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Religious liberty and persecution: a global perspective

 

Eerie.

That’s the only word that comes to mind when I think about standing a hundred yards away from North Korean soldiers who were staring right back at me with weapons in their hands.

I was in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a small strip of land that cuts the Korean peninsula in half. Approximately 150 miles long and 2.5 miles wide, it serves as a buffer between North and South Korea and the allies they represent. Ironically, it is the most heavily militarized border in the world.

I stood in what is called the Joint Security Area, the only part of the DMZ that allows North and South Korean forces to stand face-to-face with one another. Years ago, this small village was designated as the location where negotiations between the two countries would take place. In the center of that area is a small blue building where international meetings occur. I walked into the building, where I saw a conference table with a white line running down the middle of it. During official discussions, South Korean officials sit on one side of that line while North Korean officials sit opposite them.

What was most eerie for me, though, was not coming out of that building and looking across the border at these North Korean soldiers whose eyes were fixed on my every movement (along with the few others who were with me). Instead, what was most eerie was contemplating the condition of people, and particularly Christians, living behind those soldiers.

Pressure on all sides

For many Christians in North Korea and in other countries where Christians are persecuted, societal pressure follows closely on the heels of government regulation as family, friends, religious fanatics, community leaders, and criminal mobs intimidate, threaten, harm, or kill men, women, and children who profess a certain faith. Such pressure accounts for much Christian persecution today. Syrian rebels disproportionately target Syrian Christians, abusing, raping, murdering, and beheading them. During one month alone in Egypt in 2013, 38 churches were destroyed, 23 others were vandalized, 58 were burned, 85 shops were looted, seven Christians were kidnapped, and six Christians were killed. The following month witnessed the worst attack on Christians in Pakistan’s history as suicide bombers exploded shrapnel-laden vests outside All Saints’ Church in Peshawar, murdering 81 church members and wounding more than 100. All of these stories, reported by The Gospel Coalition, represent persecution of Christians by people outside the official governments of these countries.

Related: Read the full issue of the winter issue of Southern Seminary Magazine titled Religious Liberty Imperiled 

According to Open Windows, on the whole, an average of 100 Christians around the world are killed every month for their faith in Christ (and some estimates have this number much higher). Literally countless others are persecuted through abuse, beatings, imprisonment, torture, and deprivation of food, water, and shelter. Each occurrence of religious oppression represents an individual story of faith tested amid fire and trial. But these are not merely stories on a page for me. These are my friends. And I praise God for how they have endured the fire faithfully.

I think of Sahil in South Asia. He and his wife both grew up in Muslim homes. She came to Christ first, and then she introduced Sahil to Christ. As soon as their families discovered they had become Christians, Sahil and his wife were forced to flee their community. In the years that followed, they grew in Christ and in their desire to see their family know Christ. Slowly they renewed contact with their family members. Slowly their family members began to respond. They eventually welcomed Sahil and his wife back to their community, and from all appearances things were going well, until one day Sahil dropped off his wife for a meal with her family while he went to be with his family. His wife sat down at the table with her family and began to drink and eat. Within moments she was dead. Her own parents had poisoned her. When I met Sahil, I met a man who had lost his wife, but he had not lost his faith. He now works as a church planter in his country.

Becoming like Jesus

These stories are not surprising when you consider the words of Christ in the Gospels. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus told his disciples. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Matthew 5:10-12). On a later occasion, when he sent these disciples out like “sheep in the midst of wolves,” he promised them that persecution would come. “Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them.” He concludes, “You will be hated ... for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:16-18, 22). Even a cursory reading of Gospel passages like these reveals that the more we become like Jesus in this world, the more we will experience what he experienced. Just as it was costly for him to counter culture, it will be costly for us.

Related: Erotic liberty v. religious liberty: How the sexual revolution is eclipsing the First Freedom — R. Albert Mohler Jr. 

Surrounded by the global reality of religious persecution, and driven by our love for God, we must act. We must pray and work for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. When one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers (see 1 Corinthians 12). In a land of religious liberty, we have a biblical responsibility to stand up and speak out on their behalf.

Moreover, in a country where even our own religious liberty is increasingly limited, our suffering brothers and sisters beckon us not to let the cost of following Christ in our culture silence our faith. May we not sit back and accommodate our culture in relative comfort while they stand up and counter their culture at great cost. May we realize with them that privatized Christianity is no Christianity at all, for it is practically impossible to know Christ and not proclaim Christ — to believe his Word when we read it in our homes or churches, and not obey it in our communities and cities. And may we remember with the great cloud of witnesses that has gone before us that while our citizenship officially belongs to a government, our souls ultimately belong to God.

_______

David Platt is president of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. This essay is adapted from his forthcoming book, Counter Culture, (Tyndale, February 2015). This article was originally published in the winter 2015 issue of Southern Seminary Magazine.

 

Categories: Seminary Blog

Three Reasons Why Some Professing Christians Avoid Church

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Sat, 01/24/2015 - 07:00

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about the myth of unchurched Christians. Unfortunately the reality is that there are a good number of professing Christians who either shy away from church membership or avoid church attendance altogether. The problem of professing Christians who neglect church involvement is sadly not a myth.

There are a number of excuses that such professing believers give for their lack of church involvement. Here are three that I’ve heard:

  1. “I’ve been hurt by a previous church (or church leader).”

Sadly, this reason is often grounded in reality. Many people have been emotionally torn up by the actions of other people. Churches are full of sinners—hopefully, redeemed sinners, but sinners nonetheless. It should come as no surprise that sinners sin, and although all sin is ultimately against God, human sin often has harmful consequences in the lives of people who have been sinned against. But someone’s sin against you is not a good excuse for you to sin against God by ignoring his plan for this dispensation which is for his people to identify with a local church.

  1. “The church is full of hypocrites.”

Yes, local churches contain people who live hypocritically. To some extent, every person that acknowledges the lordship of Christ but continues to sin is acting hypocritically. This was a problem in the first century, and it remains a problem in the twenty-first as well. As long as believers possess a sin nature, they will sin against their Lord and Savior, and such sin runs contrary to their profession. However, this isn’t a good reason for avoiding the church, for few things could be more hypocritical than professing to love Christ while refusing to identify with his people in a local expression of the body of Christ.

  1. “I can worship God better on my own.”

Some professing believers speak of being “churchfree” or “satellite Christians.” They feel that because they can approach God directly through Christ, they do not need to be connected to a local church. In fact, some profess that their relationship with God has actually improved by walking away from the church. But if God’s plan for this age involves his people assembling together for worship, fellowship, and mutual accountability, then it doesn’t ultimately matter how one feels. The quality of one’s worship is not completely separate from affections or “feelings,” but feelings cannot override commands. One cannot worship God better by ignoring his instructions and the model that is pretty clearly laid out in the NT.

Sometimes these three excuses are used together, as if one could build a cumulative case for why he or she doesn’t need to be connected to a local church body. I’ve provided only the simplest replies to these excuses. Here are a few NT passages so-called unchurched Christians must wrestle with if they wish to continue excusing their lack of local church involvement:

Acts 16:5: “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.”

1 Corinthians 5:2, 4–5, and 12–13: “Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?… So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan…. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.’”

1 Timothy 3:14–15: “Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”

Hebrews 10:24–25: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Hebrews 13:7, 17, and 24: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith…. Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account…. Greet all your leaders and all the Lord’s people.”

See also Acts 15:41; 1 Cor 1:2; 1 Cor 4:17; 1 Cor 7:17; 2 Cor 8:1–24; Gal 1:2; 1 Tim 5:17; Titus 1:5–9; Jas 5:14; and 1 Pet 5:1–4 among others.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Divine Concurrence

Talbot School of Theology - Fri, 01/23/2015 - 12:00

This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.

Dr. Craig,

I recently listened to your Podcast from the Defenders class on God's concurrence (Defenders 2, Doctrine of Creation: Part 8). At the outset, you explained that God is the cause of everything because he concurs in it. As an attorney, this made an abundant amount of sense to me. In the law (particularly in tort), an omission (or failure to act) can be the cause of something in the same way that an affirmative act can. Of course, we would only impose liability where the omission is accompanied by some legal duty to act, but that inquiry is wholly separate from the causation inquiry ...

Categories: Seminary Blog

Part 2 – Worthy of double honor | Expository advocating

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 01/23/2015 - 10:49

 

Editors note: Find Part one of this series here

Prepare 

The last thing a pastor or preacher wants to think is that he is the only one prepared for Sunday morning. That doesn’t mean you need to write your own sermon during the week, but you might be surprised how much more you get out of your Sunday mornings by simply being more prepared.

The truth is that Sunday morning begins on Saturday night. There are a number of extremely practical ways to be prepared for worship, all for the purpose of removing potential distractions and obstacles. On the physical side, consider laying out and ironing clothes for yourself and your family the night prior, be sure that the car is gassed up, pack any bags with Bibles and diapers and whatever else you bring as a family, make sure the alarms are set, get plenty of rest the night before, have breakfast planned and ready to go for the morning. All of these things, as simple as they may seem, will eliminate potential distractions on Sunday morning.

You don’t need to make a rule out of these things; we all know that life happens, but they are helpful means of removing potential stumbling blocks. You might think they’re unimportant, but Satan will use anything he can to keep God’s people from fully engaging in worship.

There are, of course, ways to be spiritually prepared as well. Take some time to pray alone or as a family, confess sins to one another that need to be confessed, sing songs of praise together at dinner on Saturday and read Scripture together. In fact, there’s a way you can read Scripture in preparation for worship that just may be the most significant way to prepare for worship. This isn’t something I thought up myself, rather, the Lord’s dear people at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., where I pastor, have encouraged me in this way and I’m offering it so the blessing can be multiplied.

Here’s what you do: find out what text is going to be preached, and read the passage before you come to church. It’s simple and it’s good for you and it will encourage your pastor.

There are different ways to do it. Maybe you could read the sermon text at the breakfast table before you go to church, or maybe sometime on Saturday will work better for you. There are a number of ways your pastor will be encouraged by this: he’ll be encouraged by your asking what he’ll preach, and your telling him that you’re asking because you like to read the passage in preparation for worship. He’ll be encouraged when you ask him after church how to understand something you saw in the text that he didn’t have time to address in the sermon. He’ll be encouraged to see the Spirit of God drawing you to the Word of God – getting to hear that you’re reading the Bible will be like the farmer seeing fruit on those vines he’s been tending – what a joy to know that the people you serve are reading the Bible! He’ll be encouraged if you tell him you had trouble seeing the relevance of the passage, or understanding it, and then were helped by his sermon. He’ll be encouraged to hear that his sermon made you want to go back and read the passage more carefully, or to meditate on it more. He’ll be encouraged when you tell him that his preaching has helped you to become a better Bible reader.

Most importantly, he’ll be encouraged to see you apply the sermon by walking in the truth. One elder wrote about the people in the churches he served: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4). In fact, he said that kind of thing repeatedly (cf., 1 John 1:4; 2 John 1:4; 3 John 1:3-4). Nothing will encourage your pastor like giving him the joy of seeing you walk in the truth. Read the sermon text before church on Sunday and be conformed to the image of Christ from one degree of glory to another.

________

James M. Hamilton Jr. is associate professor of biblical theology at Southern Seminary. He has written and contributed to a number of works including What Is Biblical Theology?: A Guide to the Bible's Story, Symbolism, and PatternsYou can read more by Hamilton at his blog Jimhamilton.info. Also, follow him on Twitter: @DrJimHamilton. This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of Towers.

Matt Damico is an M.Div graduate of Southern Seminary and is currently serving as the pastor of worship at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky. You can follow Matt on twitter at: @mattpdamico or at MattDamico.wordpress.com.

 

This excerpt was taken from A Guide to Expository Ministry. You can download the complete PDF of this Guidebook for free here.   Expository preaching is a call to deliver from the pulpit what has already been delivered in the Scriptures. A Guide to Expository Ministry, edited by Dan Dumas, calls for the recovery of this kind of preaching in local churches. The book also encourages faithful, qualified pastors to apply the demands of expository preaching to their lives and to their preparation. Lastly, the book provides practical help for all of God’s people to become more effective sermon listeners, Bible readers and church members.

 

Categories: Seminary Blog

Why is a Seminary Education Valuable for Equipping Pastors to Face Today's Ministry Challenges?

Talbot School of Theology - Thu, 01/22/2015 - 12:00

Talbot faculty member, James Petitfils, and a panel of Talbot graduates who are now pastors in Southern California discuss why a seminary education is so valuable for ministry today.

Categories: Seminary Blog

The Difference of One Word

Talbot School of Theology - Wed, 01/21/2015 - 12:00

The Christian belief system is consistent and coherent. This shows in the way that adjustments in one concept of the system often require modifications in other aspects. Increased clarity about one topic elucidates other topics. The interdependence of my beliefs was again displayed when I came across a common mistranslation of a single word in Luke’s gospel. Once I had been persuaded that the prevailing translation was misleading, I experienced shifts in the ways I view and relate to God, and how I pray and think about God’s involvement in daily life. These implications of a single word have been strong reverberations that I am grateful to experience ...

Categories: Seminary Blog

New Book of Interest

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Wed, 01/21/2015 - 07:00

At long last, we are pleased to announce that a new multiple views book, Perspectives on the Extent of the Atonement is now available. It has been an adventure and a wonderful learning experience working alongside Andy Naselli and the three major contributors (Carl Trueman, John Hammett, and Grant Osborne) to produce this work. I have high hopes that this book will be immediately useful not only for the academy, but for the church as well.

From the Foreword:

One can scarcely think of a question debated more passionately than the one addressed in our little book. Some of our readers can even now reflect on some acerbic quarrel about the extent of Christ’s atonement in which Christian restraint was wanting. So when we first floated a project that deliberately convened participants with conflicting perspectives on this topic, we wondered fleetingly whether the project might be a dreadful one. Our fears proved unwarranted as grace prevailed. The project proved to be a delightful one.

Our original band of three essayists morphed a bit over the course of time, and ended finally as a band of four. Carl Trueman, Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, brought his sprightly voice to the debate as champion of a definite atonement. Grant Osborne, long-time Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, crafted an initial essay in defense of a general atonement, then, after some serious health difficulties, handed the baton to his colleague at TEDS, Tom McCall, Associate Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, who capably contributed responses to the other two positions. John Hammett, Professor of Systematic Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, rounded out the group with an apology for the multiple intentions view of Christ’s atonement.

Tolle Lege

Categories: Seminary Blog

Lessons I learned in seminary

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Wed, 01/21/2015 - 05:00

 

1 Timothy 4:16 – “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

As I prepare to enter my final semester of seminary, and have pondered what lessons I might share with those considering that call or just starting their seminary journey, I was struck by how my perspective on ministry has changed over these last few years. Like many new theological students, I was thrilled to begin my formal training, excited to learn under men like Tom Schreiner, Jim Hamilton, and Russell Moore. I loved theology and was ready to dig into the nuances of complex doctrines like the hypostatic union and compatibilistic free will. I wanted to prepare for ministry, and as such, I wanted to know my Bible backwards and forwards, to know when the Greek text makes a difference in our understanding, to know the history of the church, to learn the art of preaching. These are all wonderful, and I would say necessary, pursuits for those called to pastoral ministry. But for those considering that call and those just beginning their seminary journey, consider the emphasis Paul places in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. “Life” and “doctrine” both matter, but the emphasis is on “life,” on the man’s character, and only secondarily on his skill.

Hershael York tells the story of a seminary student in one of his preaching classes. Though the student was an able communicator and was passing all of his classes, the content of his sermons in class made it clear to Dr. York that his character was severely lacking. Dr. York confronted the student, making it clear that a M.Div. from seminary does nothing to qualify someone for ministry. Many brilliant men, with entire portions of Scripture memorized in the original languages, were morally bankrupt individuals. A degree from seminary simply says you were able to complete academic classwork adequately. Dr. York’s student eventually withdrew from the school. Training and skill matter, but these things cannot overcome a failure to meet the moral qualifications the Bible makes clear for those in church leadership.

That lesson stuck with me: Your competency can never trump your character as a pastor.

So what can someone do during seminary to pursue a godly character that qualifies him for pastoral ministry? Classes help train you in doctrine, help you to refute false teachers (Titus 1:9), but how can you use your time in seminary to make sure your life meets the standards?

Get involved in a local church

 

I have heard far too many stories of men who go through their entire seminary experience almost completely detached from a local church. The seminary community can almost feel like church sometimes, and it’s easy to feel like you are adequately being “fed” by the teaching you are receiving there. The problem with this mindset is that it forfeits one of the main avenues God has provided for pursuing sanctification.

When my wife and I moved to Louisville, Kentucky for seminary, the first thing we did was join a local church and get involved with a small group. This turned out to be one of the best decisions we could have made. That small group has been an enormous source of growth for both of us. The men and women in that group have encouraged, challenged, and propelled us forward in our pursuit of Christlikeness. They have called me out in sin at times and graciously encouraged me when I was beaten down in different struggles. Most of all, they have consistently pointed me away from myself and built up my faith in Christ. One of the most sinister schemes of Satan is to isolate and attack Christians, especially those in ministry. We are simply blind to our own tendencies at times and either pridefully arrogant in our fight against sin or discouraged by our failures. God gives us the local church to help fight those things. It doesn’t have to be a small group ministry specifically as there are many different ways churches seek to accomplish this accountability and mutual encouragement in the faith, but it simply will not happen rightly if you are detached from a church during your time in seminary.

I once heard Russell Moore once say that Satan would love nothing more than for you to be able to keep your sin hidden all the way through seminary. He doesn’t want others to find out yet. He will wait. He will wait until you have a ministry and seem to have “success” first. Then, your sin will find you out (Num. 32:23) and the impact to Jesus’ church will be far greater. Let a church expose your sins now, and let the gospel of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit transform your heart and root out those sins.

Learn from the examples of godly men

 

Another benefit of being involved in a local church is the ability to learn from and model the behavior of godly leaders. Modeling maturity in the Christian walk is a normal rhythm of Christian discipleship. God has wired us in such a way that we naturally look to those we think are doing well and try to imitate them. In 1 Cor. 11:1, Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” In Phil. 3:17, he says, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” In 1 Tim. 4:12, he tells Timothy, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”

I came to seminary to learn beautiful, weighty doctrine from men like Tom Schreiner, and I learned a great deal from the classes I have had with him. But I honestly think I have benefitted more from what I have learned by watching how he and the elders of our church behave in their leadership of the church. I have seen how humbly he faithfully preaches week after week, how self-controlled and wise he is in members’ meetings, how hospitable he and his wife are with people in the church, how committed he is to his wife and children. His life matches his doctrine. This goes for all of the elders in our church. I will be drawing on their example for years. I believe these lessons have helped prepare me for ministry even more than stellar doctrinal teaching in class.

Keep a close watch on your doctrine and your life

 

Seminary is a wonderful and rich time of learning. It is an undeserved privilege to sit under the teaching of godly men who know the Scriptures intimately and believe them personally. Doctrine matters. We must bolster our arsenal to combat false teaching in winsome, loving, and sometimes-forceful ways. But our lives also matter. The pastor’s character, like the witness of all believers, adorns the gospel of Jesus Christ. Use your time in seminary to study the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Make sure your life really does meet those. Allow the body of Christ to help in your pursuit. We need gospel ministers who keep a close watch on both their doctrine and their lives. Seminary alone cannot do this.

_________

Matthew Robbins will graduate in May 2015 with his M.Div in Christian Ministry.

 

Categories: Seminary Blog

Mensajeros de Paz y Reconciliación

Talbot School of Theology - Tue, 01/20/2015 - 12:00

Las noticias a nuestro alrededor pueden ser bastante desalentadoras. Por alguna razón las noticias que se publican y tienen promoción tienden a ser las negativas y las que reflejan algún conflicto social. Para los medios de comunicación y para la sociedad en general las buenas noticias parecieran no ser atractivas y solamente las negativas pueden salir de la sombra de lo cotidiano para llamar nuestra atención. Desgraciadamente, el estar rodeados de malas noticias origina un ambiente negativo en el que la vida pareciera una maraña de conflictos que crece cada vez más y a la que no se le encuentra solución por ningún lado. Si a esta situación le agregamos los actos de terrorismo de grupos radicales que se escudan en la religión para cometer atentados deleznables contra inocentes y las posturas tan radicales de políticos y grupos sociales que impiden una sana conversación para resolver sus diferencias, es fácil caer en la desesperanza y la impotencia.

Categories: Seminary Blog

What Can the Church Do to Better Engage and Love Their Cities and Communities?

Talbot School of Theology - Mon, 01/19/2015 - 12:00

Talbot faculty member, James Petitfils, and a panel of Talbot graduates who are now pastors in Southern California discuss how local churches can better engage and love their communities.

Categories: Seminary Blog

The moral revolution threatens religious liberty

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Mon, 01/19/2015 - 05:00

 

Religious liberty is one of the hallmarks of the American constitutional order and a matter of Christian conviction. Far too many Christians fall into the trap of believing religious liberty is somehow granted by the United States Constitution. The framers of that Constitution understood, to the contrary, they were merely recognizing a right that had been granted by our Creator. In 1808, President Thomas Jefferson stated the matter clearly: “I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises.”

Baptists have always had a unique commitment to religious liberty, forged in the crucibles of experience and conviction. One of the most famous Southern Baptists of the 20th century, Southern Seminary alumnus Herschel Hobbs, noted “religious liberty is the mother of all true freedoms.” E.Y. Mullins, the seminary’s fourth president, was a staunch defender of religious liberty during a time of war when some in our nation’s government sought to infringe upon the nation’s “first freedom.”

The Christian affirmation of religious liberty is grounded in the affirmation that every single human being is made in the image of God, endowed with the right of religious liberty precisely because we are the only creature made with a religious capacity. And yet, threats to religious liberty are increasing rather than decreasing. This is due in part to the increasing secularization of the culture which makes religious liberty a privilege rather than a right. In the eyes of secularists, religious liberty is to be valued only until it runs into direct conflict with a more important liberal value.

This points to the second most direct threat to religious liberty in our time: the moral revolution. The revolution over human sexuality which has now led to the redefinition of marriage and the family presents an unavoidable conflict between erotic liberty and religious liberty.

At this point, religious liberty is being threatened by secular authorities seeking to coerce obedience of the new moral norm by whatever means they deem necessary. The inevitable conflict between religious liberty and our new legal and moral contexts was made clear at a recent symposium when a preeminent legal authority indicated she could not envision one instance in which religious liberty should be more highly valued than the new sexual freedom.

We are living in challenging times. Religious liberty is not merely a political issue; it is a theological issue. Ministers of the gospel, therefore, must give careful and rigorous biblical and theological reflection to this topic. Christians cannot ignore these controversies raging in the public square for the simple reason that our Lord commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves. The urgency of these issues underlines the importance of the mission entrusted to The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Furthermore, it points to our greatest challenge: producing a generation of moral revolutionaries who will not only cherish religious liberty but deploy it.

________

R. Albert Mohler Jr. is the 9th president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Mohler on Twitter at @albertmohler, on Facebook or at AlbertMohler.com. This article originally appeared in the winter 2015 issue of Southern Seminary Magazine.

 

Categories: Seminary Blog

1st Century Copy of Mark’s Gospel

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Sun, 01/18/2015 - 14:46

Over the past several years we have had several posts about a papyrus fragment of the Gospel of Mark discovered several years ago that preliminarily dates from the 1st century A.D. This would make it the earliest copy of the New Testament known to exist and the only one from the 1st century. It was supposed to have been published in 2013.

Now there is some new information from Dr. Craig Evans. He claims the papyrus fragment had been dated by various methods to be earlier than A.D. 90. and will be published in 2015. You can read about it here.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Ockham’s Razor

Talbot School of Theology - Fri, 01/16/2015 - 12:00

This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig:

... my question today refers to Lee Strobel book "The Case for a Creator". There was one part in the book where Strobel asked you "why does it have to be One Creator?" And you responded by saying "my opinion, Ockham's Razor would shave away any additional Creators." So my question today is in 3 questions:

  1. Define what is Ockham's Razor?
  2. How does this (scientific) principle or theory eliminate the need for extra gods?
  3. How does Ockham's Razor prove the existence of One God?

...

Categories: Seminary Blog

Worthy of double honor | Expository advocating – Part 1

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 01/16/2015 - 05:00

 

Preaching is a fool’s task. Paul says as much when he tells the Corinthians that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing” (1 Cor 1:17). There are a lot of preachers and congregations who agree so strongly with that diagnosis that they’ve deemed it necessary to modify the way preaching is done in their church. They’ve gotten rid of the traditional sermon, which is viewed by some as archaic and abusive, in favor of dialogue and conversation.

Paul was telling the truth when he said that preaching the gospel is folly, but he also says, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise” (1 Cor 1:27). A commitment to expository preaching takes a firm belief in the power of God’s Word and a humble recognition that the God-appointed means of preaching is better than whatever impressive or efficient model we might devise. God will build his church through expository preaching, and it takes a committed fool to believe it and do it. This means there will be times when your pastor feels deeply the reality that he is engaging in a fool’s task and will cry out with Paul, “Who is sufficient for these things” (2 Cor 2:16)?

If your preacher is a committed fool, he will need encouragement. That might not seem obvious, but the reality is that the pastorate can be a discouraging place. Not only does the very idea of preaching look foolish in the world’s eyes (and occasionally in those of the congregation), but discouragement seems to come from every direction even as he tries to serve the Lord and love his people. Maybe his own sin is overwhelming him and hurting those around him. Maybe there’s tension at home. Maybe he can’t make ends meet financially. Maybe he’s feeling inadequate after listening to a John Piper sermon. Maybe a member made a snide comment after a sermon that he can’t shake. Maybe it seems like no one follows along as he preaches. Whatever it is, these things take a toll.

That’s where you, the church member, come in. If you’re a member at a church and you’re regularly hearing the Bible exposited, you have much for which to be thankful. If your preacher is diligent to preach the whole counsel of God, to let the content and structure of the text dictate that of his sermon and to apply the Bible to your life so that you’re walking in the truth, you are blessed.

Paul says that those who labor faithfully in preaching and teaching are worthy of “double honor” (1 Tim 5:17) and are to be respected and esteemed highly in love (1 Thess 5:12-13). That honor, respect and high estimation is to come from the church members. Hopefully you actually want to encourage your pastor, but you should also see that the Bible exhorts you to do so.

When I use the word “encourage,” I don’t mean that you should merely say nice things to your pastor to flatter him and make him feel better. I mean you should consider “how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb 10:24). As Kevin DeYoung says, encouragement “is not about commending nice people to make them feel good but about commending the work of the gospel in others to the glory of God.” Your pastor doesn’t need flattery, but he does need genuine, biblical encouragement that helps him keep his hands to the plow as he works to cut a straight path in his ministry. If you’re not sure how to do that, then here are some practical ideas for encouraging your pastor.

Pray 

“Brothers, pray for us” (1 Thess 5:25). That was the apostle Paul who said that. If the apostle Paul needed prayer, your pastor does, too. Pastors are ordinary men, but they hold an extraordinary office. The New Testament places unique responsibility on pastors to shepherd God’s people by teaching, preaching, counseling, leading and serving. This responsibility carries serious ramifications: pastors will face a stricter judgment (Jas 3:1) and will give account before God for the souls with which they’ve been entrusted (Heb 13:17). This is not an office to be entered into lightly.

The New Testament is not the only source of pressure that pastors experience, however. Our culture, with all of its resistance to authority and cynicism toward the Bible, eagerly anticipates the next report of a pastor falling into sin. This happens with sickening frequency, and with it comes yet more disrepute on the bride of Christ.

With all of this, it should be clear that one of the most loving and faithful things you can do as a church member is to pray for your pastor. Pray for him as you prepare for church, pray for him with your family, with other church members or ask him if you can pray for him in person.

There are a host of ways you can pray for your pastor: Pray that he would conduct himself wisely in a life of obedience that remains above reproach (1 Tim 3:2); pray that he would love and be faithful to his wife (Eph 5:25-33); pray that he would raise his children in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Eph 6:4); pray that he would love the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind and strength (Mk 12:30); pray that he would faithfully shepherd the flock of God (1 Pet 5:1-3); pray that he would flee temptation (1 Thess 4:3-8); pray that he would be a man of unceasing prayer (Eph 6:18) and pray that he would bind himself to the Scriptures and commit himself to expounding the Word of God rather than his own opinions (2 Tim 4:1-4). This list is by no means exhaustive, but there is no better place to start than by praying God’s own words for your pastor.

________

James M. Hamilton Jr. is associate professor of biblical theology at Southern Seminary. He has written and contributed to a number of works including What Is Biblical Theology?: A Guide to the Bible's Story, Symbolism, and PatternsYou can read more by Hamilton at his blog Jimhamilton.info. Also, follow him on Twitter: @DrJimHamilton. This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of Towers.

Matt Damico is an M.Div graduate of Southern Seminary and is currently serving as the pastor of worship at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky. You can follow Matt on twitter at: @mattpdamico or at MattDamico.wordpress.com.

 

This excerpt was taken from A Guide to Expository Ministry. You can download the complete PDF of this Guidebook for free here.   Expository preaching is a call to deliver from the pulpit what has already been delivered in the Scriptures. A Guide to Expository Ministry, edited by Dan Dumas, calls for the recovery of this kind of preaching in local churches. The book also encourages faithful, qualified pastors to apply the demands of expository preaching to their lives and to their preparation. Lastly, the book provides practical help for all of God’s people to become more effective sermon listeners, Bible readers and church members.
Categories: Seminary Blog

The Goober Truth

Criswell College: For Christ and Culture - Thu, 01/15/2015 - 14:12

by Kirk Spencer

The goober truth is when a liar tells the truth about lying which causes the truth-telling liar to be exposed as a liar… and so he then has to convincingly lie to cover up the fact that he told the truth about lying. I call it “goober truth” because the truth-telling liar must really believe that those who would believe him are goobers (peanut brains)—not only because they believe the liar who is, in fact, telling them the truth about when he lied (thus obviously untrustworthy), but because they continue to believe the lie the liar tells to cover up the truth he told about lying. Such blind trust of someone who is clearly untrustworthy—and we know they are untrustworthy because they are actually telling us (that they lied) and then show us (lying to cover up the truth about the lie)—such blind trust of the clearly untrustworthy is a strange phenomenon which takes place from time-to-time. However, it is something that rarely makes it into the news cycle—especially with the frequency it has recently.

“Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter (gooberness) or whatever, but basically that was really really critical to get the thing (Obamacare) to pass. And, you know, It’s the second best argument. Look, I wish Mark was right, that we could make it all transparent, but I’d rather have this law than not.”[1]

It was a refreshing moment of transparency about the lack of transparency. But it was only a moment. When such truthtelling about lying finally made it into the news cycle, the lying truthteller said that the truth he told about lying was “off-the-cuff.”   And I suppose if “off-the-cuff” means “unprepared” then indeed it was “off-the-cuff” because you don’t need to prepare to tell the truth. Transparency is easy. On the other hand, when you want to mislead, that takes some planning. Being opaque takes organization. Lying takes time.

Prevarication, obfuscation, darkening—that is what we are getting nowadays—anything and everything other than accountability, responsibility, transparency and honesty.

It should remind us all of this important truth about lies: Remembering truth is easy, it is natural because it is what is. Lying—while natural to our sin nature—is not natural to what is. It is, by definition, the opposite of what is. Thus lying takes planning and organization and continual vigilance. If a liar lets down his guard and speaks “off-the-cuff” or speaks “colloquially[2]” the truth will out. And then the liar will have to get back “in the game,” concentrate, plan and organize his lying about telling the truth about lying. And we will believe it… if we are goobers.[3]

Some timely John Adams “tweets” from the founding of our country:

Abuse of words has been the great instrument of sophistry and chicanery, of party, faction, and division of society.[4] #StopWordAbuse

Facts are stubborn things & whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.[5] #TruthWillOut

Human passions unbridled by morality and religion would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net #TameThatWhale

Power always thinks it has a great soul & vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak; and that it is doing God’s service when it is violating all his laws #BenevolentDestruction

Posterity! You can’t know how much it cost this Generation to preserve your Freedom! Make good use of it. If not, I’ll repent that I took Pains to preserve it #WastedFreedom

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Adrdmmh7bMo

[2] http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2014/12/02/josh_earnest_obama_didnt_mean_it_when_he_said_he_changed_the_law.html

Colloquial means familiar conversation rather than formal speech or writing (clear, understandable conversation=not prepared or planned out). Is it just me or is there some strange force at work in the universe to have a person named Josh (to joke ) Earnest (to be truthful) involved in this obfuscation.

[3] I think he thought we were supposed to interpret “off the cuff” as being “incorrect.” In subsequent congressional hearings Dr. Gruber has confirmed that it was in fact incorrect (He lied about telling the truth about lying). Gruber had plenty of time to prepare, but still could not answer Congressman Gowdy’s simple question of what he means when he says voters are stupid. Gruber said he “didn’t mean anything by it.” Gowdy’s question is an interesting one because if the law must be “tortuous” and “opaque” to keep the voters from knowing what’s in it, then the voters are not stupid. They are smart enough to figure it out if you don’t lie to them. Even though Gruber cannot find what he meant by it, I can find two possible meanings of his calling voters stupid and yet lying to keep them from figuring it out: 1. The voters are too stupid to know what is best for them (whatever the liar wants see John Adams quote at end of post) and 2. The voters are too stupid (read trusting) to know that they are being lied to. In any case, after the moment of transparency about a lack of transparency we were plunged once more back into things opaque and oblique… and in the congressional hearing it just becomes insanely repetitive and obtuse (and by “obtuse” I mean stupidity about stupidity). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMb3gn3YunE

[4] John Adams, letter to J. H. Tiffany, Mar. 31, 1819.

[5] John Adams, Argument in Defense of the British Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials, Dec. 4, 1770.

 

 


Categories: Seminary Blog

Religious liberty, political engagement, and the future 
of ministry

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Wed, 01/14/2015 - 16:30

 

There is much that is abuzz in evangelicalism with a theology of work. We are thinking clearly, eloquently, and deeply about how God honors our work and what he calls Christians to be in their vocation. I cannot praise this enough. It is a wonderful step in the right direction of seeing how the gospel touches all aspects of our lives. If God is concerned with how we work, I think he is also concerned with how we engage in politics. We have wandered into what seems like a new land, without a Moral Majority, political mandate, or cultural momentum swinging in our direction. Indeed, the cultural tide has shifted beneath our feet faster than you can say, “Allons-y!” Indeed, college students and young adults are feeling the effects of this, and lament Paul Simon’s words: “Who’ll be my role-model, now that my role-model is gone?”

The Moral Majority is no more, and it has left many students wondering whether we should just “duck back down the alley” and leave the politics to the pagans. I think that would be a mistake, and a serious one at that. Students would be well served by developing a theology of politics, and in particular how your future ministry will be shaped by how or if you engage, politically, with the society around you. Christians are not called to pull back into our enclaves. Furthermore, apathy about political engagement is not a Christian virtue — quite the opposite. God is intimately concerned with not only the church’s life and doctrine, but also how his sword is wielded for the good of a society (Romans 13.1-4). Government wields that sword. In other words, God cares not only for his people who have covenanted with him in Christ but also for those who care very little for him yet carry the sword of justice he has provided. This includes how government cares for the least of these, the poor, those who’ve fallen on hard times, and religious liberty.

The daunting trajectory of religious liberty is one that will not only befall Christians in American society but also our fellow neighbor, whom we are called to love as ourselves (Matthew 12.28-34). Love for religious liberty is, in part, love for neighbor. As future pastors, teachers, and leaders, we need to be aware of the daunting task before us. We need to be willing to speak truth to power, and stand alongside those with whom we disagree on non-essentials to defend the essentials.

“It is no crime to be ignorant of economics,” Murray N. Rothbard once opined, “but it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.” Depending on the reader, this may be condemnatory or you may find yourself in complete agreement. Indeed, this may be precisely why you have shown little interest in politics or have never sought to study it further. Certainly, you have a “loud and vociferous” opinion, whether it’s about the corruption of politics, or why we should have less concern for political engagement and more concern for the purity of the church. But it is one thing to have such ideas; it is another thing altogether to have informed ideas about political engagement. Like apathy, ignorance is not a Christian virtue.

A healthy gag reflex toward the political drama is good for the Christian, I think. Eschewing the process altogether is not. Learn about the nature of God and government, read widely the ideas that shaped our nation. Think hard about religious liberty and the church. You’ll find, I think, that your current and future ministry will reap the fruits of such labor.

_______

Bryan Baise is assistant professor of worldview and apologetics and director of the worldview and apologetics program at Boyce College.

 

Categories: Seminary Blog

What Are Some of the Unique Challenges of Doing Ministry in Southern California?

Talbot School of Theology - Wed, 01/14/2015 - 12:00

Talbot faculty member, James Petitfils, and a panel of Talbot graduates who are now pastors in Southern California discuss the unique challenges of ministry in this region.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Are All Religions the Same? The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Wed, 01/14/2015 - 07:00

As the world becomes more global, the increasing awareness of and interaction with different religions combined with a change in the conception of truth has caused a reevaluation of Christian missions. Questions about the propriety of conversion, methods for evangelism, and the goal of missions have been debated for over a hundred years. Writing closer to the start of these debates (1938), The Dutch Reformed theologian and missionary Hendrik Kraemer offers his clear and forceful opinion on the necessity of Christian missions for the world in The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World. (The following quotations are from the third edition, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1969).

Kraemer begins by describing the state of affairs at the time of his writing and the difficulties it posed for the world at large and the church in particular. The beginning of post-modernism was shaking much of the West, while the East was still reeling from its collision with the West. The Church was continuing to wrestle with how it should function as only a part of society rather than as the center. After noting these realities, Kraemer defends the importance of Christian missions and the need for conversion in the midst of this confusion: “The starting-point of missions is the divine commission to proclaim the Lordship of Christ over all life; and therefore a return to the pristine enthusiasm for evangelism and a new vision of what this implies in word and deed in the present and complicated world are needed” (60).

If Christians are to work towards the conversion of adherents of other religions, how should they view those religions? It is common today for professing Christians to view other religions as either equally valid paths to God or partial paths to be complemented by Christianity. Kraemer, though addressing the second mindset more directly, offers his unqualified denial of those options. Christianity is not fundamentally similar to other religions but is sui generis—in a category of its own. Religions are “the various efforts of man to apprehend the totality of existence, often stirring in their sublimity and as often pathetic or revolting in their ineffectiveness” (111).  Christianity is not the pinnacle or culmination of these efforts because these efforts are not pointing to Christ to begin with.

The Cross and its real meaning—reconciliation as God’s initiative and act—is antagonistic to all human religious aspirations and ends, for the tendency of all human religious striving is to possess or conquer God, to realize our divine nature (theosis). Christ is not the fulfillment of this but the uncovering of its self-assertive nature; and at the same time the re-birth to a completely opposite condition, namely, the fellowship of reconciliation with God (123).

 

This understanding of non-Christian religions reveals the continuing necessity of conversion but removes the sting of the charges of arrogance and superiority leveled against evangelism. If Christianity is the culmination of human religion, then the Christian missionary has the missing puzzle pieces others have lacked—strongly implying their inability to grasp them prior to the missionary offering his superior perception. But if Christianity is a completely different understanding revealed by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit, the missionary is in no state of superiority. Rather, he is an individual who has been graced with the truth of God and now humbly and fearfully works to bring this revelation to others.

This understanding of Christianity’s place in relationship to other religions also addresses the question of “points of contact.” Often, missionaries look for beliefs or practices in other religions that they can utilize to bring Christian belief and practice into a particular culture. Kraemer finds this practice dubious. First, because religions are a unified set of beliefs and practices, so no individual belief or practice can be separated from the whole.

Every religion is a living, indivisible unity. Every part of it—a dogma, a rite, a myth, an institution, a cult, is so vitally related to the whole that it can never be understood in its real function, significance and tendency, as these occur in the reality of life, without keeping constantly in mind the vast and living unity of existential apprehension in which this part moves and has its being (135).

Second, since religion is by nature an outgrowth of man’s rebellion against God, a better approach to other religions is an emphasis on the points of difference rather than similarity. “In light of the dialectical situations of all religious life and of all religions…points of contact in the real deep sense of the word can only be found by antithesis” (139). Kraemer proceeds to provide an overview of other main religions as they are found in various parts of the world and demonstrates this antithesis.

Is missions work then simply a rational persuasion highlighting the confrontation between the revelation of Christ and other religions while trusting the power of the Spirit? No, Kraemer does note a human element of contact—the missionary himself. The missionary must be aware of how the people think, believe, and live in order to best demonstrate his sincere concern for those he wants to embrace Christ. “Only a genuine and continuous interest in the people as they are creates real points of contact, because man everywhere intuitively knows that, only when his actual being is the object of human interest and love, is he looked upon in actual fact, and not theoretically, as a fellow-man” (140).

Though Kraemer’s denial of points of contact may need to be nuanced in some way, his focus on antithesis is a helpful reminder of the uniqueness of Christianity. God is not revealing Himself through the different religions around the world. He has revealed himself generally through creation and specifically through Jesus Christ and His Word. Thus, the only way for people to know God is through someone verbally communicating to them that gracious revelation found in Jesus Christ.

Categories: Seminary Blog

“Teaching Naked” in the Church, Idea #1

Talbot School of Theology - Tue, 01/13/2015 - 13:00

A few months ago I wrote about José Bowen’s seminar and his book, Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning (Jossey-Bass, 2012). I shared that his main thrust was for teachers to use technology to deliver content outside of class sessions, and shift the use of class time to processing that information, promoting critical thinking and the application of knowledge to real life situations. There are three ideas from Bowen’s work that I think have the potential of deepening the impact of our teaching in the church. Over the next few months I’ll be writing a brief blog on each of the three ideas, beginning with ways of using technology to get students into the content of the Bible lesson/study before you meet, preparing them for a more active and deeper learning experience together.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Daniel and the faithful in the hands of a saving God

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Mon, 01/12/2015 - 16:13

 

The book of Daniel has much to say about the unrivaled sovereignty of God. He is the God of history and the King of kings, and his dominion is an everlasting dominion. It also has much to say about the faithfulness and courage of those who live under his sovereignty in the face of rival claims — claims that are still made today. For this reason, then, Christians must prepare to remain faithful in the face of opposition.

As the book opens, Daniel is under pressure to become a good Babylonian. He is immersed in Babylonian culture, but when he draws the line and resolves not to defile himself with the king’s food, God gives him favor and success in the eyes of the king. Later, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to bow down to the king’s statue and disobey God by committing idolatry, for they were confident that God would rescue them. Perhaps even more astonishingly, they are courageous in the face of fiery death even if it means not being rescued (3:17-18).

In these accounts, Daniel and his companions are models for Christians today who face increasingly secular establishments that want to reduce the autonomy of religious institutions and limit the influence of faith in the public square. As our forefathers recognized, ideas have consequences and, on a societal level, every government operates according to its own worldview. Christians, then, must think and act wisely because biblical faith cannot be limited to a strictly private or individual affair. It is, after all, an obedience of faith (Romans 1:5; 16:26) — and we must obey God rather than men. It’s not only what we do on Sundays, as important as that is in the lives of Christians. We follow Jesus, who, last time I checked, is not just open for business on Sundays. We follow the crucified and risen King to our death — even death for idolatrous compromise — so that his resurrection life might live in us.

So we should pray for Christians who are working to protect the exercise of religious freedom, and consider getting involved ourselves. We should hold fast our convictions when threatened to compromise, while allowing others to hold theirs when they differ from our own. We should pray for our Christian brothers and sisters across the globe who have never enjoyed the religious freedoms we have been given.

In the end, history tells us that, for the most part, God’s people remained in exile despite Daniel’s faithfulness and courage. In fact, God’s people still live in exile. The call for Christians to remain faithful and courageous is true nonetheless. Ultimately, our rescue, like Daniel’s, will come not with our faithfulness and courage but with the faithfulness and courage of another, one like a son of man who will come with the clouds of heaven and will bring with him those who are faithful to the end. His kingdom is one that shall not be destroyed (7:13-14).

_________

Oren Martin serves as assistant professor of Christian theology at Southern Seminary and Boyce College. This article originally appeared in the winter 2015 issue of Southern Seminary Magazine.

 

Categories: Seminary Blog

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