Charles Haddon Spurgeon experienced a constant flow of impressions early in life that settled many issues of personal integrity and faithfulness to one’s calling. He recalled clearly how, when allowed to sit in the studies of his grandfather or father, as they prepared to preach on Sundays, he must not speak or fidget so as to be distracting in any way. Their concentration on truth and its application could make the difference in the spiritual well-being of one of their congregation. Preaching meant seeking souls in earnest. It was thus with him. The pulpit ministry could not be commandeered for any purpose other than the pursuit of the glory of God through earnest, even impassioned, gospel proclamation. God could not be glorified when men prostituted the pulpit to their cleverness.
The earnest solicitations of his mother for the salvation of her children, both to them and to God, taught him that no contradiction existed between yearning for and seeking the salvation of sinners while depending upon and submitting to the wisdom and power of God. The true Christian, so Spurgeon learned, always seeks the glory of God as the final outcome of every event of life, and particularly so in the stewardship of gospel proclamation. When no sinners respond to a faithful display of the saving work of Christ, God, nevertheless, does and senses its beauty as a sweet-smelling savour and acceptable sacrifice of service. Though a sinner might not have been saved, the world has been preserved, for only the proclamation of Christ crucified justifies God’s patience with the rebellion of this present age.
The merciful provisions given to his grandfather by virtual strangers in a time of need [his cow had died] showed him the spiritual power of benevolent ministry. Scriptural admonition and theological connection supported the energetic participation of the Metropolitan Tabernacle folks in a variety of such ministries. If we show no tangible compassion for the bodies of people, what evidence is there that we care for their souls? He had an unapologetic evangelistic purpose in the 66 benevolent organizations that operated from the Metropolitan Tabernacle, for a comfortable present is a vain condition without a blessed eternity. He knew that the most appealing to the public was the orphanage work; to him, however, the Pastors’ College held the position of priority in his evaluation.
When he bought a pencil on the promise of later payment, his father learned of the transaction and marched him back to the shop to pay the debt. Debt was a prison for potential thieves and he determined never to be in its grasp. The massive numbers of buildings that were necessary to facilitate the benevolent empire flowing from his ministry always entered their designated service debt-free. His appeal to God’s people for contributions was of the highest tone of stewardship and God-centered ministry. He did not disagree with George Muller’s quietistic approach, but concluded that he must give straightforward public appeals for support. This allowed him to give ongoing descriptions of each ministry, to state its importance in the work of the kingdom, and to help his friends interpret their lives and their possessions in terms of a purposeful stewardship for the glory of God.
That both his grandfather and father, though talented and fully capable of labor in the established church in an appointed parish, maintained their charge in dissenting congregations convinced him of the nobility of losing personal advantage for the sake of truth. Even his departure from their views of infant baptism, when he concluded that only the baptism of believers was appropriately biblical, could not have distressed the sire and the grand-sire, for he followed their commitment to conscience informed by his understanding of divine revelation. So it should be with all, Spurgeon believed, and when men dallied with conscience for the sake of maintaining a privileged position, he sought to expose the hypocrisy with all of the amazing powers of communication at his disposal.
His own conversion convinced him that nothing could replace the internal operations of the Spirit of God in applying the condemning power of the Law to an unregenerate heart or stop the determination of God to bring that soul in humble submission to the cross of Christ for pardon and justification. Both gratitude and confidence saturated his preaching. Though fully persuaded that the Bible’s inspiration and full authority could be defended from a variety of apologetic approaches, his most powerful and urgent appeal in its favor came from his personal experience of what Calvinistic theology denominated the “internal witness of the Spirit.” The Christ of the gospel had saved him. He had seen his sin and knew the Bible’s verdict to be true; he had looked to the Savior, and knew that pardon for sin was true. If these mammoth doctrines of Scripture were true, and, though so offensive to human nature, were, nevertheless embraced with joy by thousands, then all other supportive truth of those two great propositions bore the stamp of divine authority.
The attention and encouragement he received from the plain Christians in early days, their affirmation of his gifts, and their faithful service in their sphere of life, made Spurgeon pay attention to the spiritual gifts of church members, both men and women. Spurgeon celebrated the gifts of the men of his church. His deacons and elders never suffered from lack of commendation by Spurgeon. He expressed appreciation for them, mentioned them by name and pointed to particular ministries in which their labors were keys to success, and mourned their death. His congregation was consistently aware of the deep appreciation he had for the giftedness in the body.
Related: George Whitefield, a model for today's pastors — Jerome Mahaffey
The joyful participation of both his mother and his grandmother in the privations and the victories of the pastoral labors of their husbands taught him to value the particular gifts of women in discharging the glorious stewardship of the gospel. Throughout his ministry Spurgeon found godly women to be a marvelous benefit to the church’s ministry and the progress of the gospel. Mrs. Bartlett’s Bible class for young women produced hundreds of converts and was a constant attraction for the influx of new hearers of the gospel. His wife, Susannah, began a book distribution ministry that brought about substantial increase in knowledge and competence among a class of ministers that were faithful but distressed in their possession of helps for sermon preparation.
His early acquaintance with Fox’s Book of Martyrs and Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress taught him that following the way of truth often meant loss of friendship, misrepresentation, suffering or even death. In a variety of controversies throughout his ministry he frequently hazarded friendships and profitable connections in order to act and speak the truth. The final bout with modernism in the Baptist Union resulted in his resignation from the Union, a censure of his actions by the Union Committee, and a division even within the Conference of graduates from his Pastors’ College.
Spurgeon manifested more than just power with words when he stated, “To me, it seems to be a sufficient reward to a man to know that he is defending a right cause even if he has to die for it. Do you crave the applause of human hands and voices? Do you covet the glance of approving eyes? If so, your self-respect has already fallen below the point which it ought to mark. Are you right in the course you are now pursuing? If you are, you need not ask for anything more. To be right, and yet to be poor;–to be right, and to be abused, or even to be put to death;–is surely sufficient for any follower of the Lord.”
Tom Nettles serves as senior professor of historical theology at Southern Seminary and is widely regarded as one of the foremost Baptist historians in America. He has just written a biography on Charles Spurgeon entitled, Living By Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Spurgeon. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of nine books. Among his books are Why I Am a Baptist, co-edited with Russell D. Moore; and James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman. This article was originally published at CBMW.org
When one thinks of the primary sins in our world today, we tend to think big, pointing to sins like murder, abuse, sexual sins, and possibly blasphemy or idolatry. Very few of us, I think, would leap up to suggest that the sin of ingratitude should supplant these vices as more primary.
The Apostle Paul, however, is deeply concerned about the sin of ingratitude. Not only does it earn a spot on one of Paul’s famous “sin lists” (2 Tim 3:2), but it also stands in Romans 1:21 as the capital crime in the downward spiral of depravity that has marked the human condition from its inception: “They did not give thanks to him.”
We should not be surprised by this. Since the greatest commandment is to love God supremely (Matt 22:37–38), then the foremost sin is failing to observe the great commandment and preferring instead gods of our own choosing (so Rom 1:21ff). Before man can construct alternative gods and alternative ethical systems, he must first deconstruct the God that is unavoidably plain to him; before the floodgates of vice can open, Paul says, one must first be guilty of the more primary sin of ingratitude. It is for this reason that ingratitude takes its ignoble place in Scripture as the dark vestibule not only to idolatry but to all that is evil.
And so it is eminently appropriate that we set aside a day for thanksgiving each November. It is a day set aside to curb vice by fulfilling the first and greatest commandment. Ebenezer Scrooge may have learned how to “keep Christmas well” (whatever Dickens may have meant by that), but perhaps the more primary virtue is learning to keep Thanksgiving well.
Stability is a good thing – knowing that your favorite chair won’t collapse when you plop down in it after a hard day – being able to count on the love of someone no matter what. But as followers of Jesus Christ, we need to be willing to adjust with the changes that come with such a commitment. The first disciples were so inclined, and because of it, we have the gospel, are born-again, and look forward to an eternity in the presence of our loving Father.
We are fast becoming a pornographic society. Over the course of the last decade, explicitly sexual images have crept into advertising, marketing, and virtually every niche of American life. This ambient pornography is now almost everywhere, from the local shopping mall to prime-time television.
By some estimations, the production and sale of explicit pornography now represents the seventh-largest industry in America. New videos and internet pages are produced each week, with the digital revolution bringing a host of new delivery systems. Every new digital platform becomes a marketing opportunity for the pornography industry.
To no one’s surprise, the vast majority of those who consume pornography are males. It is no trade secret that males are highly stimulated by visual images, whether still or video. That is not a new development, as ancient forms of pornography attest. What is new is all about access. Today’s men and boys are not looking at line pictures drawn on cave walls. They have almost instant access to countless forms of pornography in a myriad of formats.
But, even as technology has brought new avenues for the transmission of pornography, modern research also brings a new understanding of how pornography works in the male brain. While this research does nothing to reduce the moral culpability of males who consume pornography, it does help to explain how the habit becomes so addictive.
As William M. Struthers of Wheaton College explains, “Men seem to be wired in such a way that pornography hijacks the proper functioning of their brains and has a long-lasting effect on their thoughts and lives.”
Struthers is a psychologist with a background in neuroscience and a teaching concentration in the biological bases of human behavior. In Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain, Struthers presents key insights from neuroscience that go a long way toward explaining why pornography is such a temptation for the male mind.
Related: Permanence before experience — the wisdom of marriage — R. Albert Mohler Jr.
“The simplest explanation for why men view pornography (or solicit prostitutes) is that they are driven to seek out sexual intimacy,” he explains. The urge for sexual intimacy is God-given and essential to the male, he acknowledges, but it is easily misdirected. Men are tempted to seek “a shortcut to sexual pleasure via pornography,” and now find this shortcut easily accessed.
In a fallen world, pornography becomes more than a distraction and a distortion of God’s intention for human sexuality. It comes as an addictive poison.
Viewing pornography is not an emotionally or physiologically neutral experience. It is fundamentally different from looking at black and white photos of the Lincoln Memorial or taking in a color map of the provinces of Canada. Men are reflexively drawn to the content of pornographic material. As such, pornography has wide-reaching effects to energize a man toward intimacy. It is not a neutral stimulus. It draws us in. Porn is vicarious and voyeuristic at its core, but it is also something more. Porn is a whispered promise. It promises more sex, better sex, endless sex, sex on demand, more intense orgasms, experiences of transcendence.
Pornography “acts as a polydrug,” Struthers explains. As Dr. Patrick Carnes asserts, pornography is “a pathological relationship with a mood-altering experience.” Boredom and curiosity lead many boys and men into experiences that become more like drug addiction than is often admitted.
Why men rather than women? As Struthers explains, the male and female brains are wired differently. “A man’s brain is a sexual mosaic influenced by hormone levels in the womb and in puberty and molded by his psychological experience.” Over time, exposure to pornography takes a man or boy deeper along “a one-way neurological superhighway where a man’s mental life is over-sexualized and narrowed. This superhighway has countless on-ramps but very few off-ramps.
Pornography is “visually magnetic” to the male brain. Struthers presents a fascinating review of the neurobiology involved, with pleasure hormones becoming linked to and released by the experience of a male viewing pornographic images. These experiences with pornography and pleasure hormones create new patterns in the brain’s wiring, and repeated experiences formalize the rewiring.
Related: Listen to The Briefing by R. Albert Mohler Jr. - A podcast featuring daily worldview analysis about the leading news headlines and cultural conversations.
And then, enough is never enough. “If I take the same dose of a drug over and over and my body begins to tolerate it, I will need to take a higher dose of the drug in order for it to have the same effect that it did with a lower dose the first time,” Struthers reminds us. So, the experience of viewing pornography and acting out on it creates a demand in the brain for more and more, just to achieve the same level of pleasure in the brain.
While men are stimulated by the ambient sexual images around them, explicit pornography increases the effect. Struthers compares this to the difference between traditional television and the new high definition technologies. Everything is more clear, more explicit, and more stimulating.
Struthers explains this with compelling force:
Something about pornography pulls and pushes at the male soul. The pull is easy to identify. The naked female form can be hypnotizing. A woman’s willingness to participate in a sexual act or expose her nakedness is alluring to men. The awareness of one’s own sexuality, the longing to know, to experience something as good wells up from deep within. An image begins to pick up steam the longer we look upon it. It gains momentum and can reach a point where it feels like a tractor-trailer rolling downhill with no brakes.
Wired for Intimacy is a timely and important book. Struthers offers keen and strategic insights from neurobiology and psychology. But what makes this book truly helpful is the fact that Struthers neither leaves his argument to neuroscience, nor does he use the category of addiction to mitigate the sinfulness of viewing pornography.
Sinners naturally look for fig leaves to hide sin, and biological causation is often cited as a means of avoiding moral responsibility. Struthers does not allow this, and his view of pornography is both biblical and theologically grounded. He lays responsibility for the sin of viewing pornography at the feet of those who willingly consume explicit images. He knows his audience—after all, his classrooms are filled with young male college students. The addict is responsible for his addiction.
At the same time, any understanding of how sin works its deceitful evil is a help to us, and understanding how pornography works in the male mind is a powerful knowledge. Pornography is a sin that robs God of his glory in the gift of sex and sexuality. We have long known that sin takes hostages. We now know another dimension of how this particular sin hijacks the male brain. Knowledge, as they say, is power.
R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of Southern Seminary. You can connect with him on Twitter at @albertmohler, on Facebook or at AlbertMohler.com. Mohler has also written several books, including The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership that Matters. This article originally appeared at AlbertMohler.com.
This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig:
While taking an anthropology course at San Jose State University about 10 years ago, the instructor took a poll on the first day of class asking students if that we were there because:
1) God created the world that we know including humans in their present form.
2) God guiding evolution to present times.
3) Evolution without God via chance and natural selection.
The instructor ended the survey by saying that by the end of the course he would convince the class that #3 is, in fact, the truth. One of the examples that he used was the argument involving vestigial limbs and body parts. He pointed to humans resembling tadpoles with tails in the embryo state, whales with hip joints, dogs with toes high on their legs that are useless, genetic trail showing that a horse's hoof is really the middle toe that continued to grow longer than the others, etc.
I would love to hear Dr. Craig's answer to such evidence. I have been strengthened by your ministry and I will continue to support it. Please feel free to paraphrase my question to correct any grammatical errors.
They call it a “paper pregnancy.” It’s the period of time between the conception and finalization of your adoption. There’s no positive pregnancy test; no hormonal upheaval; no morning sickness; no amazing ultrasounds; no growing belly; no random food cravings; no little feet-kicks coming from the womb; no agonizing labor pains or delivery. Yet each of these finds its reflection in the paper pregnancy.
Our first was 19 months long.
We decided to adopt in December 2005, and I picked up my wife and our 18-month-old Ugandan son at the airport on July 13, 2007. Our positive pregnancy test was the U.S. government’s acceptance of our application. Our hormonal turmoil was the onslaught of emotions that flow from the ups-and-downs of pioneer adoptions in African countries. The morning sickness came in frustrations of all kinds, from paperwork pains to cross-governmental headaches to the dizziness and nausea caused by the roller-coaster of international bureaucracy. The surreal ultrasound came in the first picture we ever received of the baby boy with whom we were “matched up” and the periodic arrival of pictures during the months functioned as many kicks and somersaults in the womb, reminding us that our son was real, alive and growing. As the process lengthened, the anticipation bulged and, at the end of it all, came the agonizing labor pains of my wife’s second trip to Uganda and her final week in the capital city – which she will tell you was the most hectic and hair-raising week of her life.
Why go through this? The same question that women throughout the centuries have asked in the pains of delivery can be asked of those who chose to walk through a predictably intense adoption: “Why?”
It wasn’t because we wanted a child and couldn’t have one on our own. We were a young couple, and we actually just wanted to adopt first. Scripture doesn’t have a “plan B” view of adoption. We’ve never discovered a verse presenting adoption simply as a second-rate way to grow a family. We’re overjoyed at friends who decide to adopt because they can’t have biological children, and their children are no less blessed because adoption wasn’t their parents’ initial choice. But family-building is not the main motivation for helping
Related: Adoption road map: navigating the often winding road of adoption - Part 1 — by Dan Dumas
Rather, the highest and best motivation for adopting is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The spiritual impulse to adopt runs far deeper than cute international babies, cross-cultural experiences and family growth. The impulse to adopt echoes from the very heartbeat of the gospel.
We ourselves have experienced the grace of adoption, and on a much grander scale. We were slaves of sin, but are now children of God (Rom 8:15). God was our judge, but now he is our Father (John 1:12). We faced a foreboding future in hell, but now we anticipate an abundant inheritance in heaven (Rom 8:16-17). God is the Father of the fatherless (Ps 68:5), and he has made himself that for us through Jesus Christ. Adoption is in our blood. Adoption is in God’s blood.The rights of sonship
Adoption has been called the “crown jewel of redemption,” because even justification and reconciliation do not have to include adoption. God could have rescued us from sin and death without becoming our Father. It is possible to have reconciliation without sonship, to have justification without adoption. We could have been predestined, foreknown, called, justified, sanctified and glorified without being adopted, because a declaration of righteousness is not the same as a declaration of sonship. Yet those of us who are in Christ are far more than former debtors and forgiven criminals. We are God’s children.
At 11:36 a.m., Friday, Nov. 16, 2007, at Children’s Court in Monterrey Park, Calif., Judge John L. Henning declared that Judah David Mukisa Gundersen is the legal son of Cynthia and David Gundersen, with all the rights and privileges of a natural-born child, including inheritance. We swore under oath that we would treat him as such, and the judge signed the court order to that effect. Although this was the first time we had walked through this process, these weren’t strange words to us. For years we’ve read them in the Bible. These words are our story.
This is why Jesus’ earliest followers wrote things like this in their letters: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (Jas 1:27). This call to help the helpless resounds in the heart of all who have been “visited” by God in Christ and who have been helped in their “distress.”
The needs of orphans worldwide are incalculable. Their “distress” is severe. And we have the gospel, a family and a home (in that order). With all of this in mind, the thought of our not helping orphans is unthinkable. We adopt because he first adopted us (1 John 4:19).
With international adoption, there’s another element at play. God loves diversity, and we love diversity with him. Unity in the midst of diversity is beautiful because it displays the singular glory of the one who binds the diversity together. Jesus Christ is praised in the Book of Revelation because, as the four living creatures and the 24 elders cry out, “You were slain, and purchased for God with your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev 5:9). God’s family is colorful, because God is creative and because the bond of Christ is strong. This is magnificent to us, and for as long as I can remember I’ve wanted our family to mirror this every-tribe-tongue-people-nation diversity. The loveliest family in all the universe is God’s, and its loveliness is well worth reflecting.The global cause of Christ
Finally, a word about adoption and the global cause of Christ. Missions means spreading the name of Jesus Christ to every nook and cranny of every people group on the planet by crossing cultures and languages and geographical boundaries to reach them – whether they be urban socialites or desert nomads or tribal villagers. International adoption means spreading the name of Jesus Christ into the hearts and lives of every people group on the planet by crossing cultures and languages and ethnic barriers to bring the smallest and neediest of the world’s population into our homes, making them part of our families and investing the gospel into their lives from the backyard to the dinner table to the bedside. Adoption and the global Christian mission are inseparable.
This is why, at the end of it all, we want to bring the children of the nations into our family – not so that they can grow up and live the American dream, but so that by God’s grace they can grow up and walk the narrow road. Running water, medical care and a sound education are precious and valuable things. But seeing the glory of Christ, hearing the good news of salvation, finding reconciliation with God and walking in a manner worthy of the incarnate Savior of the world is infinitely more precious.
Related: Free download of A Guide to Adoption and Orphan Care — Edited by Russell D. Moore
And so we seek to adopt – as those who have been freely adopted ourselves into a beautifully diverse family unified in the death, burial and resurrected reign of Jesus Christ; as those who have been called to the outreaching of global missions and the in-bringing of Christian adoption; and as those whose hearts long not for the security and comfort of the American dream but for radical lives of incarnational love.
Every day, I see all of this and more in the bright eyes and brilliant smile and childlike faith of my children. I see the grace of God. I see the gospel of Christ. I see the diversity of the church. And I see the call of the Christian mission. And perhaps most of all, I see that it is no small thing to be a child, and no small thing to have a father.
“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom 8:15-17).
David A. Gunderson serves as Director of Student Life as well as an adjunct professor of biblical counseling at Boyce College. You can follow David on twitter at: @GunnerGundersen. This article was originally included in A Guide to Adoption and Orphan care published by Southern Seminary.A Guide to Adoption and Orphan Care
by Russell D. Moore, Ed.
The current adoption culture among Christians is a necessary and welcomed movement. Many people, however, don’t understand how the Bible directs and informs adoption. A Guide to Adoption and Orphan Care, edited by Russell D. Moore, seeks to help adoptive parents and churches better think about and practice adoption.
At the end of September I had the honor of speaking at the installation of my good friend, Mickey Klink, as head pastor of Hope Evangelical Free Church in Rosco, Illinois. The following is the text of my talk and I thought I would share it in this venue as it might possibly serve as encouragement for others who are about to embark on the journey of pastoral ministry. (I’ve shared this with Mickey’s permission):
According to the Coalition for the Homeless, homelessness in New York City (NYC) has reached the highest levels since the Great Depression of the 1930s. As of March 2013, there was an all-time record of 50,700 homeless people living on the streets of NYC. If you walk more than a block in NYC, you will be confronted with this reality.
Recently, after preaching the parable of the Good Samaritan at the Gallery Church, I was headed to Harlem for dinner with my girlfriend, Liz. As we were walking up the stairs to exit the subway, I saw him: a nameless elderly man dressed in dirty clothes, begging for change. This isn't out of the norm to see at a subway stop. But for me, this time was different. I watched as people walked by and refused to acknowledge his existence. Yet, he persisted, "Can I have a dollar for a sandwich?" I watched as each person actively chose to look down rather than to look up at the face of the man. Honestly, I have to confess that I also walked by. However, with each step, my feet felt heavier to the point that I could no longer continue. I now heard two voices. One was the faint, defeated voice of the man asking for change. The other voice was my own, reciting the remnants of that morning's sermon I had just preached: "Don't be the Levite, don't be the priest, who walked by and refused to love the man who was vulnerable."
Too many times, we dehumanize the very people that God loves and values. Tim Keller in his book, Generous Justice, explains that "Jesus taught that a lack of concern for the poor is not a minor lapse, but reveals that something is seriously wrong with one’s spiritual compass, the heart." His point is that a heart that is not bent toward grace and mercy is one that has not experienced true compassion. The mere fact that we choose to ignore the poor whom God values points to a heart that doesn't value God.
Related: No coasting into Christlikeness — Don Whitney
Dehumanization, or the active refusal to give value to other humans, drives all forms of exploitation. This is especially seen in commercial sex trafficking and labor trafficking. A person is "dehumanized" when the "personhood" of the individual is stripped away and they are left as nothing but an objective commodity to be bought and sold. From the moment that we dehumanize our "neighbor," it is not a far leap to objectification and commodification.
Whether we do it out of self protection, fear, or apathy, our response to those who are weak and vulnerable indicates where they rank in our value system.
In the parable, Jesus did not investigate whether or not the reasons that the priest and Levite walked by the dying man were valid; that was not his point. The issue was that regardless of their reasoning, they actively chose to walk away and not show compassion. They chose not to love their neighbor.
By giving this lesson in the form of a parable, Jesus challenges the reader to identify with the characters. He wants us to see our reflection as we see the lack of love of the priest and Levite. He wants us to see our own neediness as we see the "man lying in the ditch." Unlike the "half dead" man, the Bible says that we are completely dead in our sins. In our sin and spiritual deadness, we are enemies of Christ. However, Christ did not leave us to die. He didn't call to us in our deadness and say, "Now if you do this, then you will live." He spoke life into my death, when I could not love God and I could not love others. He didn't merely risk his life to help us, he freely gave it. Jesus Christ has fulfilled the character of the Good Samaritan. He came to us in our brokenness and rescued us by his grace. By his vicarious life, death, and resurrection in my place, he graciously saved me. There was nothing that I could to earn his favor.
As a response to his free grace, I am moved to act in compassion and trust God with the results. My response is to care for the vulnerable and to give graciously. Only as we reflect on the gospel can we go from someone that desires self protection to someone that desires to protect others. The gospel motivates us to see every person as someone whom God values, rather than merely a statistic. The gospel empowers us to value those whom society rejects as those whom have been created in the image of God
With that fact fresh in mind, I turned around and began talking with the man. Liz later told me that his face brightened up as I acknowledged him. I asked him what he needed and he told me that he just wanted a sandwich. So we quickly went to the local bodega and I told him to order whatever he wanted. As we talked, I began to notice a change in my own heart. This man, who I had originally chosen to ignore, had a name. Timothy, or "Dreads" as he liked to be called, told us about his life. He was so excited that we would stop to spend time with him that he invited us to swing by his shelter and ask for him anytime. He even gave us the phone number for his "brand new" prepaid phone. "What are you doing for the Fourth of July," Timothy asked. "Because a few other friends in the shelter and I are getting together to have a little barbecue, we would love for you to come and spend some time with us," he explained. After this invitation, I was moved as I realized that I now spoke to this man as if he were a member of my own family. Honestly by the end of the conversation, I could tell that the feeling was mutual and that we both valued one another.
People continually ask, "What should my first step be in fighting exploitation?" My answer is simple: return value back to those from whom you have taken it. Give value to those whom you have devalued.
Raleigh Sadler is an M.Div graduate from the School of Theology at Southern Seminary and is currently serving in New York City where he is a recognized speaker on the issues of the Gospel and social justice. You can learn more about Raleigh and his ministry at RaleighSadler.com. Follow Raleigh on twitter at: @RaleighSadler. This article was originally published at RaleighSadler.com. Used with permission.
In my earlier posts for this series I argued that the office of Deacon should be reconsidered as broader than physical needs and re-defined as leadership of the ministries of the church. I argued that women should be promoted to the office of Deacon in the church. This final piece addresses two objections related to promoting women to the office of Deacon with some functions of leading and instructing men in the church. Just to be clear, this entire proposal is within a complementarian framework that regards women and men as distinct, as shown by the limitation of the office of Elder to qualified men (not women).
Merry Christmas! Today, November 18, is Jesus' birthday, according to a few ancient sources.
A few years ago, I came across an interesting article about the date of Jesus' birth by Paul Meier, a prominent New Testament scholar. Here is a summary:
We celebrate Jesus' birthday on December 25, but it is quite unlikely that he was born on that day. That date was picked out in the fourth century, possibly as a replacement celebration for the winter solstice or other pagan holidays.
Paul Meier suggests a birthday in November. This is based on two pieces of data....
Four Criswell College professors recently got together for a “Lion’s Den” panel where they answered difficult practical or theological questions submitted by students. Topics included prophetic dreams and visions, singleness and marriage, gluttony, and eschatology.
- Dr. Barry Creamer, President and Professor of Humanities
- Dr. Everett Berry, Professor of Theology and Editor of the Criswell Theological Review
- Dr. Kevin Warstler, Associate Professor of Hebrew & Old Testament
- Professor Kirk Spencer, Assistant Professor of Science & History
- Professor Bill Watson, Assistant Professor of Greek & New Testament
Churches that are concerned for artistic excellence in worship will often employ unregenerate musicians to “lead in worship.” Though these individuals do not know God, as skilled musicians they are able to offer fine presentations in the worship service. Is this a biblical practice? If churches are concerned about offering fine presentations in their worship service, will they be forced to enlist unregenerate people to lead in worship? The answer to this question can be a resounding “no.” But if we are to offer that “no,” we must understand what we mean by “artistic excellence” and what we mean by “leading worship.”
Worship cannot be offered by those who do not know God through Jesus Christ. Thus, it would be impossible to have an unregenerate person leading in worship, since leading would include participating in worship—something an unregenerate person cannot do. Thus, the issue would be whether or not a church’s emphasis on “artistic excellence” would risk enlisting the unregenerate to utilize their skill in facilitating the worship of the regenerate.
This is where 1 Corinthians 12 provides an important reminder. Paul points out that God has carefully designed the body so that each member is integral for the health of the body. No member can claim that they do not need the body nor that the body does not need them. In fact, God has given spiritual gifts to the church in order to edify the body, to unify the body, and to manifest the reality of God’s presence in the world.
These three purposes help shed some light on the differences between a natural ability and a spiritual gift and on when someone gets his/her spiritual gifts. A spiritual gift is different from a natural ability because it displays the Spirit, but also because it is designed for the edification of the Church. There is a difference between a person who utilizes teaching in a business or school and someone who utilizes it in the church. The first is a “natural” ability (still given by God), while the second would be a spiritual gift.
Since a spiritual gift is a manifestation of the Spirit, it cannot simply be something someone had prior to salvation. Spiritual gifts are either bestowed at or energized at conversion—when one receives the Spirit. It may be that a natural ability, which is still a gift from God but not a spiritual gift, is energized by the Spirit at conversion for the good of the church. For example, a person may have been a compassionate person before he/she was saved, but at salvation the Holy Spirit takes that compassion and energizes it to minister to others in the church. It may also be that at conversion or sometime thereafter a new gift is given to a person since verses 7 and 11 state that the Spirit gives them as He wills. Thus it is possible that He could choose to add or subtract spiritual gifts when He thinks it will better manifest Himself and edify and unify the church.
I’m inclined to think artistic ability could be a spiritual gift (since there is no definitive list of gifts in the New Testament). But that would mean that either a person gains artistic ability at conversion or, more likely, that artistic ability is now energized for the good of the church. An unregenerate person would not possess that spiritual gift and would not, then, be able to edify and unify the church in its worship. So a church should not enlist the unregenerate in the hopes of accomplishing what only the regenerate can do.
What should a church do if it does not have people with artistic ability to lead in worship? Again, Paul points out that God is in charge of distributing the gifts (v. 11). God has ensured that each church has within itself what it needs to glorify God at that time, which is why it would be best to think of “artistic excellence” along these lines—doing the best with the resources (talent, time, money) that you have. Thus, what artistic excellence means will be different for each church, but each church should be striving for it with the resources God has given.
Hace unos días tuve el privilegio de participar en el IV Congreso sobre la Reforma Protestante Española que tuvo lugar en la Facultad de Filosofía de la Universidad Complutense en Madrid, España. Este importante congreso internacional tuvo como tema principal la Reforma en Hispano América. Entre los participantes se encontraban profesores, historiadores y eruditos para dialogar acerca de la influencia del protestantismo en América Latina y su relación con la reforma española. Aunque el número de participantes no eran tan numeroso, el significado de esta reunión y los temas tratados son de suma importancia y son relevantes para nuestros días. Me gustaría compartir en este espacio algunas reflexiones sobre el pasado y el presente basadas principalmente en los temas tratados en este congreso.
I travel and speak in a lot of churches, conferences, and countries, preaching and teaching about missions or taking teams on mission trips. I lead orientation for mission agencies and serve on their boards. In the process of all of this I talk to a lot of people who are passionate about missions. Some of them are relatively young and in college, seminary, or ministry, others are middle-aged or nearing retirement. I hear a lot of “reasons” that disappointed people believe exclude them from serving in missions. Here’s a collection of the top-ten most-cited reasons why some say they cannot answer a missionary call, and my usual counsel.
1. I don’t have the training I need to be a missionary.
Don’t be so sure; it all depends on what you are going to do. If you are going to do evangelism, discipleship, church planting, or theological education, of course you need to get training. You wouldn’t go to be a medical doctor without going to medical school. For certain kinds of ministry, I would agree that it would be wise to pause and obtain the necessary training. But don’t consider your time at seminary to be wasted months or simply treading water. At seminary you are digging a well that you and your hearers will drink from for the rest of your life. However, if your missionary service will be through medical ministry, community development, or using skills and education you already have, a solid church background may serve you well enough, at least to begin. Further training is increasingly available via online programs through some of the best seminaries in the world or at home during your furloughs. Many missionaries are self-taught, constantly reading recommended texts to enhance their preparation for missions service. I am a strong proponent of getting all the education you possibly can, but if the door to the field is open and God is calling, then obey Him and trust Him to provide what you need.
2. I couldn’t raise the kind of support I would need.
This is sometimes a self-fulfilling prophecy for those wavering and wondering why anyone would want to support their family. The understanding that you are not asking others to pay your bills for you, but rather are giving them the opportunity to join your mission team and participate in the advance of the Gospel provides boldness to share your passion, vision, and call. When others see your zeal and excitement about God’s call on your life it is contagious and they become your greatest prayer supporters, cheerleaders, and are eager participants on your mission team. Remember Hudson Taylor’s axiom, “God’s work done God’s way will never lack for God’s provision.” If missionary service is God’s will for your life, He will provide all you need. Don’t despair when financial support is slow is coming. One mission agency president reminded me, “God is never late. He is seldom early, but He’s never late!”
Related: Learn about our M.Div degrees from the Billy Graham School of Mission, Evangelism and Ministry
3. I’ve been divorced.
Again, it depends on what you are going to do and where you are going to do it. Some cultures have strong opinions against divorced people being involved in ministry. Evangelicals in the Deep South are such a culture. Yet, a number of ministers have found places of service in biblical churches there after they have been divorced and restored, even in ministry. Some missionaries testify that they have had a similar experience. But remember, not everyone is going to plant or pastor churches. Some serving in support ministries or community development find that a divorce before they were believers or after abandonment does not preclude a fruitful ministry as a missionary. Talk to several mission agencies that are working where and how you want to serve before you excuse yourself from service. There is nothing in your past that will keep God from using you as He ordains. David Brainerd was dismissed from Yale and thus unable to get the training and ordination he needed to pastor, yet God used him powerfully among the New England indigenous people, and continues to use his “Life and Diary” to this very day. Some disqualify themselves with guilt over the past, saying, “You don’t know what I’ve done.” I don’t have to; I know what He’s done.
4. I have some medical issues.
What one person calls a medical issue may be a challenge but not necessarily insurmountable. Perhaps your blood pressure is a bit too high, but is manageable with medicine and regular check-ups, or your cholesterol, or a host of other ailments. Some medical conditions may keep you from serving in a high altitude city such as La Paz or Cusco, but be perfectly fine at sea level in Lima or Buenos Aires, where medical care is as modern as in the USA.
5. I have student loans.
This is arguably one of the most powerful missionary service dream killers—for us, but not for God. One of my students shared in class a few years ago that he and his wife were called to missions. Unfortunately, they had over $50,000 in student loans that they knew would take them decades to pay off. We prayed that God would make a way, but only half-heartedly as it seemed unrealistic to expect. I never saw him again. The next week when he did not come to class, the other students told me that he had shared his missions vision at a local church. A Christian businessman heard his plight and offered to pay off his loans so he and his wife could go to the field. God has His people in many places and He is able.
6. I’m not a preacher/theologian/church planter.
Moses gave several excuses in Exodus 3 when God called him; among them was the fact that he was not a good speaker. I have talked to some candidates who confess they are not theologians—and I heartily agree with them! But God calls people to a host of ministries and avenues of service. Some of the more introverted types may translate Bibles, repair missionary airplanes, or serve behind the scenes in some other capacity, but the work of missions would not advance as it does without their crucial work.
Related: Learn about the numerous national and international short term missions opportunities through Southern Seminary
7. I can’t learn languages.
I used to say that (and people who hear me speak may still say that about me). One person who would agree quickly with such an assessment would be my high school German teacher. I was terrible and German grammar just would not sink in, but that was all before I was saved and called to missions. When God called me, He gave me the ability to do what He wanted me to do. I love languages now and try my best to communicate clearly and effectively. I have seen people learn a second or third language in their forties, fifties, and sixties. God enables us to do what He wants us to do. He is more concerned with our availability than our ability.
8. Our children are too old/young.
As President of Reaching & Teaching International Ministries, I am very concerned about the health and well-being of our missionary kids. I know that their parents are as well. MKs are sometimes overlooked in their parents’ excitement when answering God’s call. A baby in good health is no reason to delay following God’s call to the field; in fact, young children are often effective door openers. Your new neighbors see your family as an equalizer that removes a sense of suspicion or even threat that may otherwise exist. Additionally, almost everyone loves babies. They won’t hesitate to give cultural parenting advice that develops relationships faster than anything else. Older children may be legitimate cause for pause and waiting a few years until they are in college, but a teenaged child does not have to be a deal breaker for missions service. Some teenagers have their own sense of calling and are as eager as the parents. Yet, teenage years are often difficult ones. Teens are going through enough changes without having to deal with moving to another culture, learning a new language, leaving friends, girlfriends or boyfriends, and being the new kid on an uneven playing field. Sometimes the ages of our children are legitimate considerations, but give your older kids some credit. Talk with them about your desire to serve as missionaries before deciding you are disqualified because of them. If they sense that they are the reason that you cannot follow God’s call, this could create false and long-lasting guilt for them.
9. I’m too old.
We knew a missionary in her 70s who had served in Uganda. She came to visit us in Ecuador to discern God’s will about her next country of service since she was sure He was moving her. She decided on Guyana where she could speak English, but earned my admiration and respect for her selfless zeal at an age when many begin to coast. Former IMB President, Jerry Rankin told the story of a man who answered the call to go to an East Asian country at that government’s request to teach English. His kind Christian demeanor and faithful service opened the door for others to follow in his steps. The interesting part of the story is that he was in his 70s when he first went to serve. Moses was in his 80s when God called him to his life’s greatest work. Ralph Winter said that a man’s most effective years of work are after he has reached his 50s. Indeed, by that age you have learned relational skills they never taught you in college. You can read people and situations and suggest wise solutions or strategies to address problems that only the wisdom of experience would know. Do not stop serving God, or stop following His leading, simply because you have a few decades behind you.
10. I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to adjust to the food, dirt, heat, traffic, crime . . .
The first couple of words in this phrase are really what this reason is all about. In fact, it is more of a fearful excuse than a reason. Very few believers would give the excuse of not wanting to obey God because it is inconvenient, but we will allow fear to paralyze us without feeling any conviction. God has said repeatedly in His Word, “Do not fear . . . be not afraid . . . peace be with you.” I ask people regularly, “When God calls, how will you respond?” You can say No, and you can say Lord, but you cannot say No, Lord! Because when you do, He’s not, you are. Jesus asked, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46) In the flesh, certainly there are many things to fear, and there are many inconveniences outside of your comfort zone, but don’t let fear or the bother make the decision for you. Do not waste your life on you; it’s not yours. You were bought at a price.
It is possible that you have a really good reason that is sufficient for not obeying a missionary call; but I doubt it. If you do have a reason for not going, still the zeal of the most passionate “goer” should be seen in you as a “sender.”
If you hear Him calling, just surrender and say, “Here am I, Lord. Send me.” Let Him be the One to say No if a no needs to be said. He may not, and that’s a thought that could move you right around the world.
M. David Sills is A.P. and Faye Stone Professor of Christian Missions and Cultural Anthropology and director of global strategic initiatives and intercultural programs at Southern Seminary. A former missionary to Ecuador, Sills also serves as president of Reaching and Teaching International Ministries. Follow @DavidSills on twitter. This article originally appeared on Sills blog.
In his commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, John Calvin discusses Jesus’ statement that the “Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt 6:8). Calvin addresses the question of why believers should pray if God already knows what we need. He suggests the following as at least a partial answer:
Believers do not pray, with the view of informing God about things unknown to him, or of exciting him to do his duty, or of urging him as though he were reluctant. On the contrary, they pray, in order that they may arouse themselves to seek him, that they may exercise their faith in meditating on his promises, that they may relieve themselves from their anxieties by pouring them into his bosom; in a word, that they may declare that from Him alone they hope and expect, both for themselves and for others, all good things (Calvin, commentary on Matt 6:8).
When praying, believers never tell God something he doesn’t already know. But God has chosen to use prayer as a means by which God’s people express their dependence upon their Father who knows all things and can actually do something about the most puzzling problems of life.
This week's question: "...In watching your debates, I came across your debate with Sean Carroll. What an outstanding performance by the both of you. I think it might be the best debate available on your site. But Carroll made a point in passing that bothers me, and I wonder if you might not flesh it out more for me. It is: How are the teleological argument, and, for that matter, the cosmological argument, not God of the gaps? It seems the argument really is "we don't know how this fine-tuning could occur without God, so it must be God." Or, "we don't know how something came from nothing, so it must be God." I admit, as I think it through, why can't the atheist simply tack on "yet." This does seem like an Ancient Greek saying "we don't know how lightning exists, so it must be Zeus." The correct answer then was simply to tack on a "yet" after "we don't know how lightning exists." I'm certain I'm missing something, but I do find this troubling from an intellectual standpoint."
I’d like to very briefly spell out my thoughts on why I believe pastors are obligated—in all settings and contexts—to speak unequivocally when asked about biblical issues—even ones that have the potential to spark controversy.
It’s quite true that the church does not have a binding authority over non-Christians. The church cannot bind the consciences of those it does not claim as its own or those who do not claim it for themselves. Judgment begins within the household of God, according to Peter (1 Pet. 4:17); and Paul is insistent that his rebukes of the Corinthian church’s sexual practices are intended for those inside the church, not those outside (1 Cor. 5).
If Christian morality is universally true, then all persons are accountable to it. This is ethics 101. Biblical morality is human morality. God encoded the universe with moral order and moral obligation. Notice I didn’t say that persons are accountable to the church or the church’s morality. Everyone is accountable to God’s moral law. That law isn’t vague or just “natural,” it is ultimately Christic (Rom. 10:4; Col. 1:15-17).
Situations where we’re often hesitant to speak are often conditioned by the cultural moment. When culture chastises such things as sex trafficking, which it is right to do so, it isn’t controversial for Christians to join in also condemning such atrocities.
The nature of morality and the prophetic witness of the church, though, doesn’t allow for culture to determine what is or isn’t off-limits as far as what’s morally wrong or where the church is called to speak. Sometimes the church finds itself with a view that is both biblical and unpopular. What do we do? Do we refrain from answering what the Christian view is on a given issue when asked by others? No.
Let’s imagine you’re an influential pastor in the deep South in the 1950s. Racism is institutionalized. Segregation is systemically practiced. Now imagine that a pastor — whether in his office or before an editorial board — is questioned about his views on racism. At that moment, a biblical view of racial reconciliation is in the minority. Societal confusion seeks to implement laws that degrade fellow image bearers. In opposing the “racist agenda,” this pastor is putting himself at odds with the influential sectors of culture. Does he say that racism is an abominable moral evil, or does he bow down before the altar of obfuscation, insisting that an answer of such complexity can’t be reduced to a simple yes or no? What he should do, is speak, and he should speak a word of clarity with biblical conviction that racism thwarts God’s purposes for humanity. The pastor here doesn’t have to give a long-winded answer. But he does need to give an answer. He needs to be kind, but he also needs to be convictional. Were he to chafe at the question and triangulate about the intricacies of culture’s view on racism, he is, I believe, engaging in pastoral malpractice (1 Peter 3:15; 2 Timothy 4:1–2; Titus 2:15; Acts 20:27). At a moment where a pastor can provide honest biblical reflection — whether publicly or pastorally — he’s obligated to do so.
My biggest concern for the argument that justifies evasiveness is that it quarantines prophetic witness and blunts moral reasoning within the public square. It, in short, denies what Abraham Kuyper held to be true; “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
So, when should pastors speak? Always — with prudence, winsomeness, and clarity.
Andrew T. Walker serves as the Director of Policy Studies for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is an M.Div graduate of Southern Seminary and is currently a doctoral student in Ethics and Public Policy at Southern. This article was originally published on his website at AndrewTWalker.com. Follow Andrew on Twitter at: @andrewtwalk.
Part 4 in this series on the office of Deacon focuses Gregg Allison’s argument that we would do best to re-define the office as enlarged beyond the care of physical needs.
Students sometimes ask me the difference between the hermeneutics employed by Covenant, New Covenant, Progressive Dispensational, and Traditional Dispensational theologian/exegetes. Perhaps the easiest way to answer is to offer an example of one of the most heavily disputed topics of Scripture, viz., the Abrahamic Covenant. After detailing four basic approaches to these covenant promises, I will offer three key informing OT texts, each selected and highlighted, but otherwise not annotated, to emphasize the reasons why I hold to the last hermeneutical approach:
A supersessionist hermeneutic says that the land promise to Abraham’s natural seed is a recapitulation of the Covenant of Grace that will be fulfilled when a group of people who are not Abraham’s natural seed receive something other than the land promised.
A typological hermeneutic says that the land promise to Abraham’s natural seed is a genuine but temporary historical reality that falls away in disinterest after God discloses a new, culminating, and much greater inheritance (a new heaven and new earth) for the greater, spiritual seed of Abraham.
A complementary hermeneutic says that the land promise to Abraham’s natural seed will be fulfilled exactly as promised to ethnic Israelites in the Millennium/Eternal State, but that a share of this reward will also accrue to Abraham’s spiritual seed, who become new and equal partners of an expanded Abrahamic promise.
A literal hermeneutic says that the land promise to Abraham’s natural seed will be fulfilled exactly as promised to ethnic Israelites in the Millennium/Eternal State, and that all the peoples of the earth are afforded substantial subsidiary blessings through the obedience of faith.
Genesis 12:1–3: The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
Genesis 13:15–17: The LORD said to Abram, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”
Genesis 15:2–6: Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
Obviously much more can be said, but it’s a blog post, not a book. I trust that this can serve as a faithful summary and preliminary defense.
Whether shock-and-awe biblical archeology, “lost” gospels found just in time for the Easter documentary season, or conclusive proof that the Nephilim of Genesis 6 were actually ancient aliens, the ol’ World Wide Web abounds with juicy rumors. While no one is talking about the big “John the Baptist Skull” story (because I just made that up 10 minutes ago), Facebook has recently been “abuzz” with an article published by the website, World News Daily Report, entitled “Newly-Found Document Holds Eyewitness Account of Jesus Performing Miracle.” This is the same website, incidentally, that broke the story, “Rancher Shoots Down UFO Near Area 51.” Despite the site’s self-identification as a “political satire web publication,” the article was posted and passed around social media hundreds of thousands of times. As a historian focused on the Roman Mediterranean, I’ll comfortably go on the record stating that this story is a pure and fantastic invention. Rather than debunking this particular Jesus rumor, however, I’d like to address a larger question facing many modern followers of Jesus: How should we respond when confronted with such “breaking news”? How might we advise those we disciple on these kinds of intriguing and quick-to-go-viral claims?