What Was Being Worshiped Yesterday at First Baptist Church in Dallas?

I found myself once in the middle of something like this at a Sunday morning service at a relative’s church. I had left the Navy about five weeks prior, and they wanted veterans to stand up for their particular service anthems. I remained seated for “Anchors Aweigh.”

Moreover, they managed to “churchify” the song. You see, there’s a line in the song that goes “Through our last night on shore, drink to the foam,” and they’re not talking about drinking ocean water. But the church had purchased music along with accompanying lyric video from some company, and they changed the offending lyric to “hail to the foam.” The church leadership itself was probably completely unaware of this.

“Hail” to the foam? Really?

the way of improvement leads home

Jeffress 1

Yesterday was “Freedom Sunday” at the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas.  The pastor of First Baptist is Robert Jeffress.  He is a Trump supporter, Christian nationalist, and prominent court evangelical. As the pictures attached to this tweet indicate, it was a day of patriotic celebration in the church sanctuary.

People waived American flags during the service.

The last time I checked, the waiving of the American flag was a sign of support or loyalty to the nation.  Jeffress had no problem allowing such an act to take place in a church sanctuary–the place where Christians worship God as a form of expressing their ultimate loyalty.  Patriotism is fine. Flag-waiving is fine.  But I wonder if any…

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Nabeel Qureshi and the Context of Together 2016

Instead of making a scholarly comparison between a bandwagon and a garbage truck, let’s look at the historical context.

The Historical Context

  • We all went berserk when Together 2016 announced that the Pope would be delivering a “special video greeting” during the event on the National Mall.  Mysteriously after Nick Hall’s visit to the Vatican, those Facebook and Instagram posts disappeared, and inquiries/complaints to Together 2016 about the Pope’s video greeting were often met with a friendly reply that the Pope’s only involvement was an invitation video filmed during Hall’s visit.  No such special video greeting from the Pope was presented at Together 2016 despite reports to the contrary that relied entirely on secondary sources.
  • In a video called “The Vision Behind Together 2016,” Nick Hall declared Catholics and evangelicals to be “on the same team.”
  • Nick Hall refused to answer publicly whether the Roman Catholic gospel is salvific.
  • Nick Hall presented the social gospel on a radio show.
  • Tim Challies reviewed Nick Hall’s book Reset.  He opined that “The full truth of the bad news and the full beauty of the good news is obscured by this soft ‘reset’ gospel,” and he recommended staying clear of the event.
  • In my book review, I made the following observations on Reset.
    • It relies too much on visions rather than scripture.
    • It skips over original sin.  According to Reset, sin is a bad decision that leads to bad consequences, and it just isn’t God’s best for us, rather than being an offense to a holy God.
    • It skips double imputation, by which the Father poured out his wrath on the Son — the wrath that we deserved! — and the Son’s righteousness was imputed upon us.
    • I concluded, very charitably and very much trying not to cross the line into false claims, that Reset is semi-Pelagian at best.
    • By the way, the book’s foreword is written by Josh McDowell, Luis Palau, and Ravi Zacharias — Nabeel Qureshi’s mentor and employer.

July 16th

Nick Hall introduces the charismatic Roman Catholic unity party: Lou Engle, Bishop Robert (somebody please help me find his last name), Matteo Calisi, and Bruno Ierullo.  Unity is declared between Catholics and evangelicals.

Just under two hours later, Nabeel Qureshi speaks on stage.

The gospel does get out there, and equally does a call to evangelistic mobilization. Though I must say that the “change the world” thing triggered me — it often is a mark of the social gospel — I’ll hold back from targeting that, as I can’t prove that was Qureshi’s intention.

From this context alone, to what degree is Nabeel Qureshi culpable for ecumenism with Roman Catholics by agreeing to speak?  He did not present a false gospel, but I submit that Qureshi’s appearance and speech at Together 2016, given the context in which it is being delivered, confuses the critical gospel issue of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  Although there was nothing in particular that was wrong about the speech, it was in a setting and in such a way that any Roman Catholic could also have agreed, clapped, and been left there still under the false impression of being right with God.

Conversion Spin

If a Roman Catholic converts to Islam, would we say that his statement “I converted from Christianity to Islam” is an intentional lie on the part of the convert?  No, though we confess that Roman Catholicism is not Christianity, we would also understand that Roman Catholicism claims to be Christianity, and that is the sense in which the convert is using the term.  Trying to knock Qureshi on this point is off base.  So is nitpicking whether he was standing or sitting in his dream.

I’m a cessationist too, by the way.  I frankly don’t make much of the dream.

A Plea

In the future, let’s try to improve our model of evaluation.  If we are going to criticize Nabeel Qureshi for being at Together 2016, we ought to evaluate what he actually said at Together 2016 as well as more of the context than just the list of speakers on the website.

We also need not lean on other religions’ apologists with questionable credentials or upon minor instances of poorly-spoken words such as confusing ‘sitting’ versus ‘standing.'”

Updated with grammatical corrections.

What Christians need to know about USNS Harvey Milk (T-AO 206)

News came to the Christian twittersphere yesterday via Dr. White that the U.S. Navy is naming a ship after homosexual rights icon Harvey Milk.  I have nothing unique to contribute in terms of the record of Harvey Milk’s life, but I am a seven-year Navy veteran who specialized in floating gray vessels, so it’s probably a good idea to dispel some potential myths or untruths that have arisen or may arise later concerning the nature of this news.

If you are a Navy veteran of any kind, this post will probably teach you close to nothing.  The aim here is to assist fellow Christians in understanding the particulars and especially to help Christian bloggers to avoid perpetrating erroneous information.

Why USNS, not USS?

USS (United States Ship) is the prefix given to commissioned warships.  Commissioned warships have an all-military crew.  You can think of these as the ships that put “warheads on foreheads,” whether from shipborne weapons, aircraft, or Marines launched at a beach.

USNS (United States Naval Ship) designates a non-commissioned ship, typically manned by a civilian crew working for Military Sealift Command.  They may contain a small team of military personnel in order to carry out certain missions or to protect the ship from attack.  These auxiliary ships conduct support missions such as delivering supplies, delivering fuel, and providing medical support.

There are a few special cases that make these designations confusing, but none that affect Harvey Milk.

What is “(T-AO 206)”?

This is called a “hull number.”  It states the purpose of the ship as well as a number that distinguishes it from others of the same type.  In this particular case:

  • “T” indicates that it falls under Military Sealift Command.
  • “AO” means that this is a “Fleet Oiler.”
  • 206 indicates which T-AO.  The U.S. Navy currently has 15 ships with the designation T-AO, numbered 187–189 and 193–204.  190 was sold to Chile. 191 and 192 were cancelled.  This number is easily findable on the bow (“front”) of the ship from a distance.
USS Denver (LPD 9), my old digs, prepares to receive fuel from USNS John Ericsson (T-AO 194).  I was onboard the Denver at this time.

The heart of the oiler’s mission is underway replenishment.  In short, this involves the two ships driving between 160 and 200 feet away from each other (depending on the type of ship receiving the fuel), attaching a tensioned line, and then bringing a fuel hose from the oiler to the receiving ship.  As you can imagine, this is extremely dangerous and important work.  Behind this high risk is the need to keep our ships fueled and ready for missions.

Ship naming controversies are nothing new

The Secretary of the Navy, currently Ray Mabus, implicitly holds the authority to name new ships .  Constitutionally, he is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.  As you probably expected, Mabus is a longtime Democrat.  He served as Governor of Mississippi before becoming Ambassador to Saudi Arabia under President Clinton.  President Obama appointed Mabus as Secretary of the Navy in 2009.  Since Mabus is appointed by President Obama and works at the President’s pleasure, you should not pretend that President Obama did not see this coming, let alone nudge or direct such ship naming.

Mabus has come under fire already for questionable ship naming decisions.  These include the names:

  • USNS Medgar Evers (T-AKE 13), for the civil rights activist.
  • USNS Cesar Chavez (T-AKE 14), for the farm labor leader.
  • USNS John Lewis (T-AO 205), a civil rights icon but also a sitting Democratic congressman.
  • USS Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG 1002), which Democrats protested because Presidential names typically (not always) go on aircraft carriers.
  • USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10), for the Democratic congresswoman who survived a gun attack in Tucson, Arizona.
  • USS John P. Murtha (LPD 26), for the Marine veteran and Democratic congressman who came under fire for falsely accusing Marines in Iraq of war crimes.  Other ships in this class by convention are named for cities or regions, e.g. San AntonioNew OrleansMesa VerdeGreen Bay.

But Mabus is also not alone among Secretaries of the Navy.  Consider these relatively recent names that were deemed overly political.

  • USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) and USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), apparently a brokered deal between Democrats and Republicans.
  • USS George H. W. Bush (CVN 77).  Though the elder Bush flew 58 combat missions during World War II, the ship name was decided during the younger Bush’s administration.
  • USS John Warner (SSN 785), for the longtime Republican senator.  This also broke with previous naming conventions for attack submarines.

While ship naming controversies are not unique to Mabus, it is fair to say that Mabus (read “Obama” here if you wish) might be unique in advancing a certain liberal social agenda with naming decisions.

This isn’t quite what the congressman ordered

San Diego LGBT Weekly reported in 2012 that Democratic Congressman Bob Filner had requested a ship be named after Harvey Milk, but Filner made a high bid.

The GLBT Historic Task Force (the Task Force) of San Diego County sent a letter to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, last week, requesting that Harvey Milk be considered as the namesake of a naval submarine, carrier or other vessel named “in his honor and memory.”


Acting at the behest of the Task Force, Rep. Filner urged top military officials to support the naming of a naval vessel in honor of Milk. In letters to Secretary Mabus and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Filner wrote, “I … urge the Dept. of the Navy to name the next appropriate ship after Harvey Milk.”

I reiterate: the preference was for a USS Harvey Milk as a submarine or carrier, and that is not what occurred, however much credit or lack thereof may be due to Mabus.

Why Harvey Milk, why?

Proposed computer model of USNS John Lewis (T-AO 205).  If accepted, Harvey Milk will look like this, but the number on the bow (photo right) will be 206.

Because it’s a social agenda. Duh.  It’s Romans 1:18–32 in action.

But you should also know that Harvey Milk isn’t the only name coming out of this announcement.  The rest of the John Lewis class will be named for civil rights icons.  Sojourner Truth is especially appropriate.


What to say and not to say as a discerning Christian

Destroyers are named for deceased individuals of the sea services. USS Donald Cook (DDG 75), another one of my old ships, is named for a Vietnam-era Medal of Honor recipient.

Bad arguments against Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk is undoubtedly not worthy of a ship named in his honor.  However, there are some potential arguments for this position that do not make sense. Here are a few.

BAD: “This name is a waste. You should have named it after [insert deceased combat hero here]!”

Destroyers in general are already often named after Medal of Honor and Navy Cross recipients.  Naming an oiler after a deceased combat hero would actually be considered a slight against the namesake.  Cruisers are named for historical battles and thus honor those who sacrificed in such battles.

BAD: “Harvey Milk is a wimpy name for a WAR ship!”

Harvey Milk will be manned by a civilian crew and probably a very small contingent of Navy (military) personnel.  It may be armed enough to defend itself against basic attacks, but it will not sink other ships (unless it runs into one!), bombard the coastline, or launch Marines at the beach.

BAD: Any sexual joke, especially those pertaining to the delivery of fuel or the overdone submarine pun

I’ve already noticed one.  This is below our calling.  No further explanation of details will be offered.

Good arguments

Why not USNS Booker T. Washington (T-AO 206)?

The name Harvey Milk dishonors real, actual civil rights leaders

Harvey Milk’s name does not belong listed among Earl Warren, Robert F. Kennedy, Lucy Stone, and Sojourner Truth.  There are many others who sacrificed for civil rights who deserve the honor more than Harvey Milk. Try on some worthy names. Booker T. Washington. Elie Wiesel (recently deceased). Harriet Tubman.  

The name Harvey Milk will cause logistical issues with nations that oppose homosexuality

The liberal, God-blaspheming social agenda behind this naming is obvious and just part of a long track record by both the Obama administration.  Within the political arena, here’s an argument you also might not have considered.  Our allies in the Middle East are all against homosexuality, often to the point of the death penalty.  Even outside of that, there is scarcely a nation that ostensibly tolerates pedophilia.

U.S. supply ships don’t just travel from the United States to some area where supplies are needed.  They also purchase supplies from countries near where our commissioned warships are operating in order to keep them fueled and well-fed.  Asking other countries that have stricter laws against homosexuality to sell fuel to the Harvey Milk could cause serious issues.


Ultimately, the liberal social agenda behind the naming of Harvey Milk is our nation’s abandonment of God and His corresponding wrath of abandonment towards us.  What do we do?  Keep praying for the Lord to grant this nation repentance, keep sharing the gospel, keep making disciples.  Don’t be afraid to say it like it is, but always in grace and always in truth, both biblical truth and in a true understanding of these earthly events.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Romans 1:18–32 ESV

Addendum: There was an incorrect link in this article when initially published.  Prior to this news, USNI published a list of 26 controversial ship names that provide some more historical perspective.

‘Goat Simulator’ is newest research tool for seeker-driven church planners

Although created simply as a harmless, time-wasting video game, Goat Simulator is now the latest tool in the belt of seeker-driven church planners who are looking for the next big thing to attract new attendees.

“Our typical market research is mostly successful at exploiting current trends and making a mockery of them,” explained Ned Young, Jr., lead motivational speaker of Hennoship Church in Grapevine, Texas.  “With Goat Simulator, we are able to experiment with combinations of elements in our worship services such as bungee jumping off running roller coasters with rocket backpacks, jumping between helicopters on motorcycles, and interstate highway parkour. This creates exciting and unique trends that keep people coming in the door to be exhorted to obey God’s command in Malachi 3:10 to pay us ten percent of their gross income.

Not only are experiments in Goat Simulator bringing in new attendees simply on an attractional basis, but they are also generating new evangelism strategies.  “Older evangelism strategies such as calmingly walking up to someone, explaining how awesome Jesus is, and then hopelessly begging him or her to repeat the sinner’s prayer require patience that we simply do not have,” explained Stephen Fertig of Levitation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.  “Now we have warrant to run into people and gas stations at full steam, just like in Matthew 21:12, audaciously believing that our god has plans to prosper us and not to harm us, even when we are drenched with gasoline.”

Plans for the game’s sequel, Goat Simulator GO, are on hold until the developer’s team of lawyers reviews its potential benefits and risks.

Christian News corrects Together 2016 article, but there’s still something fishy.

Following my post pointing out its factual error, Christian News has now corrected its article.

Editor’s Note:An earlier version of this story stated that a message from Bergoglio was played at Together 2016, which was previously promoted by the organization PULSE, led by Nick Hall, in a national press release: (see“Pope Francis to Address Americans at National Mall Event ‘Together 2016’ With Special Video Message.”) For unknown reasons, PULSE decided to circulate a video invitation/endorsement from Bergoglio via their social media channels rather than playing a video message at the event as the group initially announced.

The obvious lingering issue, of course, is Jordan (JD) Hall (no known relation to Nick Hall or Mark Hall), the personal and vitriolic nature of whose comment and subsequent podcast requires no defense except to point out one item: the fat joke on Facebook is inappropriate.

Jordan Hall claims that Christian News’ “jumbotron” error was minor, not unlike any error that may be published in a newspaper.  How did such an error arise, what is its level of seriousness, and how might have it been prevented?  I submit the following.

(1) The primary (as in original) source from which Christian News falsely learned that the Pope had addressed the crowd on the “jumbotron” can only be from previous social media postings from Together 2016 which were deleted well prior to the event.  The event itself was streamed live, and a full-length recording — albeit littered with conspiratorial commentary — is freely available on YouTube.

(2) It is understandable that a casual observer would have shown up to Together 2016 believing that a Pope video would be played for the audience. Together 2016 issued many smaller statements to individuals who lamented the Pope’s scheduled video appearance, but they did not release a dedicated statement that explicitly cancelled the “special video greeting,” and they never gave a reason for the change when I pressed them for one on two separate occasions.

From left: Nick Hall, Bruno Ierullo, Matteo Calisi, Lou Engle, “Bishop Robert”

(3) If Christian News came into July 16th believing that a Pope video would be presented, the fact of the event’s demise five hours prior to its scheduled end should have caused them to question whether the video had been scheduled during the cancelled portion of the event between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m.

(4) As long as the article was on the subject of ecumenism with Roman Catholicism and went into enough depth to mention Roman Catholic musician Matt Maher, it would stand to reason that Nick Hall’s direct address of the Pope invitation controversy, the appearance of a Roman Catholic delegation on stage, and the specific proclamation of brotherhood between evangelicals and Roman Catholics should go in such an article at Christian News.  In fact, the article mentions Lou Engle whose portion of the program was in fact standing with the charismatic Roman Catholic delegation, but the article only mentions Engle’s addressing of “racial divides” in relation to “Minneapolis, Ferguson, and Dallas.”  This fact was mentioned in the Washington Post devoid of its context in the middle of the Roman Catholic ecumenical portion of the event.

(5) The end of Christian News’ article contains the following quote attributed to Nick Hall:

Hall, aware of the concerns, told the crowd on Saturday, “We’re not saying it’s time to compromise Scripture. But there is something about reaching across the aisle.”

But is that what Nick Hall said?  Let’s go to the tape.

(video time 10:31)

Here’s the deal, guys. When it comes to unity, we’re not saying today that it’s time to compromise on doctrine or beliefs or stances. We’re saying we want to stand on the truth of God’s Word in the scriptures, and we want to point to [Jesus], the only way to God.  But we do believe that there’s something about reaching across the aisle for some conversations that’s valuable in this time.

And so I’m gonna have Lou [Engle] come and pray one more time.  We’re just praying for revival.  Let’s pray for the rest of this day.  Let’s just pray that God would hear from heaven, that He would be pleased, and that we don’t want a show today.  How many of you guys know we didn’t come for a show?  We didn’t come for a concert.  We didn’t come to hear from some person. We need to hear from heaven.

(video time 11:12)

SIDEBAR: No, Nick Hall. This IS compromise.

And a simple Google search for the quote in Christian News’ article yields this quote from the Washington Post.

“Together” is the brainchild of Hall, a 34-year-old evangelist and event planner. Almost all of the people appearing at the event Saturday were evangelical, but Hall shared a greeting from Pope Francis.

Francis did a promotional video for the event, encouraging viewers to “Give [Jesus] a try! You don’t have anything to lose!” but some evangelical leaders discouraged too much involvement of the Catholic leader.

“We’re not saying it’s time to compromise scripture,” Hall told the crowd. “But there is something about reaching across the aisle…. We didn’t come for a show, we didn’t come for a concert…. We need to hear from heaven!”

“Hall shared a greeting from Pope Francis.”  Yes he did, but not during the event.  Hall did share a greeting during the event from President Obama, not Pope Francis.  This is sloppy on the Post‘s part.

Let’s bring the Christian News quote back to our minds here now.

Hall, aware of the concerns, told the crowd on Saturday, “We’re not saying it’s time to compromise Scripture. But there is something about reaching across the aisle.”

What this makes apparent is that Christian News likely pulled the quote from the Washington Post and then shortened it as if to say that these two sentences in the quote came one after the other, which they did not.  It moreover completely misses the surrounding context, namely the Roman Catholic ecumenical portion of the program that was indisputably worthy of inclusion in Christian News’ article.

The preponderance of evidence testifies that Christian News obtained its information about Roman Catholic involvement at Together 2016 from one or more secondary sources such as the Washington Post rather than taking the time to watch the Together 2016 event itself, which resulted in the incorrect “jumbotron” sentence and missing critical details about what actually occurred with Roman Catholicism at the event.

How then should we characterize this error on the part of Christian News?  At very best, it’s extraordinarily sloppy.  The title of the blog post was “Did Christian News Actually Watch Together 2016 Before Reporting On It?”  The answer still appears to be ‘no.’