May 16, 2008

R.C. Sproul on the Exclusivity of Christ

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May 05, 2008

Christianity Without Christ

In light of some recent topics here, I present GetReligion's story about Gretta Vosper. Interesting article about an interesting minister.

I almost used scare quotes there, but decided not to. She probably does minister to people. But I think she falls short of the Biblical definition of the term -- she seems to leave out a central need when meeting peoples' needs: the need for a Savior.

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May 04, 2008

How Inclusive Is God?

In the comments of my post on Jeremiah Wright (which has been a great discussion, by the way), this statement was made:

The common Christian idea that non-Christians are all damned just strikes me as incompatible with the mercy and justice of God.

The speaker is asserting that the "other sheep" that Jesus mentions in John 10:16 are people who aren't creedal, confessional Christians, but instead are people who are simply good enough, and are trying to follow the "social gospel." I'm probably oversimplifying things a bit; read the comments on that post for a complete picture.

So the question is this: just how inclusive is the God of the Bible, anyway? After all, it says that He's not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance, right? God is love, right? So He'll let everybody in, right?

That's what we want to believe. That's what is most comfortable to believe. A God who lets everyone in.
more...

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April 25, 2008

New Jesus Book

There's a new "Historical" Jesus book coming out next year (probably just in time for Easter '09) written by Paul Verhoeven -- they guy who directed "Basic Instinct" and "RoboCop." Don't let those stellar credentials fool you, though -- Verhoeven is also a member in good standing of that cabal of uber-scholars known as The Jesus Seminar.

As you can probably figure out, Verhoeven's book is far from orthodox.

more...

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April 02, 2008

Two Posts that Answer Each Other

Over at Reclaiming The Mind Ministries' blog, Parchment and Pen, a reader has sent an email with a problem. Essentially, his pastor, who is an intelligent man, thinks that theologians are out of touch and irrelevant to ministry.

He equally shows disdain for Theologians and gets quite angry at terms like Calvinism, Arminianism, Vicarious Substitutionary Atonement, or anything other theology term. His feeling is that theologians are out of touch, have no ability to relate the concepts to people, and theologians in general treat the laity as simpletons.

Now, that's a problem. A big one, because theology is important for pastors to understand and be able to relate to their congregations.

But earlier today, I read a post that solves the problem -- even though it was written before the Pen and Parchment post! JT at Between Two Worlds mentions a post by Owen Strachan talking about theologian-pastors and pastor-theologians.

Just as we need "theologian-pastors" (by which I'm referring to theologically astute pastors), so also are we in great need of "pastor-theologians" (by which I'm referring to academic scholars who bring pastoral concerns to bear on their work). There is a gigantic need for exegetes, historians, theologians, systematicians, and philosophers who see their work as done, generally speaking, in service of the church. . . .

These scholars do not study, publish, and teach to pursue their own eccentric interests and doctrines, but to assist Christians in the task of understanding the Bible and its teachings as they apply to life and ministry.

This hits home for me. I love the academic aspects of seminary. I love the study, the writing, etc. But it's important to put this stuff into practice. Otherwise, it's a waste of time and effort.

I've always used the analogy of the sponge. There comes a point where the sponge becomes saturated -- can't hold any more liquid. Unless you wring the sponge out, it's worthless. Likewise, when we learn things, that knowledge is worthless unless we use it to help others grow closer to God. Academic research has it's role; it's not an end unto itself, but a means to an end. That end is to glorify God and edify His church.

Sounds like the pastor mentioned above ran into some theologians who forgot that, or never believed it to begin with. And that's the problem. The solution is a recovery of the role of theology in ministry, and a recovery of the role of the theologian in the Church.

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March 16, 2008

Something's Missing ....

The folks at the Two Institutions blog noticed something missing from their children's' Sunday School lesson for Easter -- the Resurrection.

According to the folks at First Look, the Gospel is "simply too violent for preschoolers."

more...

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February 09, 2008

Baptist Lent

So, Baptists don't really do Lent. But I'm not most Baptists -- I tend to be a "high-church" Baptist, and I do a little something for Lent, Maundy Thursday, Advent -- all those "traditions of men" that my fellow Baptists tend to shun.

This year, I'm doing something different. In the past, I've given up some food item or other, and it's lasted about ten days. Once I was going to give up the Internet, and that lasted ten minutes. And part of the point of the whole thing is to seek spiritual improvement, grow closer to God.

So this year I've been following a Lenten reading list that I found. It's designed to really get you to think about how the early Church lived and believed. While I don't agree with everything at that site in general, I think it's valuable for us to read a bit of the history of Christianity. The reading is broken down into manageable pieces, so each day's reading should only take about fifteen minutes. And much of it is stuff that I've wanted to read anyway.

You can download the whole thing, schedule and readings, from the site in PDF format. It's a big file, but you can just print out the part that you're reading that day, OR you can just read it on your computer. And the PDF isn't date specific, so once you download it you've got it to use every year. So, to coin a phrase, "Tole, lege!"

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November 17, 2007

The Arbuckle Association, Calvinism, and Christian Attitudes

There's been much said in Reformed circles about the recent resolution condemning Calvinism that was passed by the Arbuckle Baptist Association in Oklahoma. I've held off, simply because so much has been said elsewhere that I figured my comments would get lost in the clamor. But I really think that we need to look at this resolution as an opportunity to learn for both Calvinists and non-Calvinists, because there seems to be more to this issue than just a misunderstanding about what Calvinism is, and the differences between Calvinism and hyperCalvinism.

Wes Kenney has a bit of an insider's view of the issue, and makes some good points in his article about the controversy. One thing that he writes was very telling, to me, anyway.

The pastor who was the driving force behind this move, Dr. Joe Elam of First Baptist Church in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, had until about eighteen months ago a Calvinist staff member who did much, both before and after he separated from the church, to undermine Dr. Elam’s leadership of that church.

Someone seems to have been creating division in that church in the name of Calvinism. And if you read many "cage-stage" Calvinists, you can understand why people might react in just this way. So what's the solution?

Charity. Disagree with people, but don't undermine their authority or ministry because of that disagreement. If you find that you cannot work with someone else because of their theology, then don't work with them. Leave -- don't try to tear apart a church or tear down a ministry because of it. If you've ever wondered why so many Southern Baptists don't seem to want to work with Calvinists, maybe it's because so many Southern Baptists encounter Calvinists that won't work with anyone else.

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November 05, 2007

The Theology of Abortion

Al Mohler quotes Garry Wills today concerning abortion. According to Wills, abortion is not a theological issue, since the Bible doesn't mention it, and the church councils never address it. Mohler reminds us that while the councils don't address the issue, it is addressed by the Didache -- in the very second chapter, in fact. So it would seem that the early church at least thought it was an important issue for the Church to recognize.

But I really think that theology, and theological disagreement, is at the heart of the abortion issue. Christians believe in the imago Dei -- the image of God, and the idea that we are all created in that image. Rejection of the imago Dei leads to a low opinion of human life -- the idea that we're all expendable, especially if there's a possibility that we're unwanted, or will be less than the ideal child. Too many abortions are matters of convenience -- kids will just "cramp our style." And unfortunately, too many of those abortions are insisted upon by the father, who lacks the emotional ability to actually be a Daddy. The child isn't even seen as a choice -- it's an inconvenience, and embarrassment. We see it as getting rid of a bit of tissue. We don't look at this child as a being that is created in the very image of God -- a gift to us.

I've gotten a few bad gifts in my life -- and I've given a few, too. But I would never simply throw the gift away -- I express my appreciation to the giver, and I find a way to make that gift a part of my life. I've worn ugly sweaters, read terrible books, and eaten nasty food, simply because it was a gift, and I don't want to offend or upset the giver.

Unfortunately, we've forgotten the Giver. We think of our unborn as simply biological byproducts, something that's disposable (we can always make another one, right?), rather than a gift given to us by our Creator. A gift that is made in the very image of the One who gave it.

As Christians, our motivation to end abortion is theological. Abortion is a theological issue -- it goes to the very heart of who God is, and what we are.

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August 15, 2007

Calling Down the Wrath:
Imprecatory Prayer and the Modern Christian

Associated Baptist Press ran a story today about Wiley Drake, former SBC second vice-president (and current candidate for SBC President). Drake is calling for imprecatory prayer, calling down God's wrath on two staffers for Americans United. Americans United has asked the IRS to investigate the tax-exempt status of Drake's church, First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, California, after Drake used church letterhead and a church-sponsored radio program to endorse Mike Huckabee for President.

Of course, the first question most people will ask is "What the heck is imprecatory prayer?" And when they find out, they'll most likely ask "Is that really the Christian thing to do?" So let's look at both those questions, so we can find out whether we should be embarrassed by Drake, or proud of him. more...

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July 14, 2006

On Baptism: Round Three

I've been giving a lot of study lately to ecclesiology. When I started seminary, I focused a lot on historical theology -- the development of doctrine, especially as it was impacted by history and had an impact on history. I'd planned on teaching church history and historical theology at a seminary, after getting my M.Div and my Ph.D in fairly rapid succession. But God has other plans -- I'm meeting with the pulpit committee of a church in West Virginia on Saturday to talk about becoming their pastor. So matters of ecclesiology have become important to me, and I've been realizing exactly how much I've neglected its study.

Baptism as it relates to church membership has become a topic of interest to me lately, as well. Especially with all the controversy about the question of baptism as a prerequisite for church membership at Henderson Hills Baptist Church. I want to first affirm the autonomy of the local church. The elders and pastor at Henderson Hills are ultimately the only people who will stand to answer for what they decide (whatever they end up deciding). Their local association, their state convention, and the SBC as a whole do not tell them what to do. But we all have the responsibility as brothers and sisters in Christ to express concern when another Christian is making a decision that we think is not biblical. We also have the responsibility to discuss the matter as Christians, which I think has been done so far.

The elders at Henderson Hills aren't making the motion without thought and study. Their reports are all available on the church's web site. And there are a lot -- I certainly haven't had the time to read them all, so I won't be trying to respond directly to what they've decided. What I want to do instead is set out what I believe are the biblical motivations behind requiring biblical baptism for church membership, and a bit about why I think the Bible isn't as clear as we'd like for it to be in this regard. It will probably be a long post, and a lot more serious than I've been lately, but I think it will be valuable for all of us.
more...

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July 01, 2006

On Donatism and Anonymous Comments

Donatism was the error taught by Donatus, bishop of Casae Nigrae that the effectiveness of the sacraments depends on the moral character of the minister. In other words, if a minister who was involved in a serious enough sin were to baptize a person, that baptism would be considered invalid.
from CARM

It has been alleged that the Baptist practice of extending church membership only to those who have been baptised as believers is Donatism. Anyone who has followed the debate can see that it has nothing to do with the person who administers the baptism; rather, it has to do with the appropriate subject for baptism.

The question was raised as to whether Dr. Al Mohler's stance on baptism as a requisite of church membership makes him a Donatist. Ironically, the commentor who disputed this defines Donatism much as CARM does: "donatism was concerned with the validity of the sacraments administered by people who supposedly did not have the right to administer them. It viewed the sacraments not in an objective way, but as intrinsically dependent upon the qualities of the one administering them. It did not necessarily question the Christianity of those whom they denied could administer it, and it certainly did not question the Christianity of those receiving the sacrament." Compare this to Dr. Mohler's actual statement:

baptism has been understood by all major branches of Christianity, throughout the centuries of Christian experience, to be a requirement for church membership and the fellowship of the Lord’s table. Thus, for Baptists to receive into the membership of a Baptist church (or to invite to the Lord’s Supper) any believer who lacks such baptism, is to receive non-baptized persons as if they were baptized.

Any compromise of Baptist conviction concerning the requirement of believer’s baptism by immersion amounts to a redefinition of Baptist identity. More importantly, it raises the most basic questions of ecclesiology. We must give those questions intent attention in these days. Otherwise, will there be any Baptists in the next generation?

Baptist ecclesiology defines the proper subject for baptism as one who has been regenerated -- thus, believer's baptism. Anything else is thus not considered scriptural baptism. The conflict we have, then, is whether scriptural baptism is required before someone is admitted into the fellowship of a local church. As the pastor of Henderson Hills reminds us, Baptist churches are autonomous, so the decision is made by that church. And the rest of us can agree, or disagree.

I happen to disagree.

Now, on anonymous comments. I don't allow them here. I don't care if you don't leave your name, but you have to leave a valid email address. Why? The main reason is accountability. The Internet is a place where we can shoot our mouths off without a thought of the implications of what we're saying. If a name is attached, the post or comment becomes our thoughts, and we have to face the consequences. Without that name, we can say whatever we want, portray ourselves however we want, and behave however we want without having to be concerned about what our actions say about ourselves.

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On Baptism, Round Two

I wrote on this subject quite a while ago, but recently there has been a lot of discussion and debate on the issue of believers baptism as a condition of church membership among Southern Baptist bloggers (I'll link to all the posts I've read at the bottom of this one, and will add more as I find them).

The cause of this round of discussion and debate is Henderson Hills Baptist Church. In short, they have decided not to require believer's baptism by immersion as a condition for membership in their church. From one of their supporting documents (HT to Wes Kenney):

We see that it would be a tragic mistake to exclude Christians from membership, solely on the basis of baptism, who may potentially have a great impact on the Kingdom of God. For example, under our current rules, great theologians such as John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, Sinclair Ferguson, R.C. Sproul, and J.I. Packer would be considered unqualified for church membership

It should be made clear -- nobody who holds to believers baptism is implying that any of these great men were not born again. We may disagree with their ecclesiology, but we would never question their salvation or their committment to God. And I'd be inclined to agree with Wes that I wonder how their "impact on the Kingdom of God" would be lessened by their not being members of a Baptist church. I thought that ground had been covered pretty well by the Together For the Gospel meetings and blog. Ironically, Al Mohler is one of the people who are most in favor of cooperating with Presbyterians, and he's been accused of being a Donatist by some commentors at Reformed Baptist Thinker. He agrees that believer's baptism should be a requirement for membership in a Baptist church, but is willing and able to work with people who disagree with him (something the Donatists would never have done, by the way).

I'll have more on the Donatist comment later on, and will address the anonymous posters comments to me then. I think that part of the issue with believers baptism today stems from our lack of appreciation of what baptism is. If it really is just a symbol, then what difference does it make?

The very word sacrament that is used so often for baptism and communion is from a Latin word that was an oath of allegience. The oath that Roman soldiers took when they oined the army was a sacramentum -- they swore to obey orders and follow their commander. This is a perfect picture of what baptism is -- it is the oath of allegience that a believer makes to Christ. We are publically identifying with Him. Baptism is not salvific -- that's one thing that Baptists and Presbyterians can agree on. (I keep referring to Presbyterians since the main debate comes from conservative Presbyterians and conservative Baptists, who agree on most other things.) Throughout Acts, we read of those who received the word, and as a result of thier conversion were baptised, and as a result of these two things were received into the church. In the early church, baptism was immediate upon conversion -- so much so that the two seem to be one event. Membership in the church followed immediately thereafter, as much as a matter of survival as anything else. If someone wasn't committed enough to the faith to publically be baptised, to take that public stand, they weren't allowed into the church. They weren't committed.

Today, we look at baptism as something optional. It's pretty easy to be a Christian in the US, and our public stand isn't that hard to make. But if someone isn't willing to make that stand, that profession, should we let them join the church anyway? I think this touches on baptism as an act of obedience to Christ, a topic that has been covered in more depth by others.

Links: more...

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April 10, 2006

The Gospel of Judas

So I've spent all weekend away from my computer, taking a sort of blog vacation, and the whole Gospel of Judas thing has probably blown over by now. Or maybe not -- people seem particularly susceptible to "hidden Gospels" right now, and this newest one sure does promise a new look at Christianity.

more...

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March 14, 2006

The Ultimate Goal of Christianity ...

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

The ultimate goal of Christianity is world domination. Our Prime Directive, our Great Commission, is to reach the world. We recognize that not everyone will believe, but our goal is still global evangelization.

So when Pat Robertson says that the goal of Islam is world domination, I say, "So what?" The goal of any belief system that teaches absolute truth must be to have the entire world recognize that absolute truth. Otherwise, your "truth" can't be that important to you.

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March 01, 2006

Theological Fencing

My wife reminded me of a piece of history that I'd learned and then promptly forgotten. In the early 1800s, in New Orleans, there were bands of aristocrat's sons who would roam the streets looking for duels. They had been well-trained in fencing, some by the top fencing instructors in France, and looked for opportunities to show their skill, and show off who their teachers were. Of course, the better fencers were trained by the better (read, more expensive) teachers.

These kids would walk around looking for opportunities to take offense with something that someone said or did, and challenge them to a duel. And the duel would begin in earnest -- unless the challenge was refused. If the challenge was refused, the challenge-ee was considered a wimp (or at least the 19th century equivalent of a wimp) and roundly mocked. more...

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February 20, 2006

What Kind of Jesus?

I was pondering this on the way home, after hearing some drivel that called itself a Christian song on the radio. It may turn into a sermon some weekend soon, but I have to get it out of my head and onto "paper" before I go nuts.

Matthew 16:13-16 (ESV)
13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" 14And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." 15He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" 16Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Who do WE say that Jesus Christ is? Unfortunately, we often portray Him as something other than what He is. more...

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February 04, 2006

The Priesthood of the Believer: The 'P' in Baptist

Part three in a continuing series on Baptist distinctives. Part 1 is on Biblical Authority, and Part 2 is on the Autonomous Local Church

One thing that sets Protestants in general apart from Catholics is the idea that each believer is a priest in his own right, and can approach God directly through prayer with no intermediary. Unfortunately, many Protestants who believe this in theory don't believe it in practice.

How often do we rely on ministers to pray for us, as if their prayers get answered first? How many televangelists have made fortunes from people buying prayer cloths that somehow give them "special access" to God? How many of us believe that the pastor has some form of special revelation from God because he is the pastor? How often do we neglect personal ministry because we think that's the pastor's job?

John to the seven churches that are in Asia:Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
(Revelation 1:4-6 ESV)
Christ has made us all priests, according to this passage. Peter writes that we are "... a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." (1 Peter 2:9 ESV)

What does that mean? The priests offered sacrifices to God in the temple -- they were the only ones who could do that. This function of the priest is no longer needed, though, as the greatest sacrifice of all has been made for us. The atoning sacrifice has already been made for us by Christ.

Priests were also set apart for service. Paul makes it clear in his letter to the church at Ephasus that we are all called to service: "And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, "(Ephesians 4:11-12 ESV). The work of the ministry is the job of every believer -- not just a priestly class.

The priesthood of all believers places a huge responsibility on the shoulders of all believers -- we are all responsible for the ministry of the Gospel. If you know of a ministry that your own local church needs, the question shouldn't be "Why isn't anyone doing that?" but "How can I help start that?" If we all had that attitude, Christian churches would be far more effective in ministering to their communities.

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January 27, 2006

Exposing Sin, Applying Grace

From the Reformation 21 blog, quoting Sinclair Ferguson:

Truth to tell, exposing sin is easier than applying grace; for, alas, we are more intimate with the former than we sometimes are with the latter. Therein lies our weakness.

I think this explains why so many Christians do what they do. Why we leave our wounded on the battlefield. Why we'd rather find reasons to separate from each other than find ways to work together. We'd rather expose sin.

Sometimes I think it's simply because we like to know that other Christians are sinning -- even doing things worse than what we do ourselves. We'd rather expose the preacher down the street for his financial problems than deal with the fact that we cheat on our taxes. We'd rather hear about how the televangelist was caught in sexual sin than deal with our own addiction to pornography. It makes us feel better if someone else is doing it, too.

We also do it because we get hurt when people are exposed. We're angry when our favorite preacher is exposed as a mere human, dealing with temptations daily. We feel let down, we're hurt, and we want them to pay. So we pile on. And we hunt others that have the same problem. We don't want to extend grace.

And we do it because we've been attacked ourselves. I see this in many of the comments on the IMB/Wade Burleson controversy: former Southern Baptists who are feeling vindicated now that the dogs have been loosed once again. Many of them are trying to keep their "Told ya'"s quiet, but it's clear from reading that the sentiment is there.

It's a self-perpetuating thing. We don't show grace, we aren't shown grace. We aren't shown grace, we don't show any. Somewhere, the cycle has to stop -- but we aren't willing to stop it.

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January 19, 2006

Local Church Autonomy -- the 'A' in Baptist

A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. -small";>From the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message

The autonomy of the local church is one of the distinctions that separate Baptists from most other Protestants. There is no centralized authority that has any jurisdiction over a local church -- the churches decide individually what doctrines they adhere to, what they teach and preach, what materials they use, etc.

Even within the Southern Baptist Convention, each local church is autonomous. The national Convention does not tell us what to do -- in fact, the purpose of the convention each year is for the local churches to establish the direction of the Convention as a whole.

But is it Biblical? Briefly, let me offer some Biblical support for the idea of local church autonomy. more...

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