How could it be reasonable to base my life on an ancient book (the Bible was written between 2000 and 3500 years ago)? Indeed, how could it be reasonable to base my life on any book? I should think for myself. To live by someone else’s instructions is to surrender my own mind and personality. That approach produces mindless drones, cultists and terrorists.
Yet for two millennia, followers of Jesus from every culture and language have followed the Bible as their authority, from simple folks to some of history’s most influential scholars and intellectuals, from poor people with no political power to those in positions of great influence. And the world is radically different as a result.
How do we go about articulating a Christian understanding of Islam? What are the distinctives of such an understanding as compared to other understandings? Given that Islam is not a monolithic faith, how do we go about distinguishing between all the variations of Islam current among Muslims themselves? What are the needs of Muslim peoples here in the US and around the globe? What is God doing among Muslim peoples in drawing them to faith in Christ?
Answering questions such as these is part of the mission of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In order to begin answering these questions, it is important to root the Center’s mission within the broader framework of God’s redemptive intentions for humanity including Muslims.
The outworking of God’s plan of redemption began over 4,000 years ago with the pronouncement to our father Abraham that his “seed”––the same seed mentioned in Gen 3:15––would be the source of blessing to all the families of the world (cf. Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14). We know that this seed is the Messiah, Jesus, and that we who believe in him are heirs to these promises by virtue of our position in Christ (cf. Galatians 3:7–16). We also know that our inheritance in Christ comes with certain obligations (and privileges). Among those is our appointment as ambassadors of the gospel for the benefit of every tribe, tongue, people, and nation on the face of the planet. Our inclusion in the multiethnic and multinational Body of Christ as well as the standing mandate we have from Jesus to bequeath our inheritance of faith to other peoples necessitates (and implies) that we will give ourselves to knowing and understanding those to whom we’ve been sent. Christ’s mandate obligates us therefore to articulate a Christian understanding of Islam.
Of the world’s 7+ billion people, 1.7 billion are adherents to some form of Islam. Thus, effective accomplishment of the Great Commission is directly proportional to our level of preparation for service among them; to the extent that we give ourselves earnestly to studying, learning, and engaging Muslim peoples on all levels for their joy and God’s glory. Part of how we go about loving people is by educating ourselves about their histories, beliefs, languages, cultures, likes and dislikes, struggles and aspirations. The Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam exists to explore all these facets and the nuances that make up the world of Islam and Muslim cultures. Accomplishing this task effectively as evangelical scholars of Islam begins by recognizing one basic challenge. It is a challenge that, should we succeed in overcoming it, offers the promise of Kingdom fruit. The challenge I’m referring to is a methodological one, and there are two sides to this challenge. In this first part I’ll address one side of the challenge.
As evangelical Baptists we unashamedly seek to draw from––albeit critically––the history of the Christian intellectual tradition––both East and West––in our analysis, assessment, and response to Islam. In light of this reality, the first side of the methodological challenge we face derives from our location in a secular environment with an academic culture that presumes unbiased neutrality when it comes to investigating religions. This environment requires us to explain and defend the legitimacy of a Christian understanding of Islam. While many of the institutes, universities, and divinity schools offering programs and courses in Islamic studies in the West are beset by the postmodern epistemological crisis, we at Southern Seminary are not. We know the story in which we all dwell, and we are determined to reflect critically on every sphere of culture and human society in the light of that story. No area of study or realm of inquiry is exempt. The truth of the gospel and the comprehensiveness of the biblical worldview informs our approach to other philosophies, cultures, and faith systems. The gospel norms and shapes our paths of investigation. Moreover, our faith obligates us to be accurate in our descriptions and interpretations of Muslim beliefs and practices since honesty and integrity are values that stem from the core of our worldview.
This side of the methodological challenge for us will be overcome by fostering relationships with Muslims so as to understand how they interpret their faith, and by immersing ourselves in Islamic history and the primary sources of Islam––the Qur’ān, ḥadīth, sīra, the sunna (for Sunnis), etc. Our investigations in this regard will be conducted on the basis of established methods of historical inquiry, and our analyses will be normed by our commitment to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture and informed by the Christian intellectual tradition. Granted, this means that we will disagree with our Muslim friends on many issues––theological, ethical, political, cultural––in particular, Islam’s subversion of the grand biblical narrative as revealed in the comprehensive and self-contained story of the Bible. However, as we foster nuanced understandings of how Islam has been understood and practiced, it is our sincere hope that our Muslim friends will come to respect our honest engagement of their tradition.
In the next post I’ll address the second side of the methodological challenge and discuss a promise that awaits us as we work on articulating a Christian understanding of Islam.
J. Scott Bridger serves as the Bill and Connie Jenkins Assistant Professor of World Religions and Islamic Studies. He also serves as the director of the Jenkins center for the Christian Understanding of Islam. You can follow Bridger on twitter at: @jsbridger.
Choosing a Missions Agency is one of the most important decisions you as a missionary must make. This decision will dictate the large picture and small details of your ministry and daily living. So the more time and energy you can give to this decision, the better the fit you will have on the field. Take this season in your life to examine key agencies you are interested in. The following guide can help you pinpoint the deeper issues that may be important to you ...
Almost every cultural issue that a pastor will face today involves gender roles. Whether abortion, pornography, sex trafficking, or the advance of the homosexual platform, every issue revolves around gender and God’s plan for marriage, and on these the Bible is not silent.
No doubt most believers feel like Scripture addresses these issues, but how to connect the truth of Scripture to cultural issues in a way that is both clear and winsome is another thing all together.
This is why I am grateful that the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention will host its national conference on The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage, October 27-29, in Nashville, TN. The conference will cover the waterfront of issues surrounding the church as she engages the culture for the Kingdom of God.
There may not be a more pressing arena for the church to engage. If you desire to winsomely articulate biblical answers to the issues of today, I strongly encourage you to be a part of this conference.
Toward that end we at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary are offering a course for credit surrounding the conference. If you’re interested you need to enroll in both the conference and the course separately, as well as secure travel and lodging in Nashville. Register Today!
I hope to see you in Nashville. The times have never been more urgent.
During his lifetime, C. S. Lewis (1898–1963) received thousands of letters from young fans who had read the Chronicles of Narnia and wanted to connect with the author. One such fan was an American girl named Joan Lancaster, who wrote to Lewis in June of 1956. We don’t know exactly what Joan wrote in her letter, but Lewis’s reply is one of the many letters preserved in his book Letters to Children (63–65). (As a side note, if you begin reading this little book you probably won’t put it down until you reach the last page. Lewis’s graciousness and creativity in these letters is quite refreshing. For a university professor, he treated children rather well.)
In his reply to his young admirer, Lewis talked about the nature of language and writing. He said that in his view “good English” was basically “whatever educated people talk,” and that this would necessarily vary depending on region and time. More significantly, he offered her five suggestions about how to become a better writer. Reading these, I realized that most of us could benefit from the advice. Here are Lewis’s suggestions with a little commentary added:
- Always try to use language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.
In other words, be clear. If what you write could be misunderstood, it probably will be. When writing a term paper, article, or book review, try to have someone read what you’ve written aloud to you. Does it sound right? Did the reader stumble over certain sentences because he or she couldn’t tell where the emphasis belonged?
- Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.
A helpful book in this regard is William Brohaugh’s Write Tight. If you have a tendency to blow past page limits when writing, you need to read this book. Long words don’t necessarily make a writer sound intelligent, in fact, sometimes quite the opposite. Regardless, you should be writing to communicate something, not to prop up your self-image, and good communication is usually direct and appropriately concise.
- Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”
Sometimes abstract nouns are needed, especially in academic papers. But when they are not, using them just adds another layer between the writer’s mind and that of the reader.
- In writing, don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers “Please will you do my job for me.”
In grammar school you were likely taught to use lots of adjectives in order to make your writing more interesting. You were taught wrong. Whether you are writing fiction or prose, don’t pile on the adjectives. Instead, use strong nouns and verbs to communicate what you mean.
- Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.
More generally, don’t misuse words. Lewis uses the example of “infinitely.” The word I see (and hear) misused the most is “literally.” E.g., People say that they “literally died of laughing.” Unless you’ve figured out a way to communicate from the grave, you shouldn’t use this phrase. Make sure you are using the right word in the right place. Check a dictionary or usage guide if you’re not sure. The best long-term solution to the problem of misusing words is to read a lot of good literature. Good writers can help their readers become better writers.
A lot more could be said, but a wordy post about good writing would be rather ironic. If you are interested in improving your writing, a great little book to check out is Doug Wilson’s Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life. In about 120 pages, Wilson provides more advice about how to write well than most of us will ever be able to implement—though it wouldn’t hurt to try.
Recently, State Senator Tim Solobay of Pennsylvania introduced a bill (Senate Bill 391) for consideration that would make expungement possible for individuals who have committed crimes other than misdemeanors. The proposal would “allow some individuals who have been convicted of misdemeanors of the 2nd and 3rd degree to apply to have the records expunged if they have not been arrested or convicted for 7 to 10 years (depending on the offense) prior to requesting the expungement.” Some have referred to this as the “young and dumb” exception. The bill was recently referred (October 2013) to the House Judiciary Committee.
Leaving expungement (and the particular issues of Senate Bill 391) aside, I’m intrigued by the prospect of a “young and dumb” exception in ministry. To be sure, expectations of pastors and staff are unique to each context and individual. Indeed, the subjectivity of the Pastoral expectations is often the elephant in every church meeting room. But ministers new in ministry often face an unusual catch-22. One cannot obtain experience until they have experience.
Too often, churches with good intentions, place unrealistically high expectations on staff whom they hire with the pre-existing condition of youth and inexperience. We accept that rookies in baseball or football will make mistakes. It is a natural part of their development. Can we not show that same measure of understanding for those new in ministry?
Now, I am certainly not advocating for lowering our standards below the Biblical mandate outlined for ministers. On the other hand, I would like to appeal for a measure of grace for a particular demographic of church leaders — new and young ministers. I submit to you that if a church calls a young man to serve in the role of Pastor, you do not have the right to expect that he has the maturity of a seasoned minister.
You can’t have it both ways. If you want someone with experience and maturity, then you should adjust your search accordingly. However, if you want someone with youth and freshness, or dare I say, someone easier to afford, please remember that experience only comes through experiences. Obviously, if he is still doing those same immature things ten years from now, he can no longer claim to be young and dumb, because he will no longer be young.
I doubt very seriously that young pastors make mistakes intentionally. If they are, that may say as much about your search process as it does about the candidate you have chosen. I have the privilege of working with young ministers, and all of them I know want to lead with discernment and live up to the expectations of Scripture and of the church. They have a passion for the Lord and His Word and the conviction to reach the lost. What they need is an understanding environment to allow them and even help them to mature.
I certainly don’t mean to suggest that younger ministers will necessarily make dumb decisions, nor do I mean to dissuade churches from considering them. However, young ministers cannot be expected to know by experience that which they have not experienced.
May I suggest to every search committee and church considering candidates who are new in ministry:
- If you are considering a younger minister to serve on your church staff, recognize that his youthfulness is both an asset and a challenge in his ministry and yours. Don’t expect him to have the maturity of your favorite Pastor who recently retired.
- If you are considering a younger minister to serve on your church staff, allow him the grace and the space to lead, even if it means making a few mistakes along the way. When the mistakes come, forgive him, love him, and encourage him. If you create an environment afraid of mistakes, you’ll foster leaders who are afraid to lead.
- If you are considering a younger minister to serve on your church staff, don’t allow strong personalities in the church overwhelm him with unrealistic expectations. Give him time to learn and grow. He doesn’t necessarily have to be like your favorite former pastor.
- If you are considering a younger minister to serve on your church staff, budget expenses in his package (not out of his salary) for training and development. Help him build a library of good resources. A leader is a reader. If you drop by his office and find him engrossed in a good book, remember that might be the most spiritual thing he could be doing at that moment. A growing pastor may be your church’s best asset.
- If you are considering a younger minister to serve on your church staff, remember that with youth in ministry comes young families. You should also allow him the same grace to be a young husband and father. A strong pastor’s home is vital for maturing pastors.
When a church calls a younger pastor you necessarily accept the preexisting condition that he is young. There really isn’t anything that he can do about that. That is a condition only cured by the advancing of time. Patience displayed is his “not yet” years, may reap untold blessings through a maturing leader loved by those whom he serves. Show him the grace that his position affords and his age demands. You might find extended grace leads to extended pastoral tenures.
Following Jesus’ example and teaching, the apostles interpreted the meaning, significance, and application of the entire Bible in light of Jesus’ person and work. Their preaching was the preeminent display of this hermeneutical commitment. When the apostle Paul declared, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,” he was not suggesting that the cross of Christ was the only thought that ever entered his mind, nor was he saying that he simply tacked on some commentary about Jesus’ death to every dialogue (1 Cor 2:2). Paul was contending that the power and wisdom of God on display in the cross and resurrection of Christ served as the only proper frame of reference for every single thought.
D.A. Carson explains, “[Paul] cannot long talk about Christian joy, or Christian ethics, or Christian fellowship, or the Christian doctrine of God, or anything else, without finally tying it to the cross. Paul is gospel-centered; he is cross-centered” (The Cross and Christian Ministry, 38). It was Paul’s commitment to preaching Christ crucified that was considered foolish by the sophists and those in the church at Corinth who were influenced by them to prize intellectual sophistication and rhetorical eloquence above all.
Paul is not commending a nuanced suggestion about one possible style of Christian preaching. Rather, he is commending a Christ-centered mindset and lifestyle that should drive every aspect of a pastor’s life and pulpit ministry. Paul notes that he did not preach “with lofty speech or wisdom” or “in plausible words of wisdom”; instead, he came to them “in weakness and in fear and much trembling” (1 Cor 2:1-4). He sought to distance his preaching ministry, not from oratorical skill, but from the sophist rhetorical pomp, which considered a bloody crucified Messiah to be scandalous and moronic (“but we preach Christ crucified, a skandalonto Jews and morian to Gentiles” 1 Cor 1:23). Teachers influenced by the sophists thought they were too enlightened and sophisticated for such a crude and grotesque message. They sought to accommodate the spirit of the age as they provided positive and inspiring messages about virtuous and successful living. Paul, they contended, was a foolish backwoods preacher.
David E. Garland observes, “Paul’s reminiscence that he resolved to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ, and him crucified, does not promote anti-intellectualism but explains his modus operandi” (1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary, 84). Paul was a gifted rhetorician and logician whom listening crowds identified as Hermes, the Greek god of communication, “because he was the chief speaker” (Acts 14:12). Though, a man named Eutychus is recorded as having fallen asleep during Paul’s preaching, but the point of the account is Eutychus’ resurrection and not that Paul was a boring preacher. The fact listeners were still there “until midnight” provides an argument for Paul’s eloquence and not a case against it (Acts 20:7-9).
Paul avoided that form of rhetorical eloquence that would minimize the content and centrality of the gospel because Christ crucified was considered a message of folly in the world (1 Cor 1:18). When Paul’s opponents said, “his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account,” (2 Cor 10:10) they were responding to his appearance and content of his direct, cross-centered message rather than to the skill of his preaching. The cruciform wisdom of power through weakness proclaimed by Paul was a repudiation of the wisdom and spirit of the age and was utterly despised. In crucifixion, a person was lifted up as a parody, a mocking kingship and exaltation (Mark 15:17-32). The resurrection of the crucified Christ mocks their mockery of Jesus. The one parodied as Messiah is Messiah. Paul was perfectly content to be called an unsophisticated fool for Christ’s sake (1 Cor 4:10) because the only way to avoid the charge would be to downplay the centrality of Christ crucified.
Paul was a student of the Scriptures long before he encountered Jesus on the Damascus road (Acts 9:3). He grew up in Jerusalem and was trained in the Scriptures by Gamaliel, a leading rabbi, achieving a reputation as an excellent student (Acts 22:3, Gal 1:14). Paul would have had vast amounts of the Old Testament committed to memory. His study of the Scripture had led him to follow in the footsteps of his father as a Pharisee, one who oversaw the incarceration and execution of Christians (Acts 23:6, 26:9-11; Phil 3:5). What changed in Paul’s understanding of Scripture to cause him to move from being a persecutor of Christians to one who declared, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21)?
He adopted a new hermeneutic—a Christocentric hermeneutic. The respectability Paul had known as an educated and sophisticated religious man from a good family went away the moment he began to interpret Scripture and life through the bloody lens of Christ crucified. This new hermeneutic came as a result of the saving grace of God in his encounter with Christ on the way to Damascus. His faith in Jesus of Nazareth as the resurrected Messiah meant that if he had continued to interpret Old Testament without reference to Jesus, he would have been in rebellion (See Rom 4, Gal 3, 1 Cor 10:1-13, and 2 Cor 3:7-18).
As Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen write, “The newborn Christian and former Pharisee must rethink all he thought he knew. And this is Paul’s starting point: the kingdom of God, ‘the age to come,’ has arrived [in Christ]” (The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story, 188). David Dockery reminds readers,
He was, however, well schooled in the rabbinic tradition of the Old Testament interpretation; yet he had been confronted by the exalted Lord himself, and that encounter brought about a change in his view of the Old Testament. Now he viewed the Scriptures from a pattern of redemptive history grounded in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (Biblical Interpretation Then and Now, 41).
A sophisticated church is a contradiction in terms. We are the non-nobles of a crucified Messiah (1Cor 1:18-2:5). The same choice Paul faced is before every preacher today. Are you willing to be a fool for Christ’s sake? Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s simple gospel sermons were called “Redolent of bad taste, vulgar, and theatrical” by the sophisticated religious elites of his day. He responded, “I am perhaps vulgar, but it is not intentional, save that I must and will make the people listen. My firm conviction is that we have had quite enough polite preachers, and many require a change. God has owned me among the most degraded and off-casts. Let others serve their class; these are mine, and to them I must keep.” (Christianity Today “The Secrets of Spurgeon’s Preaching, June 2005).
We can be recognized as sophisticated and culturally enlightened, or we can determine to know nothing among anyone but Christ and him crucified—we cannot do both.
David Prince serves as assistant professor of Christian preaching at Southern Seminary. Is is also the pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington Ky. You can read more by David Prince at his blog: Prince on Preaching. Also follow him on Twitter at: @davideprince. This article originally appeared on his blog.
You have played a vital role in my apologetic development, a long with other philosophers. I am puzzled by the fact that a lot of things are taken for granted although examining their legitimacy is the job of philosophy, thus I need to ask you, why do you believe in time in the first place? Isn't just an idea in our mind that helps us locate an event in relation to our experience? I do not get older because of time, but because of my biological development and entropic reality. These are physical constituents of the Universe that entail space and mass in a dynamical interaction. Moreover, the elements that shape events already exist in our universe, to say the time for x has not yet come, is strictly to say that the physical conditions for x to occur is not satisfied yet by the gathered factors. Can you help me identify what I could be missing here, please?
Over the past decade it has been popular to distinguish between “cultural fundamentalism” and “historic fundamentalism.” Cultural fundamentalism is regarded by its critics as very, very bad. It consists of folksy/outdated traditionalism that has drifted from its quaint, innocuous origins and has entered a bitter, skeptical stage of life—complete with theological errors of a sort that typically attend aging, countercultural movements. Historic fundamentalism, which focuses more on basic theological issues, fares a little bit better, but only a very little bit. Critics puzzle over those who accept this label, marveling that anyone would risk associative guilt by lingering near those nasty cultural fundamentalists: “Why not get with the program,” they ask, “and become a conservative evangelical?”
Part of the reason, I would venture, is that conservative evangelicalism itself appears, to all but those blinded by its euphoria, to be yet another cultural phenomenon—a new iteration of a broader movement (evangelicalism) that, let’s face it, has a track record easily as jaded as that of fundamentalism. True, the conservative evangelicals of today are a bit more conscious of theology and mission (that’s how the life cycle of ecclesiological “movements” begins), and their culture is more up-to-date; but it’s just a matter of time until the present iteration of evangelicalism grows old, propped up only by the same nostalgia that today keeps Billy Graham crusades and Bill and Gloria Gaither homecomings on cable TV (except that these will be replaced, for a new generation of elderly evangelicals, with John Piper recordings and Keith and Kristyn Getty sing-alongs that allow folks to relive the glory days).
Last week Darryl Hart, a notable critic of conservative evangelicalism (a.k.a. the “New Calvinism” and “Young, Restless, and Reformed” movements), wrote a scathing exposé of today’s culture-heavy evangelicalism. Speaking specifically to his own confessional concerns, he made the obvious point that the major attraction of the “New Calvinism” and the “Young, Restless and Reformed” movements wasn’t primarily theological (the “Calvinism” and “Reformed” part) but cultural (the “New, Young, and Restless” part). Calvinism, he observed, has been faithfully preserved for centuries in confessional churches (like the OPC of which Hart is a part) that guarded it far more carefully than the confessionally unconstrained evangelicals ever could. No, the major attraction of the “New Calvinism,” Hart opined, was that it offered something that the Old Calvinism didn’t, viz., “the sorts of celebrity, technology, mass crowds, and enthusiasm upon which the young sovereigntists thrive.” The “Gospel Allies” (a derogatory label Hart uses for the conservative evangelical movement) deliberately denigrate the Old Calvinists for one prevailing reason: They’re not new. And since they’re not new, they have little appeal for the young and restless crowd. The “Gospel Allies,” on the other hand, stay new by brokering alliances with cool, edgy, avant-garde, and (mostly) Reformedish celebrities like Driscoll, McDonald, and Mahaney, who, granted, might fall over the edge with which they flirt—but it’s worth the risk.
So what comes next? Well, if history is our guide, the generational cycle of cultural ecclesiology will soon move to its next phase, what I call ecclesiastical “niche-making.” The fundamentalist version of this is well documented. The 1940s and 50s revivalist culture (the best snapshot of which is found in its music) was all new and fresh and culturally edgy in its day. But now it is the realm of churches populated by 80-year-olds who can’t figure out why there are no “young people.” It’s happening again with the Patch the Pirate generation. Patch and Company were all the rage in the 1980s and early 1990s, but now they’re old news. Still, by publishing their magnum opus, Majesty Hymns, a coalition of Patch-culture churches lives on, populated mostly by those who were parents of small children during the 1980s. Now they’re beginning to wonder why the “youth group” is so small.
But evangelicalism is no different. Visit the various evangelical churches in your neighborhood and you’ll find Gaither churches, romantic but theologically vacuous churches from the golden age of CCM, and now Getty/Townend/SG churches (hint: this is where that missing generation has gone). I have little doubt that this cycle will repeat, because there is little in place to break the cycle. The pattern for all of these groups has been to push the cultural envelope until they create their niche, then settle down to enjoy it.
The possible conclusions, then, appear to be twofold: some churches will (1) do nothing and become culturally backward, ingrown congregations that reminisce together until they eventually die of old age, while others will (2) transition to the next cultural cycle and thrive for another 25 years or so. But is this the way it’s supposed to be? I think not.
The answer, I would suggest, is faithful ministry in confessionally bounded churches committed more to the spirituality of the church than they are to the socio-political and cultural relevancy of the church. By striving, self-consciously, to be as culturally transcendent as possible, I would argue, we can cultivate timeless, transgenerational bodies that do not need to reinvent themselves every quarter century to remain solvent. It will not be easy—after all, culture has told us for a hundred years that this is not the way church is done. But it’s definitely worth the effort.
Have you ever felt like a failure? Inadequate? Ineffectual? Have you ever examined your heart and glimpsed sin and darkness and defeat? I have. It is discouraging and demoralizing. It makes me wonder what God sees in me. There is no doubt that I am a flawed vessel. But does that mean that I am a useless vessel?
In a few moments students will fill McGorman Chapel for the convocation of the fall semester. They represent many states, nations, churches and families. This is the sobering reality that makes me want to craft each word in class as an act of stewardship. These are students who have chosen not to colonize in their home church, but pioneer to a different place as an expression of God’s next step. Their obedience is an earnest reminder that that there is a time to colonize, and a time to pioneer.
After the flood, God tells Noah and his family to fill the land. And they did. After a detailed description of the family lineage, Genesis 10:32 notes, “These are the clans of the sons of Noah according to their genealogies. In their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood.” (See also 10:5, 18b) However, the story of man takes an odd turn.
The nations that were to spread out instead coalesced into one big group in order to build a tower to the sky. The problem was that the building project was motivated by an explicit desire to “make a name for ourselves lest we dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” Yet, God had told them to fill the earth, the implication being they were to spread out and take dominion (9:1,7). This was actually a throwback to Eden where God had first commanded them to fill the earth (1:28). In this way the post-flood command was an affirmation that this was indeed humanity 2.0. God was starting over and, in this new race of people, God wanted pioneers, not colonists.
It is there at Babel that God confused their language and spread them apart. This is not because God feared them, but rather that He feared for them. He knew that without disunity they would never realize all there is to this earth.
Actually the story of creation is a story of God dispersing the nations through a series of creations. He created Eve so that Adam could multiply and disperse, and then told him to do so. He then re-created the world through Noah and told him to disperse. Unable to wean his children from their attempted permanent geographical adolescence, he created languages. It was the curse of a gift, which seems to be God’s way. Precious life giving water was used to destroy man, and now the precious gift of language was given to disperse man. They were guilty of the pride of coalescence, the sin of colonizing when God said to move forward. God is very serious about expanding borders.
The next chapter of Genesis is the call of Abram, a call that begins with a simple word, “Go.” (Gen12:1). There were untold blessings awaiting Abraham, but only if he left his current lifestyle. And this is the story of the Old Testament: God would kill those who ultimately did not desire to be led to the new place and accept the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham (Numbers 14:22,23). Joshua and Caleb would see the Promised Land because they were willing to go on to something better.
God is all about stewardship of space, and this geographical push of God in the Old Testament has a spiritual allusion in the New Testament. The Promised Land is a metaphor for salvation. Those who refuse to be led into salvation will die without God. The metaphor of movement is expressed in terms of stewardship. Paul was motivated by a stewardship of God’s grace
the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, Eph. 3:2;
of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known. Col. 1:25
Paul believed that there was a territory he must claim. This meant he could not stand still. In order for Paul to be a pioneer for the Gospel, he had to be willing to constantly live in new territory. Paul spent most of his adult life as a vagabond in an attempt to colonize the call of God on his life. Living inside the call meant constantly moving. And it still does. If God has called you to stay, don’t move. If He has called you to move, don’t fear. The safety of immobility is a mirage. Be armored in the assumed risk of trusting God, always following the call of God by pioneering in this life.
It is the stewardship of time and resources that makes our work in theological education sobering. And for those who have pioneered to this place, we pledge to honor that trust with the most graciously demanding work, symbolic of the demanding and often ungracious world that awaits. Southwesterner, may the road rise to meet you.
In our quest for a more simple spirituality it’s important to define the term. I’m writing from the belief that spirituality is the pursuit of God and the things of God, through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit in accordance with God’s self-revelation (that is, the Bible).
The words of the apostle Paul in Colossians 2:16-3:2 provide inspired guidance on true spirituality. False teachers in Colossae were saying that spirituality involved not only the pursuit of God through Jesus, but also included the worship of angels and other types of mystical experiences. They taught a number of elaborate rituals and ascetic practices which anyone serious about spirituality was required to observe.
Paul admits that while “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion,” in reality “they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (2:23). In other words, these activities may look like marks of true spirituality, but they’re worthless for changing one’s heart or relationship with God.
But then Paul directs us to the basics of biblical spirituality—“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that on earth” (3:1-2).
Unlike the common belief that many people are “spiritual” by nature, notice Paul’s teaching that spirituality has a definite starting point—“If then you have been raised with Christ.” This is biblical language for being united by faith to Jesus Christ in His life, death and resurrection. Until a person comes to the place where spirituality begins and receives the benefits that flow from this union with Christ—namely eternal life and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit—that person has no real spirituality, regardless of his effort or desire.
Notice also that genuine spirituality seeks the things of God, or more specifically, “things that are above, where Christ is.” Any spirituality that does not seek things like the will and glory of God in everything, intimacy with and conformity to Christ, and love—and does not seek them above all other pursuits—is a false spirituality.
But true spirituality doesn’t just propel the heart toward the right activities; it also pulls the mind in the right direction. For in verse 2 Paul continues, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” True spirituality is characterized by a mind preoccupied with “things that are above.” And not “things that are above” merely as we might imagine them, but rather as God has revealed them in Scripture. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about earthly things, for Paul himself gives lengthy counsel about such matters just a few verses later, from 3:18 to the end of the letter. Rather the spirituality that flows from Heaven causes “things that are above” to become a magnet for the mind. So that no matter what we think about, eventually we relate it somehow to “things that are above.” For instance, we often find ourselves asking questions like, “What would the Lord have me do in this situation?” or “What is God’s view of this?”
Don’t be deceived by a complex spirituality that gives the appearance of wisdom but doesn’t start with “Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). And don’t become entangled in any spiritual practices that sound good but incline your mind and heart away from the “things that are above.”
Donald S. Whitney serves as associate professor of biblical spirituality and also as senior associate dean of the School of Theology at Southern Seminary. He is the author of six books, including Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. You can connect with Whitney on Twitter, Facebook and through his website The Center for Biblical Spirituality. This article originally appeared at BiblicalSpirituality.org.
The classic book The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde does something to me. It scares me. It is a chilling, vivid picture of what happens when we allow our base appetites to overtake our rational and spirited faculties (as Plato would say). The story also awakens something: it awakens within me a desire for wholeness, a wholeness where all of my thinkings, willings, and emotions are fully integrated.
First the story: Dr. Jekyll was a respected and wealthy physician and scientist living in 19th century London. By his own admission, his worst fault as a young man was “a certain impatient gaiety of disposition” that was hard to reconcile with his “imperious desire to carry my head high, and wear a more than commonly grave countenance before the public.” 1 Such an innocent fault eventually resulted in a duplicitous life. Before he knew it, he was a profound “double dealer.” 2 Yet, both sides of his nature were in dead earnest; he was himself when he laid aside restraint and plunged into shame as the evil Mr. Hyde; he was himself when he advanced knowledge and provided relief from sorrow and suffering as a doctor. But two selves—one guided by knowledge, virtue, chivalry, and concern for others, the other guided by desire, greed, and lust—cannot coexist for long. As Stevenson illustrates powerfully in his story, the base nature, once unmoored (read the story for how these two selves where “pulled apart”), will rise up and overtake our better selves.
The story is chilling, because we can relate to it so well. We are fragmented people living fragmented lives. Without a secure identity, we fill our lives with things or activities, hoping to find significance and satisfaction. Often one dimension of our lives runs in one direction, another in a radically different direction. Many dimensions are inconsistent with each other. As a result, our strengths and flexibilities, our disciplines and freedoms are at cross-purposes, and we are left yearning for more. We long for unity, and wholeness of life, yet it remains elusive. Lest you doubt, consider:
Since ancient times, man has tried to makes sense of the fact that we live in a uni-verse. Philosophers seek to provide a metaphysical account of why there is unity among so much diversity—the age-old problem of the one and the many. Scientists have long been searching for a unification theory—hoping to find one fundamental law of physics that can unify and explain all the diverse phenomenon of this world. Artists seek aesthetic unity when painting or sculpting. In relationships humanity seeks a kind of unity or harmony with each other. In our own lives, we hope to unite our various thinkings, feelings, and willings under some over-arching purpose. In short, we long for unity. And this is as it should be given the reality of God. I suggest that we long for unity because we’ve been created for such wholeness by the perfectly united tri-une God. And it is this divine unity that is the pattern for all lesser unities:
The Christian doctrine of God thus contains an assertion about the nature of unity. It asserts that all the actual unities of our earthly experience, from the unity of the hydrogen atom to the unity of a work of art, of the human self, or of a human society, are imperfect instances of what unity truly is. We may find in them analogies to that true unity, and learn from them something of what perfect unity must be. But perfect unity itself is to be found only in God, and it is through the revelation of God in Christ that we find the unity of God to be of such a kind as to cast light upon all lesser unities. 3
We long for a kind of wholeness—a flourishing in light of our natures—yet our longings reveal that we haven’t attained it. But as C.S. Lewis reminds us, “God gives what He has, not what He has not: He gives the happiness [read: human flourishing according to our nature] that there is, not the happiness that is not.” 4 Thus, wholeness of spirit, hermetically sealed compartmentalization, or disintegration—becoming more human or less human—are man’s only options. A life directed toward wholeness is a life of flourishing, delight, and integrity. A life bent toward compartmentalization or disintegration is one of misery, emptiness, and the loss of self. Let the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde awaken within you the desire for wholeness. Let it convince you that there is a high cost to a compartmentalized or disintegrated life. Where can such wholeness be found? As it turns out, we become whole “by the way”—not by mapping out a strategy for wholeness but by looking to Jesus as our greatest joy, hope, love, and happiness.
In 1768 the French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire wrote: “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” Voltaire was not trying to denigrate Christianity. Rather, he was arguing for the social benefit of belief in God. He thought that belief in God helped provide incentive to people to live morally and helped establish social order and justice. Thus, if God did not exist, it would be better for society to convince people that God did exist.
There are a growing number of atheists in our day who are clamoring for the abolishment of religion. The late Christopher Hitchens was a leading voice in this movement, and he did not hide his contempt for Voltaire’s sentiment. “Though I dislike to differ with such a great man, Voltaire was simply ludicrous when he said that if god did not exist it would be necessary to invent him. The human invention of god is the problem to begin with” (God is Not Great, 96).
In response to these calls for the abolishment of religion, some are continuing to argue that religion, though perhaps (likely?) false, is still good. Thus, much of the discussion has moved past the question of whether or not Christianity is true to whether or not Christianity (and religion more broadly) is beneficial. Where should Christians side in this debate? Should we tout the idea that religion has tangible benefits even if it is false?
One of the central tenets of the Christian faith is that Jesus is alive today—He rose from the dead. This historical event has been both questioned and affirmed for centuries. A couple of years ago, we held a lecture for our campus ministry at Wayne State University on whether or not Jesus rose from the dead. During the Q&A session afterward, a young lady—after stating that she was a Christian—asked whether or not it really mattered. Is anything changed if Jesus did not rise from the dead? Even if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, isn’t Christianity still good?
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he addresses an issue related to that question. Some in Corinth were denying the Apostolic teaching of the resurrection of the dead. In confronting this error, Paul considers the consequences if Jesus did not rise from the dead.
And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Cor 15:14-19)
What if Jesus did not rise from the dead?
The first consequence Paul mentions is that the preaching of the gospel would be empty. If Paul were to talk with the preachers in churches all over America who do not believe Jesus rose from the dead but still “preach” each Sunday, he would tell them it would be better if they just went fishing or golfing on Sundays. There is no truth to the message being preached if Jesus did not rise.
Some in our day might respond that the objective reality of Jesus’ resurrection is insignificant. What really matters is that we believe he is alive in our hearts! But Paul next states that our faith is empty if Jesus did not rise. The Christian faith is not about wishful thinking. It’s not hoping something is true in spite of the fact that it probably isn’t. It’s about trust in a person and what that person did. If that person did not do what he claimed, then the faith is empty.
Many today would point to the value of moral instruction that religion provides. But Paul next states that he and the other apostles are liars if Jesus did not rise from the dead. He and the other apostles have been preaching that God raised Christ from the dead, and if He did not then they have been lying about God. They have been testifying falsely against him. If they’ve been lying about God, why would we trust them on what they have to say about moral issues? (Or why would we trust Jesus on moral issues when He said He would rise from the dead?) Here’s some valuable advice you may want to tuck away: you don’t want to get your ethical instruction from someone who has been lying about the central part of their message!
But isn’t there still a personal, psychological benefit from believing in Christianity even if it is not true? Paul points out that our faith is of no value if Jesus is still dead. Whereas before Paul says our faith is empty, here he says it is futile or worthless. It’s incapable of accomplishing anything for us.
The reason our faith is futile is because it is not intended to provide a psychological benefit but to deal with our problem of sin. Jesus, as a sinless person, died to pay the penalty for our sins. The resurrection is God’s public display of approval of Christ’s payment for sin. But without the resurrection the payment was not accepted. If Jesus did not rise from the dead then his death was simply for his own sin—just like everyone else who has ever died.
If our sin has not been dealt with, then there is no hope of escaping death. If we are still in our sins, death is not simply falling asleep in Christ but is really the end—eternal separation from God.
Paul concludes by declaring that, if Christ is not raised, Christians are the most to be pitied. He is not simply saying that Christians are to be pitied because they expected heaven but didn’t get it. Christ’s resurrection has bearing on our current lives. It frees us to willingly sacrifice for the sake of God and others (cf. 1 Cor 15:30-32). But if Christ is not alive, there is no point in living a sacrificial life for others. We might as well simply live for ourselves.
Paul does not believe that the Christian life has meaning in itself if Christ is not risen. Christians are a bunch of fools if Christ has not risen! But as Paul points out in the next verse: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (1 Cor 15:20). Christianity is worthless if it is not true. But Christianity is true, and the truth of Christianity is infinitely good.
Jesus, healing, and the spiritual nature of mental illness
In Part 1 of this series I discussed the difficulty of defining mental illness because it is not a concrete object, but an abstract idea that is open to interpretation by many different people. I suggested that Believers must understand mental illnesses as spiritual issues.
In Part 2, I showed from the Scriptures that it is appropriate to talk about healing these issues since the Bible discusses healing in both organic and spiritual terms.
Jesus not only can heal these spiritual issues, but in fact provides the only healing available.
But when we underline the spirituality behind mental illness it raises a very important question that biblical counselors better be able to answer. What is the relationship of physical issues to mental illness? We must answer whether the body has any role to play in these matters, and how Jesus’ healing is relevant for them.
In Scripture, the body is honored
The Bible is clear that God made human beings to consist of a body and a soul.
The LORD God formed the man of the dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature (Gen 2:7).
Related: Join Heath Lambert at the Counsel The Word conference at Southern Seminary September 18-19. Early registration deadline is June 20th
Every individual is a tight union of two constituent parts. Each person is one human being composed of both a physical and a spiritual essence. We make distinctions between these two constituent parts carefully understanding that they are only divisible at death, and—even at that—will ultimately be restored together on the Last Day.
Throughout Church history some have wanted to dishonor the body by devaluing it, but the Bible will not allow such an approach.
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? . . . Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? (1 Cor 6:15, 19)
We could never imagine a more exalted status for our bodies than that they would be considered members of Jesus Christ himself and the dwelling place of God the Holy Spirit. The Bible’s emphasis on the importance of our bodies means that we must love, honor, and care for them. We can do this in any number of ways. In the context of 1 Corinthians 6 we do this by pursuing sexual purity. First Timothy 4:8 makes clear that we can accomplish this with physical exercise, which is of some value.
In the context of illness and disease we love, honor, and care for our bodies by embracing medical care for medical problems. This means that any counselor worth his salt should enthusiastically embrace the use of physicians, medicines, surgeries, and other procedures for cure and symptom relief. We are in favor of everything from a soothing cup of tea while nursing a head cold, to deep brain surgery for Parkinson’s patients, and everything in between.
The Bible’s teaching on the nature of who we are as humans with a body and a soul is a great help in counseling. When we think of counselees as whole persons we will always want to be aware of both physical and spiritual issues as we care for people.
Paying attention to both helps us to avoid two equal and opposite errors. On one hand is the error of the prosperity gospel, which sees nefarious spiritual problems at the root of every physical difficulty. On the other hand is the error of secular psychology with its materialistic view of mankind that ignores any spiritual problems in favor of an exclusive focus on physicality.
“Mental illness” is confusing
Secular psychologists have an unbiblical view of persons as merely physical. Because of this their efforts at classifying problems in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) runs afoul. The book is confusing. Lacking the clarity and truthfulness of the Bible it is not able to make scriptural distinctions between physical and spiritual issues. This requires Christians reading it to exercise great discernment.
The DSM lists hundreds of disorders under the category of illness. Disorders like Autism Spectrum Disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Bipolar I, Bipolar II, Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder, and Schizpoid Personality Disorder are all placed together in the same status of mental illness. Some of these hundreds of disorders, like Autism, are obviously physical in nature. Others, like Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder, have no supporting evidence for any physical component at all. A person reading the DSM has no way to tell from within the manual which problems have a medical and organic basis, and which ones do not.
The DSM lumps spiritual issues, physical issues, and combinations of the two all into the category of illness. A Christian view of personality forces us to think more clearly than this. We need to connect the spiritual problems of people to the spiritual solutions found in Christ and his Word. We need to connect the physical problems of people to the solutions offered by competent medical professionals. Often, we need to do be both of these at once.
The biblical teaching that humans have a body and soul is a great help to us in ministering to troubled people, but we need to be careful. The intersection of body and soul is somewhat mysterious and it can often be hard to tell whether problems belong in one category, another category, or some combination of the two.
I think Ed Welch is very helpful on this topic in his book Blame it On the Brain. Welch argues that spiritual issues will show up as moral categories that the Bible endorses or condemns. Physical issues show up as amoral categories that the Bible doesn’t pronounce an ethical verdict on (i.e., the forgetfulness of Alzheimer’s disease is never indicted in Scripture and so we know it is a physical weakness that requires physical care).
As helpful as these distinctions are we still must be cautious. My personal creed is: when in doubt, check it out. Whenever problems appear extreme, out of the ordinary, or potentially biological in any way I refer my counselees to a physician. Receiving a full medical work-up allows us to rule out organic issues or else ensure that people with physical problems get the medical treatment they require.
Jesus' healing and physical issues
So, after all this we still must answer the question about Jesus’ healing when physical issues are on the line. Does all this mean Jesus doesn’t heal when the issues are physical in nature? My answer is no for several reasons.
First, when people are plagued with physical problems it is Jesus—in his common grace—that makes available all the medical knowledge and help currently available to us. When medical treatments work we should express gratitude to physicians and drug manufacturers. Ultimately, however, we must give praise to God who is the giver of every good gift.
Second, Jesus can and does intervene when modern medicine cannot and heals miraculously. We should boldly ask Jesus to heal us, understanding that though he can heal he also often loves to use persistent illness to grow our trust in him through our own weakness.
Third, When people are plagued with physical problems it is Jesus who draws near to them comforting them and empowering them to endure their diagnosis. Patients need Jesus to be near to them and minister tender mercy whether their prognosis is positive or negative. The most significant issues in life do not have to do with medicine but with life lived before the face of a good and sovereign God. It does not demean the body to confess that people always need spiritual healing more than the physical variety
Fourth, when people are plagued with physical problems the most successful medical relief they receive is only temporary. Every medical treatment—no matter how wonderful—will ultimately fail when our bodies succumb to the final enemy, death. On the day our spirit is torn from our body we will need to look to Jesus to provide for us what no medical doctor ever can. We will need our Savior himself and the hope he offers of a glorified body, cleansed from weakness, that will never again know death, mourning, crying, or pain.
On the Last Day the only medical intervention that will matter is the one from the Great Physician. He will show us then that he honors our bodies more than we ever could. We need to long for that day when we are with him. Until then, we honor him, the Bible, our bodies, and sick people by going to human doctors who require a co-pay.
Heath Lambert serves as assistant professor of biblical counseling as well as the department coordinator of biblical counseling at Southern Seminary and Boyce College. In addition Dr. Lambert serves as Executive Director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. He has authored several books including FinallyFree: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace (Zondervan), The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams (Crossway), and the editor (with Stuart Scott) of Counseling the Hard Cases: True Stories Illustrating the Sufficiency of God’s Resources in Scripture (B&H). You can connect with Dr. Lambert on Twitter and Facebook. This article was originally published on the ACBC blog. (Used with permission)
Perhaps the real question our friends are asking is this: “What impact does our faith as Messianic Jews have on our support of Israel?” This is a fair question, and it is a reasonable assumption that most Jews who believe in Jesus support the Jewish state.
Everything rides on the reality of resurrection.
A general belief in the resurrection at the end of days is present in the Old Testament. For example, at the end of Daniel’s visions, there is a scene that seems very familiar to readers of the book of Revelation. In this scene, “there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book” (Dan 12:1). After this, “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:2). This vision affirms a belief in a general resurrection of all those who have died. The vision also affirms that there is to be some sort of judgment following the resurrection. Some will awake to glory, others to terror.
In the Gospels, Jesus also affirms the reality of a future resurrection. He also indicates his role in that resurrection. Jesus tells the crowds, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:39). Jesus explains, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40). The belief in a general resurrection is given a specific profile by Jesus. Those who believe in the Son will not only awake, but they will awake in his presence.
Everything rides on the reality of resurrection.
One might ask, though, does Jesus really have this kind of power? Can this one really raise the dead at the end of days? The disciples might have asked this very question when Jesus tells them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him” (John 11:11). They don’t understand and think Jesus has misjudged the situation. He could not really mean that he was going to reverse the sting of death, could he? Standing outside the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus pictures this resurrection reality with a call that cuts through the complicated layers of doubt: “Lazarus, Come Out!” (John 11:43).
Just before this, Martha too had misunderstood. When Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again,” Martha thinks he is referring to the resurrection hope at the end of days. She says, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24). Martha was right. She was simply not aware that Jesus was about to demonstrate the reality of what will take place on that day by putting on a display of resurrection life on this day. Her brother would rise again at the end of days, but he would also stand by her side again by the end of this day. To all those who would doubt that he has the power to bring about the resurrection on the last day, Jesus’ words breathe hope: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26).
Some will awake to glory, others to terror.
Paul’s gospel message includes this staggering hope in the resurrection. For him, the entire structure of our salvation in Christ rests on the reality of this reality. As he urges, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor 15:13). Paul insists on the necessity of the resurrection (1 Cor 15:12-28) even while recognizing the mystery of the resurrection (1 Cor 15:50-57).
If Christ has not been raised, then Christian faith is futile, believers are still stuck in their sin, and those who have died lay in those graves devoid of hope. “But in fact,” Paul counters, “Christ has been raised from the dead” (1 Cor 15:20). This fact means that he is the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.” (1 Cor 15:21). At this point, Paul makes the connection to eschatology. Because Christ rose from the grave, he can now return from the heavens. “Then comes the end,” Paul continues, “when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power” (1 Cor 15:25-26).
Do you grieve for those who have died trusting in Christ to save them? They are gone. We see them no longer. We can no longer hear them speak about their hope. We can no longer hear them speak, pray, or worship. Was their hope in vain? How can we know for sure if we can no longer see them?
Paul tells Thessalonian believers who wondered these very things, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. . . .The dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess 4:13-16).
Everything rides on the reality of resurrection.
As Jesus asked standing in front of a Jewish tomb moments before he stuck a dagger through the heart of death, “Do you believe?”
Dear Dr. Craig,
I have been arguing with a friend that is an atheist. I am also an atheist or perhaps more correctly, an agnostic about Leibniz’s cosmological argument ... If after sufficient research, Leibniz’s argument proves more plausibly true than false, than on the basis of it and the abductive argument for the historicity of Christ's resurrection, I'm prepared to take Pascal's Wager.
The winner of our recent book giveaway was Chris K. in Clarkston, MI. His copy of Four Views on the Apostle Paul is in the mail. Congratulations, Chris. And thanks to all who participated.
**This article was originally posted in March of this year.
If seminarians will learn the habit of thinking about God’s truth as a means of enjoying him, then they will not waste their theological education, said John Piper during a special, pre-convocation chapel service, Jan. 23, at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“God gave you doctrine for delight TWEET,” he said in the beginning of his message. “God gave you a mind to be a faithful servant to your heart. Reasoning, thinking, knowing God is the necessary means, and delighting in, being satisfied in, enjoying and treasuring God is the ultimate end of the human soul.”
Piper, popular author, speaker and founder of Desiring God ministries, preached from John 8:28-32, a sermon he called “Don’t Waste Your Theological Education.” In his message to a standing-room-only audience in Alumni Memorial Chapel, Piper applied the theme of his ministry, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him,” to the pursuit of theological education.
Piper argued that because a Christian’s mind is in service of his or her heart, theological studies should result in enjoyment of God — students should “make reflection the servant of affection,” he said.
“The organ of knowing is given by God to serve the organ of preferring,” Piper said. “Thinking exists to serve feeling.”
According to Piper, the way those in seminary avoid wasting their experience is by using their academic pursuits both to further their knowledge of God and, ultimately, to enjoy him more.
“You will not waste your seminary — your years here, your efforts here, your experience — if you solidify the lifelong habit of thinking about the truth of God as a means of enjoying the God of truth,” Piper said.
And, he said, Christians must do this for the rest of their lives.
Piper said that what keeps people — seminary students included — from enjoying God is competing affections. He stated that this displacement from affections for God to something else is sin. But the truth of God’s Word will set Christians free from the bondage of sin.
“Sin is an internal displacement of the glory of God in our affections, in our valuing or treasuring of anything above God,” TWEET Piper said. “All sin, outwardly, is an expression of the inward preference of anything above God. You will know the truth and the truth will set you free from preferring anything other than God,” he said, encouraging students to know and prefer God above all other pursuits.
The season of seminary is for learning to think correctly about God, and God gave Christians doctrine for delight, he said, before he transitioned to instruct students about how not to waste their theological education.
Piper then answered four questions — each with several part answers — to help students think about how to glorify God in their thoughts about his truth.
1. The first question was about the definition of affections for the Christian. Piper answered his question, saying by “affections” he did not mean physical, outward reactions, but rather internal, spiritual and supernatural joy in God, which can sometimes overflow in outward ways.
A Christian grows in affection for God, Piper said, through correct thinking about God. So seminary is important, but only as a means to the end of growing in love for God.
2. With his second question, Piper asked why the habit of pursuing affection for God is the best way for a student not to waste their theological education. The answer, he said, is because “enjoying Christ above all things is essential to magnifying Christ above all things.”
He said when a Christian delights in someone, like a spouse, he or she honors that person.
3. Piper’s third question was why make joy in God, as in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the ultimate goal of the unwasted life rather than faith or obedience.
“Because joy in God is the essence of faith and obedience to God TWEET,” Piper said.
He discussed love of neighbor and how joy intertwines with service.
4. With his final question, Piper asked if right thinking about God actually produces affection, or if the opposite is true. He answered that right thinking results in proper affection for God and other people.
In conclusion, he offered five applications and warnings for seminary students.
First, he said the greatest threat to a student’s future ministry is the death of enjoying God.
Second, future pastors will harm their sheep if they lose their joy in God.
Third, Piper said the New Testament says the aim of Christian ministry is to work for truth.
Fourth, Piper challenged students not to rest until “the fruit of your mind becomes the flame of your heart” in every class, conversation, book or paper.
Fifth, his final point, he said, was for students to pray. He gave an acronym he uses daily in his personal prayer time: IOUs. Each letter represents a prayer from a Psalm:
I: “Incline my heart to your testimony, O, God,” (Psalm 119:36);
O: “Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things,” (Psalm 119: 18);
U: “Unite my heart to fear your name,” (Psalm 86:11); and
S: “Satisfy me in the morning with your steadfast love that I may rejoice and be glad in you,” (Psalm 90:14).