Greetings Dr. Craig,
I'm a Yemeni Muslim, born and raised in Saudi Arabia, currently studying for a short term in Canada. I came across your work, and highly appreciate your contributions to modernizing and polishing, the scholarship from great men like Imam Al Ghazali and Thomas Aquinas. As a fairly conservative Muslim (perhaps because of my biases?), I find your arguments specifically for the Christian faith to be overall weaker than those generally for monotheism ...
Voice of the Martyrs has offered an excellent idea for those who may be travelling during this Thanksgiving season or who might be looking for some special activities to do while gathered with families and friends.
I miss the traditional Thanksgiving hymns. I’m talking about songs such as “We Gather Together,” “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come,” and “Now Thank We All Our God.”
Perhaps you don’t know them. But for nearly all my life, those were the songs of November—especially on the Sunday before Thanksgiving—in my local church experience.
In the last few years, however, it seems—at least in my limited experience—as though we’re losing the music of Thanksgiving.
What happened? Likely, it was one or more of several things.
Reset of musical styles
In some churches, of course, there’s been a wholesale abandonment of traditional worship music. And indeed, it was time for a lot of it to go. But some churches have decided there’s no place at all for any of the music written and sung by previous generations of believers.
I once spoke in a church where a conscious decision had been made never to sing anything more than five years old. Do we really want to raise a generation of Christians (who will then influence succeeding generations) who do not know “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” and “Holy, Holy, Holy”? Of course not.
Distance from harvest
Perhaps another, less evident reason for the disappearance of Thanksgiving music is the growing distance for most people from the awareness of the harvest season and its importance. We never see crops planted, grown, and harvested, not even from the car window on our commute to the office.
Our great-grandparents were raised on farms. Today most of us live in urban areas. But for people who live close to the land, harvest is the satisfying culmination of long months of labor and a reason for gratitude and celebration. Christians whose livelihood and local economy are directly tied to harvest probably sense the fitness of singing the traditional Thanksgiving hymns better than those whose pantry and paycheck are always the same regardless of the amount of rain or the price of corn.
Ready for Christmas music
And maybe some worship leaders overlook the music of Thanksgiving simply because they’re ready to sing the music of Christmas. After all, ad campaigns fill our culture with thoughts of Christmas long before Thanksgiving anyway. Besides, almost everyone likes Christmas music.
Don’t get me wrong: I love Christmas music. I’m ready to sing it from the first Sunday after Thanksgiving through the whole month of December. Indeed, it’s appropriate to celebrate the birth of Jesus (as well as His resurrection) in our worship music every month of the year.
I enjoy “secular” Christmas music, too. I’ll play “White Christmas,” “Feliz Navidad,” and “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” around the house and in the car about as soon and as often as anyone.
In fact, I’m guessing that the enduring popularity of all forms of Christmas music (both Christian and secular) in the general culture is a big reason why even the most radically contemporary churches haven’t totally abandoned traditional Christmas carols. When believers hear secular radio stations and the sound systems at shopping malls play Bing Crosby crooning “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and John Denver singing “Away in a Manger,” they’ll have no problem singing those old songs at church.
Christmas music > Thanksgiving music
Christmas music should take priority over the traditional Thanksgiving hymns. For one thing, most of the church’s Christmas music is more explicitly Christ-centered than the Thanksgiving songs currently in our repertoire.
Second, there’s much more good music about the birth of Jesus to sing (and that should be sung). Our hymnals contain ten great Christmas songs for every Thanksgiving hymn. Of course, more Sundays are devoted to the anticipation of Christmas than to Thanksgiving, so fewer Thanksgiving songs are really needed.
A call for new Thanksgiving music
Although this article is clearly an appeal for us to retain the best of the traditional Thanksgiving music, it’s also a call for the church to produce new, well-composed, theologically-rich music to anticipate singing each November. There are a few good Thanksgiving songs out there, but not very many (at least that I know).
Maybe it’s time for our brothers and sisters who are gifted in these ways to give the church some fresh, Thanksgiving-seasonal, Gospel-focused, Christ-exalting music for us to sing congregationally.
Wouldn’t it be sad if our children or grandchildren grew up without knowing “Silent Night” or “Joy to the World”? I think we should feel the same sadness if they never learn “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” and other worship music that several generations of Christians have sung during harvest season or times of thanksgiving.
Unless you believe that all Christian music more than a few years old should be removed from the church’s worship repertoire—and if you believe this, then logically that applies even to the songs the church sings at Christmas—then join me in encouraging the recovery of the best of the traditional Thanksgiving hymns and the development of new ones. We’ve not only much to lose if we don’t, but much to gain if we do.
Don Whitney is professor of biblical spirituality and associate dean of the School of Theology at Southern Seminary. A longtime pastor and author of numerous books on the Christian life, he is also founder of The Center for Biblical Spirituality. This article originally appeared on his blog.
The national pastime has become a sacred holiday: shopping on “Black Friday.” The day after Thanksgiving has developed into a manic state of sales and spending as retailers, seeking bigger holiday profits, offer new bargains and longer hours to lure holiday shoppers to good deals and great values on amazing products. The spending hype reaches fever pitch as stores open earlier and earlier each year, replacing the day dedicated to gratefulness with unashamed greed and giddiness for a purchase that is meant to show our love for another, bought in rushes of grabbing items that has led to fights, stampedes and debt. Many justify this intense season of shopping with the value of the purchase – the money saved on an item they would buy at a higher price later indicates this was a good value-based purchase ...
November 13th, 2015 … ISIS has made its voice known yet again.
In fact, they have not only made their voice known, but they have captivated the attention of even the most powerful countries. What started as a small dot on America’s radar that we have ignored for so long has now grown into a threat that we have yet to prove we can contain. If there’s one thing history teaches, it’s that in order for us to fight our enemies, we must first acknowledge them as such. However, to note the fear ISIS commands even amongst those who profess Christianity is astonishing.
Amidst the storm that our world is currently facing, have you noticed that everyone is still searching for a solution to ISIS? Have you noticed the number of people suddenly living in fear? Do you see the angst and worry riddled among those who profess Christ? It is astounding, no? What we’re starting to see are many choosing to place their hope and expectancy upon a new or pre-existing governmental foreign policy. Others have chosen to provide their own “unbiased” assessments and solutions to the multifaceted issues plaguing the Middle East, attempting to oversimplify very complex issues. I’m not just referring to government officials. All of these are noble attempts, but it’s ignoring a very simple historical truth.
ISIS is a new enemy, but “ISIS” has and will always exist.
Stretching back years into the past, we see instances throughout Scripture where enemies have risen to power and slaughtered innocent peoples, including Christians. Let us not forget that those of us united in Christ are bonded by the same blood that saved us. We have an extensive history of ancestors in the faith who endured hardships, persecution, and were sometimes even forced to flee for their very lives. This persecution and opposition that ISIS presents is not new to the Christian faith. The early Christians experienced their own sense of persecution and opposition throughout the Bible, most notably in the book of Acts. It was at this time that a very prominent figure was garnering prominence within the ranks, earning a reputation from a lifestyle of persecuting the church of Christ. He is arguably one of the most notorious persecutors of his time, well equipped, and, in his mind, completely justified in his actions. His name: Saul.
But to the people of God at that time, that was their “ISIS.”
In the wake of Saul’s conversion, the ruthless Roman Emperor Nero became a new face of persecution for Christians. Whereas Saul sought to imprison those who professed Christ, history tells us Emperor Nero enjoyed inflicting a slow, torturous death upon Christians. Simply killing them was a second-tier mission; inhumanely eliminating them became a sport for Nero and company. With his heavy hand bringing forth such harsh persecution, among many Christian circles, Nero quickly became characterized as an anti-Christ. This was not a term Christians used flippantly. In fact, it speaks even more to the level of terror he caused. For believers, the very name of “Nero” struck terror in the hearts of believers.
For the people of God at that time, that was their “ISIS.”
By acknowledging the inevitable existence, I am in no way condoning the actions of ISIS. However, the Bible continually teaches the people of God that there will always be an “ISIS.” Their existence has shadowed across millennia, and as history has revealed, they are not going away in the year 2015. Though ISIS may eventually be defeated, “ISIS” will always exist in opposition to the people of God. Scripture continually repeats the theme that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”  However, at the same time, “If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.” 
I believe there are three things we, as the church, have done in the past and can do now in light of our modern day “ISIS.” It is during these times that the people of God must do the very thing that has brought us through even the darkest of times. For we cannot continue to be a generation that believes simply retweeting, sharing a post, or liking a picture is going to stop children from being beheaded or families being gunned down.
- Specific, intentional, expectant prayer
Prayer is the act of offering our petitions to a mighty God who wants to listen. However, let us approach the throne boldly in our prayers! Is it truly out of God’s ability to change the hearts of those affiliated with ISIS? Do we think that God could save their already condemned souls? Is it too hard for God to raise up another Paul out of ISIS? Certainly their hearts are not so far away that even God Himself cannot capture them. Even so, more glory to God!
We have brothers and sisters in countries that are currently being terrorized physically, emotionally, and/or mentally. There are missionaries who have literally sacrificed for the purpose of sharing the saving Gospel message with the lost. We can not only keep them in our prayers, but we can find ways to cooperate with organizations, churches, and other entities that are funding these missionaries. Missionaries are currently surrounded by people with broken hearts searching for answers. Let us join alongside and help equip our brothers and sisters to care for the brokenhearted and provide them the hope that is in Jesus Christ.
Our hearts must assume an appropriate posture against the fear nurtured by ISIS. Remember what it is that God truly judges in a man. I am writing to you as a humbled brother in Christ, heartbroken and saddened by what is going on in our world. But there is one simple truth that allows my heart to find comfort through the storm and it is this – Christ is coming back. May our hearts also keep the same perspective as Paul, who endured the glorious agony of bearing Christ on the frontlines of spiritual warfare. Like Paul, let us not continue to look behind, let us no longer look at the chaos around, but instead let us place our hope in the future coming of our Lord! For where does our help come from? Our help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. 
“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” 
May we always remember the sovereign God we serve amidst the storm. Amen.
 2 Timothy 3:12
 1 Peter 4:16
 Psalm 121:1-2
 Philippians 3:13-14
¡Animo! Es una exclamación que todos necesitamos escuchar con frecuencia. A pesar de la presión popular que nos obliga a mostrar siempre nuestra mejor cara y a declarar que siempre estamos bien cuando alguien nos hace la tan común pregunta ¿cómo estás?, la realidad es que todos batallamos con diferentes circunstancias y siempre necesitamos que alguien nos muestre su apoyo y nos anime. Es importante que tengamos personas cercanas que nos alienten a seguir adelante. ¡Todos necesitamos a alguien en nuestro equipo! ...
- Christians should be personally sympathetic to the plight of those who are truly persecuted and traumatized by the effects of war, especially those who are innocent of and vulnerable to the atrocities of war. Further, Christians should personally extend benevolence, as they have opportunity, to such persons, giving priority to believers (Gal 6:10).
- The OT speaks well of kindness to disenfranchised “strangers” or foreigners (Exod 22:21; 23:9, etc.). Tempering this fact, however, are dispensational considerations relative to the theocratic state. While the OT surely cannot be used to forbid international benevolence by sovereign nations in the modern era, neither can we use Scripture to require it.
- The OT also speaks to the idea of caution in such situations, too, even approving of holistic ethical cleansing of persistently vicious people groups—including their women and infants (Deut 20:16–18, etc.). Part of the concern seems to be that the children of God’s enemies were likely to grow up to subvert the Jewish nation and scuttle its prevailing religion (Deut 7:1–5). This must of course be understood through a theocratic lens as well, however, and falls far short of a commendation of such action in the modern era. This consideration cannot, however, be wholly dismissed.
- Human governments have in every biblical era had as their foremost biblical obligation the bearing of the sword in the defense and policing of their own constituents (Gen 9:6; Rom 13:1–5), and cannot simply lower this sword in the face of suffering.
- Believers should have mixed sentiments about the current crisis. The situation is far too complex to resolve with hasty arguments ad baculum on the one hand or ad misericordiam on the other.
Every preacher has preached a bad sermon. If you think you haven’t, then you probably have preached a bunch of bad sermons. It will happen to all of us. Sometimes it won’t just be bad, but a disaster! When a sermon doesn’t go well, most of us get very discouraged and if the despair is great enough, it might cause us to question whether we should continue to preach at all.
John Newton’s bad sermon
I bet no one can top the disaster of John Newton’s first sermon as he described it to a friend in a letter he wrote the next day:
“I set off tolerably well though with no small fear and trembling…Before I had spoken ten minutes I was stopped like Hannibal upon the Alps. My ideas forsook me; darkness and confusion filled up their place. I stood on a precipice and could not advance a step forward. I stared at the people and they at me. Not a word more could I speak but was forced to come down and leave the people, some smiling, some weeping. My pride and self-sufficiency were solely mortified.”
We will preach dud sermons too
Imagine if John Newton, one of the most celebrated pastors, preachers, hymn composers, and letter writers in the last 400 years, took that one bad sermon as affirmation that he should not preach? How tragic would that have been? Most of our first sermons were bad, and most pastors “lay eggs” even after years of preaching. Take heart, for our sovereign God doesn’t use perfect preachers and sermons. God uses imperfect, broken, jars of clay to proclaim his perfect word and the Spirit uniquely works through this design.
So, if you preached a bad sermon recently, welcome to the club. God’s mercies are new every morning and that includes our preaching ministry. Embrace your brokenness and need to grow. Trust you have not ruined your church because of one bad sermon (or several for that matter). Allow the grace of God in Christ to pick you back up and help you saddle up for next Sunday. God used John Newton in amazing ways, despite this terrible experience and he will continue to use you in your ministry.
Keep on preaching
If you are just testing your gifts to preach, embrace any opportunity you get to preach and listen to the feedback of others. Even if it is hard to hear, God will use that to help you grow. Newton didn’t allow a really bad sermon to cause him to give up. Nor should you.
Brian Croft serves as senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville. He is also senior fellow for the Mathena Center for Church Revitalization at Southern Seminary. A veteran pastor and author of numerous books on practical aspects of pastoral ministry, Brian oversees Practical Shepherding, a gospel-driven resource center for pastors and church leaders to equip them in the practical matters of pastoral ministry.
Dear Dr. Craig,
... my question is regarding an argument against the existence of God that you have certainly heard before, however I have not seen the argument articulated in a way that I find satisfactory.
The argument is essentially about the problem of whether or not God can commit evil acts (or whether or not it even is a problem).
If God is all-powerful, and the ability to do that which is objectively morally wrong is contained within the concept of an all-powerful being, then there must be some possible worlds in which God does in fact commit evil acts.
However, this seems to undermine God's perfect moral goodness, since a being who only does that which is morally good in every possible world is conceivable, and thus for there to be some possible worlds in which God commits evil acts would imply that God is not the greatest conceivable being ...
John Calvin was certain God had called and gifted him to serve the burgeoning reform movement in France through biblical scholarship. He would retire to Strasbourg and lead the quiet life of a scholar. Having published the first edition of his Institutes, Calvin had unwittingly invented a new category of investigation: systematic theology. The ivory tower beckoned.
But divine providence, by means of a red-haired firebrand of a preacher named William (or Guillaume) Farel, intercepted the would-be academic on a summer evening in 1536. Forced by the Hapsburg-Valois War to travel an alternate path from Basel to Strasbourg, Calvin ended up spending a night in Geneva. There he encountered Farel, who urged Calvin to stay and serve the reformation’s cause as a pastor. Calvin viewed himself as an academic, not a pastor, so he resisted Farel’s overtures. In desperation, Farel called down a curse on his studies and, surprisingly, Calvin caved.
Calvin spent much of the remainder of his life as a pastor, penning many of the works that provided theological pillars for the Protestant Reformation and set a standard for biblical and theological scholarship that endures today.
Calvin hardly stands alone on the landscape of church history as a pastor who also labored to produce works of enduring scholarship for the instruction and edification of Christ’s church. Saint Augustine of Hippo (354–430) was a preacher of God’s Word and a scholar. Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758), arguably America’s greatest theological mind, was a longtime pastor in Northampton, Massachusetts. When he died unexpectedly at the age of 54, Edwards had just been elected president of the College of New Jersey (Princeton). His pastoral, philosophical, and theological works are voluminous—a result of rigorous study. And Edwards’s Puritan forebears, consistent with the broader Reformed tradition, valued a well-educated pulpit.
Of course, the pastor-scholar or pastor-theologian par excellence is found in the apostle Paul. Having studied at the feet of the Jewish rabbi Gamaliel, he was converted to Christ and then planted churches across the Mediterranean Basin. His letters are among the greatest theological treatises ever written. Paul’s pen dripped pastoral love—a shepherd’s heart and a scholar’s mind, both inspired by God’s Spirit.
Contemporary Dilemma Too
Today, the church is rich with pastors who produce rigorous scholarship and scholars who are skilled pastors or local church leaders, including men such as TGC co-founders Don Carson and Tim Keller; John Piper; R. C. Sproul; Ligon Duncan; and Sinclair Ferguson, among scores of others. Carson and Piper’s helpful 2011 book (edited by Owen Strachan and David Mathis) The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry (Crossway) examines this question through the ministries of Piper and Carson. It is recommended reading for all prayerfully weighing their ministerial options.
Many training for the ministry still face Calvin’s dilemma: Has God called me to be a pastor, a professor, or both? Is it possible to do both well, or will that lead to a ministerial mediocrity that’ll sap my strength and dishonor God? There have been fruitful, ongoing discussions on these issues of late. One of the most insightful articles is Michael Kruger’s taxonomy of the various combinations of the pastor-scholar. Others, including Andrew Wilson and Mark Jones, have offered valuable pushback on wedding the two.
For me, the question is filled with personal and practical significance.
In 1997 I surrendered to the gospel ministry with a strong desire to plant a theologically solid church in my hometown and spend the rest of my life shepherding that flock. I attended seminary, and soon realized that I loved reading, studying, teaching, and writing about theology and church history. Encouraged by mentors and church elders, I pursued a PhD—a profound course change for my family. I also gained opportunities to teach and found it particularly satisfying. Still, I possessed a gnawing desire to preach God’s Word and shepherd his flock. Was I a pastor or was I a scholar? I spent years prayerfully wrestling with the Lord over my calling and ministerial identity. Numerous seminary friends were pursuing the same degrees and asking the same questions.
Someone suggested it could be determined by my level of desire. But I’m moved in both the pulpit and sick room because I believe the gospel is the unique saving, sanctifying, healing balm from the Lord. I also enjoy what Pulitzer-winning historian David McCullough once called “picking through other people’s mail”: historical research. Teaching future pastors about giants in church history—Augustine, Athanasius, Luther, Calvin, Bunyan, Edwards, Ryle, Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones—excites me. Writing about the past and showing how it can help the church today is exhilarating. My affections didn’t really settled the matter.
Some insisted it boils down to personality. I’m a pretty serious extrovert. I’m comfortable in a lively conversation. Does this mean I should pastor? Not necessarily. Many of my pastoral heroes are serious introverts. Besides, my most skilled professors took a relational approach to students and were also devoted churchmen. Many were or had been pastors. Personality may be a determinative for some, but it wasn’t in my case.
Two economic factors weighed—and weigh still—heavily in favor of the pastorate: supply and demand. Dozens of churches in my denomination needed men trained to preach the Word of God faithfully. Vast swaths of spiritual wilderness across the globe needed Christ-centered, gospel-driven churches planted—including my hometown. I knew scores of men who, PhD in hand, stood waiting in long lines for few teaching opportunities. I knew the odds of teaching full-time basis at a seminary or Bible college were slim. This remains the difficult dilemma facing many pursuing terminal degrees, and it promises to grow more acute as theological education moves increasingly in the direction of online delivery systems.
My wife and I, along with our friends and church leaders, prayed for months. I sent résumés by the dozen to churches and academic institutions alike. Providence would settle it, I decided, and to a great degree it did. So far, this is the most satisfying personal answer to the question. For several years I served as a full-time pastor in Alabama. I continued to teach as an adjunct professor and remained semi-active in ETS. A fellow elder would tease in his delightful Walker County brogue that I had nine toes in the church, but one stuck in seminary. Last Sunday, I began a new ministry as pastor of a church plant in Louisville, one I’m privileged to co-lead with three fellow elders. I am a bivocational pastor, serving as senior editor at TGC and adjunct professor at Southern Seminary. Additionally, I’m involved in a long-term academic project, helping a team of historians—several of whom also serve as pastors—edit critical editions of the works of Andrew Fuller, a model pastor-theologian from the 18th century.
So have I answered the question? Perhaps not. Up to now, it has simply been a matter of seeking to serve the local church with the gifts God has given me through providentially opened doors. The church is my first love, and all my labors—pastoral, TGC, academic—must serve God’s people. That is the most important answer.
A few years ago a wise pastor-friend who’s logged more than four decades in the foxhole of the church helped me profoundly. He posed a simple but poignant question: If you could only do one, which would it be? It didn’t take me long to answer: I would pastor a church. Maybe that’s the final answer.
5 Lessons to Light the Path
God doesn’t waste our strivings, and he has taught me some valuable and humbling lessons through the wrestling. Here are five that have helped me to see the similarities between the offices of pastor and scholar, what should be required of each, and why it’s no surprise some are drawn to both.
1. Scholars, like pastors, serve the local church.
Christian education must serve the local church. Here I’m indebted to Southern Seminary’s founding president James Petigru Boyce and his 1856 essay “Three Changes in Theological Institutions.” Boyce’s three points argue forcefully that a Christian institute exists fundamentally to train leaders for service in the local church.
2. Both pastors and scholars are called and gifted by God for his glory.
Both heart and mind must be calibrated to glorify God, not self. Neither church ministry nor scholarship exists as an end in itself.
3. Both pastors and scholars are lashed to the Word of God.
Higher-critical scholarship washed ashore from Germany in the late 19th century and positioned the scholar as arbiter over God’s Word. By contrast, historic orthodox Christianity has insisted that all—scholar, pastor, parishioner—sit under the Word. It judges us, not vice-versa. Neither the scholar nor the pastor is called to proclaim theological or practical novelties, but the unadorned Word of God. This is priority one. Theology matters supremely for scholar and pastor alike.
4. Pastors should strive to be public theologians.
I’m grateful for the thoughtful new book by Strachan and Kevin Vanhoozer, The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision (Baker Academic, 2015), which explores this assertion fully. They contend the pastorate is properly seen as a theological office provided by God to help his people think biblically about all aspects of life. Vanhoozer’s “55 Summary Theses on the Pastor as Public Theologian” provides a brilliant exposition of this point. Another thoughtful contribution is Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson’s new book, The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision (Zondervan, 2015). Likewise, the Center for Pastor Theologians is devoted to restoring this lost vision to its rightful place within evangelical churches.
5. Scholars should strive to be committed churchmen.
Godly scholars are a gift to pastors and to the church. I’ve found the more deeply a scholar is embedded in the life of his local church, the more effectively he serves the body of Christ in practical ways. Professors who approach students as Christ’s sheep and theology as a matter of doxology are a powerful instrument in the Redeemer’s hands. My doctoral supervisor and father in the faith, Baptist historian Tom Nettles, is a profound example of the committed churchman. If you left his classes with a cold heart for Christ’s church, you simply weren’t listening.
There is no single correct answer to these questions. There may be seasons in a minister’s life when God calls him from the pastoral office to the academy, or vice-versa, and then back again. It seems difficult to imagine one man doing both simultaneously to the highest level of competency each office demands—maybe not impossible, but exceedingly difficult. That much I see with clarity. Thus I am fairly certain at this point it’s best to do one primarily and, at most, dabble in the other as opportunities determine.
This series will seek to address the issues I’ve raised here and a host of others—including the role of seminaries in helping students, when it’s wise or unwise to pursue a doctorate degree for ministry, and the possibility or impossibility of serving in both roles. Perhaps God will be pleased to use this series like a call from Farel to Calvin to help you reach a final answer to this question.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on The Gospel Coalition’s website.
Jeff Robinson (M.Div. and Ph.D., SBTS) is editor of the Southern Seminary blog. He is pastor of New City Church in Louisville, serves as senior editor for The Gospel Coalition and is also adjunct professor of church history and senior research and teaching associate for the Andrew Fuller Center at SBTS. He is co-author with Michael A. G. Haykin of To the Ends of the Earth: Calvin’s Missional Vision and Legacy (Crossway, 2014). Jeff and his wife Lisa have four children.
In part 2 of this blog series, I present the second biblical metaphor revealing the Holy Spirit: the wind. We need to discern what the metaphor is, and what its meanings are within the biblical and ANE framework. I will be drawing some details from the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. My goal is to recognize patterns of meaning that may be intended to expand our understanding of the Holy Spirit’s presence and action in subtle ways hinted at through metaphors ...
During two days in mid-October filled with preaching, teaching and fellowship, 175 people attended the 2015 Mid-America Conference on Preaching at Inter-City Baptist Church. The entire DBTS community and many guests enjoyed the ministry of four main session speakers:
- Dr. David Doran, pastor of Inter-City Baptist Church and president of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, spoke about church revitalization and the need for churches to explore church planting.
- Dr. Steve Pettit, president of Bob Jones University, preached about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the mystery of God’s sovereignty.
- Mr. Jim Tillotson, president of Faith Baptist Bible College, shared ways to serve God joyfully in ministry.
- Dr. Lukus Counterman, a church planter in Salt Lake City, defined what successful ministry looks like.
“I feel like so much of what is happening today in church planting is this cheapened form of religious niche marketing,” said Counterman. “We’re the hipster, cyclist, vegetarian, reduce-your-carbon-footprint ministry. We’re the home school, old red hymnal, fundamentalist, culottes ministry for people transplanted from the South. Or we’re the contemporvant, creedal arts, ancient-modern, subtle-yet-out-there ministry for thirty somethings.”
MACP workshop topics ranged from the practical to the academic:
- Church planting in cities
- A critique of Wayne Grudem’s two levels of New Testament prophecy
- A survey of the life of Arminius
- Being a man of character
- Caring for missionaries
As always, MACP encouraged and refreshed us through the Word and fellowship. If you missed the conference, make your plans to attend next year!
The good work of defending the Christian faith is nothing new. The Apostle Paul inaugurated the tradition of Christian apologetics when he ascended Mars Hill and engaged the Athenians. In the ensuing years, many other early Christians, especially in the second century, received and applied Paul’s apologetic methods. In fact, many of the earliest Christian writings outside the New Testament are apologetic works aimed at a Greco-Roman audience that was less than tolerant of Christianity. Some of these early Christian apologists include: Quadratus, Aristides, Justin Martyr, Melito of Sardis, Athenagoras of Athens, and Theophilus of Antioch. Their stories and writings are handed down in a variety of ancient sources.
For example, in his apology addressed to the Emperor Antoninus Pius, the passionate apologist Justin Martyr defends the moral and theological superiority of the Christian faith. He readily admits that Christians who commit crimes against the state ought to be punished, but he goes on to say that injustice reigns when Christians are wrongly persecuted for their faith. In one of his writings, entitled First Apology, Justin advises the emperor on the basics of Christianity and dispels myths and rumors about Christian belief. He also warns the emperor that unrighteous persecution of Christians simply will not stop the proclamation of the Gospel. In Justin’s words, “You are able to kill us, but not to hurt us.”
Like Paul, these Christians lived on the fringes of society with minimal influence in the public square and little respect from the cultural elites. They spoke as outsiders and aliens, all the while holding fast to their citizenship in a kingdom not of this world. In this way, apologetics in the early church was a marginal apologetic: a defense of the faith from the borderlands of the culture.
This semester at Southwestern, I taught a graduate elective course on apologetics in the early church. Throughout the semester, the students and I surveyed all of the apologetic writings of the second century. As we engaged these texts, we regularly observed features and experiences that mirror the world in which we find ourselves, a place where the Christian voice is increasingly relegated to the sidelines.
In one sense, this is encouraging, because it reminds Christians today that the church has been here before. Christianity has lived and even thrived on the margins of society. These early Christians embraced their humble position in the culture and defended the faith. It light of this, it is worth considering what the church today might learn from their apologetic witness and the ways they navigated the cultural waters of the ancient world.
So, below I outline four aspects of an early Christian apologetic and consider how it might inspire the church to defend the faith today.
- Dispel misconceptions about Christianity
First, gross misconceptions about Christianity pervaded the ancient world. The average Roman citizen simply did not know what Christians were doing when they gathered for worship, and they always imagined the worst. Rumors about the Lord’s Supper inspired accusations that Christians were cannibals who ate flesh and drank blood. Others thought they were incestuous, since they affectionately referred to each other as brother and sister. Some feared they were dangerously subservice because they refused to participate in the immoral aspects of the culture, such as the gladiatorial games. Some even went so far as to call Christians atheists because they refused to worship the pagan gods. While these charges might sound ridiculous today, there are plenty of misconceptions about Christianity in our culture. Just like the ancient world, these views are often uninformed perspectives of Christianity not rooted in the Scriptures. This is why we should pay attention to the prevailing cultural perspectives or rumors about Christianity and, when we are wrongly criticized for our moral or theological views, take the time to rightly dispel these myths.
- Explain Christian faith and practice
Second, above and beyond any misconceptions about Christianity, the early apologists of the church took advantage of every opportunity to explain Christian faith and practice with great patience and clarity. They often used terms and concepts that were culturally relevant. They understood that some doctrines, such as resurrection and the deity and humanity of Christ, sounded bizarre to those unacquainted with the faith. But they shrugged off any ridicule and embraced the chance to defend the faith. Christians today would do well to follow this example and be prepared to explain the basic doctrines of the faith from the Scriptures in a clear and relevant way (i.e. Jude 3).
- Model Christian virtue
Third, Christians in the early church understood that hypocrisy undermined their message. This is why the early Christian writings are replete with exhortations for Christians to be holy. While the rational defense of the faith was important, molding Christian virtue was equally important, especially for a community living on the margins. Like the early Christians, the holiness of our spiritual lives should reinforce the theological convictions we defend (i.e. 1 Pet 3:15-16).
- Embrace the Christian prophetic voice
Finally, the lives of the early apologists were marked out by prophetic witness. They embraced this role in the culture and responded to sin and injustice wherever it was found. The early Christian apologists also understood that prophetic voices are rarely celebrated. Instead, those who call out immorality and injustice in the culture are all too often marginalized and silenced. Following the example of the early church, Christians today would do well to embrace their role as a prophetic voice within the culture. It is the church that possesses God’s revelation in the Scriptures and bears the responsibility of proclaiming this message to the world (i.e. 1 Pet 2:13-17)
There is much the modern church can learn from early Christian apologetics. Their faithful witness inspires the church today to address misconceptions, explain the faith clearly, model Christian virtue, and speak with a prophetic voice into the culture. These Christians looked beyond their humble place in the culture and accepted the challenge of defending the faith from the margins.
 Acts 17
 Justin, 1 Apology, 2.
For 17 years Tom Schreiner has walked the delicate line of serving as both a full-time academic and a preaching elder in his local church. He has written numerous important books and commentaries, including Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ (IVP Academic, 2006); New Testament Theology (Baker Academic, 2008); The King in His Beauty (Baker Academic, 2013); Commentary on Hebrews (B&H Academic, 2015); and his latest, Faith Alone—The Doctrine of Justification by Faith (Zondervan, 2015). In 2014, he was president of the Evangelical Theological Society.
For six years of the past ten years, Schreiner has been my family’s pastor at Clifton Baptist Church. In this interview we discuss the questions a growing number of ministry students seem to be asking as they sort through whether God has equipped them to pastor in the church, a teacher in the academy, or perhaps both.
In your early years of ministry, how did you work through how God was directing you to use your gifts to fulfill your calling to be either a pastor or seminary professor?
When I finished at Fuller Seminary in 1983 and my son Daniel was 1, I needed a job. I was open and eager to pastor and to teach. I desired both, so I applied to both. Then I waited. After a few months Azusa Pacific University offered me a full-time teaching job. Although I’d tried to get a pastoral position, it hadn’t worked out, so I thought: Well, the Lord is leading me to take this job. I need a position, and I’d love to teach.
Even though Azusa Pacific is a broadly Wesleyan school, they were open to hiring those with more Reformed views, so I took the position and was there for three years. I also began serving as an associate pastor, so right from the beginning I was involved in pastoral ministry as well. I was served as an elder, met with the other elders, preached once a month, and taught Sunday school each week. It was a small church plant, and we were vitally involved in that congregation.
So I’ve always loved being very involved in the church and teaching in the academy. I’ve never really drawn a sharp line between the two.
For the past 17 years you’ve served as both a professor and a pastor. Have they worked together well? Any pitfalls or downsides?
When you’re doing both you’re stretched in terms of time, so I suppose that’s a pitfall. But I think pastoral ministry may be the best thing I ever did, because nothing has helped me as a professor in the classroom more than being a pastor in a church. My academic work, which has helped me interpret the New Testament, has been vital for my local church ministry, but it was through pastoring that I began to see how what I was doing in the classroom relates to ministry and which things I should emphasize. I would say pastoring is the best thing I ever did for my teaching.
At Southern Seminary we are encouraged to be very involved in our churches, and many professors are pastors. All our professors have a commitment to be vitally involved in the local church with all its faults and weaknesses—and the church exposes our faults and weaknesses as well. The church is immensely valuable for the classroom.
How would you counsel a student trying to decide whether to become a pastor or a professor?
If a student is seeking the Lord with all his heart and longing to please him, and he’s divided between pastoral ministry and an academic career, I would ask which desire is strongest. I trust God is leading and directing him, so which desire is stronger in his heart?
But the Lord also leads by circumstances. Many who want to become teachers often find that jobs are scarce. Our professors at Southern Seminary tell every student who applies to the PhD program: “We hope you’re not counting on teaching, because we don’t guarantee you’ll get a teaching position. We hope you’re open to pastoral ministry, since we won’t engage in false advertisement and promise you’ll get a teaching job.” Ultimately, I can’t answer that question for someone else; I think it is the Lord who directs, teaches, and guides.
How might a pastor or a student determine whether he should pursue a PhD?
First, most people don’t need a PhD. It’s certainly not necessary to be a pastor. However, second, a PhD can be helpful to a pastor. Perhaps my story will be of some help to those trying to answer this question. I was 26 years old and thought to myself, I’m too young and inexperienced to be a pastor. I felt I needed a deeper, stronger, biblical-theological foundation. I knew more study would give me more depth in teaching and preaching than I had at the time. There were important questions in my mind I wanted to further resolve. So in my situation, I think my PhD studies helped me remarkably; they gave me academic resources I could draw on, even though I may never show them to a congregation. In fact, most of the time I don’t show those resources to my congregation.
Also, there’s a simplicity on the other side of complexity I think deeper study can lead us to, whereas in initial study we may end up being too complex and not helping people truly understand what the Scriptures are saying. So I think a PhD can be very helpful. But the question is, do you have to have it? I don’t think you do. Do you have a burning desire to do it? Do you have the finances to do it? Is your wife supportive? Does it look as if it’d enhance your future ministry in certain ways? If you can answer these affirmatively, then perhaps the Lord is leading you to pursue a PhD.
Might having a PhD hinder a pastor? On the other hand, are there some training for ministry who should avoid the pastorate?
I think it’s possible a PhD could separate a pastor from his people. It’s a matter of motive and heart, and it’s possible that some pastors, after getting a PhD, could become arrogant and proud. In their hearts they might begin to view their congregation as ignorant and backward, and thus could no longer effectively minister to them. I think that’s more an issue of the heart than of the training itself. That’s a spiritual issue.
On the other hand, I can conceive of a situation in which a pastor is academically gifted but socially awkward. Perhaps they can improve enough socially to be a pastor, but yet there are some, given their social skills, who probably ought to teach instead of pastor. And they need to recognize what their gifts are.
While this doesn’t relate directly to pastoring, I remember a student in biblical and theological studies a few years ago who came to me and said, “I’m doing terribly in the languages, and they’re such a struggle to me. It’s so discouraging, and I’m trying so hard.” And I said to him, “Then God hasn’t gifted you to do that. God is directing you and leading you in a different way. Those aren’t your gifts. If you’re trying hard and you’re not getting it, don’t put that burden on yourself. Be what God has called you to be. Not everybody is called to be in biblical and theological studies, so don’t force yourself to be what you’re not. Rejoice in what God has made you to be, and find your niche. Don’t compel yourself to fit into this preconceived mold of what you should be.” He found that liberating and freeing. So in considering the pastorate and a PhD, recognize what your gifts are.
Is it possible for one person to do both well? Can a pastor be faithful in the pulpit and to his many important shepherding duties and still do the exhaustive reading and careful study it takes to be a scholar?
In the vast majority of situations, it’s impossible. The only way I could do what I did was because of the other elders in my church. There’s no way in preaching the last 17 years I did all the things a full-time pastor does. Not even close. But we had a situation with other very gifted elders who were a significant help. So if you have a pastoral team where you can divide responsibilities, then maybe you can do it. But if you’re in a church where there are one or two pastors, I don’t see how it’s possible. Even if the church is small, I think it would be enormously difficult to do both. I think it’s a unique situation where the combination works well, because pastoral ministry almost always demands more of you.
I felt that tension often. Sometimes I’d confess to my fellow elders, “I feel like I’m divided, 70 percent at the church and 70 percent at the seminary.” There’s a keen recognition, at least in my life, that there’s always so much more to do. Where you really face that is in spending time with the people, because if you’re writing, the very genius of writing is being alone. You can’t write in a community. But that means you’re absent from church members for long blocks of time. That’s not the pastoral life. So the only way that works is if you have a team of elders and a congregation who recognize that. However, that’s very rare. I would never pursue that as a model, and I never imagined I would do exactly that for 17 years. For me, there were times I wondered if I should leave the seminary and do pastoral ministry full-time. I came very close to doing that at least twice.
What should seminaries be doing to help men work through this issue?
The best way to help, I think, is to have one-on-one conversations between students and professors. It’s up to the individual to talk to his professors about it. If you know you’re wrestling with something like this, ask a professor, “Here’s something I’m wrestling with; help me think it through.” That’s the way life is in the church and in the seminary. We’re individuals; we need to talk to people. Professors have that pastoral role at the seminary as well—to help students think through issues like this.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be a seminary professor. Talk to your pastor about it. There are many wise and godly pastors with whom a student may talk. One may also find answers by talking with another seminary student.
Editors’ note: This article was originally published by The Gospel Coalition.
Jeff Robinson (M.Div. and Ph.D., SBTS) is editor of the Southern Seminary blog. He is pastor of New City Church in Louisville, serves as senior editor for The Gospel Coalition and is also adjunct professor of church history and senior research and teaching associate for the Andrew Fuller Center at SBTS. He is co-author with Michael A. G. Haykin of To the Ends of the Earth: Calvin’s Missional Vision and Legacy (Crossway, 2014). Jeff and his wife Lisa have four children.
Thomas R. Schreiner is James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation and professor of biblical theology. He also serves as associate dean of the School of Theology at Southern. He is the author of many books including, most recently, The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments. Follow him on Twitter at: @DrTomSchreiner.
Are you wrestling with a call to ministry? Download The Call to Ministry Journal from SBTS Press. This workbook is mean to help you discern whether or not God has called you to ministry. You’ll notice pages with blank space; those pages are for you to respond to questions, react to the quotations and reflect on the Scripture references you’ll find throughout. So, open your Bible, get out your pen and discover whether God has called you to this most noble and weighty task.
There are times for all of us when we feel bruised and battered by the relentlessness of life. We long for respite, a chance to catch our breath before the next project or crisis consumes us. But often, life’s challenges are unremitting. They just keep on coming! ...
Dear Dr. Craig,
Thank you for all your work in Christian Philosophy and Apologetics as it has influenced my walk with Christ tremendously. You're the reason I have decided to study Philosophy at my college (Miami University of Ohio to be exact!).
My question for you concerns your proposed model of the Incarnation. The model you propose agrees with the principle "That which is not assumed is not saved." So, The Logos assumes a human nature and all that that entails. But, I'm a bit puzzled because it seems to me that an essential part of being human is also to be contingent. It is literally apart of the very essence of a human to be contingent. If this is true then it seems that Christ must also assume a contingency in order to redeem us since that too is apart of "That which is not assumed is not saved." But, this obviously seems incompatible with the nature of God which is to be necessary. So, how exactly does the Logos assume contingency? ...
Editors’ note: Part I of this article was published earlier this week.
Be fun to live with
“Joy” is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). If your Christianity makes you dreary and dull, you don’t understand the ministry of the Holy Spirit nor what Christ has done. If pastors would reflect the joy of the Lord in their ministry, marriage, and home, people around them would be delightfully drawn to the Lord.
While pastors often have to bear heavy burdens, they do their family a terrible injustice when they don’t learn to lay those aside when they walk in the door of their homes. I once asked my wife, Tanya, to tell me her favorite part of the day. She quickly said, “When you come home. You come in the door acting silly, imitating Ricky Ricardo, whispering something in my ear, or wrestling with the boys. It doesn’t matter what might have been happening, you elevate us. If we were in a bad mood, suddenly our mood changes dramatically. You have the power to lift our spirits in a moment.”
Feeling a little proud of myself, I asked her further what was her least favorite time of the day. “When you come home,” she said, shocking me a bit. “If you come in dragging and griping, in a bad mood and aggravated with someone or something, it doesn’t matter how great our moods have been, you drag us down. You have the power to make that moment either the best or the worst part of our day.”
Don’t just spend your time, invest it
A minister has to learn to invest his time wisely, rather than merely letting it pass. He must choose to be present for the events that matter. Some pastors pride themselves on “always being there” for their church members. Adrian Rogers used to say, “The pastor who is always available is seldom worth anything when he is.” Whether dealing with his church or his family, no minister can be there for everything. The key is to be present for the things that have the greatest impact. A pastor can overindulge his church as surely as he can overindulge his children. The key is to set an example of faithfulness, discipline, and integrity.
Because of my schedule, I did not attend all of the ball games, school events, or performances of my children. We would have an honest talk about the event’s level of importance. If one of my sons said to me, “This is important to me. I want you there,” then I would do everything possible to make it happen. By the same token, I sometimes had to explain that because of a previous commitment I had made, I had to be away. I could not break my word.
If children see that ethos consistently permeate their dad’s life, they will understand and support it. In 1995 when my oldest son was 12 years old, the Atlanta Braves won the World Series. Michael was a huge Braves fan, and I foolishly promised him that if they ever made it back to the Series, no matter how old we were or what we were doing, we would drop everything and go. To my abject horror, I watched the 1996 playoffs knowing that the World Series was scheduled the same week our church had scheduled an evangelist for a revival meeting. When they won the right to face the Yankees in the series, I knew I was going to have to keep my promise. Though I would usually never miss a revival meeting for a ball game, a promise was, after all, a promise. To this day I am not sure that the evangelist ever got over it or that my church understood (even though I did my best to explain), but I know my son learned that his dad was willing to keep a promise even when it cost him.
That kind of commitment made it easier for my family to understand when, at other times, I had to miss some events. I often brought them into the decision process, asking them questions like, “Which will have the greatest impact? What are the negative and positive consequences of each choice?” I believe that parents who pride themselves on being there for everything are little different than parents who buy their children everything they want. I want my children to know how high a priority they are to me, but I do not want them to ever think that they are the center of the universe around which everything else revolves. Some crises and needs are more significant than their soccer games, but in the same way I want my church to know that some needs in my family are more important than the WMU dinner.
In all candor, not everyone is going to understand the choices a minister makes. As much as I hate to admit it, pastors need to learn to live with someone’s disappointment. Someone will always have their own opinion about the way the pastor should spend his time, and they will inevitably complain about it when their expectations aren’t met. Sometimes a pastor just has to decide which criticism he is most willing to face: “He’s not always available,” or “His kids sure are bad.”
Include your family in ministry tasks
A friend used to tell me, “Wherever you go, take someone with you.” Following his advice, I always tried to take one of my sons on visits to homes, hospitals, or preaching engagements. I used those opportunities to teach them how to care for people, how to live a godly life, or just to listen to what was on their hearts.
In the same way, I include my wife in my sermon preparation, frequently asking her for advice in crafting the sermon, searching for illustrations, or the best way to relate truth to a contemporary audience. A blessed fringe benefit is that Tanya has become a wonderful speaker herself, able to exegete a passage and present it in an engaging manner. Now that our sons are grown, she accompanies me almost everywhere I go. By including her in my ministry, we have grown closer and my church sees us as a team. I am less likely to face moral temptation or simply to grow distant from her. By including my family I cultivate trust, camaraderie, and competency.
I have always realized that the windows of opportunity with my family quickly close, that I must seize the moment to share in their lives. My sons have grown and begun families of their own. Because I made investments in their lives, now I get to enjoy those Sunday night phone calls from Michael about what he preached, or Thursday night phone calls from Seth about how much his prayer group means to him. Because the Lord led me to invest in them, now I get to enjoy some of the fruit.
No pastor can find the perfect formula for success, a failsafe recipe for balancing church and home, ministry and family, but if he is willing to take as much care for his calling as sailors take for the deck of an aircraft carrier, he can identify and remove the little things that would disable him. If God has called him to shepherd both family and a church, then God is most glorified when he sees that these ministries complement each other rather than compete._____________
We’ve been hearing a lot of warnings these last few years about the coming persecution of Christians. And a look around the globe reveals that public sentiment really is turning perceptibly against Christians—chiefly abroad, but with fresh harbingers here on American soil. Unfortunately, these warnings have fostered a troubling response among some well-meaning believers. Rather than making “requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity,” because “this is good, and pleases God our Savior” (1 Tim 2:2–3), a rather sizable group of believers have begun, rather unquietly and unpeacefully, to incite persecution by saying and doing ungodly and undignified things. Which is to say they are doing something bad that displeases God.
The Starbucks Coffee Cup fiasco is just the latest in a whole string of these efforts by such Christians. Because Starbucks is no longer putting snowmen, Santa Claus, and Christmas ornaments on their coffee cups, it seems that some angry and belligerent fellow has posted a video tirade about the coffee shop’s participation in the “War against Christmas.” Now, to be fair, I’ve seen hardly any Christians join this cause, and for that I am grateful. Still, this season will see more than one frustrated blog post and Facebook blurb on this topic, and even a tense moment or two at the local department store between some “Christian” shopper and a clerk who, despite her weariness, cheerily says “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
Dear Christian, please do not do this! Note the following:
- It is not civil society’s responsibility to acknowledge Christmas, and you cannot force them to do so. Christianity has already tried this more than once and it did not turn out well. Remember what happened when Rome baptized not only their own armies but also the Gauls and Goths and company under duress? Bad move. If a store or a clerk or a gas station attendant doesn’t like Christmas, you can’t compel him to do so! It will only make him hate Christ more, and with good reason. Please stop. You are hurting the Gospel.
- What the world celebrates as Christmas has almost nothing to do with Christ. We’re much better off extracting Christ from what the world does. You do realize, don’t you, that when stores use Jesus and Christmas in their advertising it’s just a marketing ploy, right? Same with Santa Claus and decorated trees and sparkly snowflakes. I am rather relieved that stores are gradually weaning themselves off the use of Jesus as cheap advertising. Seeing Christ associated with this selfish rumpus has long been grotesque to me, and I’m rather happy to see it end. So if you are agitating to keep Christ in that expression of Christmas, please stop. You are hurting Christ.
- When Christians start demanding privileged status for their faith, then whine about being “persecuted” when they don’t get it, this radically emboldens the antipathy that secular culture already harbors toward us, and accelerates the onset of true persecution (which is why I’ve labeled the war for Christmas an expression of Christian masochism). In 1 Timothy 2, Paul calls on believers to pray for tolerance, not for privilege. Christians who agitate for Christian privilege through a militant defense of Christmas in civil society are not only wrong; they also exhaust every shred of accumulated sympathy that they might otherwise receive when real persecution finally arrives in America. Please stop. You are hurting the Church.
I fully sympathize with those who worry about the secularization of society. It is in a way sad to see Christmas go the way of prayer and Scripture in school or the way of the Decalogue on the front lawn of the local courthouse. But the privileging of all things Christian in civil society has never been a right, and has historically been something of a bane for the Church. The war we ought to wage is not an belligerent war for Christmas, but an earnest struggle for the souls of men, the furtherance of the Church, and the glory of Christ.
... The well-known words suitable helper in Gen. 2:18 are so engrained in our English speaking culture that it’s difficult to think of Gen. 2:18 in any other terms, even though many translations have tried to adopt better wording to fit the original Hebrew (c.f., ESV, NLT, or the footnote in the NASB). These words come in the midst of the sentence, “I will make him a helper suitable for him” (NASB). Suitable helper might have been a suitable translation 50 years ago, but I suggest that the phrase suitable helper has become outdated and is now misleading in its translation ...
“They made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept” (Song of Songs 1:6).
The PBS documentary “Carrier” is a fascinating look at life on board the USS Nimitz, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that bestowed its name on an entire class of ships. More than five thousand sailors and marines live in a floating armed city that the President can dispatch to extend the military might of the United States wherever in the world it may be needed. An aircraft carrier is a mobile four-acre expression of United States sovereignty in the global matrix of power and diplomacy.
Though the crew who serve on the Nimitz may perform radically different jobs, they all work toward one purpose: to maintain and launch aircraft that can deliver ordinance and demolish chosen targets. Food service personnel, pilots, and machinists are all there to make sure that the Nimitz does its job in any circumstance and at any place in the world.
Every day crew from various departments abandon their usual assignments and leave their typical tasks to participate in a curious but essential ritual called a “FOD walk.” FOD, an acronym for “foreign object damage” is anathema to the 85 aircraft that call Nimitz home. In three or four lines that stretch from one side of the ship to the other sailors walk over every inch of the deck. With their heads down and their eyes focused on the deck beneath them, they painstakingly search for an errant screw or a shred of metal because they know that the tiniest sliver of metal can damage and ruin a multi-million-dollar aircraft and even cost lives. They have been made painfully aware that carelessness can do what the most sophisticated enemy weapons can seldom accomplish: take the Nimitz and its flight deck out of commission.
While we’ve all heard the horror stories of pastors who fall into sexual sin or embezzle funds, far more pastors lose their ministries—or, at the very least their joy—because they don’t vigilantly keep watch on the little things in their lives and ministries. In the same way that a nail or a piece of metal that is useful in its proper place can cause a crash if separated from its purpose, pastors who don’t faithfully guard against it can find that even a good thing out of place can wreak havoc.
Nowhere is the need to maintain a healthy equilibrium more important than in the balance between the public and the personal. Pastors often feel torn between church and home, between ministry to others and ministry to family. Though I would never deny the challenge that maintaining that balance presents, family and ministry are not in competition or contradictory to God’s perfect plan and will for our lives. Accordingly, when I feel like they are, then I’m doing something wrong! God doesn’t issue contradictory calls. If His Word is true then He has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). We have all the time, resources, and opportunity we need to do God’s will. No pastor can ever claim a lack of God’s supply as the reason he doesn’t succeed at home.
While a pastor’s job is unique for many reasons, his family’s involvement and key role in his success or failure is certainly one of the ministry’s greatest challenges. He lives with a set of unexpressed expectations that may well make or break his ministry in a church. If his wife doesn’t attend services, for instance, her husband’s effectiveness may be compromised. If his children misbehave and disrupt the preaching, the pastor may find he has less authority to lead and less tolerance from church leaders.
Before we complain about the inherent unfairness of this phenomenon, we would do well to remind ourselves that God actually gives the church the right to examine the pastor’s family as part of his qualification for ministry. If an elder doesn’t rule his house well he can hardly be competent to lead the church of God. With so much at stake, ministers of the gospel must devise ways to strategically pour their lives and their time into their ministries at home as well as in the church. Though the complexity of life guarantees that ministers will always feel some tension, a few key principles can drastically reduce it and ensure that life doesn’t rip apart at the seams.
Make the Word of God central
Through Moses God told the Israelites the ideal way to teach the Scriptures to the next generation:
“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).”
The primary task of a parent, therefore, is to train the heart of his child to love the Lord. The child’s life must be saturated with God’s Word. Instructing the child in the Word of God goes far beyond regular devotions. It means that every facet of life must relate to the Word. The child needs to see an evident love for the Lord and His Word that permeates every part of family life. Too many pastors spend time preparing sermons and lessons for church members while neglecting to impart a heart for God to their own children.
The greatest theological education I received was not in seminary, but at my dad’s side. I was privileged to grow up in a pastor’s home and as a small child my father began to systematically and faithfully teach me the whole Bible. Before bed, riding in a car, sitting on the porch, or visiting with him in his study I would hear the most fascinating and dramatic stories imaginable. I can still recall the way he told me of Elisha striking the Jordan with Elijah’s mantle, crying, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” to see the waters part before him. I can still hear him telling me how Nathan confronted David, drawing him in with a story and pointing his accusing finger in the kings face, telling him, “Thou art the man!” My dad could make the characters of the Bible walk right out of the pages of Scripture and into my bedroom. He imparted an excitement and a love for the Word.
One of the greatest compliments I ever receive from members of my church is “You make the Bible come alive.” What they can’t possibly know is that when they think they are listening to me they really hear my dad speaking God’s Word to my six-year-old heart. Now more than forty years later, that love for the Word overflows into my classroom and my congregation, but I owe it to a father who was never too busy teaching others to take time to teach me.
In the same way, a pastor ought to relate the Word of God to the everyday occurrences of life. Children should be taught to value all people because they are created in God’s image. They should understand that the news on television is usually bad because men are sinners in rebellion against God ever since Adam sinned. They should be given a basic theological and biblical framework through which to interpret life.
My primary task as a pastor is to teach my people how to feed on the Word of God so that they can glorify Him through worship and witness, obedience and devotion. If I make the Word central in both my home and my church, then those purposes will never be at odds. I might face strategic challenges regarding my time and influence, but never about what I am trying to accomplish. My intention in my home and in my church will coincide and overlap in wonderful ways._____________