Seminary Blog

The Apostolic Fathers: Interview with Ken Berding

Talbot School of Theology - Mon, 05/15/2017 - 12:00

Kenneth Berding (Professor of New Testament at Talbot School of Theology) recently wrote and published The Apostolic Fathers: A Narrative IntroductionWe wanted to learn more about this book, so we had Kenneth respond to some questions ...

Categories: Seminary Blog

The Relationship between Mentoring and Spiritual Formation Practices among Nontraditional Seminary Students

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Mon, 05/15/2017 - 10:34

Higher education, while never a completely stagnate field, is experiencing what has been called a ‘flurry’ of changes in recent years, driven mainly by technology.[1] The technology of inexpensive computers, high speed internet, and high quality multimedia educational delivery systems have allowed for increased flexibility in higher education so that students can easily take courses and earn degrees  from colleges and universities that are in different cities, states, or even countries through means of nontraditional education.[2] As one writer has noted, we are in the midst of a “distance-education boom” that is taking place, with the main reason being “a convergence of AV hardware, networking, and collaboration software technologies that collectively enable teachers to deliver good interactive online education.”[3]  Along with online education, another form of nontraditional education has grown in popularity, that being hybrid education.[4] Both online and hybrid forms of nontraditional education owe their existence to modern technological advancements.

Theological seminaries are also experiencing effects from the ‘boom’ of distance education.  Nontraditional education courses have become increasingly available in seminaries throughout the country. Though there are challenges with theological institutions of higher learning using nontraditional education, more schools are starting to see the potential it offers.[5] Yet, this potential is tempered by the reluctance of some institutions. The reluctance stems from a variety of issues.

A major issue that causes reluctance among theological schools is the fear of “emphasizing convenience over quality.”[6]  This fear of being promotionally driven has given rise to much of the criticism among schools that are weighing distance education options.[7]  A second issue that is raised among schools considering, or that are engaged in distance education, is that there can be too great a focus or “undue emphasis” on the delivery system or technology and too little focus on the contribution a learned faculty member can bring or on the importance of involving the student adequately through the learning experience.[8]  While these first two issues can be true of any higher learning a final issue that comes with distance education particularly deals with theological education. Hines, et. al. notes that theological education requires “mutual nourishment of faith and intellect.”[9] Theological seminaries exist for more than academic knowledge, they must involve spiritual formation. Spiritual formation has been and is a critical component of Christian higher education, a philosophy that is seen in the accreditation standards by both the Association of Biblical Higher Education and the Association of Theological Education.[10]  A seminary that uses nontraditional education courses is charged with the responsibility of taking this into account. Thus, they have to approach distance education with a dual purpose of academic excellence and spiritual growth, both of which ultimately are to aid the local church. Nontraditional theological education “must incorporate expectations of ministry to enhance the study of theology.”[11]  While these challenges exist, seminaries are nonetheless utilizing nontraditional education.

The Association of Theological Schools ruled in 2012 that seminaries may offer accredited Master of Divinity degrees through nontraditional means.  According to the Educational and Degree program standards, seminaries may offer courses or whole degrees through extension centers[12], “exclusively online”[13], or through “a blend of intensive classroom and online instruction,” which is also known as hybrid education.[14] Schools now have the freedom to offer more accredited masters level degree programs to students seeking ministry preparation through nontraditional means.

This research was conducted with the purpose of studying students who choose to attend seminary through a nontraditional means of online, hybrid, and extension centers. Specifically, exploring the relationship between mentoring and the spiritual formation practices of seminary students taking part in nontraditional theological education.

The students researching for this article included 1380 students from three evangelical seminaries. Each student was enrolled in master’s level programs and attend class through nontraditional means of online, hybrid, and or extension centers. The participating students were surveyed on their mentor and spiritual formation practices while students at seminary.

Mentoring and Ministry Preparation

The concept of mentoring transcends time. While the modern idea of mentoring dates back to Homer’s Odyssey[15], the practice develops through-out the pages of Scripture. From Moses and Joshua, Ruth and Naomi, Paul and Timothy, mentoring is a biblical practice and was the “way of life in Bible times.”[16]

In our modern world, the literature on the subject of mentoring has been somewhat staggering over recent decades, as an extensive amount of scholarship developed in this historic discipline.[17] The result of this emphasis is that the value of mentoring has been recognized in many fields and industries, and “cuts across all academic disciplines, professions, and contexts.”[18]  The value is seen through positive impacts in areas of career growth, training, development, and retention.[19]

Mentoring has also, over the past decade, been studied in depth as it relates to theological education.[20]  These studies have shown that there is value in a mentor relationship for seminary students, as it aids in “forming and transforming the character, values, abilities, and thoughts” of seminary students.[21]   Additionally, these relationships aid in forming students into ministers[22], and they have a valuable impact on the development of students while they are in school.[23]   Mentoring that occurs while in seminary, research has shown, also can have a positive impact on students once they graduate and begin serving in the ministry field.[24] Pyeatt has found that as a student is more thoroughly mentored, his likelihood of retention in the ministry is increased.[25]  Yet, there has been little to no research among the importance of mentoring in relation to the spiritual formation practices among nontraditional seminary students.

Spiritual Formation and Ministry Preparation

There have been a plethora of evangelical definitions given for spiritual formation. Many theologians and Christian educators have suggested definitions to help understand the concept.[26] Dallas Willard defines spiritual formation as the “Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself.”[27] Stranger defined spiritual formation as the “intentional and systematic process of growing into the image of Christ through obedience to the Scriptures by the power of the Holy Spirit in our total personality.”[28]  Davis argues that spiritual formation is essentially made up of three parts or elements. Spiritual formation is first, a process.[29]  He writes: “attaining complete spiritual maturity is a lifelong process”.[30]  Secondly, it is God working in a believer as an “act of grace in the believer’s life.”[31]  Thirdly, it is human effort working with the Holy Spirit or “cooperation with the Holy Spirit.”[32]  To synthesize Davis, spiritual formation is a process to become spiritually mature that involves God working in a believer and man cooperating with God.

This research, in studying evangelical seminaries, sought to use a working definition that is theologically inline with the biblically faithful view-point of the schools that were involved. It also sought to have a definition that takes into consideration the explanation of spiritual formation given in the latest ATS General Institutional Standards. These standards describe spiritual formation as a student’s “growth in personal faith, emotional maturity, moral integrity, and public witness.”[33]  Taking both of these concerns, as well as the literature on the subject, into consideration, this article defines spiritual formation using Whitney, as “the biblical process of being conformed inwardly and outwardly to the character of Christ.”[34]   Whitney’s definition aptly describes spiritual formation as being a process that has a goal of Christian’s whole being reflecting Christ.

Theological seminaries themselves have a vested interest in the spiritual formation of their students. Spiritual formation has long been seen as a vital aspect of Christian Higher Education.[35]   From the beginning of higher education in the United States, a student’s spiritual formation has been crucial. Major institutions such as Yale were founded with a goal of having every student to “know God in Jesus Christ and answerably lead a Godly, sober life.”[36] Columbia, likewise was formed so that students would “know God in Jesus Christ and to love and serve him in all sobriety, godliness, and righteousness of life with a perfect heart and useful knowledge.”[37]  In modern Christian Higher Education there is a specific emphasis on “the importance of developing students spiritually as a part of their preparation for life after college.”[38]

Spiritual formation is a vital component of accredited theological education. ATS requires that in basic graduate degrees that are geared towards ministerial leadership (M.Div., and M.A.) the program must contain a spiritual formation component. Specifically, the requirement states that “the learning outcomes shall encompass the instructional areas of religious heritage, cultural context, personal and spiritual formation, and capacity for ministerial and public leadership.”[39]

Theological Seminaries themselves also see this as a component of their roles in training pastors. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, for instance, lists Spiritual Formation as one of their Core Competencies.[40]  Other evangelical seminaries (New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, etc.) have a similar emphasis of the importance of spiritual formation among their students.[41]  Spiritual formation is seen as a vital component to the mission of seminaries as they train pastors due to the fact that it is “requisite to a life of pastoral leadership.”[42]

Spiritual Formation and Spiritual Formation Practices

While one cannot fully measure a student’s spiritual formation from the outside, research on this topic has focused on a student’s self-perceived formation through participation in spiritual disciplines.[43]  These studies have examined the participant’s self-perception of spiritual formation[44] along with the subject’s participation in certain spiritual disciplines or practices.[45]  The focus on specific practices or spiritual disciplines are used in these studies to “measure a person’s involvement” in activities that “lead to desirable change” and “spiritual development.”[46] Measuring spiritual disciples is an effective means because “spiritual disciplines are a catalyst for spiritual formation.”[47]  Not only are they a catalyst for spiritual formation, but they “reveal a believers commitment to spiritual growth.”[48] It is in light of this research background, this article focuses on student participation in spiritual formation practices or spiritual disciplines.

Whitney describes spiritual disciplines as “those personal and corporate disciplines that promote spiritual growth.”[49] He goes on to describe spiritual disciplines as being a “catalyst,” a “channel,” and a “means,” of spiritual growth and formation.[50]  Willard argues that practicing the spiritual disciplines is essential to a person’s spiritual formation. He argues that spiritual disciplines are an “absolute necessity” if one is going to have a “full, grace-filled, Christ-like life.”[51]

There have been many authors that have given lists of biblical spiritual disciplines.[52]  These lists all seek to highlight biblical activities for the purpose of fostering spiritual formation. The disciplines are meant for use in spiritual formation, and are not an end in themselves.[53]  As Dallas Willard writes: “the activities constituting the disciplines have no value in themselves. The aim and substance of spiritual life is not fasting, praying, hymn singing, frugal living, and so forth.”[54]  The spiritual disciplines can aid a Christian in the spiritual formation process. Thus, this article uses Whitney and Willard and offers the definition of spiritual formation practices as biblical activities and disciplines that are used for the purpose of spiritual growth and formation.

For this research, Thayer’s list of 10 spiritual disciples was used, along with her Christian Spiritual Practices Profile. Thayer’s 10 disciplines are Prayer, Confession, Evangelism, Worship, Bible Study, Fellowship, Stewardship, Service, Examen of Conscious, and Meditation.[55]  Thayer then groups these 10 disciplines into four spiritual discipline modes as seen in the chart below:

Table 1

CSPP Modes and Descriptions

Spiritual Mode Description Spiritual Practice Transcendent Scale Growing through a relationship with God. This assesses a person’s relationship with God. There are 16 questions for this scale, from 3 primary and 3 secondary spiritual practices. Primary:

Prayer

Repentance

Worship

 

Secondary:

Service

Stewardship

Examen of Conscience

  Vision Scale Growing through participation with the Word of God. This assesses a person’s involvement with the Bible. There are 12 questions for this scale, from 2 primary and 2 secondary spiritual practices.

  Primary:

Bible Reading

Meditation

 

Secondary:

Stewardship

Worship Reflection Scale Growing through critical reflection. This assesses a person’s participation in critical reflection of culture and one’s own life. There are 10 questions for this scale, from 1 primary and 2 secondary spiritual practices

  Primary:

Examen of Conscious

 

Secondary:

Bible Reading

Stewardship New Life Scale Growing through relationships with others. This assesses a person’s participation in relationships with others. There are 12 questions from this scale from 4 primary spiritual practices. Primary:

Evangelism

Fellowship

Service

Stewardship

 

Secondary:

None

These disciplines were used to measure a student’s involvement in spiritual formation practices and to determine what relationship, if any, is found between mentoring and involvement in these practices.

Research Procedures

In order to effectively investigate the research purpose, this study used a quantitative approach. Quantitative research was chosen for this project for a number of reasons, one of which is that much of the research in the field of mentoring is “qualitative as opposed to quantitative,” especially in the “theological realm of mentoring.”[56] The trouble of “finding quantitative data for supporting the use of mentoring relationships in developing church leaders” is a significant motivator to use that research design in this project.[57]

Research Participants

The study surveyed students from three evangelical seminaries who were enrolled in master degree programs, and attended course through online, hybrid, and/or extension centers. The three schools that participated in the research were all located in the southeastern United States.  All three schools are regionally accredited and two of the schools have ATS accreditation.  The total nontraditional student population of the schools was 8875 at the time of the survey.

Each of the three schools sent an email inviting their students to take part in this survey. If a student decided to participate, they went to the survey, which was hosted by Survey Monkey. Out of the 8875 students who were invited to participate, 1510 students logged into the survey site. Of the 1510 who logged in, 1380 students chose to continue past the informed consent page and actually take the survey.

The survey consisted of three parts, a demographic section, the Principles of Adult Mentoring Survey (PAMS), and the Christian Spiritual Practices Profile (CSPP). If a student reported having a mentor, he or she would complete all three parts, if the student did not have mentor, he or she would only complete the demographic section and the CSPP.

Research Instrument

The PAMS was developed by Cohen to be a self-assessment instrument for mentees who were in a higher education environment.[58] The PAMS consisted of 55 Likert-type questions that sought to measure six functions of the mentoring relationship, these include: relationship emphasis, informative emphasis, facilitative dimension, confrontive emphasis, mentor model, and student vision.[59] These six dimensions are formed by behaviors that Cohen describes as ‘required’ for a successful mentorship.[60]  Each of these six dimensions is scored individually, and a final score assessing the overall effectiveness of the survey is then calculated. Each of the questions is given five choices for the student to select, and each of the choices are given a point value.

The answers that are available in the Likert format are: Not Effective, Less Effective, Effective, Very Effective, and Highly Effective. Each of these choices are then assigned a point value as follows Not Effective = 1 point, Less Effective =2 points, Effective = 3 points, Very Effective = 4 points, and Highly Effective = 5 points. Each of the points are then tallied from the overall survey and an overall score is given to measure the overall effectiveness of the mentor relationship.[61]

The PAMS scale has been tested by researchers for both reliability and consistency. Simmons notes that, “the reliability coefficient for the entire scale revealed an alpha coefficient (Cronbach’s Alpha) of .9490.”[62]  Likewise, the individual emphasis’ reliabilities are as follows: Relationship Emphasis – .77; Information Emphasis – .79; Facilitative Focus – .67; Confrontive focus – .81; Mentor Model – .78; Student Vision – .86.[63]

The CSPP, developed by Thayer (1996), this instrument studies a Christian’s participation in the spiritual formation process through involvement in spiritual formation practices. It does not seek to determine a threshold whereas one becomes spiritually mature once they reach a certain score, but is built upon the notion that involvement in disciplines and spiritual formation practices can result in a crucial catalyst for spiritual growth and formation.[64]  The CSPP examines if one is involved spiritual formation practices, which can lead to involvement in the spiritual formation process[65]. As Thayer herself notes, the CSPP is used to measure someone’s self-reported “intensity” in the spiritual formation process, it “does not purport to assign a level of achievement or maturity.”[66]  The research that the CSPP is built on shows that involvement in the ten spiritual disciplines the more likely it is that spiritual formation is taking place.[67]

The CSPP takes spiritual disciplines and applies them to a theory of spiritual development that is based on a person’s learning – their grasping and transforming. The ten spiritual disciplines should lead to a person to experience desirable change, especially spiritual formation.[68] Thayer summarizes the CSPP as being “based on a theory of spiritual development that recognizes the redemptive work of God in every mode of spiritual development. The Holy Spirit is present in the process of each mode and can transform the person through the learning that occurs.”[69]

Studying a student’s participation in spiritual formation practices is an important indicator of a Christian’s willingness and desire to grow spiritually.[70]  Based on the literature, the study of spiritual formation practices is appropriate and helpful, as these are the God ordained means[71] by which “one engages God and others”[72], and are “indicators”[73] of one who is on a “journey of faith”[74] into “deeper transformation into Christlikeness.”[75]

The CSPP is comprised of fifty Likert-type questions. The first section measures the frequency of involvement in ten spiritual disciplines. These disciplines are: prayer, repentance, worship, meditation, examen of conscious, Bible reading and study, evangelism, fellowship, service, and stewardship. The Likert-type scale that is used is a six point scale that ranges has the following response: N = Never, VR = Very Rarely,  R = Rarely, O = Occasionally, F = Frequently, VF = Very Frequently. Thayer then gave each selection a numerical value: N=0, VR=1, R=2, O=3, F=4, VF=5.[76]

Thayer places the ten spiritual disciplines into four spiritual dimensions that were developed using Kolb’s experiential learning theory. Thayer defines these spiritual dimensions as spiritual modes or scales.[77] To determine a CSPP score the point values of each answer are added together. From this, each particular discipline can have an overall score and a mean score. The four scales can also have a total and mean score based on the totals of the disciplines within the scale.[78]  To determine how much participation a student is engaged in, Thayer places the students into two groups based on their scores: strong intentional participation and weak intentional participation. For a student to have strong intentional participation their mean score for the discipline or the Scale is at 4.0 or higher; a weak intentional participation is a 3.99 or lower mean score.[79]  A strong intentional participation shows the student is actively engaged in the spiritual formation practice, while a weak intentional participation shows the student has weak intentional participation in the spiritual formation practice.

For the purposes of this research, the mean scores of each of the four scales, as well as the total overall score for the entire CSPP, are calculated and analyzed in the Research Questions. Also, the Research Questions in this article recognize this this is perceived involvement in spiritual formation practices, due to students anonymously self-reporting on their own perception of living out these practices and disciplines.

The CSPP has been found to have both high reliability and validity.[80] The high reliability of the CSPP comes from its internal consistency: the coefficient alphas for the four spiritual modes into which the ten disciplines fall range between .84 and .92. The Transcendent Scale has a coefficient alpha of .92, the Vision Scale has a coefficient alpha of .89, the Reflection Scale has a coefficient alpha of .84, and the New Life Scale has a coefficient alpha of .90.[81]

The survey was open for students to participate for a total of eight weeks from the day the students were invited by their respective schools to take the survey. The first survey was taken on May 22, 2013. The survey was closed eight weeks later on July 17, 2013. The data analysis of the survey responses was done using SPSS statistical software.

Research Questions

In order to guide the research purpose, this article will briefly describe the demographics, then focus on four research questions that the author developed for the study. The four questions are:

  1. What portion of students report a mentoring relationship as a part of his or her ministerial training?
  2. What, if any, is the relationship between mentoring and each of the individual types of nontraditional education?
  3. What, if any, is the relationship between involvement in spiritual formation practices and each of the individual types of nontraditional education?
  4. What, if any, is the relationship between mentoring and involvement spiritual formation practices?
Research Findings

The following analyses the results from the 1380 nontraditional seminary students who took part in this research. The research findings will discuss the demographic data which includes age, years a Christian, and the student populations involvement in nontraditional theological education.  After the demographic information, this section seeks to answer the 4 RQs that were raised by the research problem.

Demographics

There are three pieces of demographic information that came out of the study that were of note. These were the age of the students, the length of time they self-identified as a Christian, and their specific involvement in nontraditional education.

In the age range of the students who attend seminary through nontraditional means and participated in this survey, the largest group of students were aged 25 to 35, making up 32.17% of the survey takers. This was followed by, in order, students aged 46 to 55 at 25.43%, then students aged 36 to 45 at 24.57%, then students aged 55+ at 14.42%, and finally students aged 18 to 24 at 3.43%.

Students were also asked how long they have been a Christian. A large majority, 84.67%, of the students self-identified as being a Christian for more than 10 years. This is followed by 12.34% of students who self-identified as being a Christian for 5 to 10 years. Students who self-identified as being a Christian for 3 to 4 years made up 1.97% of the population, and students who self-identified as being a Christian 1 to 2 years and less than 1 year made up .80% and .22% of the survey population, respectively.

The final demographic statistic is concerned with the student’s participation in nontraditional education. This particular demographic examined the particular populations of students who participated in each of the individual types of nontraditional education (online, hybrid, and extension center), and how many students utilized more than one type of nontraditional education.

Of the students who participated in the study, 1,310 students took courses online, 157 students took courses through a hybrid model, and 83 students took courses through an extension center. These numbers do add up to more than the 1,380 survey takers, and is due to the fact that students took courses through multiple platforms. However, as the students answered this question dealing with the types of nontraditional education they were involved in, three students quit the survey, bringing the total survey takers to N=1,377. The rest of the Tables for the demographic section will reflect the new N =1,377 number. Using cross tabulation, the following Tables 2 to 6 below give detailed information into the participation into various learning delivery systems.

Table 2

Participation in Online Courses

Participation in

Online Courses Number Percentage Total (Rounded to the nearest .01) Yes

  1310 95.13 No 67 4.87 Total 1377 100

 

Table 3

Participation in Hybrid Courses

Participation in

Hybrid Courses Number Percentage Total (Rounded to the nearest .01) Yes

  157 11.40 No 1213 88.60 Total 1377 100

 

Table 4

Participation in Extension Center Courses

Participation in

Extension Center

Courses Number Percentage Total (Rounded to the nearest .01) Yes

  83 6.03 No 1291 93.97 Total 1377 100

 

 

Table 5

Participation in only one form of nontraditional education.

Students who participated in

Only 1 nontraditional

education platforms Number Percentage based on N=1377

(Rounded to the nearest .01) Online only

  1194 86.71 Extension Center only 18 1.31 Hybrid only 35 2.54 Total students who only use 1

platform 1247 90.56

Table 6

Participation in multiple forms of nontraditional education.

Students who participated in

multiple nontraditional

education platforms Number Percentage based on N=1377

(Rounded to the nearest .01) Online and Hybrid only

  65    4.72 Online and Extension Center only 8 0.58 Hybrid and Extension Center only 14 1.02 Online, Hybrid, and Extension

Center 43 3.12 Total of Students who use Multiple

Nontraditional platforms 130 9.44

The above tables give information as to student involvement in the three forms of nontraditional education (online, hybrid, and extension center). Of the 1,377 students who responded, 90.56% or 1,247 students used only 1 platform for their nontraditional theological education, compared with 9.44% or 130 students who used multiple platforms. In detailing the students who used one platform 1,194 of the total 1,377 students (86.71%) used only online classes as their sole delivery system. Likewise, 35 of the 1,377 students (2.54%) used only the hybrid delivery system, and 18 of the 1377 (1.31%) used only extension centers.

Among the students who used multiple forms of nontraditional education, there were four combinations possible: online and hybrid only, online and extension center only, extension center and hybrid only, and all three forms of nontraditional education. For online and hybrid courses, 65 students (4.72%) reported participating in these platforms. Eight students (0.58%) used online and extension center only, while 14 students (1.02%) reported using hybrid and extension center classes only. There were 43 students (3.12%), of the total population who reported using all three of the types of nontraditional means for their theological education. Now, the focus of the article will shift to answering the research questions raised.

Research Questions

Research Question 1: What portion of students report a mentoring relationship as a part of his or her ministerial training?

To answer RQ1, the author analyzed student responses to demographic question 11 of the survey, which asked, “Do you currently have, or have you had, a mentor while enrolled in seminary?” In response to this question, 1377 of the 1380 answered the question, with 571 or 41.68% of the students saying they did or do have a mentor while enrolled in seminary, while 799 or 58.32% of the students said they did not have or do not have a mentor as a seminary student (see Table below).

Table 7

Question: “Do you have, or have you had a mentor while enrolled in seminary?”

I have or have had

a mentor while

enrolled in seminary Number Percentage Total (Rounded to the nearest .01) Yes

  578 41.98 No 799 58.02       Total 1377 100

Research Question 2: What, if any, is the relationship between mentoring and each of the individual types of nontraditional education?

This question sought to determine what, if any, relationship existed between mentoring and the student’s involvement in specific types of nontraditional education. In other words, did the way a student attended seminary have any relationship to their involvement in mentoring?

In order to effectively answer this question, two steps were taken. First, each student was grouped into the specific combination by which they reported taking nontraditional classes. This led to seven combinations by which a student could take a class (see Table 8 below).  Then, the student’s answers to both question 11 from the demographic section of the survey and their overall scores on the PAMS were analyzed to determine if there was a statistically significant difference among the various combinations of nontraditional education.

Table 8

Mentoring Involvement per each nontraditional possibility

Do you currently have, or have you had, a mentor while enrolled in seminary? All Types Online Only Online and Hybrid Online and Extension Center Hybrid Only Hybrid and Extension Center Extension Center Only  

 

 

Total Yes

 

No   21 482 38 4 16 6 11 578    

22  

712  

27  

4  

19  

8  

7  

799 Total 43 1194 65 8 35 14 18 1377

Given the information in Table 31, a Chi-Square was performed on the data to determine if there is any statistical significance between the seven different nontraditional scenarios and their involvement in mentoring. The results of the Chi-Square showed that the relationship was not statistically significant, x2 (6,N=1377) = 12.47, p=.052, with the Critical Value was below the necessary 12.59 and the p value is above .05. Thus, to answer RQ2, there is no statistical difference between the type of nontraditional education a student is involved in and their involvement in mentoring while in seminary.

Table 9

Chi-Square for All Nontraditional Possibilities

  Value df Asymp. Sig.

(2-sided) Pearson Chi-Square 12.474a 6 .052 Likelihood Ratio 12.294 6 .056 Linear-by-Linear Association 3.617 1 .057 N of Valid Cases                    1377 

Secondly, mean scores were calculated, and an ANOVA was performed to determine if there was a statistically significant difference between the seven groups. The mean PAMS scores of the students and the categories they fell into are as follow: students who took all three types of nontraditional education had a mean PAMS Score of 208.83, which is in the Very Effective category. Students who used Online Only had a mean score of 197.22, a score that is in the Effective category. For students who used a combination of Online and Hybrid, their mean score was 189.86, a score in the Less Effective category. Students who used a combination of Online and Extension Center had a mean score of 198.50, a score that places that groups mean score in the Effective category. The students who attended seminary through Hybrid courses only had mean PAMS score of 192.80, which is in the Less Effective category. For students who attended through a combination of Hybrid and Extension Centers, their mean PAMS score was 195.00, a mean score that fall into the Effective category. Students who used only Extension Centers had a mean score of 162.67, a mean score that places them in the Not Effective category. The ANOVA test to compare the means of these scores showed no statistically significant difference, F(6,482) = .925, p=.477. This result shows that while the scores may have a wide range, there is no statistically significant difference between the seven groups at a 95% confidence interval.

Table 10

Mean Scores of PAMS by Nontraditional Delivery System    

Type of Delivery System Mean Score of PAMS N Std. Deviation All Types 208.8333 18 34.89522 Online Only 197.2153 418 44.79135 Online and Hybrid 189.8571 21 40.67836 Online and Extension Center 198.5000 4 49.08836 Hybrid Only 192.8000 10 38.49618 Hybrid and Extension Center 195.0000 6 33.24455 Extension Center Only 162.6667 6 56.65216 Total 196.7909 483 44.24141

 

 

Table 11

ANOVA of Mean Scores of PAMS by Nontraditional Delivery System

  Sum of Squares     df Mean Square    F    Sig. Between Groups 10872.253 6 1812.042 .925 .477 Within Groups 932547.627 476 1959.134     Total 943419.880 482      

In conclusion to RQ2, among the students who attend seminary through the various nontraditional delivery systems, there is no statistically significant difference among the groups in relation to either being mentored nor the self-perceived quality of the mentorship through scoring of the PAMS.

Research Question 3: What if any, is the relationship between involvement in        spiritual formation practices and each of the individual types of nontraditional education?

In response to RQ3, the researcher used student responses to the CSPP portion of the survey and analyzed them based on their participation in nontraditional education. The CSPP results in four Spiritual Modes, with each mode having a mean score. The Spiritual Modes are: Transcendent Scale, Vision Scale, Reflection Scale, and New Life Scale. The descriptions of these scales can be found up in Table 1. For RQ3, the mean scores for the 4 Scales will be analyzed among the different nontraditional scenarios, as well as the mean overall scores of the CSPP.

The Total Average Score of the CSPP ANOVA shows no statistical difference between involvement in the individual types of nontraditional education and reported involvement in spiritual formation practices, F(6,1222) = .365, p=.901. For the individual scales of the CSPP, there was no significant difference found in the Reflection Scale, F(6,1222) = .366, p=.882; the Vision Scale, F(6,1222) = .296, p = .952; and in the New Life Scale, F96,1222) = 1.1213, p = .297. However, the ANOVA revealed that in the Transcendent Scale, there was a significant difference, F(6,1222) = 2.250, p= .036. This data indicates that among the scales and total average score, only the Transcendent Scale contains a statistically significant difference, with a p value of below the .05 level necessary for statistical significance at a 95% confidence interval.

A Bonferroni post-hoc was performed for the significant difference in the Transcendent Scale and showed the significance is located between the online-only (M=4.14, SD=1.78) and Online and Hybrid groups of students (M=4.064, SD=1.73), with the significance of this pair being, p=.029. Thus, the students who. took online-only classes had a statistically significantly higher score on the Transcendent Scale than those who took a combination of hybrid and online courses,  There rest of the pairings in the Bonferroni led to no statistical levels of significance.

The tables below have the scores and ANOVA.

Table 12

Mean Scores by Spiritual Mode and Specific Type of Nontraditional Educational Participation.

Type of Delivery System Mean Score Transcendent Scale Mean Score Reflection Scale Mean Score Vision Scale Mean Score New Life Scale N All Types 4.094 – Strong 4.402 – Strong 3.961 – Weak 3.397 – Weak 34 Online Only 4.142 – Strong 4.417 – Strong 3.970 – Weak 3.472 – Weak 1072 Online and Hybrid 4.064 – Strong 4.272 – Strong 3.925 – Weak 3.620 – Weak 52 Online and Extension Center 4.050 – Strong 4.406 – Strong 3.903 – Weak 3.833 – Weak 6 Hybrid Only 4.122 – Strong 4.246 – Strong 3.904 – Weak 3.492 – Weak 32 Hybrid and Extension Center 4.079 – Strong 4.344 – Strong 3.875 – Weak 3.327 – Weak 14 Extension Center Only 4.023 – Strong 4.341 – Strong 4.019 – Strong 3.878 – Weak 13 Total 4.134 – Strong 4.402 – Strong 3.965 – Weak 3.481 – Weak 1223

 

 

 

Note: Strong = Strong Intentional   Participation; Weak = Weak Intentional Participation[82]

Table 13

ANOVA for Table 12.

  Sum of Squares df Mean Square F Sig. Transcendent Scale Between Groups 2.403 6 .401 2.250 .036 Within Groups 216.521 1216 .178     Total 218.924 1222       Reflection Scale Between Groups .650 6 .108 .396 .882 Within Groups 332.159 1216 .273     Total 332.809 1222       Vision Scale Between Groups .421 6 .070 .267 .952 Within Groups 320.250 1216 .263     Total 320.672 1222       New Life Scale Between Groups 4.439 6 .740 1.213 .297 Within Groups 741.928 1216 .610     Total 746.367 1222       SF

SAVG Between Groups .471 6 .078 .365 .901 Within Groups 261.015 1216 .215     Total 261.486 1222      

In conclusion to RQ3, there was no statistically significant difference between the combination of nontraditional delivery systems and spiritual formation practices among the total average score of the CSPP. In other words, there was not a relationship between involvement in spiritual formation practices and the type of nontraditional theological education.

When the four scales are broken down individually, there was also no significant difference among the Vision, Reflection, or New Life scales. However, there was a statistically significant difference in the means found in the Transcendent Scale. This was located between online only and those who used a combination of online and hybrid courses. There was no relationship between type of nontraditional education and spiritual formation practices, except online only students scored statistically significantly higher than students who took a combination of online and hybrid course.

Research Question 4: What, if any, is the relationship between mentoring and        involvement in spiritual formation practices?

The final RQ sought to determine if there was any relationship between mentorship and a student’s involvement in spiritual formation practices. For this question, the students were not broken down into specific involvement in nontraditional education, but were analyzed by their involvement in a mentorship and their answers to the CSPP. The goal of this question was to determine if there was correlation between mentoring and involvement in spiritual formation practices among all nontraditional students.

To answer RQ4, a T-test was used to compare the mean spiritual formation practice scores of students who were mentored as compared to students who were not mentored in order to determine if there was a significant difference between the groups. Furthermore a Pearson’s Correlation was also utilized to determine correlation between having a mentor and score on the CSPP.

Once the T-test was run, the information indicated that there was a statistically significant difference in the CSPP Total Average Scores of students who had a mentor verses those who did not. The mean of the total average CSPP Score of students who did have a mentor was 4.07, while the mean score of those who did not have a mentor was 3.95 (See Table 14 Below). These scores indicate that the average mentored students score is in the Strong category of the CSPP and the averaged non-mentored student is in the Weak category of the CSPP. There is a statically significant higher CSPP score for students who were mentored (M=4.07, SD = .491) than students who were not mentored (M=3.95, SD = .439), t(1221) = 4.501, p = .000 (See Tables 14,15 below).

Table 14

CSPP Total Average Scores

  Do you currently have, or have you had, a mentor while enrolled in seminary? N Mean Std. Deviation Std. Error Mean CSPP TotalAVG Yes 445 4.0749 – Strong .49121 .02329 No 778 3.9521- Weak .43949 .01576

Table 15

T-Test Statistics for CSPP Total Average Scores for Table 14

  Levene’s Test for Equality of Variances t-test for Equality of Means  

  F Sig. T df Sig. (2-tailed)     SFSAVG Equal variances assumed .011 .915 4.504 1221 .000   Equal variances not assumed     4.370 842.728 .000  

Table 15 Cont’d

T-Test Statistics for CSPP Total Average Scores for Table 14 Continued

Mean Difference Std. Error Difference 95% Confidence Interval of the Difference     Lower Upper .12287 .02728 .06935 .17639 .12287 .02812 .06768 .17805

Among the four scales of the CSPP, a T-Test was also done to determine if there was a statistically significant different between the mentored and non-mentored groups. The Reflection scale showed no statistical significance between the mentored group (M=4.15, SD = .613) and the non-mentored group (M=4.13, SD=.462), t(1221) = .680, p=.496. The Transcendent Scale also showed no statistical significance between the mentored group (M=4.42, SD=.433) and the non-mentored group (M=4.39, SD=.417), t(1221) = 1.319, p=.187.

The Vision Scale did have a statistically significant difference between students who were mentored (M=4.05, SD=.521) and non-mentored students (M=3.92, SD=.501), t(1221)=4.310, p=.000. The New Life Scale also had a statistically significant difference between students who were mentored (M=3.678, SD=.730) and non-mentored students (M=3.37, SD=.788), t(1221) = .018, p=.000.  Below shows the means scores and t-tests of the four scales of the CSPP.

Table 16

Mean Scores of CSPP Scales Based on Involvement in Mentoring

  Do you currently have, or have you had, a mentor while enrolled in seminary? N Mean Std. Deviation Std. Error Mean RO Yes 445 4.1488  Strong .61302 .02906 No 778 4.1277  Strong .46198 .01656 CE Yes 445 4.4242  Strong .43312 .02053 No 778 4.3910  Strong .41732 .01496 AC Yes 445 4.0493  Strong .52110 .02470 No 778 3.9190  Weak .50135 .01797 AE Yes 445 3.6775  Weak .73033 .03462 No 778 3.3706  Weak .78833 .02826

Table 17

T-Test for Mean Scores of the Phases of the CSPP based on Mentor Involvement

  Levene’s Test for Equality of Variances t-test for Equality of Means     F Sig. t df Sig. (2-tailed) Reflection Scale Equal variances assumed 6.465 .011 .680 1221 .496 Equal variances not assumed     .631 734.996 .528 Trans-

cendent

Scale Equal variances assumed .669 .414 1.319 1221 .187 Equal variances not assumed     1.306 896.314 .192 Vision Scale Equal variances assumed .227 .634 4.310 1221 .000 Equal variances not assumed     4.265 895.209 .000 New Life Scale Equal variances assumed 5.576 .018 6.726 1221 .000 Equal variances not assumed     6.867 983.410 .000  

 

 

 

 

Table 17 Cont’d

T-Test for Mean Scores of the Phases of the CSPP based on Mentor Involvement

Mean Difference Std. Error Difference 95% Confidence Interval of the Difference Lower Upper .02110 .03102 -.03976 .08197 .02110 .03345 -.04456 .08677 .03317 .02515 -.01617 .08251 .03317 .02540 -.01669 .08303 .13030 .03023 .07099 .18960 .13030 .03055 .07034 .19025

Finally, a Pearson’s Correlation Coefficient was calculated among the average total score on the CSPP and the four scales. The Pearson’s Correlation Coefficient for the total average is a significant correlation (r= -.128, N=1223, p=.000). This indicates that there is a correlation between being mentored and one’s perceived spiritual formation through involvement in spiritual formation practices based on answers given on the CSPP.

A Pearson’s Correlation Coefficient was also calculated on the four individual scales of the CPSS as well. The Pearson Correlation statistic for the Transcendence scale and answer to Q11 of whether or not the student has a mentor was (r=-.038, N=1223, p=.187), indicating there was no correlation between having a mentor and their score on this CSPP scale. The Pearson Correlation for the Reflection Scale was (r=-.019, N-1223, p=.496), indicating there was no correlation between being mentoring and their score on this CSPP scale. The Pearson Correlation for the New Life Scale was (r=-.189, N=1223, p=.000), which shows there was a statistical correlation between being mentored and having a higher score on the New Life Scale of the CSPP. The Pearson Correlation for the Vision Scale was (r=-.122, N=1223, p=.000), demonstrating that there was a statistical significant correlation between being mentored and their score on the Vision Scale of the CSPP.

Conclusion

There are students who are choosing to use nontraditional educational delivery methods to complete their seminary training, this data shows over 1000 of whom that is the case. With this new reality, questions come about how students are properly trained. This research focused on two such concerns of seminary training, mentoring and a student’s involvement in the spiritual formation process through spiritual formation practices. This research found that those students who were mentored reportedly were more involved in spiritual formation practices than those who were not mentored.  The conclusion of this article will focus on the relationship between the two, which was addressed in RQ4, and how that impacts both the seminary and the local church.

Research Application – Seminary

This is important as it gives further evidence to the importance of having seminary students engaged in a mentor relationship.  From this research, it can be seen that among these students, having a mentor did aid in promoting spiritual formation practices, yet, less than half of students were involved in a mentorship. As nontraditional education becomes more prevalent in the future, seminaries must strive to aid in connecting their off-campus students to mentor opportunities.  The best place to find these opportunities is in and through the local church. Nontraditional education may help to further connect and strengthen the relationships between seminaries and local churches, as there will be greater dependence as some students move away from the brick and mortar choice for their seminary training. The local churches will give the seminaries greater reach to connect their students to pastors for purposeful mentorships that will aid in the spiritual growth of their students.

Research Application – Local Church

This research also has potential application to local church members and pastors as well. The field of Christian higher education carries with it an “underlying goal” of “Christian transformation and spiritual growth.”[83]  The goal of spiritual growth is also applicable and necessary to the local church. In fact, Lawson argues that one of the goals of that which is learned in the field of Christian Education is to use the information for “positive transformative growth in the church.”[84]  Given the importance of the local church, this research has at least two potential applications for the local church based on its findings with regard to spiritual practices and spiritual formation.

The first application for the local church is based upon the findings of RQ4, which found that there was a positive relationship between mentoring and involvement in spiritual formation practices as measured in the CSPP. Mentoring, is biblically important and can be seen in examples that range from Moses and Joshua to Paul and Timothy. A local church could embrace a mentoring program that in turn has the potential to aid in the spiritual formation of its members. Paul, in Titus 2, gives instruction regarding this:

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. (Titus 2:1-8, ESV)

Scripture and research both indicate the importance of quality mentoring for spiritual growth. A church could have a program, either formal or informal, where those who are mature in the faith can meet regularly with those who are immature or new in the faith, and have them walk the younger believer through the basics of the Christian life: such as how to read the Bible, prayer, and evangelism training. As the research also indicates, even those who are more mature in their faith can benefit from a mentor. A culture of mentoring would be valuable in any local church.

A second application of the research for local churches is in regards to the focus of spiritual formation practices. Seminary students, both those who were mentored and those who were not, had scores that were in the Strong category in the Transcendent and Reflection scales, which had disciplines like prayer and worship. Yet students who were mentored and those who were not both scored in the Weak category in the New Life Scale, which primarily emphasized disciplines of evangelism and fellowship. While many factors could influence these findings, the application for local churches would center on a diligence to teach and to encourage participation in many spiritual disciplines. Also, for the pastor of the local church, it is helpful to constantly examine one’s spiritual discipline practices in order to ensure well-roundedness and faithfulness to “ the God-given means we are to use in the Spirit-filled pursuit of Godliness.”[85]

This conclusion gives a summary of how seminaries and local churches can benefit from this research, and there are no doubt other applications that could be found. Applications that could focus on accountability for students in their spiritual growth, increased emphasis on student’s seeking out mature believers by which to be mentored, and the need for local churches to take a more active role in aiding the spiritual growth of seminarians.

 

[1] Michael Cusumano, “Are the Costs of ‘Free’ Too High in Online Education?”

Communications of the ACM  54, n.4 (2013), 26

[2] M. Natarajan, “Use of Online Technology for Multimedia Education.” Inforamtion Services and Use 26, n.3 (2006), 249

[3] Pam Derringer, “Going the Distance: Technology convergence powers the growth of online education.” Technology and Learning 30, n.10 (2010), 42

[4] Thomas Toch, “In an Era of Online Learning, Schools Still Matter” Phi Delta Kappan 91, n.7 (2010), 72-74

John Cowan,”Strategies for Developing a Community of Practice Tech Trends 56, n.1(2012), 12-19

[5] Travis Hines, Thomas McGee, Lee Waller, and Sharon Waller, “Online Theological Education: A Case Study of Trinity School of Ministry. Christian Higher Education 8,  (2009), 32

[6] Alfred Rovai and Jason Baker, “Sense of Community: A Comparison of Students Attending Christian and Secular Universities in Traditional and Distance Education Programs Christian Scholar’s Review 33, n.4 (2004), 474

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Hines, McGee, Waller, and Waller, “Online Theological Education”,  32

[10] James Estep, and Mark Maddix  “Spiritual Formation in Online Higher Education Communities” Christian Education Journal 7, n.2 (2010), 423

[11] Hines, McGee, Waller and Waller, “Online Theological Education”, 35

[12] Association of Theological Schools, Educational and Degree Program Standards (2012) :30 accessed September 4, 2012, www.ats.edu/Accrediting/Documents/DegreeProgramStandards.pdf

[13] Ibid, 32

[14] Ibid, 32

[15] George Coulter, “Mentoring for Ministry: Balancing Theory and Praxis in Christian Higher Education” (EDD Diss, Talbot School of Theology, 2003), 4

[16] Beverly Jane, “Mentoring in Teacher Education” in Handbook of Teacher Education ed. Tony Townsend and Richard Bates (New York: Springer, 2007), 180

[17] Paul Wilson and W. Johnson, “Core Values for the Practice of Mentoring. Journal of Psychology and Theology  29, n.2. ( 2001), 121 – 130

[18] Ibid, p.xiv

[19]  Murl Pyeatt, “The Relationship between Mentoring and Retention in Ministry” (PHD Diss, The Ohio State University, 2006)

Margo Murry, Beyond the Myths of Mentoring (San Francisco: Jossey – Bass, 1991)

[20] Coulter, “Mentoring for Ministry”;

Elizabeth Selzer, “The Effectiveness of a seminary’s training and mentoring program and

subsequent job satisfaction of its graduates” (PHD Diss., Cappella University, 2006).

[21] Paul Howard, “Perceptions and functions of mentor-protégé’ relationships in theological education” (PHD Diss, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 1998), 179

[22]  Steve Parker, “The Supervisor as Mentor-Coach in Theological Education” Christian Education Journal 6, n.1, 2009

[23] Selzer, “The Effectiveness of a Seminary’s Training”, 6

[24] Pyeatt, “The Relationship Between Mentoring and Retention”

[25] Ibid, 101

[26] Deborah Moore, “Most Common Teacher Characteristics that Relate to Intentionality in Student Spiritual Formation” (EDD Diss, Columbia International University, 2011), 19

[27] Dallas Willard, Renovation of the heart (Colorado Springs: NavPress 2002), 22

[28] Frank Stranger, Spiritfual Formation in the Local Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1989),17

[29] Adam Davis, “A  Study to Determine the Relationship of scores of Adult Sunday

School teachers to scores of Adult Sunday School learners on a Spiritual Formation Practice Participation Inventory.” (PHD. Diss, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2011),19

[30] Ibid

[31] Ibid, 20

[32] Ibid, 20

[33] ATS, Standards, 4

[34] Donald Whitney, “Christian Life FAQ” ( 2012), accessed  October 23, 2012,

http://biblicalspirituality.org/resources/christian-life-faq/#13

[35] Maddix & Estep, “Spiritual Formation”, 423

[36] William Ringenberg, The Christian College, (Grand Rapids: Baker 2006), 38

[37] Ibid, 8

[38] Donald Shepson, “Transformational Learning Theory and Christian College Students in the Southeast” (PHD Diss, Biola University 2010), 1

[39] ATS, Standards, 40,45

[40] Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, “Mission Statement” (2012), accessed October 8, 2012, www.sebts.edu.

[41] Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, “Mission Statement” (2013), accessed June, 21, 2013, www.liberty.edu/seminary

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, “Core Values” (2012), accessed November 8, 2012, www.nobts.edu/about

[42] ATS, Standards, 40

[43] Davis, “Sunday School Teachers”;  Shepson, “Transformational Learning”

[44] Shepson,  “Transformational Learning”

[45] Davis, “Sunday School Teachers”

[46] Ibid, 24

[47] Ibid, 24

[48] Ibid, 25

[49] Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs: NavPress 1991),17

[50] Ibid, 17-19

[51] Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines (New York: HarperOne 1988), xii

[52] Willard The Spirit of the Disciplines;  Whitney Spiritual Disciplines; and Jane Thayer, “Constructing a Spirituality Measure Based on Learning Theory. Journal of Psychology and Christianity  23, n.4, 2004

[53] Whitney,  Spiritual Disciplines, 17

[54] Willard, Spirit of the Disciplines, 138

[55] Thayer, “Constructing a Spirituality Measure, 200

[56] Greg Belcher, “The Relationshio of Mentoring to Ministerial Effectiveness among Pastors of the Southern Baptist Convention” (EDD Diss, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary 2002), 37

[57] Ibid, 37

[58] Norman Cohen, “Development and Validation of the Principles of Adult Mentoring Scale” (PHD Diss, Temple University 1993), 5

[59] Ibid, 100

[60] Ibid, 100

[61] Norman Cohen, “The Journal of the Principles of Adult Mentoring Inventory” Adult Learning 14, n.1, 2003, 12

[62] Selzer, “Effectiveness of Seminary Training”,.49

[63] Ibid, 50

[64] Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian life, 17 – 19; Davis, “Sunday School Teachers”, p.24; see also discussion on page 6 on this article

[65] Thayer, “Constructing a Spirituality Measure, 196;  Davis, “Sunday School Teachers”

[66] Thayer, “Constructing a Spirituality Measure, 200

[67] Ibid, 196

[68] Davis, “Sunday School”, 24

[69] Thayer, “Constructing a Spiritual Measure, 204

[70] Davis, “Sunday School”, 25

[71] Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian life, 17

[72] Thayer, “Constructing a Spiritual Measure, 204

[73] Gordon Smith, “Grace and Spiritual Disciplines,” in Dictionary of Christian Spirituality, ed. Glen Scorgie. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 225.

[74] Ibid, 225

[75] Ibid, 225

[76] Ibid, 206

[77] Ibid, 204

[78] Ibid, 206

[79] Ibid, 206

[80] Ibid;   Davis, “Sunday School Teachers”

[81] Thayer, “Constructing a Spirituality Measure, 200

[82] Ibid

[83] Hans Kang, “Perception and Experience of Transformative Learning and Faculty Authenticity among North American Professors of Christian Education. Christian Education Journal 10, n.2, 2013, 339

[84] Kevin Lawson, “Heart of the Matter” Christian Education Journal 10, n.2, 2013,259

[85] Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 17

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Categories: Seminary Blog

The “Mind-Boggling” Trinity

Talbot School of Theology - Fri, 05/12/2017 - 12:00

Dear Dr. Craig,

I would consider myself agnostic but have a question regarding the probability of God as accepted by the majority of the Christian community: Aren't the odds of a triune god beyond astronomical? To accept that there is an omnipotent, eternal being is difficult enough, but three separate beings that possess this nature? The term "mind boggling" doesn't even begin to describe the unlikelihood ... Thanks! ...

Categories: Seminary Blog

Four men you should take to the mission field and three you should leave behind

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 05/12/2017 - 10:10

Every missionary going to the field must make sure to take four men with him, and leave three others behind. Individualistic Western missionary candidates are often so self-sufficient and satisfy so much of their need for social interaction online that the idea of taking others with them is a new thought and seems intrusive. But each of these men are essential members of every effective mission team.

When Frank and Marie Drown, missionaries to Ecuador’s Shuar indigenous peoples, left for the field in the 1940s, president Gordon Weiss of the Gospel Missionary Union gave wise counsel to the departing missionaries. His advice was not just wise for the 1940s, it is just as pertinent today. He told them that four men must go with them to the mission field: the spiritual man, the intellectual man, the social man, and the physical man.

Take four

Let’s consider these four men.*

  1. The physical man: Missionaries need to develop and maintain robust physical health to survive and thrive in the rigors of the mission field. Changes in altitude, climate, food, water, demanding schedules, exposure to tropical diseases, amoebas, and parasites can sideline or send home a missionary in short order.
  1. The intellectual man: Missionaries who cultivate a keen and consecrated practical intelligence learn the culture and language more easily and with much less stress. Sharpening your intellect to be interested in your surroundings, how things work, and why they are as they are will help you in life when your former social cues, normal routines, and second nature tasks no longer work.
  1. The social man: Missionaries need to love people, enjoy being with them, and look for opportunities to make personal relationships. The ability to make deep friendships out of casual social contacts is profoundly helpful for personal evangelism, discipleship, church planting, and mentoring others.

 

  1. The spiritual man: Developing a strong spiritual life maintained by regular and consistent prayer and Bible study habits is the most important of these four. Remember that your battle is not against flesh and blood but rather against spiritual powers that are to be engaged with spiritual weapons. Success in your Christian life and missionary career has a lot to do with getting as close to Jesus as you can, and staying there.
Leave three behind 

To Mr. Weiss’s four men who must go with the missionary, I would caution that there are three men who must be left behind: a ladies’ man, a man’s man, and a selfish man.

  • The ladies’ man. A ladies’ man is one who dresses and acts in such a way as to attract the ladies’ attention and seeks to be charming in his interaction with them. They are his focus.
  • The man’s man. A man’s man is one who is so focused on sports, hunting, fishing, and other manly activities that he cannot relate to others such as widows, children, or young families. He is either out with the boys on his latest competitive activity or he is still talking about the last one. He lives to make other men think he is the pinnacle of machismo and manliness.
  • The selfish man. A selfish man is one who lives for his own desires. He is often lazy, gluttonous, wasteful, and spends excessively on himself. He is insensitive to others, eats in front of the hungry, refuses to serve others if it cuts into his plans, or flaunts his money and possessions in front of poorer people. Certainly most missionaries aren’t such an “ugly American.” But some live lavish lifestyles compared to their national friends, drive the nicest cars, put their kids in the most expensive international schools, and openly talk about it all. They justify this lifestyle as what they deserve for so much sacrifice, and never consider how it hinders their impact. A selfish man lives for himself.
Four minus three

Effective missionaries have always found that taking the first four men with them and leaving the next three behind results in the best missionary. Four minus three equals the best one. The spiritual man, the intellectual man, the social man, and the physical man minus the ladies’ man, the man’s man, and the selfish man equals God’s man.

The best missionary will be the one who lives for God with both eyes set on pleasing him, maintaining a heart for God and a mind for truth. When we imagine God deciding to use a man, looking down on earth to choose a missionary, or desiring a man to serve him and others, we should envision this kind of man. Missionaries are men and women of great gifts and abilities, but their strength and effectiveness are dependent on the God who has called and sent them. Be God’s man.

*Both men and women have been, are now, and will always be godly and effective missionaries until Christ returns. This short article is a talk prepared as a charge to a group of deploying male missionaries, thus the references to men and the use of masculine pronouns. Please know that I do not mean to be sexist or to imply that only men should be missionaries. Feel free to exchange specific masculine references for other pronouns, or the word “person,” as you read. These principles are applicable to all missionaries.

 

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Categories: Seminary Blog

Mother’s Day – Ownership or Stewardship

Southwestern Seminary - Fri, 05/12/2017 - 09:30

One of the challenges in raising children from a biblical perspective is to navigate the difference between ownership and stewardship. I am the eldest of four boys, and my mother told us of a crisis of faith she faced when we all began to express a call to the mission field. Our family was led to faith and discipled by missionaries, and so we had this influence and inspiration from a young age. At the time, we were unaware of it, but our mother struggled with where a call to missions would take us and what the challenges would be.

We have always been a very close family, and the evening dinner table in our home was one of laughter, debate, passion and bonding. We lived life together, and in our ideal world, we would marry, have children and continue to live in this way. A call to the mission field, however, would throw all of this into disarray.

The reality we had to work through is that the ideal world we wanted would come one day in heaven, but that while we are still on earth, there is a mission to complete. In the face of all of this, my mother had to work through letting us go. She reached this point one Sunday morning, and so, unknown to us, she went to the altar during the Sunday service and laid her claim to ownership of our lives before the Lord. She reached a place where she could recognize that God had ownership of our lives and that He had entrusted us to her as a stewardship.

This change in paradigm led to a position that encouraged us to follow God’s will unconditionally rather than follow what seemed best to her. One of the stand-out characteristics of her stewardship has been a commitment to prayer so that my brothers and I know that wherever our call takes us, she is lifting us up in prayer.

I am now a father of four boys, and I am so tempted to want them to follow God’s will my way. I want big family meals on Sundays, to be able to pop in for a visit anytime, to go on vacation together, and especially to see grandchildren without much effort. I like the idea that I have some ownership of my sons, that God would share this with me.

In 1 Samuel 1, we read of God’s blessing on Hannah in giving her a son. It must have been very tempting for her to claim Samuel as her own—she had waited and prayed for so long. But, Hannah understood the difference between stewardship and ownership, and we have a beautiful picture of how she is a careful steward of young Samuel under the ownership of God.

We like to think of attributes of God like all-knowing, all-powerful and all-present; but what about all-owning? If He created everything and we hold that it is only in Him that we live and move and have our being, then our children must belong to Him. This belonging is not partial so that we share it with Him; it is a complete and total belonging so that, for my sons, God is their complete and eternal Father. He gives my wife and me the privilege and responsibility of being earthly parents whose primary role is to steward them into a relationship with the heavenly Father through the person and work of Jesus. The result is that while they can turn to me for help at any time, they are able to turn to a heavenly Father who is infinitely more capable of meeting every need.

We have a lost world that is in desperate need to know God as Father. As Christian parents, we have a stewardship before the God to raise children who will step out and follow God wherever that takes them. Godly parents who yield ownership of their children to God and then take the stewardship of those children seriously will lead to Christians who change the world for God’s Kingdom. May there be many more parents like Hannah and the amazing lady that I call my mother!

Categories: Seminary Blog

Mother’s Day – Ownership or Stewardship

Southwestern Seminary - Fri, 05/12/2017 - 09:30

One of the challenges in raising children from a biblical perspective is to navigate the difference between ownership and stewardship. I am the eldest of four boys, and my mother told us of a crisis of faith she faced when we all began to express a call to the mission field. Our family was led to faith and discipled by missionaries, and so we had this influence and inspiration from a young age. At the time, we were unaware of it, but our mother struggled with where a call to missions would take us and what the challenges would be.

We have always been a very close family, and the evening dinner table in our home was one of laughter, debate, passion and bonding. We lived life together, and in our ideal world, we would marry, have children and continue to live in this way. A call to the mission field, however, would throw all of this into disarray.

The reality we had to work through is that the ideal world we wanted would come one day in heaven, but that while we are still on earth, there is a mission to complete. In the face of all of this, my mother had to work through letting us go. She reached this point one Sunday morning, and so, unknown to us, she went to the altar during the Sunday service and laid her claim to ownership of our lives before the Lord. She reached a place where she could recognize that God had ownership of our lives and that He had entrusted us to her as a stewardship.

This change in paradigm led to a position that encouraged us to follow God’s will unconditionally rather than follow what seemed best to her. One of the stand-out characteristics of her stewardship has been a commitment to prayer so that my brothers and I know that wherever our call takes us, she is lifting us up in prayer.

I am now a father of four boys, and I am so tempted to want them to follow God’s will my way. I want big family meals on Sundays, to be able to pop in for a visit anytime, to go on vacation together, and especially to see grandchildren without much effort. I like the idea that I have some ownership of my sons, that God would share this with me.

In 1 Samuel 1, we read of God’s blessing on Hannah in giving her a son. It must have been very tempting for her to claim Samuel as her own—she had waited and prayed for so long. But, Hannah understood the difference between stewardship and ownership, and we have a beautiful picture of how she is a careful steward of young Samuel under the ownership of God.

We like to think of attributes of God like all-knowing, all-powerful and all-present; but what about all-owning? If He created everything and we hold that it is only in Him that we live and move and have our being, then our children must belong to Him. This belonging is not partial so that we share it with Him; it is a complete and total belonging so that, for my sons, God is their complete and eternal Father. He gives my wife and me the privilege and responsibility of being earthly parents whose primary role is to steward them into a relationship with the heavenly Father through the person and work of Jesus. The result is that while they can turn to me for help at any time, they are able to turn to a heavenly Father who is infinitely more capable of meeting every need.

We have a lost world that is in desperate need to know God as Father. As Christian parents, we have a stewardship before the God to raise children who will step out and follow God wherever that takes them. Godly parents who yield ownership of their children to God and then take the stewardship of those children seriously will lead to Christians who change the world for God’s Kingdom. May there be many more parents like Hannah and the amazing lady that I call my mother!

Categories: Seminary Blog

Rejoicing with our Graduates

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Thu, 05/11/2017 - 13:30
As the 2016-2017 school year draws to a close, we’re proud of all our students’ hard work. But we’re especially proud of our graduates who have persevered through multiple years of full-time work and study.  This year we celebrate the achievements of four graduates: three from the Master of Divinity program, and one from the... Read More
Categories: Seminary Blog

Maridos, Amemos a Nuestras Esposas / Husbands, Love Your Wives

Talbot School of Theology - Thu, 05/11/2017 - 12:00

“Tú nunca me dices que me amas,” una esposa triste se quejaba con su esposo; a lo que éste respondió: “yo te dije que te amaba el día en que nos casamos y no he cambiado de opinión, así que, no veo la razón de estarlo repitiendo."

Nos podemos sonreír con la historia anterior. Sin embargo, estoy convencido de que muchos esposos no comprenden lo importante que es amar a sus esposas y cómo demostrarles ese amor. El romanticismo no es solamente un asunto de mujeres sino que debería ser la prioridad de los maridos ...

Categories: Seminary Blog

Warfare in the Ancient Near East and the Old Testament 2: Going to the Bathroom in Battle

Talbot School of Theology - Wed, 05/10/2017 - 12:00

In my previous post, I introduced my book on warfare in the ancient Near East and the Old Testament. Before we look at more serious topics, we will begin our survey of the book by looking at a very practical matter: going to the bathroom in battle. Unfortunately, the ancient kings did not often refer to the topic in their martial accounts. However, a few details have come down to us!

Categories: Seminary Blog

In the Beginning—Economics?

Talbot School of Theology - Tue, 05/09/2017 - 12:00

The account of humanity’s creation in the image of God in Genesis 1:26-28, is specifically crafted to lead the reader to conclude that God’s intended outcome, his purpose, for creating humanity in his image, was to create flourishing communities, not just flourishing individuals. The cultural or creation mandate as it has been called—God’s command to be fruitful, multiply, fill and subdue the earth, and to rule over the living things on the earth—is rightly seen as a command to fulfill God’s intention. Humanity is to fill the earth and bring about flourishing ...

Categories: Seminary Blog

7 tips for beginning seminary later in life

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 05/09/2017 - 09:49

Next week I will walk across the stage at Southern Seminary to receive my master’s degree. I’m 39 and went back to school well after I’d gotten married, had four children, and had engaged in a writing and ministry career.

I decided to go back to school not long after I began my first pastorate. As I began preaching, teaching, and counseling, I realized I needed formal education beyond what I received in Bible college. So after a year of prayer, discussions with our church leadership team, conversations with my wife, and some outside counsel, I made the leap of faith.

Perhaps you are thinking of going back to school like I was and are a little intimidated by clearing out the cobwebs of your brain and engaging in serious theological studies.

Now that I’m at the end, here are six pieces of advice.

  1. Make it a family decision.

If you’re married, your spouse will bear the brunt of your decision. There will be Saturday mornings where you’ll have to study for a test and not go on that walk to the park or work on that do-it-yourself project.

There may also be expenses involved that will effect the family budget. Approach the conversation with an open hand, making the case for why seminary is important for your future and for your call to ministry. Be willing to delay this until a season that better suits your family dynamic.

  1. Consider it a calling and not a duty. 

It is true that a degree from an institution like SBTS could help you toward “success” in ministry, it is not the reason you should enroll. To study theology and the Scriptures is a sacred calling for those whom God has gifted to preach, teach, and lead his church. That should be your main motivation.

If you see your studies as a calling, it will keep you motivated on those early mornings where you don’t really feel like getting up early to read or those late nights when you have to crank out yet another seemingly meaningless paper. 

  1. Treat seminary as a servant, not a master.

In seminary, you will be surrounded by young scholars who will spend every second in the library. They have mastered the finer points of even the most minute theological controversies. They can quote Bavinck at will. You’ll feel a bit intimidated. You’ll be tempted to sacrifice everything for seminary. But you should view seminary as a tool to aid your ministry and not the epicenter of your whole life.

One of my professors once said: “For some of you, getting less than an A will be sin because you’ve not worked hard enough. For others of you, with families and other obligations, getting an A will be a sin because you’ve neglected these other stewardships in your life.”

Sometimes you’ll have to do the best you can on that paper, but be content with something that is not as good as if you were a twenty-something who is a full-time student with few obligations. Strive for excellence, but keep your whole life in perspective. 

  1. Fit seminary into the margins of your life. 

Much of seminary is reading. I’ve never read so much in my life as over the past five years. You’ll read things that will stretch your mind and your comprehension. It will be good for you, for your ministry, and for your life. But you will have to be intentional about finding time to read. I found it easy to fit reading into the margins of my life. I always carry a book with me. A few minutes in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. An hour early in the morning before going to work. During the long stretches of my son’s baseball games (but not when he was batting, of course!), at dance and music recitals when my kids were not performing.

You should also look for flexible class options. Many programs allow you to do your degree entirely online, which makes it easier for many, but I strongly encourage to get some on-campus time if you can.

  1. Find a pace that pushes, but doesn’t overwhelm.

I learned this the hard way. Initially, I signed up for several classes, thinking I could manage the load and still lead a family, hold a full-time job, and fulfill my other writing and ministry obligations.

One semester I nearly burned out entirely and had to take off several days to get work done. I needed several more days off to recover. I learned my lesson. First, I realized I just couldn’t do as many classes in a semester. So I backed off and then also tried to pair the right kinds of classes together, based on intensity. This requires a bit of humility and trust, knowing that personal health and family health are more important than finishing by a target date. Find a pace that works for you and your family.

  1. Bring your false guilt to the Lord.

It is humbling, at times, to be in class with people who are much younger than you, who are better versed in theology than you. At times I was a little embarrassed that I was still working on this degree well into my thirties and had some regret at not having done this after college.

I have needed a constant reminder that God’s love for me was based on Christ’s satisfying the Father on my behalf, not on the number of degrees on my office wall. I have had to tell myself, regularly, that it is God who has directed the steps of my life and God who holds my future in his hands.

  1. Regard your studies as a privilege, not an entitlement.

To study theology in a concentrated, disciplined way from the world’s leading theologians is a privilege few enjoy. There are pastors today laboring in difficult conditions around the world who would give anything just to own a set of commentaries or have theological resources to help them lead their people.

Those of us in the West with the resources and time to attend seminary should be grateful and be willing to use this privilege, not to serve ourselves, but to serve others. Those of us in Southern Baptist Life should be most grateful, considering the faithful contribution of millions of church members whose sacrificial giving makes our tuition affordable through the cooperative program.

 

The post 7 tips for beginning seminary later in life appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Apologetics in Service of the Gospel

Southwestern Seminary - Tue, 05/09/2017 - 09:30

It is sometimes said that apologetics is a waste of time because no one comes to Christ through apologetics. You can’t, after all, argue someone into the Kingdom.

Now, it may come as a bit of a shock, but I (being a professor of apologetics) actually agree that no one comes to Christ through apologetics. No one is won to Christ on the basis of apologetics since that’s simply not the basis upon which one is won to Christ. One comes to Christ on the basis of the Gospel and the Gospel alone.

But does that mean apologetics is a waste of time?

Well no, definitely not. Let’s tease out some of the confusions here. But first it may be helpful to define Christian apologetics. Christian apologetics is the discipline of commending and defending the truth claims of Christianity without making assumptions an unbeliever cannot make (e.g., we do not merely cite Scripture in giving the defense).

The first confusion here is thinking of apologetics as merely one way to do evangelism (perhaps for the nerdy few!). I’d like to suggest that apologetics is not merely evangelism to the more cerebral among us. In fact, it is best to understand apologetics as importantly related to evangelism, but a substantively different pursuit.

This is perhaps easiest to see given the different (but, again, related) aims of apologetics and evangelism. Apologetics aims to provide intellectual reasons for assenting to the claims of the Gospel and removing any intellectual roadblocks to faith. Evangelism aims to bring people to faith in Christ as the Holy Spirit works through the sharing of the Gospel.

How are apologetics and evangelism related, then? When it comes to outreach, apologetics is not, in my view, necessary for evangelism, but it is often incredibly helpful. Apologetics is often characterized as pre-evangelism. Sometimes, hearing a straightforward Gospel message is all some people need. Other times, people must journey a long road in order to arrive at a place where they surrender to Christ in faith. On this road, there are often questions of an apologetic nature, some of which can be quite pressing. These questions often act as a kind of intellectual roadblock for faith. And, for many, these questions require a thoughtful answer.

Moreover, by all accounts, our country and culture is trending away from its Christian influences. It seems there are times when people do not even have the basic categories in order to grasp the content of the Gospel, given the lack of a Christian background. More and more, apologetics does the work equivalent to what Bible translators do for an unreached people group. The Bible translator must get the content of the Gospel into the vernacular of the people for an individual to even grasp this content. Could the Holy Spirit miraculously allow the tribesman to understand the Gospel in a foreign language? Absolutely. However, it typically takes the hard work of translation. Likewise, God can bring conviction if He wants, but it often takes the hard work of engaging in apologetic discussion for someone to be able to grasp the content of the Gospel.

But let me stress that we have to get to the Gospel. It is entirely possible to get mired in endless discussions about technical issues and never get to sharing the Gospel. This is a big mistake. It is not our job to argue someone right up to the steps of the Kingdom before we ever share the Gospel. We should be agile enough to move into an apologetics discussion, and as we are able to address someone’s questions, we should move into an evangelistic mode. But perhaps one hits upon another question that seems to stand in front of faith. As we address this question, then we look once again to share the Gospel. And remember, in all of this, it is all about being faithful to Christ.

The second confusion is thinking that if apologetics doesn’t have value for evangelism, then it doesn’t have value at all. Even if, despite what we’ve said above, one concedes that apologetics doesn’t have value for evangelism, it doesn’t follow that there is no value at all.

Don’t get me wrong. This is in no way to lessen the call for evangelism. Anyone who thinks sharing the Gospel is not crucially important for each and every Christian simply doesn’t understand what it is to be a Christian. But that’s not all of what it is to be Christian. An important part of growth and an important part of discipleship is asking the deep and difficult questions and growing in our worldview. When we don’t ask the deep and difficult questions, then our worldview tends to be only thinly Christian. In fact, Jesus commands us to love God with all of who we are, including our minds (Matthew 22:37). What does it mean to love God with our minds? I think we love God with our minds when we embrace an intellectual pursuit of God and the understanding of our faith as an important part of our discipleship.

Part of doing this (though certainly not all of what this means) is thinking about issues of apologetics. So it is not merely getting prepped to hit the streets to answer every question that may come from unbelievers. And it is not suddenly asking questions because some hostile unbeliever is giving us trouble. It is genuinely and honestly asking these questions for ourselves out of curiosity and the desire to know God more fully.

What we should notice is that when we seek God intellectually by asking the deep and difficult questions, we will find ourselves well-equipped to encounter unbelievers when they do ask us those questions. In fact, our answers will likely be much more thoughtful since we have genuinely asked the questions for ourselves.

In sum, apologetics has value (along with our other Christian pursuits) in that it makes for more powerful evangelism and helps us to pursue and love God with our minds.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Apologetics in Service of the Gospel

Southwestern Seminary - Tue, 05/09/2017 - 09:30

It is sometimes said that apologetics is a waste of time because no one comes to Christ through apologetics. You can’t, after all, argue someone into the Kingdom.

Now, it may come as a bit of a shock, but I (being a professor of apologetics) actually agree that no one comes to Christ through apologetics. No one is won to Christ on the basis of apologetics since that’s simply not the basis upon which one is won to Christ. One comes to Christ on the basis of the Gospel and the Gospel alone.

But does that mean apologetics is a waste of time?

Well no, definitely not. Let’s tease out some of the confusions here. But first it may be helpful to define Christian apologetics. Christian apologetics is the discipline of commending and defending the truth claims of Christianity without making assumptions an unbeliever cannot make (e.g., we do not merely cite Scripture in giving the defense).

The first confusion here is thinking of apologetics as merely one way to do evangelism (perhaps for the nerdy few!). I’d like to suggest that apologetics is not merely evangelism to the more cerebral among us. In fact, it is best to understand apologetics as importantly related to evangelism, but a substantively different pursuit.

This is perhaps easiest to see given the different (but, again, related) aims of apologetics and evangelism. Apologetics aims to provide intellectual reasons for assenting to the claims of the Gospel and removing any intellectual roadblocks to faith. Evangelism aims to bring people to faith in Christ as the Holy Spirit works through the sharing of the Gospel.

How are apologetics and evangelism related, then? When it comes to outreach, apologetics is not, in my view, necessary for evangelism, but it is often incredibly helpful. Apologetics is often characterized as pre-evangelism. Sometimes, hearing a straightforward Gospel message is all some people need. Other times, people must journey a long road in order to arrive at a place where they surrender to Christ in faith. On this road, there are often questions of an apologetic nature, some of which can be quite pressing. These questions often act as a kind of intellectual roadblock for faith. And, for many, these questions require a thoughtful answer.

Moreover, by all accounts, our country and culture is trending away from its Christian influences. It seems there are times when people do not even have the basic categories in order to grasp the content of the Gospel, given the lack of a Christian background. More and more, apologetics does the work equivalent to what Bible translators do for an unreached people group. The Bible translator must get the content of the Gospel into the vernacular of the people for an individual to even grasp this content. Could the Holy Spirit miraculously allow the tribesman to understand the Gospel in a foreign language? Absolutely. However, it typically takes the hard work of translation. Likewise, God can bring conviction if He wants, but it often takes the hard work of engaging in apologetic discussion for someone to be able to grasp the content of the Gospel.

But let me stress that we have to get to the Gospel. It is entirely possible to get mired in endless discussions about technical issues and never get to sharing the Gospel. This is a big mistake. It is not our job to argue someone right up to the steps of the Kingdom before we ever share the Gospel. We should be agile enough to move into an apologetics discussion, and as we are able to address someone’s questions, we should move into an evangelistic mode. But perhaps one hits upon another question that seems to stand in front of faith. As we address this question, then we look once again to share the Gospel. And remember, in all of this, it is all about being faithful to Christ.

The second confusion is thinking that if apologetics doesn’t have value for evangelism, then it doesn’t have value at all. Even if, despite what we’ve said above, one concedes that apologetics doesn’t have value for evangelism, it doesn’t follow that there is no value at all.

Don’t get me wrong. This is in no way to lessen the call for evangelism. Anyone who thinks sharing the Gospel is not crucially important for each and every Christian simply doesn’t understand what it is to be a Christian. But that’s not all of what it is to be Christian. An important part of growth and an important part of discipleship is asking the deep and difficult questions and growing in our worldview. When we don’t ask the deep and difficult questions, then our worldview tends to be only thinly Christian. In fact, Jesus commands us to love God with all of who we are, including our minds (Matthew 22:37). What does it mean to love God with our minds? I think we love God with our minds when we embrace an intellectual pursuit of God and the understanding of our faith as an important part of our discipleship.

Part of doing this (though certainly not all of what this means) is thinking about issues of apologetics. So it is not merely getting prepped to hit the streets to answer every question that may come from unbelievers. And it is not suddenly asking questions because some hostile unbeliever is giving us trouble. It is genuinely and honestly asking these questions for ourselves out of curiosity and the desire to know God more fully.

What we should notice is that when we seek God intellectually by asking the deep and difficult questions, we will find ourselves well-equipped to encounter unbelievers when they do ask us those questions. In fact, our answers will likely be much more thoughtful since we have genuinely asked the questions for ourselves.

In sum, apologetics has value (along with our other Christian pursuits) in that it makes for more powerful evangelism and helps us to pursue and love God with our minds.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Does the Earliest Gospel Proclaim the Deity of Jesus?

Talbot School of Theology - Mon, 05/08/2017 - 12:00

Scholars generally agree that Mark was the first written Gospel. As a result, critics often claim that the doctrine of the deity of Christ does not appear clearly in Mark but emerges later in the Gospel of John.

While there are certainly explicit claims to deity in John, such as when Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (8:58), this critical challenge overlooks distinct proclamations of the deity of Christ throughout the Gospel of Mark.

Here is my contention: From the first chapter until the end, the Gospel of Mark proclaims that Jesus understood himself to be God. Consider six brief examples ...

Categories: Seminary Blog

The Function of Short Term Mission Experiences in Christian Formation

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 05/05/2017 - 16:17

 

Expectations are always high when it comes to short-term mission experiences. After all, the sometimes multi-year process of identifying where to go, who will go, and how they will get there usually comes to an exhausting, but successful conclusion, complete with video clips and jet-lagged participants. The reentry from the trip commonly brings with it the requisite refrains “I’ll never be the same,” and “It changed my life.” These oft heard phrases are standard fare in the midsummer heat of peak short-term mission season, but they are all-too-often distant echoes, at best, by the time the opening kickoff takes place at your local high school in the fall. Because this lackluster outcome can be mixed with other personal stories of men, women, and children who have experienced sustained change, a fair question that we must pursue is: Can short-term missions experience truly play a significant role in the substantive Christian formation of those who participate?

Biblical Mission: Expressed Foundations in the Old Testament

Before directly attempting to estimate the value of STM for Christian formation, it may be helpful to, first, frame the discussion in terms of the biblical rendering of mission. Many times, our notions of what the Bible teaches about mission start, and many times end, with a handful of New Testament texts, but Walter Kaiser argues that this is an inadequate approach to capturing the biblical picture:

The Bible actually begins with the theme of missions in the Book of Genesis and maintains that driving passion throughout the entire Old Testament and on into the New Testament. If an Old Testament ‘Great Commission’ must be identified, then it will be Genesis 12:3—‘all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through you [Abraham].’ This is the earliest statement of God’s purpose and plan to see that the message of his grace and blessing comes to every ethnolinguistic group on planet earth. The message did not begin there. The basis for it, in fact, went all the way back to Genesis 3:15.[1]

In Genesis 3:15 (ESV), God issues a key post-Fall promise to the serpent:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.

Andreas Köstenberger and Peter O’Brien note that “Christian scholars have understood this as the protoevangelium, the first glimmer of the gospel.”[2] T. Desmond Alexander further clarifies that this promise of “good news” in “the seed of woman” is to be seen as “referring to a single individual and not numerous descendants.”[3] The move toward the fulfillment of this promise, then, becomes the key narrative element in the remainder of both the Book of Genesis, as the narrative is structured, and the whole of the Old Testament.[4] The manner in which this fulfillment unfolds is clarified and refined in each of the further promises of the Abrahamic (Gen 12:1-3) and Davidic (2 Sam 7) covenants.

By the time we reach the end of the first eleven chapters of the Book of Genesis, there are 70 established “nations.” It is against this backdrop that the promise to Abram is given in Genesis 12:1-3 (ESV):

Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’

This pledge is not alone in its emphasis on Abraham’s offspring being a blessing to all nations, through the Man of Promise, “the seed” of Genesis 3:15.[5] A similar message of Gentile inclusion and engagement with the reality of God is captured in both the texts of Exodus 19:5-6 and Psalm 67.[6] Each of these passages offers an explicit injunction to Israel, and her constituent members, to understand and rejoice in God’s inclusion of the Gentiles.

The mission emphasis in the Old Testament is largely on God bringing blessing and restoration to the nations, rather than a far-reaching missionary deployment from among Israel’s ranks. However, there are notable exceptions to this: the eschatological sending of messengers in Isaiah 66; Jonah’s task; Elijah’s ministry to the widow of Zarephath (1 Kgs 17:8-24); and Elisha’s trip to Damascus (2 Kgs 8:7-15).[7] These are unique examples, but they do demonstrate an incipient practice of God sending messengers to the nations, as part of His activity among them.[8] This “sending of messengers” image is more fully developed, and normatively expressed, in the outline of mission in the New Testament.

Biblical Mission: Explicit Structure in the New Testament

In the Old Testament, the mode of mission is primarily “by attraction, not by active invitation.”[9] Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert note that, “Missions, in the sense of God’s people being actively sent out to other peoples with a task to accomplish, is as new as the New Testament.”[10] In the New Testament, this God-centered mission is extended and clarified, as the Father sends the Son to accomplish the missio Dei (“mission of God”), by means of the Son’s determined obedience to the Father (John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38; 8:29).[11] This obedience was ultimately pointed toward his willingness to die in the place of his people (Phil 2:8), for the sake of his own exaltation and the glory of the Father (Phil 2:11). After completing this “saving mission,” Jesus then sends his disciples to carry out their resultant “commission” (John 20:21).[12]

This “Great Commission,” which is sometimes confined strictly to the content of Jesus’ teaching to the apostles immediately preceding His ascension (Matt 28:16-20; Mark 13:10; 14:9; Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:8), may be thought of more broadly. New Testament scholar Robert Plummer applies this concept, and title, to all passages that address “Christians’ obligation to share the gospel with non-believers.”[13] Plummer says that in order for the Great Commission to be rightly understood and expressed, it must be realized in broader terms than simply “explicit imperatives.”[14]

He offers an understanding of the theme of the Great Commission that includes: (1) the command to make disciples (Matt 28:19); (2) “the role of God’s Spirit in empowering and directing the gospel’s spread” (Acts 5:32); and (3) Paul’s epistles, for example, which focus on “the gospel as God’s dynamic word that inevitably accomplishes his purpose” (Col 1:6).[15] The movement of the gospel into and among the nations of the earth is comprised of all three of these active Great Commission elements.

Disciple-Making and the Great Commission

First, in Matthew 28:16-20, we have the command to “make disciples,” which is the nucleus of the apostles’ mission. Disciple-making, in Matthew’s account, is seen as instruction that is thoroughgoing and rooted in “all things” which Jesus has commanded his disciples. [16] However, it also prizes the importance of the apostolate following the model of Jesus in their teaching. Instructing the followers of Jesus means communicating both “a teaching and a lifestyle.”[17] Gospel living may be more caught than taught, as the cliché goes, but it may be that these are to be interdependent. Lifestyle teaches the student, and biblical teaching that “lives,” is both understood and integrated into the learner’s life.

These Christian disciples are those “who live in community, in fellowship with teachers and with other followers of Jesus.”[18] The point of emphasis in this commission is that Christ will build his church globally (Matt 16:18), through the establishment of local congregations, via the missionary work of the apostles and subsequent generations of disciples.[19]

Spirit-Directed Advance and the Great Commission

Throughout the early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, Luke’s emphasis is on the Holy Spirit and his work within the believing witnesses to disseminate the truth (e.g., 2:4, 37-41; 4:8, 13; 6:5, 10; 7:54, 57). While each of these instances displays the work of the believer, as he is empowered by the Spirit, Acts 5:32 contains a nuanced understanding of what is actually taking place. Here, Peter declares: “And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” Unlike the texts which point to the work of the Spirit in and through the witnesses, the statement here seems to indicate that the Spirit also bears witness to the truth of the gospel in “direct parallel” to the proclamation of the apostolic witnesses.[20] Bill Larkin comments on these emphases in Acts:

Luke does not neglect the ‘salvation accomplished’ portion of the gospel: the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead. However, the main focus is on ‘salvation applied’—the church in mission taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. Luke constantly reminds us that this is the mission of the Triune God. Not only does he send and guide his missionaries (apostles, witnesses to the resurrection, evangelists, believers), but he is directly calling people to himself as his word grows and the number of his people increases.[21]

 

It is this activity by God, both parallel to and in concert with his “sent ones,” which is the power from which the disciple-making effort draws its real strength. His Spirit bears witness to His absolute magnificence, even among those who reject this message, as the extension of His gospel truth accomplishes His stated purposes, eventually among every people group.[22]

Gospel Extension and the Great Commission

In his letter to the Colossian believers, Paul observes that this gospel “. . . which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth” (Col 1:6). Here, the gospel is active in “bearing fruit and growing.” As Plummer puts it:

Paul’s understanding of the gospel as God’s dynamic word that inevitably moves forward and accomplishes the divine purpose provides a theological basis for the church’s mission . . . for Paul, when the gospel is genuinely present in a congregation, he is confident that the dynamic nature of that word will guarantee its ongoing triumphant progress.[23]

As this global mission is carried out, through going, teaching and baptizing, the aspects of disciple-making and the successful establishment of the church, by this “word,” are accomplished by the Spirit. This is the active process, and method, that is fulfilling the Great Commission, through and in the local church, to the glory of God the Father.[24]

STM: Definition and Relationship to Christian Formation

If the directive to make disciples panta ta ethne (“all peoples”) necessitates Spirit-directed gospel extension, and this mandate is given to the church, through the apostles, where do we properly place STM in the landscape of this mission advance? While there is much debate on whether or not all STM experiences may properly be called a “missionary” exercise, the historical proliferation of shorter terms of service, particularly in North America from the 1960’s on, seems to indicate that the practice is here to stay.[25]

While missionaries prior to, and during, the twentieth century had no pretense of frequent returns home, if they ever returned, partly because there was no ability to travel with any degree of relative ease. Modern travel has changed that forever.[26] Even many career missionaries who go overseas for a “lifetime” come back on home assignment at regular intervals, and they speak to family and friends almost daily, in some cases, using video communication programs that are now readily accessible.

This means that definitions of, and options for, timeframes deployed to the field have dramatically changed as well. Current categorizations vary, but generally long-term, or career, missionary service usually applies to any period of 2 years, or more, in length. Any term that is between 3 months and 2 years is generally labeled mid-term, although some organizations and missiologists categorize these as short-term.[27] These designations are basic guidelines, because deployment terms and expectations are established by each agency, or church.

Some organizations and churches utilize these “levels” (long-term, mid-term, short-term) as steps to what they hope will be progressively longer seasons of service. The principle idea is that the tiered approach allows participants to be involved in mission activity and, progressively, progress to the next sequential step. The operative thought is often that this exposure helps them see what life is like firsthand, and it also allows the agency, or church, to see if the missionary demonstrates the ability to be successful during progressively longer periods of deployment.[28]

It is the grouping of the “shortest” mission trips (3 months or less) that will be, predominately, in view here. The “participants” in view will include Christian children, adolescents, and adults, so the observations will apply, in varying degree, to these distinct but interrelated groups. The following working definition of STM, as offered by anthropologist Brian Howell will be employed: “short travel experiences for Christian purposes such as charity, service, or evangelism.”[29] This accommodating definition will allow for the widest geographic variety of STM experiences, so domestic and international trips will be in view, with primary observational emphasis on cross-cultural experiences.

Some would say that a prioritization of attention toward formational benefits to those who go simply demonstrates that STM of this persuasion should be questioned. This mindset appears to present a false dilemma, as Christian disciples are witnesses and heralds of the King, while they are also concurrently hoping in the gospel, in the midst of a cruciform life of service (Col 1:24-29). This is not to propose that service is the primary indicator of formation, as progressive sanctification in Christ is, chiefly, an inward reality that engenders specific outward evidences (Eph 5:19-21; John 15:10-12; Col 3:1-11; Isa 66:2; Rom 7:14-25; Matt 6:1-3; Luke 9:26; Matt 4:4; 1 John 4:11-18; Eph 6:1-2). The sobering truth is that general “serving” does not have any inherent relationship to formation, or even being in union with Christ (Matt 7:21-23).

When we dig at it deeper and consider the full ordo salutis (“order of salvation”), while paying specific attention to the thread of sanctification throughout, the discipleship value of formational intention becomes increasingly more apparent. Timothy Paul Jones and Michael Wilder provide a helpful definition of progressive sanctification, to further guide our thinking on this point:

Sanctification is the process of being set apart for God’s purposes and restored to the image of God by means of the Holy Spirit’s gracious work in the believer’s life from regeneration through glorification.[30]

The restoration of the imago Dei (“image of God”) is made possible by Christ’s finished work. This restoration of God’s image entails being renewed in “knowledge” (Col 3:10), so that “we become more like God in our thinking.”[31] This restoration is a growing into greater maturity and likeness to Christ (2 Cor 3:18).[32] Paul Barnett’s comment on Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians, as it is connected to God’s ultimate aim in his sanctifying work, is informative:

Paul makes it clear that we must understand our transformation to be the will of God for us and that we should actively cooperate with him in bringing to reality the eternal destiny for which we were predestined (Rom 12:1-2, 28-30). Our transformation is nothing else than a transformation into the moral and spiritual likeness of the now glorified Christ. It is transformation into that Christ-likeness which will be ours in the end time, when he will be the ‘firstborn among many brothers’ (Rom 8:29).[33]

This progressive transformation, then, is holistic in its scope, with its full realization to be experienced in the eschatological kingdom, such that even now it is a renewing of the whole of the believer, as he conformed further to the image of the one who is the exact image of the Father (Heb 1:3).[34]

If this transformative work is holistic, then an operational summary of Christian maturity might be “a regenerate person’s act of living a life that more accurately reflects the glory and image of God in his behavior, thinking, passions, and motivations.”[35] If we work from this formational vantage point, in the construction of STM approaches, these short-term experiences may have a substantive role to play in supporting Christian formation.

STM: A Consciously Formational Approach

There are several philosophical and programmatic norms that can encourage the conscious stitching of STM into the discipleship fabric of church and home. It is not enough to treat mission trips as transformative vehicles, in and of themselves, apart from the ongoing Christian formation understanding and exercise of the local church.[36] Therefore, the approach outlined here will offer philosophies, and street-level practices, which cover ground far beyond the discrete arena of STM trips; however, this material is offered in an attempt to firmly situate the whole of the short-term process within the more foundational portrait of local church formation and discipleship.

The Church and STM: Formative Relationships and Teaching

First, to appropriate short-term missions for Christian formation, we must root the STM approach in formative relationships and teaching, within the local church. Familial, intergenerational, and community emphases are integral to the New Covenant community. Examples of these biblical concepts are: (1) the parental, and particularly paternal, responsibility to instruct and train children (e.g., Deuteronomy 6:6-7; Psalm 78:5-8; Ephesians 6:4); (2) the intergenerational nature of church community discipleship (e.g., Titus 2:1-10); and (3) the biblical portrait of community as a reconciled people (not unrelated individuals) to God and each other, by the “mercying” work of the gospel (e.g., 1 Peter 2:9-10).

Formative Relationships for STM

Since all of these relationships are innately related to Christian formation, the particular gravity of familial relationships is of first order significance.[37] Since many of those who engage in short-term mission, in a given annual term, are children and adolescents, the central role of parental direction and influence must be considered.[38]

The training of children is the discrete domain and responsibility of parents, and this instruction, by necessity, includes worldview formation (Deut 6:4-9; Exod 31:3, 6; Deut 34:9; Ps 127:3-5; Prov 1:7). It then follows that the economy of the family is vital to the formative process of children ascertaining and embracing mission perspective and proclivity, as part of this complex of philosophical life perspective. Also, the potential for mission experiences with parents to build into children and adolescents a formative “lifelong impression” is strong.[39] The convergence of family-based biblical instruction, gospel-centered living in repentance and faith, and shared STM experiences provide an environment where ongoing conversation can take place regarding truth and practice.[40] In light of this priority of the home, equipping parents to disciple their children, through and in gospel mission, is a crucial responsibility for the pastoral and volunteer leadership that aspire to capitalize on transformational aspects of STM. [41]

The related ability of parents to share these formative training opportunities with pastoral leaders and trusted adult volunteers, actually provides an opportunity to surround a student with supportive relationships. This benefit is also true for STM participants of any age, as supportive as local church-based relationships that exist before, during, and long after the brief field experience will best serve to shape the whole of the person. The biblical undergirding for this multi-relational, community oriented approach is, in part, that formation was intended to take place in the context of community.[42]

The individual family is intended, then, to prioritize relationship to his redeemed people (God’s family), as they are adopted brothers and sisters reconciled to God and to one another, through the work of the Son (1 Cor 12:13; Eph 2:14-22; Titus 2:14; 1 Pet 2:9). Mission is a constituent element of what it means to be a doxologically-motivated local church, so living as a part of this reconciled people is most foundationally driven by this God-centered impulse (Col 3:12-17). Therefore, a local church intent on understanding and actively promoting the role that parents, leaders, and other disciples play in the lives of one another avails itself of discipleship and mission engagement processes that can best achieve these relational goals, as parents and pastoral leaders shepherd children and adults.[43]

The church must not only support these individual believers in short-term mission experiences, but it must also think well about its own cultural values related to mission prayer, direction, strategy, training, sending of personnel, and funding.[44] Entailed in the taking on of a “mission culture,” will be a local emphasis on community engagement with the gospel, as well as, optimally, the identification of a specific people group, or region, for ongoing support and partnership.

This approach, again, allows STM to be one piece in a broader formational process to invest in long-term outcomes (e.g., short to long-term deployment progression for missionaries, sustained prayer through the formative years for children, and sacrificial generosity toward the missionary work among the same people group by families). This longitudinal approach allows STM to be consistently cast within the larger picture of Christian formation, locally (in the ministry of the supporting church) and globally (in the ministry of the missionaries and church among the adopted people group or region).[45]

Formative Teaching for STM

The formational process would also include the church’s identification of a well-defined mission curriculum, which is more comprehensive than preparatory training materials for specific short-term trips. When identifying and developing curriculum for mission emphasis, it may be helpful to think in terms of three essential categories: (1) biblical and theological instruction; (2) historical and philosophical instruction; and (3) cultural and anthropological instruction.

These three domains are listed in order of primacy, as biblical teaching and preaching, that inform and direct parental, pastoral, and small group-based dialogue and discovery learning exercises are crucial to STM preparation and sustainable bearing on student lives. Scripture is the rule and standard by which we must judge all other experiences and realities. The biblical plumb line is the only means by which we may faithfully ensure that the epistemological basis of the one being formed is scripturally-moored. This approach allows for a biblically-informed perspective on historical and cultural issues in mission, rather than starting with the issues of culture and historical interpretation.

This curricular scope can be seen in the following example, based on teaching Psalm 67. If, in teaching the Psalm to the participants, the teacher emphasizes the primacy of this prayer’s hope in God for the peoples of the earth to worship and glorify God, as the pinnacle outcome for mission and life, you can also canvas textual markers that demonstrate this theme throughout the Canon of Scripture (e.g., Isa 43:6-7; Jer 13:11; John 12:27-28, 17:24; Rom 3:25-26; Eph 1:4-6; Rev 21:23).[46]

Since the “nations” here are “people groups,” a teacher might also describe to them what it means for these ethno-linguistic groups to be without the gospel, giving them details about their number and place in the world. This approach enables participants to see where the exclusivity of Jesus and the state of sinful humanity come to bear on their view of global reality. This perspective can be informed by, and properly placed within, the scope of the metanarrative of Scripture as well, so that the participants understand where this material relates to creation, fall, redemption, and consummation.

At this point, offering biographical sketches of missionaries to one of these groups can round out the intentional progression from biblical, to philosophical, to cultural instruction, in one teaching session. This type of approach allows the participant to not only understand the session content, but also begin to think in this holistic manner himself.

This inclusion of historical and philosophical study, informed by theological foundations, is supportive to formational approaches to STM. Considering how the church has understood and expressed cross-cultural mission, through the centuries, can both challenge and inform missionary disciples. Expecting disciples to have a “global vision” is no new standard, and emphasizing this through the study of church history, historical theology, and missionary biography can reinforce the biblical reality that Christ is keeping his promise to build his church, across generations (Matt 16:16-18).[47]

This historical and philosophical study can also support a proper understanding of worldview development, as well as the effort to identify and contrast philosophies that run counter to orthodox Christianity, which can offer STM participants basic logic and philosophy instruction as well as an introductory apologetic background.

Mission education that is wed to STM involvement will also need to assist participants in understanding how and why people live, act, and interact, within their culture the way in which they do, from a biblically-rooted anthropological perspective. This brings the discipline of anthropology back to its genesis, since it was originally conceived as a way to “understand people from a theological perspective,” which is key to effective cross-cultural ministry.[48] Understanding, even in elementary terms, the nature of culture and man will, ideally, give STM participants the ability to begin to wisely navigate cross-cultural situations with greater wisdom.[49]

As mentioned above, the formative relationships of parents and pastoral leaders are critical in formational STM experiences. The reason for this is not the role they play in staffing the relatively brief field-based trip, but the God-ordained placement in the totality of the formational approach, by virtue of their parenthood or pastoral leadership. As comprehensive instruction takes place, it can travel in, or be reinforced through, intentional dialog with parents, family, leaders, and other STM participants.

The Church and STM: Formative Processes and Practices

To achieve maximum formational benefit, we must also root the STM approach in formative processes and practices, within the local church. Establishing processes and uniform practices demonstrates a deliberate and focused intention toward growth. This is in keeping with the commands given for Christians to actively advance in sanctification (John 14:23; 15:2, 4, 7; 1 John 1:7; 3:3; Rev 2:25; 3:11).[50] These efforts are inseparable from the positional sanctification that believers maintain, in Christ, because of his imputed righteousness. Christian formation, then, is the Holy Spirit’s work to “bond us to the Son in love.”[51] Because we are being conformed to the image of Christ, an element of the Spirit’s ongoing work is to also train us to be active in wisdom and discernment (Heb 5:14).[52]

Formation and Wisdom

Therefore, one of the salient needs for an STM philosophy is that it lend itself to encouraging those in Christ, through the teaching of parents and leaders, to actively exhibit and intentionally seek humble wisdom (Prov 8:32-36; 11:2; 16:16: 19:8). Simply stated, wisdom is clearly hearing and acting on God’s Word. The pursuit of wisdom is both found in Christ (1 Cor 1:24, 30; 1 Cor 2:7-8), and it is empowered by Jesus, the incarnate wisdom of God (Matt 11:2-4), as Christians are called to: (1) receive wisdom as a divine gift (James 1:5-8; 3:13-18); (2) fear God and trust God’s wise provision (Job 12:13; Prov 9:10; Isa 40:28; Rom 11:33); (3) make decisions wisely, in keeping with biblically-prescribed ethics (Col 1:9-10; Rom 3:31; 8:3-4; 1 Cor 7:19; 1 Thess 5:21; Gal 6:2-5; Rom 12:2; 14:22-23); and (4) teach, and be taught, wisdom to “from one generation to the next” (Deut 4:5-6).[53] Across all segments of STM preparation, deployment, and the return home, functional wisdom is to be sought and taught, so that maturational hope would be in view (1 Cor 3:1-4). 

Formation and Wisdom through the STM Cycle

The short-term mission trip is, generally, viewed as consisting of three progressive segments: (1) pre-field preparation; (2) on-field engagement; and (3) post-field reflection. This “linear” manner of looking at STM has been critiqued, because in western thinking, this enables us to see that we have “accomplished something.”[54] This certainly can be an indicator of culture guiding perception; however, distinguishing each of these aspects of STM approach from one another can also be quite helpful. This effort can enable more cogent thinking about the manner in which these segments of STM relate to one another, as well as to the ongoing teaching and praxis of the church.

If we view the pre-field, on-field, and post-field aspects as cyclical, as opposed to linear, the STM process may be harnessed as an essential means of forming disciples. From this perspective, “the stages of STM preparation, deployment, and reentry into our own culture, are part of what God is doing to shape us and those to whom we minister cross-culturally, rather than a rare and isolated vacation from the norm.”[55] This cycle would mean that disciples are always in preparation for their next STM, on the field, or going through the post-trip process, which leads progressively into the next STM experience.

Pre-Field Process and Practice

In considering pre-field formational practices, the following common elements may be required: (1) application; (2) fundraising; (3) cultural research; (4) mission book review; (5) team service projects; and (6) training meetings. In each of these areas, the emphasis is placed on the development of the participant, particularly as it is related mission awareness and preparation.

An STM application may include: (1) a written account of their conversion and spiritual journey; (2) reasons for interest in the trip; (3) any health concerns; and (4) personal references.[56] These applications give the leader an initial assessment as to the participant’s maturity, written expression, reputation with others, and fit for the specific STM team. Garnering prayer and financial support for an STM requires guidance, for many participants. There are basic principles of financial stewardship and sacrificial generosity that can be emphasized, in the process of raising funds, just as Paul did with both churches in financial hardship (Phil 4:10-20), and churches in a stronger financial position (2 Cor 8:1-9:15). This practice is part of the reality of mission deployment, for many of those who are engaged in mid and long-term placement. Their agencies, or independent ministry structures, require them to raise financial support. Understanding a little bit about this process gives STM participants a more realistic view of this dynamic, while it also provides an understanding of the ability to partner through praying and giving.[57]

Mid-term and long-term missionaries must, by necessity, study the culture to which they are going, in order to maintain biblical fidelity in their thinking and carefully contextualized practices (1 Cor 9:19-23). This balanced approach is necessary because Participants can perform abbreviated cultural research, along with reviews of mission texts, or missionary biographies, which can begin to inform their thinking about missiology, before the on-field experience.

Finally, the use of service projects and training meetings is vital to gauging, and developing, participant preparedness for STM deployment. These mandatory, shared experiences set expectations, build camaraderie, and provide the best preparation for the team. These meetings should begin several months before mobilizing short-term. Training meetings include some of the aspects above (e.g., presentation of research, tips on raising support), with the addition of logistical information (e.g., passports, travel, immunizations, etc.), and team Bible study and prayer.

On-field Process and Practice

Intentionally shaping the on-field portion of the STM for participant formation can be assisted through several practices. First, although it seems counterintuitive to some pervasive mindsets about STM goals, a significant task for many short-term teams should be to spend time with indigenous peoples, specifically those who are in Christ (assuming that the STM is in an area where a church has been established). Because formationally-oriented short-term experiences are largely focused on learning, and “getting your feet wet,” it is helpful to think through the degree to which participants can “learn from,” or “learn with” nationals.[58]

A second on-field practice is Bible study, which is accompanied by, and informs, prayer. Biblical texts and metanarrative themes, force the thoughts and prayers of participants in a Godward direction. Study topics should scaffold participants to assess the new culture, and any prominent ideas, in light of the biblical material. The hopeful intent would be that the Bible would shape their thoughts, which in turn shapes their prayers, as this a helpful lifelong practice for all believers.[59]

While debriefing is, many times, reserved for the return home from a short-term trip, daily debriefing on-field can provide a real-time barometer of how the team is processing their experience, individually and corporately. The requirement of a daily journal entry can greatly assist in this process, as well as in the post-field debriefing sessions.[60] The need for daily, focused debriefing is highlighted because the effort to utilize STM in the service of Christian formation, while many times serving in cultures hostile to biblical Christianity itself. This reality will require participants to be learners of the culture, while they are in the culture.[61] This deferential attitude, wisely tempered with instruction on the avoidance of cultural practice that might be ethically or morally compromising, must be emphasized in pre-field training and continue to be reinforced on-field.

While the on-field portion of the STM cycle is the shortest, it will likely be the most emotionally and physically intense. Because of this strain, this time can also be distressing, in muted or more pronounced measures, depending on the participant. Well-prepared parents and leaders can best support STM participants through the post-field process and practice.

Post-Field Process and Practice

Although it is an integral phase in STM, the post-field timeframe is often the most neglected, when it comes to capturing the value of the experience toward formative outcomes. By the time you step off of the plane, the work seems finished, when in fact it has just begun. Several key practices that can maximize the formational impact of these trips are assessment through debriefing, reporting to supporters, and post-trip service projects.

Assessment needs to take place within the relationships participants have with parents, mentors, and leaders. However, the “re-entry” period, needs to include several specific relational venues. First, leaders should schedule “re-entry meetings,” which allow participants to meet with parents, if a child or student, and leaders to reflect on their experience and gain guidance and direction. Second, leaders can hold “debriefing meetings.” These include both individual and team meetings, in which the team leader, or pastoral leader, leads guided discussions about the experience, with the intent to move participants toward the next appropriate developmental step. Finally, “next step meetings” can integrate the participant’s personal observations, team discussion, and leader(s) insight. From this collective information, a next steps plan can be established and executed in concert with all of the influence connections (parents, leaders, team, church). These post-field steps enable the student to continue mission thinking, while pointing them toward the next cross-cultural action or behavior.

Prebriefing (pre-field) and debriefing (on-field and post-field) processes are crucial to the optimization of mission service and outreach as a preferred means of formative development.[62] Quality debriefing can provide a piece of the necessary discipleship scaffolding for participants in STM to develop wisdom. If wisdom, as mentioned already, is a chief indicator of Christian maturation and growth, debriefing provides an environmental practice which allows participants to better move from simple knowledge of their experiences, to understanding why these things are so, and finally to a wise apprehension of how they might act, biblically, in light of these experiences.[63]

Upon their return, participants will also want to communicate with those that supported them. This not only informs those who have prayed and given, but it can also strengthen the students’ understanding of, and commitment to, mission outcomes. The resultant encouragement that they may receive from some supporters can also help to undergird their commitments.

Along with the ongoing debriefing and recounting of experiences, participants need to also be involved in similar cross-cultural service at home. Mission principles and practice have to live and breathe as they do, where they are, and wherever they may go. The distinction here is that, as was the case in preparing them to go, when they return home, service projects act as a continuation of what has taken place. Ideally, this hands-on exercise, then, becomes another step in their pre-field progression to the next short-term deployment.

In an approach to STM that is rooted in Christian formation and Great Commission understanding, the pre-field, on-field, and post-field movements must be understood in light of, and made subordinate to, a broader formational framework. The off-field elements of short-term mission are crucial to a formational approach, as these are the means to establish true understanding and wisdom, in regard to the STM trip itself

Conclusion

Formative, lasting change may happen as a result of isolated short-term mission trips. However, an approach that demands a more robust view of STM, informed by Christian formation through the church and home in philosophy and method, may provide an optimized approach for families and churches alike. If wisdom is granted by God, the STM participant may develop greater gospel understanding of himself, his family, the church, the lost, the world, and how each of these point to the immeasurable worth and glory of God. If that is achieved, then perhaps the doxological criteria that Jonathan Edwards offered to a missionary society gathering more than 200 years ago will, in some sense, have been met: “. . . the glory of God, a regard to his honor and praise in the spread of the gospel, ought to be the governing motive in all missionary exertions and the animating principle in the breast of missionaries.”[64]

[1] Walter Kaiser, Mission in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 7.

[2] Andreas Köstenberger and Peter O’Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2001), 27.

[3] Desmond Alexander, “Further Observations on the Term ‘Seed’ in Genesis,” Tyndale Bulletin 48 (1997), 363. For additional discussion on a singular, rather than plural, understanding of “seed” in Genesis 3:15, see also James Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 75-76.

[4] John Sailhamer, The Meaning of the Pentateuch (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2009), 221-23. Also see John Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in vol. 2 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 55-56.

[5] John Stott, “The Living God is a Missionary God,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, 3rd ed., ed. Ralph Winter and Steven Hawthorne (Pasadena: William Carey, 1999), 4.

[6] Walter Kaiser, “Israel’s Missionary Call,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, 3rd ed., ed. Ralph Winter and Steven Hawthorne (Pasadena: William Carey, 1999), 11.

[7] Christopher Wright, The Mission of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2006), 503.

[8] Ibid., 502-03.

[9] Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, What is the Mission of the Church? (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 43.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Gregg Allison, Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 140-41.

[12] Köstenberger and O’Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth, 19.

[13] Robert Plummer, “The Great Commission in the New Testament,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 9.4 (2005): 4.

[14] Ibid., 9.

[15] Ibid.

[16] John Harvey, “Mission in Matthew,” in Mission in the New Testament, ed. William Larkin and Joel Williams (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1998), 131-32.

[17] Lucien Legrand, Unity and Plurality (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1990), 78.

[18] Eckhard Schnabel, Jesus and the Twelve, vol. 1 in Early Christian Mission (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004), 355.

[19] Ibid., 355-56.

[20] William Larkin, “Mission in Acts,” in Mission in the New Testament, ed. William Larkin and Joel Williams (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1998), 177.

[21] Ibid., 185.

[22] James Hamilton, God’s Indwelling Presence (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2006), 85.

[23] Plummer, “The Great Commission in the New Testament,” 9.

[24] DeYoung and Gilbert, What is the Mission of the Church?, 62.

[25] For an historical overview of the development of short-term missions philosophy, terminology, and use in relationship to longer-term service personnel see Brian Howell, Short-Term Mission: An Ethnography of Christian Travel Narrative and Experience (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2012), 69-101. Within this discussion, Howell notes that simultaneously advances in air travel technology, global air travel infrastructure, and a spike in disposable income, from the late 1960’s through the 1980’s correlate to the growth in STM.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Enoch Wan and Geoffrey Hart, “Complementary Aspects of Short-Term Missions and Long-Term Missions: Case Studies for a Win-Win Situation,” in Effective Engagement in Short-Term Missions, ed. Robert Priest (Pasadena: William Carey, 2008), 65-66.

[28] Empirical data is mixed in establishing a strong correlation between short-term deployment and long-term engagement in longitudinal studies. For example, see Scott Moreau, “Short-term Missions in the Context of Missions, Inc.” in Effective Engagement in Short-Term Missions, ed. Robert Priest (Pasadena: William Carey, 2008), 1-34.

[29] Howell, Short-Term Mission, 20.

[30] Timothy Paul Jones and Michael Wilder, “Faith Development and Christian Formation, “ in Christian Formation: Integrating Theology and Human Development, ed. James Estep and Jonathan Kim (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 193.

[31] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 445.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 208.

[34] Anthony Hoekema, Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 216.

[35] Michael Wilder and Shane Parker, Transformission: Making Disciples through Short-Term Missions (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 118-19.

[36] Gary Parrett and Steve Kang, Teaching the Faith, Forming the Faithful (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 412. Parrett and Steve Kang emphasize a comprehensive approach to Christian formation, within the context of the church as New Covenant community. The writers note that “three great tasks” of the church, historically and contemporarily, have been worship, formation, and outreach, which are interrelated and overlapping.

[37] Although the longitudinal study focuses on “religious continuity” and “faith transmission,” rather than biblically-rooted norms of Christian formation, the findings offered in Vern Bengston, Norella Putney and Susan Harris, Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down across Generations (New York: Oxford, 2013) indirectly support the catalog of community norms presented here.

[38] Priest, Effective Engagement in Short-Term Missions, ii-iv.

[39] Jay Strother, “Family-Equipping Ministry: Church and Home as Cochampions,” in Perspectives on Family Ministry, ed. Timothy Paul Jones (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2009), 153.

[40] Steve Keels and Dan Vorm, Transparenting (Nashville: B&H, 2006), 71-73.

[41] Merton Strommen and Richard Hardel, Passing on the Faith (Winona: Saint Mary’s, 2000), 81.

[42] Joseph Hellerman, When the Church Was a Family (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2009), 223-28.

[43] Greg Ogden, Transforming Discipleship (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 105-17. The author outlines a model of discipleship and formation that is derived from the following Pauline epistolary themes: “imitation” of a model (1 Cor 4:16; “identification” with the mentor (1 Thess 2:7); “exhortation” to live faithfully (2 Tim 4:5); and “participation” in partnership with the disciple (Rom 1:11-12).

[44] Tom Telford, All-Star Missions Churches (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 133-34.

[45] Wilder and Parker, Transformission, 217-18.

[46] See John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 22-27, for a more extensive listing of texts outlining God’s intention that all mission be for His glory, as it is established among the nations.

[47] Gregg Allison, Historical Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 28-29.

[48] Paul Hiebert, Cultural Anthropology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983), xvi.

[49] David Livermore, Serving with Eyes Wide Open (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 111. Livermore offers his theory of “Cultural Intelligence,” which provides a framework specifically designed to assist STM participants in becoming more adept at navigating cross-cultural experiences with understanding. See also David Livermore, Cultural Intelligence (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009).

[50] Bruce Demarest, The Cross and Salvation: The Doctrine of Salvation (Wheaton: Crossway, 1997), 411. Demarest outlines these practices as “abiding in Christ (John 15:4, 7), walking in the light of God’s presence (1 John1:7), holding fast to their Christian profession (Rev 2:25; 3:11), purifying themselves from sin (1 John 3:3), continuing in Christ’s teaching (John 14:23; 15:7), and submitting to providential discipline (John 15:2).”

[51] Kyle Strobel, Formed for the Glory of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2013), 13.

[52] John Piper, Counted Righteous in Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2002), 80.

[53] Eckhard Schnabel, “Wisdom,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. Desmond Alexander, Brian Rosner, Donald Carson, and Graeme Goldsworthy (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2000), 843-48.

[54] Roger Peterson, Gordon Aeschliman, and Wayne Sneed, Maximum Impact Short-Term Mission (Minneapolis: STEM, 2003), 128.

[55] Wilder and Parker, Transformission, 201.

[56] Judy TenElshof, “Selecting and Screening Volunteers for Service,” in The Short-Term Missions Boom, ed. Michael Anthony (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 65-66.

[57] Kathy Hicks, Scaling the Wall (Waynesboro: Authentic, 2003), 183.

[58] Duane Elmer, Cross-Cultural Servanthood (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2006), 93. See also Richard Slimbach, “First, Do No Harm,” Evangelical Missions Quarterly 36 (2000): 439.

[59] Donald Whitney, Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2001), 34-35.

[60] Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1991), 206-07.

[61] Sherwood Lingenfelter and Marvin Mayers, Ministering Cross-Culturally (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 24-25.

[62] Ibid.

[63] David Johnstone, “Closing the Loop: Debriefing the Short-Term College Mission Team,” Missiology 34 (2006): 525.

[64] Jonathan Edwards, “To the Glory of God,” in Classic Texts in Mission and World Christianity, ed. Norman Thomas (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1995), 60.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

Exploring the Impact of Collegiate Context on Pre-Ministry Undergraduate Epistemological Maturity and Formation

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 05/05/2017 - 15:24

A series of recent and ongoing research studies are exploring the nature and extent of intellectual and ethical maturation among pre-ministry evangelical undergraduates at varying institutional types. This line of research represents the most in-depth analysis ever conducted among this population with regard to epistemological development—i.e., students’ maturity in their ways of thinking, reasoning, and judgment, as well as in their personal commitments to ways of living that exhibit a reflective consistency with the biblical worldview. This article highlights a number of prominent and notable common themes identified in the findings of this research as bearing relevance to pre-ministry undergraduates’ epistemological development, personal formation, and Christian discipleship. Also, the nature and impact of varying social-environmental conditions among pre-ministry college students is addressed.

Research Context

The findings and themes presented in this article are drawn from the initial study[1] in an ongoing series of qualitative research studies, in which pre-ministry undergraduates from three institutional contexts were interviewed according to a standardized semi-structured interview protocol.[2] The three institutional contexts included secular universities, confessional liberal arts universities, and Bible colleges. Thirty students, including ten from each context, were interviewed. This study thus served to initiate precedent findings for subsequent studies to augment and deepen lines of inquiry and investigation among this population. Currently, follow-up studies are being conducted in each of the three original contexts, and additionally among pre-ministry undergraduates and evangelicals attending non-confessional liberal arts universities, two-year colleges and universities, and evangelical seminaries.

While the Perry Scheme of Intellectual and Ethical Development[3] served as an interpretive lens for the study, the researcher introduced the “Principle of Inverse Consistency” as a paradigm for critically interacting with Perry and other developmental theories.[4] Additionally, an original methodological contribution of the study was the design and implementation of a new content analysis framework for identifying and qualifying various elements of epistemological positioning. This framework articulates three categories within which epistemic priorities and competencies may be categorized: (1) biblically-founded presuppositions for knowledge and development, (2) metacognition, critical reflection, and contextualistic orientation, and (3) personal responsibility for knowledge acquisition and maintenance, within community.[5]

In addition to the findings gleaned from this structured analysis, the research yielded a number of prominent, common, and epistemically-formative themes that emerged directly from participants’ articulations related to their particular institutional environments. The significance of these themes was determined according to consistent recurrence among interviewees within or across differing institutional types. Relatedly, categories of pre-ministry students’ perspectives and positions on various issues germane to the college experience were discerned. These themes, identified in the original study and currently the subject of intentional exploration in the ongoing research, are recounted in detail below.

Pre-Ministry Undergraduates

The body of literature comprised by studies on the topic of undergraduate epistemological development is well-established and wide-ranging. Prior to the initiation of this line or research, however, no study addressed the distinctiveness of varying types of institutions in affecting or promoting epistemological maturity among evangelical students, nor had any study specifically engaged the population of pre-ministry college students with regard to intellectual and ethical development. This population represents a diverse range of college students who experience cognitive maturation, identity-formation, social assimilation, and professional preparation in markedly differing environments, depending on which type of college they attend. Given the formative nature of the college years[6] and the essentiality of environmental factors in human development,[7] the influence of institutional types represents a topic worthy of exploration with regard to pre-ministry undergraduates’ worldview, identity, and lifestyle.

Unlike many professions that require mastery of specified disciplines of study on the undergraduate level, there are no specific prerequisite degree requirements for pre-ministry students, regardless of whether or not they enroll in seminary. The result of this is that students preparing for a career in ministry develop their epistemological priorities and values while immersed a number of different institutional contexts—contexts which, by their diverging nature, have unique formational influences and manifestations. This initial study along with its follow-up studies are investigating the nature of these divergences and the resulting effects on pre-ministry students’ maturation.

Significant Recurring Themes

The general findings of the structured content analysis procedures undertaken in the initial phase of this research indicate that overall, epistemological positioning is generally consistent among pre-ministry students from differing institutional contexts.[8] By certain measures, however, positional ratings among institutional groupings are appreciably distinguishable.[9] Extending from the structured analysis protocols, a priority for this series of research studies is the identification of recurring themes that illuminate the impact of differing social-academic environments and cultures on pre-ministry undergraduates’ epistemological perspectives and values. Unlike the findings based on the structured analysis, differentiations between the epistemological expressions of participants from varying institutional types are readily apparent with regard to these prominent themes. The following is a summary of notable themes derived from the initial research study in this series.

The Primacy of Relationships

The most prominent common theme that voluntarily emerged among participants in this study was the primacy of relationships as the most significant single, formative aspect of the overall college experience. Among multiple instances of coordination, this finding most specifically harmonizes with one of the most prominent and definitive works in higher education literature–Astin’s What Matters in College? Four Critical Years Revisited. Astin’s extensive, longitudinal study suggests two key realities regarding the influence and impact of relationships during college: the nature of faculty-student relationships strongly affects both the quality of higher education and students’ satisfaction and appreciation of their college experience; and, “The student’s peer group is the single most potent source of influence on growth and development during the undergraduate years.”[10] Both of these findings were clearly reflected in this study, though with different emphases according to institutional affiliation.

Following Perry, the researcher began each interview with the general question, “Thinking back through your college experience overall, what would you say most stands out to you? What was most significant to you?” In response to this question, nearly three-fourths of responses were predicated on the primacy of relationships, including eight Bible college students, seven liberal arts university students, and seven secular university students. Figure 1 illustrates the striking majorities of students from each institutional context who stated that their college experience was most significantly defined by their relational connections and experiences.

Figure 1 illustrates the striking majorities of students from each institutional context who stated that their college experience was most significantly defined by their relational connections and experiences.

While a majority of all participants cited the primacy of relationships as the most definitive element of their overall college experiences, differentiations were apparent among sample groupings. Of the seven Bible college students who referred to their relationships as most significant, all but one of them spoke specifically of their relationships with professors. Ashley[11] was a recent Bible college graduate who compared the benefit of the relational connections between students and teachers at Boyce College versus a lack of connection at other schools with which she was familiar or had personal experience.

Figure 1. Initial Responses to “What most stands out to you about your college experience?”

Just being able to come to a college where the professors are investing daily in their students and wanting to genuinely help them through college. Any other college I had been to, it was just like you come, you go, and the professors don’t really care unless you come to them. It was just really nice to have that relationship with the professors at Boyce, and know that they aren’t just there to teach, but they want to see you grow in your walk with the Lord and in every aspect of the ministry that you’re going into.

Of the seven liberal arts university students who cited relationships as the most significant aspect of college for them, a wide range of variation was evident. Students spoke about several different avenues of relational connection, including relationships with professors, mentors, peers or close friends, church, campus life connections, and dating relationships. Jacob commented on the link between the genuine peer relationships he had through his college’s residential community and the solidification of his own calling, as well as identification with the body of Christ. He responded in this way when asked by the researcher about how his residential community experiences impacted his life such that he would not have been the same otherwise:

A big part of it is just realizing different approaches on the Christian life. If I would’ve stayed at home I would’ve been around a lot of the same people I grew up with. Being able to come here to college and being thrown into an atmosphere where not only do people have different backgrounds as far as denominations go, but also the fact that I’m a Bible major and a lot of my friends are engineers and science majors. I’ve always enjoyed science, but how they view and live out their Christian life, what they hope to do and accomplish in life as an engineer or as a business man–it’s just a different view that I might have, considering I’m going into full-time ministry. And I think it’s really challenged me to step back and reconsider, “Why am I going into full-time ministry? How can I use business and other contexts that I have to best glorify and best help the Kingdom, working together as a community of believers. Just being able to talk about differing subjects and even conflicts that we may have, but realizing that we’re still the body of Christ and working through it to really understand each other better and understand the issue better.

Responses from secular university students who emphasized the defining significance of relationships in their college experiences all centered on the nature of belonging and developing within authentic Christian community. Some of these responses emphasized relationships with campus ministry leaders in particular, but each focused more broadly on the significance of maintaining a bond of Christian community within the secular university context. Adam spoke about how his active involvement in the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) at his school facilitated his spiritual awakening, development, and discipleship mentality, coming from a non-Christian background.

The people there (BCM Bible study group) realized where I was coming from, and I told them about my spiritual background, so they held me accountable. They kept me in check in making sure that I was doing fine. They constantly asked me if I was doing okay—wanting to help me out with anything I was having trouble with. And I opened up to them, which is something that I never did with anybody, even in my own family. . . . Since then, I’ve become a lot more of an outgoing person. I used to be really shy. . . . As I went along in my college career, I started to turn my attention more towards the people around me and how they were developing.

Mentors

Another prominent theme that was intentionally addressed in almost every research interview was the influence and importance of mentors. The researcher asked interviewees whether or not they had a mentor relationship during college, and all but four respondents confirmed that they did. Most commonly in each sample grouping, students’ mentors were pastors or ministry leaders. Five Bible college students and five liberal arts university students reported that their mentors were pastors or ministry leaders in their local churches. In contrast, mentors for each the six secular university students who reported having pastoral-type mentors were campus ministry leaders.

Alex was a liberal arts university student whose primary mentoring relationship was with his pastor, but he also reported having mentor-type relationships with some of his peers and teachers. He said this when asked about the sum impact of his mentoring relationships:

There is just absolutely no way to quantify the impact. There’s things that I think and do that I might not ever know why I did them, but it very well could be because of what I’ve been taught by those guys, and how I’ve seen them live their lives. So I think it’s just kind of impossible to quantify the sum impact, but I will say that those guys and the relationships that I’ve been in have forever changed my life. Ask me in 45-50 years if I’m still kicking, and I’ll still probably tell you something similar.

Joseph, a Bible college student, also spoke about the overall value and impact of having a mentor during college.

You can learn so much from a book; you can learn great philosophy from a book; but if you really want to learn practical things, and if you really want to learn real things that can genuinely, directly help you, you really need a mentor to guide you through it. Their wisdom and guidance are invaluable, because they’ve been through ministry; they’ve done years of this, so nothing really surprises them. They’ve gone through it and they’ve come out the other side. And they know you as well, which is something that a lecture or a book really can’t help. They personally know you, your situation, and they know the best way that you could handle something. . . . They can really custom-fit and speak truth into your life.

Jeffrey, a secular university student, emphasized the impact of his mentoring relationship on his holistic development–particularly how the relationship engendered a manner of thinking that is predicated on God’s special revelation.

(Jeffrey) He was my campus minister at the BCM. I can’t remember who actually first introduced this idea–the idea of a three-stranded cord of Paul, Timothy, and Barnabas. You have a Paul figure–a guy that invests in you and pours into you, and a Barnabas figure who is right by your side like your best friend, and your Timothy is the person that you pour into and you see a flow or movement of discipleship through that model. And he was really the first Paul figure that I’ve had in my life–a guy that challenged me. He talked through some tough passages with me, he led me through a lot of things, and he never forced me to think about anything–he let me think more for myself. That was really huge.

(Interviewer) In what ways did you start thinking more for yourself? What do you mean by that?

(Jeffrey) Like, trusting in the fact that the same Holy Spirit that is in him and that’s in theologians is in me, and I can trust in the Holy Spirit as I should trust in the Holy Spirit to speak to me about Scripture, and let God’s Word speak for itself and devote myself to that study.

Some participants reported that their mentors were their college teachers. Among these were four Bible college students and three liberal arts university students. No secular university students reported having mentors who were also their college teachers. One secular university student reported that his primary mentor was one of his peers. Notably, no participants reported that they had mentoring relationships with one or both of their parents.

Relationship with Teachers

The nature of participants’ relationships with their college professors was a theme that provided clear distinctives between students from different institutional contexts. Overall, Bible college and liberal arts university students reported having relationships with one or more of their teachers that were personal, substantive, and dynamic. By contrast, no secular university students reported having a significant personal relationship with their professors. Among Bible college and liberal arts university students, teachers were often referenced as either pastoral influences or personal friends, and sometimes in both respects. Amanda, a Bible college student, said this regarding the pastoral nature of Boyce College professors:

You learn a lot about living life in the ministry and growing in your relationship with Christ and walking with Christ from the professors at Boyce, because they show it and they talk about it and they lead in that way. I feel like it was very beneficial and influential for my personal walk to be under people who were showing us and teaching us how to walk with Christ. . . . Most of them were very pastoral in nature towards us, and it was really neat to see all the stuff that we were learning working out in the immediate life of a minister, and to know that we weren’t just learning something from a book; we were learning stuff that really was being effective in the local church.

Eric expressed his perspective on how having personal friendships with his professors affected his educational experience and personal development.

At Union there’s an underlying, often unspoken, sometimes spoken principle that Christian education is really about more than preparing you to enter into the work force; it’s about training you as an individual and directing you to a certain end. And I feel like I got another level of that training because the same people whose job it was to train me in those aspects–when you enter into a friendship-type relationship in addition to the teacher-student one, the same goals are still there, but it is all the more practical and available in the sense that we spend that much more time together, and we talk about whatever comes up in regular activity. I think just the time and the availability make those goals of education happen all the more. There are that many more opportunities to direct the student to those ends.

Purpose of College

Another clear differentiation emerged among participants from varying institutional contexts with regard to their perspectives on the essential purpose of college. The researcher discerned three categories of perspectives that corresponded to participants’ attendance at their respective types of schools.

Students who attended confessional Christian liberal arts universities, by a proportion of 70% of respondents, expressed that the primary purpose of college is thus: to shape one’s identity as a person, holistically–to establish a mature, authentic lifestyle and manner of thinking. One Bible college student and no secular university students provided this type of response.      Numerous expressions on the part of liberal arts university students articulated this priority. When asked about “how students should change as a result of going through college,” Tyler responded in this way: “Their worldviews, their way of thinking, their way of executing their work, their way of studying, their way of handling difficult situations, their way of dealing with people and interacting with people–just all those different aspects of life should’ve changed for the better. The way they view society, the way they view how they act with their friends.” Emphasizing the intellectual-lifestyle objective of college, Jacob said, “College should be a place where you learn how to be a learner.” Kevin summed up the “proper” holistic-developmental priority of undergraduate education by referring to his own experience:

I think one thing college has taught me–particularly a liberal arts college like Union–is learning how to live well, which sounds like a really vague statement. But I’ve learned the importance of making sure that I’m a well-rounded person, appreciating things like music and art, and engaging myself in different cultural mediums–not just combining myself and my learning into one career or into one specific task, but just growing intellectually in the same way that I’m striving to grow spiritually. So one thing that I would hope that students would learn from college is just to have the proper view of education. Unfortunately, I don’t know that all colleges give that.

A secondary theme that emerged among liberal arts university students was that a college education should serve as a means of increasing in knowledge in order to construct a coherent worldview. In recommendation of this prioritization, Thomas said, “A student coming out of high school going into college should end up with a concrete worldview, and should have a consistent philosophy and ideology across the board. What I mean by that is: not pick and choose when to believe certain things; not pick and choose to believe the Bible at times and not at other times.”

Bible college students expressed a different priority regarding the purpose of college. According to 70% of participants within this grouping, the primary purpose of college is thus: to gain knowledge that is applicable, in order to prepare for one’s vocation. One secular university student and no liberal arts students expressed this view.

Among the typical expressions that articulated this view was a statement made by Chris, that the purpose of college “is to prepare you for work in the real world of ministry.” Also, Joseph stressed that college students should maintain involvement in local church ministry and seek out opportunities to learn from mentors. He articulated the purpose of one’s college education in terms of broad, vocation-oriented learning: “Ministry has so many different aspects and so many different elements . . . so you need to learn and take classes and have a working knowledge of every aspect of church and ministry, so you can at least be equipped and it won’t be a surprise to you.” Anthony, a recent Bible college graduate who also had the experience of attending a liberal arts university, provided a perspective that clearly focused on vocationally applicable learning while also integrating the majority liberal arts view of education:

I do feel like an ideal college education involves knowledge being imparted–so yes, intellectual growth. Those categories of knowledge need to be created if they’re not there, they need to be broadened if they’re already there. They need to be challenged and sharpened. But it has to go beyond that. Life-on-life mentoring with professors and mentors is where that knowledge really–where the rubber meets the road and that knowledge can be applied as wisdom. So I would say: transferring of knowledge, life-on-life application of that knowledge such that wisdom is modeled, and then opportunities to apply that knowledge in wise ways oneself. So definitely hands-on ministry–getting messy in the local church. I feel like that is so important for college students to realize. As they’re learning these categories, they need to hit the harsh realities of everyday life. And they need to be sharpened and softened–or hardened–with the reality of messy ministry in the local church.

A clear and unique perspective regarding the purpose of college also emerged among secular university participants. Among this sample grouping, 70% of respondents expressed that the primary purpose of college is thus: to “grow up” or mature in personal (self-identity) and practical (self-responsibility) ways; to increasingly exhibit a sense of personal responsibility regarding education and life. While this view represented more than half of secular university participants, no Bible college or liberal arts university students made any expression related to this priority.

Students from five of the six represented secular universities provided statements that reflected the sample grouping majority. Adam, a participant who became a Christian and committed to vocational ministry during his time at Kentucky State University, said that “a complete, full satisfying college education is one where you find yourself. College is where you split off from everything that you’re used to. . . . You can become you in college.” Similarly, Lauren said, “My college experience has allowed me to get to know myself. I thought I knew myself before coming to college, but I didn’t. I didn’t know a lot about myself, and everyday I find out something new, and I’m just blown away!” In his articulation regarding the primary purpose of college education, Cody summarized the connections between personal responsibility, hard work, devotion to the task of learning in general, and appreciation for the educational process. He said,

A student should gain an appreciation for education. I feel like often middle school or high school students think really dutifully of homework and studying and reading. Because in high school you have homework every night, practically, and you have classes every day for seven hours a day. And in college, usually you get a syllabus that has when your four papers are due and when your four tests are. And you can look at it in a dutiful way, or you can treat it as a job and understand that this is beneficial to you, and you need to read and you need to study and you need to do well. So just having an appreciation for education–I would say that’s as important as whatever degree you get. . . . You need to learn to apply yourself, and you need to care and be intentional about whatever you’re learning.

Impact of College

The researcher was able to discern multiple common sub-themes among participants across and within differing institutional contexts with regard to the overall personal impact of the college experience. While multiple issues and findings explicated in this research coordinated with the results of Pacarella and Terenzini’s comprehensive examination of the effect of the college experience on students, similarities and echoes were most notable in light of these sub-themes. In the most recent volume of How College Affects Students, the authors report that throughout college, “Students not only made statistically significant gains in factual knowledge and in a range of general cognitive and intellectual skills but also changed significantly on a broad spectrum of value, attitudinal, psychosocial, and moral dimensions.”[12] Broadly speaking, the self-reports of the pre-ministry students included in this research indicated that the college experience facilitated a period of personal growth and change that was fundamental, holistic, and permanent. It should be noted that in many respects, the nature of the impact of college on students has been documented to be generally consistent over the past half-century. Pascarella and Terenzini summarize the highlights of this abiding impact for all college students–including (albeit with some inversely-oriented orientations of growth) the participants in this study:

Students learn to think in more abstract, critical, complex, and reflective ways; there is a general liberalization of values and attitudes combined with an increase in cultural and artistic interests and activities; progress is made toward the development of personal identities and more positive self-concepts; and there is an expansion and extension of interpersonal horizons, intellectual interests, individual autonomy, and general psychological maturity and well-being.[13]

In this research, the most general and common sub-theme–articulated by nearly half of all participants–was the recognition that from the beginning of college to the end, he or she became “a completely different person.” This expression was provided by fourteen participants, including seven Bible college students, four liberal arts university students, and three secular university students. Among them was Joseph, a Bible college student who made a clear statement about the fundamental change that he underwent regarding vocational direction, personal maturity, and practical responsibility.

Oh me, I’m a completely different person! As a freshman, I was really unfocused. Ministry was far-off. I was very immature. I knew I wanted to do ministry, but it was far-off, and I just wanted to enjoy college. . . . When I was 18, it was a great blessing that I was able to go to school for free. I could go full-time, I didn’t have to work, so I could just focus on school. I didn’t really have to worry about financing. . . . Now I’m working in a bi-vocational position at a church. The church covers about 60% of what I need, and I work another part-time job about 30 hours a week. I’m a lot more focused, I would say. That would be the key difference: I’m a lot more focused; I’m a lot more mature. In regards to, “This is exactly what I want to do”–I wouldn’t do anything else. This is my passion. This is my desire. I’m a lot more responsible, a lot more mature, and a lot more focused.

Mark, a secular university student who committed to vocational ministry during college, framed his metamorphosis in terms of a shifting view of himself with regard to his sense of overarching purpose and personal motivation.

I feel like I’m a completely different person, almost entirely. My mindset was completely different as a freshman. It was just like, “How can I look the coolest? How can I have the most friends and be in the in-crowd? What can I do to advance myself socially?” And now at the end of college, my heart and my mind are more focused on God and what he wants for my life and how I can serve him. So I think it’s really a huge difference from “how can I serve myself?” to “how can I serve God?”

The most common sub-theme that was directly relatable to participants’ epistemological attitudes and development was evident in multiple students’ expressions that the college experience served to confront him or her with what (or how much) he or she did not know. This expression was identified in more than one-third of all research interviews, including five liberal arts university students, four Bible college students, and two secular university students. While a correlation between this expression and epistemological maturity could not be suggested based on the data acquired in this study, it was observed that most students who provided statements that reflected this perspective received positional ratings in the higher ranges of the sample population. Furthermore, these expressions often provided prime examples of Perry’s concept of “metathought,” or the ability to think about thinking. When asked to elaborate on what he meant by saying that learning was a process of finding out how much he did not know, Robert, a recent Bible college graduate, spoke from his own experience and articulated an implication that addressed the doctrine of progressive sanctification.

From high school to college you realize, “I was really dumb in high school.” That’s your first thought. Then you think, “well, maybe I’m dumb now and I just don’t realize it.” Then sure enough as time goes on you begin to realize that you really do have a lot to learn. So I don’t think I have any of this completely figured out at all. So when I say that “the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know,” I just mean that I think it’s going to be a long walk and a long process for me to get to where I need to go, and it won’t end until perfection in the New Creation. I just think that I should be learning to be faithful where I’m at, and trusting that I don’t have all the answers. That’s been a big lesson for me to learn throughout my college career.

Richard, a recent secular university graduate who also attended a liberal arts university for two years, provided the clearest articulation of this view. He explained how the recognition of his own lack of complete understanding yielded a spirit of humility that enabled him to apply a new perspective and attitude to his interactions with other believers as well as non-believers.

From my freshman year to my senior year, I really learned how I knew a lot less. When I was a freshman, I was more arrogant–I thought I knew everything, so I didn’t need all this. But as a senior I realized how much I didn’t know. And so I guess I really learned a lot more humility . . . . Through my years of college, God really showed me how much I didn’t know, how much I needed to change my own life, and my own personal character flaws that I needed to address. So as a freshman, I was quick to argue, slow to listen, quick to answer, and always all about myself and what I thought was correct. So I was always quick to jump on people if I thought they were wrong on something, because of how much I thought I knew on everything. And now as a senior I really realize how much I didn’t know and how much I don’t know, and I have just learned to be a lot more humble in my interactions with people, and also in just being more gracious in discussions with people with whom I disagree.

A third clear sub-theme that emerged among liberal arts and secular university students regarding was that a decisive impact of the college experience involved the process of gaining more independence and responsibility in practical matters or personal discipline–i.e., gaining a more mature perspective with regard to entering adulthood and the professional world. Half of respondents within the liberal arts and secular university sample groupings provided expressions that reflected this perspective. Notably, no Bible college students put forth this type of articulation. A typical statement representative of this sub-theme was made by Jacob, a first-semester senior at Cedarville University.

I would say the biggest point of responsibility I’ve seen myself grow in is just managing time and relationships. . . . I’ve realized that the things that I’m going to devote my time to need to be things that matter in retrospect to God’s Kingdom and the work that he would have us do as Christians. . . . I think that’s probably the biggest thing–being able to step back and look and see which things in life I should keep pursuing, and which things that, although not necessarily wrong, are just taking up time that could be better used elsewhere.

The fourth sub-theme relating to the overall impact of the college experience emerged among an equal number of students from each of the three institutional context groups in this study was the expression of development from a more legalistic or personalistic perspective to a more authentic, personally-committed, and selfless perspective regarding one’s faith, worldview and lifestyle. Three students from each sample grouping provided statements that reflected this transition. One of the clearest articulations that represented this sub-theme came from Mark, a pre-ministry student who experienced a faith-transformation while attending the University of Louisville:

I had a general understanding of the gospel, of who Jesus was–that he died for my sins, that he rose again–but I don’t think that there was a relationship there. Because it’s not just “I recognize that Jesus exists,” it’s having that relationship with God. I think that I lacked that relationship. I believed that Jesus was the son of God and all those things, but there was no fruit in my life. There was no proof of a changed heart. Being a Christian for me was just like being a good person; like, “If I don’t do this, don’t do that–Jesus tells me not to do those things, so if I don’t do those things I’m a Christian; I don’t drink or smoke like all my friends in high school, so I must be okay.” That was the mentality I had about Christianity. It was very legalistic. Coming into college changed this idea of legalism to the idea of freedom in Christ, and grace, and a relationship with Christ.

One final sub-theme that also emerged among an equal number of participants from each sample grouping was expressed as a transition from a faith and worldview that was accepted or received from one’s parents, church, peers, etc., to a faith and worldview that was personally-invested–i.e., maintaining one’s convictions in a responsible manner.

Three participants from each category provided statements that represented this perspective. Among them was Sarah, a liberal arts university student, who related her own self-confrontational experience:

I had to make a decision: if being a Christian was just something I’d grown up with and something my parents had taught me, or if it was something that I truly and completely believed in. I had to make that decision for myself without anybody there to hold my hand and take me to church, to Bible study, to the BCM where I was going to grow. I had to make the decision to do those things.

Perspective regarding Seminary

One theme that was intentionally engaged by the researcher in almost every interview was participants’ perspectives regarding seminary. All responses were assignable to one of two positions, with the exception of one response by a liberal arts university students who articulated a hybrid-view, incorporating both positions.

A clear majority of all participants were classified as having an “idealistic” perspective regarding seminary–the view that seminary is primarily necessary or beneficial for the knowledge and skills that are to be gained there, in preparation for vocational ministry. Every secular university student maintained this perspective, as well as eight of the ten liberal arts university students, and six of the ten Bible college students. Cody, a secular university student, expressed his personal view that seminary would serve as a necessary completion of his ministry preparation on a formal level, after being trained on an experiential level in college. He said,

It’s necessary for me to go to seminary for knowledge. There’s too many pastors who don’t know why they do what they do. And even me, I’m still figuring it out. As a pastor–as someone who is going to teach the Word of God and who is going to serve in the church the way that God has designed Christians to interact here on earth–you need to know the history of the church and you need to know the Scriptures and how the church should be set up–the polity. You need to be able to counsel people. You need to be wise in the decisions that you make and how you lead the church. I feel like I got plenty of ministry experience serving at Campus Crusade and serving at my church through college, but those are things you have to investigate on your own and what you have to be taught and read.

Alex articulated his idealistic view by expressing his hope that his seminary education would share priorities that are in concert with his idea of a liberal arts education–focusing on “expanding horizons” and interacting with ideas in an effort to arrive at a more informed, reflective set of convictions.

I hope to be challenged. In the same way as Union–I want my horizons expanded. I want to not necessarily arrive at different conclusions, but be exposed to a whole lot of different perspectives along the way to those conclusions. So maybe I go into Southern (seminary) thinking this way about the atonement. I may leave Southern thinking the exact same way about the atonement, but on the other side of Southern, I hope to have been exposed to a lot of different perspectives.

In contrast to the idealistic view, a second categorization of participants’ perspectives regarding seminary was the “practical-utilitarian” view–that seminary is primarily necessary because it is a prerequisite for obtaining employment in a career-type ministry position. Among respondents who expressed the practical-utilitarian view, four were Bible college students and one was a liberal arts university student. Most notably, Aaron expressed his disappointment and frustration because of the virtual “requirement” of a seminary degree in order to be considered as a qualified candidate for employment at most local churches.

I dont think it’s necessary (to go to seminary), but it is necessary. It’s necessary because churches have such a skewed idea, that you look at almost any requirement, and they require a piece of paper before they think you’re qualified to be a pastor. . . . I’ll be honest with you, . . . I don’t think that seminary, in any way, shape, or form, is going to be very beneficial for me. I would see more of a hindrance than a benefit, in the sense that it’s going to steal more time away from the church I’m already serving at. It’s going to be rehashing all the exact same things we studied at Boyce. . . . I’m very much aware that not many people will hire me without a degree. So I think our society has made seminary necessary. I think biblically and in reality, it’s not, but you’re going to be hard-pressed to find a job in ministry without a degree, because it’s what everyone wants.

The Bubble

One final recurring theme that emerged among a significant number of Bible college and liberal arts university participants was identified as the perspective at the root of a common terminological reference–“the bubble.” Nearly half of all Bible college and liberal arts university students included in this study voluntarily used this term in the course of the research interview when discussing the nature of their institutional context. Ashley, a Bible college student who transferred to Boyce college after attending a secular university, referenced the term while acknowledging the danger of losing a real-world perspective within the confines of a strictly evangelical environment. She said,

They warned us when we came into Boyce about the “Boyce bubble.” They said, “You’re going to form this bubble and not want to get out into the real world and be around real people.” And I’ve seen that. If I go home for a weekend and I’m around unbelievers it’s hard to adjust to that, because you’re daily surrounded by believers (at school). So when you’re among unbelievers it’s hard to adjust. It’s almost like culture shock. It’s always hard for me, because when I was in a secular college it wasn’t that it didn’t bother me, but it was nothing to hear girls on my basketball team cuss and swear. And now when I hear those things, it throws me off. In that aspect, I think it’s a drawback–if you get so surrounded by believers everyday and it gives you a culture shock when you go into the real world. I think there should be a balance there. Yes, it’s okay to be around believers but don’t isolate yourself either.

As a liberal arts university senior, Kevin reflected on both the benefits and the costs of his educational environment. He provided this response when asked if he would choose to attend the same type of school again, rather than choosing to experience an institutional context that included a greater diversity of worldviews and confrontational cultural norms.

Absolutely I would. There’s no question about that. For better or worse, Union is the way that it is, and you do miss out on some of those interactions. But at the same time, I’m just extremely grateful for the way that Union approaches learning in general and how it views the intellectual life as something that comes under the authority of Christ. The philosophy that Union has is that learning is something that is ultimately supposed to prepare us to meet God face to face. So that’s something that’s not going to be the focus at secular universities, where you have more learning to equip you for some type of career or task. I don’t think that focus is what it should be. Not to mention, the opposition from professors that you would face, who are skeptical of Christianity, the opposition from other students in the student body, and just the general degenerative environment that unfortunately pervades a lot of secular campuses, where you have a lot of temptations and a lot of immorality going on.

Considering The Impact of Social-Environmental Conditions

A second extension of the structured analysis component of this series of studies is the intentional consideration of the impact of differing social-environmental conditions relating to personal discipleship and formation, life and ministry preparation, and epistemological maturity. To this end, the initial research study in the series analyzed participants’ experiences and perspectives with regard to three particular conditions: challenges to personal beliefs and values, interaction with ideological diversity, and exposure to multiple disciplines. A number of distinctive contextual realities and perspectives stemming from students’ immersion in their respective institutional contexts were uncovered. For pre-ministry undergraduates, these distinctions are likely to influence the trajectory of personal development, the course of epistemological maturity, and the application of gained knowledge and skills in the practice of ministry.

Challenges to Personal Beliefs and Values

The first social-environmental condition explored by the researcher with regard to participants’ experiences within their respective institutional contexts was the nature and impact of personal confrontations with worldviews that served to challenge one’s own beliefs and values. The division between categorical perspectives with regard to students’ experiences was understandably stark. One-hundred percent of secular university students experienced interactions within their educational environments that directly challenged and conflicted with their core, fundamental beliefs. By contrast, no Bible college or liberal arts university students reported such interactions. Sixty percent of participants from both of these sample groupings did report experiencing interactions within their educational environments that posed challenges to their non-fundamental beliefs.

Core, fundamental beliefs. While all secular university students expressed that they had the experience of confronting direct challenges to their core beliefs and values as a result of immersion in their respective institutional contexts, it is important to note that no students reported that they doubted their core convictions as a result. Many did, however, state that engaging with conflicting worldviews served as a means of helping them mature in their own formation and application of the biblical worldview. Adam addressed his appreciation for these confrontational experiences in this way:

I definitely value them now, although at the time it was hard to value them. Looking back and thinking about it, it’s like, “If not for those things that challenged me, I wouldn’t be as confident in what I believe.” So because of these controversial things that came up, I was able to realize and fully develop my own opinion on the matters so that I can be more confident in them. I definitely value them, although they challenged me at the time.

More specifically, numerous students described the connection between their interactions with non-Christian worldviews and cultural norms during college, and the emergence of a missional perspective according to which they began to view their ministry calling. Richard, a recent graduate from Western Kentucky University, articulated such an attitude as he spoke about how challenges to his core beliefs and values led to a more self-invested and responsible personal faith and missional attitude toward doubters and skeptics.

Being exposed to a lot of anti-Christian philosophical arguments, it makes you have to think. It really challenged me in a lot of what I believed. So there was never a point of outright disbelief, like “I’m not entirely sure what I think,” or “I’m not entirely sure what I believe.” But I had to really rely on God and sort things out: What do I believe myself?–not “How was I raised to think?” or “What did everyone else tell me about how I was supposed to believe?” but “What exactly do I see in Scripture and who is the God that I see that exists, and how does he reveal himself?” So it was really that first year at Western, three years ago, when I went through a time of skepticism. And through that time, God really showed me a lot about how I needed to handle people, and he also showed me a lot about what to say to other people that were dealing with a lot of the same things that I dealt with. It was like God led me through that valley to show and teach me a lot, so that now when I deal with people who are at that place like I was, I know what to say, I know much more how to handle what they’re going through.

Non-fundamental beliefs. Among Bible college and liberal arts university students, 60% of respondents reported experiencing challenges to non-fundamental beliefs, but not core beliefs. Among these was William, a recent liberal arts university graduate. He provided a very thoughtful and reflective articulation regarding the experience and benefit of interacting with varying theological and philosophical perspectives while maintaining an openness to having his own perspective revised–within the bounds of orthodoxy.

There are a lot of incorporations of philosophy that the church throws out very often, even some postmodern ideas, or post-structuralistic or whatever you want to call it. And for me, the requirement to engage with those ideas was really good because it made me think about how I have been taught or asked to swallow the pill of just holistically rejecting those ideas. And I think the reality is that there’s a lot of good knowledge there, and some ideas that line up with biblical thinking. And I think that that is what some of us might call “common grace.” We should not holistically embrace those ideas but dissect them, or, to borrow a term from the times–“deconstruct” them–and realize that conservative ideas hold a lot of good truth, but neither are they holistically true. That led me to think about some maybe academically leftist ideas and pick apart where they might line up with some biblical truths, but also identify where they’re dangerous and where they don’t.

Interaction with Ideological Diversity

The second social-environmental condition intentionally explored by the researcher was the nature and impact of participants’ interaction with interfaith dialogue across varying institutional types. More broadly, this condition addressed the extent to which pre-ministry students’ were exposed to ideological diversity and the level at which they interacted with competing ideologies, according to their respective college environments. Findings regarding this condition were essentially identical to the previous condition.

Oppositional worldviews.

Without exception, every secular university student reported that his or her primary interaction with ideological diversity involved engaging people within the college environment who held oppositional worldviews. Among Bible college and liberal arts university students, one student from each context reported that his primary experience with diverse ideologies during college involved engaging people with non-Christian ideologies. In both of these cases, however, the student’s medium of interaction was completely removed from any campus-based context.

Similar to the findings related to the first condition, a common refrain of secular university students with regard to their encounters with diverse ideologies was that those experiences enabled them to establish and apply a missional perspective. One such expression was provided by Cody, who spoke about how his interactions with diverse worldviews served to frame his perspective about his ministerial calling. Regarding the impact of those interactions, he said,

I would say that the biggest impact it has is that I would have classes with twenty or thirty people, and there might be one other person I know who’s a Christian, but there are eighteen others who aren’t. And you get to have group discussions–especially in the Religious Studies program, where every class is discussion based. You get to have lots of discussions and peer-editing papers, and lots of just going and grabbing lunch with people after class and hanging out and inviting guys to come over and watch a movie–all kinds of different stuff. It just gives you a heart for a broken world. It is living in an environment where you have to be missional minded, because 90% of the people around you don’t believe in the gospel.

 

Later in the same interview, speaking of how his default perspective toward non-Christians fundamentally changed, Cody said,

Before college I had this view of non-Christians–like they had this disease, and I would have to act differently around them and talk differently around them. And it was the same early in college, like I had to have my guard up to lots of friends that I made that were not believers . . . Kind of this leprosy thing. It took a while to be exposed to it enough to realize I have the same leprosy that they do–the same sickness–to not be scared of the fact that they are an unrepentant sinner, but to really embrace the fact that I also was that. There’s kind of a level ground there, that I had to almost walk up to, or I guess walk down to–where I thought too highly of myself and I thought that these people were weird and I didn’t want to be friends with them; I didn’t want to let them into my life; I didn’t want to know them. And so being at a secular university really exposes that.

Differing doctrine or ecclesiology. A majority of Bible college and liberal arts university students reported that their primary interaction with ideological diversity in college involved engaging other evangelical Christians with differing doctrinal or ecclesiological positions. Eighty percent of liberal arts students responded in this way, as well as 60% of Bible college students. A typical response among participants from these two sample groupings to the researcher’s question, “Did you encounter ideas during college that challenged your own beliefs and values?” was Steven’s. He said,

Yeah, I had a roommate for 3 years that grew up in the Assemblies of God church. I was raised Independent Southern Baptist. So obviously meeting my roommate, we had tons of theological discussions about different ideas. So yeah, I did come into contact with a lot of different beliefs. I even found, after spending some time at some different churches and spending time around the pastors on staff there, a lot people who believe the same thing but emphasize different things. So I always thought that was interesting too. I did get a lot of different beliefs, but nothing that I would’ve ever broken fellowship over. I would say there was definitely more people that I met that believed similarly to me but placed emphasis on different things.

Exposure to Multiple Disciplines

The final condition explored by the researcher addressed exposure to multiple disciplines. This condition was not applicable to Bible college students, since their curricula did not include multi-disciplinary requirements. The researcher specifically asked participants from liberal arts and secular universities about the value and perceived benefit of exposure to multiple disciplines. This was in an effort to potentially discern an identifiable relationship between exposure to interdisciplinary studies and pre-ministry students’ epistemological maturity. Analysis, however, did not reveal any relationship between encountering or valuing interdisciplinary studies and participants’ epistemological positioning. Overall, half of participants from each sample grouping expressed that they felt their experience with multiple disciplines was significant and helpful.

Conclusion: Research Applications

The findings and observations discussed in this article are drawn from the first in a series of ongoing research studies that are exploring the variance of epistemological development and maturity among pre-ministry undergraduates according to institutional affiliation. The completion of current and future follow-up studies will serve not only to fill a void in the area of undergraduate development, but more strategically will serve the church by highlighting the idiosyncrasies, benefits, and drawbacks of differing collegiate environments.

This research directly applies to current or forthcoming evangelical college students who have made (or will make) commitments to pursue vocational ministry. This line of research offers a unique aggregate of perspectives, delivered by the first-person viewpoints of pre-ministry undergraduates from multiple schools across differing contexts, regarding the nature of distinctive collegiate environments as it is related to the experiences of evangelical students in general, and pre-ministry students in particular. Students may utilize this research as a tool for introspection, evaluation of their own current college experiences, and diagnosis of their own trends of discipleship and maturation. Considering the implications presented above regarding the environmental distinctions between contexts, current or forthcoming pre-ministry students may gain an awareness of ways in which they should seek to capitalize on the opportunities provided within their own contexts, as well as ways in which they may seek to expand their personal growth and preparedness for ministry by engaging outside contexts. For example, pre-ministry students in secular college environments may intentionally seek opportunities and methods by which to enrich their knowledge, understanding, and application of biblical presuppositions and key theological concepts and issues—while also taking advantage of the extraordinary opportunities for authentic relational interaction and missional engagement with non-Christians.

In the same way that this research applies to current or forthcoming pre-ministry undergraduates, it also applies to those who advise them and mentor them. Thus, parents, mentors, local church pastors and ministry leaders, campus-based ministry directors, and any others entrusted with influence in the lives of future vocational ministers may utilize this research to inform the wisdom of their counsel.

This research also applies to college teachers, administrators, and student service professionals at higher educational institutions that train future ministers. Teachers may utilize this research to evaluate their effectiveness in facilitating students’ intellectual development and overall maturity, as well as their relational connections with students. Such was clearly demonstrated in this study to be key element of pre-ministry undergraduates’ college experiences. Student service professionals and administrators at evangelical colleges may utilize this research to review their diagnostic methods of evaluating students’ Christian formation, as well as to inform their priorities and practices with regard to encouraging students’ personal maturation. Also for higher education personnel, this research may be utilized as an evaluative tool with regard to the formational efficacy of the institution’s curriculum design and implementation.

Finally, this research applies to seminary faculty and administrators at institutions that receive graduates from varying collegiate environmental backgrounds. This study provides significant insights regarding the variation of epistemic positions and attitudinal perspectives on the part of current and incoming seminarians according to their respective, divergent collegiate experiences—academically, socially, and culturally. Particularly, these insights may be used to inform seminaries’ methods and processes of assimilating and advising prospective and incoming students, as well as new and current students.

 

[1] John David Trentham, “Epistemological Development in Pre-Ministry Undergraduates: A Cross-Institutional Application of the Perry Scheme” (Ph.D. diss., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2012).

[2] The full interview protocol is included in the Appendix 5 of Trentham, “Epistemological Development in Pre-Ministry Undergraduates.”

[3] William G. Perry, Jr., Forms of Ethical and Intellectual Development in the College Years: A Scheme (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1970). The Perry Scheme proposes that undergraduates and young adults progress in epistemological maturity by progressing through a series of positions which represent movement away from dualistic forms of thinking in favor of forms that are contextual and relativistic, propelled by decentering encounters with diversity through the college experience. A guiding premise for this line or research is that there is an evident consistency between the pattern of development suggested by Perry and the biblical pattern for transformative maturation unto wisdom through progressive sanctification.

[4] The Principle of Inverse Consistency maintains that a preliminary commitment to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture must be the guiding evaluative premise on which all secular developmental models are assessed. The orderly world is so created by God that secular social science research may accurately observe and identify human developmental patterns and behaviors. The noetic effects of sin are so pervasive, however, that the ability of secular researchers to rightly interpret those patterns is radically limited. Namely due to its anthropocentric disposition, secular social scientific analysis cannot adequately prescribe norms of growth and maturation. Rather than conformity to Christ, positive development is conceived in terms of self-identity or self-actualization. While secular and biblical models may include consistent patterns of maturation, they are oriented toward respectively opposite goals: self and Christ. Inverse consistencies thus exist between the biblical notion of positive maturation and secular developmental notions, which in the the Perry Scheme entails an existentialist form of self-referential identity and commitment.

[5] See Trentham, 128.

[6]The most recent and exhaustive analysis of the influence of the college experience is Ernest T. Pascarella and Patrick T. Terenzini, How College Affects Students: A Third Decade of Research, 2nd ed. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005).

[7]This is described by Lewin’s interactionist equation, B = f (P X E), which is the foundational principle for understanding college student development theory. See Nancy Evans et al., Student Development in College: Theory Research and Practice, 2nd ed. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 29.

[8] Epistemological position ratings of interviewees were determined according to evaluation and scoring analysis performed by William S. Moore, director of the Center for the Study of Intellectual Development (CSID). The researcher’s original content analysis framework, rooted in biblical presuppositions and focusing on epistemological priorities and competencies, confirmed the ratings of the CSID for each institutional grouping.

[9] For instance, in the initial study, among participants who were five years or less removed from high school, liberal arts university students reflected a distinguishably higher collective position of epistemological maturity.

[10]Alexander W. Astin, What Matters in College? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass (1993), 383-98. See also Astin’s helpful and succinct summary of the study: Astin, “What Matters in College?” Liberal Education 79 (1993), Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed November 6, 2012).

[11]Personal names of all interviewees have been changed to preserve anonymity.

[12]Ernest T. Pascarella and Patrick T. Terenzini, How College Affects Students: A Third Decade of Research, 2nd ed. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005), 572.

[13]Ibid., 577.

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