Author Archive | Denny Burk

CTR on the Emerging Church

The current issue of the Criswell Theological Review is making the rounds in the blogosphere (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here . . . just to name a few). As I indicated in my previous post, some of the articles are already available to download for free.

One of the interesting things about this issue is that at least two of the contributors, Mark Driscoll and John Hammett, have decided to use Ed Stetzer’s tripartite scheme for describing emerging churches: Relevants, Reconstructionists, and Revisionists.

Here’s how Driscoll breaks it down in his CTR article:

Relevants are theologically conservative evangelicals who are not as interested in reshaping theology as much as updating such things as worship styles, preaching styles, and church leadership structures. . .

Reconstructionists are generally theologically evangelical and dissatisfied with the current forms of church (e.g. seeker, purpose, contemporary). . .

Revisionists are theologically liberal and question key evangelical doctrines, critiquing their appropriateness for the emerging postmodern world (CTR 3.2, pp. 89-90)

Driscoll associates Dan Kimball, Don Miller, and Rob Bell with the Relevants. He associates Neil Cole, Michael Frost, and Alan Hirsch with the Reconstructionists. And he associates Brian McLaren and Doug Padgitt with the Revisionists.

The provocative claim associated with this last category (the Revisionists) is that Driscoll charges them with heading in a heretical direction (CTR 3.2, p. 91). As near as I can tell from reading Driscoll’s essay, he believes McLaren and Padgitt represent a dangerous and unorthodox strand of emergent leaders.

His evaluation of the three types of emerging churches is instructive:

If both doctrine and practice are constantly changing, the result is living heresy, which is where I fear the Revisionist Emergent tribe of the Emerging church is heading. But, if doctrine is constant and practice is always changing, the result is living orthodoxy which I propose is the faithful third way of the Relevants, which I pray remains the predominant way of the Reconstructionists (CTR 3.2, pp. 90-91).

I expect that we will see much more of this tripartite division in future descriptions of emerging churches, even though emergent-folks on the Revisionist side of the spectrum are likely to offer strenuous objections. Nobody likes to be pigeon-holed, but I think this is a fair categorization.

As a heuristic device, the scheme is most profitably used if it is conceived as a spectrum rather than as three distinct and mutually exclusive categories. I think it is fair to say that most emerging churches probably fall somewhere along this spectrum. This is probably the best way for us to talk about a movement that is very theologically diverse.


McLaren and Driscoll in New Journal on Emerging Church

Readers of this blog are aware of the falling out between Pastor Mark Driscoll and the emerging church movement. Driscoll’s very public criticism of Brian McLaren’s stance (or non-stance) on homosexuality and Driscoll’s subsequent apology make it very clear that the theological issues at stake in the emerging conversation cause no little dissension.

That is why the latest installment of the Criswell Theological Review does a great service to the evangelical community’s discussion of this important topic. The current issue features both Mark Driscoll and Brian McLaren. Driscoll contributes an article that gives “A Pastoral Perspective on the Emergent Church.” Brian McLaren participates in the conversation by doing an interview with the editor of the journal. In addition, this issue includes other articles both pro and con on the emerging movement.

You can find out how to get a copy of the journal at the website: This is one issue you won’t want to miss.


Inerrancy Is Not Enough

Today I presented a paper at the Southwest Regional Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. The meeting was held at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and Albert Mohler and Wayne Grudem were special guests and speakers at the plenary sessions.

I told the people who attended my session that I would make my paper available here on my blog. So here it is for anyone who is interested.

Inerrancy Is Not Enough – by Denny Burk

Thanks to all of you who attended my session.


Deconstructing The Da Vinci Code

Photo by James Yacovelli

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary recently held a symposium on Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Panel members include Bart Ehrman, Andreas Kostenberger, Richard Hays, and Norm Geisler.

You can download the mp3 audio of the conversation from the SEBTS Website, or you can subscribe to the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Chapel Podcast through iTunes. The title of the discussion is “Roundtable Discussion of The Da Vinci Code.”

This is a very fascinating discussion. As for the historical claims of The Da Vinci Code, when Norm Geisler and Bart Ehrman are in agreement on anything having to do with Christianity, you know that something momentous has happened. In this case, it turns out that The Da Vinci Code is momentously wrong. The book makes egregious historical errors, and panel members (liberal and conservative alike) agree on that score.


Semper Reformanda

As a Southern Baptist, I really appreciate the sentiments expressed in Douglas Baker’s Baptist Press essay, “Semper Reformanda: more than a phrase.” His basic contention is that the Southern Baptist conservative resurgence will have been for naught if a continuing reformation does not ensue. He writes:

The affluence and leisure of modern church life make it all the more difficult to evangelize and disciple people who find Broadway more exciting than the Bible. The logic proceeds that if people are still attending Broadway shows and movies, then the church had better mimic such venues or else the sanctuary of today will be the museum of tomorrow.

To assuage this fear, many churches have sought a dynamic alchemy of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “biblical” preaching brought to you by the local Baptist church. For the most part, this has failed . . .

The question remains: Is theological conservatism SBC style compatible with healthy churches who aggressively work for biblical preaching and discipleship beyond the level of theological pabulum? The SBC needs only to look at other theologically conservative denominations such as the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) and see their rapid growth (fueled by some former Southern Baptists who left the denomination) for an answer.

This is hard-hitting, good stuff. Semper Reformanda!


Could Carl Henry Be Wrong?

I was struck by something that I read today in Carl F. H. Henry’s watershed work The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1947).

Fundamentalism is agreed on the main doctrines of God, of creation, of anthropology, of soteriology, and of eschatology in its main peaks (p. 61).

What impressed me about Henry’s observation here is that, sadly, it is no longer true. The consensus that used to characterize American evangelicalism no longer exists.

One can no longer claim unity among evangelicals on central issues. Current debates among evangelicals about open theism and the adequacy of the penal substitution model of the atonement demonstrate that the old, broad consensus on the doctrine of God and soteriology has broken down.

Henry’s characterization of old liberal saws sounds a lot like the critiques of some post-modern and emergent evangelicals today. Can you see the similarities in the following?

To conceal his own embarrassment, many a liberal today follows a planned strategy of thanking God he is not a Fundamentalist [just like this guy and this guy]. A frequent pattern is to remark that of course the liberal repudiates the obscurantism of taking the whole Bible literally [like this guy again], or of thinking God dictated it without respecting the personalities of the writers, or of contending that God stopped working in human history 1900 years ago. What is not remarked is that no representative Fundamentalist thinks that either (p. 56).

I could give a lot more examples of correlation, but I will stop with these. Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.


Witherington’s Non-Patriarchal Reading of 1 Timothy 2:12

1 Timothy 2:8-15 has a been a battleground in the recent history of interpretation as scholars have been offering varying interpretations of a passage that at first blush cuts against modern egalitarian sensibilities. Verse 12 has proven to be particularly problematic for modern interpreters who support the ordination of women as pastors.

A literal translation of verse 1 Timothy 2:12 reads: “I do not allow a woman to teach or to exercise authority over/domineer a man.” At the heart of the exegetical dispute is the problem of translating the phrase “to teach or to exercise authority over.”

Dr. Ben Witherington, who will soon be adding to his impressive list of literary accomplishments a new commentary on the pastoral epistles, has recently offered some reflections on his translation of 1 Timothy 2:8-15 (see his blog). Witherington argues that understanding the background of Paul’s command is absolutely critical to a proper interpretation of the verse. He writes:

What I would stress at the outset is that Paul is correcting problems in worship— correcting both men and women as is perfectly clear from vs. 8 where he tells the men to not dispute or get angry but rather to start praying. He then corrects women in several particulars. I would stress then that the correction of an abuse of a privilege is not the same as the ruling out of a proper use of a privilege, in this case the privilege of speaking in worship or even teaching. Paul is not laying down first principles here, he is correcting an existing problem . . .

In other words, Witherington avers that Paul is not laying out a general principle that would be normative for all Christians. Rather, Paul is confronting a specific abuse in the Ephesian community: “The issue here in Ephesus is that there are some women who are seeking to teach or take authority over men, without first being quiet and learning about their faith .” Therefore modern readers should not treat this verse as if Paul were laying down a limitation on women in ministry because “the correction of an abuse of a privilege is not the same as the ruling out of a proper use of a privilege.”

There is much that needs to be said in response to Witherington’s exegesis here, but I would like to point out one difficulty that I see with his reasoning. Even if we grant that Paul is confronting a specific abuse in the Ephesian church, it does not necessarily rule out the possibility that he might appeal to “first principles” to address that specific problem.

So even if we grant the background as Witherington has described it, it may very well be that Paul sees a specific abuse and corrects it by appealing to a more general principle that is rooted in Jewish-Christian patriarchy. That is in fact what I think Paul is doing here.

Dr. Witherington disagrees and has responded to my objection in the comments section of his blog. Even though he did support his reading by appealing to egalitarian readings of other Pauline texts, I am still not satisfied that he has answered my specific objection.

I suppose the debate will have to continue.


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