The Critics of Graham and their Lack of Preaching Experience

Upon the news of Billy Graham’s passing at age 99 Wednesday morning, local man John Everly took the opportunity to criticize the man’s preaching, theology, and methodology. Everly has not shared the good news of Jesus Christ with a single person in his entire life, multiple sources confirmed.

In a lengthy blog post “hot off the presses” Wednesday, the man was able to point out forty-seven different flaws with Graham’s delivery, calling the famous preacher’s messages “shallow,” “man-centered,” and “wishy-washy,” while he himself had never even attempted to bring a single person to Christ.

Also concerning to the blogger were two or three specific sentences uttered by Graham in the sixty years his words were being recorded, for which Every refused to offer Graham the benefit of the doubt, despite the late evangelist’s lifetime of preaching the gospel to live audiences of more than 200 million people.

At publishing time, sources had confirmed that both of Everly’s parents and all four of his grandparents had been converted to Christ at a Billy Graham crusade.

Yeah, pretty much.

Populism v. the Liberal Elite, or, Luther v. Erasmus

This is a pretty good essay.  A bit anachronistic at places, and a bit prone to overstatement.  As in this bit-

By the time of his death, in 1546, Luther had become an isolated reactionary, his work eclipsed by a younger and more dynamic reformer, John Calvin. Even so, Luther would go down in history as the founder of Protestantism, the man who broke the spiritual stranglehold of the Roman Church. Luther’s brand of Bible-based ardor founded on pure faith would exercise a profound influence on Western culture, not least in America.

I don’t know any Reformation scholar (and Messing isn’t one) who would call Calvin more ‘dynamic’ than Luther, but nonetheless the essay is pretty good.

Luther: On What He Can Do Well

When I was young I was learned, especially before I came to the study of theology. At that time I dealt with allegories, tropologies, and analogies and did nothing but clever tricks with them. [Today] I know they’re nothing but rubbish. Now I’ve let them go, and this is my last and best art, to translate the Scriptures in their plain sense. The literal sense does it-in it there’s life, comfort, power, instruction, and skill. The other is tomfoolery, however brilliant the impression it makes.”  — Martin Luther

Paul as Pastor

Paul as Pastor demonstrates the critical nature of Paul’s pastoral care to his identity and activities. Despite the fact that Paul never identifies himself as a pastor, there is much within the Pauline letters that alludes to this as a possible aspect of Paul’s vocation and commitments, and this has been a topic of relative scholarly neglect. The contributors to this volume consider the household setting of Paul’s pastoral practice, the evidence of Acts and a survey of themes in each of the letters in the traditional Pauline corpus. Additionally, three chapters supply case studies of the Wirkungsgeschichte of Paul’s pastoral practice in the pastoral offices of the Anglican Communion in the denomination’s Ordinal, and in the lives and thought of Augustine of Hippo and George Whitfield. As such Paul as Pastor provides a stimulating resource on a neglected and critical dimension of Paul and his letters and an invaluable tool for those in pastoral ministry and those responsible for their training.

Bloomsbury have kindly supplied a review copy.  First off, might I recommend that you visit the link above in order to see the table of contents.

On the whole the collection is quite good, with a variety of engaging essays and a couple which are rather sub-standard in terms of the whole work.

The excellent essays are  Paul’s Pastoral Sensitivity in 1 Corinthians – Matthew R. Malcolm,  and Pastoring with a Big Stick: Paul as Pastor in Galatians – Michael F. Bird.  The bulk of the rest are quite good and it is just these two which would probably have improved the collection had they been left out:  ‘He Followed Paul’ Whitefield’s Voice: Heroic, Apostolic, Prophetic – Rhys S. Bezzant and Mother, Father, Infant, Orphan, Brother: Paul’s Variegated Pastoral Strategy Towards His Thessalonian Church-Family – Trevor J. Burke.

So, for instance, on the excellent side of things, Mike Bird colorfully writes

… in Galatians Paul is engaging in some intense pastoral care for the Galatian churches by using his epistolary crook to scrape off some theological dung that has attached itself to the flock in Galatia… (p. 71).

The two excellent essays are characterized by clearly demonstrably scholarly research whilst the two weakest are characterized by overly idiosyncratic interpretations of the data.  They seemed, to me at least, plodding and over worked.  In short, they tried too hard to say too much with too little information.

So, for instance, Burke writes, whilst discussing ‘Paul as infant’…

As regards the former [i.e., concerning Paul describing himself as an infant- J.W.] the NIV, for example, translates… (p. 134).

Using the NIV (or any translation, to be fair) as the basis for an exegetical novelty (which is what Burke’s reading is) is less than sensible and to say more of it would be uncharitable, so I will move ahead…

Reviews are always subjective enterprises, though, and it may be that others will find the two strongest essays weak and the two weakest strong.  But they would be wrong to do so.  The volume is genuinely weakened by these two weakest links.

My advice to readers- if you wish to truly enjoy this genuinely enjoyable volume, skip the two essays which I have described above as the least helpful and you will find the work very, very insightful.  My warning- if you read the two least helpful of the essays you’ll experience what can only be likened to eating a fine dinner at a lovely restaurant and only discovering at the end of the meal that there’s a hair or five in your dessert.  You will have enjoyed it all up to that point and then your disposition will instantly sour.

In sum- read this book.  But skip the cheesecake filled with hair parts and you’ll like it more than you will if you don’t skip the cheesecake filled with hair parts.

Calvin: on Providence and the Thief and Murderer

I deny that they [i.e., robbery and murder and that sort of evil] serve the will of God. For we cannot say that he who is carried away by a wicked mind performs service on the order of God, when he is only following his own malignant desires. He obeys God, who, being instructed in his will, hastens in the direction in which God calls him. But how are we so instructed unless by his word? The will declared by his word is, therefore, that which we must keep in view in acting, God requires of us nothing but what he enjoins.

If we design anything contrary to his precept, it is not obedience, but contumacy and transgression. But if he did not will it, we could not do it. I admit this. But do we act wickedly for the purpose of yielding obedience to him? This, assuredly, he does not command. Nay, rather we rush on, not thinking of what he wishes, but so inflamed by our own passionate lust, that, with destined purpose, we strive against him. And in this way, while acting wickedly, we serve his righteous ordination, since in his boundless wisdom he well knows how to use bad instruments for good purposes.  — John Calvin

Not really a solution to the problem, is it?  Good effort though.  And, no, I don’t have a solution to the problem of providence and theodicy either.  I call it an unfathomable mystery:

  • God is in control.
  • Evil happens by his permission.

For Luther, Better Dead Than Spanish…

Then there was talk about the noblemen who were prisoners of the Turks. “Good God!” said Luther. “What a disgrace it is for our nation to advance in such a disorderly and womanish fashion against the army of the enemy where there wasn’t a single Turkish soldier! Those are wretched prisoners. Nobody has pity on them or prays for them. In imagined security we drink, play games, incite one another to hatred, and thus prepare a way for the Turks to enter our land. Let us cry out to God, pray, and mend our ways according to God’s Word so that, if we are to die, we may be put to death by Turks or Spaniards, may be killed in the profession of the faith, and may not become Turkish or Spanish!”  — Martin Luther, on 21 February, 1538.

Luther loved to make friends….

Where there is No Church Discipline, There is No Church

In 1538 Calvin was beset all around by difficulties.  Indeed…

Calvin was fettered not only in his preaching but still more in the discharge of his pastoral duties. ‘In general,’ he wrote to Bullinger, February 21, ‘we are looked on here as preachers rather than pastors. We cannot have a Church that will stand unless the discipline of the apostles be restored.’ However, he had not lost hope. ‘There is much alteration which we earnestly desire,’ he further wrote to his friend at Zurich, ‘but which can be effected only by our applying ourselves to it with faith, diligence, and perseverance. Oh, that a pure and sincere agreement might at length be established among us! Would there be any obstacle in the way of the meeting of a synod, at which everyone might propose what he believed to be useful to the Churches?’*

The interesting thing here is the highlighted sentence. Pondering that fact reveals incredible truths.  Any Church that lacks theological standards enforced by the necessary discipline will not, cannot, and should not survive.  Why?  Because when churches abandon core beliefs and practices; or rather when Church members do, they cease to be Church members and those churches that allow it cease to be churches.

*J. H. Merle D’aubigné D.D. and William L. R. Cates, History of the Reformation in Europe in the Time of Calvin (vol. 6; London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1975), 435.

Quote of the Day: Papist Idiots

I disputed with complete sincerity until I realized that our [Papist] professors are idiots and swine. Since then, as Latomus himself admits, I have not claimed that I was engaging in scholarly discussion, but rather was ready to expose myself to the fire [for the truth].  — Martin Luther