Encouraged by Chariots of Fire in the Clouds: Marriage & Family in the Baptist Tradition

So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

–2 Kings 6:15-17 ESV

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses …

–Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV

Oftentimes visual symbolism can discourage and defeat. Whether ages ago a Captain in the British Navy who, through his telescope, sees that a new flag of the enemy has been raised ashore in his home port. Or, in our own day, an opposing team and their fans storm the court after a major road win—and with the irony of opposing colors overtaking the colors of home sinking in to help the fan realize this loss is not a dream.

Or, perhaps in the wake of a major Supreme Court decision on the definition of marriage, the full impact and intent is on display as a rainbow flag of colors engulfs the home of the most powerful leader in the world.

In days like these, where the recent redefinition of marriage can often discourage, it is helpful and grounding to remember that there are scores of spiritual forebears, a great cloud of witnesses, though now invisible, who sought to define and stand for the original definition of marriage.

Even though today one might feel as if he is standing alone while those with alternative views fly their victory flags, the truth is, and like Elisha saw, there are the legacies of those who have gone before standing like a cavalry of horses and chariots all around.

Thus, in an age of gusting gale-force winds of moral change, those committed to the Bible need encouragement from others to ensure that they stand strong and weather well. Also, that they understand that it is not those who are storming the fields in victory who they are to stand against but rather against their arguments (2 Cor. 10:5) and the father of lies behind them (John 8:44).

For in the spirit of the words of Elisha, we are not to be afraid or downcast for, with eyes to see, those who are with us are more than those who are with the evil one. This essay is presented to that end and will seek to answer for such encouragement in a time like ours, how have Baptists thought of Marriage and Family from the Reformation to the present?

First presented at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in November 2015, this essay was recently published in full at Canon & Culture. There I present in four sections how Baptists have articulated marriage and family century by century. Following that historical exploration, I conclude that Baptists through the centuries have regularly asserted a common belief in marriage and family. I then attempt to categorize those under four headings:

  1. Baptists have sought to define marriage and family according to the Bible:
    • Created by God
    • One wife, one husband, in monogamy not polygamy
    • Believers should marry believers
  2. Baptists have consistently addressed marriage and family in light of cultural concerns
  3. Baptists have worked to articulate marriage and family in conjunction with other traditions
  4. Baptists have largely affirmed complementarity in marriage roles that, in families, seek to give care for the spiritual formation of their children.

Lest one grow too weary when looking at the surrounding culture and feel like the enemy’s flag has been raised once and for all in one’s homeland, it is helpful to remember that what is not seen is more real than what is seen. For as Martin Luther said, “Our striving would be losing were not the right man on our side.” Thus, as we strive for truth, let us remember that we do not strive alone. For, if we have eyes to see, like Elisha, there is a great cloud of witnesses, of horses and chariots, of men and women who have gone before who surround and stand with us. Yet, even more, there stands that Right Man on our side, and very soon, He will come and make all things right and new.

To read the full essay, visit Canon and Culture.

What if Carl Henry was alive today? ERLC Conversation & Quotes

My friends at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention have made available a short discussion I had with their Executive Vice President, Phillip Bethancourt (and fellow Texas A&M Aggie) about the great evangelical theologian Carl F. H. Henry (1913-2003).

It is always fun to talk about Henry and in addition to their video above, I include below the quotes I referenced and read throughout the interview:

The message for a decadent modern civilization must ring with the present tense. We must confront the world now with an ethics to make it tremble, and with a dynamic to give it hope.

–CFHH,The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism(1947, Eerdmans, 2003), 55.

The evangelical movement looks stronger than in fact it is. Evangelicalism presumptively acts as if it were the permanently appointed preserver of “the faith once-for-all delivered” and specially entrusted with ecclesial keys to the Kingdom. But no earthly movement holds the Lion of the Tribe of Judah by the tail. We may need for a season to be encaged in the Lion’s den until we recover an apostolic awe of the Risen Christ, the invincible Head of a dependent body sustained by his supernatural power. Apart from life in and by the Spirit we are all pseudo-evangelicals.

–CFHH,Confessions of a Theologian (Waco: Word, 1986), 390.

The troubled conscience of the modern liberal, growing out of his superficial optimism, is a deep thing in modern times. But so is the uneasy conscience of the modern Fundamentalist, that no voice is speaking today as Paul would, either at the United Nations sessions, or at labor-management disputes, or in strategic university classrooms whether in Japan or Germany or America.

–CFHH,The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism(1947, Eerdmans, 2003), 24-25.

In 1 Corinthians 15:1-14, the indispensability of biblical theology to a sound doctrinal foundation is placed beyond doubt. An evangelical is one who is Scripture-accordant. Twice, the apostle Paul stipulates faith ‘according to the Scriptures.’ He said this in a context that includes the substitutionary death and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without this dependence on and submission to biblical revelation, there is no evangelicalism.

–CFHH,Interview with Russell D. Moore

“It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.”

–C. S. Lewis, “On the Reading of Old Books,” in God in the Dock (Eerdmans, 1970), 201-202.

For more on Carl F. H. Henry, see recent articles:
An Evangelical Chester Copperpot: Recovering “The Uneasy Conscience”
Seven Summits Worth Climbing in Church History: Carl F. H. Henry
Carl vs Karl: “Footnotes” on Henry/Barth Interactions
At the Mercy of an Air Assault: Footnotes on the Conversion of Carl Henry
Carl Henry’s Vision for an Evangelical University in New York
Praying for Chuck Henry
After 100 years, Grateful for Carl F. H. Henry, our Once and Future Theologian

A Plea for Ambitious Evangelicals: The Union University Pulpit (2013)

In March of this year, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the campus of Union University, speak in their chapel, and visit with students. Union is known far and wide as one of the “good to great” stories of the Baptist Colleges and Universities over the last two decades thanks to the steady and visionary leadership of David S. Dockery and his capable and well-regarded team.

Perhaps the greatest testimony to this is the quality of students that have graduated during the Dockery tenure. Without question, when I meet a student at Southwestern Seminary and discover they studied at Union, I know I have found a well-informed, academically capable individual who, while able to engage well the intellectual arguments of the day, still has a heart for the Lord and for people around the word. The ability to produce, in such steady droves year after year, students of such caliber is truly remarkable. I can only hope many more Unionites will come and study with us here in Fort Worth.

Yesterday, I received a copy of the most recent Union University Pulpit journal containing sermons from a variety of speakers over the course of this year. A few months back, Joshua Moore, director of church relations, asked if they could include my sermon in this issue, and I was eager to help prepare it for publication.

My sermon is titled “A Plea for Ambitious Evangelicals” from Romans 15:17-21.

In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written,
“Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.”
(Romans 15:17-21 ESV)

Here is a portion of my introduction and a link to the full transcript follows:

The word ambition in our 21st century, especially American, culture gets thrown around and used in many ways. For those of us who are seeking to follow God and are concerned with godliness and holiness, oftentimes the word ambition gets shuttled aside as a bad thing—a self-seeking thing or a selfish kind of thing. But Paul used the word ambition here in Romans 15 by harnessing it and putting it in its proper context and direction.

I’m 38 years old. Soon I will turn 40 and I do not know if this is the way it is with you but every time I come up on a new decade I think a lot about what did I do in the last decade and ask, “Have I really done anything?” and “What do I want to do in the next decade?” I went through this when I was in my twenties in college. What do I want my twenties to be known for, or my thirties, or my forties? I’ve been thinking a lot about this and ultimately asking myself the question, “If you had to boil it all down, what is the most important thing to me? What am I all about? What is my driving ambition?”

There are really two ways to figure this out, two tests. Test Number One, I can ask others who know me what they think I am all about. Or I can look inwardly, Test Number Two, and ask myself some questions …

If you really want to know me and truly get to people at Southwestern who do know me, aside from the Downton Abbey exterior and the green socks and all these other silly things, I hope that at the core you will see that I am doing what I am doing because I am passionate about seeing people going out to the ends of the earth and knocking on the doors of people who have never heard the gospel or the name of Jesus Christ in their entire lives. They don’t have access to it, they have never seen a Bible, they have never heard its words, and to them we are taking the gospel for the very first time. Whatever it takes to see that accomplished, at the end of the day, is what I am all about.

What is at the core of your heart if you peeled away the layers? Ask those who know you the best. If you ask yourself the why question enough times, what is at the core of your heart?

What I want to show you here in this passage, Romans 15:17-21, is the Apostle Paul’s ambition and that this is not just reserved for Paul, it is an ambition to be shared by all evangelicals, all Christians, all people who love the name of Christ. Whether you ever leave this country and become a missionary or not, this should be the ambition, this should be the core of who we are. So let’s see if Paul’s argument is convincing to us.

Here is a PDF of my full transcript of the March 8, 2013 message, “A Plea for Ambitious Evangelicals.”

The audio recording of my message is available here and video is available here.

To receive a printed copy of the Union University Pulpit 2013 contact the fine folks in the Office of University Ministries at Union.

An Evangelical Chester Copperpot: Recovering “The Uneasy Conscience”

Today in my Baptist Theologians PhD seminar we discussed the life and work of Carl F. H. Henry and to prepare, I had the students read Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism(1947), a portion of his God, Revelation & Authority, Vol. 4 (1979), and then Gregory Alan Thornbury’s new Recovering Classic Evangelicalism: Applying the Wisdom and Vision Of Carl F. H. Henry (2013).

While all of Henry’s work has merit and proves prescient for the rising PhD student, I am particularly glad for the opportunity for students to read Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience. New to most, if not all of my students, this work by Henry, though written in 1947, is perhaps one of the best things they could read in terms of an evangelical approach toward engaging the culture. Thornbury, in his chapter “Culture Matters,” puts it this way:

We have come full circle to where Carl Henry began with evangelicals after World War II in The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1947). Evangelicals have no consistent program to speak to the sociopolitical climate of our time, and I think that within the confines of our current environment, we need to ask ourselves whether that’s even possible anymore. But before we give up hope, I want to plead ad fontes for my fellow evangelicals to revisit the manifesto that, at least culturally speaking, started it all. We need to return to the central claims of Carl Henry’s landmark book.

Uneasy Conscience exhibited confidence that even in the worst imaginable period in world history, a globe confused and battered emerging from the Second World War could look to the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ and be transformed–not just as individuals, but as a society.

Indeed, why attempt to reinvent fully the wheel of appropriate cultural engagement when an evangelical Chester Copperpot has already blazed a trail and left a map for others to follow.

Here are a few selected passages from Henry’s work:

The “uneasy conscience” of which I write is not one troubled about the great Biblical verities, which I consider the only outlook capable of resolving our problems, but rather one distressed by the frequent failure to apply them effectively to crucial problems confronting the modern mind (xviii).

The troubled conscience of the modern liberal, growing out of his superficial optimism, is a deep thing in modern times. But so is the uneasy conscience of the modern Fundamentalist, that no voice is speaking today as Paul would, either at the United Nations sessions, or at labor-management disputes, or in strategic university classrooms whether in Japan or Germany or America (24-25).

Contemporary evangelicalism needs (1) to reawaken to the relevance of its redemptive message to the global predicament; (2) to stress the great evangelical agreements in a common world front; (3) to discard elements of its message which cut the nerve of world compassion as contradictory to the inherent genius of Christianity; (4) to restudy eschatological convictions for a proper perspective which will not unnecessarily dissipate evangelical strength in controversy over secondary positions, in a day when the significance of the primary insistence is international (53-54).

The message for a decadent modern civilization must ring with the present tense. We must confront the world now with an ethics to make it tremble, and with a dynamic to give it hope (55).

Therefore, the path of evangelical action seems to be an eagerness to condemn all social evils, no less vigorously than any other group, and a determination … when evangelicals are in the minority, to express their opposition to evils in a “formula of protest,” concurring heartily in the assault on social wrongs, but insisting upon the regenerative context as alone able to secure a permanent rectification of such wrongs. Thus evangelicals will take their stand against evil, and against it in the name of Jesus Christ, the deliverer, both within their groups and within other groups.

For more on Carl F. H. Henry, see recent articles:
Seven Summits Worth Climbing in Church History: Carl F. H. Henry
Carl vs Karl: “Footnotes” on Henry/Barth Interactions
At the Mercy of an Air Assault: Footnotes on the Conversion of Carl Henry
Carl Henry’s Vision for an Evangelical University in New York
After 100 years, Grateful for Carl F. H. Henry, our Once and Future Theologian