.

“They read the wrong line to determine income, especially the income of KCBI [the school’s radio station],” said Lamar Cooper, Criswell’s provost. “They read a line of $3 million total income and some change as a $3 million liability and a deficit, and then concluded that KCBI was $3 million in the red. Therefore, the college was $3 million in the red.”

The problem for Criswell and other schools where SACS auditing errors have occurred, said Criswell Provost Lamar Cooper, is that SACS offers no formal recourse until the next year when the agency’s Commission on Colleges reviews member schools.

“In the meantime, we went back and carefully laid it all out,” Cooper said. “We sent [documentation] to them and said, ‘You really need to find some process of redress because it’s a PR nightmare for us and a drag on enrollment if people think your school is on probation.’ And the trustees passed a resolution saying they should inform us why we shouldn’t file suit for damages.”

Cooper said once the mistake was documented and sent to SACS, the agency was unwilling to discuss the issue beyond a promise that a review committee would study the case later.

When contacted by the TEXAN, Tom E. Benberg, vice president and chief of staff at the Commission on Colleges in Atlanta, said: “The executive council of the commission conducted a special review and acknowledged that while there was a modest error, it wasn’t material, that is, it wasn’t substantial enough” to warrant changing the school’s status.

Benberg said recourse was available through the review of the executive council.

“They reviewed all the materials, the case in its entirety, and decided that the right decision had been made,” Benberg added while acknowledging that a difference of opinion exists between the agency and the school on whether Criswell was compliant with SACS financial guidelines.

A review committee came to Dallas in March and resolved the issue in less than a day through a review process that typically takes several days, Cooper said. At no time did Criswell lose accreditation, Cooper emphasized.

“The removal of probation, in our thinking, was good but not the best way to go about it because it still suggests that you are out of compliance, which we never were. We have not given up on it. We are going to seek to get policies changed so that schools that get caught in this and who can demonstrate that a mistake was made in the assessment of their situation may have due process.”

The probation came during the same year that a $3 million lead gift for an endowed scholarship was announced from Curtis and Shirley Baker of Lindale. Earlier this year, an endowed counseling chair funded by June Hunt of Dallas was announced.

Criswell begins counseling degree by night to fit non-traditional schedules

DALLAS?A new master’s degree program in counseling will be offered at Criswell College to help those with limited time and schedules earn a degree in two years?without having to quit their day jobs. The night classes for a master of arts in counseling degree, called “MAC at Night,” is designed to help those who are working full-time, perhaps raising a family, or as the web page says, just have “a hectic schedule.”

The classes are taught Tuesdays through Thursdays.

“I’m amazed at what the Lord has done to have a program like this at all,” saidSteve Hunter, Criswell College’s dean of students who holds theHope for the Heart Chair for Biblical Counseling. “The undergraduate program has been at Criswell for a while, but now we’ve had the first graduate in the master’s program, June Hunt.”

Hunt, whofoundedthe Dallas-based Hope for the Heartministry, initiated the establishment of thecounseling chair earlier this year. Hope For The Heart is a worldwide ministry with a two-fold mission of providing Bible-based counsel to renew minds, heal hearts and bring hope to the hurting, while empowering Christians to disciple others.

The ministry also broadcasts the award-winning “Hope for the Heart” radio program heard daily on approximately 120 stations across America. “Hope in the Night” is Hunt’s live, two-hour call-in counseling program that “helps people untie their tangled problems with biblical hope and practical help,” she explained.

For the fall,Hunter said he anticipates 10 students in the “MAC at Night” program and forsees it growing quickly to twice that size. Based on the quality and diversity of the leadership in the program, Hunter said he sees no limit on how large the master’s program could grow.

“We need two more adjunct professors right now, and we are retaining all of our current professors,” he said.

“It is for both the licensureand the non-licensure students,”Hunter said, explaining that the licensure program requires a 48-hour degree program, which is necessary if a student wants to pursue a careerrequiring him to be a licensed counselor in the state of Texas. This track would also prepare those pursuing a doctorate degree. Graduates, even in the licensure program, still need at least 3,000 hours of counseling experience to be fully licensed,Hunter added.

The non-licensure track has 36 hours of credits, and is for those who want to serve specifically in a church or Christian setting or serve as chaplains, for instance. Pastors who want to hone their counseling skills could also benefit from the non-licensure program.

Offering examples of the diversity of interest the program has drawn, Hunter said, “We have a teacher from First Baptist Church (Dallas) Academy, as well asa worker with Gangs for Christ ministry. We are fashioning this program for all types of students.

Another benefit is that a student can look ahead at the entire two years of courses and know exactly what courses will be offered and when.

“And in the summer, you can earn up to nine credit hours, all in the evening block courses,” Hunter added.

The next big step in the program is offering online courses,Hunter said. Courses for the fall include research and measurement, counseling theories and techniques, conflict management, with solidly biblical textbooks such as Ian Jones’ “The Counsel of Heaven on Earth: Foundations for Biblical Christian Counseling,” and June Hunt’s “Counseling through the Bible.”

The program also benefits those serving inchaplain roles orany professions not requiring licensed professionals.

Cheryl LaMastra is a licensed professional counselor and is an adjunct professor for the MAC degree. She stated on a recent edition of “Jerry Johnson Live” radio broadcast that the program is practical and even gets students to look at themselves first so that they can then more clearly see to help others.

In addition to offering classes at a time convenient for those who cannot attend in a traditional daytime schedule, “MAC at Night” seeks to set the Bible as the standard for counseling individuals.

The goal of the program is to help ministers be more grounded in their counseling ministry, but also to allow any Christian to start a new career or serve more effectively. Hunter summarized the ministry vision for biblical counseling at Criswell as “hope and healing for hurting hearts and homes,” preparing students to have tools for bringing healing to others.

For more information, contact Hunter at 1-800-899-0012 or visit the school’s website at Click on the “get your MAC” icon at the bottom of the screen for more information.

Una Mujer de Excelencia

More than 650 women gathered for the SBTC Hispanic Women’s Conference July 11-12 at the Omni Colonnade in San Antonio. The conference theme was “Una Mujer de Excelencia,” translated “A Woman of Excellence,” taken from Titus 2:7. Two women registered professions of faith and more than 60 recommitted themselves to Christ. Above, a participant raises her hands during praise music, and below, the women attending take time to visit with each other at their tables.