Whenever I hire a staff member, I will always get around to asking what he did in seminary. Where did he go to church? How did he serve when no one was paying him to do the job? If the Holy Spirit and a man’s calling doesn’t compel him to love and serve the church, he won’t do it well for a paycheck either.
One could probably enumerate dozens of reasons why a seminary student’s faithfulness to a church during his years of training matter, but I offer six that stand out.
Many of God’s commands can only be fulfilled in a local church. “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some” (Heb. 10:24-25). “Obey your elders and submit to them for they are keeping watch over your souls . . . ” (Heb. 13:17). “Unto Him be glory in the church . . . ” (Eph. 3:21). Church membership and participation are not optional for followers of Christ. The church is God’s Plan A for teaching, training, accountability, correction, and a host of other essential activities in a Christian’s life.
While I enjoy and delight in private worship or in small groups, nothing can supplant the corporate worship of the saints assembled together to exalt the name of Jesus in psalms and hymns and to hear the Word preached. The angels watch in eager wonder when the church is assembled, but surely they must scratch their angelic heads in disdainful amazement at anyone who claims to be redeemed and even called to ministry who thinks so lightly of Christ and his bride that he considers church attendance optional. Corporate worship establishes a mental soundtrack for my week as the gospel songs we sing continue to play in my head. The Holy Spirit uses the preached Word to effect change toward Christlikeness. I need weekly worship to make the rhythm of the new creation beat smoothly.
The first week I was in seminary, I visited local church pastors, introduced myself and learned about them and their congregations. One pastor in particular resonated with my heart. We placed our membership in that church and Tanya and I volunteered for any jobs in the church that we could do.
Because we were willing to do small things, the pastor eventually gave us greater opportunities. In fact, before the end of our first year there, the pastor had asked me to preach a dozen times, including exclusively filling in for him while he was on an extended mission trip. I learned a great deal from that pastor and still use many of his notes on pastoring in the pastoral ministry class I have taught at Southern for nearly two decades. He commitment to shepherding and evangelism shaped and imprinted my life, and I am grateful that I did not miss it.
Seeing my fellow believers each week reminds me of my responsibility to serve them and to be mutually accountable. Part of church participation is “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” and “provoking one another to love and to good works.” The gospel needs no loners. We are part of a body. We have different gifts and functions, but severed from the body we are dead and useless. The Holy Spirit gives gifts to God’s children, but then he gives those believers to churches so that they might fill needs there.
Married seminary students, especially men, need constantly to remember they have a responsibility to provide rich, robust fellowship and biblical training for their wives. A young pastor in training has the joy of regularly interacting with other students, with professors, and even with pastors at seminary, while the wife may be working or at home with children. The church is a way to ensure that other family members are growing in the Lord and in the Word even as they forge appropriate godly relationships.
Nearly every opportunity afforded me to serve in churches can be traced back to previous service. Just as David killed a lion and a bear before he faced Goliath, I had to be trained in smaller ways before I got greater avenues of service. Had I not been faithful during seminary, and had we not plugged in and served willingly, I am convinced that my name would never have been on many future lists that presented great prospects of gospel impact.
The experience gained, the relationships forged, and the doors opened to those who use their seminary years to serve in a church—even if in an unpaid position—will prove a blessing throughout the rest of life. Perhaps the greatest benefit of all, however, is that it teaches seminary students to love what Jesus loves and to live to hear Jesus say, “Well done.”_______________
The dialogue between Michael and Jim comes to a close:
Michael: But what if it doesn’t happen the way I hope? What if I set out on a course of action and my impact turns out to be minimal?
Jim: I don’t believe that anyone who lives a life of whole devotion to God will only have minimal impact. But it’s not until eternity that we will be able to see all that has occurred through our lives. In other words, we don’t always see fully now. But, let’s say that you really don’t make an impact; you can’t even see a dent. Even then, you’ve lived life according to the purpose for which you were created, and that can never be called an empty life.
Michael: But if your ministry is unsuccessful, you haven’t succeeded.
Jim: Not necessarily ...
It’s dark, musty and noisy. All eyes are focused on the boxing ring in the center of the arena. The spectators’ bloodlust permeates the air as they anticipate the ring of the fight bell. In one corner stands the well-promoted fighter Church Planting. In the other corner stands the scrappy street fighter Evangelism. The fighters stand ready, muscles twitching, gloves cinched tight, and eyes locked onto each other with laser focus. Who will win the match? Ding goes the fight bell.
Whether intended or not, the ministry world in the past few years has pitted Church Planting against Evangelism and vice versa. The inherent tension is felt at the national, state convention, associational, and local church levels. Which fighter do we root for in the ring? Which ministry do we fund in our church budget? The answer is … both.
Go to any ministry-minded conference, and church planting is the exciting, cool thing to be involved with, and for good reason. Church planting is important. Church planting is exciting, sitting at the intersection of ecclesiology, missiology and a pioneering spirit. It is the mechanism God provides to create and edify a community of believers so they can, in turn, reach the lost and reproduce. Paul describes church planting as a vital component of the model in Romans 15:18-25. To be sure, the Great Commission is virtually impossible to carry out without church planting. We rejoice in the 985 new church plants that the North American Mission Board (NAMB) assisted with last year  and the more than 13,800 new churches started overseas through the International Mission Board . We pray for further multiplication of reproducing churches.
Church planting may be what is currently emphasized at conferences, but church planting cannot occur without personal evangelism. In the book of Acts, wherever evangelism occurs, churches are created . Evangelism is that Spirit-empowered activity in which the disciples of Jesus Christ give a complete and intentional witness to the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, calling unbelievers to become disciples of Jesus Christ by repenting of their sins and placing their faith in Jesus Christ alone . Frank Page, president and CEO of the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, recently stated that he “is deeply concerned that we have so emphasized certain aspects of our ministry to the almost exclusion of personal evangelism” . The lack of personal evangelism leads to results that are apparent, namely the continuing decreases in the number of baptisms and weekly worship attendance . Ott and Wilson define church planting as “that ministry which through evangelism and discipleship establishes reproducing kingdom communities of believers in Jesus Christ who are committed to fulfilling biblical purposes under local spiritual leaders” . That is, evangelism is one of the necessary drivers of church planting. So much so that both evangelism and church planting are explicitly stated in NAMB’s mission statement . This makes logical sense—if church planters are not personally evangelizing, their new church plants will not grow or survive. Roughly three percent of all lost people come to church on their own initiative, leaving 97 percent to be reached by personal evangelism and invitation . Effective personal evangelism is critical for engaging a city.
So, ding goes the fight bell. The fighters circle and move toward each other. However, the spectators are shocked into silence. Instead of fighting, we see Church Planting and Evangelism embrace each other in a “man hug,” part the ropes, leave the ring, and exit together to fight the real opponent—the Prince of Darkness.
 Craig Ott and Gene Wilson, Global Church Planting: Biblical Principles and Best Practices for Multiplication (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), 23.
 Matt Queen, Everyday Evangelism (Fort Worth: Seminary Hill Press, 2014), 15.
 Executive Committee, Southern Baptist Convention, Annual of the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention (Nashville, SBC, 2015), 134.
 Ott and Wilson, 8.
 North American Mission Board, Tool for Locating and Cultivating Evangelistic Prospects (Alpharetta: NAMB, 2000), 3.
In the same way that basic training cannot fully prepare a soldier for the hellish nature of a real war, seminary cannot fully prepare a future pastor for the bullets and hand grenades that will be launched at him in the local church on the field of real ministry. If I have learned anything in my time as a pastor, it has been that reality. It is a choice privilege to serve in pastoral ministry, a high and desirable calling (1 Tim. 3:1) but at times, it can be a lot like the scenes that unfolded on the beaches of Normandy during the morning hours of June 6, 1944, the beginning of a battle known to posterity as D-Day. As soon as the gate dropped on the landing boat, the shells began to fly in the soldier’s direction. Many times, pastors will stand in the crosshairs of an enemy before they have opportunity to disembark and establish a presence on the field.
In the pastoral ministry, you will be attacked by enemies both invisible and visible, but God’s Word tells us that it is the invisible powers that commandeer and use the visible enemies to war against you. Deacon Smith may be angry with you, call you a heretic over your view of the end times or a Bible-worshiper over your affirmation of the inerrancy of Scripture and demand you be fired, but it is an unseen enemy who is using Deacon Smith as a means of opening fire on you.
Suffering will, by God’s grace, sanctify you, and it will also do something else for you that no level of training ever could: It will prepare you to comfort and sympathize with the suffering of those whom you’ve been called to shepherd. Paul had this in mind in telling the church at Corinth, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4).
If you are a suffering pastor, it has the potential to make you a more humble and affective servant of the Lord and his people. It is God’s way of putting you in the trenches on the front line of life alongside your people so that you may learn how to apply the healing balm of gospel comfort to their many and varied wounds. Basic training cannot simulate this reality; only war will teach you that.
Few Baptist pastors have suffered more acutely or better than the great Charles Haddon Spurgeon; I say he suffered better, because Spurgeon’s theology of sovereign grace fitted him with spectacles to see suffering as a gift from God’s hand and enabled him to view it as a means of training the minister for instructing others in the academy of God’s grace. Best of all, for the sake of those of us who have been called to minister in his wake, Spurgeon preached and wrote often about his affliction, how God has wisely designed it to intersect with gospel ministry. As one example, hear the penetrating words of our Spurgeon from the May 1876 edition of The Sword and Trowel:
“It is good for a man to bear the yoke of service, and he is no loser when it is exchanged for the yoke of suffering. May not severe discipline fall to the lot of some to quality them for their office of under-shepherds? How can we speak with consoling authority to a situation which we have never known? The complete pastor’s life will be an epitome of the lives of his people, and they will turn to his preaching as men do to David’s psalms, to see themselves and their sorrows, as in a mirror. Their needs will be the reason for his griefs.
As in the case of the Lord himself, perfect equipment for his work came only through suffering, and so must it be for those who are called to follow him in binding up the broken-hearted, and loosing the prisoners.
Souls still remain in our churches to whose deep and dark experiences we shall never be able to minister till we also have been plunged in the abyss where all Jehovah’s waves roll over our heads. If this be the fact – and we are sure it is – then may we heartily welcome anything which will make us fitter channels of blessing. For the elect’s sake it shall be joy to endure all things, and to bear a part of – ‘that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church’.”
As Richard Baxter put so well, pastors are dying men called to preach to dying men, a reality I never truly understood until I began to stand behind the pulpit before the same congregation week after week. As a dying man, often I am prone to kick against the goads of suffering and, with a wayward heart clinging to its certificate of entitlement to the American dream, I far too often failed to see God’s good purposes for me and my flock when the warfare grew especially hot. Spurgeon suffered along every contour of the human experience. He was wracked with pain from physical and psychological ailments. He was harried by theological opponents both within his doctrinal camp and without. He was battered by sinful church members due to false expectations. He spent many dark nights of the soul chained in the dungeon of Doubting Castle, tortured by the Giant Despair.
Spurgeon was broken by God so he could he bind the wounds of those under his care. Spurgeon’s experience as recounted through his words to pastoral students should encourage all of us who have been called to come and die alongside God’s people on the front lines of ministry also known as the local church:
“One Sabbath morning I preached from the text, ‘My God, my God, who has Thou forsaken Me?’ Though I did not say so, yet I preached my own experience. I heard my own chains clank while I tried to preach to my fellow prisoners in the dark; but I could not tell why I was brought into such an awful horror of darkness, for which I condemned myself.
On the following Monday evening, a man came to see me who bore all the marks of despair upon his countenance. His hair seemed to stand up right, and his eyes were ready to start from their sockets. He said to me, after a little parleying, ‘I never before, in my life, heard any man speak who seemed to know my heart. Mine is a terrible case, but on Sunday morning, you painted me to the life, and preached as if you had been inside my soul.’
By God’s grace, I saved that man from suicide and led him to Gospel light and liberty; but I know I myself could not have done it if I had not myself been confined in the dungeon in which he lay. I tell you the story, brethren, because you sometimes may not understand your own experience, and the perfect people may condemn you for having it; but what know they of God’s servants?
You and I have to suffer much for the sake of the people of our charge . . . . You may be in Egyptian darkness, and you may wonder why such a horror chills your marrow; but you may be altogether in the pursuit of your calling, and be led of the Spirit to a position of sympathy with despondent minds.”
Spurgeon was well-acquainted with the lash of affliction. Every faithful under-shepherd who labors in the pasture of the Lord will be too._____________
Jeff Robinson (M.Div. and Ph.D., SBTS) is editor of the Southern Seminary blog. He serves as senior editor for The Gospel Coalition and is also adjunct professor of church history and senior research and teaching associate for the Andrew Fuller Center at SBTS. Jeff served as a pastor for several years in Birmingham, Alabama. He is co-author with Michael A. G. Haykin of To the Ends of the Earth: Calvin’s Missional Vision and Legacy (Crossway, 2014) Jeff and his wife Lisa have four children and belong to Clifton Baptist Church.
As a parent, my favorite word to say is “yes.” Saying this word puts me in a favorable position with my children. The look of joy on their faces when I say “yes” compels me to say it more and more. I even struggle saying “yes” when I know it would be wiser to say “no” due to budget restraints (“yes, take my last $20”), or health concerns (“yes, eat the whole gallon of ice cream”), or just common sense (“yes, you can play in the street”). My children expect a “yes” when they ask because I love saying “yes” so often. So when I say “no” they are surprised by my objections to their request. However, my disapproving “no” is just as loving as my “yes,” and many times it is a much more compassionate response ...
A couple of weeks ago Union University made news by practicing secondary separation (or at least what fundamentalists have been pummeled over the last 70 years for practicing under that label): they broke fellowship with an organization of professing believers—the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities [CCCU]—because the Council had failed to censure two member institutions—institutions that had capitulated to the prevailing Zeitgeist on the matter of homosexual marriage. Union president Dub Oliver explained: “Our faithfulness to the authority of Scripture takes precedence,” adding, “Our advocacy for Christ-centered higher education means that we must stand with institutions that share our commitments.” He concluded, “The reason we are passionate about this is because what we are talking about is not a secondary or tertiary theological issue—marriage is at the heart of the Gospel. To deny the Bible’s concept of marriage is to deny the authority of Scripture.” But here’s the thing: the CCCU has for years had as member institutions schools of various branches of the Churches of Christ, a Seventh Day Adventist School, at least one (very) Roman Catholic school, and a few other nominally “Christian” institutions that have given little thought to the details of the Christian Gospel and the authority of the Word of God for decades. These theological errors are not separation-worthy, but homosexuality is? Hmmm.
Example 2: Last week I stopped by a church blog that I frequent. Again, I applauded the author’s powerful argument regarding the use of Hillsong music in his church: due to Hillsong’s “normalization of immorality” (again, homosexuality), the author reckoned, “our music ministry will no longer use any material written by Hillsong.” But then came the curious caveat. The author admitted that Hillsong had long ago abandoned sound doctrine, but argued that “we were never concerned that using this song would lead our people into prosperity theology or wild charismaticism.” So his church had continued to use Hillsong music. But homosexuality? That went too far. Now it has become time, the author concluded, to “watch out for those who cause confusion regarding sound doctrine, and turn away from them.”
On the one hand I’m happy about these decisions—I rejoice in them as refreshing matters of biblical obedience. And maybe I should do nothing but offer a hearty “Amen” and applause to both. I agree with the willingness to part ways with disobedient brothers and appreciate their courageous stands in the face of stiff opposition. Overlooking or endorsing homosexuality IS a big deal. A really big deal. And I’m glad that these two men and the organizations they represent are refusing to shrug their shoulders and look the other way.
But I struggle with the implied suggestion that the error of homosexual marriage is a bigger deal and a greater affront to the Gospel than the denial of justification sola fide, or that advocating for homosexuality is a bigger threat to God’s people than advocating for a prosperity “gospel” that boasts no more of the Gospel than my pet rabbit. It seems that homosexuality has temporarily become more of a gospel issue than, well, the Gospel. Why is this the case?
Two responses to this trend have come to us from the confessional community (Carl Trueman and Scot McKnight). These argue convincingly that the bare evangelical model, despite all its talk of the Gospel, offers an insufficient basis for determining what constitutes a “big,” “important,” and therefore “gospel” issue, instead leaving the church to posture rather arbitrarily according to the prevailing winds of the day. At one time we pounded on smoking and drinking and rock music, but that’s much too 1970—the 21st century whipping boys are homosexuality and egalitarianism on the left and “legalism” in the right. That’s where the conservative evangelical will take a stand and practice “secondary separation.”
Now, admittedly, the 21st century evangelical watersheds do seem a bit more serious than those from 1970, so I must be charitable. Scripture itself tells us that homosexuality, especially, is a “bigger” or at least a more advanced sin problem than others (so Rom 1:24ff). Still, I think Trueman and McKnight are on to something: the bare evangelical model may be able to see that homosexuality is a big issue, but it has trouble offering a unified explanation as to why it is a big issue. To do that, one needs more than the Gospel and a few Bible verses. We need instead a holistic network of collocated theses that connect the doctrines of God, Scripture, creation, law (natural and biblical), the imago dei, the relationship of Church and culture, the state of man (both old and new), sin, atonement, sanctification, perseverance, pneumatology, apologetics, ecclesiology, the ordinances, and even eschatology. In short we need to take our stands within comprehensive traditions. Without them, we may experience the meager satisfaction and applause that comes from picking at the scabs of homosexuality and egalitarianism, but we risk ignoring the melanoma spreading beneath.
We cannot save the Christian faith merely by erecting a fortress around a few gospel loci and supplementing that defense with occasional sorties against ethical brigands. Instead, we must take our stand in the ontological and epistemological foundations from which the Gospel and its ethic flow.
Dear Dr. Craig,
You were the first Christian apologist I came across when I was researching a credible answer from Christianity to Atheist and Islam in 2002. Since then I have been following you through different medium on the internet. May God bless you for bringing the Christian truth with precision and clarity and with so much needed nuances.
I was re-watching your debate with Dr. Richard Carrier on the Resurrection of Jesus. I can't remember anyone really dismantling his case as you did. So I wondered how do you do to prepare for a debate? Most speakers are good at their opening speech but fair less well during the rebuttals, failure you seem immune to. Do you also prepare the rebuttals before your debates? If yes, how on earth do you do that since you can't possibly know what the opponent would say? ...
The dialogue between Michael and Jim continues:
Michael: I think I’ll never find a church I can take my family to.
Jim: WHY NOT?!
Michael: There’s just too much hypocrisy!
Jim: I have to agree with you there.
Michael: (not listening to Jim’s answer) … I know it’s hard for you to hear this, since you’re in the ministry and everything … (all of a sudden catching on) … did you say you agree?!
Jim: Of course I do ...
I am beginning my second semester of doctoral studies. I thought it may be beneficial to write (from a current student’s perspective and one that recently finished his M.Div.) some of the things I wish I would have known before beginning seminary.
It is by no means exhaustive and they are not in order of importance.
- Prayer/meditation. One of the most difficult aspects of life, at least for me, is silence and prayer. As a student, life gets busy. Generally, you are not only a student but also a spouse/parent and work some type of job. The busyness of life can prohibit handing the aches and pains of the soul. It also tempts you to become dependent on yourself, striving to do better, and failing to thank our Father for his many gifts. Our hearts become hard when we do not reflect on the state of our soul and point our eyes to the Father above.
- Read the Bible. If you are going to seminary, you will probably be teaching and preaching the Bible when you graduate and many of you are doing so now. Read the Bible for several different purposes: devotionally, for knowledge, for academics, and many others. If your discipline involves the languages, then consistently read in Greek or Hebrew so you don’t lose all the hard work you put in to learn them.
- Plan your study time. When I first began my seminary career, I would sit down each week and schedule out exactly what assignments and reading needed attention. I also blocked out time with specific tasks associated with each block. When it was time for me to study, I pulled out my schedule and knew exactly what I was working on. This not only made my study time more productive, but it also kept me on track throughout the semester. Later in my degree, I stopped doing this. I suddenly became more scatterbrained and less focused. This semester I am back on track and am already reaping the benefits. I found doing this at the beginning of each week allowed me to modify my schedule throughout the semester.
- Library. Get to know all the resources at the library and use them. Here at Southern the research experts can pretty much answer any question you throw at them. There is also a wealth of tutorials and workshops to help you research and write better. See my posts here and here explaining some of the resources offered at Southern. I can’t stress this enough. The library is your friend not only because it has the books you need but staff members are knowledgeable and available to help.
- Write early, write often. Writing is one of the best ways to articulate your thoughts on different subjects. My doctoral supervisor, Dr. Jonathan Pennington, advises to “park on a downhill slope.” By this he means when you finish a day of writing, begin the next section. Jot some ideas down that need to be addressed. Next time you sit down to write, your brain will have a jumpstart. Also, begin thinking and writing about a topic at the start of the class and don’t wait till the end of the semester. Another advantage to writing early is the editing process. I would guess most students who begin their papers at the end of the semester actually turn in a first draft. Write, edit, write, edit, write, edit …
- Write even if it is not for a paper. Augustine said, “By writing I have myself learned much that I did not know.” We learn by writing and getting ideas on paper. It helps us formulate thoughts and put them into concrete ideas rather than abstract thoughts. Seminary is not a time just to work on getting good grades. You want to be a well-rounded pastor/teacher/scholar/missionary; so, write on a variety of topics.
- Learn how to use bibliography software. This will save you tons of time when writing a paper. Instead of formatting by hand every reference in your paper, the software does it for you. It also stores all your references so you can use them in the future. And better yet, there are browser plugins that allow you to search for the book online, click a button, and gather all the information for you. Ryan Vasut has written an extremely helpful guide to getting started with Zotero. Best of all, Zotero is free.
- Learn how to use software to be more productive. Evernote is a great app for organizing notes and research. It can be intimidating because it can do so much. (shameless plug!) This is why I wrote my Evernote for Academics series to help students get started using Evernote. Also, check out my other site, Techademic, for other helpful articles and screencasts to increase productivity in your studies.
- Take the languages early and often. Not only is this vital for any pastor or teacher’s tool belt, but it also allows you to slow down and look more closely at the biblical text in Greek/Hebrew as well as English. It is hard work but well worth it. Once you take the languages, consistently read in them. You will begin to gain more proficiency the more you read. Personally, I find it best to set a time goal rather than a verse goal. In the beginning set a goal of 5-10 minutes a day and gradually build on that. In my experience, when you set your goal via verses or chapters you can get stuck on a verse and spend more time than planned trying to make your way through it.
- If married, make your spouse a priority. Love them, serve them, and enjoy them. Don’t talk about seminary all the time. Your spouse is probably interested in you, which also makes them interested in the things you are interested in. But it is likely they do not want to hear about the details of the Greek verb, or the complexities of the Trinity, or even about the Synoptic problem. And please, please, don’t try to teach them Greek (unless of course they really want you to).
- Think ahead. Plan your classes ahead of time. Make a base schedule then deviate from that. Know how many electives you have and don’t waste them.
- Read, read, read. Get your reading finished early. Don’t try to cram it all at the end. See above for scheduling.
- Get up early. I find mornings to be the most productive time.
- Read people you disagree with. When writing a paper, interact with others who you disagree with. Not only will your paper be better, but also you will learn to think more critically. This should be a given but, sadly, in many contexts this is not emphasized enough.
- Review your notes often. You won’t have to “cram” at exam time.
- Research for papers early. This is similar to my earlier writing advice, but you need to begin research early. If you have the syllabus, then begin thinking about topics before the semester starts. Schedule a time to meet with the professor to discuss paper ideas. Researching early also gives you a head start on finding key resources. Towards the end of the semester, you will find that many of the books you need will already be checked out.
- Get to know your professors. Talk in class. Ask them out for coffee or lunch.
- Community, community community. Get to know other students around you. Everyone is in this together. Community does not just form by itself. You must be intentional. When I was a master of divinity student, I was intentional about getting to know students who were ahead of me. Some of them are now my best friends. Their constant encouragement and knowledge of their studies grew into deeper friendships.
- Church. Join a church, fellowship with believers, and join some type of community group. See where the church needs help and devote appropriate time with that.
- Discuss research ideas with other students. You are all in this together. Help each other. Brainstorm together. Your paper will not only be better but you will become a better student as well.
- Syllabus. The professors know they have to provide the syllabus. Don’t email and bug them about this. It will be available online soon enough.
- Don’t feel like you have to do all the extras. On our campus, you could be busy doing extras almost everyday of the week. You are here for school—that is your priority. Do extras as appropriate, but you simply cannot do them all.
- Stay off social media when doing homework and reading. It is distracting and not profitable for learning. You know this. I know this. Turn off the phone, turn off the Wi-Fi, and focus on your studies.
- Read the Church Fathers. See my post here for my thoughts on this.
- Take the hard classes. You only get to learn here once, so challenge yourself. You will be a better pastor/teacher/missionary because of it.
- Be on time for class and when meeting with professors. This should be self-explanatory.
- Email the grader for logistical questions, not the professor.
- Grading. Realize that in many of the introductory courses the professor will not grade your homework or even your papers. This is why they have competent and smart graders. It can, at first, be disheartening to realize that your professor is not reading some of your assignments in your introductory classes. But you should realize that many of your professors have other courses along with doctoral students too. As you progress through your degree and begin to take more focused courses, you will have more hands on interaction with your professors.
- Try handwritten notes. Personally, I have found it beneficial to take hand-written notes in many of my classes. By doing this it aids in retention and memorization. It is also less distracting. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and blogs cannot be viewed on paper. And you will be tempted. You can find a list of articles concerning this topic here.
- Exercise. I have found that when I do this I am more focused, less tired, and feel better all around. Sadly, I do not do this enough.
Brian Renshaw is a Ph.D. student in New Testament at Southern Seminary. His interests include Gospel studies, hermeneutics, theological interpretation of Scripture, and history of interpretation. He works as an instructional designer in the SBTS Online Learning department and also serves as the director of digital production for CACS. When he is not reading you can find him roasting and brewing craft coffee. He and his wife attend Sojourn East. He writes on biblical studies at his personal site and Techademic. Follow him on Twitter.
Amos has much to say about oppression and the plight of the poor in Israel, so it is only natural that his book has become a focal point for discussions about social justice. At least three aspects of the issue dealt with by Amos concern the nature of God, the role of the individual, and the role of the social system ...
The dialogue between Michael and Jim continues:
Michael: I admire your courage. But I still think that what you’re trying to do is almost impossible.
Jim: That’s one of the reasons we’re trying it. God is the one who makes the impossible possible. What do you think, Michael? Is the church a triumphant church, or are we just a band of persecuted idealists?
Michael: In your case I’d say that you look more like a group of persecuted idealists. At the same time, the church does seem to be making strides in many places in the world ...
Not all theology matters. Few today are absorbed in the Process Theology of Alfred North Whitehead, and almost no one would embrace Buridan’s Donkey as a serious contemplative issue. Pre-Copernican perspectives of the universe still provide historical interests, but contemporary treatises on these views are marked by their absence. Nevertheless, Theology remains “the queen of the sciences” and continues to engage those questions that are of eternal consequence.
Genesis 1:1 captures the significance for theology by declaring, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The bullpen offers no paucity of pitchers waiting for the opportunity to throw against this declaration. Naturalists of multiple genres, from Democritus to Mao Tse-tung, have opposed such hypotheses. So, in light of the challenges of naturalism, why does theology remain on the throne? Here is the answer in the proverbial nutshell. If Genesis 1:1 is false, then the biblical worldview can be eliminated from the discussion. But if true, the Scriptures must be contemplated since this is God’s world and consequently, what God thinks and says about anything becomes the most important word in the universe.
And Theology is the logos about theos, “the word about God.” Theology seeks to know the nature, character, purposes, and actions of God. Nothing, if He exists, weighs heavier than God. If He does not exist, then the biblical message is largely nullified. But even Aristotle, without Old Testament prophet or New Testament apostle, concluded that one must posit an uncaused cause and an unmoved mover. Of course, God possibly exists but in such a way that He is inaccurately reflected in the Bible. Perhaps the Bible is nothing more than the existential experience of “the devoted” seeking a “devotional charge.” But the mere existence of Deity causes theology to take on sufficient significance so that one must examine the evidences.
Efforts to disprove God’s existence have met with the same non-negotiables that the monumental efforts of philosophers and theologians have encountered. As it works out, God is subject to neither proof nor refutation. But the evidences suggest something quite remarkable. The traditional arguments for God’s existence may not establish the certainty that “He is there,” but their cumulative effect reverberates far more with the average thinker than the idea that space plus time plus chance equals the evolution of the universe. The latter may be conceivable—barely—but suffers not only from not being reproducible but also from violating everything in our experience. Until someone proves that God is at most a concept of the mind, then theology matters profoundly.
And make no mistake about the kind of world in which we live. If Genesis 1:1 is not true, then, without debate, there is no morality in the world—only social convention. Efforts to foster some sort of morality in a godless world have been worse than unconvincing. If there is a moral standard apart from God, where and how did it arise? If humans are but the highest form of evolved life, why should we lament a brutal homicide any more than the black-maned lion’s roaring approval of his morning breakfast kill? Oh yes, we have evolved this standard. But what makes it right? How do we know that it is right?
B. F. Skinner grasped the inevitability of a godless world when, in 1971, he wrote the following:
“Man has not evolved as an ethical or moral animal. He has evolved to the point at which he has constructed an ethical or moral culture. He differs from the other animals not in possessing a moral or ethical sense but in having been able to generate a moral or ethical social environment.” 
Or, as Skinner concludes,
“To man qua man we readily say good riddance. Only by dispossessing him can we turn to the real causes of human behavior. Only then can we turn from the inferred to the observed, from the miraculous to the natural, from the inaccessible to the manipulable.” 
Such a world is too bad to be true and certainly cannot be established on the basis of scientific investigation.
Finally, if there is a God, can you know Him? Should you want to know Him? And if so how do you come to know him? Those are all questions to be found as the subject matter of Theology. Theology matters because there is a way that seems right to a man but the end thereof is destruction (Prov 14:12; 16:25). If there is a right way to God and a wrong way that terminates in destruction, then theology matters profoundly in a way beyond anything else in the universe. As all other aspects of our world terminate with our own deaths, at least for us, theology matters for eternity. The columns that follow will examine God and his ways and purposes. Stay tuned.
Paige Patterson, President
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Fort Worth, Texas
 B. F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971), 167.
 Ibid., 191.
One of my favorite quotes is from Sir Isaac Newton, discoverer of the law of gravity. In a letter to Robert Hooke on February 5, 1676, Newton wrote, “If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Newton saw farther than anyone had before, precisely because he was willing to learn from those who had gone before him. Just imagine what life would be like if all anyone ever knew was the knowledge they accumulated on their own. There would be no electricity, no light bulb, no telephone, no computers, no cars, no airplanes, no space travel, and, gasp, no iPhone.
But because men learned from those who had gone before, these inventions and many more were possible. Sadly, many preachers like to work in an anti-intellectual vacuum, gleaning nothing from the God-gifted men who have gone before them. God has especially equipped the body of Christ with teachers, evangelist, and pastors. I thank God for men like Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Augustine, Anselm, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Newton, John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and a host of others, who are, without a doubt, God’s gifts to the church. By studying the writings of these gifted men, we are enabled to “stand on their shoulders.”
The Word on reading
I believe that there is actually a biblical admonition to learn from others found in Ephesians 4:11-13 where Paul explains how the resurrected and ascended Christ has gifted his church.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
I don’t think what Paul said here applies only to those living in our contemporary generation. Nor do I believe that it only applies to those in the same location. The church universal is much larger than our local congregation. It extends to all those saints, past and present, from east to west who have placed their hope in Christ and his sacrificial atonement. Therefore, the teachers, evangelists, and pastors from whom we have the privilege of learning stretch across the 2,000 years of church history (chronologically) and from pole to pole (geographically). In order to access this rich heritage, we need to read books.
Baptists and books
Historically, Baptists have recognized the importance of learning from the works of others. In his book on pastoral ministry, The Temple Repair’d, the seventeenth-century English Baptist pastor Hercules Collins provided his readers with a list of recommend books. Furthermore, when young men in his Wapping church expressed a desire to begin preaching, they were provided with key biblical and theological works. Collins believed that ministers must labor in their study of the Word of God because of the exalted nature of their work as ministers. Commenting on 2 Timothy 2:15, he wrote,
“We should study to be good workmen because our work is of the highest nature. Men that work among jewels and precious Stones ought to be very knowing of their business. A minister’s work is a great work, a holy work, a heavenly work. Hence the Apostle says “Who is sufficient for these things?” O how great a work is this! What man, what angel is sufficient to preach the gospel as they ought to preach it! You work for the highest end, the glory of God, and the good of immortal souls. You are for the beating down of the kingdom of the devil, and enlarging and exalting Christ’s kingdom.”Do not be idle and lazy in the things of God
Collins believed people could “easily perceive from the pulpit whether the man had worked hard at his study the week before, or not.” He believed that 2 Timothy 2:15 refuted those who thought it “unlawful to study to declare God’s mind” and who “contemptuously speak against it, as if we were to preach by inspiration, as the prophets and apostles of old did.” Instead of this lazy approach to the minister’s duty, Collins proposed an alternative that took seriously both the divine command to study and the necessity of reliance upon the Holy Spirit:
We may say in this case, as we use to speak about salvation, that we ought to live so holily as if we were to be saved by our living, and yet when we have done all, to rely upon Christ and his righteousness. So we should labour in study, as if we should have no immediate assistance in the pulpit, and yet when we have done all, to go about our work depending upon God for further assistance.
In this way, minsters may escape the shame that “will attend them that are lazy and idle in the things of God” and receive the implied alternative of honor that “will follow those that are true labourers in the Lord’s vineyard.”
Bring the books
The tendency to downplay the importance of reading and studying books in one’s preparation for preaching has been a perennial issue. Some have sought to downplay the importance of God-honoring books out of false sense of piety. But even the apostle Paul, when in prison, urged Timothy to bring “the books” (2 Tim. 4:13). The nineteenth-century’s Prince of Preachers Charles Haddon Spurgeon commented on the example of Paul in a sermon on 2 Timothy 4:13 titled “Paul—His Cloak and His Books.”
He is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! He has had wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books! He had been caught up in the third heaven, and had heard things unlawful for a man to utter, yet he wants books! He has written a major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books! The apostle says to Timothy and so he says to every Christian, “Give thyself to reading.” The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains proves he has no brains of his own.
Since we have been commanded by God in 2 Timothy 2:15 to rightly handle the Word, this is a privilege we can’t afford to ignore. Again, I quote from Spurgeon who wrote at the beginning of his book Commenting and Commentaries on the importance of commentaries for the pastor.
“In order to be able to expound the Scriptures, and as an aid to your pulpit studies, you will need to be familiar with the commentators: a glorious army, let me tell you, whose acquaintance will be your delight and profit. Of course, you are not such wiseacres as to think or say that you can expound Scripture without assistance from the works of divines and learned men who have labored before you in the field of exposition…. It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others.”
So, allow me to exhort you (not as one who has seen farther, but as one who is still trying to climb higher to view and worship the majesty of our glorious God), study the Scriptures for they are the final revelation of God. However, don’t neglect to read the works of God-gifted men from the past and present, for by climbing on their shoulders you may be able to see farther than you ever have before.
Steve Weaver (Ph.D., SBTS) serves as the senior pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church in Frankfort, Ky. He also serves as an adjunct professor of church history at Southern Seminary. A revised and expanded edition of his dissertation was recently published as Orthodox, Puritan, Baptist: Hercules Collins (1647-1702) and Particular Baptist Identity in Early Modern England (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015).
For many of us who are not pastors or missionaries, integrating our walks of faith and our vocational callings can be a challenge. Throughout church history, there have been some remarkable men and women who have excelled at meeting this challenge. One such example lived in the early centuries of the church. Her name was Bathild (c. 630-c.680), and she found herself in various vocational situations at different stages in her life. In each of those situations, she found opportunities to be a blessing to others and to advance the kingdom of God ...
... I've been reading "Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview" for the past few months and have repeatedly been fascinated by what I am reading. One of my favorite areas of philosophy is ontology, and I was particularly interested in abstract objects. I had heard you explain abstract objects briefly and often in your debates and lectures as one of the only two options for a first cause of the universe. As you've said, abstract objects do not stand in causal relations.
In thinking about this, however, something has come to mind. If abstract objects do not stand in causal relations, what is their relationship with God? Both God and abstract objects are metaphysically necessary beings, meaning that they exist in every possible world. This seems to me to conflict with a theological view that God is the creator of everything. If God didn't exist, nothing would. Though it seems to me that if God didn't exist, abstract objects still would. Thus, it seems that mathematical entities, for instance, would and do exist independently of whether or not God exists ...
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The dialogue between Michael and Jim continues:
Jim: The issue, as I see it, is this: Are we supposed to make decisions according to wisdom or should we look for special guidance from God?
Michael: That’s the question.
Jim: Proverbs tells us that we’re supposed to seek after wisdom in every area of life.
Michael: So wisdom is obviously important.
Jim: Definitely. But Paul describes the believer as one “led by the Spirit.” This description may be broader than simply the internal processes in decision-making, but also probably includes those as well. The Bible also presents many examples of God giving specific guidance to individuals for specific situations by various means ...
The speech of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden last Saturday at the memorial for the five unarmed servicemen killed in Chattanooga demonstrates the difficulty, uncertainty, and confusion among politicians in dealing with Islam and Islamism. The speech shows the apparent dissonance among the various voices in the same political party.
In his speech, Biden identified the shooter, Mohammad Youssef Abdul-Aziz, as “perverted jihadist.” His words even described the shooter as a part of a group of “perverse ideologues, warped theocrats.” This description significantly links the shooter with a specific religious system that itself possesses a unique ideology, and goes clearly against earlier reluctance of his administration in addressing the matter.
Defining true Islam and what Islamism really means is not only difficult among politicians. Followers of other faiths, including evangelical pastors, also find similar difficulty as the various faces of Islam create significant ambiguity in determining which is the true Islam.
Religiously Motivated or Not?
Last month, Jeh Johnson, secretary of U.S. Department of Homeland Security, refrained from using the term “Islamic” in commenting on such attacks, preferring to downplay any religious motivations behind them. For Johnson, this is simply a case of “violent extremism” rather than a shooting rampage motivated by religion. While it is officially confirmed that the shooter attacked servicemen after texting an authentic saying of the prophet Muhammad, “Whosoever shows enmity to a friend of Mine, then I have declared war against him,” official investigators have not been able yet to determine a motive behind the attack.
It appears obvious to me that today’s global West spends considerable effort, significant time, and extensive resources attempting to differentiate Islam from Islamism. It is an effort to disassociate and unlink any violent extremist attack (that looks Islamic in its essence) with any religious motivation embedded in Islamic tenets. The emphasis is on choosing words that offend nobody without identifying the role of theology or the motivating sacred texts. Thus, we hear comments that ISIS is not really Islamic and Boko Haram is a bunch of lunatics who have nothing to do with Islam. Ironically, both of these militant groups constantly portray themselves as applying the authentic texts of Islam.
In the Muslim world, the matter is quite different.
Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in his response to the U.S. labeling his country a “moderate Islamic country,” affirms that “It is unacceptable for us to agree with such a definition.” For him, “Turkey has never been a country to represent such a concept,” as “Islam cannot be classified as moderate or not.”
Erdoğan’s strong statement appeared in Hurriyet Daily News, a major leading news source for Turkey. This statement is not only against America’s constant attempt to emphasize moderate Islam and downplay its radical and extremist faces, but also against the very concept of how the U.S. approaches and defines Islam.
Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, the most prestigious seat of Sunni Islam, does not agree with the deeds of militant groups such as ISIS, but still considers its members true Muslims. Al-Azhar insists that it cannot label any Muslim man as kafir (disbeliever or infidel) based merely on his evil deeds, as long as this man does not reject Allah’s strict monotheism and the prophethood of Muhammad.
The statement of al-Azhar stems from a deep conviction based on a religious, doctrinal, and theological understanding of the Quran and Muhammad’s authentic sayings. ISIS members, according to al-Azhar, are Muslims, and no one can identify them otherwise. ISIS’s understanding of Islam, it appears, is one of the various legitimate ways the religion is interpreted.
Political Correctness vs. Theological Correctness
I am convinced that most Muslims and non-Muslims alike are horrified with groups, or individuals, claiming to be Muslim while selling and raping non-Muslim women, slaughtering and massacring innocent unarmed civilians, abducting and kidnapping children, and marauding and looting entire cities under the banner of Islam, claiming obedience to Allah’s commands.
However, while the non-Muslim world, in responding to violence and extremism done under the banner of Islam, continuously seeks to be politically-correct, the Muslim community worldwide is more concerned with theological-correctness, as the sacred texts direct behaviors, control discourses, and drive convictions.
The same text that motivates and supports ISIS is the one used by al-Azhar to refrain from labeling its members as non-Muslims. Thus, to be accurate in describing Islam of all stripes, we must take it on its own terms.
Ayman Ibrahim is assistant professor of Islamic studies and senior fellow for the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. A native of Cairo, Egypt, Ibrahim earned his Ph.D. with an emphasis in Islamic studies from Fuller Theological Seminary.
The dialogue between Michael and Jim continues:
Michael: How do you know things are going well? How do you know you’re not actually doing badly in your walk with God and that you just don’t realize it?
Jim: What kind of question is that?
Michael: A question to frustrate you.
Jim: Thanks ...
Every kid in America heard that question umpteen times growing up. The answers are as varied as the kids themselves. My 13-year-old daughter’s dream vocation seems to change as often as she changes her clothes.
College students hear a version of this age old question, too. Most often it’s, “What’s your major?” The follow up question is just as stereotypical: “What are you going to do with that degree?” Here, too, the answers often change with the seasons.
Sometimes the answer(s) to this question isn’t easy to find. In my own case I was well into my fourth decade before I started to get a clearer sense of what I really wanted to be when I grew up. Along the way I had jumped out of airplanes for Uncle Sam as an Army Ranger. I spent 10 years in advertising. Then it hit me. I wanted to be . . . was supposed to be . . . God was calling me to be . . . something.
Understanding your calling in life is one of the great challenges facing all of us. Kids get it. That’s why they start talking about what they want to be when they grow up while they’re still young. Christians sort of get it. We talk about it but we usually limit it to pastors. That’s unfortunate and often causes a great deal of confusion and stress, particularly for those who sense God’s calling on their lives and are seeking to follow the path he sets before them.
Speaking in the broadest sense possible, there are three callings of God upon man. First, there is the universal call to repentance and faith in Christ. Second is the call for all Christians to make disciples of others. Third, there is the call to vocational ministry, the one that compels some to give up their careers, their homes, their fiscal security, and head off to seminary (or at least log on) with grand hopes of changing the world for Christ.
Charles Spurgeon helpfully explained the nature of the call to ministry in his seminal Lectures to My Students. He wrote of various indicators that point to God’s calling on your life: Scripture, the affirmation of the church, even an unquenchable desire to do nothing else with one’s life. Those words have helped many confirm their call to service. What they don’t do is define one’s vocational destiny.
Many of my seminary peers knew from day one the exact nature of their calling. They were going to be pastors or missionaries. Some even could tell you the people group God was calling them to serve. My call was nowhere near that certain when I first arrived on campus. All I knew was the God loved me, and I wanted to serve him.
In fact, my first three years in school were marked by vocational uncertainty. I could tell you what I didn’t believe God’s call on my life entailed, but I couldn’t tell you what it did mean. I was certain I wasn’t called to be a pastor. I thought maybe it was to some sort of educational ministry but at that time my understanding of such a thing was limited to the educational minister that I had observed in our most recent church home. That sense of calling, however, wasn’t out of conviction. It was out of default. I just didn’t know what else was out there. As I learned more, I began to question more. What is it that God’s called me to do?
Then things changed. I started doing pulpit supply. I was called to a small church in the city. We saw moderate success occasionally and unquestionable failure frequently. Along the way, I learned something about my calling. This clarion call didn’t come in the form of angelic voices or heavenly visions. It was the raspy voice of a dear old saint who should have given up smoking years earlier. One night following our Bible study she raised her wrinkled hand. She then boldly informed me that I was “a much better teacher than a preacher.” The rest of the gathering giggled nervously at the boldness of what they perceived to be an insult. I, on the other hand, took it to be a confirmation from the Lord.
From the night forward I began to change my ministry focus. I continued to pastor that little church for a few more years, and then another while I finished my studies. But now I came at it as a pastor-theologian, a pastor-teacher. I saw Paul’s admonition about elders being able to teach in a whole new light. I finally understood why I wasn’t completely happy in the pulpit. I was trying to be something I wasn’t. I was trying to be someone else. That sweet old lady finally gave me permission to be me.
Contrary to what we often hear, God doesn’t always call us to do those things we wouldn’t do on our own. He doesn’t always force us to do accept a radical shift in our approach to life—though he sometimes does. More often than not, he calls us to his service by having us use the lives he’s given us to live. My gifts are naturally bent toward teaching. That’s what I was doing in the local church when God called me to the ministry.
I spent years trying to find that “supernatural,” “holier than thou” calling that had no connection to my past life or interests. Then, I discovered that God was using all of my life’s experiences as a Ranger, as an artist, even as a student to prepare me for the ministry he had for me.
Today, 20 years after my first sense of God’s call the guy who didn’t enjoy school, who couldn’t imagine being able to spend four years in college, spends every day in the classroom. I’m a teacher. I also pastor a church that’s rediscovered its mission after 70 years. Pastor-teacher. That’s who God made me to be. Just as Paul’s experience as a Pharisee equipped him perfectly to counter the efforts of the Judaizers, God has sanctified my secular experiences to his benefit.
God readied me for my call long before I heard it. What I once thought of as my “wasted years” because they weren’t spent in a very “spiritual” way turned out to be my apprenticeship. As you seek to understand your calling while pursuing your studies at seminary, don’t ignore your past. It might hold the key to your future.
Peter Beck (Ph.D., SBTS) serves as associate professor of Christian studies and director of the honors program at Charleston Southern University in Charleston, S.C. He is also pastor of Doorway Baptist Church. Peter is a three-time graduate of Southern Seminary.