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Three Days and Three Nights

Talbot School of Theology - Wed, 04/01/2015 - 12:00

The message of Easter is much more important than its chronology. Still, people often ask me questions about chronology in the Gospels. In my earlier post, I answered questions related to the date of Easter and the apparent difference between the chronology found in John and in the Synoptic Gospels. Today, I answer a few questions related to the "three days and three nights."

Categories: Seminary Blog

Two Principles for Responsible Apologetics

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Wed, 04/01/2015 - 07:00

Someone who is going to be giving a talk soon on apologetics asked me to offer a couple of principles I think would help people to do apologetics responsibly. I thought I’d share my response here.

Properly Present Your Opponent’s Position

No one enjoys being misrepresented, especially in an argument. Whether you are being accused of believing something that you reject, your words are being twisted to mean something you never said, or you are being linked to positions with which you have nothing in common, it is frustrating to be forced to defend yourself against ungrounded assertions.

Though we may despise it when we are on the receiving end, we can easily slip into these flawed attacks ourselves. One of the most common ways Christians do this is to assume all adherents of a religion believe the same things. But just like in Christianity, there are a multitude of sects for most religions, and even in those sects some individuals don’t believe what the official teaching is. (In Christianity, we note this as a difference between official teaching and the beliefs of the “person in the pew.”)

So when we do apologetics with a person from a different religion, we should avoid telling them what they believe. It may be valid to point out what the religion itself teaches (or perhaps what the traditional view of the religion purports—not some obscure teaching), but we should not accuse every follower of that religion of holding that view.

Deal with the Big Issues

Related to the previous point, it is also frustrating to interact with someone who tries to mask the weakness of their argument by piling up a host of minor issues. For example, I had a conversation with an atheist where the arguments against Christianity moved from the accusation that the account of Adam and Eve was false because it was actually Adam and Lillith (a figure from Jewish mythology developed around 300 years after Christ), to the claim that the Bible teaches reincarnation because the Jews asked John the Baptist if he was Elijah, to the charge that Christian preachers are just trying to get money from people. If you have experienced these kinds of conversations, you know how discouraging it can be that you never get to address the real issues.

But again, Christians can do the same thing. There is little value in arguing with a Muslim as to whether or not Muhammad was literate (NOTE: Many claim he was illiterate, so the production of the Qur’an must be a miracle). What matters is whether or not what Muhammad taught was true—whether it accords with what God has revealed in the Bible. So do not spend your time on peripheral matters in order to score cheap points. Properly understand and present the heart of the other person’s position and demonstrate why it is false.

Categories: Seminary Blog

VIDEO: Grindstone answers question, “Is Patterson an Arminian?”

Southwestern Seminary - Tue, 03/31/2015 - 16:12

At a Grindstone Q&A discussion on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, March 26, Roger Olson, the Foy Valentine professor of Christian theology and ethics at Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas, attempted to convince Southwestern President Paige Patterson—as well as attending students and faculty—that Patterson is an Arminian. The entire video recording of this event may be viewed below.

The full story may be read on Southwestern’s website:

Also, see Dr. Olson’s blog post, “My Visit to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (March 26, 2015)”


Categories: Seminary Blog

Willing incompatible worlds

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 03/31/2015 - 11:22

To find the words that describe with accuracy the media hysterics involved with Indiana’s passing of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) may be impossible. The sanctimonious moral preening offered via social media from such figures as Apple’s Tim Cook and the historically amnesiatic Hillary Clinton are both laughable and inexcusable for their dedication to spreading flavor-of-the-moment distortions.

Phrases like “License to discriminate” populate social media timelines. Internet memes showing separate water foundations for gays and straights harken back to the days of Jim Crow segregation.

All distortions.

Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act is substantially the same as the federal RFRA and the RFRAs on the books in many other states—including ones like Connecticut. What passed last week is a bill nearly identical to a bill that state senator Barack Obama voted for when he was in the Illinois legislature.

All that a Religious Freedom Restoration Act does is initiate a balancing test when a private citizen feels that their religious freedom has been infringed upon by the federal government. It provides extra level of strict scrutiny protection by requiring the government to demonstrate a compelling government interest for violating someone’s religious liberty, and requires the infringement to be done in the least restrictive means. Yes, it contains an extra provision that helps adjudicate matters between the government and the aggrieved party, but also between private parties. RFRA ensures that religious liberty is taken seriously in such cases. It does not mean that it will prevail. If the RFRA is good and helpful in cases arising between the government and private individuals, it is as well in cases between private individuals. If people oppose the Indiana statute over its difference from the federal law, they ought simply to oppose both—a radical position indeed.

Calls for boycotting Indiana after its legislature signed a bill virtually identical to what was signed into law in 1993 by President Bill Clinton indicates that we’ve reached a new day for religious liberty. The myth that religious liberty can meaningfully exist in any historic sense of the term alongside gay marriage has now been debunked.

According to the Republican signatories of a recent amicus brief, the fourteenth amendment requires that marriage licenses be issued to same-sex couples. At the same time, many of these individuals affirm the importance of religious liberty. But robust religious liberty protections will go to the wayside as the legal balance tips in favor of sexual liberty.

You can’t have it both ways. It is impossible to will a world where religious liberty is protected while endorsing a jurisprudence that describes opposition to gay marriage as animus. One side’s vision of public morality will win out. Conservatives and Republicans who think that religious liberty can exist in a world with same-sex marriage should be disabused of such utopic foolishness after this week's shameful and dishonest attempts by the media to quash Indiana's religious freedom bill. That’s the future of the debate about religious liberty in America.

Yes, Indiana passed such measure, and other states like Georgia and Arkansas may follow. But the opposition grows louder and louder, and the courage required of statesmen to stand becomes costlier by the week. All democratically enacted measures can be undone by democratically-enacted countermeasures.

For the time being, states with RFRAs are making the right move to protect religious liberty. Indiana’s Governor Pence should be commended, but until our culture’s citizens renew their commitment to marriage and public sentiment recognizes the incompatibility of religious liberty and sexual revolution and acts on such incompatibilities, such legislative protections may prove to be merely provisional unless we have a culture in tow.

Andrew Walker is Director of Policy Studies at The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and a PhD student in Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

This post originally appeared at First Things


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Categories: Seminary Blog

Reflections on Dr. Robert L. Saucy’s 54-Year Career at Talbot

Talbot School of Theology - Mon, 03/30/2015 - 17:42

Dr. Robert L. Saucy was a faculty member at Talbot for 54 years. He began teaching here in 1961—the year JFK was inaugurated as President, the Andy Griffith show made its debut, and Henry Mancini received a Grammy for “Moon River.” The Dean of Talbot, Dr. Charles Feinberg, hired Bob to Chair both the Systematic Theology Department and the Department of English Bible. At that time, Talbot was less than 100 students.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs

Criswell College: For Christ and Culture - Mon, 03/30/2015 - 14:29

by Joe Wooddell

On January 16, 2015 American Sniper (the movie) was released. It took me a while, but I finally saw it a few weeks ago. Based on the true story of Navy Seal Chris Kyle, the movie chronicles his four tours of duty in Iraq, and basically shows how important a sniper can be to military maneuvers, and how extremely well Kyle accomplished this task. A friend mentioned that those critical of the movie assert that it glorifies war. I disagree. It glorifies valor, courage, self-sacrifice, and the triumph of good over evil, but not war itself. All of this is another post, however. It’s not what I aim to address in this post. Rather, I want to mention a phrase or idea mentioned in the film by the character of Kyle’s dad when Kyle and his brother were children.

In the film, after a playground fight scene, the Kyle family is seated around the dinner table and Mr. Kyle stresses that there are three types of people in the world: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. He tells his children not to be a sheep, and that if they become wolves he’ll whip their behinds (to put it mildly). That leaves one option: become a sheepdog. Chris Kyle becomes one, but you’ll have to see the film for any other details. My point in this post is simply to unpack this notion of sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs from a Christian perspective. (Listen to a related radio show with myself and Winston Hottman here.)

The point I would make is simply this: it strikes me that we are basically all three at some point or another. First, each of us needs protection from time to time; well, pretty much all the time. We are, as Aristotle noted two-and-a-half millennia ago, social beings. We need each other. This is especially true as believers with various spiritual gifts. The apostle says we are all part of the same body but possess different gifts, and all of them are important. Even Chris Kyle in the film needed a fellow soldier on the rooftop to watch his back as he lay down with his rifle and scope to pick off bad guys as American troops moved up and down streets and from structure to structure. He also needed plenty of people at home in the States to keep the economy going, keep the home front safe, and he certainly needed his wife to take care of the family while he was away keeping the country safe. Moreover, the Bible speaks of believers themselves being like sheep, and needing a divine Good Shepherd. Pastors themselves are under-shepherds, yet also sheep in a sense. To sum up: we all need each other, and we certainly all need the Lord to protect and watch over us. In fact, we needed Him so badly He laid down His life for His sheep.

Second, each of us is a wolf every time we sin. Our sin affects others whether we realize it or not, even when we sin in our mind, or in the privacy of our own aloneness. Such so-called “private” sin, which supposedly “doesn’t hurt anyone,” actually mars my character, thus making me a much worse husband, father, employee, boss, and friend. That is, we hurt others when we sin, and insofar as we are hurting others we are wolves. Of course, it’s most obvious that people are wolves when they blatantly prey on others. Bullies, terrorists, tyrants, passive-aggressive manipulators, abusers, abductors, and racists are all obviously wolves, and the consequences are dire. Our own “little” sins, however, can also be extremely hurtful in the long run, and we ought to remember that whatever good dwells in us is only by God’s grace and mercy, not because we are so virtuous in and of ourselves.

Third and finally, we are all sheepdogs; we all have something to give to others that only we can give. We are uniquely created, not only in God’s image, but in a certain place and time with special gifts and talents that are combined in a way that is unique to us. We are sheepdogs when we pray for others, when we do our jobs with excellence, when we saturate ourselves with God’s Word and ways, and when we obediently follow His will for our lives. Everyone leads and protects someone at some point in his or her life. There’s even a sense in which newborns and all those who cannot care one moment for themselves are sheepdogs: that is, they “give” simply by existing as they are, implicitly urging those around them to care for them. Such urging compels us to do the right thing, thus improving our own character and the world around us. The existence of those who are utterly helpless ends up – if we are willing to receive it – improving us and the world around us. Thus they serve as a sort of protector to us and our society. They are sheepdogs.

Thank God for those who protect us, and for the opportunity to care for and protect others. And God help us to become less and less of the wolves that we would be if left to ourselves in our sin. There is only one Good Shepherd, and He has already dealt a crushing blow to the ultimate wolf (or lion), who prowls about seeking someone to devour. This is good news worth sharing with both sheep and wolves. As we do so, we become sheepdogs in the best sense possible: saving the lost. “This above all else,” maintained Dr. Criswell, “the saving of the lost!”

Categories: Seminary Blog

Chronology of Easter in John and the Synoptic Gospels

Talbot School of Theology - Mon, 03/30/2015 - 12:00

The exact chronology of Easter is not the most important thing to think about during Easter week, but students often ask me questions about chronological issues in the Gospels. Here are two common questions:

What is the probable date of Jesus’ crucifixion?

Calculating ancient dates gets complicated for a number of reasons: Jewish months all started at the new moon; they had two “new years” per year; they added in leap months as needed; days started at sunset, not sunrise; ancient people often used imprecise designations for years, and not everyone was using the same calendar system in the first century.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Bible Fluency Giveaway!

Talbot School of Theology - Sat, 03/28/2015 - 14:34

Weaver Book Company is sponsoring an Amazon.com giveaway of the Bible Fluency Complete Learning Kit.  Up to five times, for each 100 entrants, one will receive a free copy of the Bible Fluency kit, including the teaching videos, flashcards, workbook, and music CD.  Spread the word!  The giveaway will last one week or until the fifth prize is awarded.  Click HERE


Categories: Seminary Blog

Reject Jesus for Judaism?

Talbot School of Theology - Fri, 03/27/2015 - 12:00

Dear Dr. Craig,

On Jan 5th I made a statement that I was not going to allow doubt in regards to Jesus into my life, Jesus appears to be the best choice and that’s what I’m going with and I’ll reevaluate at the end of the year. Well, a few days after I made this statement some books by Rabbi Tovia Singer (Let's Get Biblical) that I ordered earlier arrived and I couldn’t help myself to start reading them. I hate that I’m so inconsistent, but I will not apologize for yearning for truth ...

Categories: Seminary Blog

Three Christian misconceptions about Muslims (Part 2)

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Thu, 03/26/2015 - 15:57

In my last post, I discussed three common misconception that Muslims have about Christians. Today, I will be exposing three misconceptions that Christians often believe concerning Muslims.

When the average Westerner hears “Muslim,” a number of images come to mind—mostly negative. But most Muslims would be just as horrified as we are at the assumptions entertained about them. Here are some of the most common misconceptions that Westerners have about Muslims:

Misconception 1: Most Muslims Support Terrorism.

Christians won’t usually come out and say that they think all Muslims are terrorists. But many do assume that the majority of Muslims support terrorism, albeit quietly. Much has been written about how Islam was established “by the sword,” or how Muslims engaging in terrorist activity are simply obeying what the Qur’an tells them to do. It is certainly easy to find Muslims using the Qur’an to justify violence. Even when you give the Qur’an a charitable reading, asking “What would Muhammad do?” will lead to a very different place than “What would Jesus do?”

That said, most of the Muslims you encounter—either in Western or in Islamic countries—are not violent people. They are kind, peaceable people and they are often embarrassed by the actions of Muslims throughout the world. While there is a good chance they see world politics very differently from the average Westerner, you will most likely find them warm, hospitable, and kind.

Yes, sincere Muslims believe that Islam will one day rule the world. And we can certainly chide Muslims for not speaking out more against terrorism. But we won’t get very far with them when we assume things about them that are not true. Just as we hate to be maligned, they hate it also.

Misconception 2: All Muslim women feel oppressed.

Westerners often think of the Islamic woman as severely oppressed. They have a mental picture of a woman, hunched over, walking six feet behind her husband, staring dutifully downward. She can barely read, can’t write at all, and longs for freedom from the oppressive rule of Islam and her dictatorial husband.

This is often very far from the truth. Here are three things to keep in mind about the women of Islam:

A.    Many Muslim men and women are happily married. 

The married couples I met when I lived in a Muslim country certainly didn’t do “romance” as Westerners are accustomed to. But neither were the women the demeaned sex-slaves that many Westerners often assume.

There were, of course, some exceptions. I had friends whose wives were rarely allowed out of the back of the house, must less out into the community. And there are certain cultures (Afghanistan, for instance) in which oppression seems more the norm than the exception. But it is an overstatement to say that all Muslim women see themselves as oppressed.

B.   Women are often the most ardent defenders of Islam. 

Ironic but true: despite Islam’s history of oppression, women will often be Islam’s most ardent supporters. Many Islamic women, especially in the Western world, call for reform in how women are treated in Islamic culture, but rarely for an end to Islam itself.

C. There is no denying, however, that the Qur’an and Hadith speak disparagingly of women. 

The Hadith says that 80 percent of the people in hell are women. In explaining why the witness of a woman is equal to only half of a man’s in court, it says, “Because of the deficiency in their brains.” The Qur’an says that Muslim wives “are like a field to be plowed,” which has often been used to legitimize patriarchy and male dominance. And none of this takes into account localized practices which often exceed the Qur’an in brutality.

Some Islamic scholars will say that I am reading these texts wrongly. But the fact remains: much of the worst oppression of women happens in Muslim countries. Islam lacks the robust Judeo-Christian teaching asserting the equality of men and women as both made in God’s image. It may not be universal, but many Islamic women do feel imprisoned. In contrast, showing Muslim women their dignity in Christ has, in many places, proven to be an immensely effective evangelism strategy.

Misconception 3: Muslims seek to know a different God than Christians do.

This is controversial, but hear me out. Muslims claim to worship the God of Adam, Abraham, and Moses. Many missionaries find it therefore helpful to start with Muslims using the Arabic term for God,“Allah” (meaning literally, “the Deity”), and from there to explain that the God Muslims seek to worship, the God of the Prophets, was the God present in bodily form in Jesus Christ, revealed most fully by him, and the One worshipped by Christians for the past two millennia. This is not the same as saying that becoming a Muslim is like a “first step to becoming a Christian.” And it certainly doesn’t mean that Islam is an alternate way of getting to heaven. It simply means that we are both referring to the only, One deity when we say “God.”

You might ask, “But isn’t the Islamic God so different from the Christian God that they cannot properly be called by the same name?” Perhaps. The question about whether to say that “Allah” refers to the wrong God (or to wrong ideas about the right God) is a highly nuanced one, and there’s not an easy answer. There is no doubt that Muslims believe blasphemous things about God, and their beliefs about Allah grew out of a distorted view of Christianity. The same could be said, though to a lesser degree, of the view of God of the first-century Sadducees, as well as the Samaritan woman, and (to an even lesser degree) the fifth-century Pelagian heretics—not to mention a lot of the medieval Scholastics.

The question is whether the presence of these heretical beliefs (and what degree of heresy in them) demands that we say, “You are worshipping a different God.” Clearly, the Apostles did not say that about the first-century Jews who rejected the Trinity (even though Jesus said their father was the devil!). And Jesus did not tell the Samaritan woman in her ethnic, works-righteousness distorted view of God that she was worshipping a different God, either. Instead, he insisted that she was worshipping him incorrectly and seeking salvation wrongly. And I’ve never heard anyone say that the Pelagian heretics worship a different God, even though they have been regarded (rightly) as heretics.

At the same time, Paul never said, “Zeus’s real name is Jehovah,” as if the Greeks were worshipping the true God wrongly. So, the question is: is the Muslim view of Allah more like that of Zeus or of the Samaritan woman’s heretical conception of God? That’s a tough question, and one that we need to let the context determine. For instance, many Christians find the use of “Allah” more misleading than helpful. For them, “Allah” falls in the “Zeus” category.

On the other side, however, are many faithful Christians working among Muslims who approach the question of Allah much like Jesus corrected the Samaritan woman.“You are seeking to worship the one God, but you are wrong in your view of him, andwrong in how you seek salvation from him. Salvation is from the Jews.” In my time with Muslims over the years, I’ve found that to be a more helpful starting place. This isn’t driven by a desire to be politically correct, but by a desire to start where Muslims are, and to bring them to faith in the one and only Son of God, Jesus.

When talking with Muslims about the gospel, we need to eliminate any unnecessary distractions. The necessary ones, after all, will be tough enough. We must view Muslims with charity, refusing to pigeonhole them. We live in a world of stereotypes, but love can overcome what political correctness can’t. To listen to someone without prejudice is the beginning of loving them. In other words, “Do unto others” applies here as well: let’s see others as they would like to be seen.


J.D. Greear is the lead pastor of The Summit Church, in Raleigh-Durham, NC and author of Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary (2011), Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved (2013), and Jesus, Continued…: Why the Spirit Inside You Is Better Than Jesus Beside You (2014). 

J.D. completed his Ph.D. in Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary where he is also a faculty member, writing on the correlations between early church presentations of the gospel and Islamic theology. Having lived and served among Muslims, he has a burden to see them, as well as every nation on earth, come to know and love the salvation of God in Christ.

This post originally appeared at the Jenkins Center blog. The Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam exists to bring a front-line exposure to Islam right into the heart of the seminary’s academic programs.

Are you interested in pursuing your seminary education? Did you know Southern has a fully online M.Div.? There are a variety of options available through Southern Seminary's Global Campus.

Tap into online classes and other delivery models as you continue pursuing your seminary education.

Categories: Seminary Blog

How I Remember My Father

Talbot School of Theology - Thu, 03/26/2015 - 12:00

There are many memories I will treasure of my father, Robert Saucy, but I will write about only one now that has most profoundly impacted me—I believe, for all eternity. It was Dad’s passion for God’s Word.



Categories: Seminary Blog

In the Lion’s Den: Tough Topics with Everett Berry

Criswell College: For Christ and Culture - Thu, 03/26/2015 - 10:39

After our latest Lion’s Den Q&A with professors, we asked our resident theologian, Dr. Everett Berry, to discuss the theological implications of the questions raised by our students.

When I come to school I always see homeless men and women asking for handouts at street corners. Sometimes I see the same people week after week at the same place. What can I do to help them? How should I respond to them?

Such a question requires a careful (and sensitive) response because there isn’t really an all-purpose exhaustive answer that can be applied every time someone encounters a person who is homeless. Different situations require wisdom and on-your-feet instincts to meet various people where they are. Likewise, people here in the states, at least, are homeless or on the streets for a host of reasons; mental illness, trouble at home, drug/alcohol abuse, bad decisions, unexpected economic hard times, severe unemployment, etc.  That being said, a few things should be kept in mind when wrestling with how to help people in need.

The first thing is that as believers, we must always have Christ-felt compassion toward those with no resources because this attitude is central to the gospel itself. In our sinful rebellion, God sent his Son to meet us in our dire need and on top of that, he met it when we had no desire for it to be met. So that same kind of relentless mercy and kindness which God extended to us should now motivate us to help others. This is why as Christians we feel the impulse to help meet the immediate physical needs of people because we hear the echo of James in our souls who said true religion is defined partly by caring for widows and orphans (Jms 1:27) and that to only say one wants to help a brother in need and not do it is really no help at all (Jms 1:14-15).

At the same time, though, this student’s question highlights the fact that many people who are homeless are chronically as such. So how do we help people who are stuck in an ongoing cycle of need? I would just recommend a few things. One is that any time we do talk with someone who is homeless, we should listen to their story so we can understand who they are and also share the story of the gospel in return. If you come into contact with someone who is homeless on a regular basis, they should eventually be able to identify you because you’re the one “who always talks about Jesus.” Also if you are going to do something for them, whether it be buying them a meal or giving them some spare cash, be honest with them about your spiritual motivation for doing so.

Likewise, if you choose not to give them anything, be open about why you will not. The balance with which we struggle is that we want to help people come to know Christ as well as escape their plight of homelessness. But the challenge is that apart from the Holy Spirit, no one wants to repent of their sins and some (but by no means all or even the majority) simply want to continue in their homelessness as opposed to taking up the burden of responsibility. Thus while we want to help people, we want to avoid equipping anyone to remain in the ruts of their habitual conditions. The trick is learning through trial and error and a daily walk with Christ how to discern the difference.

A prominent pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention has recently called for the U.S. to engage in military action against ISIS. Is it appropriate for Christian pastors to use the pulpit as a platform to call for war? Why or why not?

This is a big question that really cannot be answered unless one first deals with the larger concern of whether Christians should be involved in war at all. The obvious reason for this is that if one thinks there are justifiable reasons for doing so, then whether or not pastors should speak in defense of war is an open question. However, if one thinks that Christians should not be involved in war or any expression of physical violence, then clearly this would lead to the conclusion that pastors should never support such conduct in the pulpit or any other context.

The dilemma here is that historically believers have disagreed on what a “Christian” view of war should actually look like. The two most prominent perspectives that represent polar opposite opinions on this matter are known as Just War Theory (JWT) and Pacifism. Both of these viewpoints have a strong presence in assorted strains of the Christian tradition. And there is no way that I can navigate these deep waters in a quick response. What should be said, however, is that while these approaches are unquestionably mutually exclusive, they are advocated by various thinkers because of certain biblical convictions and theological strong points.

For instance, JWT is actually based on a concern to curtail war by creating a set of sound parameters to hold nations in check and restrict acts of war to a possible, but last resort. In contrast, Christian Pacifists are quick to recognize a typical pattern of human behavior wherein violent responses to violent acts usually perpetuate more violence. Thus Pacifists advocate non-violent responses because they believe this approach can hopefully turn away wrath as opposed to exacerbate it.

At the same time, both of these approaches have difficulties to address as well. JWT faces the reality that countries, nations, and armies hardly ever (if ever arguably) follow the strict guidelines that the view mandates. So there is always the concern that justifiable reasons for war may be secretly, or even openly, wed with dubious, self-serving nationalistic motives. Likewise, one of the major concerns that a Pacifist position has is that a willingness to die or be abused rather than exhibit violence as a means of self-defense also has to be applied in situations where others are in harm’s way as well. In other words, if one is not willing to use force to protect themselves, to be consistent they cannot use it to protect others either.  In the end then, either view can inadvertently put people in harm’s way.

All that being said, what about pastors using the pulpit to implore a nation to go to war. The first thing I would say is that if a church is going to speak about war, the pulpit is an inevitable place to do it. Why? Because our society is full of pulpits where people use various platforms to promote ideas and use sources of authority to support their claims. Academicians use a classroom, authors use books, directors use cinema, artists use a canvas, speakers use podiums, and preachers often use pulpits. I would say then that if a pastor believes that war can be biblically substantiated, then undoubtedly the pulpit is a proper place to speak about war.

Now as to the question whether a pastor should use the pulpit to plea for a nation to go to war, I would definitely want to say that it should never be done hastily. If a pastor is going to speak about this, he should only do so as a last resort and only after he has exhausted other options. For instance, it may be more appropriate for other nations to engage in certain conflicts as opposed to the one in which certain pastors serve. Furthermore, even when a pastor possibly speaks about war, the response from the people should be humble contrition, not rousing applause. And finally, if pastors are going to speak about war from the pulpit, they had better have a set of theological convictions based on Scripture that they can clearly articulate to their congregations. In other words, Christian flocks need to know how their pastor’s convictions about the gospel as well as the church’s relationship to the state form his understanding about war and a Christian’s involvement in such an event.

I share the Gospel when the opportunity presents itself, but I do not stand on a street corner and street preach. Should I feel disobedient because I am not continuously evangelizing?

At first glance, my initial response to this question is “no,” believers should not feel they are “in sin” because they are not talking to unbelievers about Christ every waking moment. Nor should someone feel guilty because they are not using one particular method of communicating the gospel as opposed to another. But at the same time that I say this, the concern underlying this question is important and even healthy to a degree. This student is perplexed about the frequency and/or method of sharing his/her faith because of a genuine dedication to evangelism. And to the student’s credit, if we take what Scripture says about hell seriously as well as the weight of the Great Commission, then there is no doubt that one of the major objectives of our lives as Christians should be to make disciples of the nations.

So every moment that we spend doing others things (which may be important) is a moment wherein we are not talking with someone about Christ. And in a sense, that should be a weight upon us indeed. We should be sensitive to opportunities that come our way to speak of Christ with others, knowing that those chances can come in a variety of ways. However, we should also be sensitive to approaches that are more effective than others. For example then, when it comes to street preaching, this method is very helpful in certain countries where people groups are very open to public contexts where individuals can randomly speak. In other venues, though, there can actually be legal ordinances against such practices and therefore we have to find other ways to talk with people about the Lord. The key is that evangelism be a central part of who we are rather than something on the periphery of our lives.

Is a free-market society such as America conducive for a Christian’s call to care for the poor?

In responding to this question, I do not intend to form a condensed defense of the free market (or even capitalism). As one of my colleagues has pointed out, in many ways a free-market is an inevitable dynamic that naturally works its way into society unless prohibited by other radical ideologies. The question is whether it can be conducive to a Christian’s devotion to taking care of the poor. And my answer is yes. But this is not to say that a free-market is intrinsically immune to critique or that it cannot be abused. Indeed it can be used for good or bad purposes. Yet this does not make a free-market venue undesirable. It just means that people can exploit it to achieve less than noble ends. In short, I think the primary strength to a free-market, as it is structured in this country, is that people can create wealth so as to use it for the potential betterment of others.

Does this mean that if all Christians accumulate resources that they will always use them to take care of others and not become consumed with materialism?  Of course not. The freedom to gather “stuff” can lead to the slavery of loving “stuff” instead of others. Nevertheless, restrictions on one’s ability to work freely for personal gain (aside from fraud, robbery, or other immoral activities) often hamstrings one’s capacity to help others. So there is a catch-22 here. On the one hand, having the ability to acquire much can (negatively) enslave some to consumerism or (positively) enable them to help others with the blessings of their labor. Yet on the other hand, while having less can sometimes (positively) inoculate some from the dangers of materialism, (negatively) putting a strict ceiling on what people can do fiscally normally breeds apathy and deeper grinding poverty for a greater number of people. Thus if the number of poor increase, helping others can become more difficult.

What should the relationship between institutions (e.g. Criswell) and churches look    like? Are ministries/parachurch organizations/seminaries infringing upon responsibilities that the church should be meeting? Is this a false dichotomy?

I have to admit, this is a question that has perplexed me for many years. The reason being that Christ only instituted one entity to fulfill the Great Commission and that was the church. The task of proclaiming the gospel and making disciples was given to his followers who were to form local churches, or covenant communities, until Christ’s return. At the same time, nothing in the New Testament mitigates against believers engaging in kingdom work outside of specific local church activity.   

I think the real struggle here is two-fold. One major concern about Christian parachurch institutions is accountability. The fact is that historically speaking, a common trend can be observed among many Christian parachurch institutions no matter their reason for existence, whether it be benevolence, academics, or some specific area of discipleship. That is if they begin to distance themselves from strong connections to a church or group of churches, their general trend is to drift theologically. Usually this cycle rears its ugly head through the decaying process of liberalism or an overt emphasis on extreme ecumenism which leads to doctrinal capitulation. The other concern ironically arises when parachurch ministries become successful in their purpose. The problem is that many who are involved in parachurch activities can become so consumed by them that they become ambivalent to involvement in a local church body. Sometimes a believer’s solidarity with other believers in a specific area of parachurch ministry essentially becomes their church. And this is just as problematic because whether a parachurch entity intentionally separates from ecclesiastical accountability or unintentionally creates social substitutes for congregations, the same result occurs; the local church is neglected.

In the end then, I believe that the best safeguard against these extremes, which can allow parachurch ministries to help the church. is an aggressive interconnectedness with one church or a network of churches. Now this may get complicated depending on how broad a parachurch group wants to be. But I think it is a necessary headache that needs to exist because if a parachurch entity is not inspiring people to be more involved in their churches, then it’s not helping the church. It’s an anti- rather than para-church ministry.

At what point do aesthetic values become objective or subjective? If I look at a range of mountains, obviously that sparks satisfaction in regard to beauty, but at what point can someone honestly say that something isn’t beautiful? And if I object their statement, what grounds do I have to do so?

The philosophy of beauty or aesthetics is a subject that intersects with several domains of discourse which can make discussions about the topic somewhat complex and seemingly cumbersome at times. As it pertains to the “ontology” of beauty, many thinkers discuss the subject in terms of how it transcends the subjective opinions of observers. The main reason for this is that the intrinsic order of creation is inseparably linked to our proclivity to observe it and even emulate it as creatures. Thus for Christians, just as morality, logic, and other areas of knowledge contain objective content, so likewise the topic of beauty must retain some element of objectivity as well.

At the same time, what often tangles the subject in perplexing knots is that value, preference, and taste are normally what we think about when we discuss the subject to of beauty. We impulsively think about what flavors of food we find enjoyable, what art forms we find especially appealing, or what combination of colors we think create the most flare in a building or a room. So in this sense, I do not think there is anything wrong with speaking about beauty as subjective because we are talking more about what our preferences are as opposed to what beauty is as an ontological category. Beyond this, I defer to my colleagues in philosophy who examine the field of aesthetics more in depth than I.

Categories: Seminary Blog

New Issue of Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Thu, 03/26/2015 - 07:00

The Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal has been produced annually by DBTS since 1996. The 2014 edition (vol. 19) was recently published:

  • “‘The Chief Exercise of Faith': John Calvin and the Practice of Prayer” by John Aloisi
  • “Spirit-Filling in Ephesians 5:18″ by William W. Combs
  • A Tale of Two Kingdoms: The Struggle for the Spirituality of the Church and the Genius of
    the Dispensational System” by Mark A. Snoeberger
  • “Being Jesus, Missio Dei, and Kingdom Work: An Analysis, Critique, and Proposal for Modern
    Approaches to Holistic Ministry” by Benjamin G. Edwards
  • “From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective: A Review Article” by Matthew A. Postiff
  • “Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority
    of the New Testament Books
    : A Review Article” by Jon Pratt
  •  Book Reviews

Information on subscriptions and back issues can be found here or just click the “Journal” tab at the top of this page.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Three Muslim misconceptions about Christians (Part 1)

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 03/24/2015 - 12:00

The history of Islam and Christianity is hardly an amiable one. Many people from both religions view the other with suspicion (at best) or fear and hatred (at worst). This suspicion existed from day one, and centuries of violence have only served to heighten it. Tragically, the border between Christianity and Islam has all too often been a bloody one.

A dicey past, of course, makes for a dicey present. But it isn’t just our history that transforms the border between Christians and Muslims into a dangerous fault line. A lot also rests on uninformed misconceptions. There are, of course, substantive theological differences between the two religions. And these differences can lead to legitimate conflict. But conversations can’t move forward unless we dispel some pervasive myths. I learned these the hard way, through dozens of awkward and often painful conversations with Muslims in Southeast Asia. You can do what I never could—learn from my mistakes without actually making them.

Many obstacles stand in the way of Muslims coming to faith in Jesus—theological confusion and the cost of conversion being two of the most daunting. And of course the most common reason why Muslims are not coming to Christ is that most have simply never heard the gospel.

That said, there is a set of misconceptions that most Muslims have about Christians that keep them from even considering the gospel. In my follow up post, we’ll look at the flip side—Christian misconceptions about Muslims. But here are three of the biggest misconceptions Muslims have about Christians:

1. Christians worship three Gods.

This one took me by surprise. I knew that the doctrine of the Trinity was difficult for Muslims (as it is for most Christians). But I never fully realized how badly Muslims misunderstood it and how offensive it was to them.

Several Muslims asked me how I could believe that God could have had sex with the Virgin Mary to conceive Jesus. Christians are blasphemous, I was told, because they worship three gods: god the father, god the son, and god the mother. This was news to me, of course, so I asked where they learned it. They told me: from their local imam, the Muslim religious leader.

Of course, Christians find this depiction of the Trinity just as offensive as Muslims do. And this is a good place to start. The idea of Jesus as a result of copulation between God and Mary is blasphemous, and we should feel free to express our disgust and outrage at the “trinity” as it is thus wrongfully described. Monotheism is central to Christianity, just as it is to Islam. So Christians can wholeheartedly agree with Muslims that there is only one God worthy of worship. Our conception of him is dramatically different…but the offense here is usually misplaced.

2. Christianity is morally corrupt.

MTV was huge in the part of the world I lived. Western music videos frequently featured rap stars or scantily clad women wearing crosses. My Muslim friends assumed, naturally enough, that these were Christians and that their behavior was typical of Christians.

I was once even asked by one of my friends, a Muslim college student, if I would throw her a “Christian” birthday party. When I asked what she meant, she replied that she wanted a party with a lot of booze and racy dancing, just like she had seen on television. Misunderstandings like hers, sadly, are the norm and not the exception.

Many Muslims will not even consider the gospel because they know (correctly) that such behavior is offensive to God. You can leverage this for your advantage, though. When Muslims find out you are not that way, they will want to know what makes you different. This is your opportunity to explain to them what a living faith in Christ is all about.

3. "The west" and "the church" are synonymous.

“Separation of church and state” is part of the cultural fabric of Westerners. Muslims, however, do not understand such a distinction. Islam is, in its very nature, a political entity, replete with numerous societal codes. There is no parallel Muslim concept of the “separation of mosque and state.” So whenMuslims look at Western nations like the USA, Germany, France, or the UK, they see “Christian countries.” Our presidents are assumed to be Christian leaders, and our political policies are assumed to be reflective of church policy. What the US does, the Church does. I was once asked, for instance, why “the Church” bombed Iraq.

To engage Muslims with the gospel, you must delineate these two entities. And you’ll probably have to, in many situations, put your patriotism aside. If you want to be an advocate for American policies, you likely will not gain much of an audience for the gospel. There is a place for discussion of both, but we each have only enough bandwidth to represent a certain number of issues, and to me (as a representative of the church) it is simply not worth it to sacrifice a gospel platform for the sake of defending American political decisions. I was recently told by a Turkish Muslim that “all of the problems in the world are caused by America.” Do I agree with him? No. But is this where I want to stand my ground? No. For the sake of the gospel, our patriotism must die when we serve in Muslim countries.

As we often say at our church, the gospel is offensive. Nothing else should be. Since so much of our message strikes Muslims as off-putting, we need to equip ourselves to dispel the false offenses of Christianity. Only then can the life-giving offense of the cross shine as it should.

When the average Westerner hears “Muslim,” a number of images come to mind—mostly negative. But most Muslims would be just as horrified as we are at the assumptions entertained about them. In my next post, I will discuss three of the most common misconceptions that Westerners have about Muslims.


J.D. Greear is the lead pastor of The Summit Church, in Raleigh-Durham, NC and author of Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary (2011), Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved (2013), and Jesus, Continued…: Why the Spirit Inside You Is Better Than Jesus Beside You (2014). 

J.D. completed his Ph.D. in Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary where he is also a faculty member, writing on the correlations between early church presentations of the gospel and Islamic theology. Having lived and served among Muslims, he has a burden to see them, as well as every nation on earth, come to know and love the salvation of God in Christ.

This post originally appeared at the Jenkins Center blog. The Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam exists to bring a front-line exposure to Islam right into the heart of the seminary’s academic programs.

Are you interested in pursuing your seminary education? Did you know Southern has a fully online M.Div.? There are a variety of options available through Southern Seminary's Global Campus. 

Tap into online classes and other delivery models as you continue pursuing your seminary education.


Categories: Seminary Blog


Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Mon, 03/23/2015 - 19:46

Next year will be our 40th year of helping local churches prepare men for gospel ministry. God has been very kind to DBTS through these four decades of ministry. DBTS grads are serving all over the United States and advancing the gospel around the world. There are a lot of changes happening in the world of ministerial training, but we’re convinced that a local church based seminary that focuses on a 2 Timothy 2:2 model for perpetuating gospel ministry has been and will continue to be the best way to equip men.

We are pleased to announce that Brian Trainer is coming to serve as the new Dean of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. Brian has served as the Chairman of the Bible Department at Maranatha Baptist University for the past 9 years. In addition to his work at MBU, he has served as the executive pastor for Lakewood Baptist Church, a thriving church plant in Delafield, Wisconsin. Brian brings to DBTS a robust commitment to our distinctives, great leadership and administrative gifts, and an excellent track record of investing in the lives of future pastors and missionaries. Brian’s extensive experience in pastoral work and educational administration have prepared him well for this new ministry opportunity. We are looking forward to having Brian, along with his wife Sherry, assume his new role as Dean of the seminary beginning on June 1st.

Our current Academic Dean, Dr. William Combs, is retiring at the end of the present seminary year. Dr. Combs has served as Professor of New Testament since the fall of 1983. He has also served in the administration of the seminary throughout these years, first as Registrar, then as Academic Dean. Dr. Combs has been the editor of the Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal since its inception and also is responsible for the seminary blog. God brought Dr. Combs to DBTS at a pivotal moment in the history of the seminary and his service here has been instrumental in building our academic programs. We are grateful for his service and thankful for the impact that he has had on DBTS students for over 30 years.

We are extremely grateful for the heritage we have here at DBTS, and we are also eager to see how the Lord will continue to work through this ministry to equip men for faithful service pastoring and planting churches, both in the States and around the globe. Please pray for us as we seek to honor God in all we do!

Categories: Seminary Blog

Thinking about the Church Fathers

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Sat, 03/21/2015 - 07:00

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about Patrick (c. 389–c. 461). In response to that post, someone asked several questions about Patrick including whether or not he was Catholic. I offered a brief reply, and a colleague suggested that many people might have similar concerns about the church fathers in general and that it might be helpful to address the subject in a separate post.

Here’s the bulk of my original reply about Patrick:

Concerning “salvation by grace alone through faith alone,” one would be hard pressed to find that kind of language used prior to the Reformation. In fact, although I believe the NT teaches that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, one can’t actually find that phrase in the Bible, and it probably can’t be found in any of the early church fathers either. So if we’re just looking for those words, we won’t find them in Patrick. On the other hand, he doesn’t say anything that is inconsistent with the idea of salvation by grace alone through faith alone.

“Are we certain Patrick wasn’t Catholic?” It all depends on what one means by the word “Catholic.” Patrick definitely wasn’t Roman Catholic in the modern sense of the term. In his Confession, Patrick never mentions Rome or the pope. He describes his grandfather as a priest without any sense of that being inappropriate. And he appeals to the Scriptures (about two dozen times) as authoritative, but he never points to tradition as a basis of religious authority. The kind of Christianity which Patrick saw established in Ireland was not Roman Catholic in any meaningful sense.

Admittedly, Patrick wasn’t a Baptist nor any other kind of Protestant, but then no one was in the fifth century. Based on what he left behind, Patrick seems to have preached a Christianity which was biblically-based, distinct from Rome, and as far as we can tell “evangelical” (in the broad, anachronistic sense of the term).

Catholic sources have labeled Patrick a saint, but they’ve also labeled Peter, Paul, Ignatius, Irenaeus, and most other early church fathers saints as well. For the most part, Catholic sources are not a reliable guide to determining how “Roman Catholic” a particular individual was (cf. Peter as the first pope).

Much of what I said about Patrick is applicable to the church fathers in general. If you’ve had questions about how biblical or perhaps how Roman Catholic the church fathers may have been, here are three reading suggestions that may help.

First, read the introduction to Bryan Litfin’s book Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction (Brazos, 2007). The entire book is worth reading, but the first thirty pages or so are particularly helpful in this regard. In these pages Litfin addresses a number of misconceptions which evangelicals tend to have concerning the church fathers. The first two misconceptions he addresses are the twin ideas that “the church fathers were not biblical” (20) and that “the church fathers were Roman Catholics” (22). Instead of repeating that material here, I’m going to just recommend that you read that section of the book. If you don’t have access to a hard copy of the book, you should be able to read the relevant pages online using Amazon’s “look inside” feature (If you’re not in the habit of using that feature, go here, then click on the book’s cover and scroll down to the relevant pages.).

Second, read the first chapter of Michael Haykin’s book Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church (Crossway, 2011). This chapter explains why evangelicals living in the twenty-first century should bother reading books written by Christians almost a thousand years ago. Among other things, Haykin mentions how some of our Protestant forebears found the fathers helpful, how the church fathers can help us understand the present, and how the fathers can help us understand the NT. Again in this case, most of the chapter can be read on Amazon using the “look inside” feature. But as with Litfin’s book, this one is worth owning, so if your book budget allows, you should really considering picking up the book.

Third and most importantly, read the church fathers themselves. While books about the church fathers can be very helpful, nothing can take the place of actually reading (i.e., listening to) the people you want to understand. You could read all about chocolate, but if you’ve never tasted chocolate, you still won’t really understand what chocolate is like or why some people consider Breyer’s chocolate ice cream one of the major food groups (If chocolate isn’t your thing, fill in an appropriate flavor.). In much the same way, you should probably spend more time reading the church fathers than simply reading about them. Listening to the fathers is the only way to really understand them. Here’s a roughly chronological list of where to begin reading the fathers:

The Apostolic Fathers in English, ed. Michael Holmes
Athanasius, On the Incarnation
Life and Practice in the Early Church: A Documentary Reader, ed. Steven McKinion
Eusebius, The Church History
Basil, On the Holy Spirit
Gregory of Nazianzus, On God and Christ: The Five Theological Orations and Two Letters to Cledonius
Augustine, Confessions
Augustine, City of God 

Categories: Seminary Blog

Is Worship of Jesus Idolatry?

Talbot School of Theology - Fri, 03/20/2015 - 12:00

Hello Dr. Craig,

... I am a student of philosophy looking to go into apologetics ministry. In my studies and my time witnessing I've had to address many of the common objections to Christianity. One of the more recent objections has come from a Jewish man that I am witnessing to. It seems that one of the crucial things that is holding him back is the worship of Jesus. He couldn't see any way how this wouldn't end up being idolatry because, as he claimed, “you would be worshiping man rather than God”. Of course, I tried to point out that Jesus has two natures but it seems like this point was missed. Do you have any helpful ways to explain our worship of Jesus in a way that bypasses this objection? How should we understand our worship of Jesus? Do we worship him in deity and merely admire his humanity? ...

Categories: Seminary Blog

Eight signs of fearful leadership

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 03/20/2015 - 10:40

Over the past few years, I’ve heard the phrase “courageous leadership” used to describe the trait of those leaders who are making a difference today. Unfortunately, we also know many who are in leadership positions where that courage is not apparent. Indeed, they demonstrate leadership that is fearful.

These leaders are harmful to organizations because they have unique ways to hinder others from making vital contributions. They can appear busy, but most often their work is busyness.

All of us are subject to moments of fear in our various leadership roles. Can we overcome those moments? Better yet, are there signs or indicators to serve as cautions? I believe there are at least eight such tendencies in fearful leaders. And if we are manifesting any of these, we need an immediate behavioral change.

  1. Procrastination. Fearful leaders put off tasks for fear that they cannot do them well. They are experts at passive-aggressive behavior. They can receive an assignment to do a task, then “conveniently” forget to do it.
  2. Over analysis. Fearful leaders want to over-analyze every situation in an attempt to eliminate risk. They never stop analyzing because they never eliminate the risk. An organization built around fear will have an excess of analysts and policy wonks.
  3. A bias against actions outside the status quo. The status quo is the lone comfort place of a fearful leader. Get him or her beyond status quo, and the leader is often deemed ineffective. Though the fearful leader may avoid the overused, “We’ve never done it that way before,” he or she might say something similar like, “That’s really not the way we do it here.”
  4. Worry about critics. The fearful leader is a people pleaser. Critics can immobilize him or her. To use a sports metaphor, fearful leaders avoid decisions that might draw criticism because they play not to lose rather than playing to win.
  5. Reticent to show weaknesses or lack of knowledge. The fearful leader is an insecure person. He or she does not want to exhibit any weakness, even though he or she may have several. You will see the opposite trait exhibited in confident courageous leaders. They have no problems pointing out their own weaknesses and ignorance.
  6. Reticence to move people off the bus. No one should enjoy firing people. No one should enjoy telling a volunteer that he or she is no longer needed in a position. But for the sake of the organization, some people need to be moved off the bus. The fearful leader will let persons stay on the bus well beyond their effectiveness because they fear confrontation, and because they fear making a wrong decision.
  7. Failure to reinvent oneself. A fearful leader does not want their circumstances to change; that is why such leaders fiercely defend the status quo. Likewise, they don’t see any need for change in themselves. Courageous leaders are constantly reinventing themselves. Fearful leaders rarely improve their skill sets significantly.
  8. Obsession with details. Fearful leaders love to stay in the morass of insignificant details. Because the details are usually unimportant, it is difficult to make a mistake of consequence. Of course, it’s impossible to do anything of consequence when your focus is on those things that really don’t make a difference.

It is not unusual to find fearful leaders who consistently exhibit all eight signs. That’s just the way they lead (or fail to lead). But even good leaders can find themselves gravitating toward one or more of these weaknesses at times. All leaders need to evaluate themselves honestly to make certain such drift does not take place.


This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on May 13, 2013. 

Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam,  Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.


Are you interested in learning more about convictional leadership? Join Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., Dan Dumas, Daniel Patz, Chris Bruno and others at the Northland Leadership Summit April 29-May 1. This leadership summit is designed to motivate and equip Christians for a life of intentional leadership.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Memorial Service for Dr. Robert L. Saucy

Talbot School of Theology - Thu, 03/19/2015 - 12:15

A memorial service for Dr. Robert L. Saucy will be held on Sunday, March 29, 2015, 2-4 p.m. in the Chase Gymnasium at Biola University. A reception will immediately follow. For those who would like to attend and cannot be physically present, the service will be streamed live at http://watch.biola.edu/bobsaucy ...



Categories: Seminary Blog

Spiritual Neurosurgery: Islamic Traditions, Discipling Converts, & Missionary Theological Education

Southwestern Seminary - Wed, 03/18/2015 - 17:31

“Jesus existed as God the Father, sir. Then He ceased being the Father and became God the Son. Finally, He ceased being God the Son and now in the world today He is God the Holy Spirit.” Innocently, a new disciple of my former student was trying to express his carefully reasoned understanding of three in one, the tri-unity of the Christian Godhead to whom he committed his life and possibly someday his death.

Emerging from a Muslim background, diligent study and consistent practice were not new to him. Even before believing Christ, he studied and memorized the Qur’an and faithfully practiced the pillars of Islamic belief. Qur’anic study brought him to other literature like the Torah, Zabur, Injeel and increased curiosity about the Prophet Isa. He and two diligent friends met foreigners with very pure lives that became fast friends and gave them the very books they were so curious about in their language. This Isa was similar but different from the one in the Qur’an. He seemed less distant, more personal, and real. Soon he and his friends trusted Jesus alone as savior.

Taught to study the Bible, they grew in Christ. Bit by bit the framework of an ingrained Islamic pre-understanding was transforming into a biblical one. The Trinity now became clear and simple to understand. The young missionary recognized their joyful new understanding of it they had just expressed to be an ancient heresy known as modalism. Biblical Tri-unity of God is three persons in one God, simultaneously and eternally, with no divisions of nature or being. How to suggest this to three new eager disciples without dampening their desire to learn was the question.

The missionary told them he was intrigued by their ideas and wanted to study this thoroughly along with them. He realized if he didn’t do this, other outsiders would lead them further astray. They began an intensive three-month Bible study. The missionary usually posed questions that guided the group study, his three young disciples, like Bereans long ago, searched the Scriptures, and together they came to a very different outcome of belief months later, one very akin to Chalcedonian Christology of 451 A.D. In cross-cultural, change agent roles sometimes knowing what questions to ask is even more important in the communication processes than knowing the answers to provide. After many cultural faux pas, usually missionaries learn this.

My former student, now a missionary, recalled that at that moment when his three former Muslim new believers joyfully explained their original formula for the Trinity, his reasons for attaining a seminary education all came into focus for him. Most of a three-year curriculum in seminary he found very useful. He had needed bits and pieces of it at different times, but nearly all of it coalesced into one sequence addressing this set of needs.

Boldness of witness developed as he shared his faith as part of his evangelism classes and became acutely aware of people’s lostness without the gospel. God had long been preparing these three Muslim men and intersected their lives with the young missionary’s who was prepared to be bold enough to lead them to Christ. Now, as they came to this theological crossroad in their growth, the missionary needed historical and systematic theology to recognize the problem of modalism. A course in Islamic studies shed light on why his disciples formulated modalistic solutions from residual ideas in the Qur’an they memorized as boys. His seminary studies in Old Testament, New Testament, Hebrew, and Greek assisted him in studying the concepts for the Godhead more in depth and his cross-cultural communication, anthropology and other missiological studies guided him in knowing how to bundle these things together. Because of the time he spent earnestly studying these things, he could assist them in doing their own self-theologizing without damaging their desires and drive to grow in Christ and to lead Christ’s church in the underground witness among other new Muslim background believers in that place where there were growing levels of persecution and threats.

If someone wants to get on a plane, land in a country, live there, learn some of the language and witness to a few neighbors, then perhaps they don’t need seminary training, at least for very long. What will they do if they pray diligently to see a culture radically changed for Christ, for deep transformation to transpire? That is when a spiritual neurosurgeon is needed who can be an instrument in the Holy Spirit’s hands to “renew the mind” Romans 12:1-2. Missionaries should be prepared, to prepare others, as they in turn prepare yet others for eternity with Christ! Substantive biblical, theological, and missiological study found in seminary prepares us for spiritual “neurosurgery.”

Categories: Seminary Blog


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