It was twenty-five years before church growth researcher Win Arn, building on the initial discoveries of Donald McGavran, conducted one of the largest studies of how people come to faith in Christ and to the church in the United States and Canada. Arn’s Institute for American Church Growth surveyed over 17,000 persons in 1980 asking, “What or who was responsible for your coming to Christ and to your church?” Arn published his findings in The Master’s Plan for Making Disciples, and church leaders were astounded ...
With the election hard upon us, it is a good time to be reminded that nothing we do can rightly be divorced from the sufficient governance of Christian Scripture. No pockets of neutrality exist in any sphere of life, including our politics. While the battery of issues facing voters today is exceedingly complex, one option always proves better than the rest—and it is safe to say that were the incarnate God to join us in the polling booth next week, he would be able, in his perfect wisdom, to discern in every case the best possible option in view of all the facts available.
Of course, we possess neither all the facts nor the wisdom necessary to perfectly harmonize and synthesize those facts. As a result, we Christians tend to vote provincially, and we do not all vote the same. This does not mean (necessarily) that one voting bloc is sinning and the other is not. Still, moral ought does exist in politics: there are some choices that are better than others, and some choices that are flat out wrong.
Most Christians will admit this, conceding that the Bible should inform our voting decisions at some level. We can’t vote for a platform of pure evil. But platforms of pure evil are rare: all candidates exhibit at least some common grace, and a goodly percentage of them are sincere in pursuing what is, at least in their best opinion, most advantageous to their jurisdiction or to the country.
In their various stewardships of common grace, however, politicians tend to privilege certain virtues over others, and we voters do the same. Some of us privilege national security, others economic stability, others moral values, job security and a safe workplace, education, freedom, protecting the environment, assisting the disenfranchised (whether ethnically, generationally, medically, or financially), or the advance of the Gospel. All of these are arguably good things, and if asked to do so, we could all arrange them in an pecking order ranging from the issues most important to me to the issues least important to me.
In Christian ethics, however, the unaided self is never awarded such broad liberties. Instead, the Scriptures are declared to be the Norma Normans non Normata, sufficient for every expression of godliness. Obviously, the Scriptures do not give us the names of the best candidates, but they do give us more guidance than a list of “good stuff that you can prioritize however you want.” Specifically, the Scriptures offer us a short list of duties of government commended in Scripture as duties of government that take precedence over all other “good things” that our government might accomplish. These primary duties include…
(1) The Protection of Citizens from Violent Death. This is the sole occasioning concern that led to God’s original establishment of human government (Gen 9:6), and it has been a primary reason for the formation of nearly every human government since. And lest there be concern that this purpose has been usurped, we see Paul revisiting this theme, asserting that the emblem of human government is the “sword” of protection/justice leveled against “wrongdoers” (Rom 13:4). The first concern of any government is to protect its citizens from violence. Peter concurs (1 Pet 2:14).
(2) The Establishment of an Environment in Which the Gospel Can Advance. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul urges believers to pray that their governors would create an environment where believers may pursue holiness and godliness without harassment (2:2); an environment conducive to the announcement and embrace of the gospel (v. 4). Note that Paul does not expect the state to establish or even to favor the Christian religion, but he expresses hope for a climate in which the Gospel is able to flourish without restriction. This being Paul’s primary hope and only recorded prayer for human government, it follows that this is a primary duty of human government.
(3) Finally, the Promotion of Moral Good. This theme, found in both Paul and Peter’s calls for governors to commend those who do good (Rom 13:3–4; 1 Pet 2:14–15), is the broadest of God’s prescribed purposes for government. The specific “good” is not given, but the word group used here (ἀγαθός) favors the nuance of beneficence over the nuance of righteousness. As such, government is to praise and encourage, by its policies, the private practice of charity and benevolence, and thereby serve as a societal “minister of good.”
This is by no means an exhaustive list of things that human government may legitimately do; indeed, the Bible seems to allow the government to assume rather broad powers. But by privileging these three concerns, the Scriptures offer specific guidance to Christian voters today about what should be their principal voting concerns.
“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (Romans 10:14-15 ESV).
The Apostle Paul addresses the world’s greatest need and the church’s Great Commission in Romans 10:14. Each day around 150,000 people die around the world, tens of thousands of them never having repented of their sins and trusted in Christ. In fact, many haven’t even heard the gospel. It has been said that a missionary is one who can’t get used to the sound of pagan footsteps on the way to a Christless eternity. That certainly resonates for those of us who have been called to reach the unreached and teach them everything Christ commanded.
Related: Learn about our M.Div degrees from the Billy Graham School of Mission, Evangelism and Ministry
So why wait? After all, we have the Holy Spirit, God’s call, and a passport. Our duty is to obey Christ and rescue the perishing. Why shouldn’t we grab our passport and head to the airport immediately when God calls us to go and serve?
The answer to this question lies in what Christ has actually called us to do as well as a realistic look at how that is done. In Matthew 28:19-20, Christ commanded us to do one thing — make disciples. Specifically, he commanded us to make disciples and to do so by going, baptizing, and teaching all he had commanded. Yet in order to do that, the one who goes must be prepared. With the call to go and serve comes the call to prepare.
For instance, there are great needs to rebuild homes and for medical ministry to victims after wars and disasters, but it would be foolish to go without knowledge of construction skills, home design, or building materials, and going to do medical missions without medical training could cause more harm than good. The same is true for missions. When your ministry is in another language and/or to another cultural context, it is essential to learn how to critically contextualize God’s Word. For leaders of new churches to be “apt to teach,” they must know what to teach, and what not to teach, and how to refute heresy.
Attending seminary is not treading water or wasting time; it is digging a well that you and your hearers will drink from for the rest of your lives. Dig deep. I often advise eager students to focus on what to do as they prepare to go. Live out the missionary call in your life as you prepare. This includes being involved in intercultural ministry in your community: teach ESL, participate in international church ministries, share the gospel with those you encounter, learn another language, develop relationships with those who come from different contexts than you — to name a few examples. The world is at our doorstep. Serve even as you prepare.
Related: Learn about the numerous national and international short term missions opportunities through Southern Seminary
I pray that the Lord continues to call men and women to prepare for service through the Billy Graham School. And I pray that those who are called will be truly obedient to their call, recognizing that their investment in preparation is both essential and wise. I’ve often explained to students and prospective missionaries that nothing magical happens when you finally fasten the seatbelt on the plane heading off to the mission field. If you are not seeking to live the missionary life now, nothing will change then. Begin now and trust God with the timing of when your feet will hit that ultimate mission field to which He has called you.
M. David Sills is A.P. and Faye Stone Professor of Christian Missions and Cultural Anthropology and director of global strategic initiatives and intercultural programs at Southern Seminary. A former missionary to Ecuador, Sills also serves as president of Reaching and Teaching International Ministries. Follow @DavidSills on twitter. This article originally appeared in the fall 2014 issue of Southern Seminary Magazine.
This series of posts presents several of my active assignments from the required freshman class Biblical Interpretation and Spiritual Formation. This one has the students examine their use of time and money, and usually students are surprised at the results. Here are the instructions ...
One of the joys of teaching at Biola University and Talbot School of Theology is the privilege of investing in present and future church leaders who, in turn, go out and invest in the lives of others. It is the process of discipleship at its finest. As a faculty, we disciple students so that they disciple others so that they disciple others ... When this happens, the impact of our teaching reaches around the world. In many ways we will not know the full impact of our ministry until we all get to heaven.
A significant, but often under-emphasized, area where you are called to lead in your marriage is as a spiritual leader. You are to disciple your wife and serve in her sanctification. This is true of all believers according to Hebrews 10:24 that says, “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,” but it’s especially true of husbands who bear the responsibility to lead in a marriage. Your marriage should be a significant source of your wife’s sanctification. Consider Paul’s words to the Ephesians again:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. (Ephesians 5:25-28)
Clearly, you’re not Christ. There is a sanctifying work that only Jesus can do, but as you model your love on the sanctifying relationship of Christ in the church, you do have a role in your wife’s sanctification. Even if your wife is more spiritually engaged and mature than you are, you still have a responsibility to lead. Your leadership is not directly tied to your biblical knowledge or spiritual engagement, but to the fact that God has given you responsibility as the head of your marriage (Ephesians 5:23-24). If you are not doing anything to lead in this area, you need a plan and a trajectory toward leading.
That starts with growing in your own sanctification. Seek the face of God each day before seeing the face of man. Rise early and call out to God for your own growth and then for wisdom in how to serve your wife in her growth. It’s important to stay focused on your personal sanctification as a reminder that even though you’re the leader, you aren’t the standard for spiritual maturity — you are called to help your wife conform to God, not to you.How can you lead your wife spiritually?
You don’t have to set up a pulpit in your bedroom or schedule intensive discipleship classes before bedtime. Instead, make it a natural part of your life together:
- Show leadership in getting your family actively engaged in your local church.
- Recommend books that you can read and discuss with your wife.
- Lead in finding conferences to attend, messages to watch online, and other means to grow in the Word together and to spur each other on in the faith.
- If you have children, take the lead in creating opportunities to worship together as a family in your home. This can be as simple as extended family dinner time to include Bible reading and prayer or can be expanded to be a mini-church service in your home.
- Finally, pray with your wife. It’s tragic how many husbands never do. The simplest and most regular way to lead your wife spiritually is to pray with her every day — to help her bring her burdens to the Lord through your intercession on her behalf.
What Does Your Marriage Say About the Gospel?
Your marriage is supposed to say something and it’s supposed to say something about the Gospel according to Ephesians 5:22-33. Actually, you’re marriage is already saying something about the Gospel. But is what it’s saying true? Is it accurate? The furthering of the Gospel is at stake here.
People are watching your marriage. In fact, they can tell a lot from the countenance of your wife’s face. Do they see the joy of a wife who is flourishing because her husband is leading well and caring deeply for her? If you treat your wife harshly, if you don’t live with her in an understanding way, or if you don’t honor her, then you are saying something that’s not true about the Gospel.
God give us the courage and resolve to lead well — to accurately portray the Gospel in our marriages — not just so that our prayers may not be hindered, but so that the Gospel would not be hindered and that Jesus Christ would be exalted.
By Randy Stinson & Dan Dumas How to serve your wife, how to mold men through baseball, how to make men in the church and more practical theology for cultivating men of God who are doers of the Word for the sake of the Gospel.
- Randy Stinson serves as Senior vice president for academic administration and provost. He is also associate professor of leadership and family ministry. You can follow Dr. Stinson on Twitter at @RandyStinson.
-Dan Dumas is senior vice president for institutional administration at Southern Seminary. He is a church planter and pastor-teacher at Crossing Church in Louisville, Ky. You can connect with him on Twitter at @DanDumas, on Facebook or at DanDumas.com.
This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.Q. ... Perhaps I haven't been looking hard enough but I have not been able to find any such support for the existence of or the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit plays such a prominent role in Christian theology and worldview -- but how can someone believe in it other than blind faith? I find this especially troubling when statements like "The early church fathers were guided by the Holy Spirit." It just seems impossible to verify or dispute leading to a grey area where Christians are no longer convinced by the evidence but believing blindly ...
Resource materials from 2014 Mid-America Conference on Preaching, “Striving Together for the Faith of the Gospel,” are now available for free download. Included are audio recordings (mp3) from all general sessions and workshops, as well as printed notes (pdf) from the workshops.
We’ve just moved from Middle America to Texas. To say there is a bit of culture shock is an understatement. Things are a bit different down here. Don’t get me wrong. I love Texas. I married a Texan. I’m a Spurs fan. I remember the Alamo. We eat breakfast tacos. I even have a cowboy hat, which I dutifully wear at each commencement at graduation at SWBTS where I teach. (I don’t, however, have cowboy boots—I’ve drawn a line in the sand on that one). It’s just going to take a bit of getting used to, that’s all.
We moved to Aledo, which is a big football town, west of Fort Worth. To try and understand how big a deal football is in Texas, I thought it might be fun to read H.G. Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights. The book was as captivating as it was sad.
The author chronicles his year in Odessa, Texas as he follows the 1988 Permian High School Panther football team. Football in Odessa is a religion. Beginning in kindergarten, young boys begin dreaming, working, and practicing so that they will one day have a chance to play Friday night football under the blazing lights and watchful gaze of 15,000 fans.
The book was captivating because you can’t help but admire the winning tradition, the rugged commitment, and the sense of community that is Odessa Football. Oil money comes and goes, but Permian football remains forever. It is the glue that holds the town—or at least the white half—together.
It is saddening because these kids are fed the not so subtle truth that winning is everything, that the culmination of one’s life is senior year in High School, that academics are not as important as athletics, and your worth is dependent on your ability to tackle or run or catch the ball if you are black.
Worse—I’m just going to say it—football in Texas, at least in 1988 in Odessa as reported by Bissinger, is an idol.
What is an idol? Here’s what Tim Keller says in his book Counterfeit Gods:
It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.
He goes on:
A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living. An idol has such a controlling position in your heart that you spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought….An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.”
Perhaps it isn’t that way now in Odessa (I have no idea). Hopefully it isn’t that way in Aledo. But, given our propensity to find our hope and meaning in created and temporary things rather than the creator, I wouldn’t be surprised if it does still functionally play, in many people’s life, the role traditionally ascribed to religion.
Christ pushes pack on our rank idolatry, continually working in our lives to strip us of anything that would keep us from total devotion to Him. There is a way to play football, or any other sport for the glory of God. It begins by seeing and savoring Jesus for all that he is. This is the antidote to overcoming our temptation to idolatry. This is the antidote to Friday night blindness whether on the football field, the movie theatre, the shopping mall, or the comfort of our own home.
For an excellent clip by Tim Keller on idolatry watch this:
 Keller, Counterfeit gods, xvii.
 Ibid., xviii.
“Do you have the kind of trust in God that allows you to face death?”
Boyce College professor Denny Burk posed that question in Alumni Memorial Chapel on Sept. 18, 2012, saying that “God can transform your pain into someone else’s comfort.”
The sermon preyed on my conscience throughout the day. I questioned whether or not I had ever experienced any suffering, much less that God had used it for a significant purpose. Was I missing something essential in the Christian experience?
Twenty-four hours later, an afternoon phone call disrupted my first semester at Southern Seminary and rocked the foundations of my faith.
“Craig, your father has shot himself.” I could barely hear my parents’ neighbor speak those horrifying words, drowned out by my mother wailing with a grief so fierce tremors pulsed through my body and heat rushed to my face. Even now, I vividly remember how my soul ached when I crumpled to the floor and uttered screams that rang throughout the halls of the Honeycutt Campus Center.
“If God’s goodness is inconsistent with hurting us,” writes C.S. Lewis in A Grief Observed, “then either God is not good or there is no God; for in the only life we know He hurts us beyond our worst fears and beyond all we can imagine.”Welcome to the seminary of suffering
Larry Wayne Sanders Jr. was a Southern Baptist pastor for 26 years who shaped my faith through his shepherding and preaching. In November 1996, he baptized me and continued his godly instruction as he had since my earliest memories. In nearly every way, my father formed my understanding of the world.
Only four months before his death, it became apparent that he was struggling with a dark depression. While suicide can never be rationalized, pastoral burnout and health complications had left him in a state of extreme mental anguish.
As my wife and I traveled seven hours from Louisville, Kentucky, to Spartanburg, South Carolina, she turned to me and asked, “Does this change your calling?” I was one month into my seminary education, but the answer was clear: my father’s death was accelerating my call to ministry.
The next morning, I sat in a funeral home where my father had conducted countless services as a pastor — not even the funeral home director could compose himself as my family discussed the service arrangements. Though I was in a haze of mourning, Burk’s sermon rang clearly in my mind, and I opened my Bible to 2 Corinthians 1:4-11 — the text of his message — and read the Apostle Paul’s words to my family:
If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. … But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again
(2 Corinthians 1:6, 9b-10 ESV).
Burk’s sermon preserved my heart for this tragedy, and God used the support of Southern Seminary to sustain me and remind me of his faithfulness — through the prayers of the seminary community, and the grace and wise counsel extended by my professors.
Since I had not yet joined a church, I met with Jeremy Pierre, my shepherding group leader and assistant professor of biblical counseling, on a weekly basis for guidance as I walked through my grief. In the midst of my despair, when I struggled for clarity even to leave my apartment each morning, Pierre reminded me of the prophet Jeremiah’s refrain in Lamentations.
Surrounded by the destruction of Jerusalem and the suffering of his people, Jeremiah pauses from his lament to write, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23).
“Crises are gifts from a loving Father for the purpose of reminding us of our weakness,” Pierre, now also dean of students, said in a recent interview. “Rather than think about a crisis as a setback to preparation for ministry, seminary students should see it as a leap forward in preparation for ministry because God prepares us primarily by meeting us in our brokenness as a demonstration of his resurrection power.”‘Why is all of this happening at once?’
In February 2013, New Testament Ph.D. student Matt McMains found himself in a familiar place: the hospital. Since enrolling at Southern Seminary in 2011, he has been hospitalized for more than a week on four occasions. Born with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) — the “bubble boy” disease — McMains is susceptible to viruses.
“The doctors told me my lungs looked like that I had pneumonia 100 times and hadn’t been treated for it,” McMains said about his recent diagnosis with bronchiectasis, an enlargement of the lung’s airways. “He said they looked really bad. At the time he told me that he didn’t think I had a good chance with the way my lungs looked.”
Despite receiving a bone marrow transplant from his father to borrow an immune system, McMains says the treatment is wearing off, which resulted in contracting CMV and pneumonia. In college, a virus that attacked his feet confined him to a wheelchair for several years.
In the midst of his physical ailments, McMains says the most difficult struggle is the loss of four family members, including two of his nephews with SCID.
First, it was his grandfather in September 2012, a Southern Baptist pastor in Oklahoma who died of pancreatic cancer. Then, his 3-month old nephew died in June 2013 from an infection after receiving a transplant. The following month, his mother died after a two-year battle with bone cancer. In September 2013, his 7-year-old nephew died from lymphoma he contracted from his bone marrow transplant.
Under the preaching of his grandfather, Robert Hammons, McMains had professed faith in Christ at the age of 7. As Hammons’ health declined from pancreatic cancer before his death on Sept. 26, 2012, McMains spent time with his spiritual patriarch and received comfort for his own suffering.
“I already viewed him as a hero of the faith, but it was encouraging to see him never waver and continue to point me to Christ while his body was painfully breaking down from cancer,” McMains said. “It greatly affected me to see Christ hold him up until the very end.”
“When all of this first came out, I wasn’t sure if I would get to see my son grow up and a sense of hopelessness came over me, but to be reminded that God’s grace is sufficient in all circumstances keeps me going. When my family is going through all of these things and my mom is slowly and painfully dying, it is encouraging to see how my brothers and sisters are sustained by God’s goodness.”
A member of Clifton Baptist Church, McMains says he “can see God’s providence” in placing him under his pastor and doctoral supervisor Thomas R. Schreiner, whose counsel has benefited him during his trials. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation and associate dean of the School of Theology, faced tragedy himself on Aug. 17, 2012, when his wife was involved in a severe bicycle accident.
“Why did it happen? The Scriptures are clear: to bring glory to God,” Schreiner wrote on an online journal several weeks after the accident. “He planned it for our good, so that we would become more like Christ and trust our Father even more.”
Although his trials of grief and illness have forced McMains to slow down his doctoral studies, he remains committed to the personal value of theological education.
“Deeply studying the truths of Scripture while going through trials made seminary a more practical endeavor instead of a strictly academic one,” McMains said. “I think God has used it to gain a deeper understanding of the significance of what I am going through and studying.”‘They told us he wasn’t going to survive'
Two days before he was supposed to graduate from Southern Seminary, Jamin Bailey walked into his son’s room to find the toddler convulsing in his crib. The former combat engineer officer in the U.S. Marine Corps rushed his son to the Huntsville Hospital for Women & Children in Huntsville, Alabama. Jamin, his wife Crystal, two daughters, 4-year-old River and newborn Journey — born April 27, 2014 — waited for several days before doctors diagnosed 22-month-old Ryker with viral encephalitis.
“My relationship with Jesus Christ and knowledge of God’s sovereignty was the only foundation that I could rely on,” Jamin recalled, “as the doctors and nurses told me that my son wasn’t going to survive. ... The virus had progressed too far and done too much damage for him to recover.”
For five days, the family prayed, not knowing if Ryker would survive the life-threatening disease. Southern Seminary also rallied around the family, sending Ryker balloons and a giant teddy bear and conferring Jamin’s degree over the phone.
“It’s a joy to just hear your voice,” Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said upon conferring the degree to Jamin, May 17. “We’re just so proud that you’re one of our alumni, and thankful that right now the Lord is fulfilling your function as father in a way that is showing the glory of
God even more than had you been here for the commencement ceremony.”
“The only thing I knew the seminary could do between conferring my degree and calling to check up on Ryker was to pray,” Jamin said. “I believe those prayers were effectual.”
Ryker was released from the hospital on June 2, and though he will need occupational therapy for up to a year, he is “making great progress” on his way to a full recovery. His family says he is singing, talking, and running around, but does not have full usage of his right hand.
Even though he was finished with his master of divinity, Jamin says his suffering during Ryker’s illness “enhanced” his seminary education and provided the empathy he needed to comfort those facing death.
“Everything I had been learning about crisis and counseling came to life before me,” said Jamin, now a corporate chaplain in Greenville, North Carolina. “I was experiencing what the people I would serve in the future go through when family members have unexpected illnesses or pain. From a very practical point of view, I learned the ins and outs through the rigors of experience.”The resurrection power of God
“Death is the necessary canvas for life to be best displayed,” said Pierre in a chapel message, Sept. 18, 2014.
Expounding on Paul’s imagery of the jars of clay to describe human weakness, Pierre said, “Seminary students do not train to strengthen the clay, but rather to understand the treasure of the gospel inside it.”
God greatly used my father’s death to impress upon me the urgency of theological education. In the two years since this tragedy, the seminary of suffering has awakened in me the reality of the faithfulness of Christ and resurrection power of God expressed in the classroom.
As A.W. Tozer writes in The Root of Righteousness, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.”
The seminary community played a vital role in my healing process, first preparing me to suffer and then serving as a source of comfort during my grief. Suffering is inevitable in the Christian life, and seminary is a training ground for applying biblical wisdom when a crisis erupts in your midst.
by Barry Creamer
Those of us who believe in objectivity, truth, knowledge, (not to mention follow Jesus) hold that there is a fence between right and wrong, and that the fence doesn’t move. So it’s easy to understand why we defend the idea that everything is black and white. Of course, the color metaphor simply makes the point that there is a stark difference between right and wrong, and that everything falls into one of those two categories. (Of course, the discussion of what the two categories are, and how to tell which side of the fence something falls on, is a long one. I understand the line can be drawn variably between the obligatory, permissible, forbidden, and omissible. But complexity and ignorance don’t change the basic concept.)
When it comes to personal behavior, a funny thing can happen to the line, and for the best of reasons. It can become, well, we might say blurred. Suppose it is wrong to get drunk on purpose—and it is, by the way. And suppose it’s not wrong to have a drink every once in a while—although as a teetotaler I do think that’s wrong as well, no one else in the entire world apparently agrees with me anymore, so it’ll be a good illustration for argument’s sake. Now, with those givens, Fred decides for himself that it is wrong to drink at all out of fear that if he does so he will slip into drunkenness on occasion. Given his concerns, even on his presumption about an occasional drink being okay, the line for his own moral behavior seems to have moved. In order to avoid the big fence defining drunkenness, Fred constructs a little fence a good distance to its right just to be sure he never accidentally crosses over to the “dark” side, where there is a wolf. In fact, he might construct several such fences—avoiding locations where intoxication seems more likely than not, or friends whose activities might provoke the wrong predilection. In his life, it makes sense to construct those little fences for his own benefit. But in reality, it doesn’t change what actually is right or wrong. On the givens in this scenario, hanging out with those friends isn’t metaphysically wrong. But he’s smart for not doing it, and it even makes sense for him to think of it as “wrong” when he’s willing to hang out with them, given his penchant for falling into drunkenness in their company.
Similar illustrations could be made about practically any portion of the real moral fence. In common sense terms outside the context of morality: if exopathic depression is a problem, don’t read Kafka’s “Metamorphosis.” In religionese and back in the moral context: if sin is the problem, avoid the temptation, at least where it’s possible to do so, even though being tempted is not a sin. In such ways, extra fences actually serve in a good way to reinforce the significance of the one big fence dividing right from wrong.
The Pursuit of Virtue
The problem I’ve noticed is that some of us confuse the way we handle our personal pursuit of virtue (using extra fences to protect ourselves from the wolf behind the big fence) with the way we discuss morality in the public arena. I remember a preacher in the early 80s spending most of a sermon (or at least that’s how it seemed) on the evil of young men wearing their baseball caps turned wrong (off-center, sideways, or backwards). Rejecting legitimate authority is a real problem and might merit a sermon point every once in a while. And it might even be the case in some odd place that some people would demonstrate their rejection of authority by wearing their hats crooked, or “wrong.” So I might decide in that context that it is important for me to wear my hat “right.” It might create for me a little artificial fence to keep me from stumbling over the big fence demarcating rebellion.
But when I stand up and say to others that it is important or even right for them to stay behind my little fence, I can create a significant problem. When someone realizes my little fence is artificial, I’ve made it less likely that they will hear or respect my admonition that they not cross the real fence. What makes sense as a personal practice or attitude might not make sense in the public marketplace of ideas. It might be important for me to jump up and check on the sheep every time I hear a leaf stir or branch snap. But it is not wise on every one of those occasions for me to alert the rest of the village by crying “wolf.”
Of Wolves and Leaves
I wonder what the world must think of the cry that the redefinition of marriage will end Western Civilization, given that Western Civilization has yet quite to find its demise despite the New Deal, Clark Gable’s Gone-with-the-Wind expletive, and even the Beatles. I understand the nature of slippery slopes and reductio ad absurdum arguments. But there are real (albeit, ironically, metaphorical) wolves behind the big fences. I think the definition of marriage is one of those big fences. Similarly, fifty-three million abortions isn’t just the harbinger of moral failure. There is a wolf there. But getting people to listen to me talk about the big fence of the sanctity of human life and the wolf behind it is very difficult when they hear me use the same tone of speech about how restrooms are marked or which language ought to be required in public commerce.
Maybe this post is mostly for me. I just know that in my case, I have to become more discerning about what’s a wolf, and what’s just a leaf.
Since students often come to me asking about doctoral work after Talbot, I thought it would be helpful to share my personal experience in obtaining my own doctorate. Perhaps some will find my experience helpful as they prayerfully contemplate whether the Lord is leading them to pursue further studies in a doctoral program.
Last year we were jolted when the Supreme Court struck down one of the central pillars of the “Defense of Marriage Act,” effectively releasing whatever brake was still restraining same-sex marriage. This week we moved one step closer to trouble for our churches when a lawsuit was leveraged against a pair of Idaho ministers who operate a wedding chapel and refused to accommodate a same-sex couple.
No, the situation does not involve a church (it’s a commercial wedding chapel) or pastors (it’s a mom and pop ministerial team peddling their wares); still, the threat to our churches just slid closer. Pastor, are you ready? And is your church ready? If not, consider the following:
- If you rent out your church buildings commercially to marrying couples outside your membership (i.e., publicly), recognize that the time bomb is already ticking. It’s just a matter of time before your church is faced with a compromising situation—which is to say, assuming you don’t bend under pressure, a potentially litigious situation. My advice? Get out of the wedding chapel business entirely. This policy may well put a dent in your church’s budget and/or damage a relationship or two, but it will also close a door that potentially leads to catastrophic litigation.
- No matter what you do decide, document your policies carefully to avoid problems and implement them consistently. Is the building available for the marriage of members only? Document it. For a church member and a non-member of like faith and practice? Document it. For other believers who submit to marriage counseling and to specific protocols? Document it. And having prepared your documents, do not make exceptions to them, even when your most influential deacon brings his gushing niece by to rave over the flowing lines of your cute little sanctuary. The enemies of the Gospel are actively looking for churches without governing policies, and also for churches that inconsistently implement their governing policies. Take the time to shore up this vulnerability.
- Finally, Pastor, if you have been licensed by the state to perform weddings, realize that you are in some sense an officer of the state. With that position come privileges and advantages for both you and your church. Make preparations now for the possibility that you may lose those privileges and advantages if you and/or your church refuse to do all that the state asks of you.
I would like to think that the distant drums are a false alarm. And I hope that you don’t hear me announcing that all churches everywhere need to PANIC! But we’d be foolish not to prepare for the possibility of such problems as the nation continues to stumble and “slouch toward Gomorrah.”
The short answer is “no.” The longer answer is “for almost everyone, still no.” The even longer and needlessly provocative answer is that “any PhD gained by a Christian have (or should have) Apologetics in it.”
I often get asked the title question, especially ever since Southwestern Seminary rolled out its new MA in Christian Apologetics. Christian Apologetics, by its very nature, is a multidisciplinary field of study. To be sure, there are the characteristic areas that typically comprise a study of apologetics. For example, a mainstay of the discipline is issues in Philosophy of Religion. In Phil. Religion we talk about arguments for God’s existence, the coherence of theism (including doctrines that might appear to be in tension with each other as well other problems, such as the problem of evil). This of course fits well within the scope and purpose of Apologetics. Thus, philosophy is a really important area for doing apologetics. However, doing a degree in philosophy does not adequately prepare one to be able to defend against the great variety of challenges and objections that come from other disciplines.
To do these things well, we should do an advanced degree in Christian Apologetics, right? Yes! I would recommend a Master’s degree that gives introductory and advanced courses in these very important areas. On my view, the ideal MA is one, like ours, that gives you a strong foundation in philosophy (because this will help you to think well) and then exposes you to a variety of other areas such as Resurrection studies, Scientific issues, Cultural issues, Literature, Archeology, World Religions, etc.
What about the PhD? Shouldn’t one just continue on this track on the doctoral level? My answer for this is no in almost every case (see short and longer answers above). The reason is that the PhD is for specializing in a particular area of study, for becoming an expert in a field. It used to be the case that one specialized in a variety of fields. One was rarely just a philosopher but also worked in Science, History, Mathematics, etc. However, these days one cannot reasonably be a true generalist because there is simply too much information in each discipline. You have to pick a sub-area of a discipline (and perhaps, in some cases, a sub-area of a sub-area) in which to specialize. So, on my view, if you have interests in pursuing a PhD, you should pick an area from your exposure to the various disciplines (from your MA) and then do your PhD in that area. So let’s say that in your MA in Christian Apologetics you become fascinated by the historical case for the Resurrection. To continue this academic pursuit, it seems to me that you will need to specialize in historical studies broadly and the New Testament specifically. If you do not get this broad grounding in a historical approach to the New Testament, my fear is that one will not be able to have a deep enough understanding of the subtleties in which New Testament scholars trade. One, in effect, jumps to the conclusion without sufficiently filling out the premises.
The only time that I think a PhD in Apologetics could make sense is if the area of specialization in which one is interested is a perfectly balanced blend of multiple disciplines. That is, it isn’t a project in, say, New Testament studies that involves some philosophical elements. These happen all the time in New Testament departments. Rather it is a project in both New Testament and Philosophy. Again, to pull something like this off one would probably need advanced degrees in both New Testament and Philosophy prior to PhD stage and even then the worry is still that one is spread too thin in terms of expertise.
Okay, now for the provocative claim. I understand Christianity to be a complete worldview. That is, when one comes to embrace the truth of Christianity, it changes everything. We should, for example, never see people the same way we did prior to coming to a Christian commitment. For the Christian, people are created in the image of God and He so fully loves all people that He gave His only Son for them and has charged us with the proclamation of that salvation message. This is a complete and absolute game changer, as it relates to how we view the human person no matter if they are walking past us on the street or taking up arms against us! Likewise, we should never see money or career, politics or family, health or food, etc., the same ever again! There is a way that these and all other matters should be approached Christianly.
This is the same (and perhaps even especially the case) for the Christian academic. A person who aspires to the PhD is attempting to engage in original research in some particular domain of discourse. Typically, a dissertation is incomplete unless there is significant amount of theorizing about how one should understand the results of the research. If Christianity is a complete worldview, then it follows that there should always be some way in which the Christian academic theorizing is informed by his or her Christian worldview, even though it can of course be more or less explicit depending on the exact nature of the project. Thus, in defending the dissertation, one would be, by implication, defending one’s Christian worldview. One is doing, in a more or less explicit way, Apologetics! For example, if a Christian is doing PhD work in Sociology, then one should bring into the study the starting point that people are all created in the image of God and therefore have inherent value. Or if one is doing theoretical work in Mathematics or the hard sciences, I think we bring into the project a robust view of a world exquisitely designed and ordered replete with Divine intentions. These things have huge theoretical implications!
On my view, one need not explicitly argue for these Christian positions in the dissertation, unless of course this is the thrust of the project. In many settings, being overly explicit (when this is not thrust of the project) would cause the project to not get a fair hearing. Every project has a starting place and the point is that, for the Christian, it should be starting places informed by the Christian worldview. The point is that when your quality project changes the face of your discipline this actually shows that the starting points (even if left unsaid in that particular project) are defensible and theoretically virtuous. So this is actually evidence for the Christian worldview.
So, my overall suggestion is to do your PhD in an appropriately narrowed area. No matter what you choose to argue for in your dissertation, you should spend significant time thinking about what it looks like to be a Christian academic in your specific discipline. If it is in Resurrection studies or Philosophy of Religion, then this will have a really obvious Apologetic thrust. However, if it is in Science or History or Sociology or Archeology, then it may not be as obvious but it should still have Apologetic implications. My advice: don’t get a PhD in Apologetics since the field is just simply too broad and too interdisciplinary. I suppose one can do multiple PhDs in the paradigmatic areas of Apologetics to truly become an expert but, if this is one’s desire, then, to borrow one of Dr. Paige Patterson’s oft used quips, one should probably first have a conversation with a psychiatrist.
Editors note: In what follows John M. Perkins, author of Let Justic Roll Down, answers 3 questions for the October issue of Towers. Perkins will be on campus Monday, October 27 as the guest speaker for the Julius B. Gay Lecture where he will speak on “Why We Can’t Wait: The Urgency of the Now”. The first 50 to attend the lecture will receive free copies of his book.
In your opinion, how does the gospel accomplish racial reconciliation?
For reconciliation to take place, we must create an environment that is worshipful and where God’s Word can clearly be heard. The gospel is only the gospel when the totality of the redemption is heard, when we proclaim the depths of God’s love and the longing of his people for change. That’s when reconciliation can take place. The passage that confirms that for me is in Galatians 2 when Paul confronts Peter for his discrimination against the Gentiles. He told him, he “walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel.” There was an expectation of brotherhood on Peter and Paul — that the gospel would burn through racial barriers. We have a deep need and longing to be reconciled, and the gospel has the power to do that.Why should evangelicals engage in social activism?
Evangelical comes from the word “evangel,” which speaks of the angels witnessing to the fulfillment of God’s promise made when Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden — so our call as evangelicals is to proclaim the good news and the gospel. Social action is inherently a part of the gospel because it is meeting human needs. For man to exist, he must have life, and Christ affirms life because, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.” He wants us to be caretakers and managers of the earth so that life itself will flourish, and we can give to people in need and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.Other than Switchfoot's "The Sound (John M. Perkins' Blues)," what is your favorite song?
“Great is Thy Faithfulness,” because it reflects the goodness of Psalm 23. It reflects the idea of goodness and mercy following me all the days of my life until they finally catch up with me, and I get to dwell in the House of the Lord forever. So, I can sing that song now, knowing that at the end of my journey, I can expect the faithfulness of God to still be there and take me home.
I often think about home in a specific way. For a long time, home has been a safe place to come back to at the end of the day. It has been a place to establish a comfortable niche in the world as a respite, a literal financial investment in emotional well being. Home has been about rest and nurture, as it can be a place of ministry to family and friends. It also has been a place to launch out into kingdom ministry more broadly.
You’ve seen them. They are the bumper bullies of the highway. Any day of the week, on any highway, and most any time of the day they are out there driving too fast, weaving in and out of lanes, and aggressively driving too close to the bumper of the car in front of them. Frankly, if you are close enough to read the fine print of the Southwestern Seminary sticker on the back of my car, you are driving too close!
Some tailgaters are legitimately in a hurry. Most are just impatient. Some drivers tailgate in an effort to intimidate others to move over to allow them to pass; some do it for the thrill; while still others just have bad driving habits (though no one would admit that).
Tailgating is technically illegal, but drivers know that the chances of someone getting pulled over by the police for doing it are slim. After all, what’s too close? Who decides?
In a similar way, it’s easy to rationalize questionable habits in our character, too. In our fast-paced society, obstacles are often much closer than they appear in the mirror. And the dangers of high-speed collisions intensify as we tiptoe ever closer to the edges of right and wrong; blurring lines that used to be clear and flirting with danger for the thrill of the experience. How easy it is to be enticed by things that are ethically questionable, but in our minds rationally defensible.
Frankly, many of the issues that we face today are specifically addressed in Scripture and we have an obligation to be good students who are obedient to His Word. This requires faithful and careful exegesis of the text as well as intentional application of it. Where the Bible speaks clearly, we have no license to affirm otherwise. God’s decrees require no second. Tim Keller makes a great point when he says, “Either the Bible has authority and determines what is acceptable in culture or culture has authority and determines what is acceptable in the Bible” (Center Church, 105).
But what about those areas not specifically covered in the text? Are we left without Biblical instruction? The danger is that we allow our preferences to influence our interpretation of Scripture, and find ourselves mining the text to extract justification for what we have already decided we want to do. But, if you’re looking for a loophole in your theology to rationalize an action, you are driving too close to danger.
The Bible still speaks truth to our time. It’s not outdated, and is useful in guiding us to truth and faithfulness.When we’re faced with the ethical dilemmas and temptations, here are some relevant questions to consider that will help us determine if we are driving too close to danger:
- Is the action in question glorifying to the Lord? Would God be honored by my action or dishonored?
- Is the action in question edifying to the Body? Would the Church be blessed and edified by my participation in this action?
- Does the Bible give related principles that inform our understanding of the action in question? For example, the Bible talks about: sanctity of life; faithfulness with one’s resources, precautions against the dangers of certain actions such as drinking alcohol, as well as character attributes such as holiness and kindness. Studying passages where the Bible has clearly spoken may serve as safeguards to help us avoid the heartache and damage that theological accidents can cause.
- Does the Bible include narratives that inform our understanding of the action in question? In what ways do the stories of men and women in Scripture inform the action in question?
- How has the history of the church addressed that issue? While not being on the same level as Scripture, seeing how faithful believers throughout history have addressed a particular issue can be a useful guide for our understanding of an action in question.
- Would the action in question cause someone to stumble? Paul addressed this issue in Rom 14:15, 21; 1 Cor. 8:13. In addition, Jesus offers a related warning for those who cause “little children” to stumble in Mark 9:42. Believers should ask themselves if an action would negatively affect our witness or if I would be embarrassed if someone saw me doing the action in question?
- A final question one should ask regarding an action in question is, “Am I convicted by it?” Paul stated in Rom. 14:14 that to him who believes something is unclean, to him it is unclean. That suggests that if I have a conviction about a particular issue and I do it, for me it was sinful.
Following Jesus is more than just following rules. Jesus didn’t die for our sins just so we could be good people. Moreover, we must avoid the hypocritical temptation to accentuate certain “sins,” while minimizing others. On the other hand, those who have experienced the grace of God in Christ should strive to live our lives in a way that honors Him and His Word. God does have high expectations of His people. And He doesn’t lower His expectations simply because we fail to reach them. People ought to be able to see a difference in us if we claim to be different.
RAI: In the book you say that you originally sent these letters to new believers earlier in your pastoral ministry. Why did you do that?
GM: I wanted to have that direct, personal contact with them as they began to understand more clearly what had happened to them by coming to Christ. There’s a number of ways you can do that. You can set up appointments, meet with them — you can go to their homes. And I would do both of those. I would talk with them in my study. I would talk with them in their homes, and just in the hallway. I thought this offered a personal, more systematic, intentional approach. Once a week I would send a letter to the new believer, and the next week a follow-up letter, and a third letter until we got to the end. It allowed me that time to work with them through their salvation experience and help them understand more clearly what they had experienced and move on from there.
RAI: Did you send the same one to each person, or did you change them up?
GM: Two individuals coming to Christ would receive essentially the same letters, but there were always personal anecdotes and comments thrown in. I would always revise the letters a bit, but essentially they were the same.
RAI: How did you see the letters benefit the new believers you sent them to?
GM: One thing the letters often did was to encourage conversation. It was very common for someone to say, “Ah, George, I got another letter from you this week.” And I might say, “Well, what did you think about such and such in the letter?” So that’s one thing that the letters did. It encouraged and continued conversation with these new believers. They just need that nurturing relationship. I think the letters provided them with some specific biblical, theological, and practical information that they needed to grow in Christ.
RAI: If the primary audience is new believers, how do you see older believers benefiting from this book?
GM: Sure. It is not uncommon that as we grow older chronologically we begin to reflect on our initial salvation experience. And as the years go by, that initial experience sort of fades in our memories and we begin to wonder, “Wow, what really happened back then?” The Apostle Paul encouraged the Corinthians to examine themselves to make sure they are in the faith. Peter wrote to his readers and instructed them: make your call to the election sure. This is a task not only for the new believer, but for the middle-aged believer, the elderly believer, the one who’s walked with Christ for many years. It’s a lifelong task that we’re commanded to take on. So these letters, though addressed out of a pastor’s heart to new believers, benefit anyone who has walked with Christ for any number of years.Related: Learn about our Master of Divinity degrees at the Billy Graham School of Mission, Evangelism and Ministry
RAI: How do you see grounding new believers in the gospel consistent with the importance of teaching them doctrines that are in the book?
GM: Of course, I would use doctrine certainly in terms of biblical doctrine. I would use the term really as a synonym for truth. So as a pastor or just a Christian friend, when I want someone to understand and receive “doctrine,” I’m really wanting you to understand and receive and affirm truth.
RAI: Is there something you wish someone would have told you as a new believer that you have since learned and taken to other new believers?
GM: The one thing that I find myself coming back to time and time again is the foundation for my assurance. In fact, as a pastor, I think the one question that I heard asked to me more than any other was, “Pastor, how can I know for sure that I’m saved?” Sometimes we put it this way, “How can I know that I know that I know that I know, how can I really know for certain?” The thing that I keep coming back to and really encourage people is the doctrine of justification. I define justification very simply: what is my sin has become his. And in turn what is his righteousness full and complete has become mine. My sins have been given to him, he’s taken them on himself, paid the price, and they’re no longer mine. And in turn, he has given me his righteousness. I keep coming back to that not only in the chapter on justification but in the chapters on sanctification and assurance. Several times I reference the Apostle Paul and his own testimony there in Romans 7. As I understand it, this is the mature Apostle Paul, not the brand new believer on the Damascus Road. And even the Apostle Paul cries out, “O, the things that I should be doing I don’t do, the things that I shouldn’t do I do.” It comes to a crisis — it seems he cries out, “O wretched man that I am who will deliver me from this body of death.” And what he does immediately at the end of chapter 7 and on into chapter 8 is turn right back to the cross and the doctrine of justification — looking to Jesus and his righteousness that has been given to him. Always look to Christ and what he has done for you.
RAI: Did you handwrite the first ones or did you type them and then write them?
GM: As I recall, I might have started out on a typewriter, but at some point along the way I purchased an old K-Pro computer-IBM clone. It had two floppy discs, one floppy had the word processing system on it and the other one you saved your data to. So I began to type them on that. I think I might have some of the original handwritten, but when they went out to people they were typed. I wanted new believers to actually read the letters and if they had to struggle through my handwriting, I was afraid they wouldn’t get beyond the first paragraph or two. The letters are already kind of long for personal letters, but you want people to get through the letters and so I want to make them as clear as possible.
RAI: What are you most excited about with the book and its publishing, and what are you excited about for the future?
GM: Well, this one will surprise you. I’ve used some of this material in some of my classes. I don’t know that I’ve ever gone through all of this material chapter by chapter. I have on occasion, not with every class, but students have asked about it and I have sent to them or uploaded online the letters that were kind of older, less polished. My great hope is that the Lord will use it to encourage new believers but also more mature believers in the faith, and that they might be more settled in their faith and encouraged.
In this little book, George Martin writes letters to Matthew, a fictional, or perhaps more accurately, a composite character, sort of a spiritual "John Doe." Matthew represents new believers in Jesus Christ: a young boy, a high school cheerleader, a plumber, a college professor, a middle aged mother, a seasoned old man, or anyone who has recently believed the gospel and needs to understand clearly new life in Christ. Matthew is that new disciple with all the questions that come, along with all the hopes and the anxieties. Am I truly saved? How can I know for certain? What does it really mean to be saved, to be a child of God? What is now expected of me? Martin’s letters will help you understand questions we all have about the Christian faith.
When you are one with your wife — physically, emotionally and spiritually — you bear the image of God. Your oneness reflects the sacrificial love of Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:22-32) as well as the oneness and fellowship between the Father and the Son (John 17:20-23).
This connection is made even more obvious in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians where he explains how sexual sin distinctly wars against God’s design for oneness in the body of faith and in marriage:
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:15-20)
Satan is not unaware of this truth. As he prowls around seeking to devour (1 Peter 5:8), he knows he can distort the truth of God’s oneness and love to a watching world by attacking the oneness in your marriage. This is ground zero. Your leadership is essential at this point in order to ensure the area that can bring the deepest joy and pleasure in your marriage doesn’t become the source of Satan’s greatest victory against you, your wife and God’s reflection in your marriage.
Your leadership is crucial in three specific areas: sanctification, redeemed desire and prioritization.Sanctification
“For this is the will of God,” Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “your sanctification.” Sanctification is the essential work that begins after Jesus justifies you before the Father and presents you blameless. It’s the process of growing to be holy as God is holy. In the same breath where Paul says that God’s will is your sanctification, he immediately adds, “that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-6).
The Spirit is at work to guide your sanctification, but you have to be active in this work as well — especially in abstaining from sexual immorality and in controlling your body. This is where you work with the empowerment of the Spirit to develop self-mastery over the flesh. It involves being watchful, putting distance between yourself and sin and rushing to repent when you do sin.
Be watchful: In our sex-saturated culture, you have to be alert to temptations that can hit you everywhere you turn and can begin to pull you away from oneness with your wife. You have to lead in being watchful (1 Cor. 16:13 and 1 Peter 5:8) of your surroundings and in being on guard where you know you’re most likely to be tempted.
Put distance between yourself and sin: “[M]ake no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires,” Paul writes to the Romans. “Abstain from sexual immorality” he writes to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 4:3b). “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you,” he writes to the Ephesians (Ephesians 5:3). “Flee sexual immorality,” (1 Cor. 6:18) he writes to the Corinthians. “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire” he writes to the Colossians (Col. 3:5a). Paul’s choice of words — abstain, make no provision, flee, put to death and so forth — makes it clear that you should actively distance yourself from sexual immorality. That means guarding your eyes, words and thought life from any images, conversations or wandering thoughts that could be a gateway to sexual immorality.
Be repentant: As born-again men, we are still prone to sin. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” the apostle John writes, but then he adds, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). James writes, “sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:15). Don’t be surprised by the reality of sin in your life as a believer, but don’t let unrepentant sin grow towards death.Redeemed desire
While it’s true that sexual temptation will be with you throughout your life, it is possible to significantly change how you fight temptation by allowing the Spirit to redeem your driving desires.
Desire is a powerful engine when it comes to intimacy in your marriage. The most effective way to fight sexual temptation is to let God do an engine replacement — to change out the engine of fleshly desire that drives you towards sin and death with a Spirit-driven engine that drives you towards abundant life. Paul shows what that looks like in his letter to the Galatians:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:16-24)
As you crucify the desires of the flesh, you won’t have to keep struggling to throttle the desires that lead to sin and death (James 1:14-15). Instead, you can submit to the Spirit and allow the desires of the Spirit to drive you toward deeper intimacy and oneness with your wife.
As the Spirit leads you and produces fruit in your life and your marriage, remember the wisdom of Solomon to continually cultivate your desire for your wife:
Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well.
Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets?
Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you.
Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love. (Proverbs 5:15-19)
Enjoy the wife God has given you as a good gift to be received with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:1-5). Celebrate your love together. Drink deeply of her love.Prioritization
Finally, lead in prioritizing oneness with your wife. As you faithfully lead in your work, your responsibilities as a father and your commitments in the local church, remember that oneness with your wife is a source of stability to keep you grounded and replenished for all of your responsibilities. She is your helper for the work God has given you to do.
So, prioritize oneness with her. Hold all your responsibilities in tension with your responsibilities to her. Give her the first hug and kiss when you walk in the door from work — even as your kids race to you with updates about their day. Give your kids the security of knowing your marriage is secure and thriving by preserving dedicated time with your wife (that goes for regular date nights as well as regular times at night of uninterrupted time for you and your wife to catch up). This is what it takes to regularly grow in oneness and intimacy — just make it a priority.
By Randy Stinson & Dan Dumas How to serve your wife, how to mold men through baseball, how to make men in the church and more practical theology for cultivating men of God who are doers of the Word for the sake of the Gospel.
- Randy Stinson serves as Senior vice president for academic administration and provost. He is also associate professor of leadership and family ministry. You can follow Dr. Stinson on Twitter at @RandyStinson.
-Dan Dumas is senior vice president for institutional administration at Southern Seminary. He is a church planter and pastor-teacher at Crossing Church in Louisville, Ky. You can connect with him on Twitter at @DanDumas, on Facebook or at DanDumas.com.
I am a longtime admirer of your work. Although I am no longer a Christian, your work as a philosopher and theologian has played a significant role in the formation of my own views and I am fully persuaded of theism, although I still have lots of questions about it. I think your analysis of God's relationship to time is plausible, but I always get stuck on the idea that God is timeless apart from creation, but temporal since creation ...