Occasionally I find myself in a conversation with a non-Christian friend. Sometimes, I have to pay close attention to the language I use if the talk turns to things related to God and ultimate reality. I do the same when I talk to my children about Bible things. I want to be understood, but the normal Christian terms are a foreign language to many people, Christians included. The terms are difficult to use when they don’t communicate.
With the movie remake of Left Behind coming to theaters next month, there will certainly be a lot of talk about the book of Revelation and the end times in the media and churches throughout the world. Many pastors will consider preaching the book of Revelation as a way to capitalize on such interest. But with so many books and commentaries available on the subject, what are the best resources to consult?
To help you preach through the book of Revelation, here’s an excerpt from David Allen’s Preaching Tools: An Annotated Survey of Commentaries and Preaching Resources for Every Book of the Bible.Click here to get FREE ebook version of Preaching Tools by signing up to receive emails from Theological Matters.
REVELATION Exegetical Commentaries
Aune, David. Revelation. WBC. 3 volumes. Dallas: Word, 1997–1998.
This is the most massive commentary on Revelation, weighing in at more than 1,350 pages. The introduction alone is 250 pages. Engages in unnecessary redaction-criticism, is highly technical, and is lacking in theological analysis but covers the linguistic, literary, historical, and every other waterfront with encyclopedic treatment. This will be too heavy for many pastors, but some will want to consult it.
Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation. NIGTC. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.
Beale’s work must be reckoned as one of the top commentaries on the apocalypse. This is a comprehensive treatment of the book. Focuses on the use of the Old Testament in Jewish exegetical traditions as key to the book. Strong on historical background and careful attention to the argument. Occasionally dense prose. Amillennial perspective. No one agrees completely with any commentator on Revelation, but one cannot afford to neglect what Beale says.
Osborne, Grant R. Revelation. BECNT. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002.
True to form, Osborne has written a solid exegetical/expositional commentary on Revelation.
Thomas, Robert. Revelation 1–7: An Exegetical Commentary. WEC. Chicago: Moody, 1992.
An excellent exegetical treatment. Thomas interprets the book in a premillennial, pretribulational fashion.
________. Revelation 8–22: An Exegetical Commentary. WEC. Chicago: Moody, 1995.
See above.Listen to audio from Southwestern’s Advanced Expository Preaching Workshop on preaching through Revelation. Expository Commentaries
Keener, Craig S. Revelation. NIVAC. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000.
Keener is most helpful to the preacher on the issue of application.
Mounce, Robert H. Revelation. NICNT. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997.
Mounce’s work is well worth your time. Those with little or no background in Greek will benefit from this volume, as will all others. Premillennial perspective. I would consult it if preaching through Revelation.
Patterson, Paige. Revelation. NAC. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2012.
This is Patterson’s magnum opus, the fruit of years of study and preaching from the apocalypse. Thoroughly sound exegesis, exposition, application, and thoroughly premillennial. Those with a different eschatology should not ignore this important commentary. Expositors cannot afford to be without it.
Phillips, John. Exploring Revelation. Chicago: Moody, 1974.
Expositors will glean lots of helpful exposition, illustrations, and applications, not to mention outlines, from Phillips. Premillennial perspective.
Walvoord, John. The Revelation of Jesus Christ. Chicago: Moody, 1966.
This is an older but very solid premillennial treatment of Revelation from the former president of Dallas Theological Seminary. Probably his best work. Readable, clear, concise, but meaty treatment.Special Studies
Michaels, J. Ramsey. Interpreting the Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992.
This volume is part of the Guides to New Testament Exegesis series, some of which are out of print. Provides a concise introduction to issues of genre, authorship, historical and social setting, and structure, followed by chapters on text criticism, grammar and style, narrative criticism, tradition history, and theological interpretation. Regardless of one’s own take concerning Revelation, this is a very helpful volume.Sermons
Criswell, W. A. Expository Sermons on Revelation. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966.
These excellent sermons represent the very best from Criswell, the famed pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, from 1944 until 1994. Criswell preached through books of the Bible in his church. Premillennial perspective. This is a volume you cannot afford to be without when preaching through Revelation.
Seiss, Joseph A. The Apocalypse: A Series of Special Lectures on the Revelation of Jesus Christ.
Originally published in 1865, it has been reprinted numerous times. Smith calls it the most famous expository work in our language (1939): “There is no man in the English world today … a pastor of a church as Seiss was, who is equipped both with a knowledge of the Word and a gift of oratory, to deliver such a series of lectures as these.”Click here to get FREE ebook version of Preaching Tools by signing up to receive emails from Theological Matters.
In this post I want to talk about the relationship of suffering to the spiritual issues that our culture often refers to as mental illness. At times the biblical counseling movement has received a bad rap for equating the kinds of spiritual issues on the table in counseling with sin. I want to make clear that sins aren’t the only kinds of spiritual issues that biblical counselors want to address.
Sin is an Issue in Counseling
Many people that come for help are struggling with sinful living. Rage, lust, anxiety, and selfishness are all problems psychology medicalizes. God calls them sin. Christians committed to counseling the Scriptures are literally the only people who know this, who can call these problems what they are, and offer true help.
Related: Join Heath Lambert at the Counsel The Word conference at Southern Seminary September 18-19.
Many people are concerned that Christians who point out sin to their counselees will make them feel guilty. Such thoughts are misplaced. Sinful people are guilty whether they feel it or not. In Christ we have a redeemer who rescues us from the guilt of sin. When biblical counselors point out sin they are pointing out a difficulty for which we have a solution in the person and work of Jesus. Secular psychologists call this guilt inducement. The Bible calls it good news!
People Suffer Too
Though sin is an issue in biblical counseling, it is not the only one. People come to counseling for many reasons that extend beyond their own personal sin. Spouses are victims of domestic violence, children are molested by those they love, people are in spiritual turmoil over a devastating medical diagnosis. There are hundreds and thousands of reasons why someone might seek counseling help for a difficulty that is not their fault.
Depression is one example.
In The Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, He opened his mouth and taught them, saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:2-3).
In this passage Jesus talks about those who are poor in spirit. Different people in different cultures use different language to refer to people called poor in spirit. Whether we call it melancholy, sorrow, anguish, or depression there is a category of sad people who are not judged by Jesus, but honored and promised reward. The people who are sad in the way Jesus discusses here are not condemned, but esteemed.
The kind of sorrow that Jesus is referencing here is anguish over sin, but the sorrow itself is praiseworthy. Only a faithless counselor would rebuke a person in such pain. Jesus, the wonderful counselor, promises them the Kingdom!
Multiple Kinds of Sorrow
The Apostle Paul talks about two kinds of sorrow in 2 Corinthians 7. There is worldly sorrow that leads to death and godly sorrow that leads to life (2 Cor 7:10). The worldly sorrow that leads to death is sorrow, which is focused on self and the things of the world, rather than God. The godly sorrow that leads to life is focused on Jesus. Worldly sorrow is bad, and needs a rebuke. Godly sorrow is virtuous, and worthy of praise.
The biblical teaching in this regard is helpful in several ways.
Related: Learn about our Master of Divinity degree with a concentration in Biblical Counseling
First, it keeps us from the error of thinking that it is never wrong to be sad. There is a kind of anguish that the Bible condemns.
Second, however, it keeps us from the error that all sorrow is bad and needs correcting. The kind of sorrow Paul emphasizes with the Corinthians is goodsorrow. Paul was happy that the Corinthians had this kind of anguish (2 Cor 7:9). There is a certain kind of sorrow we should encourage.
When you understand the importance of the body as we discussed in Part 3 of this series we also can make room for sorrow that is not spiritual, as in 2 Corinthians 7, but is physical. For example if a person has a problem called hypothyroidism their thyroid does not produce enough thyroid hormone. This will lead to feelings of intense sorrow. This is not the fault of the person with the problem. They have a physical weakness for which they need medical help. When we draw near to such people with that kind of care the Bible calls it helping the weak (1 Thess 5:14).
Counseling and Comfort
Biblical counselors should want to provide ultimate comfort to any who come for counseling. We must understand that people who are struggling with sins are suffering in ways they might not even appreciate. Providing ultimate comfort to them means extending a loving, gentle rebuke.
We should also want to comfort folks who are struggling with pain that doesn’t need a rebuke. In this brief discussion on depression we looked at three kinds of causes for it in the Bible and saw that two are spiritual in nature, and one is physical. Only one kind of sorrow needs a rebuke--that is the spiritual variety that has to do with sin. The other two kinds of sorrow, suffering and physical issues, require encouragement and physical care.
This is biblical evidence that requires all of us to move towards people offering help with their sufferings, not merely their sin. It is also strong encouragement in the varied and profound wisdom provided in the Scriptures. There is no source in the world, outside the Bible, that supplies such wisdom.
Heath Lambert serves as assistant professor of biblical counseling as well as the department coordinator of biblical counseling at Southern Seminary and Boyce College. In addition Dr. Lambert serves as Executive Director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. He has authored several books including Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace (Zondervan), The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams (Crossway), and the editor (with Stuart Scott) of Counseling the Hard Cases: True Stories Illustrating the Sufficiency of God’s Resources in Scripture (B&H). You can connect with Dr. Lambert on Twitter and Facebook. This article was originally published on the ACBC blog. (Used with permission)
Dear Dr. Craig,
In his debate with you and, on pp. 175 & 211 in his book "Jesus is Dead," Dr. Robert Price argues that the notion of resurrections are likely not all that unexpected in 2nd Temple Judaism and/or totally absent from the 1st century Jewish world view. He specifically cites the case of some wondering if Jesus is the resurrected John the Baptist.
Beyond your answer that points out Price's essential category error (resurrected mere men are not the same thing as the expectation of a resurrected Messiah), could you please elaborate further as to why the two instances (Jesus mistaken as John resurrected and Jewish allowances for a dying & resurrected God) are wholly distinct?
This banner was hanging around Southern Seminary's campus as Jimmy Scroggins walked the halls. Its words "For the truth, for the church, for the world, for the glory of God," highlight a commitment to core convictions that continue to be reflected throughout student and alumni stories today. Scroggins is one of those alumni.
Two-time alumnus of Southern and former dean of Boyce College Jimmy Scroggins recently shared with chapel attendees in Louisville, Kentucky how important his seminary training has been to his ministry to lost people and to hurting families.
"Quote to be confirmed from Scroggins. Hoping for something like...Times are changing. Family dynamics are dwarfing into situations to where today's pastor can never be surprised or alarmed. We have to be theologically grounded and we need to have gone through the rigorous process seminary provides. The testing of our own faith as we study, the Biblical education that's uncompromised and the support network we garner - there's no doubt my time at Southern proves priceless to our work today," said Scroggins, who graduated from Southern with an M.Div. as well as a Ph.D. and now pastors First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, Florida.
In that same chapel sermon and since then at the 2014 SBC Annual Meeting, Scroggins shared his three circles evangelism tool. That tool, now being featured by the Southern Baptists' North American Mission Board, is one of the ways he reaches hurting families trying to find their way back into God's design and gospel hope.
For more information about Scroggins, read our recent news stories. For more information about Southern, plan a visit on Preview Days coming soon or subscribe to Scene at Southern for helpful links to upcoming information.
For many residents, South Florida may very well seem like paradise on earth.
The year-round tropical climate draws both young and old seeking an idyllic lifestyle of warm temperatures, beautiful beaches and carefree living.
But the fallout of the moral revolution is all too obvious in the southeastern corridor of the Sunshine State. Marked by lives broken by the false promises of sexual liberation and family redefinition, many people in West Palm Beach have less than blissful lives.
Jimmy Scroggins, a two-time alumnus of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and former dean of Boyce College, Southern’s undergraduate school, saw the devastating consequences of the moral revolution shortly after arriving five years ago as the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach.
A journey begun
Scroggins realized he was no longer in the Bible Belt when seven of eight couples who signed-up for a marriage preparation class were already living together — some after multiple marriages, some with children from multiple prior relationships in and out of wedlock and most were not even Christians.
A native of Jacksonville, Fla., about five hours up the east coast of Florida, Scroggins’ more than 15 years of pastoral ministry experiences there and in Louisville, Ky., were meager preparation for what he found in South Florida.
Scroggins offered the marriage class to get to know his new congregation and so that he and his wife, Kristin, could model biblical marriage. The Scroggins have been married since 1994 and are parents to six boys and two girls, ages 17 to 4.
“I realized things were going to have to be different here and that class began a journey for me, and therefore for our church, into trying to discover what it would be like if our community felt like we really had open doors to them,” Scroggins told Southern Seminary Magazine in a recent interview at his church facility located in the heart of downtown West Palm Beach.
The church’s sanctuary overlooks Lake Worth — part of the Intracoastal Waterway that separates the city from Palm Beach, the narrow, eastern-most strip of land next to the Atlantic Ocean populated by the very wealthy — where multi-million-dollar yachts are commonplace.
Located 75 miles north of Miami’s famous South Beach, the congregation has been a traditional, prominent Southern Baptist church for most of its venerable, 112-year history. By the time Scroggins arrived in 2008, First Baptist had been without a permanent senior pastor for five years, with the exception of a brief, controversial pastorate that deepened what was already an increasingly troubled congregation.
After five years under Scroggins’ leadership, the congregation — now existing in three locations, as well as two language-based satellites — is thriving again. But the multi-ethnic, socio-economically diverse congregation — comprised of those on public assistance all the way to the incredibly affluent — has had to embrace its unique setting and challenges.
“This situation presents a tremendous opportunity for the gospel of Jesus,” Scroggins excitedly said during an hour-long interview.
The opportunity, however, comes with major challenges, some of which are the fallout of America’s moral revolution that has turned upside down societal understandings and expectations about the nature of the family, marriage and sexual activity.
As many know in our nation, on August 9, 2014, an African-American male from the small community of Ferguson, Missouri, once again became the star of another tragic American drama. Michael Brown, an unarmed 18 year old African-American teenager, was shot six times by Darren Wilson, a white St. Louis County cop. The aftermath of Brown’s tragic death created excessive violence both toward and from African-Americans. Brown’s family has urged residents of Ferguson to forgive and to abstain from violence, but many African-Americans (and some whites) have taken their anger to the streets of Ferguson in protest of Brown’s shooting. Their acts of protest have resulted in even more violence and have resulted in more tragedy for African-Americans in this small Missouri suburb.
As an African-American Christian, my first reactions to another sad story of a young African-American’s life snuffed out too soon consist of anger and sadness, because another African-American life was cut short and because another African-American family grieves the death of a son. However, I am not in the least surprised by this sad event or by the series of subsequent events that have emerged in the aftermath of Brown’s death. The reason is simple: Adam’s transgression has enduring effects on modern day race relations.
In Genesis 2:17, God promises a universal curse of judgment upon the entire cosmos if Adam disobeyed his command in the Garden of Eden. As soon as Adam disobeyed, his sin brought the immediate curse of sin and death into the entire creation (Genesis 3:14-19; Romans 5:12). Sin’s universal power over creation due to Adam’s transgression manifests itself in multifarious and nefarious ways throughout the Genesis narrative (e.g. pain in child-bearing, the difficulty of work, human depravity etc. [see Genesis 3:14-19; 6:5]). In Genesis 4:8, sin first manifests its power in a violent way over the entire creation by means of murder.
The first violent act committed by one human against another occurs in Genesis after Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:17-4:8). Once sin’s lethal fangs sank its teeth into God’s good creation through Adam’s transgression, the entire creation became subject to sin’s tyrannical power. Unfortunately, creation will continue to be subject to sin’s power until God emancipates creation from its current futility (Romans 8:19-25). Creation’s futility because of Adam’s transgression is currently being manifested in Ferguson via violence and the numerous violent responses to Mr. Brown’s shooting.
The Bible presents the gospel of Jesus Christ as the only solution to the enduring effects of Adam’s transgression on race relations (Galatians 2:11-21; Ephesians 2:11-22). Yet, many African-American citizens of Ferguson have chosen another path besides the reconciling power of the gospel. Various media outlets have shown many African-Americans in fierce protest in the streets of the Ferguson community in an effort to take justice into their own hands. Some protests have resulted in violence. And violent protests have resulted in more suffering for many African-Americans in Ferguson. In addition, fiery speeches delivered by certain civil rights leaders have only added fuel to angry fires in Ferguson, without offering the citizens of this troubled community the true hope found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
However, the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims a message of hope to all African-Americans (and to all races) during this very dark time in American history. The gospel says that the best way to defeat sin’s weapon of violence and to reconcile race relations in Ferguson and throughout the world is with the bloody, resurrection-empowered, and reconciliatory gospel of the crucified, resurrected, and exalted Lord Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, because of the enduring effects of Adam’s transgressions on race relations, Mr. Brown’s story will not be the last report of a police officer (white or black) gunning down an unarmed African-American for questionable reasons. African-Americans will in all likelihood continue to gun down fellow African-Americans in many of America’s streets and cities, and African-Americans will continue to be the victims of unjust violence from those in positions of power and privilege. And no human or natural effort or device will be able to stop these enduring effects of Adam’s transgression on African-Americans — neither marches nor protests, neither laws nor policies, neither arrests nor police brutality, neither tear gas nor guns, neither programs nor propaganda, and neither campaigns nor inspiring speeches from famous civil rights leaders.
The problem in Ferguson is fundamentally a spiritual problem, that is, a sin problem. Adam’s transgression has created death within every human heart, and every human heart regardless of race rebels against God and against his fellow-man (Genesis 3:8-9; 4:8; 6:1-6; Rom 3:9-18). Ever since Adam’s transgression and because of Adam’s transgression, humanity has always and will continue to act out the wickedness that is in his heart (Genesis 6:5). As a result, Adam’s transgression will continue to manifest itself in many ways, including the violence against African-Americans and other ethno-racial communities throughout the world, unless Christians use the supernatural weapon of the gospel to destroy the effects of Adam’s transgressions.
God himself offered his Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross and to resurrect from the dead in order to reverse the universal curse of Adam’s transgression and to reconcile sinners to himself and to one another (John 3:16; Romans 3:21-26; 5:6-21; Ephesians 2:11-22). Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can transform the human heart. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can rid the world of racism; only the gospel of Jesus Christ can create love where there is hate; and only the gospel of Jesus Christ can once and for all end the enduring effects of Adam’s transgression over creation, a transgression that continues to show its ugly face by means of violence against African-Americans in Ferguson and against other races throughout the world.
If Christians want to see less racial violence, we must believe, proclaim, and live the gospel of Jesus Christ and allow it to move us to gospel-action in the church and in society. We cannot simply talk about the gospel, write books about the gospel, preach sermons about the gospel, write blogs about the gospel, or give lectures about the gospel—as important as all of these things are — in the comfort of our homes or offices without interacting in critical engagement with real people in our culture. And Christians can no longer believe the lie that race relations, racial issues, and racial reconciliation are social issues instead of gospel issues — perish the thought! Christians must instead preach the ethno-racial gospel that centers on the death and resurrection of a Jewish Messiah, who died on the cross and resurrected from the dead precisely to save some races of people from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation to make them a new race and new kingdom in Christ (Revelation 5:9-10). And Christians must act out the gospel in our churches and in society to put to death the enduring effects of Adam’s transgression by becoming engaged in the various racial problems that face the church.
Violence is not an African-American problem or uniquely an American problem. Rather, it’s a sin problem. The entire church of Jesus Christ throughout the world must be armed with God’s power unto salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16) and prayer to fight against the enduring effects of Adam’s sin. May God help all gospel believing churches by the power of his Spirit to arm themselves with the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ and with prayer in the spiritual war of reversing the violent effects of Adam’s transgression on race relations (Ephesians 6:10-17), violence which is currently being seen in Ferguson and in other parts of the world by the violent suffering of many.
Jarvis J. Williams serves as Associate Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Seminary. He is the author of Maccabean Martyr Traditions in Paul’s Theology of Atonement: Did Martyr Theology Shape Paul’s Conception of Jesus’s Death?, One New Man: The Cross and Racial Reconciliation in Pauline Theology, and For Whom Did Christ Die? The Extent of the Atonement in Paul’s Theology.
by Kirk Spencer
I was multi-tasking in my backyard—digging and listening to the radio and thinking about my Bible study. I was thinking about the darkness on the deep and the Spirit of God there hovering; about how the ancients feared the deep (the ocean). The deep came to represent danger and chaos and absurdity in life; like the chaos I was listening to on the radio, bad news all around—as usual—but recently, more bad than usual: celebrities taking their own lives, terrorist taking whole cities, Kurdish Christians killed, barbaric butchery, babies killed, human shields, terror tunnels, street riots in mid-America; a new scandal every news cycle; and a continuous crisis of leadership. It was so depressing. I put down the shovel, went over to my vintage “boombox” and changed the station. I tuned to KCBI (something I do often when I need a little escape from the absurdity).
And then I had this thought.
I thought about that day on the Sea of Galilee, where the disciples were watching Jesus walking on the waves, strolling in the chaos of the deep—thinking He was a spirit hovering—about how Peter wanted to walk with Him in the midst of the absurdity. And Jesus said one word. “Come.” And Peter stepped out upon this word and walked on the waves with the Word of God; that is until he took his eyes off the Word. Then he went under. But Jesus was still there with him… hovering. “And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him…” He has caught me too… so many times.
The One Who Calms the Waves
We may no longer fear the ocean as did the Ancients, but there is certainly chaos and danger in our deep world, growing deeper along with our media. It is easy to spend so much (too much) of our lives looking at (and listening to) the electromagnetic “waves,” rather than the One who can calm the waves… and can catch us when we trip over them?
So I was thinking these things and moving dirt, and listening to music on the radio waves, when these beautiful lyrics filled my garden:
You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand
And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior
I will call upon Your name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine
[“Dear Heavenly Father: Walk with me in the deep. Show me how to live for You, even in the absurdity.]
 “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)”
By Hillsong United
My previous posts have looked at several examples of the different ways God interacted with non-Israelite nations. Ken Berding suggested that I compile a list of the non-Israelite followers of YHWH in the Old Testament. Without further ado, here they are.
I’m working up a paper on ‘The Story of Israel in Hebrews 11’ and one of the preliminary matters I’m trying to get a handle on is the point of the chapter. That is, before I can say anything about how Hebrews tells Israel’s story, I need to figure out what the author’s trying to do with his ‘catalogue of heroes.’ I was doing a bit of reading in Gary Cockerill’s (magnificent) new commentary and came across an article he’d published about this very issue. In it, he suggests that Hebrews 11 is about encouraging ‘resurrection faith,’ based on its references to resurrection in vv. 17–19 and v. 35. To prove his point, Cockerill argues for the centrality of these two references in the chapter’s structure. Here I’d simply like to summarize his argument and pass it along for consideration.
The centrality of vv. 17–19. Cockerill suggests that vv. 17–19 stand at the center of the chapter’s first major section (vv. 3–31). He begins by arguing that vv. 17–19 climax the ‘Abraham’ section of the ‘Abraham and Moses’ narrative, extending from vv. 8–31. Seven examples of faith are associated with both ‘heroes’—four directly related to the individual and three with their progeny/followers—and, for each, the fourth example (Isaac’s sacrifice, vv. 17–19; Passover, v. 28) acts as a climax. Each concludes the focus on the individual himself, each involves a sacrifice and each results in deliverance from death. Beyond this, Cockerill insists that vv. 17–19 climax the ‘Canaan and Egypt’ section (vv. 8–27) of the ‘Abraham and Moses’ narrative (vv. 8–31), a section Cockerill distinguishes from the ‘Exodus and Conquest’ material (vv. 28–31) within this same larger narrative. Here he notes that vv. 13–22 are situated between chiastically-parallel statements in vv. 8–12 and vv. 23–27 (v. 8//v. 27; vv. 9–10//vv. 24–26; and vv. 11–12//v. 23) and, moreover, that vv. 17–19 form the center of these bracketed verses, since vv. 13–16 and vv. 20–22 are parallel. Finally, Cockerill suggests that vv. 3–7 and vv. 28–31 are also parallel, which, of course, would further underscore the centrality of vv. 8–27 and, thus, vv. 17–19. He admits, however, that this suggestion rests on only one clear parallel, namely vv. 7 and 28.
The centrality of v. 35. Cockerill suggests that v. 35 stands at the center of the chapter’s second major section (vv. 32–38). He argues that the section divides, after an introduction (v. 32), into two ‘catalogues’—a catalogue of triumph (vv. 33–35a) and a catalogue of suffering (vv. 35b–38)—that the two catalogues, each comprising three parts, are chiastically-related (vv. 33abc//vv. 37d–38; vv. 33d–v. 34ab//v. 37abc; and v. 34cde//v. 36), and, therefore, that v. 35, with its ‘resurrection faith,’ stands at the center of the chiasm.
How could it be reasonable to base my life on an ancient book (the Bible was written between 2000 and 3500 years ago)? Indeed, how could it be reasonable to base my life on any book? I should think for myself. To live by someone else’s instructions is to surrender my own mind and personality. That approach produces mindless drones, cultists and terrorists.
Yet for two millennia, followers of Jesus from every culture and language have followed the Bible as their authority, from simple folks to some of history’s most influential scholars and intellectuals, from poor people with no political power to those in positions of great influence. And the world is radically different as a result.
How do we go about articulating a Christian understanding of Islam? What are the distinctives of such an understanding as compared to other understandings? Given that Islam is not a monolithic faith, how do we go about distinguishing between all the variations of Islam current among Muslims themselves? What are the needs of Muslim peoples here in the US and around the globe? What is God doing among Muslim peoples in drawing them to faith in Christ?
Answering questions such as these is part of the mission of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In order to begin answering these questions, it is important to root the Center’s mission within the broader framework of God’s redemptive intentions for humanity including Muslims.
The outworking of God’s plan of redemption began over 4,000 years ago with the pronouncement to our father Abraham that his “seed”––the same seed mentioned in Gen 3:15––would be the source of blessing to all the families of the world (cf. Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14). We know that this seed is the Messiah, Jesus, and that we who believe in him are heirs to these promises by virtue of our position in Christ (cf. Galatians 3:7–16). We also know that our inheritance in Christ comes with certain obligations (and privileges). Among those is our appointment as ambassadors of the gospel for the benefit of every tribe, tongue, people, and nation on the face of the planet. Our inclusion in the multiethnic and multinational Body of Christ as well as the standing mandate we have from Jesus to bequeath our inheritance of faith to other peoples necessitates (and implies) that we will give ourselves to knowing and understanding those to whom we’ve been sent. Christ’s mandate obligates us therefore to articulate a Christian understanding of Islam.
Of the world’s 7+ billion people, 1.7 billion are adherents to some form of Islam. Thus, effective accomplishment of the Great Commission is directly proportional to our level of preparation for service among them; to the extent that we give ourselves earnestly to studying, learning, and engaging Muslim peoples on all levels for their joy and God’s glory. Part of how we go about loving people is by educating ourselves about their histories, beliefs, languages, cultures, likes and dislikes, struggles and aspirations. The Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam exists to explore all these facets and the nuances that make up the world of Islam and Muslim cultures. Accomplishing this task effectively as evangelical scholars of Islam begins by recognizing one basic challenge. It is a challenge that, should we succeed in overcoming it, offers the promise of Kingdom fruit. The challenge I’m referring to is a methodological one, and there are two sides to this challenge. In this first part I’ll address one side of the challenge.
As evangelical Baptists we unashamedly seek to draw from––albeit critically––the history of the Christian intellectual tradition––both East and West––in our analysis, assessment, and response to Islam. In light of this reality, the first side of the methodological challenge we face derives from our location in a secular environment with an academic culture that presumes unbiased neutrality when it comes to investigating religions. This environment requires us to explain and defend the legitimacy of a Christian understanding of Islam. While many of the institutes, universities, and divinity schools offering programs and courses in Islamic studies in the West are beset by the postmodern epistemological crisis, we at Southern Seminary are not. We know the story in which we all dwell, and we are determined to reflect critically on every sphere of culture and human society in the light of that story. No area of study or realm of inquiry is exempt. The truth of the gospel and the comprehensiveness of the biblical worldview informs our approach to other philosophies, cultures, and faith systems. The gospel norms and shapes our paths of investigation. Moreover, our faith obligates us to be accurate in our descriptions and interpretations of Muslim beliefs and practices since honesty and integrity are values that stem from the core of our worldview.
This side of the methodological challenge for us will be overcome by fostering relationships with Muslims so as to understand how they interpret their faith, and by immersing ourselves in Islamic history and the primary sources of Islam––the Qur’ān, ḥadīth, sīra, the sunna (for Sunnis), etc. Our investigations in this regard will be conducted on the basis of established methods of historical inquiry, and our analyses will be normed by our commitment to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture and informed by the Christian intellectual tradition. Granted, this means that we will disagree with our Muslim friends on many issues––theological, ethical, political, cultural––in particular, Islam’s subversion of the grand biblical narrative as revealed in the comprehensive and self-contained story of the Bible. However, as we foster nuanced understandings of how Islam has been understood and practiced, it is our sincere hope that our Muslim friends will come to respect our honest engagement of their tradition.
In the next post I’ll address the second side of the methodological challenge and discuss a promise that awaits us as we work on articulating a Christian understanding of Islam.
J. Scott Bridger serves as the Bill and Connie Jenkins Assistant Professor of World Religions and Islamic Studies. He also serves as the director of the Jenkins center for the Christian Understanding of Islam. You can follow Bridger on twitter at: @jsbridger.
Choosing a Missions Agency is one of the most important decisions you as a missionary must make. This decision will dictate the large picture and small details of your ministry and daily living. So the more time and energy you can give to this decision, the better the fit you will have on the field. Take this season in your life to examine key agencies you are interested in. The following guide can help you pinpoint the deeper issues that may be important to you ...
Almost every cultural issue that a pastor will face today involves gender roles. Whether abortion, pornography, sex trafficking, or the advance of the homosexual platform, every issue revolves around gender and God’s plan for marriage, and on these the Bible is not silent.
No doubt most believers feel like Scripture addresses these issues, but how to connect the truth of Scripture to cultural issues in a way that is both clear and winsome is another thing all together.
This is why I am grateful that the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention will host its national conference on The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage, October 27-29, in Nashville, TN. The conference will cover the waterfront of issues surrounding the church as she engages the culture for the Kingdom of God.
There may not be a more pressing arena for the church to engage. If you desire to winsomely articulate biblical answers to the issues of today, I strongly encourage you to be a part of this conference.
Toward that end we at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary are offering a course for credit surrounding the conference. If you’re interested you need to enroll in both the conference and the course separately, as well as secure travel and lodging in Nashville. Register Today!
I hope to see you in Nashville. The times have never been more urgent.
During his lifetime, C. S. Lewis (1898–1963) received thousands of letters from young fans who had read the Chronicles of Narnia and wanted to connect with the author. One such fan was an American girl named Joan Lancaster, who wrote to Lewis in June of 1956. We don’t know exactly what Joan wrote in her letter, but Lewis’s reply is one of the many letters preserved in his book Letters to Children (63–65). (As a side note, if you begin reading this little book you probably won’t put it down until you reach the last page. Lewis’s graciousness and creativity in these letters is quite refreshing. For a university professor, he treated children rather well.)
In his reply to his young admirer, Lewis talked about the nature of language and writing. He said that in his view “good English” was basically “whatever educated people talk,” and that this would necessarily vary depending on region and time. More significantly, he offered her five suggestions about how to become a better writer. Reading these, I realized that most of us could benefit from the advice. Here are Lewis’s suggestions with a little commentary added:
- Always try to use language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.
In other words, be clear. If what you write could be misunderstood, it probably will be. When writing a term paper, article, or book review, try to have someone read what you’ve written aloud to you. Does it sound right? Did the reader stumble over certain sentences because he or she couldn’t tell where the emphasis belonged?
- Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.
A helpful book in this regard is William Brohaugh’s Write Tight. If you have a tendency to blow past page limits when writing, you need to read this book. Long words don’t necessarily make a writer sound intelligent, in fact, sometimes quite the opposite. Regardless, you should be writing to communicate something, not to prop up your self-image, and good communication is usually direct and appropriately concise.
- Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”
Sometimes abstract nouns are needed, especially in academic papers. But when they are not, using them just adds another layer between the writer’s mind and that of the reader.
- In writing, don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers “Please will you do my job for me.”
In grammar school you were likely taught to use lots of adjectives in order to make your writing more interesting. You were taught wrong. Whether you are writing fiction or prose, don’t pile on the adjectives. Instead, use strong nouns and verbs to communicate what you mean.
- Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.
More generally, don’t misuse words. Lewis uses the example of “infinitely.” The word I see (and hear) misused the most is “literally.” E.g., People say that they “literally died of laughing.” Unless you’ve figured out a way to communicate from the grave, you shouldn’t use this phrase. Make sure you are using the right word in the right place. Check a dictionary or usage guide if you’re not sure. The best long-term solution to the problem of misusing words is to read a lot of good literature. Good writers can help their readers become better writers.
A lot more could be said, but a wordy post about good writing would be rather ironic. If you are interested in improving your writing, a great little book to check out is Doug Wilson’s Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life. In about 120 pages, Wilson provides more advice about how to write well than most of us will ever be able to implement—though it wouldn’t hurt to try.
Recently, State Senator Tim Solobay of Pennsylvania introduced a bill (Senate Bill 391) for consideration that would make expungement possible for individuals who have committed crimes other than misdemeanors. The proposal would “allow some individuals who have been convicted of misdemeanors of the 2nd and 3rd degree to apply to have the records expunged if they have not been arrested or convicted for 7 to 10 years (depending on the offense) prior to requesting the expungement.” Some have referred to this as the “young and dumb” exception. The bill was recently referred (October 2013) to the House Judiciary Committee.
Leaving expungement (and the particular issues of Senate Bill 391) aside, I’m intrigued by the prospect of a “young and dumb” exception in ministry. To be sure, expectations of pastors and staff are unique to each context and individual. Indeed, the subjectivity of the Pastoral expectations is often the elephant in every church meeting room. But ministers new in ministry often face an unusual catch-22. One cannot obtain experience until they have experience.
Too often, churches with good intentions, place unrealistically high expectations on staff whom they hire with the pre-existing condition of youth and inexperience. We accept that rookies in baseball or football will make mistakes. It is a natural part of their development. Can we not show that same measure of understanding for those new in ministry?
Now, I am certainly not advocating for lowering our standards below the Biblical mandate outlined for ministers. On the other hand, I would like to appeal for a measure of grace for a particular demographic of church leaders — new and young ministers. I submit to you that if a church calls a young man to serve in the role of Pastor, you do not have the right to expect that he has the maturity of a seasoned minister.
You can’t have it both ways. If you want someone with experience and maturity, then you should adjust your search accordingly. However, if you want someone with youth and freshness, or dare I say, someone easier to afford, please remember that experience only comes through experiences. Obviously, if he is still doing those same immature things ten years from now, he can no longer claim to be young and dumb, because he will no longer be young.
I doubt very seriously that young pastors make mistakes intentionally. If they are, that may say as much about your search process as it does about the candidate you have chosen. I have the privilege of working with young ministers, and all of them I know want to lead with discernment and live up to the expectations of Scripture and of the church. They have a passion for the Lord and His Word and the conviction to reach the lost. What they need is an understanding environment to allow them and even help them to mature.
I certainly don’t mean to suggest that younger ministers will necessarily make dumb decisions, nor do I mean to dissuade churches from considering them. However, young ministers cannot be expected to know by experience that which they have not experienced.
May I suggest to every search committee and church considering candidates who are new in ministry:
- If you are considering a younger minister to serve on your church staff, recognize that his youthfulness is both an asset and a challenge in his ministry and yours. Don’t expect him to have the maturity of your favorite Pastor who recently retired.
- If you are considering a younger minister to serve on your church staff, allow him the grace and the space to lead, even if it means making a few mistakes along the way. When the mistakes come, forgive him, love him, and encourage him. If you create an environment afraid of mistakes, you’ll foster leaders who are afraid to lead.
- If you are considering a younger minister to serve on your church staff, don’t allow strong personalities in the church overwhelm him with unrealistic expectations. Give him time to learn and grow. He doesn’t necessarily have to be like your favorite former pastor.
- If you are considering a younger minister to serve on your church staff, budget expenses in his package (not out of his salary) for training and development. Help him build a library of good resources. A leader is a reader. If you drop by his office and find him engrossed in a good book, remember that might be the most spiritual thing he could be doing at that moment. A growing pastor may be your church’s best asset.
- If you are considering a younger minister to serve on your church staff, remember that with youth in ministry comes young families. You should also allow him the same grace to be a young husband and father. A strong pastor’s home is vital for maturing pastors.
When a church calls a younger pastor you necessarily accept the preexisting condition that he is young. There really isn’t anything that he can do about that. That is a condition only cured by the advancing of time. Patience displayed is his “not yet” years, may reap untold blessings through a maturing leader loved by those whom he serves. Show him the grace that his position affords and his age demands. You might find extended grace leads to extended pastoral tenures.
Following Jesus’ example and teaching, the apostles interpreted the meaning, significance, and application of the entire Bible in light of Jesus’ person and work. Their preaching was the preeminent display of this hermeneutical commitment. When the apostle Paul declared, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,” he was not suggesting that the cross of Christ was the only thought that ever entered his mind, nor was he saying that he simply tacked on some commentary about Jesus’ death to every dialogue (1 Cor 2:2). Paul was contending that the power and wisdom of God on display in the cross and resurrection of Christ served as the only proper frame of reference for every single thought.
D.A. Carson explains, “[Paul] cannot long talk about Christian joy, or Christian ethics, or Christian fellowship, or the Christian doctrine of God, or anything else, without finally tying it to the cross. Paul is gospel-centered; he is cross-centered” (The Cross and Christian Ministry, 38). It was Paul’s commitment to preaching Christ crucified that was considered foolish by the sophists and those in the church at Corinth who were influenced by them to prize intellectual sophistication and rhetorical eloquence above all.
Paul is not commending a nuanced suggestion about one possible style of Christian preaching. Rather, he is commending a Christ-centered mindset and lifestyle that should drive every aspect of a pastor’s life and pulpit ministry. Paul notes that he did not preach “with lofty speech or wisdom” or “in plausible words of wisdom”; instead, he came to them “in weakness and in fear and much trembling” (1 Cor 2:1-4). He sought to distance his preaching ministry, not from oratorical skill, but from the sophist rhetorical pomp, which considered a bloody crucified Messiah to be scandalous and moronic (“but we preach Christ crucified, a skandalonto Jews and morian to Gentiles” 1 Cor 1:23). Teachers influenced by the sophists thought they were too enlightened and sophisticated for such a crude and grotesque message. They sought to accommodate the spirit of the age as they provided positive and inspiring messages about virtuous and successful living. Paul, they contended, was a foolish backwoods preacher.
David E. Garland observes, “Paul’s reminiscence that he resolved to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ, and him crucified, does not promote anti-intellectualism but explains his modus operandi” (1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary, 84). Paul was a gifted rhetorician and logician whom listening crowds identified as Hermes, the Greek god of communication, “because he was the chief speaker” (Acts 14:12). Though, a man named Eutychus is recorded as having fallen asleep during Paul’s preaching, but the point of the account is Eutychus’ resurrection and not that Paul was a boring preacher. The fact listeners were still there “until midnight” provides an argument for Paul’s eloquence and not a case against it (Acts 20:7-9).
Paul avoided that form of rhetorical eloquence that would minimize the content and centrality of the gospel because Christ crucified was considered a message of folly in the world (1 Cor 1:18). When Paul’s opponents said, “his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account,” (2 Cor 10:10) they were responding to his appearance and content of his direct, cross-centered message rather than to the skill of his preaching. The cruciform wisdom of power through weakness proclaimed by Paul was a repudiation of the wisdom and spirit of the age and was utterly despised. In crucifixion, a person was lifted up as a parody, a mocking kingship and exaltation (Mark 15:17-32). The resurrection of the crucified Christ mocks their mockery of Jesus. The one parodied as Messiah is Messiah. Paul was perfectly content to be called an unsophisticated fool for Christ’s sake (1 Cor 4:10) because the only way to avoid the charge would be to downplay the centrality of Christ crucified.
Paul was a student of the Scriptures long before he encountered Jesus on the Damascus road (Acts 9:3). He grew up in Jerusalem and was trained in the Scriptures by Gamaliel, a leading rabbi, achieving a reputation as an excellent student (Acts 22:3, Gal 1:14). Paul would have had vast amounts of the Old Testament committed to memory. His study of the Scripture had led him to follow in the footsteps of his father as a Pharisee, one who oversaw the incarceration and execution of Christians (Acts 23:6, 26:9-11; Phil 3:5). What changed in Paul’s understanding of Scripture to cause him to move from being a persecutor of Christians to one who declared, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21)?
He adopted a new hermeneutic—a Christocentric hermeneutic. The respectability Paul had known as an educated and sophisticated religious man from a good family went away the moment he began to interpret Scripture and life through the bloody lens of Christ crucified. This new hermeneutic came as a result of the saving grace of God in his encounter with Christ on the way to Damascus. His faith in Jesus of Nazareth as the resurrected Messiah meant that if he had continued to interpret Old Testament without reference to Jesus, he would have been in rebellion (See Rom 4, Gal 3, 1 Cor 10:1-13, and 2 Cor 3:7-18).
As Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen write, “The newborn Christian and former Pharisee must rethink all he thought he knew. And this is Paul’s starting point: the kingdom of God, ‘the age to come,’ has arrived [in Christ]” (The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story, 188). David Dockery reminds readers,
He was, however, well schooled in the rabbinic tradition of the Old Testament interpretation; yet he had been confronted by the exalted Lord himself, and that encounter brought about a change in his view of the Old Testament. Now he viewed the Scriptures from a pattern of redemptive history grounded in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (Biblical Interpretation Then and Now, 41).
A sophisticated church is a contradiction in terms. We are the non-nobles of a crucified Messiah (1Cor 1:18-2:5). The same choice Paul faced is before every preacher today. Are you willing to be a fool for Christ’s sake? Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s simple gospel sermons were called “Redolent of bad taste, vulgar, and theatrical” by the sophisticated religious elites of his day. He responded, “I am perhaps vulgar, but it is not intentional, save that I must and will make the people listen. My firm conviction is that we have had quite enough polite preachers, and many require a change. God has owned me among the most degraded and off-casts. Let others serve their class; these are mine, and to them I must keep.” (Christianity Today “The Secrets of Spurgeon’s Preaching, June 2005).
We can be recognized as sophisticated and culturally enlightened, or we can determine to know nothing among anyone but Christ and him crucified—we cannot do both.
David Prince serves as assistant professor of Christian preaching at Southern Seminary. Is is also the pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington Ky. You can read more by David Prince at his blog: Prince on Preaching. Also follow him on Twitter at: @davideprince. This article originally appeared on his blog.
You have played a vital role in my apologetic development, a long with other philosophers. I am puzzled by the fact that a lot of things are taken for granted although examining their legitimacy is the job of philosophy, thus I need to ask you, why do you believe in time in the first place? Isn't just an idea in our mind that helps us locate an event in relation to our experience? I do not get older because of time, but because of my biological development and entropic reality. These are physical constituents of the Universe that entail space and mass in a dynamical interaction. Moreover, the elements that shape events already exist in our universe, to say the time for x has not yet come, is strictly to say that the physical conditions for x to occur is not satisfied yet by the gathered factors. Can you help me identify what I could be missing here, please?
Over the past decade it has been popular to distinguish between “cultural fundamentalism” and “historic fundamentalism.” Cultural fundamentalism is regarded by its critics as very, very bad. It consists of folksy/outdated traditionalism that has drifted from its quaint, innocuous origins and has entered a bitter, skeptical stage of life—complete with theological errors of a sort that typically attend aging, countercultural movements. Historic fundamentalism, which focuses more on basic theological issues, fares a little bit better, but only a very little bit. Critics puzzle over those who accept this label, marveling that anyone would risk associative guilt by lingering near those nasty cultural fundamentalists: “Why not get with the program,” they ask, “and become a conservative evangelical?”
Part of the reason, I would venture, is that conservative evangelicalism itself appears, to all but those blinded by its euphoria, to be yet another cultural phenomenon—a new iteration of a broader movement (evangelicalism) that, let’s face it, has a track record easily as jaded as that of fundamentalism. True, the conservative evangelicals of today are a bit more conscious of theology and mission (that’s how the life cycle of ecclesiological “movements” begins), and their culture is more up-to-date; but it’s just a matter of time until the present iteration of evangelicalism grows old, propped up only by the same nostalgia that today keeps Billy Graham crusades and Bill and Gloria Gaither homecomings on cable TV (except that these will be replaced, for a new generation of elderly evangelicals, with John Piper recordings and Keith and Kristyn Getty sing-alongs that allow folks to relive the glory days).
Last week Darryl Hart, a notable critic of conservative evangelicalism (a.k.a. the “New Calvinism” and “Young, Restless, and Reformed” movements), wrote a scathing exposé of today’s culture-heavy evangelicalism. Speaking specifically to his own confessional concerns, he made the obvious point that the major attraction of the “New Calvinism” and the “Young, Restless and Reformed” movements wasn’t primarily theological (the “Calvinism” and “Reformed” part) but cultural (the “New, Young, and Restless” part). Calvinism, he observed, has been faithfully preserved for centuries in confessional churches (like the OPC of which Hart is a part) that guarded it far more carefully than the confessionally unconstrained evangelicals ever could. No, the major attraction of the “New Calvinism,” Hart opined, was that it offered something that the Old Calvinism didn’t, viz., “the sorts of celebrity, technology, mass crowds, and enthusiasm upon which the young sovereigntists thrive.” The “Gospel Allies” (a derogatory label Hart uses for the conservative evangelical movement) deliberately denigrate the Old Calvinists for one prevailing reason: They’re not new. And since they’re not new, they have little appeal for the young and restless crowd. The “Gospel Allies,” on the other hand, stay new by brokering alliances with cool, edgy, avant-garde, and (mostly) Reformedish celebrities like Driscoll, McDonald, and Mahaney, who, granted, might fall over the edge with which they flirt—but it’s worth the risk.
So what comes next? Well, if history is our guide, the generational cycle of cultural ecclesiology will soon move to its next phase, what I call ecclesiastical “niche-making.” The fundamentalist version of this is well documented. The 1940s and 50s revivalist culture (the best snapshot of which is found in its music) was all new and fresh and culturally edgy in its day. But now it is the realm of churches populated by 80-year-olds who can’t figure out why there are no “young people.” It’s happening again with the Patch the Pirate generation. Patch and Company were all the rage in the 1980s and early 1990s, but now they’re old news. Still, by publishing their magnum opus, Majesty Hymns, a coalition of Patch-culture churches lives on, populated mostly by those who were parents of small children during the 1980s. Now they’re beginning to wonder why the “youth group” is so small.
But evangelicalism is no different. Visit the various evangelical churches in your neighborhood and you’ll find Gaither churches, romantic but theologically vacuous churches from the golden age of CCM, and now Getty/Townend/SG churches (hint: this is where that missing generation has gone). I have little doubt that this cycle will repeat, because there is little in place to break the cycle. The pattern for all of these groups has been to push the cultural envelope until they create their niche, then settle down to enjoy it.
The possible conclusions, then, appear to be twofold: some churches will (1) do nothing and become culturally backward, ingrown congregations that reminisce together until they eventually die of old age, while others will (2) transition to the next cultural cycle and thrive for another 25 years or so. But is this the way it’s supposed to be? I think not.
The answer, I would suggest, is faithful ministry in confessionally bounded churches committed more to the spirituality of the church than they are to the socio-political and cultural relevancy of the church. By striving, self-consciously, to be as culturally transcendent as possible, I would argue, we can cultivate timeless, transgenerational bodies that do not need to reinvent themselves every quarter century to remain solvent. It will not be easy—after all, culture has told us for a hundred years that this is not the way church is done. But it’s definitely worth the effort.
Have you ever felt like a failure? Inadequate? Ineffectual? Have you ever examined your heart and glimpsed sin and darkness and defeat? I have. It is discouraging and demoralizing. It makes me wonder what God sees in me. There is no doubt that I am a flawed vessel. But does that mean that I am a useless vessel?
In a few moments students will fill McGorman Chapel for the convocation of the fall semester. They represent many states, nations, churches and families. This is the sobering reality that makes me want to craft each word in class as an act of stewardship. These are students who have chosen not to colonize in their home church, but pioneer to a different place as an expression of God’s next step. Their obedience is an earnest reminder that that there is a time to colonize, and a time to pioneer.
After the flood, God tells Noah and his family to fill the land. And they did. After a detailed description of the family lineage, Genesis 10:32 notes, “These are the clans of the sons of Noah according to their genealogies. In their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood.” (See also 10:5, 18b) However, the story of man takes an odd turn.
The nations that were to spread out instead coalesced into one big group in order to build a tower to the sky. The problem was that the building project was motivated by an explicit desire to “make a name for ourselves lest we dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” Yet, God had told them to fill the earth, the implication being they were to spread out and take dominion (9:1,7). This was actually a throwback to Eden where God had first commanded them to fill the earth (1:28). In this way the post-flood command was an affirmation that this was indeed humanity 2.0. God was starting over and, in this new race of people, God wanted pioneers, not colonists.
It is there at Babel that God confused their language and spread them apart. This is not because God feared them, but rather that He feared for them. He knew that without disunity they would never realize all there is to this earth.
Actually the story of creation is a story of God dispersing the nations through a series of creations. He created Eve so that Adam could multiply and disperse, and then told him to do so. He then re-created the world through Noah and told him to disperse. Unable to wean his children from their attempted permanent geographical adolescence, he created languages. It was the curse of a gift, which seems to be God’s way. Precious life giving water was used to destroy man, and now the precious gift of language was given to disperse man. They were guilty of the pride of coalescence, the sin of colonizing when God said to move forward. God is very serious about expanding borders.
The next chapter of Genesis is the call of Abram, a call that begins with a simple word, “Go.” (Gen12:1). There were untold blessings awaiting Abraham, but only if he left his current lifestyle. And this is the story of the Old Testament: God would kill those who ultimately did not desire to be led to the new place and accept the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham (Numbers 14:22,23). Joshua and Caleb would see the Promised Land because they were willing to go on to something better.
God is all about stewardship of space, and this geographical push of God in the Old Testament has a spiritual allusion in the New Testament. The Promised Land is a metaphor for salvation. Those who refuse to be led into salvation will die without God. The metaphor of movement is expressed in terms of stewardship. Paul was motivated by a stewardship of God’s grace
the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, Eph. 3:2;
of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known. Col. 1:25
Paul believed that there was a territory he must claim. This meant he could not stand still. In order for Paul to be a pioneer for the Gospel, he had to be willing to constantly live in new territory. Paul spent most of his adult life as a vagabond in an attempt to colonize the call of God on his life. Living inside the call meant constantly moving. And it still does. If God has called you to stay, don’t move. If He has called you to move, don’t fear. The safety of immobility is a mirage. Be armored in the assumed risk of trusting God, always following the call of God by pioneering in this life.
It is the stewardship of time and resources that makes our work in theological education sobering. And for those who have pioneered to this place, we pledge to honor that trust with the most graciously demanding work, symbolic of the demanding and often ungracious world that awaits. Southwesterner, may the road rise to meet you.