Monday, January 19, 2009

Dr. Bob Pearle Interview

The blog for Hannibal Books has posted an interview of Bob Pearle discussing his recent book The Vanishing Church: Searching For Significance in the 21st Century and declining church membership. It originally aired two days ago on KCBI 90.9, flagship radio station of Criswell Collge. You can listen to the interview by going here. The interview also aired on Family Net Radio.

The interview is just under four minutes. I invite you to listen to Dr. Pearle as he discusses this important issue for Southern Baptists in the 21st Century.

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Monday, January 5, 2009

The Vanishing Church: Book Review

Today I finished reading Dr. Bob Pearle's book The Vanishing Church: Searching For Significance in the 21st Century (Hannibal Books, 2009, 143 pages, ISBN: 978-1934749395, $14.95 paperback). Pearle has served as the pastor of Birchman Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas for the last eleven years. He is also President of the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention. I have had the privilege and honor of having Brother Bob as my pastor for nearly six years.

In his book, Dr. Pearle argues for a reclamation of a biblical church by using Scripture as the foundation of his argument that is buttressed with pertinent examples (good and bad) from church history to the present day. He does so to show that churches that have lost their doctrinal core are struggling with an identity crisis. p. 7. He describes how This book began with a sermon series I preached to the congregation of which I pastor... p. 8. Having heard the sermon series and having now read the book, I am pleased to enthusiastically recommend this book to pastors, theologians, church leaders and layman alike. Every committed follower of Christ that seeks to be part of a biblically based church should read this book.

I found the book to be a straightforward, readable apologetic which a layman can easily understand and grasp. It will also hold the interest of any biblically concerned theologian. I believe that you will agree that Pearle says more with less words than most who endeavor to embark on such a work. The author clearly states that the book is not a formal thesis and not "... an academic treatment on the subject..." p. 8. However, one cannot escape the thorough research of Scripture as he does not shy away from the exposition of texts and words of the koine New Testament Greek and even the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament). In this short volume, the reader will find an extraordinary two hundred and seventy-five endnotes of references and Scriptures. He does this in a manner in which a layman unfamiliar with biblical languages would not be overwhelmed or feel that the subject matter is over his head. For example, when defining the word church, Pearle explains the origin of the word in Greek (ekklesia) as well as it's use within Scripture. In fact the entirety of Chapter Four: The Church of the Living God is exemplary of how an expositor of the Word of God can and should use Scripture. Specifically he aptly utilizes the original language in order to allow the text to define itself and make salient points. He then ably uses history and present day illustrations to supplement the text of Scripture.

The book is distinctively divided into three sections that encourage the church to take an honest hard look inward, backward and forward. Throughout the book Dr. Pearle appeals to Scripture as the basis of his assertions. He is an intrepid author contending that many of today's churches are in danger.

Once again the Apostle Paul sounded the alarm. This time the alarm was not sounded to the outside culture but to the church in Colossi. He warned them of certain errors in teaching that threatened the faith of the believers in the church. In Paul's day this error was known as the "Colossian heresy". Today the same kind of error disguises itself in differing ways in the contemporary church. What happens today is just as dangerous and harmful. p. 19.

We see parallels today. In contemporary society and the emergent-church culture truth is viewed as fuzzy, uncertain, vague, and even unknowable. Emergent-church leaders are uncomfortable about declaring any hint of certainty about what the Bible means. p. 33.

Dr. Pearle addresses the issue of regenerate church membership throughout most of section two. Chapter 5 discusses Church Membership; Chapter 6, Christian Baptism; and Chapter 7, The Purpose of the Church. He succinctly and emphatically advocates that a New Testament Biblical Church is one that is only composed of believers that are biblically Baptized (immersed), who follow the command of the Lord to make disciples.

For this Baptist, I am delighted that my pastor deals with an issue most dear to me: ecumenism within our Southern Baptist Convention and the need to recover our Baptist distinctives. After quoting J.M. Frost, founder of the Baptist Sunday School Board, Pearle elaborates:

The need Frost saw last century was to advance Baptist distinctives and denominational identity. This is the same need today. The trend toward ecumenism is diminishing doctrinal differences. Baptists need to get more serious about their doctrinal distinctives and quit trying to be an ecclesial supermarket serving the whims of religious consumers. p.113

Pearle rightly points out that The antidote for Baptists to not travel the same path of Evangelicalism is to remain true to their doctrinal distinctives. Celebrate them and adhere to them, or the same fate of Evangelicalism will be ours. p. 115. He further gives insight to the failure of modern preaching that is void of biblical truth and thus ineffective.

In the modern church this kind of preaching is in short supply. Repentance from sin is seldom declared from church pulpits, if they have one. The therapist's couch has replaced the pulpit in some churches. Felt-needs such as obtaining happiness, overcoming loneliness, dealing with depression, and gaining material wealth are typical of the messages of the day. Felt-needs have trumped biblical doctrine in the preaching ministry. In this therapeutic culture, sin is treated as a disease and not as wickedness and rebellion against God. p. 117.

We are currently living in an age where we are witnessing a movement by Baptist theologians and pastors who want to forget the many sacrifices of our Baptist forefathers and relegate them to a martyrdom that was for naught. They desire to abandon biblical fidelity by widening the definition of what it means to be Baptist. Dr. Pearle argues that churches today are choosing pragmatism over truth. The majority of Christians in the pew (and many unaware pastors) would be shocked to learn that we Baptists are having to defend biblical baptism within our own convention! Pearle articulates a sound biblical vindication of our historic Baptist principles and the need to adhere to biblical doctrine and truth in all matters. Today many preachers and churches are seeking to be culturally relevant rather than biblically sound. This is what is most refreshing about this book; it is a call back to the Scriptures and a reminder that our forefathers died at the hands of other denominations because they would not compromise the Word of God. Dr. Pearle's book is a clarion call for the church to be faithful and vigilant to obey the commands of Christ rather than the latest culturally driven trendy church growth fad.
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Saturday, January 3, 2009

23 Wonderful Years

Twenty-three years ago, Tammie and I were married. It has been an amazing journey for us. I can not even fathom the thought of not having her to share my life with. We have had ups and downs, trials and triumphs, and sorrow and joy. Next to Jesus, she is the greatest treasure of my life.

Looking back on the past 23 years, I think about a woman who: puts up with me; is a caring and loving wife; a wonderful Mom to our children; a woman who has been my best friend for almost 26 years.

I think back to the time a mutual friend (who we just found for the first time since High School) tried to set us up. She said that we would be perfect for each other. I was a preacher boy and Tammie was a very gifted singer. Neither of us would believe her. Tammie worked with her, and everyday at school, Hope would keep trying to get me to call her. I finally caved, but I did not trust that this was a good idea. We talked for maybe five minutes or so on the phone. Neither of us liked the other. I thought she was kind of stuck up (but later I found out that she had the same misgivings that I did). She thought I was a nerd. When talking to Hope today on the phone, I reminded her of that. Hope told me that I was a nerd in High School. Tammie tells everyone that I was born old. I had been preaching at one of our nursing homes for about three years (since I was 16). Maybe that is why I loved it: I was born old.

After I graduated from High School, I was unable to afford to go to college. I really wanted to go to Criswell College, and knew that is where God was leading me, but not at this time. It was in December of that year, that I was approached about working in one of our local Funeral Homes. I was hired and did everything from cleaning the facilities, yard work, driving families to and from the funeral and eventually became a Licensed Embalmer and Funeral Director's Apprentice. I started attending our local college (Cameron University) part time in the Spring semester of 1984. I liked college, but I loved the BSU. I was part of our revival team and had many opportunities to preach there, as well in Churches within our Association, and regularly in my home church. I was usually preaching three out of four Sundays. That fall, at the BSU, is where I met Tammie. Actually, she met me. I did not know who she was until a month or so later. I was preaching at one of our weekday noon praise and worship services. Tammie says she knew then that she was going to marry me. But she did not pursue me. She prayed. I met her, when we were making flowers for the BSU's homecoming float. Our BSU director earlier that week asked me if I knew Tammie, and if I did not, that I should. I got the hint. Over the next 16 months, she put up with my unpredictable work schedule (as well as me). I was quickly falling in love. When I would preach, I would take Tammie with me, often times (no every time) have her sing. She quickly learned to be ready and took music with her. I was, and still am, amazed at the beautiful voice she has.

It was on a BSU retreat to Falls Creek, that I proposed to her at Devil's Bathtub. You have to be an Oklahoma Baptist to know how beautiful it is there. We were married less than a year later. That summer, I served as a Summer Missionary with the Home Mission Board (through the BSU). I went to Glorietta, NM after the summer with the BSU and came back to get ready to get married in a few months. We were walking in the mall one day, when our mutual friend, happened to be back in town. She came up to us screaming (for the entire mall to hear). She kept saying that she knew we were perfect for each other. She was right.

As I look back to the time leading up to our marriage, and the 23 years since, I can not help but thank God, that He has blessed me so richly! I know that it was His will that prevented me from attending Criswell College, until He brought us together. Otherwise, we would not have met. I have a wife who has selflessly sacrificed for me and our children. To me, she is a mix of characters that God has uniquely made into my wife. Strong, yet gentle. Soft hearted, but not a pushover. Compassionate towards others, above herself. She has more love than I can even begin to imagine. I always kid her that she would take in any stray, two legged or four legged (we have had many of both in our home over the years). We currently are trying to adopt a little boy that God has brought into our lives. I would never have been one to do so, if I had not had a wife who was so open to what God has planned for us. She is a woman who would rather spend time together shopping for groceries, than go to the finest restaurant or other entertainment. She epitomizes selflessness. I truly have never met anyone like her. I will never forget when we could not get a babysitter for the boys for an anniversary one year, she decided we would all go to Chuck E. Cheese and celebrate our anniversary. We had a great time!

Over the years, we have known the great joys of having children and watching them grow into young men. We have also walked through the dark valley of a miscarriage and of losing a daughter during childbirth. Yet, God has been gracious, loving and kind! He has sustained us, and I can say with all sincerity that I would not trade my life with Tammie for anything in this world. Without her, I would be incomplete and empty.

Because of her, I can say, I am a man most blessed by God!

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