I hate gnats.
I particularly hate the gnats called the no-see-ums or sandflies. They are present certain months of the year on the beach. Though almost invisible to the naked eye, they can pack a powerful sting.
All who serve in vocational ministry have gnats. They come with the call. They are the critics. They are those who always have a better way to do things. They are the ones who expect you to visit them regularly. They are the ones who always speak up in a business meeting, always negatively.
They won’t ever go away. So you can either leave ministry because of them, or you can deal with them. Here are seven ways you can deal with gnats.
Realize gnats are gnats
They are troublesome, at times demoralizing, but never fatal. Well, they are not fatal unless you treat them like the larger problem they are not.
Look beyond the gnat moments
If you are a pastor or church staff leader, you will have gnats. You will have those who seem to constantly bug you (pun intended). But the issue almost always goes away. You will look back on those gnat moments and wonder why you acted like it was a major crisis.
Focus on those things that really matter
If you focus on the gnats, they can take you down. If you focus on those things God has called you to do, you will forget about the gnats.
Pray for the gnat source
Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44). We can do the same with our gnat sources.
Realize gnats are a cost of leading ministry
Some pastors and church staff move from church to church trying to get away from gnats. But they simply move from one nest of gnats to another. God called you to ministry. He didn’t promise it would be easy; and He didn’t promise He would remove the gnats of our ministry.
Find joy where joy is evident
I once coached a pastor who was gnat-obsessed. He couldn’t find joy in his ministry because he was too busy focusing on the small bites of the gnats. I coached another pastor who seemed to have the same level of gnat attacks. But he focused on the great things God was doing in his church. Do you want to guess which pastor is doing well in ministry today?
Seek a wise confidant
Perhaps you can find a wise mentor in ministry who has several gnat bites himself. If they have persevered in ministry and still have joy in their local churches, they can offer great perspectives for you who are experiencing gnats today.
In my younger years, I tried to make gnats go away. Now that I am older, and hopefully wiser, I realize gnats are a part of ministry.
We must not only accept a gnat-infested ministry, we must learn to accept the gnats, pray for the gnats, and love the gnats.
Then, and only then, can we know the true joy of serving in the local church.
Thom Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Rainer received both a master of divinity and Ph.D. from Southern Seminary and was founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism from 1994 to 2005. He is the author of many books and served as a a pastor for several years. This article was originally published on Rainer’s blog.
“How should my church do short-term missions?” Pastors, missions pastors, or local church missions committees that desire to involve their church in short-term missions opportunities should probably consider this question in deciding how to engage their church in the world missions endeavor. That’s especially true when we desire to do biblical missions. If we as churches and church leaders desire to be “people of the Book,” doing missions biblically should be our ultimate aim.Missions experience or missions strategy?
As pastors and church leaders, we need to ask ourselves, “Do we want a missions experience or a missions strategy?” Some churches look for trip opportunities that will yield a captivating report at the end of the trip. Unfortunately, sometimes little thought is given to what of eternal value will be accomplished on the trip. If we are going to be investing large amounts of money, personnel, and time on a missions trip, isn’t it wise to consider what it is we hope to accomplish for the Kingdom?
As we look at missions opportunities, we need to pass each opportunity through a biblical sieve to make sure that what we are doing actually fulfills what the Lord would have us do. The gospels give us statements of Jesus that every Christian should heed. The Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) commands us to “make disciples,” “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ and believers in the Great Commission, we need to take seriously the both the “make disciples” and the “all that I have commanded you” parts.Isn’t loving people enough?
Someone might push back and say, “But there is also the Great Commandment. Isn’t it enough to just love people in Jesus’ name?” It is true that Jesus did command us to love God with all we are and all we have and to love our neighbor as ourselves. This should be a part of every Christian’s daily walk. Sometimes churches plan missions trips around “helping ministries.” Some missions trip participants may not be comfortable with evangelism or discipleship projects, but they are comfortable with helping ministries such as medical missions, construction projects, or feeding projects. I am not arguing against any such projects. We should be doing them where they are needed, but we must keep the mandate of the Great Commission in mind at all times—“make disciples.” Sometimes our people need to be stretched in the area of making disciples.Sending the discipled to disciple
In the past, when evangelical churches and denominations have thought about how to fulfill the Great Commission, the emphasis has often been strictly on evangelism and church planting. However, the longer and often the messier task is to ensure that believers are growing into true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Likewise, it is a different challenge to not only plant churches, but to plant churches that are doing the job of making disciples effectively.
Disciples are made by disciples, therefore the task of fulfilling the Great Commission truly begins at home. Those we send to the world need to be disciples themselves.
Some action points toward the goal of sending true disciples to the world for the purpose of disciple-making might include:
• Utilize discipleship small groups to emphasize Great Commission goals.
• Plan evangelism outreach as with built-in opportunities to mentor church members.
• Model evangelism and disciple-making before our members.
• Send out members to plant churches locally.
There are surely many more ways to be prepared as a church body to fulfill the Great Commission worldwide, but this is a start.Planning a strategy
Once we have teams that are called and prepared to do what we have practiced and accomplished at home, we need to think of effective ways to put them to good use in a foreign setting. This requires some planning, but can be accomplished by churches and leaders who approach the task prayerfully and creatively.
Some strategies for being intentional about discipleship on the mission field might be:
• Ensure there is an evangelism and/or discipleship component involved on every trip.
• Focus on ways to strengthen the local church on the field.
• Mentor national leaders while you minister on the field—Don’t just do, but teach to do.
• Leave national leaders in charge of ongoing follow-up and teach them how to do it.
• Focus on one place in the world and set goals for strengthening churches and believers in that place over several years.
• These are a few suggestions, but certainly not an exhaustive list. Pray about other ways to be intentional about making disciples through short-term missions. When churches take such an intentional approach to making disciples on the mission field, national churches are strengthened, the work is multiplied, and disciples are made—biblically.
Anthony Steele serves as Training Facilitator for Latin America with Reaching & Teaching International Ministries. He is a Southern Seminary graduate (M.Div. 1988, D.Miss. 2016) He is married to Beverly and has two children and four grandchildren. This article was originally published at Reaching & Teaching.
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In 1879, Crawford H. Toy resigned his position as Southern Seminary’s professor of Old Testament due to conflict between his views on biblical inspiration and the institution’s confessional statement, the Abstract of Principles. Toy’s departure — necessary to preserve the school’s doctrinal integrity and uphold the trust of the Southern Baptist Convention — left a great void of scholarship that the remaining seminary faculty was anxious to fill. In 1883, the seminary found its man, a young professor named George W. Riggan.
A native of Virginia named in honor of George Washington, Riggan professed faith in Christ as a teenager and pursued the Baptist ministry after abandoning a potential career as a boatman. Having graduated from Richmond College with high honors, he enrolled at Southern Seminary eager to apply himself to both dutiful scholarship and frequent preaching opportunities. Even John A. Broadus, widely regarded as one of the finest preachers of his day, remarked that Riggan “spent too much time in preaching … and during the second session he was sometimes taken ill, and he simply replied that he was sure it was his duty.”
Riggan’s rigorousness earned him a position as an assistant instructor in Hebrew, Greek, and homiletics even before his graduation from the seminary. In addition to his academic work, he served as a commuting pastor of the historic Forks of Elkhorn Baptist Church of Woodford County, Kentucky. Distinguishing himself as the antithesis of Crawford Toy, Riggan authored multiple articles published in Baptist newspapers that defended the infallibility of Scripture and the trustworthiness of the biblical canon. In his 1883 article titled “What Is the Proper Attitude towards Recent Biblical Criticism,” Riggan cautioned against uncritical acceptance of the claims of grammatical-historical critics that undermined the authority of Scripture.
This theme also characterized his faculty inaugural address, which he titled “The Preacher’s Adaptation to His Intellectual Environment,” delivered Oct. 1, 1883. Fittingly enough (considering the Darwinian naturalism which had adversely influenced Toy’s theology), Riggan’s address opened with an acknowledgment of the predominance of the “survival of the fittest” lifecycle in the natural world, observing how adaptation to environment is an essential component of nature. He proposed that a preacher should likewise adapt himself to his intellectual environment, defined as “the intellectual influences which distinguish his time and country from other times and countries.”
Riggan emphasized this intellectual adaptation must never be an accommodation to the unbiblical conclusions of modern thought, because “as the messenger of God must not slavishly imitate or affect the tastes of his community … so in intellectual matters he must not be a mouthpiece for this time.” The Christian preacher must be wise in applying the truths of Scripture to the problems of his own day. Riggan’s call to adaptation meant a preacher must cultivate “close intellectual sympathy with his hearers … for the preacher’s power as a man, apart from the authority of his message and the Spirit’s presence, is the power of sympathy.” Furthermore, the preacher’s adaptation would enable him to appreciate the positive contributions of modern thought while granting him “a knowledge of the best points of attack.” A well-informed argument makes a strong case for truth, rather than simply pontificate complaints at the world’s many problems.
Riggan encouraged busy pastors to make greater strides to understand the ultimate roots of cultural thought in ways that went beyond newspaper headlines or mundane conversations. At the same time, he warned the eager preacher against becoming seduced by modern thought to such an extent as to “talk with more zest about science and art than about personal religion.”
Less than two years later, Riggan died suddenly on April 18, 1885, after being stricken with meningitis at the age of 30. John A. Broadus delivered his funeral sermon, which was later published in his Sermons and Addresses (1886), and remarked highly of Riggan’s acute intellect, high personal character, commitment to doctrinal orthodoxy, and unbridled enthusiasm for Christian service: “While fully in sympathy with the spirit of progress, and eagerly examining all living questions, Dr. Riggan was unwaveringly convinced of the truth of those opinions which are established among Baptists concerning the authority of Scripture and the Theology which Scripture exhibits.”
Like the thrill of a well-orchestrated fireworks display, Riggan’s lifespan was brief yet memorable. Had his health endured, he would likely have become one of the seminary’s most accomplished and respected professors. The full text of his inaugural address can be downloaded from the Boyce Digital Library: http://digital.library.sbts.edu/handle/10392/4929.
John A. Broadus, Sermons & Addresses (Baltimore: H. M. Wharton & Company, 1886), 354-55.
George W. Riggan, “What Is the Proper Attitude towards Recent Biblical Criticism,” Religious Herald, January 18, 1883. Gregory A. Wills, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1859-2009 (Oxford University Press, 2009), 59.
Riggan, “The Preacher’s Adaptation to His Intellectual Environment: Inaugural Address” (Louisville: Hull & Brothers, 1883), 7.
Broadus, Sermons & Addresses, 360.
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All injustice should be resisted, but what injustice is the evangelical church best equipped to address?
As you look at Scripture passages like Micah 6, Isaiah 58, and Luke 10, it becomes pretty clear that justice is at the heart of discipleship. If the church is not responding to issues of injustice, then we are not responding to God’s heart for the world. So, the question is not, “What injustice should we address?” as much as it is “What are we doing to address the injustice around us?”
How can seminary students best use their free time to get involved in matters of justice?
Having graduated from seminary myself, I can recognize how insular an experience it can be. However, the antidote for that is to leave the confines of the campus and to engage in conversations, interactions, and issues with those that face injustice. It might be a single mother or an inner-city youth or an aftercare home in Cambodia. But the first step should be an intentional step outward.
What is a helpful, introductory book a student could read to become educated about matters of economic injustice, specifically?
When you have people in poverty and people in power in close proximity, it can lead to economic injustice and, too often, slavery. In fact, the UN estimates that there are 4 billion people (half the world!) that live outside the protection of basic law enforcement with an estimated 45 million people trapped in slavery. To learn more about the realities and tragedies of economic injustice, I would recommend reading Gary Haugen’s The Locust Effect.
Book Reviews: ‘Revitalize’;‘Exalting Jesus in Hebrews’;‘The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life’;‘Christ Alone’
Revitalize: Biblical Keys to Helping Your Church Come Alive Again by Andrew M. Davis (Baker Books 2017, $15.99)
Review by S. Craig Sanders
Church revitalization is a trending topic in American evangelicalism and it’s no surprise why — thousands of churches close their doors each year and the number of unchurched adults in the United States continues to escalate. But the challenge of revitalization has persisted since Christ’s message to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, writes SBTS alumnus Andrew M. Davis in his new book Revitalize.
Writing from his experience pastoring the historic First Baptist Church of Durham for nearly 20 years, Davis casts a vision for transforming congregations grounded in Christ’s ownership of the church and the proclamation of the Word in expository preaching. Davis also offers advice for handling opposition and raising up leaders in pastoral ministry, sharing personal stories and practical tips. His careful and systematic approach to this topic, in addition to his track record in ministry, make this book a must-read for pastors and seminarians.
Exalting Jesus in Hebrews by R. Albert Mohler Jr. (Holman Reference 2017, $14.99)
Review By S. Craig Sanders
In the first volume of Holman’s Christ-Centered Exposition series to feature the CSB translation, SBTS President R. Albert Mohler Jr. provides a clear analysis of the “Christocentric” book of Hebrews in a format ideal for sermon preparation and small group study.
“In order to understand this New Testament letter we must become familiar with the history, themes, and theology of the Old Testament,” Mohler writes. “Hebrews will guide us along this journey, but it is important that we keep our Old Testaments open as we read this epistle.”
Each of the 32 lessons features the main idea of the passage, breaking down the structure into smaller sections with easy-to-read exposition, concluding with “Reflect & Discuss” questions. The book is adapted from Mohler’s two-year teaching series at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville and offers an affordable tool to aid the expository teacher.
The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life: Psalms 1-12 by
Dale Ralph Davis (Christian Focus 2016, $10.99)
Review by Annie Corser
In The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life, author and theologian Dale Ralph Davis provides a rich biblical commentary on Psalms 1-12. Davis exposits each verse to walk the reader through Psalms with his understanding of the biblical languages and stories from personal experience. His application of the text allows the reader to experience delight in God’s Word.
This book is an excellent supplement resource for Christians who desire to dive deeper into Psalms. Davis provides a big picture experience in tracking biblical themes while also analyzing smaller sections of Scripture. Davis argues that Psalm 1 deals with first things. He urges readers to “make sure you are among the congregation of the righteous.” Throughout the rest of the Psalms, Davis explores how righteousness is opposed to wickedness. This process leads to an application of relying on God and delighting in his Word.
Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior by Stephen J. Wellum (Zondervan 2017, $24.99)
Review by S. Craig Sanders
Zondervan’s Five Solas series continues to deliver powerful demonstrations of Reformation theology with its fourth book, SBTS theology professor Stephen J. Wellum’s Christ Alone. Each book stands on its own as a gem of systematic and historical theology, but together offer a treasury of wisdom for understanding our heritage and bracing for the doctrinal challenges in our contemporary setting.
Wellum’s book, building off his magisterial God the Son Incarnate (review below), offers a more broad and accessible treatment of Christ’s incarnation and atonement, followed by historical treatment of how the Reformers contended for these doctrines.
“Solus Christus stands at the center of the other four solas, connecting them into a coherent theological system by which the Reformers declared the glory of God,” Wellum writes. “For this reason, we need to attend closely to what the Reformers taught about our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Rather than providing a full-orbed treatment of Reformation Christology, Wellum instead focuses on two central foundations: the exclusive identity of Christ and his sufficient work. In the first part, Wellum explores the storyline of Scripture and how the covenantal development testifies to who Jesus is, in addition to Christ’s self-witness to his identity. He then examines how Christ’s divine-human identity necessitates his exclusivity as redeemer, which includes a focus on Christ’s threefold office as prophet-priest-king and a defense of penal substitutionary atonement.
“From beginning to end, this book confesses with the Reformers that Jesus Christ bears the exclusive identity of God the Son incarnate and has accomplished an all-sufficient work to fulfill God’s eternal plans and establish God’s eternal kingdom on earth,” Wellum writes.
With pluralistic secularism threatening the doctrine of Christ alone, Wellum’s insightful book can provide the blueprint for withstanding the storm of cultural opposition.
God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ by Stephen J. Wellum (CROSSWAY 2016, $40)
With the approaching of Easter on April 16, evangelicals can expect the annual parade of skeptics questioning the historicity of Jesus’ death and resurrection, not to mention his identity as the Son of God. But in a culture that values pluralism and dismisses the exclusivity of Jesus as presented in Scripture, the church must hold fast to its confessional Christology, writes Southern Seminary theology professor Stephen J. Wellum in God the Son Incarnate.
“Orthodox Christology remains the most faithful to the biblical presentation of Christ and the most coherent theological formulation of his identity and significance,” Wellum writes in the introduction. “Such a classic Christology, however, must be articulated amid a new cultural disposition toward Christ and defended against current challenges born out of confusion regarding the identity of Christ.”
As part of Crossway’s Foundations of Evangelical Theology series, Wellum’s volume equips the local church with a robust Christology for both clearer gospel proclamation and personal edification in Christ. Wellum integrates epistemology with biblical theology and church history, concluding with a contemporary defense rooted in the classic confessions.
Wellum confronts both the epistemologies of historical Jesus research and secular pluralism, which reject Scripture as the authoritative source for knowledge about the identity of Christ. In response, he argues for a Christology “from above,” using biblical theology as the foundation for formulating a theology and apologetic that is orthodox and defensible against contemporary challenges.
In his presentation of biblical theology, Wellum demonstrates how the “epochs of creation, fall, redemption, and inauguration-consummation shape the way the Scriptures present and identify Jesus” as one who came forth from the covenant relationships God established with Israel. Furthermore, the self-identification of Jesus in the Gospels and the testimony of the apostles throughout the New Testament provide inerrant and authoritative witness that Jesus is God the Son incarnate.
“The all-glorious Creator-Covenant Lord assumed a full and sinless human nature, such that the eternal Son became a man in order to restore humanity to its vice-regent glory and to inaugurate the new creation, over which the new humanity will rule in righteousness in the age to come,” Wellum writes. “In this way and by these glorious means, our Lord Jesus Christ becomes our great prophet, priest, and king, the head of the new creation, the Lord of glory, who is worthy of all our worship, adoration, and praise.”
Wellum then offers ecclesiological warrant for our Christology by surveying church history, particularly how the Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon refuted heresy and provided a guide for Christians today for articulating orthodoxy. Heresy drove the church to become precise in its Christology, and Christians must remain within the boundaries set forth under the ministerial authority of church tradition.
The primary focus of Wellum’s examination of contemporary challenges is the infiltration of kenoticism in American evangelicalism. Both in its ontological and functional streams to varying degrees, kenoticism teaches “the Son ceased to possess certain attributes of deity in order for him to become truly human.” Wellum appeals to extra Calvinisticum (or extra Catholicum) to defend the orthodox truth that Jesus was not limited by his human nature but was active in exercising his divine power and authority. In his concluding chapter on apologetics, Wellum addresses the logical coherency of Christology and questions regarding Christ’s knowledge and his ability to be tempted.
CS: God the Son Incarnate has received several major accolades. What was your writing process for this volume?
SW: John Feinberg, editor of the series Foundations of Evangelical Theology brought me on board for this particular volume, which was devoted to the person of Christ. Normally, Christology would cover both personhood and work. This one is on the nature of the incarnation, the identity of Christ, and his exclusive uniqueness. It’s to be a theology book that restates orthodox theology for today, and there’s a number of ways you can do that. I tried to make sure I show from Scripture who Jesus is and then work through if orthodoxy is even viable. I’d say it is a true presentation of who Jesus is and set in the context of our contemporary era. It’s dealing with the challenges of the day, how we as Christians present, particularly in the age of pluralism, an exclusive Christ and his exclusive identity. It wrestles with biblical authority, how we draw conclusions from Scripture, and then a full-blown presentation of the person of Christ.
CS: What do you hope is the fruit of this God the Son Incarnate in years to come?
SW: I hope it would be a contemporary restatement of orthodox Christology for today, so people will be able to see the Jesus of the Bible is God the Son from all of eternity, the second person of the Trinity who has become flesh. The goal is to have people better understand the history of the doctrine. When we say, “He’s fully God, fully man, one person, two natures,” understand the depth and thought that went into that statement for the last 2,000 years. People today will be able to reaffirm what the church has always affirmed through the ages and do that in our contemporary setting.
CS: What challenges did you face approaching this doctrine through epistemology, biblical theology, and historical theology?
SW: First, it’s what’s necessary to do theology. When we do theology we’re having to turn to the Scriptures for justification. In the particular case of Christology, it has to have grounding epistemologically. Then we have to make sure we are using a proper interpretation of Scripture, and doing so on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. What does that divine revelation say? What has the church said, and how do we integrate that with our exegesis? It’s a totally integrated approach, showcasing our theological grounding and what the text is saying in light of church history, giving us the full-orbed Christological doctrine.
CS: What is the importance of Scripture for understanding our Christology? It’s an obvious question, but when you look at Scripture for informing your Christology, what are you focusing on?
SW: As I look at Scripture as foundational for Christology, I do so in the context of the Enlightenment, post-Enlightenment debates of today, and church history. The church has traditionally viewed Christology from above, or God’s revelation of himself in Scripture. With the Enlightenment the importance of starting with divine revelation unraveled. When we say that Jesus is God the Son we are making metaphysical statements. We can only make those kinds of definitive, true statements if we have an authoritative revelation to back that up. You have to go back and ground everything in what God has said and the Jesus of the Bible, which comes from Scripture.
CS: As you were working on this project, what was most encouraging for you personally?
SW: It’s been an absolute delight. As I got into it I realized there’s nothing more important than who Jesus is, and as you think about the Son of God, you’re getting to hear the entire revelation of Scripture. You’re getting to the heart of the Son’s relationship to the Father and the Spirit. You’re having to think through how the whole Bible presents who Jesus is, and you are being led to a greater confidence, trust, worship, and obedience to this Son of God who has come, taken on flesh, lived and died for us, and accomplished our salvation. These are difficult issues to wrestle with, yet it has also resulted in a greater sense of love and adoration for the Lord Jesus.
CS: How does God the Son Incarnate and your work with this book tie into your next book Christ Alone, part of the Five Solas series?
SW: The two books go hand-in-hand. God the Son Incarnate is primarily focusing on the person of Christ. Christ Alone is giving us both person and work, and it’s set in the context of celebrating the Reformation. The Reformers dealt heavily with the sufficiency of Christ’s work as he alone is the basis for our salvation and justification. Christ Alone takes elements of God the Son Incarnate but develops it more in terms of integrating the person and work together.
CS: As we look at the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, what are some of the contemporary challenges you’re most concerned about for our classical Christology?
SW: For our own day, there is this sense that there is no one religious view that is true. That is something our entire culture has adopted and embraced without necessarily thinking about why it embraces it. Jesus of the Bible is one religious figure among many, but is he alone Lord and Savior? It’s the exclusivity of Christ, his utter uniqueness, that spills over obviously into his work because you can’t have an all-sufficient work without a unique redeemer. In our day, the larger philosophical streams will try to say human language and thought is simply a construction of reality. When we say that Jesus is God the Son incarnate, we’re not just making interesting language. We’re saying something about who he truly is, about what reality really is. So the issue of truth and the defense of the exclusive, unique, and all-sufficient work of Christ are the big challenges of our day.
CS: When you’re teaching this doctrine in class, what do you find is the most common misunderstanding students have of this doctrine today?
SW: The most common is the lack of understanding of historical theology. We’ve obviously studied church history, but it wasn’t as much of a priority as it should have been to understand what people in the church have said in the past. I’ve found as you delve into areas of Christology, particularly as you move through biblical texts, people ask, “How do you put these pieces together?” So you present clearly Christ’s deity and then he will say in the Gospels, “I don’t know the end, only the Father does,” and you say, “How do I reconcile that?” Well the church has done so. They’ve thought through it very carefully and created all kinds of theological languages, vocabularies, and judgments based on Scripture to make sense of Christ’s person. While writing God the Son Incarnate, it was about 80,000 words longer than it eventually ended up being, and I had to chop down parts one and two, the contemporary and the biblical context. What I didn’t chop down was part three, which dealt with history, because I felt that many students today don’t know the history of the church, the rich heritage, and the orthodox consensus that carried through the Enlightenment and spanned across Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant circles. It was important to tell that story and then also make the point that the post-Chalcedon theology the church formulated is consistent with what the Scripture teaches.
CS: How do you hope this book can serve the church and equip them for understanding the doctrine of Christ?
SW: It’s academic because of the subject nature of the topic. To wrestle with the nature of the incarnation inevitably you have to wrestle with difficult concepts in light of what people have said in the past. I do think it should be accessible, especially for pastors who have gone through seminary training, but also those who are willing to take the time and walk through it. I have heard some say, “I’ve never had any theological training. I’ve been in the churches. I’ve really had to work hard through it, but I’ve understood what you’ve said.” Christ Alone has a more popular sense to it, yet still deals with church history, the nature of the cross, the atonement and so on. I tried to write it in a way that’s not above people’s heads. I’m sort of a middle-of-the-road kind of teacher and theologian. I’ve tried to step it down so it’s more than sort of a popular work, yet if you walk through it carefully, it should be of benefit to most people who want to spend the time and think through the subject matter.
CS: What was significant for you personally as you worked on this book?
SW: When I finished the first draft of the book, I remember saying to my wife, “I don’t even think I began to scratch the surface.” As you work through the biblical material I had to cut out sections I wish I’d spent more time walking through. History had to be summarized. It would be interesting to deal with various individuals and how they put things together in the Middle Ages, worked through the Reformers and the post-Reformers and people even in our own day. There’s so much that’s missing. You have me in brief trying to say, “This is historic, Christian orthodoxy in terms of the person of Christ. It’s true to the Bible. This is the Jesus of the Bible, and this is how I think we can best formulate it in our own day.” There are in evangelical circles diverse Christologies. It’s surprising to see some of that diversity and I try to argue against some of that diversity and to say in this case the old way is the better way, the old paths are a better way to go. In the end, we’re left with, “I don’t know, I don’t know” on so many matters. How do I make sense of that? It’s coherent, it fits, yet we’re finite people. It’s hard to put all the pieces together. Yet, the Bible gives us a coherent presentation of the glory of the Son of God who’s become flesh for us, for our redemption. More could be said, but at least that’s a start.
It is one of the great dilemmas every Sunday for the pastor. To whom do I speak with and for how long? Many pastors stand at a doorway after the morning service to greet those who are leaving. Others stay down front inviting folks to come and speak with the pastor to ask questions about the sermon.
It is a constant juggling match that most pastors feel they fail at most of the time.
What adds to the madness is the person who aggressively hunts the pastor down after the service and feels entitled to his undivided attention for a long time. This is the person that feels a complete disregard for others that are usually patiently waiting in line. In our church, this person usually is someone who has come in off the street, does not know any better, and wants clothes, food, or money.
This could also be a church member in your church who does not choose the best time to hash out their marital problems with the pastor. Yet, we still do not what to miss any opportunities for ministry to these needy folks, especially if they are souls under our care. What do you do? Three suggestions:
- Give them a moment
We can take this caution too far and not bother with these kinds of people at all. That is wrong. Regardless who they are, where they come from, or what their reason is to talk to “the pastor,” give them a moment so you can find out the basics about them and their need. It will help you know how to proceed with them and possibly involve another leader.
- Train other leaders to step in to help
After preaching and concluding a very important ordination service in our church, I was approached by a homeless woman who walked up to the platform to speak with me before anybody else could reach me. She began to tell me about her problems and they were many. She needed serious help, and had I stood there for two hours, she would have continued to talk that long.
One of our leaders noticed what was happening and realized that was not the best way for me to spend my time as many were waiting to talk to me.
He realized someone else could help. So, this leader came and took the initiative to politely take her to someone else to help her. Train your leaders to notice these moments as folks come asking for food or clothes so they can come to intervene. For me to pass them on to a deacon who is better equipped to help them in that moment is a tremendous blessing to all involved.
If a person is upset with the decision you made at the member’s meeting earlier in the week and is making a scene while berating you about it, find another pastor to come and help take that difficult situation for you. Then, you are able to move to the next person. Train your pastors, deacons, and other leaders to think this way and be aware of what is happening and with discernment, jump in if needed.
- Remember the sheep most commonly neglected
It is hard to pick and choose in these moments. That is why most pastors feel like they fail at it. However, what we can be sure of, is the sheep most neglected are those who do not fight for your time and do not wait in large lines to talk with you.
They do not want to add to burden for you.
Be willing to ask someone to set an appointment with you at the office that week to talk about the issue that will require a longer conversation than you can have on Sunday morning. This gives the pastor the ability to prioritize seeking out that passive sheep that needs your care.
Pastors should be deliberate enough and leading conversations enough that we do not allow our time to be dominated on Sundays by someone else. Be gracious. Be wise. But choose who you will talk to and for how long. If you do not choose, trust me, someone else will choose for you.
The post If Jesus already died for my sins, why do I need to pray for forgiveness every time I sin? appeared first on Southern Equip.
As someone who found and was inspired by the gospel in an academic setting, Daniel M. Gurtner envisions a strengthened relationship between classroom and church at Southern Seminary, hoping to accomplish for his students what the academy did for him.
“I became a Christian in the classroom. I attended a Christian college — Grove City College — and got saved there,” said Gurtner. “I learned to study the Bible in the classroom. I was discipled in the classroom. For me, careful, close study of the Scripture and my walk with Christ have always been hand-in-hand.”
Gurtner joined the SBTS faculty in August 2016 as the Ernest and Mildred Hogan Professor of New Testament Interpretation to teach Greek exegesis, textual criticism, and Second Temple Judaism — subjects close to his heart.
“I really press people to encounter the Word and the Lord well by studying the text first and foremost,” he said.
Gurtner discovered his passion for the Bible during his undergraduate years at Grove City College as a mathematics major. He continued his education by earning his M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. Gurtner would go on to earn his Th.M. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and receive his doctorate in New Testament from the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland.
“[Attending seminary] was the biggest transition for me because I had never really thought about it before,” Gurtner said. “I wasn’t a Christian growing up and I never would have thought about going into seminary.”
Between his years of education and training Gurtner stepped away for two years to work in the pastorate — a move that proved integral to his vocation as an academic. According to Gurtner, it gave him a practical experience he’s since been able to pull from to better instruct his students.
“It certainly becomes relevant when we’re talking about how to apply texts to the little old lady in the nursing home — whom you’re not sure how she is before the Lord,” he said. “How do you speak to her?”
In 2005, Gurtner became a professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where he taught until Southern’s board of trustees designated him to an endowed chair in spring 2016.
“Coming here was a bit of a surprise … I felt like I wasn’t really the type to fit in at Southern. I’m very conservative theologically, but I also do a lot of research outside typical Southern Baptist publications,” said Gurtner. “I came down here and taught a class on textual criticism and just fell in love with the place. Coming to Southern is allowing me to do a lot of things I’ve always wanted to do that I’ve never been able to do.”
A veteran of the academic field as both student and instructor, Gurtner believes a key difference between Southern and other institutions is its faculty and students’ commitment to Scripture.
“I really think that pastors should be trained rigorously to work hard in Greek, Hebrew, and exegesis, and be equipped to handle the Word of God in ministry — and I find that Southern students are really eager to do that,” he said.
This academic freedom allows Gurtner to bring his fields of research into to the classroom and equip expositors of God’s Word for the pulpit.
“A mentality that there is academic study of Scripture on one side and there’s pastoral ministry on the other is profoundly unbiblical,” Gurtner said. “Good thinking should be done for the church — even if it’s not done through sermons and Bible studies and things like that. It’s for the church. I love it when students go through here, get Ph.D.s, write books, and pastor. Some people in the academy may see that as a concession. I think it’s the best of both worlds.”
Gurtner hopes to continue bridging relationships between the ideas and people in high level of the academy with the gospel and the church.
“My burden here is to be someone who is an evangelical and do scholarship with people around the world at a high level,” Gurtner said. “I try to promote and encourage other evangelicals to get involved in that dialogue. Obviously, without compromising the beliefs or your principles, but really as a witness to unbelievers. There are people I get to talk to that I would never get to talk to if it weren’t for the fact that I’m doing the kind of research that I am. It’s my mission field.”
Gurtner and his wife, Beth, and their three children moved the summer of 2016 to Louisville, where they have been settling into Immanuel Baptist Church and adjusting to Gurtner’s new job at Southern.
“People here take the gospel seriously,” said Gurtner. “They take the Word of God really seriously. They’re willing to put in the hard work for it. That enables me to push a kind of academic rigor in the classroom that I think is required for effective pastoral ministry and is essential to handling the Word of God.”
DEARBORN, Mich. — Southern Seminary students visited Dearborn, Michigan, home of the largest concentration of Arab-Americans in the United States, to pray for and evangelize local Muslims, Feb. 24-26. Led by Ayman S. Ibrahim — Bill and Connie Jenkins Professor of Islamic Studies and director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam — the team interacted with a few of the more than 100,000 Arab Americans who comprise at least 45 percent of Dearborn’s population.
The 13 students from Southern and Boyce College visited local Arab bakeries and restaurants, starting conversations with Muslims and discussing the Christian faith. The team also visited the Islamic Center of America, which was one of the largest mosques in the United States when it was built in 2005. Several students received the contact information for Dearborn residents they met during the trip with the intention to have follow-up conversations about the gospel.
Formerly the home of Henry Ford and still the home of Ford Motor Company, Dearborn attracted many Arab car factory workers during the early 20th century and boasts the highest concentration of Muslims of any city in the United States. Most of the students had taken classes with Ibrahim, who is from Egypt originally and overflows with evangelistic passion for Muslims and energetic leadership of his students.
“Evangelism is not impossible, beginning a conversation with Muslims is not impossible, and people are ready to listen,” said Ibrahim, regarding lessons the students learned from the trip. “It’s completely worth it when you see you’re opening eyes and changing minds.”
The team not only saw the religion of Islam close-up when they visited the mosque, but also spoke with practicing Muslims face-to-face, applying in real-time what many of them have learned in class with Ibrahim.
“To me, it’s really encouraging to have learned things in class about Islam and use that [in conversation],” said Josh Hildebrand, an M.Div. student in Islamic Studies who has studied Arabic at Southern. “Having the class definitely made me feel a lot more credible and a lot more respected.”
The trip gave students a more balanced perspective on Muslims, said Ashley Ulrich, a 2013 graduate of Southern Seminary with an M.A. in Education. Most Muslims know very little about Christianity and likely have never talked at length with a Christian. American Christians should not equate all Muslims with ISIS or other terrorist extremists, she said, but recognize them as fellow humans created in God’s image and in need of the gospel.
“Muslims are just people. We build relationships with them in the same exact way that we build relationships with anybody. You find out the superficial stuff first and then you go a little bit deeper,” Ulrich said. “That’s how I get to know every other nationality of people, why would I treat them any differently just because they come from a different religious context?”‘Sharing what you know’
In frigid, wintry Dearborn, the evangelism of Southern and Boyce students was hardly glamorous or tweetable. They gathered each evening during the Feb. 24-26 trip in the small, cluttered choir room of a nearby church and prayed, reported on their evangelistic encounters, and listened to the stories of local outreach veterans from the community. “Muslims in this city have been vaccinated against Christ,” said an Arab Christian about the Middle Eastern Muslims living in the United States, for whom the most basic explanations of the Christian faith are not new. “Reaching them requires a commitment to them [as people], not just a curiosity about them.” The students spread out to local bakeries and restaurants, enjoying local food (“very, very authentic,” according to Ibrahim), and trying to jump-start spiritual conversations. For several, it was hard sledding, but a few students were able to build bridges and even get the contact information of a few Muslims with hopes of following up.
“I used to think I had to know it all before I could evangelize,” said Lenny Hartono, an M.A. student in biblical counseling. Hartono is from Indonesia, which has the largest number of Muslims by raw population of any country in the world, according to the Pew Research Center. Her preferred — and usually successful — conversation starter in Dearborn was simple. Hey, I’d like to be your friend. “I learned that prayer is important, God is sovereign, so if you feel fearful, remember that God doesn’t need your ability; he needs your availability,” she said. “You are a witness. You are sharing what you know, not what you don’t know.”
Muslim evangelism doesn’t have to be elaborate or highly strategized, said Jim Rairick, a Ph.D. student in biblical theology at Southern Seminary who is originally from Michigan. Rairick has worked with many different international groups, having helped launch an international student ministry at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, in the late 1990s (before later being convinced of believer’s baptism and becoming a Baptist).
Since most internationals feel like utter strangers in the United States, reaching them can be as simple as finding a Muslim living near you and cooking them a meal or baking them a dessert. This wouldn’t be strange to them, he stressed. Simple, practical kindness can go a long way. Ask basic questions you’d ask anyone: Where are you from? Do you have brothers and sisters? Are you working? Is it hard to live in the U.S.? Don’t be afraid to veer into religious topics, either — Muslims are still going to be very theistic and they enjoy talking about religion, he said.
“Most people think engaging Muslims or talking to Muslims about Christianity is difficult. It’s not difficult,” Rairick said. “It’s just as easy to talk to a Muslim about the things of God (although our gods are different) as it is to talk to Westerners about basketball or football. It really is that easy. You don’t have to argue with them, you don’t have to debate with them, but let them know that you love Jesus Christ and you’re a worshipper of the one, true God.”
Now on staff at Horizons International, a missions organization focused on reaching Muslims, Rairick is writing his dissertation and building relationships with Muslim families in his community. A member of Clifton Baptist Church, Rairick thinks local churches must be willing to ask hard questions and put their outreach strategies under the microscope if they’re going to reach the many Muslims in Louisville. Evangelizing Muslim neighbors is a worthy goal, but requires a greater investment than most realize, Rairick said. In many cases, it might require a significant, life-changing commitment to reaching Muslims, and the radical sacrifice of money, comfort, and above all, time.
“If you’re already struggling in evangelism — if you’re already timid, fearful, and struggling with selfishness of time — you’re going to struggle even more when it comes to reaching Muslims,” Rairick said. “Most people I know who are involved with Muslim-focused ministry in any concerted way are realizing it takes more time over a long period of time.”‘A GOOD SPRINGBOARD’
Evangelizing Muslims in Dearborn, Michigan, gave many students the confidence to evangelize them anywhere in the world, said Hartono.
“From this trip, I feel the Lord has equipped me to be a better evangelist when I go back to my country,” she said, adding she thought the originally Middle Eastern Muslims that populate the Dearborn area would be much harder to connect with than her fellow Indonesians. “I thought the Muslims from the Middle East would be violent, not as open, scared of Christians, and hate Christians. But they’re so open! My own people — whom I know so well — will be even more open. After this trip, I will be able to be more courageous to share with my own people.”
The interactions in Dearborn required patience, Hartono said, since the students’ primary goal was to challenge Muslims to think about Christianity differently and begin to build relationships. She found that, contrary to how most Westerners perceive Middle Eastern Muslims, they were welcoming, friendly, and open to having deep conversations about religion. The trip has given Hartono more confidence to evangelize all non-Christians, not only Muslims, she said.
“This trip was a good springboard. Muslims are the people in my head that are the most difficult, the most resistant, the most unwelcoming,” Hartono said. “So if the people I thought would be resistant are actually open, this can give me confidence that the Lord can use this to equip me to evangelize anybody he wants me to share the good news with.”
The trip also underscored the importance of prayer in evangelism, said Ulrich. While visiting a restaurant, a member of Ulrich’s team reminded her she needed to pray for each conversation as it took place. She found herself praying for three different conversations going on simultaneously, even forgetting to eat her own dinner. Prayer is necessary in evangelism before, during, and after a conversation, and the necessity of praying during evangelism became clear to Ulrich during the trip.
“I’ve never thought about [prayer] that way before,” she said. “The reality is the Holy Spirit is going to do what he’s going to do regardless of whether I intercede or not. I don’t believe that he’s going to not work because I’m not faithful. But the fact that God allows me to be a part of that because of his love and he invites us into relationship with him … that’s kind of a big deal.”
Reflecting on the trip, Rairick said he was reminded of the unique opportunity American Christians have to reach people once considered unreachable. Although Louisville, Kentucky, doesn’t have as many Muslims as metro Detroit, the opportunities to meet Muslims without driving more than 10 minutes from the seminary are significant. Beyond the geographical advantages, however, Rairick thinks there might be some newly fertile soil in the hearts of Muslims.
“The majority of Muslims globally are disillusioned by current-day Islam,” said Rairick, appealing to the reports of many missionaries overseas. “Most Muslims are running away from Islam, and most Muslims when they come to the United States are running from Islam for a variety of reasons. We don’t always need to understand all those reasons … but even for those Muslims who might come to the States with bad intentions, we need to remember that the God of the Bible has the ability to change the hearts of kings, and he changed the heart of Saul into one of the most radical missionaries we’ve ever known.
“In most cities, you don’t have to travel far to engage Muslims. The question is whether you have the eyes to see them. Do you have the eyes of Jesus, Paul, Peter, and God himself? When you see Muslims, do you see them as obstacles, threats, problems — or do you see them as lost sinners whom we can love and engage with the truth of Scripture and the power of the gospel so they too can find everlasting life?”
The Jenkins Center, established in 2014 through the support of Bill and Connie Jenkins, exists to foster a scholarly Christian understanding of the many strands of Islam. The center sponsored the student trip to Dearborn. More information about the Jenkins Center is available at jenkins.sbts.edu.
The post Peace or Sword? Reaching Muslims in a divided world appeared first on Southern Equip.
As Christians who exult in the evangel, the good news of God’s redeeming love for sinners, we rightly cherish above all else the cross of Jesus Christ. Good Friday services are among the most glorious of our annual gatherings as we reflect upon that sacrifice. We delight to read and pray and sing and preach of its cosmos-shaking significance for the sons of Adam and its comprehensive liberation of a creation that has been subjected to futility.
It is beyond comprehension: Jesus died in our place. He took upon himself the Father’s wrath, which we richly deserved to bear. He kept the law of God perfectly and laid down his life voluntarily, the innocent man serving the death sentence of the criminals. By faith in the Christ who hung on that judgment tree we are declared righteous. Not guilty. Price paid. Finished. God’s enemies now seated at his banquet table.
So enthralled (rightly) are we by the cross of Christ that we can, if we’re not careful, inadvertently underplay what happened on Easter—the bodily, literal resurrection of Jesus. After all, without Easter Sunday, Good Friday is just another Friday. It is Jesus’s resurrection that secured our resurrection (Col 2:12). We cannot rightly call the cross good news apart from Mary Magdalene’s stupefying announcement to the disciples in John 20:18: “I have seen the Lord.”
Pillar of our faith
Small wonder, then, the resurrection has been the focal point of attack from atheists and theological liberals throughout the history of the church.
Jesus contended with the Sadducees whose theological distinctive was to deny the resurrection of the dead. In the Enlightenment, British empiricist David Hume virtually made a career out of attacking the validity of Christ’s resurrection. Hume, the Sadducees, and the skeptics know that if one proves false the resurrection of Christ, then the Christian faith and its supernatural power collapses like a fort built from Lincoln Logs.
So what if Christ is not raised?
If Christ is not raised, the consequences for a fallen world are catastrophic. The apostle Paul ponders that awful possibility in 1 Corinthians 15:12-22. If the resurrection is not true, then eight pillars that uphold the Christian faith crumble to dust. Good Friday becomes the true Black Friday. If there is some other explanation for the empty tomb, then . . .
1. Not even Christ is raised. This is the first and most obvious consequence, and it is nuclear fallout. If there is no resurrection from the dead, as Hume and the Sadducees claim, then Christ’s body was eaten by dogs or taken by thieves or secretly removed by Jesus’s disciples or there exists another naturalistic explanation for the claim by hundreds to have seen the risen Lord.
2. Preaching the gospel is useless. The good news is rendered no news. Actually, it is bad news. For apart from the resurrection, Jesus has not conquered suffering, sin, or death, and the persons of this unholy trinity will forever rule the created order as our conquerors. As the implaccable lawman Barney Fife delighted to tell crowds gathered in the streets of Mayberry, there is nothing to see here.
3. Faith in Christ is worthless. Faith in a corpse buried somewhere in the Middle East will redeem no one. If Christ did not rise from the dead, then Hebrews 11 would better be dubbed the “hall of fools” instead of the hall of faith.
4. Every witness to the resurrection and all preachers of the resurrection are deluded liars. To deny the resurrection is to make liars of the apostles and of every gospel preacher to follow in their wake. They are not simply mistaken; they are peddling a whopper of a myth. Jesus, too, is a liar, for he said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
5. Christianity is a fairy tale. Scripture is nothing but an outdated volume of pointless history comingled with superstition and myth. Missions and evangelism are a colossal waste of time, energy, and money. We do not spend effort and resources peddling Narnia, Middle Earth, or Pinnochio, and we should not waste our time pushing this ancient tale.
6. All of humanity remains captive to sin. Paul’s words become a damning sentence for the guilty: “The wages of sin is death.” Our world remains captive to sin, still enslaved to death. And without the resurrection, Romans 8 will never come to pass.
7. Everyone who died is in hell. There remains no sacrifice for sins, if Christ is not raised. This consequence follows from the previous one and means that every human being will face the full, unmediated wrath of God for all eternity.
8. Christians are the most foolish people on earth. Paul puts it this way: “If Christ be not raised, then we are of most men to be pitied.” Indeed. This is why the world, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1, sees the cross of Christ as foolishness. If every part of the gospel is not true, then we will have spent our days pursuing a God who will not benefit us beyond the grave. Not only are we objects of pity, the skeptics around us will indeed have the final laugh. Blaise Pascal’s famous “wager” will do little to soothe us in eternity, for the dice will have fallen on snake eyes, and the serpent of the paradise will have proven the victor.
He is not here, but has risen!
But praise be to God, Paul continues on to the good news: we know that Christ is risen from the dead, and since he has come out of the grave, death is swallowed up in victory. The angel’s words to the women at the tomb are true: “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said” (Matt. 28:6). Every follower of Christ, when he arrives at the chilly river outside the Celestial City, can look death square in the face and say with unconscionable joy, “O death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?”
Good Friday and Easter Sunday are the days of all days in human history. In all our teaching, talking, and theologizing about these events, let us remember that we cannot have the one without the other. And let us rejoice that Christ the Lord is risen!
- The gospel reshapes parenting by calling parents to become disciple-makers
So what happens when parents begin to see their children as potential or actual brothers and sisters in Christ? The writings of Paul provide us with a hint. The same apostle who called Timothy to encourage younger believers as Christian brothers and sisters also commanded fathers to nurture their offspring “in the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord” (Eph. 6:4; see also Col. 3:21). In other letters, Paul applied these same two terms—discipline and instruction—to patterns that characterize disciple-making relationships among brothers and sisters in Christ. Discipline described one result of being trained in the words of God (2 Tim. 3:16). Instruction implied admonitions and guidance to avoid unwise behaviors and ungodly teachings (1 Cor. 10:11; Titus 3:10).
Seen in light of these texts, Paul’s command to nourish children in the “discipline and instruction” of Christ suggests that Paul was calling parents—and particularly fathers—to do far more than merely manage their children’s behaviors and provide their needs. As believers in Jesus Christ, we are called to relate to our children just as we would respond to non-believers in the world or young believers in our church, speaking the gospel to them and training them in the ways of Christ (Matt. 28:19-20). God’s creation and humanity’s fall have positioned parents as providers and disciplinarians. Through the gospel, Christian parents have been called to become disciple-makers as well.
This process of parental disciple-making is likely to look different in every household. In my household, it means a family devotional every Sunday evening, intertwined with daily prayers and weekly discipleship times with each of my children. In another household, it might look like a nightly family devotional combined with spiritual debriefings after movies and sporting events. In still other families, it could take the form of songs and Scriptures memorized in the car during morning commutes. The precise way that you disciple your children is negotiable; the practice itself is not. This is not to suggest, of course, that Christian parents should become their children’s sole instructors in Scripture! After all, the Great Commission to make disciples was given to the whole church as a calling to reach the whole world, including children (Matt. 28:19). Consistent practices of discipleship should, however, characterize parents’ priorities in every Christian household.
- The gospel reshapes parenting by providing us with a purpose larger than this life
A few years ago, parents were asked in a survey how they would know if they had been successful in their parenting. The most popular answers from parents were that successful parenting means raising children who are happy and who have good values. The response that landed closest behind these two had to do with whether the child was vocationally successful.1 If this survey rightly represents parents’ real priorities, fathers and mothers are focused on raising children who act good, feel good, and are financially successful.
Morality, happiness, and success aren’t bad, of course—but they make miserable goals for parenting. When these goals become our definition of successful parenting, the gospel is no longer shaping our day-by-day parental practices. Apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ, a focus on good morals tends to result either in self-righteousness or rebellion in our children. Financial success can’t guarantee lasting joy or peace, and what makes our children happy in the short term may not be what aims them toward Jesus Christ in the long term. None of these values lasts past this life. And yet, these are the dominant values in our culture when it comes to parenting.
Now, if children were nothing more than a gift for this life, a single-minded focus on children’s happiness and success might actually make sense. As long as the family’s frenetic schedule secures a spot for the child in a top-tier university, forfeiting intentional spiritual formation for the sake of competitive sports leagues and advanced-placement classes would be understandable—if children were a gift for this life only. Working round-the-clock would be plausible, provided that your children’s friends are visibly impressed with the house you can barely afford. If children were a gift for this life only, it might make sense to raise children with calendars that are full but souls that are empty, captives of the deadly delusion that their value depends on what they accomplish here and now.
But the gospel calls us to seek a purpose for our children that’s far larger than this life.
Even before humanity’s fall into sin, God designed the raising of children to serve as a means for the multiplication of his manifest glory around the globe (Gen. 1:26–28). A few bites of forbidden fruit, raising Cain as well as Abel, and a worship service that ended in fratricide took their toll on that first family—but God refused to give up on his first purpose to turn the family into a means for the revelation of his glory. God promised that, through the offspring of Eve, he would send a Redeemer to crush the satanic serpent’s skull and to flood the earth with glory divine (Gen. 3:15; 4:1, 25; Hab. 2:14). From the beginning to end of God’s plan, the family has been his chosen pathway for the defeat of the darkness, the revelation of his glory, and the passing of his story from one generation to the next.
What this means practically is that we should view our children in light of a larger purpose, as potential bearers of the gospel to generations as yet unborn. In God’s good design, our children will most likely raise children who will in turn beget more children. How we mold our children’s souls while they reside in our households will shape the lives of children who have yet to draw their first gasp of air (Ps. 78:6–7). That’s why our primary purpose for our children must not be anything so small and miserable as temporary success.
“For what does it profit someone if he gains the world world but loses his soul?” Jesus asked his first followers (Mark 8:36). When it comes to our children, we might ask a similar question: What does it profit your child to gain an academic scholarship and yet never experience consistent prayer and devotional times with his parents? What will it profit my child to succeed in a sport and yet never know the rhythms of a home where we are willing to release any dream at any moment if we become too busy to disciple one another? What will it profit the children all around us in our churches if they are accepted into the finest colleges and yet never leverage their lives for the sake of proclaiming the gospel to the nations?
In the beginning, God infused humanity with a yearning for eternity (Eccl. 3:11). If the scope of our vision for our lives or for the lives of our children shrinks any smaller than eternity, our thirst for eternity will drive us to attempt to fill the emptiness with a multitude of lesser goals and lower gods—including the fleeting happiness and success of our children. When the happiness and success of children becomes the controlling framework for life, parents expect their children to have, to do, and to be more than anyone else, and they are willing to sacrifice family discipleship and the proclamation of the gospel to achieve this objective.
I am not suggesting that successes in academics or athletics or vocation somehow stand outside God’s good plan. Learning and play are joys that God himself wove into the very fabric of creation. Although cursed in the fall, work was also part of God’s good design before the fall (Gen. 2:15; 3:17–23). And yet, whenever any activity—no matter how good it may be—becomes amplified to the point that no margin remains for family members to disciple one another or to share the gospel in the world around us, a divinely-designed joy has been distorted into a devil-spawned idol. Our purpose in everything that we do as parents should be to leverage our children’s lives to advance God’s kingdom so that people in every tribe and every nation gain the opportunity to respond in faith to the rightful King of kings.
There are a couple of clauses that I have repeated over and over throughout my children’s lives, particularly when they’re considering vocational possibilities. What I’ve said to them is simply this: “I would rather have you on the other side of the world seeking God’s glory than in a house next door to me seeking your glory, and I would rather have you in a grave in God’s will than in a mansion resisting God’s will.” A few weeks ago, one of my children put these statements to the test.
Our oldest daughter had chosen counseling as her major before starting college, and she was halfway through her first semester of the degree. One afternoon, she met me at a coffee shop, and we began to talk about how she might use her education in the future.
“Dad,” she said after a few minutes, “did you know I’m not in the degree program I’m supposed to be?”
“No,” I said, with a bit of confusion. “What degree should you be in?”
“I’m supposed to be in missions, but I don’t know if I want to be that far from my family.”
This admission opened a door in our conversation, and we stepped through it ever so gingerly, exploring a calling that my daughter had sensed for some time. There were a few tears and a lot of questions, but in the end she settled on switching in her degree from counseling to global studies.
As we got up from our table, she said to me, “You always said you’d rather me be on the other side of the world in God’s will than to be right next to you outside God’s will, but I never knew if that was for real or not.”
The only honest answer I could give her was this: “Neither did I. But I hoped it was; I always hoped.”
God calls us—just as he called our father Abraham—to be willing to release every longing for our children’s safety and success for the sake of obedience to God’s Word (Gen. 22:2–18). Not every child will—or should—grow up to be a missionary on the other side of the world. But every child is called to place God’s kingdom first wherever they are, and every Christian parent is called to be willing to seek the spread of God’s kingdom above and beyond every earthly comfort or success. This attitude does not come to us easily. In fact, this willingness doesn’t come from us at all! Nothing less than the work of God through his Holy Spirit can create this willingness within us. And yet, what God asks of us in releasing our children to join his mission is no less than what he himself has already done in Jesus Christ: “He…did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32).
- The gospel reshapes parenting by freeing us from the delusion that our value depends on our parenting
The longer I’ve been a parent, the more I’ve found myself taking refuge in one final truth about the gospel and parenting. The truth that has become my refuge is simply this: Because of the grace that comes through the gospel, God’s disposition toward me does not depend on how I perform as a parent. I did nothing to gain God’s favor, and there’s nothing I can do to keep God’s favor. Through faith, I have been adopted in Christ (Rom. 8:15-17; Gal. 3:26). Because I am in Christ, God the Father can never think anything less of me than he thinks of his beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
So what does this truth have to do with parenting?
Meditate for a moment on the implications of this truth: Because of the gospel, God’s approval of you doesn’t depend on whether you provide your children with everything that everyone else thinks they need. God’s approval of you doesn’t depend on how your children act in the checkout line at the grocery store. It doesn’t depend on whether your children grow up breastfed, potty-trained by two years old, classically educated, and protected from artificial preservatives. It doesn’t even depend on whether your children persist in the faith past the pomp and circumstance of their high school graduations. The good news of the gospel declares that God’s approval of you doesn’t depend on anything you do; it depends solely on what Christ has already done. All that any of us must do—which is really no “doing” at all—is to receive what God in Christ has already done.
The implications of this simple truth for parenting are staggering, and I desperately need to be reminded of these implications every day. Because we no longer have to prove ourselves right through our perfect performances, we can humble ourselves and ask our family’s forgiveness when we fail. When we feel overwhelmed as parents, we can cry out for help. When we say no to commitments that would consume our calendars and our souls, we can do so without the guilt and fear that grow out of our desperate yearning for others’ approval. We can be set free from our nagging desire to demonstrate our own righteousness by demanding that other parents measure up to our family’s standards. We can guide our children toward Christ from a foundation of joy and rest, knowing that God has already delivered to us everything that he demands from us.
There is no list of rules for gospel-shaped parenting, with items you can check off as you complete them. There is, however, Christ himself, who has given us his Word, his Spirit, his people, and his gospel. In all of this, our goal is not merely getting to the end of the day with the same number of children we had at the beginning of the day. Our goal is a kingdom that never ends, and our purpose in parenting is to see this kingdom revealed through our families.
Timothy Paul Jones serves as the C. Edwin Gheens Professor of Christian Family Ministry at SBTS. He is the husband of Rayann and the father of three daughters. The Jones family serves in children’s ministry and community group leadership at the east congregation of Sojourn Community Church.
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