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A couple of thoughts on the Cabrera signing

This post will be a bit off the norm for this blog. I’m a big fan of Detroit sports. The Miguel Cabrera signing was big news yesterday, and nationally, it was largely panned. Many compared it to the Albert Pujols signing, which is indeed looking rather albatross-like.

Here’s why I think that’s a bad comparison: Miggy’s already a Tiger. Why does that matter? Most of the time, if a team signs a pricey free agent from another team, they are paying for the premium numbers that he already amassed for the previous team. That is to say, in terms of baseball economics, super-duper-star players are often underpayed during their prime years.

(I’m not going to address the issue of athlete salaries.)

So when an Pujols-like hitter goes from the Cardinals to the Angels, the Angels are paying the high dollar salary, but much of Pujols’ production is already in the past.

In the Tigers’ case, by contrast, their overpayment for Miggy is likely not going to be so utterly outside market prices as one might imagine, even taking into account the inevitable decline that is part of such a long contract.

Look at it this way: statistically, a win in baseball is worth somewhere between $5–7 million. To date, the Tigers have paid Cabrera somewhere in the neighborhood of $107 million. In exchange, Miggy has delivered something in the neighborhood of 36 wins (using baseball-reference.com WAR). This works out to a bargain: the Tigers have paid approximately $3 million per win.

With the contract extension that he just signed (which includes the years he was already under contract in 2014–2015), he is now slated to make $292 million over the next ten years. All told, then, he will have made about $400 million dollars from the Tigers when this contract expires.

At the low estimate ($5 million/win), Cabrera would need to deliver a total of 80 WAR to make his overall contract worthwhile. This would require him to average 6.4 in wins for the next 10 years. This is, of course, not totally likely. For the sake of context, he had exactly a WAR of 6.4 in 2010, when he hit .328/.420/.622, with 38HR and 126RBI. Those are huge numbers.

At the higher estimate ($7 million/win), he would only need to produce a total of 57 WAR to justify his deal. Since he has already produced 36, an additional 20 is almost a given. Also, with the rising salaries in baseball, it is reasonable to expect that the cost of a win is simply going to continue to rise.

All this to say, Cabrera’s contract would be monumentally awful if he had just signed with some other team. But because the Tigers have already received value beyond the dollars for Miggy’s previous years, the inevitable overpay at the end of his new contract is much less objectionable.

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

An SBC prof walked into a fundy pulpit…

Background and context for this post:

  • Scott Aniol is a good friend of mine. We each served as best man in the other’s wedding, etc.
  • I grew up (from high school on) at First Baptist Church of Troy. I will always consider Michael Harding to be “my pastor.”
  • Scott tweeted recently that he is going to be speaking at First Baptist Troy.
  • Ben Wright responded with this tweet: “If you told me 10 years ago that an SBC prof would be preaching today in an FBFI board member’s church, I’d have said you were nuts.”

Now I’m not pretending to be a disinterested observer here. As I say, these men are friends of mine. However, I also want to clarify that I’m more interested in the principles of the matter here than I am of the particulars of this situation.

What I want to address here are two related questions, raised by Ben’s tweet (and responses to that tweet):

  • Is it not tremendously inconsistent for an FBF pastor to allow an SBC prof to speak at his church, when the FBF has historically warned against the compromise of the SBC and concluded that separation was the only viable option?
  • Doesn’t this demonstrate that music has been elevated to the highest level when determining cooperation?

Again, a reminder: I’m after the principles of the matter here. What I’m writing here is not Pastor Harding’s defense of his own choices. Furthermore, it’s not even my own defense of Pastor Harding. Rather, it’s simply an attempt to make the case that it is not obviously a gross inconsistency for a pastor like Pastor Harding to bring in a speaker like Scott Aniol.

  • Premise 1: The SBC has changed. I hope this doesn’t require much by way of argumentation. For those who want a concrete example, see these tributes to Mohler’s 20-year tenure at Southern. I think this history (which is immensely inspiring) also highlights the relative recency of the conservative resurgence in the SBC.
  • Premise 2: The change in the SBC is largely without precedent in American fundamentalism. As McCune would say, “Fundamentalism is the history of losing the furniture.” For this reason, the conservative resurgence was legitimately unexpected by veteran fundamentalists.
  • Premise 3: Because the SBC has shifted, much of the stronger polemics against it are no longer valid. But it doesn’t follow that such polemics were not valid in their time.
  • Conclusion: The changing situation here does, it seems to me, allow for differing actions, without standing liable to charges of gross inconsistency.

It seems to me that, putting these things together, it both is and is not “nuts” to believe that an SBC prof would be speaking at an FBF church. It is not nuts because there has truly been movement (perhaps in each camp) that makes such an occasion possible. It is nuts because, as I say, the movement (especially from the SBC side) would have been almost impossible to foresee. That is to say, twenty years ago, the divide between the SBC and the FBF was an immense chasm; at present, there are places where the divide is quite passable. This is obviously not the case across the board: Rick Arrowood isn’t having Steven Furtick fill his pulpit soon (to pick a couple of extremes). But certain FBF men and certain SBC men overlap a great deal. And the SBC as a whole has managed to cut itself off from some of most egregious theological errors that it had tolerated.

But what of the second question? Isn’t it the case that Scott, in particular, gets a free pass in fundamentalist circles because he’s a conservative on music? Doesn’t this just demonstrate that the real issue in certain quarters of fundamentalism is really music styles?

There is a surface plausibility to this. Now, here is another place that I want to remind you, dear reader, that I’m writing for myself; my explanation here is not necessarily what Pastor Harding or anyone else would offer.

I remain convinced that orthopathy is a legitimate and important biblical category. That is to say, I believe that Christian fidelity involves not only adherence to particular beliefs (orthodoxy) and commitment to certain behaviors (orthopraxy), but also a cultivation of a certain set of affections.

Now, let’s be clear: music is not orthopathy. The terms are not interchangeable, and orthopathy isn’t simply a fancy code word for “I approve of this music.” On the other hand, it’s also indubitably evident that music is among the most obvious ways in which a church expresses its convictions about how it is supposed to feel about God. It is not the only way: a church could sing all the great hymns of the faith (the real hymns, not the roller-rink gospel songs), and then have Mark Driscoll ascend the pulpit in an Affliction t-shirt, and we might get the idea still that they have an odd sense of what it is to honor God. The same is true, I’d add, if they sing great hymns and then allow a manipulative evangelist into the same pulpit (Farrell, et al.).

But music, perhaps with more clarity than anything else, expresses the church’s conception of orthopathy. It is, in some ways, the parallel of the church’s creed: it is the “We reverence” to the creed’s “We believe.” In that way, then, music operates as a shorthand statement of a church’s position on “what it is like to love God.”

If, then, orthopathy is a real and important category (as I believe it is), fellowship in orthopathy is a real factor to evaluate when I consider the associations that I will maintain. In some cases, it trumps even the less central elements of right doctrine. So, for instance, I’m a dispensationalist. I consider that position to be sound doctrine, orthodoxy. But if you had me choose between worshiping my Lord, for the rest of my earthly days, with either a dispensational “In the Garden” singer or a reverent Presbyterian (I’m thinking of a man like Dr. Michael Barrett), I’d choose the Presbyterian 100 times out of 100.

Because loving God is the first and greatest commandment, how we love God is also important. And so I have closer fellowship, not surprisingly, with someone else who sees biblical reverence the same way that I do. This is not to elevate music simpliciter to the highest test of fellowship; it is to recognize that orthopathy and reverence are far from insignificant when I decide who will fill my pulpit, etc.

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2014 in Fundamentalism

 

A music observation

I don’t think ministers are to be blamed for raising the affections of their hearers too high, if that which they are affected with be only that which is worthy of affection, and their affections are not raised beyond a proportion to their importance, or worthiness of affection. I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with.

Jonathan Edwards

The quote above is one that I first encountered in a sermon from John Piper. I was reminded of it this past week, when I traveled to Minneapolis to attend the Desiring God Pastors’ Conference. For what it’s worth, the speakers did a very good job; I certainly commend the sermons from Drs. Ferguson and Horton, and would concur that union with Christ is an unjustly neglected doctrine.

But my remembering this quote was not provoked by the sermons, but the music. I was not surprised by the music; it was what one would expect in such a context. But it was interesting to me to watch, in a more firsthand way than normal for me, the kind of responses that the music seems to generate. In particular, there is a nearly automatic response to certain kinds of swells in the music, as when the drum hits to announce the chorus, particularly after that one verse that is always sung more contemplatively. The drum hits, and all the hands go up. As I say, it’s nearly automatic.

[What I'm not doing here: critiquing hand raising, critiquing music, probably some other things. Read to the end for my one observation that I'm making here.]

It is clear that the idea of this kind of worship service is likely undergirded by something like what Edwards says in that opening quote. The truths of the gospel are the highest and grandest that are conceivable. If so, than it is wholly legitimate (and perhaps holy legitimate) for those leading worship to “raise the affections” of the audience to the highest possible level, because the truths contemplated are of the highest importance. And so the music is employed to raise affections (and hands).

Now, one of the first things to note, which I will not explain here, is that Edwards is almost certainly operating with categories that distinguish affections from passionsEmotions, then, is a sloppy equivalent; it is simply too broad a term to capture what Edwards is saying here. Raising affections, raising passions (God forbid), and raising emotions are not interchangeable, at least for Edwards. So if we are going to enlist Edwards to support a view, it is only fair to make sure we are using him accurately.

But even if we were to grant that Edwards is used rightly, it still seems to me that there is something odd here. I notice that when the same truths are preached rather than sung, a different response is elicited. When the grand truths of the gospel are unpacked by the speakers, when the weight of those truths hits the hearer through the proclaimed Word, the response, most often, is one of sobriety. This is sometimes accompanied by the weighty utterance of Mmm. What is rarely seen, when the truth is proclaimed, is the listener bouncing on his toes, hands outstretched.

Perhaps, and only perhaps, such responses are not caused, then, by the affections of the hearers being raised by the truth, but by something else?

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2014 in Music, Worship

 

Redeeming limericks

Thought experiment: if you’re familiar with the poetic form of limerick, you might also be aware that many, many examples of the genre are characterized by bawdy humor (the link is clean; just the top results from an Amazon search for limerick). Such off-color topics are obviously not essential to the form; there are numbers of very clever, entirely clean limericks. However, anyone who is familiar with the form would likely know about their most common use.

Might we suggest the need to redeem the limerick? It seems to me that if we took limericks and used them as a medium to present theological truth, we could demonstrate Christ’s Lordship over even this trivial poetic form. Why should the devil have all the best forms, after all?

You understand, I suspect, that I’m being facetious. But I want to make two quick points:

  • A limerick might be a suspect form for carrying biblical truth because of how it is commonly used. This is a weaker argument against theological limericks, but not entirely without weight.
  • A limerick is a suspect form for carrying biblical truth because the form itself inclines us to expect that the content is jovial and foolish. This may be conditioned (we’ve heard lots of limericks that are jokes) or something more basic (the meter and rhyme scheme combine, in some near magical way, to give a lightness of mood). I suspect it’s a combination of the two.

Thus, “redemption” of a limerick is a pointless category. Stop using bawdy limericks. Enjoy in a suitable manner a funny limerick. But, literally, for Christ’s sake, don’t write theological limericks.

[Anticipated objection: Rap is a more serious genre than a limerick. I completely agree. But what I'm suggesting is that, when we recognize that a limerick, as a genre, is capable of trivializing serious subjects, we have at least, in principle, opened the conversation as to whether other genres might also have problems carrying the gospel. This doesn't prove anything about rap. But it does provide the categories that the conservatives are using to make their case.]

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2013 in Conservatism, Music

 

A question for certain advocates of Reformed rap

I have largely stayed on the sidelines of the rap discussion, and intend to continue doing so. I’m facing a deadline for a large paper that needs to get finished, and that has occupied most of my time.

However, I saw a tweet this morning from someone whom (and whose work) I admire greatly that raised a question that I’d like to lay out in skeletal form. My terse style here should suggest nothing more than haste; I count the men to whom I address the question not only as brothers in Christ, but brothers who have made many of my road trips much more profitable. (Could we say that they have redeemed driving?)

I take the core of the tweet to be something like this: Christians, especially clergy, should refrain from presenting personal opinions on issues of adiaphora that strongly suggest that only one position is a validly biblical one. If I’m wrong in this summary, I suspect everything else that follows is moot.

I also want to throw in this disclaimer: the panel to which the tweet refers offers some positions and especially some accusations that are wholly unjustified. I am not, in this post, defending this particular panel.

So my question is this: if a panel like this is wrong to suggest that rap (which we’re assuming, only for the sake of argument, is adiaphora) is biblically problematic, why is it OK to post a podcast that essentially celebrates the same matter of adiaphora?

An analogy (in which you are certainly invited to poke holes): would it be acceptable for some in the Roman church to host a podcast called “The Stronger Brother,” in which they swap recipes for meat?

Does the public nature of a podcast discussion limit the kinds of things that ought to be celebrated? Especially since, as was noted above, several of the hosts are clergy? Why is one acceptable and the other not (again, in principle, not in terms of the specific things said in either discussion)?

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2013 in Music

 

What it’s like to know Christ

I love Martin Luther. The great Reformer and fountainhead of Lutheranism had a way of communicating deep theology in a practical and earthy way. He also had a way of showing the emptiness of any religion cut off from Jesus Christ.

Luther talked about a difference between theologians of glory and theologians of the cross. The theologians of glory claims that if God is glorious, we should expect that his work on earth must be glorious as well. In their view, religion should be full of pomp and ceremony, and Christian living should be filled with victory and triumph.

Theologians of the cross, by contrast, realize that God’s work in this world is often a paradox: that God’s strength is evident in weakness, that he takes the weak of the world to shame the wise, the poor to shame the mighty. And there is obviously no greater emblem of this paradox than the cross, in which Christ gains victory over all through dying.

Do you see that these conflicting views create two different sets of expectations of what Christian living will be like? The theologians of glory want a Christianity that is full of earthly power and success. The theologians of the cross know that following Christ in this life almost always involves difficulty.

Our next passage in Philippians (3:8–11) speaks of the importance of knowing Christ. Paul begins by telling us why we should be so concerned to know Christ in verse 9: in knowing Christ, we gain a righteousness that is not our own. You see, the righteousness that we need does not come by the works of the law: we’ll always fall short of God’s perfect demands. Instead, the gospel offers us a righteousness “which comes through faith in Christ.” The apostle John says it this way: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). If the only way to eternal life is by gaining righteousness, and we can only gain righteousness by knowing Christ, then knowing Christ is of infinite value.

But then Paul tells us what it is like to know Christ: “to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” This is striking language; it is the language of a theologian of the cross, not a theologian of glory. In Paul’s thinking, we come to know Christ most vividly when we follow him through difficulties in this life. This is why Christ tells us that we must take up our cross and follow him. This theme is common in Paul. Consider 2 Corinthians 4:11: “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” Or Romans 8:16–17: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

Christian, are you going through great difficulties? Take heart in this: your Savior has gone this way before. By following his steps, you are coming to know him more and more.

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2013 in Newspaper Article

 

Ordination

This week is an important week in my life and in the life of our church. On Friday, Calvary Baptist Church will be hosting an ordination council and an ordination service for me. I thought I’d take advantage of the opportunity by offering some explanation of the meaning and significance of ordination, at least from a Baptist perspective.

Ordination is a recognition, on the part of a church, that a given man has been set apart for the ministry of the gospel. The basic idea is reflected in Acts 13:2–3: “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” We see in this passage that specific people in the church were designated by the Holy Spirit to specific tasks in ministry. The church’s obligation, then, was to set them apart and send them into this ministry.

A key difference between this passage and our day is that the Spirit no longer speaks in such a direct and unmediated way (a topic for another article sometime). Instead, the pursuit of ministry often begins with a desire: “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1). But the desire alone is insufficient; someone might insist that he has the desire to be a pastor, but the Bible not only speaks of desire, but qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9; 1 Peter 5:1–4).

Who is to say whether someone with the desire meets the qualifications? It is the local church itself that is authorized to appoint its deacons (Acts 6:2–4; this is another office with qualifications), and the church has the authority to dismiss members (1 Corinthians 5:4–5). In the same way then, we maintain that the task of judging whether a man meets these qualifications falls to the church. The church ordains.

If you look at the list of qualifications in the passages I cited, most of them have to do with the character of the pastor. This is important, because it means then that the church needs to know their pastor well enough to be able to say that he has this kind of character. In addition to these character qualifications, however, the pastor must be able to teach and must be sound in doctrine. In many cases, the local church simply isn’t fully qualified to assess whether a potential pastor is sound doctrinally. This is the place of the council, in which other ordained, likeminded pastors are brought in to examine the candidate’s theology. The council does not do the ordaining; they simply pass along a recommendation to the church to ordain (or not ordain) based on their examination.

We must take the issue of leadership in the church seriously, because Paul warns us that bad leadership is a dire threat to the church (Acts 20:29–30).

The council will be held at Calvary Baptist Church from 1:00–4:00pm. We will have dinner at 5:00pm, and the ordination service will be at 7:00pm. All are welcome.

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2013 in Uncategorized

 
 
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