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Did early Christians read Scripture privately?

Tue, 08/15/2017 - 09:30

Did Christians in the first few centuries of the church read Scripture regularly outside the formal worship gathering? While this might seem like a straightforward question, the historical complexities of the ancient literary culture make it notoriously difficult to answer.

There is little doubt that the church read Scripture publically. After all, Paul reminds Timothy not to neglect the public reading of Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13), and as early as Justin Martyr, we find the church gathering and reading long portions of biblical texts.[1]

The question of private Scripture reading, though, is important. I can recall from my earliest days in the church pastors and church leaders exhorting me to “study the Scriptures!” or “take time to read Scripture every day!” They assured me that regular encounters with the Word of God were essential for healthy spiritual growth. But can it be said that the early church shared this same conviction?

These questions surfaced for me while working on a project on patristic exegesis and re-reading the little treatise Bible Reading in the Early Church, composed by the great champion of Protestant Liberalism, Adolf von Harnack. This book is one of the first complete treatments of the topic and, though it suffers from Harnack’s larger Hellenizing thesis, it’s rather helpful for a general survey of private Scripture reading in the first four centuries of the church.

After navigating his way through many allusions to Scripture reading in the early church, Harnack concludes that laypeople not only read texts outside their worship gatherings, but the church actually encouraged them to do so. In Harnack’s words, laypeople in the early church “actually did read Holy Scripture; the presbyters had not to give any permission; the Holy Scriptures were not in their ‘keeping’ but were accessible to all, and were in the hands of many Christians.”[2]

In one sense, Harnack is correct. The patristic exhortations to read Scripture begin very early. The second century apologist Aristides, for example, describes his own encounter with Scripture, saying:

Take, then, their [Christian’s] writings, and read therein, and lo, you will find that I have not put forth these things on my own authority, nor spoken thus as their advocate; but since I read in their writings I was fully assured of these things as also of things which are to come.[3]

In fact, many of the apologists in the second century, including Justin, Tatian and Theophilus, describe their conversions through personal interactions with Scripture.[4] In another passage, Irenaeus encourages regular contemplation of the Scripture, saying:

A sound mind, and one which does not expose its possessor to danger, and is devoted to piety and the love of truth, will eagerly meditate upon those things which God has placed within the power of mankind, and has subjected to our knowledge, and will make advancement in them, rendering the knowledge of them easy to him by means of daily study. These things are such as fall plainly under our observation, and are clearly and unambiguously in express terms set forth in the Sacred Scriptures.[5]

Other fathers of the church, such as Clement of Alexandria, encourage Christians to read Scripture before meals.[6]

Beginning in the third century, the works of Tertullian, Hippolytus and Origen contain references to private Scripture reading. Hippolytus commends his readers to attend worship frequently, but on days when there is no service, they should read Scripture at home.[7] Origen speaks often of reading Scripture privately, and in one sermon, he even challenges those who are so devoted to eating and drinking or other “secular affairs” that they give God only “one hour or two out of the whole day.”[8]

By the fourth century, Cyril of Jerusalem exhorts his catechumen, “What is not read in church is not to be read privately” in order to encourage new converts to avoid pagan writings and dedicate themselves to reading Scripture.[9]

From these few scattered allusions, it’s evident that, whenever possible, the regular encounter with Scripture was encouraged in the early church, at least for those who could acquire to copies and actually read them.

In another sense, though, Harnack falls short. He never really takes up the larger historical questions, such as the extent of literacy in the ancient world (a point that is still hotly debated), the actual availability of copies of different biblical books, and even the cost of purchasing books for private use. These and related questions have been taken up by others.[10]

But the greater problem with Harnack’s work is that while the early church encouraged reading Scripture privately, they also exhorted the church to read the Scripture rightly. Private Scripture reading did not mean that all private interpretations were equally valid.

When the early church exhorted the faithful to pick up and read, they also reminded them that any reading should be faithful to what Christ taught and apostles proclaimed.

Irenaeus, for example, speaks often of the church’s rule of faith as a helpful guide for reading Scripture. He characterizes the rule of faith as that which the church believes, professes and hands down, saying:

… the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points of doctrine just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth.[11]

The one who rejects the church’s faith but still turns to read Scripture will “always be inquiring but never finding, because he has rejected the very method of discovery.”[12]

Like Irenaeus, Tertullian advocates for reading Scripture with the rule of faith. He describes how some heretics even appeal the Lord’s words from the Sermon on the Mount—“seek and you shall find”—to justify their own private interpretation.[13] Tertullian responds, “Let our ‘seeking,’ therefore be in that which is our own, and from those who are our own: and concerning that which is our own, that, and only that, which can become an object of inquiry without impairing the rule of faith.”[14]

In a similar way, Athanasius also writes about the rule of faith and Scripture, saying, “We may easily see, if we now consider the scope of that faith which we Christians hold, and using it as a rule, apply ourselves, as the Apostle teaches to the reading of inspired Scripture.[15]

This is only a sampling, but in the early church, the urging to read Scripture rightly is just as strong as the encouragement to read Scripture privately. This manner of reading Scripture celebrates, rather than ignores, faith in Christ and the way that Christ has fulfilled what was proclaimed through the prophets and apostles.

So did early Christians read Scripture privately? It seems that many did, and they even saw Scripture reading as a vital part of a healthy spiritual life. At the same time, they also insisted that whenever Scripture is opened, it is read with “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3).

[1]Justin Martyr, 1 Apology 67.
[2]Harnack, Bible Reading in the Early Church, 145.
[3]Aristides, Apology, 16.
[4]Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, 7, Tatian, Address to the Greeks, 29, Theophilus, To Autolycus, 1.14,
[5]Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.27.10.
[6]Clement of Alexandria, Paedagogus, 2.10, Stromata 7.7.
[7]Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition, 41.
[8]Origen, Homilies on Numbers, 2
[9]Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical lectures, 4.35.
[10]The best place to start with this topic is Harry Gamble’s work Books and Readers in the Early Church.
[11]Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.10.2.
[12]Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.27.2.
[13]Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics, 9-12.
[14]Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics, 12.
[15]Athanasius, Against the Arians, 3.28.35.

Categories: Seminary Blog

A ‘Miracle Cure’ for Marital Strife

Tue, 08/08/2017 - 09:30

Turn on your TV. Find your favorite channel. Wait a moment, and you will be confronted with an ad that offers an immediate miracle solution to a nagging problem. Whether you need a perfect pan for your cooking woes, an unkinkable hose for your garden gloom, or a miracle medicine for your many maladies, modern media is loaded with ads and gimmicks promising to heal anything that ails you in just a moment. As a society, we have been conditioned to expect quick fixes and instant successes. We long for solutions simple enough “for dummies.”

When it comes to marriage and family, we are prone to seek out the same solutions: miracle cures and momentary fixes. Book after book, blog after blog, and page after page has been written to instruct us on how to have a better marriage. Certainly, many of these books offer wisdom on how to live with and love your spouse better, but they are short on a practical path for making lasting changes in your marriage. Where these books often fail us, Scripture rewards us.

Micah 6:8 reads, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

These words from the Lord provide for Israel and for us a summary of God’s expectation for the life of His children. J.M.P Smith describes this verse as “the finest summary of the content of practical religion to be found in the OT.”[1]

Each of these principles will serve to better not only the lives of God’s children but also the marriages of God’s children. Consider each of these principles individually.

In Micah 6, the Lord requires his children to do justice. This means simply doing what is “right, that which is just, lawful, according to law.”[2] In all times, in all places, and with all people, those who do justice seek to do the right thing. To apply this in the marriage context, the spouse who seeks to do the right thing in every situation will be a spouse who limits the areas of potential conflict in his or her marriage.

The most common martial stressors and causes of divorce are infidelity and financial issues. If, as a spouse, you are always seeking to do right, you would never commit infidelity, as that would be doing wrong by your spouse. The one seeking to do right would also always handle his finances in a way that is right and correct by his family and by those with whom he interacts in financial dealings.

Doing what is right may not be easy, but if this is the desire of both spouses, the points of contention in the marriage will be severely limited. Even when areas of dispute arise, if you can trust that your spouse was ultimately seeking to do right in a situation, you will be much more prone to forgive and forget any wrong that was done.

The second principle required by the Lord is to love kindness. God’s reminder in this passage is centered on Israel loving the kindness, or mercy, that God has shown them as His chosen people.

Just as the people of Israel were to love and cherish the mercy that God had shown, so should modern believers. Consider the words of Paul in Ephesians 1:7-8a: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us.” The mercy of God given to us in Christ Jesus is a mercy that not only covers over our sin; it also abounds in its graciousness and goodness toward us.

Loving the mercy of God will help us love showing mercy to others, especially our spouses. When one considers the depth of his own sin and the abundant mercy of God to forgive his sin, he becomes much more prone to show mercy to his spouse, no matter how heinous the offense.

Dave Harvey, in his work When Sinners Say I Do, writes, “And when I find myself walking in the shoes of the worst of sinners, I will make every effort to grant my spouse the same lavish grace that God has granted me.”[3] A spouse who is committed to loving mercy will extend mercy to his spouse every time his spouse fails. Cherishing each day the mercy of God makes giving mercy in return much easier.

The third principle required by the Lord is to walk humbly. The figurative use of “walk” here is a reminder of the daily commitment required to walk in humility. The challenge for the Israelites—and for us—is that our natural inclination is to daily walk in our own pride instead of in humility.

Just as gasoline is a poison and an ignition hazard to a field, so pride is to a relationship with God and a relationship with a spouse. Pride seeks to sabotage and sink both of these relationships by telling us that our desires are the best desires and our plans are the best plans with no consideration of God’s will or, in the case of marriage, any concern for the needs of our spouse.

Pride is always a liar. Pride tells us we are in control when the reality is that God Himself is in control. If we want to walk humbly with God, we must eradicate the sin of pride from our lives. Philippians 2:3 states simply, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” Humility before God is regarding God’s will above our own. Humility before our spouses is regarding their needs and desires above our own.

This is why Paul, in Ephesians 5, reminds husbands to give themselves up for their wives, and for wives to submit to their husbands. Paul understood that humility is the primary key to the prosperous marriage. Just as pride is like gasoline, humility is like water to a field. Whereas gasoline brings the threat of death and flames, water brings life and refreshment. Humility is life-giving and growth-inducing to a marriage and to a spouse. When you choose to sacrifice your own pride for the needs and desires of your spouse, you will deepen your relationship and commitment to them.

A marriage built on pride is destined to fall. A marriage built daily with humility will be impossible to sink.

Ultimately, the point of Micah 6 is not marriage; its primary concern is how all people should walk rightly with God. All of these principles are life-giving to everyone’s spiritual health, not just those who are married. Anyone who has trusted in Christ as Savior and daily commits to these principles will see growth in his relationship with God and his relationships with others.

That is not to say this will come easy; this is no quick-fix miracle cure. But certainly Psalm 19:8 is true when it says, “The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.” The one who follows the Lord in this way will receive joy from the Lord.

Thus, the key to navigating marital strife is spiritual growth. The more we follow the commands and expectations of the Lord, the better our marriages will be. The more we commit to do rightly, the less we will wrong our spouses. The more we commit to love mercy, the more we will forgive our spouses. The more we walk humbly with God, the more we will serve our spouses. Ultimately, the more we follow God’s will and walk in His ways, the better and stronger our marriages will be.

[1]Kenneth L. Barker, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, vol. 20, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 113.
[2]Wilhelm Gesenius and Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2003), 520.
[3]Harvey, Dave (2010-12-01). When Sinners Say “I Do” (Kindle Locations 503-504). Shepherd Press. Kindle Edition.

Categories: Seminary Blog

4 Common Myths of Christians Rationalizing Cohabiting

Fri, 08/04/2017 - 09:00

In 2016, approximately 18 million adults in the U.S. were in cohabiting relationships. This represents a 27 percent increase since 2007. While more than half of cohabiters are under 35 years old, the increase is more significant among those older than 50. This demographic has seen a 75 percent increase in cohabitation over the last decade.[1] When the rising rates of cohabitation are coupled with declining marriage rates, the visibility of cohabitation in American culture has seen a marked increase.

The church is also seeing an increase in cohabitation. In recent months, one particular article has struck a chord among many believers by declaring that moving in together before marriage may be acceptable. The author tells the story of how she and her boyfriend have bought a house and moved in together. She’s received a fair amount of criticism, but she explains it away.[2]

Her arguments are no different than those we might hear from other Christians who are contemplating the idea of cohabitation. So let me dispel some of the myths about cohabitation and its connection to biblical teaching.

Myth #1: The Bible doesn’t say anything about cohabitation.

Some people try to justify cohabitation by claiming the Bible gives no clear instruction on this type of relationship. If the Bible doesn’t prohibit this living arrangement, then those making this claim assert that it must be permissible. Let’s examine what God’s Word says.

Scripture is clear in its condemnation of fornication.[3] Fornication and fornicators (as well as adulterers) are described as evil, subject to judgment, and not heirs of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 15:19; Acts 15:20, 29; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Hebrews 13:4).

While admonitions against cohabitation, fornication, or pre-marital sex may not be as abundantly clear as the seventh commandment (“You shall not commit adultery”), the category of sin remains the same. Jesus used the seventh commandment to draw His listeners’ attention to the broader scope of sexual ethics.

Myth #2: We prayed about it, and God said it was fine.

This myth is common among both those who cohabit and believers in general seeking to justify all sorts of choices. This myth implies that Christianity is a completely privatized faith. The privatization of faith implies that I can proclaim the answer I received from the Lord and no one can question it because it is my answer.

When Paul found himself in Berea, we see the people there sought to confirm what he said with Scripture. We read, “For they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11b, emphasis added).

The people are commended as noble-minded (v. 11a) for evaluating what Paul said and seeking Scripture to confirm Paul’s teaching. When someone proclaims he has received an answer from the Lord in prayer that does not align with Scripture, then we are right to question that answer and challenge it with God’s Word.

Myth #3: Just because we’re living together, doesn’t mean we’re having sex.

In Matthew 5:27-28, Jesus references a command against committing adultery and then expands it further against lust. He states, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” If Scripture forbids even lustful looks, then surely the prohibition would include an illicit sexual relationship between unmarried individuals and even the appearance thereof (1 Thessalonians 5:22). We should never willingly place ourselves in situations to trust our flesh.

Myth #4: Cohabitation is a great way to “test-drive” marriage before settling down.

In the article noted above, the author states, “You see, I’ve always thought it was smart to live together before marriage. I can speak from experience now, and I can say that I have learned so much more about my boyfriend from living with him than I ever did before.” On one level, there is no disputing her claim. Living with another individual will teach you more about that person than you ever thought you could know. However, cohabitation is a recipe for disaster in marriage.

First, cohabitation does not lead to more successful marriages. Cohabitation does not provide any benefit compared to waiting until marriage.[4] Time even goes so far as to report that “cohabitation doesn’t seem to be able to produce that feeling of security [as marriage does]. And so far, cohabitation hasn’t been shown to inoculate couples from divorce.”[5]

Second, cohabitation often leads to children. According to the National Marriage Project, “By the time [women] turn 30, about two-thirds of American women have had a baby, typically out of wedlock.”[6] Having children out of wedlock, even in a cohabiting relationship, puts strain on the relationship and can lead to major disadvantages for these children as they grow older.

Finally, most cohabiting couples are not simply living together to save money or learn each other’s quirks. A sexual relationship is almost always at the center of the arrangement. According to a biblical sexual ethic, God established the sexual relationship in covenant marriage between a man and a woman in Genesis 2. The sexual relationship between a husband and wife demonstrates the exclusive, permanent union of marriage. This intimacy is described in Genesis 2:24 as a “one flesh” union. Those who cohabit participate in the “pleasures” of the relationship without the covenantal commitment. This stands in direct violation of God’s plan for marriage.

How Should the Church Respond?

First, remember that cohabitation is not the unpardonable sin. After Paul gives a vice list in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 that says certain people, including fornicators and adulterers, will not inherit the Kingdom of God, he states, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). We need to work with cohabiting Christian couples to help them confess and repent of this sin.

Second, we need to help these couples separate from their sinful lifestyle. If a cohabiting couple is heading toward marriage, then we need to encourage them to change their living arrangements. If it means a woman moves back home with her parents, or a man moves in with some friends for a period of a few months, then so be it. If the couple is not willing to do this, then it’s hard to believe they will seek to honor God within their marriage.

Curious?

How should Pastor’s/Ministers respond to the idea of cohabitation? Check out this article by the Preaching Source from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

How should women respond to the idea of cohabitation? Check out this article by the Biblical Woman from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

[1]Renee Stepler, “Number of U.S. adults cohabiting with a partner continues to rise, especially among those 50 and older,” Pew Research Center, 6 April, 2017.
[2]Sydney Lind Moore, “He Gave Me a House Before a Ring and That’s OK,” The Odyssey Online, 1 May 2017.
[3]A KJV-style word for a pre-marital sexual relationship.
[4]“The State of Our Unions: Marriage in America 2012,” The National Marriage Project (2012), 76.
[5]Belinda Luscombe, “How Shacking Up Before Marriage Affects a Relationship,” Time, 12 March 2014.
[6]Kay Hymowitz, Jason S. Carroll, W. Bradford Wilcox, and Kelleen Kaye, “Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America,” The National Marriage Project (2013), 3.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Great Commission Preaching: How Matthew 28 Should Influence Preaching

Tue, 08/01/2017 - 09:30

Immigration, border security and citizen safety currently constitute one of the hottest issues in the American political scene. Certainly, no one can deny that this discussion was a major part of the rhetoric surrounding our last presidential election. Voices on both sides of the isle present compelling, if not emotive, appeals as to what we as a country should do. Depending on who is talking, the responsible thing is either to narrow the opening through which immigrants enter our country for the safety of our citizens or to widen the gate in order to embrace oppressed refugees with open arms. That the issue has become a part of the discussion in our churches and denomination is not surprising. It is a concern we are being asked to address in our spiritual and biblical conversations.

Now, I am going to disappoint you. My point here is not to solve the abovementioned debate or to instruct you on how to engage in this discussion. Allow me to make a much less contentious and more well-known point. Regardless of what immigration laws are created or amended in our country, the position of the pastor, church and believer must be that we leverage every opportunity we have to make disciples of all nations. This is our mission. This is one reason why believers are here and the church exists. It is the command that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ left us.

Leveraging every opportunity to make disciples certainly includes when the nations come to us. Regardless of where you find yourself on the immigration debate, I pray as a believer you can add your “amen” here! Matthew 28:18-20 is crystal clear: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

I am quite certain that nothing I have written so far has been novel to you. Quite frankly, I would be concerned if you did not understand that the Great Commission commands believers to share their faith and churches to make disciples of all people. I imagine you have come to grips with this truth. So, we understand that Matthew 28 is an evangelism text and a mission text. Would you be surprised, however, if I argued that the Great Commission is also a homiletics text?

When we think of “preaching” texts—passages that guide the development of our philosophy of preaching—perhaps several obvious ones come to mind. These may include such passages as 2 Timothy 3:16–4:5, 1 Corinthians 2:1–5, 2 Corinthians 4:1–6, and Ezekiel 37:1–14. But, do we ever consider the Great Commission when we think about preaching? Should the Great Commission inform our preaching, and inform it in a specific way?

I believe the answer to these questions is “yes”! By this, I do not mean the Great Commission is only a preaching text or that preaching is the only action necessary to make disciples. Nevertheless, the Great Commission has something to say about our preaching. There are at least four implications for preaching from Matthew 28:18–20.

First, the Great Commission should inform the content of our preaching. One of the means Jesus gave for making disciples is “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” So what should be the content of our teaching? What should we preach? Certainly not content that originates with us. The Great Commission calls us to fill our sermons with Jesus’ Content, His Word. This lends itself to preaching that communicates the God-intended points of the text and not simply points “from the text.” Every single sermon we preach should strive to have as its main thrust the main thrust of the text. The command to make disciples, then, is consistent with expository preaching.

Second, the Great Commission should influence the scope of our preaching. Jesus not only instructed us to teach others to observe what He commanded, but to teach others to observe all that He commanded. I do not have the space to flesh this out here, but if your bibliology leads you to understand that all 66 books of the Bible are inspired and authoritative equally and to recognize every part of both the Old and New Testament as what Christ has commanded at least implicitly, then you must preach and teach all of the Bible if you are going to obey the Great Commission. Therefore, the command to make disciples relates to a holistic approach to teaching the Bible.

Third, the Great Commission should inform the aim of our preaching. If we consider the passage as a whole, at least two objectives for the Christian life exist: evangelism and edification. If we do not evangelize, we will have no one to disciple. What is true of our personal lives would seem also to be true of our corporate gatherings and our pulpit particularly. Also, if the church you pastor is anything like most, on any given Sunday, that someone is sitting in the pews who does not know Jesus as Savior is more likely than not. Therefore, making evangelistic appeals weekly from your pulpit is not only appropriate but also necessary.

Then, what is the ultimate command in this passage? “Make disciples.” At a minimum, a disciple is one who follows Christ and becomes like Christ. So clearly, an aim of an individual Christian should be to lead others to be more Christ-like. Again, if this is true of our personal lives, it would seem also to be true of our public preaching. We should preach with the aim of edifying believers so that they grow into Christ-likeness. The command to make disciples, then, is consistent with preaching that evangelizes and edifies.

Finally, the Great Commission should influence the philosophy of our preaching. If we believe a call to teach all of the Bible is imbedded in Jesus’ command, then what is the best way to accomplish the Great Commission in our preaching? What is the most consistent way to approach teaching the Bible holistically in our pulpits? I believe the answer is systematic expository preaching. By systematic expository preaching, I mean preaching through books of the Bible or major portions of biblical books in a series in which we allow the God-intended meaning, structure and emphasis of the passages to drive the main points, outline and thrust of our sermons.

Do other ways potentially exist for accomplishing the same goal? Sure. Hypothetically, you could systemize all the teachings of Jesus and then orderly begin to work through them. However, the simpler way to accomplish the task and obey Jesus is to begin to preach through books of the Bible. Beyond this, systematic text-driven preaching allows us to accomplish the other three suggestions as well. It allows us to preach Jesus’ content. It leads us to a holistic approach to teaching the Bible. And, it is a type of preaching that I believe naturally lends itself to evangelizing the lost and edifying the saints.

Therefore, the Great Commission should drive us toward systematic expository preaching. At a minimum, systematic expository preaching is consistent with the command and call of the Great Commission.

Categories: Seminary Blog

The changing face of American culture and the priority of text-driven preaching

Tue, 07/25/2017 - 09:30

The only real constants in life are death and taxes.

This old adage in the life of American culture reflects the sentiment that some things never change and some things are always changing. For example, those who are 60 years of age or older will vividly remember seeing specific aisles at the grocery store roped off to fulfill the “Sunday Blue Laws” that restricted the purchase of certain items on Sundays. On the other hand, most young people in America have no knowledge of such restrictions but could not fathom a world without social media. There is not a teenager in America who is not connected to social media in some form or fashion. Twenty years ago, no such social media existed. Today, according to the latest Pew report, 68 percent of all Americans utilize Facebook, as do 2 billion other people worldwide.[1]

These changes are known as a paradigm shift. A paradigm shift is a change in thinking that results in a change of behavior. This shift reflects the globalized society that has rapidly developed since the turn of the 21st century.

How can this globalized society be properly explained? In recent months, a review of the last days of Princess Diana have flooded the airways with numerous implications; but, this one event is an excellent depiction of the globalized society that has evolved. From this one incident in August 1997, the ethnic diversity of our globalized society is clearly and vividly reflected. What we find is an English Princess with her Egyptian boyfriend in an auto accident in a French tunnel in a German car with a Dutch engine driven by a Belgian chauffeur who was high on Scottish whiskey being chased by Italian paparazzi on Japanese motorcycles with German cameras. The first doctor on the scene was an American.[2]

Such a globalized setting is not unprecedented in history. In the first century, the capital of the province of Achaia was the city of Corinth, and it, too, reflects such globalization. After being destroyed by an invading Roman army in 146 B.C., it was rebuilt in 44 B.C. before Julius Caesar’s death and was established as a Roman colony for retired Roman soldiers.

Located on a four-mile-wide isthmus connecting the Greek Peloponnesian to the mainland, Corinth became a globalized city for numerous reasons:

  1. It was a city of banking and commerce. Having sea ports on both the east and west sides of the city, Corinth became a gateway of trade, which brought great wealth to its inhabitants.
  2. It was a religious city that housed the great Pantheon Temple along with numerous altars for the worship of the various Greek gods of the day.
  3. It was also a city of great entertainment. The Greeks invented athletic contests in honor of their gods. The Isthmian Games were staged every two years in Corinth. The Pythain games took place every four years near Delphi along with the most famous of the games, which were held at Olympia in honor of Zeus.
  4. Finally, Corinth was known as a city of great evil and debauchery. The term from which the name Corinth is derived was used in the arts and theater to describe a citizen of Corinth who always displayed a life of drunkenness and sinfulness.[3]

These descriptors reflect many of the same aspects of our contemporary American culture. The United States of America is the wealthiest nation in the world, consumed only by a desire for more wealth. It lives to be constantly entertained. It is more religious than ever before, yet the level of sin and corruption is at the highest peak in the history of our country. Like Corinth, America needs a moral and spiritual change.

The apostle Paul saw the need of his day as a spiritual need, and his remedy for that globalized self-absorbed society was placing a priority on biblical preaching. What is biblical preaching? Numerous definitions for biblical preaching can be found in the homiletic community today. Some advocate a topical approach to exposition while others prefer the genre of the narrative storytelling method of the new homiletic.

Paul, too, faced a plethora of methods to the task of effective communication, but he reveals his theology of preaching in the first two chapters of the book of 1 Corinthians. Paul emphasized the importance of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These chapters in 1 Corinthians tell much about the condition of the church of Corinth, but they also express Paul’s theology of preaching.

His theology of preaching involves a deep commitment to the proclamation of the Gospel as explained in the message of the cross of Christ. Paul vividly explains this in the first chapter, verse 17: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel….” In like fashion, verse 21 says, “God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe”; and also verse 23: “but we preach Christ crucified.”

After Paul’s encounter with the philosophers of Athens at the Areopagus (Acts 17), rather than utilizing the skilled rhetorical tools of the wisdom teachers of his day, Paul’s passion was to simply preach the Gospel in the power of the Spirit and leave the results to God. This attitude expresses his understanding of biblical preaching.

At Southwestern Seminary, expository preaching has been refined to a more focused approach expressed as “text-driven” preaching. Rather than rely on the eloquence of man’s speech to enhance a topic or the use of some theatrical endeavor to impress the listener, the effective biblical preacher must be committed to interpreting the substance of a text in the context of the passage and communicate the truths revealed therein under the anointing of the Spirit of God.

This text-driven approach aims at allowing the preacher to simply be a tool in the work of interpretation and proclamation. Biblical, text-driven sermons that flow from the anointing of God to the people of God through the Word of God by the Spirit of God are the need of the hour.

No matter what the whimsical, emotional voice of the ever-changing tide of thought may be, the task and responsibility of the preacher is to be the faithful and passionate in delivering “the faith once delivered to the saints” to the glory of the Lord Jesus and the furtherance of the Kingdom. As Paul faced the folly of his first century cultural thinking and remained steadfast in the preaching of the Gospel, may the mandate of the 21st century preacher be reaffirmed, “God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” This is why the mandate of Southwestern Seminary is “Preach the Word, Reach the World.”

[1]Pew Research Center, “Demographics of Social Media Users and Adoption in the United States.” Accessed on June 16, 2017 from http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/social-media.
[2]Leonard Sweet, “What is Globalization? The Death of Princess Diana.” Accessed on January 14, 2006 from http://www.leonardsweet.org.
[3]John MacArthur. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians. (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1984), vii-viii.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Teenagers: In Vogue vs. In Christ

Mon, 07/24/2017 - 14:24

Teen Vogue, a magazine targeting 11- to 17-year-olds girls, recently published a how-to article instructing teens how to perform anal sex. This article is on the heels of a recent article on how to masturbate if you are a male and a similar article on how to masturbate if you are female. All three articles are written by Gigi Engle, a self-proclaimed writer, sex educator and feminist activist. In the “anal 101” article, Engle states that anal sex is a “perfectly natural way to engage in sexual activity” and that “there is no wrong way to experience sexuality.” The truth of God’s Word opposes both of these statements.

Obviously, this article promotes a troubling agenda aimed at teenagers[1] that is counter to biblical commands and principles. The four most egregious areas are:

  1. Promotion of sex outside of marriage. Engle’s article promotes teens having premarital sex. The Bible is quite clear that premarital sex is outside the confines of the biblical covenant of marriage. This distorted form of sexuality (sexual immorality) is referred to as fornication or sin (Hebrews 13:4, Matthew 15:19).
  2. Promotion of homosexuality. Engle’s article purports it is helping “LGBTQ young people.” God’s Word is clear that homosexuality is a sin. The biblical basis that homosexuality is a sin begins in Genesis 1:27-28 and Genesis 2:24. Here, God defines the institution of marriage (He’s the only one who can since He created it). He ordains it as a permanent union of one man and one woman. Jesus also reaffirms marriage as a sacred, monogamous and life-long institution joining one man and one woman in Matthew 19:4-6. Marriage is a covenant relationship and an institution established by God and is not simply a human social construct. ANY sexual behavior outside the husband/wife marriage relationship is sinful, including premarital sex, adultery, bestiality, pornography and homosexuality. The Bible speaks of the immorality of homosexual behavior in Genesis 19:1-27, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:18-27, and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
  3. Promotion of sex as recreation. Engle’s article promotes a counterfeit sexual morality by promoting sexual activity among teenagers as recreation. God intended so much more for sex. Sex is a coordinating sign of the covenant of marriage, a physical reflection of the one-flesh union (Genesis 2:24). Within the confines of marriage, sex is intended for procreation (Genesis 1:28, 4:1), unity (Genesis 2:23-24), sexual purity (1 Corinthians 7:1-9), and pleasure (Proverbs 5:15-23, Song of Solomon).
  4. Promotion of being unwise. The Bible calls us to be wise and not foolish (Proverbs 3, Ephesians 5:17). Engle’s article fails to state the wealth of medical evidence that states that anal sex is neither healthy nor safe. Anal sex can lead to tissue damage, including hemorrhoids, damage to sphincter muscles, anal fissures, and colonic perforation. Moreover, there is a high risk of developing fecal incontinence, infection, transmission of STDs, and anal cancer (due to infection by human papilloma virus).

Parents and the church need to counter the culture by teaching teenagers to be in Christ and not in vogue. In the truest sense, we need to teach teenagers to be in the world and not of the world (Romans 12:2, 1 John 2:15-17). Parents and pastors cannot be silent on the topics of sex and sexuality with teenagers. The world definitely is having the conversation—and not for teenagers’ eternal good.

[1] This post focuses on anal sex and teenagers. A natural extension I’m often asked in The Christian Home class I teach at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is whether anal sex is permitted within the confines of marriage. Although the wisdom principle (number 4 above) should apply, I offer the following three-step rubric for married couples to use in evaluating sexual practices: (1) Is a given sexual practice or activity prohibited in Scripture? Does it violate Scriptural moral principles? (2) Is a given sexual practice or activity beneficial or harmful (physically, emotionally and spiritually) (Romans 13:12-14)? (3) Does a given sexual practice or activity involve persons outside the marriage relationship (Hebrews 13:4)?

Categories: Seminary Blog

Four Facts about American Revival Theology

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 09:30

Revivals are sometimes said to be a thing of the past, a holdover from an earlier era of the church that is no longer practical in our postmodern age. Well, the last time I checked, God is still in the business of converting souls, whether it be one at a time or through large-scale awakenings. If He desires, He can again bring about revival, one that outshines anything we have seen before. After all, He “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).

There was a day in America when revivals were commonplace. From 1720 until 1860, a steady stream of revivals dotted the American landscape, a factor that led many pastors and theologians to reflect deeply on the nature of revival and publish works answering numerous questions associated with it:

  • What is the nature of salvation?
  • Is there a standard sequence one experiences in conversion?
  • How are ministers to preach and counsel individuals seeking salvation?

These questions occupied dozens of publications in the period, and together they formed a coherent genre in American theological literature. I have examined these writings in my recent book Theologies of the American Revivalists: From Whitefield to Finney (IVP Academic, 2017). Here are several fun facts about the history of revival theology in early America you may not be aware of:

1. Did you know that conversions generally were “longer” in the First Great Awakening than in the Second Great Awakening?

When people experienced conversion during the First Great Awakening (1740s), it was not uncommon for their experience to take days or weeks to be completed. This was because folks understood conversion to include a three-part process that included conviction of sin, conversion (repentance and faith), and consolation (assurance of salvation). Many believed they could only truly believe after they had identified the fruit of the Spirit in their lives, such as a love for Christ and a hearty desire to trust Him for salvation. Because it took time to identify these fruits, one’s conversion experience often took a long time.

By the Second Great Awakening (early 1800s), this situation had changed because revivalists came to associate salvation with an act of the will. After all, they reasoned, a person is converted when one has believed, trusted, or placed his faith in Christ—all acts of the will. This shift was the result of Methodist expansion, which popularized Arminianism, and New England Calvinism, which stressed the sinner’s natural ability to believe (i.e. sinners can believe if they so desire) in spite of his moral inability to do so (he will not trust Christ because an unbeliever does not want to). In short, this shift generally reduced the length of a convert’s conversion experiences.

2. Did you know Charles Finney believed that revival was impossible without the Holy Spirit?

Charles Finney, the influential revivalist of the 1820s and ‘30s, is often portrayed by his critics as a mechanizer of ministry who so over-emphasized the human side of revival that he effectively left the Holy Spirit out of the process. While there were definitely problems with his theology, this specific criticism is not one of them, for he repeatedly stressed the necessity of the Holy Spirit in conversion and revival.

The “truth by itself,” he noted, “will never produce the effect [of salvation], with the Spirit of God.” Elsewhere, he remarked that “unless God interpose the influence of his Spirit, not a man on earth will ever obey the commands of God.”

When Finney described the relationship between the various agents of salvation (God, the preacher, and the convert), he often employed an illustration. Imagine a man walking toward Niagara Falls deep in thought, oblivious to the danger in front of him. Just when he is about to take to final step over the edge, a bystander cries out, “Stop!” disturbing the man’s dreamy state, whereupon he turns aghast, stops walking, and is saved. When we ask, “Who saved this man’s life?” Finney said there are multiple answers: the bystander; the message itself (“Stop!”); the man who stopped walking; and God, who oversaw the process.

The parallels with revival are obvious, but Finney did note there is one big difference between this illustration and revival. In salvation, the Holy Spirit must do far more than merely ensure that the mind hears the message correctly. He must pour a torrent of motives into the soul in order to persuade sinners to turn from their sin: “because no human persuasion,” he preached, “… will cause him to turn; therefore the Spirit of God must interpose [His work] to shake [the sinner’s] preference, and turn him back from hell.”

3. Did you know that Calvinism and activism go together?

Calvinist critics often point out that Calvinism inherently undermines evangelistic activity: If God is infallibly going to save His elect, why try to add to His sovereign work? This reasoning may appear sound at first, until we actually look into history and find activistic language in the sermons of Calvinist evangelists.

Notice, for instance, the repeated language of “choosing” in Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “The Excellency of Christ”:

Let what has been said be improved to induce you to love the Lord Jesus Christ, and choose him for your friend and portion…. Would you choose a friend that is a person of great dignity? … Christ is infinitely above you, and above all the princes of the earth … [yet he] offers himself to you, in the nearest and dearest friendship. Would you choose to have a friend not only great but good? In Christ, infinite greatness and infinite good meet together.

Jonathan Dickinson, a contemporary of Edwards, noted that though sinners cannot save themselves, there is something they can do in seeking salvation. “Labor after a lively impression of your incapacity to produce this grace in yourselves…. And labor to exercise faith in Christ. Though you cannot work this grace in yourselves; yet if ever you obtain it you yourselves must use and exercise it.” In short, activism, both on the part of the minister and the seeker, was inherent in the evangelistic methodology of Calvinist revivalists.

4. Did you know that early Restorationists (Churches of Christ) rejected emotional conversion experiences?

The frontier revivals of the Second Great Awakening were known for their deeply emotional preaching and dramatic conversions, where persons experienced strange “charismatic” phenomena like falling over, the “jerks,” and barking. There was widespread criticism of these revivals. Alexander Campbell, an early leader of the Restoration movement, offered a theological response to them. Campbell argued that the Old Testament moral law no longer applies in this age of the Gospel and therefore preachers should not preach it to generate conviction as a path to conversion. It is not necessary, he wrote, for sinners to experience “some terrible process of terror and despair through which a person must pass, as through the pious Bunyan’s slough of Despond, before he can believe the gospel.” All that is required from the would-be convert is belief in Christ.

Campbell maintained that faith is similar to the process of learning. In both, we intellectually become aware of new ideas and, based upon certain criteria, affirm them to be true. Faith is merely the process of affirming the truthfulness of the apostles’ testimonies; there is no emotional component inherent in it. Thus, Campbell downplayed emotional conversion narratives and put forth what critics called a rationalistic view of faith and salvation.

American revivals are a fascinating topic to study. If we desire to see more of them, we might benefit by tapping into the wisdom of our evangelical forefathers in our efforts to construct a biblically mature revival theology.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Should churches promote high self-esteem?

Tue, 07/11/2017 - 09:30

Let us consider for a moment how popular it has become to promote a positive self-image, to affirm personal identity in self, and to uplift confidence in one’s own ability. Better yet, let us consider how popular this has become specifically among believers. Whether a mother uplifting her daughter’s self-image or a speaker striving to proclaim a message that makes people “feel better” about themselves, is it biblical to promote high self-esteem for those in the body of Christ?

This is a question I have wrestled with quite often in my early years of the faith. Why? Because uplifting and encouraging others in self has always seemed to be such a noble task that should be championed by the church. In fact, why would anyone get upset at people promoting high self-esteem among other Christians? What’s wrong with wanting to make people feel good? If someone is lowly, shouldn’t we as the church attempt to uplift him in his abilities?

These are all great questions. However, this is not a matter of what sounds best. Rather, we must consider whether promoting high self-esteem lines up with Scripture. As believers living in an utterly depraved world, we will face a lifetime battle in answering life’s toughest questions by choosing one of the following:

  1. I will do this because it’s biblical.
  2. I will do this because “I’ve seen it work.”[1]

As believers, we have the blessed assurance of knowing our faith is firmly grounded in the absolute truths of Scripture (Psalm 1:1-3). In the Word, we find life (Proverbs 4:4), hope (Titus 2:13), and ultimate fulfillment (Psalm 3:2-6) because we find Jesus saturated on each page. Therefore, before we consider truth claims or practices based on results, we must run them through a filter and see whether they are truly biblical. Thus, if we are striving to be biblical, let us hold the phrase “high self-esteem” up to a biblical filter and answer an important question: Is self-esteem a biblical concept?

Self-esteem can be defined as the subjective self-measure of an individual’s worth and value.[2] According to psychology, when every humanistic need is met, mankind can reach their ultimate fulfillment. This fulfillment is called “self-actualization.” Therefore, a self-actualized individual is one who has fulfilled all humanistic needs—one of those being high self-esteem—in order to reach a point of self-fulfillment. Psychology teaches that promoting high self-esteem equates to showing people that ultimate satisfaction can be attained through self. At its very core, this is not a biblical concept, but a psychological construct.

Why does this concept pose a problem for believers?

Biblical Filter

If God’s Word is superior to all things for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16), then does Scripture advocate psychology’s theory of promoting “high self-esteem” to reach “self-fulfillment”? Let me use a personal example that may relate to many of you reading this article.

Look back on your life and recall the day our Lord saved you from your sins. I may not remember the specific date the Lord saved me, but I will never forget what happened that day. I was laying prostrate on my bedroom floor, mourning the sinful life I was choosing to live. Granted, at the time, I was only 8, but the impact of God’s Word resonated so deep that it pierced my stone-cold heart. God’s Word showed me that I was a foul sinner (Romans 3:23), completely helpless in my current state (Romans 5:6), fought to see the destruction of God’s Kingdom (Galatians 5:17), and even enjoyed dwelling in darkness. The Word of God went on to teach me of my brokenness, and that without a miraculous change (2 Corinthians 5:17) from God’s own choosing (John 6:44), my life was destined for death and destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:8).

Further, the Word of God clearly depicted me as an individual always in this state of dependence, fragility and brokenness.

One thing is certain: once I understood this, I did not feel very good about myself and what I accomplished in life. In fact, none of the people I know who fully grasp their depravity and wretchedness regard these truths as a boost to their self-esteem. That is because our confidence, hope and fulfillment are not found in what I can discover deep within myself. Even if there were a way to bring the deepest depths of my heart to light, I would only be deceived by the wickedness that comes from within (Jeremiah 17:9). Therefore, that which I choose to esteem should not be myself; rather, I should exalt the God who is able to save!

The promotion of the self-esteem concept was originally designed to fit into the paradigm created by psychologists in their finite understanding of man’s true needs separate from Scripture. How do I know this was separate from Scripture? Because everything psychology suggests for man’s ultimate need is completely contrary to God’s Word. Choosing to esteem self is the exact opposite of what Scripture teaches regarding the believer’s trajectory.

In Romans 3:10-18, the apostle Paul presents a compelling image of the depravity of mankind. In these verses, we see the downward trajectory of mankind as sin takes us further from God toward an empty, bottomless nothing, only to be reversed by the actions of God, who, by His grace, sent His Son as a propitiation for all mankind (verses 21-26). God is further glorified when man takes on a posture of decreasing self (John 3:30).

The ultimate goal of seeking to promote high self-esteem is to teach man to depend on man, whereas the ultimate goal of Christianity is to show man that, apart from God, we can do nothing (John 15:5). Therefore, let the churches always posture our hearts toward Christ, in whom we find our only hope and ultimate fulfillment.

But what a minute…

Does this mean it’s unbiblical to promote confidence within our children, friends, family, etc.? How is it unbiblical to uplift their spirits by encouraging them?

To properly answer these questions, we must be on the same page when it comes to defining the word “confidence.” According to Scripture, we are to “put no confidence in the flesh,” but only “glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:3). It is true that we, as believers, are called to pursue mutual uplifting (Romans 14:19), encouraging one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11), and stirring our brothers and sisters toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24). However, in these biblical actions, notice the direction in which we are ultimately pointing people.

In each instance mentioned above, we are pursuing these godly acts in order to point believers back toward the greatest fulfillment, which can only be found in Christ. It is not unbiblical to uplift, encourage and instill confidence within a fellow believer that will stir his affections toward Christ. It is contrary to Scripture when we turn those affections to our own abilities. Confidence and encouragement should always be found through the weakness of self, which points us to our hope of being eternally satisfied in Jesus Christ alone.

[1] This is defined as pragmatism.
[2] For further reading on this topic, visit: http://www.simplypsychology.org/self-concept.html

Categories: Seminary Blog

The Speech of Freedom

Tue, 07/04/2017 - 09:30

Today is Independence Day, one of the most celebrated American holidays. This day marks our freedom as a nation secured 241 years ago. Perhaps you will celebrate this freedom today at a parade, park, backyard barbeque, beach, ball game, or somewhere else of your choosing with family and friends. However you choose to celebrate, you do so as an expression of the freedom you have received, even if it is simply living a normal day—freely.

Your freedom, of course, was not free and is not free. Thousands of soldiers gave their lives in the American Revolution, and thousands more have paid the ultimate price to maintain our freedom. As many have said, the ongoing price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Ronald Reagan warned, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We did not pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. … We must fight for it, protect it, defend it, and then hand it to them. … They must do the same.”[1] We, therefore, cannot say “thank you” enough to the men and women of our U.S. armed forces who have fought for our freedom and continue to fight for it today.

The freedom we have and hold in America is an amazing thing. It is truly priceless. Yet, those of us who know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior know an even greater freedom. We not only know a human freedom that comes with being an American; we also know an eternal freedom we received when Jesus bought us with His blood, adopted us into the family of God, and set us free from the bonds of sin and death forever. This is ultimate freedom!

Of course, Jesus alone secured this freedom, but who introduced it to you? Who was vigilant? Who was intentional to pass it on? Who fought for you by telling you about it?

The churches that dot the landscape of America today are numerous but not perfect. In fact, there is no perfect church. Broadly speaking, the churches in our land are struggling. Our struggles are many, but one issue stands out as most acute. Coincidentally, the day on which we celebrate our birth as a nation can point us to the solution, revealed most clearly in the days when the church was born.

The birth of the church is recorded in the book of Acts. On the day of Pentecost, God fulfilled the promise that Jesus’ disciples would receive the Holy Spirit and be empowered to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. Jesus defeated sin and death by freeing forever all who would trust Him for forgiveness of sin. Our forefathers won our freedom as a nation as they gave their lives on the field of battle. Now, our armed forces continue to fight for the freedom that our enemies seek to steal. Yet, Jesus alone won our spiritual freedom by giving Himself on a rugged cross, and this spiritual freedom remains ours forever!

Think of it this way: Our American freedom is something we must be vigilant to secure. Ultimately, the battle for freedom is never over. In stark contrast, our spiritual freedom is eternally secure. What remains is the responsibility to share it—to proclaim the message of freedom so that others may be free. This is exactly what the newborn church did in the book of Acts.

Just think about it … Jesus gave His followers one primary responsibility: to witness (Acts 1:8). Jesus commissioned His followers to speak of what they had seen, heard, and come to know, and, in doing so, to produce additional followers of Jesus Christ. They had the task, now they just needed the power. It came profoundly in Acts 2. From there, the disciples literally opened their mouths and spoke the Gospel everywhere they went. Their empowered proclamation caused the Word to spread, and the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:47). Why? Because they simply spoke the Gospel.

The disciples could not help but speak of what they had seen and heard (Acts 4:20). When they faced opposition, they prayed for boldness to continue speaking the Gospel (Acts 4:29). When asked to be silent, they said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). When there was an internal complaint, they addressed it while continuing to prioritize speaking God’s Word and prayer (Acts 6:2-4). Those who had to scatter due to persecution spoke the Word as they went (Acts 8:4). When the Holy Spirit fell, He fell on those who heard the Word because the disciples were speaking the Word (Acts 10:44). The Word was spoken, and as a result, it spread throughout the whole region (Acts 13:49).

The church was not perfect, but it did have peace. It was being built up, and the church walked in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit because the church overwhelmingly gave themselves to their primary responsibility of witnessing to the good news of Jesus Christ (Acts 9:31).

I believe one of the main problems with local churches in America is that we are silent. We pray for revival, but we do not speak the Gospel. We gather to hear one man preach the Word, but we do not scatter to speak the Gospel everywhere we go. We read our Bibles, we worship corporately, we seek to live godly lives, we train our children at home, we prayer walk, and we take the occasional mission trip, but rarely do we personally speak the Gospel to a lost person. We enjoy our national freedom while our silence ensures the bondage of the spiritually enslaved.

On a day when we celebrate our American freedom, this is a call to speak for the sake of spiritual freedom. This is a call to speak up and end our silence, a silence that leads to death for the lost and internal decay for the church. Brothers and sisters, let us speak up! Invite a lost person to your backyard barbeque and speak the Gospel. Take your neighbors to the lake and share the hope you have with them. Ask the person seated next to you at the ball game or parade if he knows of the freedom Christ offers. Seek out a lost person and speak the Gospel to him. You have freedom of speech, but do you voice the speech of freedom?

Remember, if the church’s job was simply to exist, then Jesus would have already returned. The church, however, is still here so it can grow. Yet, we will not grow if we do not speak the Gospel. So let us die to our silence and speak so the dead might live. By doing so, we will celebrate both freedoms we have today.

[1]Ronald Reagan. Speech given on March 30, 1961, to the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce. Audio available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gf9Y7UgGi0.

Categories: Seminary Blog

The Superb Right and Tragic Wrong of the SBC Alt-Right Resolution

Thu, 06/29/2017 - 14:41

Never is it wrong to state a firm case for racial justice in America. If racism continues to be problematic the world over; at least not in America, and certainly not in the SBC, should we ever tolerate the raising of the ugly head of injustice or the unkindness that accompanies any racial intolerance. God is the Creator of all men, and He said that all that He created was “very good.” We, as Baptists, are entitled to no other view. The denunciation of the racism of the “alt-right” is most certainly in order.

As Southern Baptists were voting their approval of the resolution against the alt-right, Congressman Steve Scalise was in the gun sight of a rabid member of what might be fairly styled “the alt-left.” And make no mistake, that angry man did not mean to wound but rather was determined to kill – all the Republicans that he could. That is why the resolution against the “alt-right” was superbly right and tragically wrong at the same time.

The free speech guaranteed by our Constitution has been abrogated on numerous college and university campuses. The president of the United States has been threatened with assassination as public entertainers have resorted to the coarsest of language to badger those, like the president, with whom they disagree. All the while, innocent infants in the “safety” of their mothers’ wombs continue to be slaughtered under the moniker of “women’s health.” And an astonishing percent of these precious little ones are from the African American community!

The point is that while the “alt-right” is guilty of much violence, they are hardly alone. In fact, many reasonable assessments of the circumstances in America suggest that what has played itself out in the last several months is an argument that the “alt-left” is as guilty as anyone.

Baptists, as those who refrained from violence, have always differed with their “cousins in the faith” from most other communions. Baptists have insisted on freedom of speech, open discussion, kindness and graciousness as something owed to all in the light of God’s extension of grace to us. Our Anabaptist forefathers suffered gallantly for Christ and made no effort to confront the violence of both Catholics and Protestants. Instead they followed the instructions of Peter, who said,

For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that you should follow in His steps: “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed” (1 Peter 2:21-24).

Southern Baptists must walk a precarious tightrope, which will make the feats of the famous Wallendas seem insignificant in comparison. Every form of human violence must be opposed on the right, on the left, or in the center. Even when a “just war” must be waged, as Augustine outlined, Baptists must rue the violent death of every person, do what they can to limit and relieve any suffering, and constantly seek the Spirit of God to purge their own hearts of all but forgiveness and mercy.

In fact, emphasizing this principle is how we advance the Kingdom of Christ. Following the teachings of our Lord, appropriate attitudes and behaviors must ensue. And when we speak against something, as we sometimes must, we do have to be fair. God give us the grace to walk carefully this tightrope.

Paige Patterson, President
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Fort Worth, Texas

Categories: Seminary Blog

Now What?: Reflecting on the theme of Prayer from this years SBC

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 09:30

In preparation for this year’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, SBC President Steve Gaines penned a letter to Southern Baptists encouraging them to pray and fast for the forthcoming meeting. Gaines reminded Southern Baptists, “God does things when we pray and fast that He does not do if we don’t pray and fast.”[1]

The theme of prayer carried over into the meeting itself, which had the theme, “Pray! For such a time as this.” Gaines, in his presidential address derived from Acts 13, encouraged those present to minister to the Lord through prayer and worship in order to see the power of God.

The theme of prayer and petitioning God was ever present in this year’s convention. From the podium and throughout the auditorium, prayers were lifted for our Lord to do a mighty work in our land. It was a beautiful time of worship and a reminder of what unites us as Southern Baptists. Now I ask: Since we have gathered to pray and been encouraged to pray, what must we do to see the power of God move—like we prayed for?

To that question, I would provide two answers:

1. Keep Praying[2]

History is rife with examples of the influence of persistent prayer on spiritual awakenings. There is perhaps no greater example of the power of prayer to spiritual awakening than the Laymen’s Prayer Revival of 1858.

Jeremiah Lanphier, a Dutch Reformed city missionary to New York City, began his ministry with a simple prayer: “Lord, what will thou have me to do?” Lanphier, convinced of the power of prayer and seeing the spiritual and moral decline in the city around him, felt compelled by God to establish a prayer meeting in the city. To attract attention to his prayer meeting, Lanphier dispersed a handbill embossed with the words, “How Often Shall I Pray?” The handbill answers,

As often as the language of prayer is on my heart, as often as I see my need of help, as often as I feel the power of temptation, as often as I am made sensible of my spiritual declension or feel the aggression of a worldly spirit. In prayer we leave the business of time for that of eternity and intercourse with men for intercourse with God.

Lanphier’s prayer meeting was initially met with little interaction. On the first day, Lanphier began the meeting alone and attracted only six attendees by the end. In the second week, 20 showed up to pray, and by the third week, 40. On October 14, after having decided to meet daily, there were more than 100 in attendance.

As the meeting continued to grow, scores of individuals became convinced of their need for Christ and turned to Him. As the prayer meeting grew, similar meetings sprung up across the city, the state and, ultimately, the nation.

As the meetings spread, so did the conversions. The growth of the prayer meetings prompted evangelistic services and meetings throughout the nation. Over a two-month period, more than 3,000 individuals were converted in Newark, New Jersey. In New York City, more than 10,000 turned to Christ. The revival ultimately spread throughout the nation and into towns, cities and universities where many were engaged in intense prayer and thousands were converted to Christ.

God’s work through fervent prayer is evident in the Laymen’s Prayer Revival, and I must say God can surely do it again! Gaines’ call to prayer at the SBC meeting is but a starting place for us as individuals and as a convention. If we harken back to Lanphier’s original handbill and ask ourselves, “How often shall I pray?” certainly the answer is, “More than we already do.”
If we were also to ask, “What should we pray?” I think the answer would be Lanphier’s original prayer: “Lord, [if we are to see awakening in our churches and nation,] what would you have me to do?”

As the Lord answers this prayer, I would encourage you to start preparing yourself and your churches for whatever the answer is.

2. Start Preparing

Every season of spiritual awakening has begun with a season of spiritual preparation. Surveying the history of spiritual awakenings, awakening leaders always prepare their hearts for service and their minds for action.

John Wesley, Charles Wesley and George Whitfield—all stalwarts of the first Great Awakening—studied together at Oxford University. As they studied, these men sought to encourage one another in their studies as well as in their spiritual lives. United together in what was called the “Holy Club,” they prepared their hearts for faithful service to the Lord.

Whitfield remarked about the Holy Club:

Never did persons strive more earnestly to enter in at the strait gate. They kept their bodies under, even to an extreme. They were dead to the world, and willing to be accounted as the dung and offscouring of all things, so that they might win Christ. Their hearts glowed with the love of God and they never prospered so much in the inner man as when they had all manner of evil spoken against them. … I now began, like them, to live by rule, and to pick up the very fragments of my time, that not a moment of it might be lost. Whether I ate or drank, or whatsoever I did, I endeavored to do all to the glory of God. … I left no means unused which I thought would lead me nearer to Jesus Christ.[3]

The preparation and example of the Holy Club illustrates for us what must happen if we hope to see Spiritual Awakening in our churches and nation. We must prepare our hearts and live in such way that we reflect the glory of God instead of our own worldliness. As Lewis Drummond notes, “A spiritual awakening is no more than God’s people seeing God in His holiness, turning from their wicked ways, and being transformed into His likeness.”[4] Our only hope for seeing spiritual awakening is preparing our hearts by patterning our lives after the example of Christ.

The example of Whitfield, the Wesleys and the Holy Club shows not only the preparation of their hearts, but also the preparation of their minds. The Holy Club, with its founding at Oxford University, comprised a group of men committed to studying and preparing their minds for great service to the Lord. In addition to the Holy Club, William Tennent’s Log College exhibits the preparation that has often been a part of great spiritual awakenings.

In the early 1700s, William Tennent came to America and built a Log Cabin to serve as a theological training center for his sons. Burdened by the state of the church, Tennent found it necessary to educate his sons and eventually other young men in language, logic and theology. In addition, Tennent instilled in each of these young men a passion for preaching the Word and reaching others with the Gospel.

George Whitfield, having visited the school, remarked, “From this despised place seven or eight worthy ministers of Jesus have lately been sent forth; more are almost ready to be sent; and the foundation is now laying for the instruction of many others.” Whitfield would later call Tennent’s eldest, Gilbert, and other graduates of the Log College the brightest lights for the Gospel in the whole Colony of Pennsylvania.

These men set out from the Log College having prepared for Gospel ministry and were used mightily in the time of revival known as the first Great Awakening. The preparation by those involved with the Holy Club as well as those who attended the Log College allowed them to have a fruitful ministry during the awakening. I would say to those of us who are praying for awakening that we must also prepare for awakening by devoting time to preparing our minds for Gospel action.

For some, like Tennent, the Wesleys and Whitfield, this preparation requires engagement in formal theological education. In our context, formal theological education most often takes place in a theological seminary. Devoting oneself to the study of theology helps prepare both the mind and the spirit for service to the Lord. Armed with a formal theological education, a young minister seeing the fruits of revival is able to rightly apply the truth of God’s Word to the world around him, and he is able to protect the church from any sort of doctrinal drift that may arise and seek to disrupt a vast movement of God. As a map lays out a proper route for a trip, so a formal theological education guides the life and work of a minister. Though a map may not indicate every roadblock that is in the way, it will always indicate a way forward. Though a theological education may not provide every answer a minister needs, it will provide the right resources to indicate the proper answer and prepare them for whatever ministerial roadblocks they may face.

Vital to an awakening will be individuals who have prepared for service via formal theological education. For some, this should serve as a call to begin preparation for ministry at a seminary. For others who have already completed their time in seminary, this should serve as motivation to “call out the called” and encourage them to begin the pursuit of theological education, not for their own sake, but for the sake of the Gospel and for the purpose of seeing awakening in our world. Should God choose to send an awakening, will He find individuals formally prepared for service to Him? This will depend on commitment to participate in or call others to participate in formal theological education.

For others, who may have already completed their formal theological education, preparation for awakening requires a commitment to training others for Kingdom service. Just as William Tennent used the training he had received to train others, so should those who have been blessed with the opportunity to receive a theological education use what they have received to train others. Certainly, every sermon and lesson is training, but what if, as a pastor or leader, you endeavored to work closely with a small group of individuals who seem passionate about serving the Lord?

What if, with the training you have received previously, you instructed a small group in evangelism, apologetics and theology? What if you were able to send out from your church into the work force and world a group of individuals who were fully prepared to share, defend and disciple others in the faith?

A ministry like this will look different from church to church and from pastor to pastor, but if we really want to see awakening in our churches and communities, we will not be able to do it alone! Training others to assist in the work of the ministry will be vital if we hope to see an awakening in our time.

John Wesley was himself convinced of the importance of small groups training for lay ministry. Wesley, quoting from The Country Parson’s Advice to His Parishioners, remarks:

If good men of the church will unite together in the several parts of the kingdom, disposing themselves into friendly societies, and engaging each other, in their respective combinations, to be helpful to each other in all good Christian ways, it will be the most effectual means for restoring our decaying Christianity to its primitive life and vigor, and the supporting of our tottering and sinking Church.[5]

Inspired by this quote, Wesley founded his own group of select brethren in which he trained them in doctrine and commissioned them as ambassadors for Christ. These individuals served as the leaders of the Methodist movement and helped spread the awakening message of Wesley throughout England.

If we truly wish to see revival and awakening in our midst, banding together in prayer and in preparation is our best hope. If we really believe that God hears and will answer our prayers, we must begin even now preparing our communities and ourselves for God to do a mighty work. If we really believe Ephesians 3:20, that God is able to do far more abundantly than all we can ask or imagine, we must commit ourselves to faithful prayer and preparation until we see God start an awakening in our land.

[1]http://www.bpnews.net/48889/gaines-calls-for-21day-fast-before-phoenix-sbc
[2]Much of the historical information and figures throughout the article have been taken from: McDow, Malcolm, and Alvin L. Reid. Firefall: how God has shaped history through revivals. Enumclaw, WA: Pleasant Word, 2002.
[3]Dallimore, Arnold A. (2010-03-04). George Whitefield: God’s Anointed Servant in the Great Revival of the Eighteenth Century (Kindle Locations 178-183). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
[4]Drummond, Lewis A. Eight Keys to Biblical Revival. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1994. pg. 107
[5]Henderson, D. Michael (2016-02-10). John Wesley’s Class Meeting: A Model for Making Disciples (p. 101). Rafiki Books. Kindle Edition.

Categories: Seminary Blog

A Look at the Unity of Isaiah: God’s Case Against the Idols

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 09:30

Until the late eighteenth-century A.D., the overwhelming majority of Jewish and Christian interpreters believed that Isaiah, the son of Amoz, who ministered in Jerusalem during the eighth century B.C., authored the entire book that bears his name. However, German historical-critical scholars Julius Döderlein (1789), Johann Eichhorn (1783), and Wilhelm Gesenius (1819) began to conjecture that Isaiah 1-39 and 40-66 were two separate works written by two different authors about 150 years apart.[1] These scholars did not believe in the supernatural claims of the Bible because they had been influenced by the Enlightenment. Due to their anti-supernatural presuppositions, they rejected the biblical teaching that Scripture was inspired by God (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21). As a result, many proponents of this view claimed that Isaiah 1-39 and 40-66 had to be from two separate authors because 1) the internal evidence appeared to show that chapters 40-66 was written in the Babylonian exile, 2) the style between both sections appear to be different (i.e., the writing in chapters 1-39 is terse and solemn while chapters 40-66 are more developed and its ethos warm and passionate), and 3) the theological viewpoints appear to be different in both sections.[2]

Each of the reasons for propagating that an alleged “Deutero-Isaiah” anonymously wrote chapters 40-66 during the exile, however, is unconvincing.[3] The internal evidence actually supports the view that Isaiah received the entire contents of the book as a direct revelation from God and had prophesied of the coming Babylonian exile in Isaiah 1-39 such as in 1:7-9; 5:13; 14:1-4; and 35:1-4, just as it is in chapters 40-55. Moreover, the argument alleging different writing styles falsely assumes that a writer may not change his writing style when he addresses a different subject or that a writer’s style may not change over time, especially since Isaiah prophesied for over 40 years. And finally, the theological argument is completely subjective because the purpose of chapters 1-39 deal mostly with God’s judgment against Judah and the nations, whereas chapters 40-66 emphasized God’s consolation. Therefore, the differences between the two sections with respect to their theological themes are plainly related to the book’s overall argument and not to a hypothetical second author.

One of the main reasons that critical scholars denied that Isaiah wrote chapters 40-66 is because Cyrus is mentioned about 150 years before he came on the scene. Again, they made this claim because they disallowed supernatural miracles and divine intervention, as well as alleging that prophecy did not function that way because prophets always addressed their contemporaries. Instead, they drew upon the principle of vaticinium ex eventu (Latin: “prophecy from the event”) because it explains how Cyrus’ name could be recorded in Isaiah 44:28 and 45:1 without resorting to divine inspiration.[4] The principle conveniently circumvents any talk of divine intervention and, ultimately, makes biblical prophecy fraudulent since it was written after the prophesied event had already taken place which would make it a deceitful, blatant lie.

This wrong-headed assertion, however, does not satisfy all of the prophetic data contained in the book. It does not account for the fact that the Suffering Servant is none other than Jesus Christ, who fulfilled Isaiah 52:13-53:12 to the letter—not to mention many other messianic prophecies that He fulfilled from the book of Isaiah, such as in 7:14; 9:6; 11:1-2; 49:6; and 61:1-3. Furthermore, Isaiah prophesied of the millennial reign of Christ as well as the New Jerusalem in the New Heavens and New Earth in passages such as 2:1-5; 4:2-6; 9:7; 60:10-22; and 65:17-25. These passages have their counterparts in other prophetic texts such as the book of Revelation. For example, compare Isaiah 60:10-22 with Revelation 21:22-27. The Prophet Isaiah and the Apostle John saw the same vision regarding the New Jerusalem. Therefore, the fact that Cyrus is mentioned by name is not the only prophecy in Isaiah that the critics have to deal with. They must also explain why the prophecies related to Christ as the Suffering Servant (as confirmed in Acts 8:26-36) and the New Jerusalem are also in the book. What is patently clear is that their explanations are reductionistic and woefully insufficient because they do not fully account for the entire prophetic data nor their future fulfillment.

A better way to understand the data is to see the argument contained in chapters 40-66. Passages such as Isaiah 40:18-28; 41:21-25; 42:8-9; 43:10; 44:6-45:7; and 46:18-22, all address the LORD, as the sovereign God over the nations and their idols. In these key texts, God challenges the false gods/idols to a contest. For example, in Isaiah 41:21-29, the LORD demands that the idols tell the future. They cannot because they are less than nothing, but He alone can tell the future and of the coming of Cyrus:

“Present your case,” says the LORD. “Set forth your arguments,” says Jacob’s King.

“Tell us, you idols, what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds so that we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear. But you are less than nothing and your works are worthless; whoever chooses you is detestable. So I have stirred up one from the north, and he comes [i.e., Cyrus of Persia]—one from the rising sun who calls on my name. He treads on rulers as if they were mortar, as if he were a potter treading the clay. Who told of this from the beginning so we could know, or beforehand, so we could say, ‘He was right’? No one told of this, no one foretold it, no one heard any words from you. I was the first to tell Zion, ‘Look, here they are!’ I gave to Jerusalem a messenger of good news [i.e., Isaiah]. I look but there is no one—no one among the gods to give counsel, no one to answer when I ask them. See, they are all false! Their deeds amount to nothing; their images are but wind and confusion.”

After Isaiah prophesied of the Persian king, Cyrus, by name in 44:28 and 45:1, 13 regarding what His “anointed” will do in rebuilding Jerusalem (44:26, 28; 45:13), the temple (44:28), and restoring His people to Judah (45:13), the LORD once again challenged the false gods/idols:

“Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, you survivors of the nations!

They have no knowledge who carry about their wooden idols, and keep on praying to a god that cannot save. Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together!
Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me.”

Thus, it is evident that within the argument of the book that chapters 40-66 address the future exiles in Babylon in order to declare to them hope and comfort because the LORD had forecasted for them a coming “anointed one,” named Cyrus, who will release them from their captivity and assist them in the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its temple. God also declares that only He can prophesy of future events and people—naming them by name (!)—because there are no other gods, but Him alone.[5] The sovereign LORD, however, does not stop there. He goes on to foretell of the coming “Suffering Servant” in Isaiah 52:13-53:12 who will be a substitutionary atonement for us as well as describing the forthcoming New Jerusalem and the New Heavens and New Earth in Isaiah 60:10-22 and 65:17-25. The context of the book, thus, matches the superscription of Isaiah 1:1 and the single call narrative in the entire book which appears in Isaiah 6. There was only one prophet that God called in the book of Isaiah, and he alone saw the vision recorded in the book that the LORD had given him during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

[1]Eugene H. Merrill, Mark F. Rooker, Michael A. Grisanti, The World and the Word (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2011), 367.
[2] Ibid., 368.
[3] Ibid., 369-70. The arguments for this section are from Mark Rooker in the pages noted.
[4]The Latin phrase is translated “prophecy from the event,” meaning that the prophecy was written after the event had already occurred.
[5]Note that the man of God in 1 Kings 13 also prophesied of King Josiah by name and gave specific details regarding what he would do centuries before he came on the scene (cf. 2 Kings 23:16-18).

Categories: Seminary Blog

Fatherhood – The Least Understood Profession

Fri, 06/16/2017 - 09:30

Most humans seem to perceive fatherhood as having exhausted itself at the end of a moment of intimacy with a member of the opposite gender. The male member of the species bows out since the conception inside the woman’s womb is thought to be “part of her body” and therefore of no consequence to him. Little difference is made for the man if the conceived baby is terminated in the womb or born into a fatherless existence. In fact “sperm banks” now make even his presence in conception totally unnecessary. How different the picture of fatherhood is in the Scriptures! And this loss of the concept of fatherhood introduces pandemonium into the entire human system, including an accurate comprehension of God as Father.  For purposes of this blog, the idea of fatherhood encompasses four unique perspectives. Fatherhood includes provision, protection, prudence, and the precepts of God. As anyone can see, this is a long-term assignment more challenging than climbing Mount Everest without oxygen. What do these assignments imply?

•    Provision suggests a job, an income to purchase food and clothing with hopefully something small left over to buy a ticket to March Madness or to take a vacation. Medical bills, taxes, and college will require the remainder and the man will have provided. Undoubtedly, that is all a part of provision – but only a part. Provision also includes passing on to children how to subsist in a difficult and expensive world. Each child must be taught a trade or develop a talent needed by others as provision for his own life. The teen must learn to walk with God who alone can provide for him in all circumstances. And he must see all of these attitudes and actions modeled by his father.

•    Protection is something about which men like to boast. That is why I keep an arsenal at home in the gun safe. No one is about to hurt my family. This I do not denigrate. The assignment from God to fathers is to protect the physical well-being of the family. But many a father lives his whole life without having to engage a physical threat to the personal lives of his family. Nevertheless, he must protect!  On his knees he earnestly intercedes with God for his family. His instruction includes the ways of peace and conflict avoidance. And when peace is not possible and conflict is unavoidable, then he must teach his children how to protect themselves and how to look to God for his intervention.

Protection includes assisting vulnerable young minds in grasping the real enemies who would destroy them: sex outside of God’s boundaries, pharmacological misuse, alcohol, slavery to money, and selfishness. A predilection for entertainment and addiction to electronics must not only be met with “no” but with substitutes that provide better substance for life.

•    Prudence is wisdom in all things relating to God and to life. Many attitudes are learned by children from their mothers. But wisdom or prudence is a virtue specifically delegated to fathers and grandfathers. Proverbs 1:1-7 clarifies the responsibilities of fathers. Wisdom or virtue underscores the development of justice, judgment, and equity on the part of the simple who need prudence. And if a child is wise, he will increase learning.

•    Finally, the precepts of God are to be modeled and taught. The work of priest and prophet is important as would be the role of pastor in the present age, but the primary responsibility for spiritual instruction outlined in Deuteronomy 6 falls completely to fathers and grandfathers. Ostensibly, they have more time with the children. Therefore, they are assigned the task of teaching the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments. They are told how to pursue this task and the extent of the instruction to be given.

A child with a father who meets these criteria grows up with a healthy view of the fatherhood of God, and he also enjoys a relationship with his earthly father that assists him in becoming a natural leader in his world. If you have a father who leads his family in this way, you have every reason to express gratitude to God on this Father’s Day. And work to be sure your son grows up understanding the responsibilities he will have on the day he fathers a child.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Remembering the Value of the Individual

Tue, 06/13/2017 - 10:42

The Southern Baptist Convention begins meeting today (June 13). During the next two days, messengers representing 46,793 churches with 15.3 million members[1] will make important decisions, hear reports about our work, worship together, and fellowship. These two days remind us of the greatness of the task before us and the responsibility that we share to impact the world with the message of the Gospel. In the midst of the complexities of our work, may we also be careful not to forget the value God places on individuals.

The Lord reminded His people, Israel, of this truth in Numbers 3, which tells the story of the redemption of the firstborn. Theologically, this passage teaches three important truths about faith: ownership, redemption, and value. The Bible teaches that while God owns everything, He has specifically designated that the first things are to be dedicated to Him. That includes both resources (animals, income, etc.) and people.

Numbers 3 addresses the redemption of the firstborn of the Israelites. The census determined that the number of the firstborn males was 22,273. Rather than have every family commit their firstborn to the Lord, God stipulated that He would take the tribe of Levi in their place. The math worked out exactly—almost. According to the census, the population of the tribe of Levi was 22,000. Thus, while the Levites were taken in the place of the firstborn of Israel,[2] that left a difference of 273. For these 273, the Lord commanded that five shekels be taken for each individual (1,365 shekels total) and given to Aaron and his sons as a “ransom.”

The number 273 is very specific and stands out from the other seemingly rounded numbers in the chapter. I am not a numerologist, but I am curious about that number. Not surprisingly, there have been quite a few interesting speculations about that number. For example,

  1. Some have found significance in the fact that 273 is the conversion of Celsius to kelvin (273.15), making -273 the lowest limit of the thermodynamic temperature scale, or absolute zero.
  2. One of my favorite explanations for the significance of the number 273 is that it represents the sum total of the 153 fish in John 21:11 and the 120 in the upper room in Acts 1:15.
  3. 273 is the number of people on the boat with Paul in Acts 27:37 (if you subtract Paul, Luke and Aristarchus).
  4. Finally, one might find significance in the 273rd word of Hebrew Bible (yes, I counted!), which is found in Genesis 1:22. That particular word is actually the (untranslated) sign of the direct object of the sentence. Admittedly, I’m not entirely sure of the theological implications of that.

But perhaps the significance is not necessarily in the number, but in the people the number represents. The 22,000 Levites were taken in the place of all but 273 of the firstborn. But what of those 273? They were the extras; the leftovers. Certainly, there’s something more here than simply precision of numbers. God could have just said, “We’ll call it even”; or, “That’s good enough.” But instead, God demanded redemption even for the 273.

I believe there are several lessons that Southern Baptists can learn from the 273. The lessons center on the same three fundamental truths of the passage: ownership, redemption, and value.

  • First, the 273 remind us that God owns all. Indeed, everything we have and all that we are belongs to Him. My prayer for Southern Baptists is that we never forget that our ministry is all about Him, not us. It’s His work; and those whom we are called to serve are His people.
  • Second, the 273 remind us that redemption costs. Every time someone from Israel saw the Levites, they were to remember that they were taken “in our place.” The price for our redemption must be paid; and the inclusion of the 273 emphasizes that the full price had been paid. Today, as believers in Christ, we understand that we are not redeemed with silver or gold, but with the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19). His sacrifice covered our sin. Southern Baptists must remember that our message is about the One who was sacrificed in our place, and the victory we proclaim is that the full price has been paid.
  • Third, the 273 remind us that all are important to God. It is His desire for all to be redeemed and that whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13). This must be our focus. We cannot sit idly by as those for whom Christ died are lost, overlooked, or aborted away. They must be counted because they matter to Him.

So, my prayer for this year’s meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention is that our decisions, business and worship would reflect the God who came in our place; the God who ransoms and redeems; the God who sees the big picture and yet values the individual. May this always drive our methods and our message.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Confronting the World with Christian Affections

Tue, 06/06/2017 - 09:30

Jonathan Edwards, the extraordinary evangelist of the Great Awakening, wrote the classic book A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections in 1746. This amazing manuscript instructs how the presence of “True Christian Affections” in the life of a Christian will lead him to do God’s work and live holy. This lifestyle is inspired by the Holy Spirit, who enables the believer to love the things of God. Edwards describes “Christian Affection” as the love true believers have for God. Essentially, Christian affections are necessary characteristics for effectiveness in the ministry. This can be observed in the gifts of teaching, preaching and evangelism, which are all designed to work against sinful issues in society.

Thus, Christians cannot be ashamed or fearful to address all sinful issues with the Word of God. For in Scripture is the power to influence change in a hostile world. In 2017, Christians are better equipped to present the Gospel than any time in history. The scholarly training in our seminaries and the availability of the Gospel on the information highway makes this possible.

The apostle Paul, in Romans 12:1-3, exemplifies his Christian affections by beseeching other Christians to surrender all to God. For example, he pleads for Christians who love the Lord to present their bodies as living sacrifices. He begs them to be transformed from this world by renewing their minds. He entreats them to try God’s will for their lives so they will know His good and right plan. Each of the above invitations is present in every believer’s pursuit for Christian affections. Loving God and mankind is the highest aspect of having Christian affections. In serving humanity, Christians show their love for God, and the Lord responds by strengthening His followers to live holy among sinful people. While living amid worldly chaos, Christians are called to live by the moral standards set by God as a witness to our fallen society.

When considering all the troubles and evil in this world, the Christian has his work cut out. Former United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in a recent interview on a popular cable news station, said, “I have never seen the world so messed up.” Her statement was in response to the political climate and its residuals across this country. Followers of Christ also find it challenging to remain committed to godly principles in this world’s system. John, the beloved disciple, reminds us to love God enough that we let go of the things of this world:

“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.” (1 John 2:15-16)

In other words, John is saying we must renew our minds with Christian affections and live with a Christian worldview. Make Jesus the reason for all your commitments, or you will soon find yourself out on a tree limb with it being cut off behind. Why is the world impacting the church more than the church is influencing the world?

Marvin Gaye, a popular rhythm and blues and soul singer from the 1960s through the ‘80s, asked this question in a song: “What’s going on?” The answer to his question was the problematic social issues of 1971. In 2017, the world is a very confusing and evil place. This irreligious society, at times, takes us through things we will never understand. For example, officiating funerals for 15- and 16-year-old Christian boys killed by gun violence on consecutive weekends. They were so young, and now they are gone—too quickly. In tragedies like these, Christian affections are important for healing. The power of love can heal and sustain amidst every emotional trauma created by a hostile culture.

What will happen next, no one knows but God. The warning is given by our Lord to watch for an increase in worldly troubles during the last days. In each of life’s disappointments, Christians have a teacher and comforter in the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). The Spirit must give the Christian wisdom to overcome the perplexing social issues of our world, such as:

  • The depraved nature of humanity in world events creating wars of terrorism.
  • Our police killing people for trivial reasons, and people killing the police in fear and anger.
  • Too few ministries to reach the lost for Christ behind prison doors.
  • Racism hidden in the hearts of confessing “Christians” across America on Sunday mornings in segregated churches.
  • The LGBTQ agenda defended by almost every industry in America, which has opened the doors for gender-neutral bathrooms.
  • Mothers aborting their babies in the womb at an all-time high.

Where is the impact of Christianity amid these issues? There is something missing when the world is so far removed from living by Christian principles.

This generation is watching the church and world go in the wrong direction. In like manner, many Christian believers have put their Bibles in the top drawer and embraced the ways of the world in despair. Others have lost their love for God and the principles of His Word. Nevertheless, Christian affections in churches can change the pulpit and the pew, which has become inundated with Christians who are not living by the Word of God. A love for God to stand against sin will bring revival to Christianity, which seems to have lost its purpose and witness. The Lord Jesus would have the church function in love and as a called-out body of baptized believers with the mission of evangelizing lost sinners for Christ. The objective is for Christian conversions to deliver new converts and the Holy Spirit to keep mature believers from the sinful issues that trouble their lives. In this age, we are observing too many Christians who live as if they are not free from sin.

What is the problem? Is the difficulty in converting lives with the message or the messenger? Maybe the issue is in the unsaved hearts and ears of those listening in the pew? Perhaps the problem is in the heart of the preacher who has a fear of delivering a fire and brimstone message that convicts of sin? Is it feasible the solution can be found in both the preacher and the pew, which must be in touch with the Holy Spirit by loving God enough to do His will?

One job of the Holy Spirit is to keep God’s people from failure in sin and ministry. The Bible promises the Holy Spirit will keep believers until the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30); the Spirit now lives in our hearts. If God does not keep us, we cannot keep ourselves. So, let us cry:

Come, Holy Spirit. Fall afresh on us. Fill us with your power. Satisfy our need. Pour it out, Lord. Pour it out, Lord, that we might have Christian affections and we will say, “Yes, yes, yes.”

Categories: Seminary Blog

Confronting the World with Christian Affections

Tue, 06/06/2017 - 09:30

Jonathan Edwards, the extraordinary evangelist of the Great Awakening, wrote the classic book A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections in 1746. This amazing manuscript instructs how the presence of “True Christian Affections” in the life of a Christian will lead him to do God’s work and live holy. This lifestyle is inspired by the Holy Spirit, who enables the believer to love the things of God. Edwards describes “Christian Affection” as the love true believers have for God. Essentially, Christian affections are necessary characteristics for effectiveness in the ministry. This can be observed in the gifts of teaching, preaching and evangelism, which are all designed to work against sinful issues in society.

Thus, Christians cannot be ashamed or fearful to address all sinful issues with the Word of God. For in Scripture is the power to influence change in a hostile world. In 2017, Christians are better equipped to present the Gospel than any time in history. The scholarly training in our seminaries and the availability of the Gospel on the information highway makes this possible.

The apostle Paul, in Romans 12:1-3, exemplifies his Christian affections by beseeching other Christians to surrender all to God. For example, he pleads for Christians who love the Lord to present their bodies as living sacrifices. He begs them to be transformed from this world by renewing their minds. He entreats them to try God’s will for their lives so they will know His good and right plan. Each of the above invitations is present in every believer’s pursuit for Christian affections. Loving God and mankind is the highest aspect of having Christian affections. In serving humanity, Christians show their love for God, and the Lord responds by strengthening His followers to live holy among sinful people. While living amid worldly chaos, Christians are called to live by the moral standards set by God as a witness to our fallen society.

When considering all the troubles and evil in this world, the Christian has his work cut out. Former United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in a recent interview on a popular cable news station, said, “I have never seen the world so messed up.” Her statement was in response to the political climate and its residuals across this country. Followers of Christ also find it challenging to remain committed to godly principles in this world’s system. John, the beloved disciple, reminds us to love God enough that we let go of the things of this world:

“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.” (1 John 2:15-16)

In other words, John is saying we must renew our minds with Christian affections and live with a Christian worldview. Make Jesus the reason for all your commitments, or you will soon find yourself out on a tree limb with it being cut off behind. Why is the world impacting the church more than the church is influencing the world?

Marvin Gaye, a popular rhythm and blues and soul singer from the 1960s through the ‘80s, asked this question in a song: “What’s going on?” The answer to his question was the problematic social issues of 1971. In 2017, the world is a very confusing and evil place. This irreligious society, at times, takes us through things we will never understand. For example, officiating funerals for 15- and 16-year-old Christian boys killed by gun violence on consecutive weekends. They were so young, and now they are gone—too quickly. In tragedies like these, Christian affections are important for healing. The power of love can heal and sustain amidst every emotional trauma created by a hostile culture.

What will happen next, no one knows but God. The warning is given by our Lord to watch for an increase in worldly troubles during the last days. In each of life’s disappointments, Christians have a teacher and comforter in the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). The Spirit must give the Christian wisdom to overcome the perplexing social issues of our world, such as:

  • The depraved nature of humanity in world events creating wars of terrorism.
  • Our police killing people for trivial reasons, and people killing the police in fear and anger.
  • Too few ministries to reach the lost for Christ behind prison doors.
  • Racism hidden in the hearts of confessing “Christians” across America on Sunday mornings in segregated churches.
  • The LGBTQ agenda defended by almost every industry in America, which has opened the doors for gender-neutral bathrooms.
  • Mothers aborting their babies in the womb at an all-time high.

Where is the impact of Christianity amid these issues? There is something missing when the world is so far removed from living by Christian principles.

This generation is watching the church and world go in the wrong direction. In like manner, many Christian believers have put their Bibles in the top drawer and embraced the ways of the world in despair. Others have lost their love for God and the principles of His Word. Nevertheless, Christian affections in churches can change the pulpit and the pew, which has become inundated with Christians who are not living by the Word of God. A love for God to stand against sin will bring revival to Christianity, which seems to have lost its purpose and witness. The Lord Jesus would have the church function in love and as a called-out body of baptized believers with the mission of evangelizing lost sinners for Christ. The objective is for Christian conversions to deliver new converts and the Holy Spirit to keep mature believers from the sinful issues that trouble their lives. In this age, we are observing too many Christians who live as if they are not free from sin.

What is the problem? Is the difficulty in converting lives with the message or the messenger? Maybe the issue is in the unsaved hearts and ears of those listening in the pew? Perhaps the problem is in the heart of the preacher who has a fear of delivering a fire and brimstone message that convicts of sin? Is it feasible the solution can be found in both the preacher and the pew, which must be in touch with the Holy Spirit by loving God enough to do His will?

One job of the Holy Spirit is to keep God’s people from failure in sin and ministry. The Bible promises the Holy Spirit will keep believers until the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30); the Spirit now lives in our hearts. If God does not keep us, we cannot keep ourselves. So, let us cry:

Come, Holy Spirit. Fall afresh on us. Fill us with your power. Satisfy our need. Pour it out, Lord. Pour it out, Lord, that we might have Christian affections and we will say, “Yes, yes, yes.”

Categories: Seminary Blog

Teenagers, Competitions and the Sabbath

Tue, 05/30/2017 - 09:25

A youth pastor told me he was missing some of his core teenagers on Easter Sunday morning. They were playing in a school volleyball tournament. How did our culture come to this?

Plenty of parents take zero interest in their children and their activities. Youth leaders celebrate good parents who support their kids’ endeavors, hoping that worthwhile activities will give their offspring a boost in life. But for believing families, all such decisions fall under the command, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).

Our crumbling culture increasingly will call teenagers to give their Sunday mornings to academic, artistic and athletic competitions and activities. For the moment, traveling sports teams are a special concern, often pulling teenagers out of church for six or more Sundays. Managers pressuring teenagers to work Sunday mornings also are an issue. All this should concern believing parents for at least three reasons.

Inconsistent with God’s Commands

The same God who said, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” said, “You shall not commit adultery.” Believers do not get to cherry-pick the commandments. Is sending a teenager to a tournament on Sunday morning any different from sending a teenage couple to a motel on prom night?

God created the Jewish Sabbath (and its Christian equivalent) to give mankind a weekly way to remember and honor Him. “If because of the Sabbath, you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and honor it … then you will take delight in the Lord” (Isaiah 58:13-14).

One of the central ways God chooses to be honored on His day is through the coming together of the church to worship, “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25). Sunday worship is God’s plan for all nations through all generations.

Jesus pushed back on the Pharisees and their legalism concerning the Sabbath. They had lost the fact that Sabbath observance was to give honor to His Father and provide occasion for His people to worship Him. Today, He likely would resist with equal intensity anything that takes eyes off of the Godhead and precludes the weekly assembling of the body of Christ.

Inconsistent with the Goal of Parenting

Believing parents have no higher goal than this: To see their children leave home to live lives that bring great glory to King Jesus. Children exist for the glory of God, so every parenting action and decision should directly support that purpose.

Parents know that college athletic scouts are more likely to study prospects on a traveling sports team than a school team. For lukewarm church parents, the fact that a traveling team plays on Sunday is less important than the prospect of a scholarship.

Transformed parents work toward and celebrate the accomplishments of their children. But when choices have to be made, they always come down on the side of decisions that glorify Christ now and into the future.

Wise parents explain their decisions to their children. But instead of saying, “Our family always keeps the rules, and going to church is a rule,” discipling parents say, “Our family loves and adores King Jesus, and keeping His day sacred is our way to show that.”

Of course, parents have to set the example with their own choices. For example, after a Saturday night meeting out of town, Dad may have to decide between:

  1. Catching a 7:00 a.m. flight home in order to worship with the family, or
  2. Leisurely grazing the hotel breakfast buffet and then flying at 10:30 a.m.

Kids absorb and pursue what they perceive to be a parent’s priority. Actions always speak louder than words.

Inconsistent with the Life of a Young Disciple

As with all believers, teenagers need their hearts connected to the heart of Christ by a double helix. They need a strand of intimate, warm love intertwined with a strand of adoration and awe (almost holy fear).

Godly parents nurture the “love” strand so that someday a 25-year-old would rather spend Sunday morning with his Beloved than anyone else. And parents nurture the “awe” strand so future young adults so honor God that skipping church never seems like an option.

Teenage disciples are called to “count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). “All things” means all things—including a scholarship given by a college scout on a Sunday morning; or moving from JV to Varsity because coach saw a player working hard in the weight room on Sunday morning; or making first chair in the state orchestra performing on Sunday morning. All those things are good, but Jesus is better.

Teenage behavior patterns tend to last a lifetime. The boy who misses some Sundays becomes the dad who leaves his family at home while he hunts on Sunday mornings. Parents who allow their children to be inconsistent on Sundays need to look ahead. They may grieve when they try to call their future grandchildren, Sunday at noon, and discover they still are in bed.

Church parents sometimes look for excuses to help explain inconsistent respect for God and His fourth commandment. I have heard parents say, “I realize the girls are out five Sundays in a row, but you need to know the coach always reads John 3:16 before Sunday games.” God instructs His children to give Him their attention for a day, not for three minutes. He desires hearts united in worship, not a tip of the hat.

Such reasoning only appeals to those who assume church-going is a religious rule—and therefore any ritual performed satisfies that rule. This is similar to the church member who will not tithe, but drops a dollar in the plate. On Easter.

Parents who deeply desire to see lifetime disciples come from their home will instill love and awe toward King Jesus, toward His day, and toward the weekly gathering of His people.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Teenagers, Competitions and the Sabbath

Tue, 05/30/2017 - 09:25

A youth pastor told me he was missing some of his core teenagers on Easter Sunday morning. They were playing in a school volleyball tournament. How did our culture come to this?

Plenty of parents take zero interest in their children and their activities. Youth leaders celebrate good parents who support their kids’ endeavors, hoping that worthwhile activities will give their offspring a boost in life. But for believing families, all such decisions fall under the command, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).

Our crumbling culture increasingly will call teenagers to give their Sunday mornings to academic, artistic and athletic competitions and activities. For the moment, traveling sports teams are a special concern, often pulling teenagers out of church for six or more Sundays. Managers pressuring teenagers to work Sunday mornings also are an issue. All this should concern believing parents for at least three reasons.

Inconsistent with God’s Commands

The same God who said, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” said, “You shall not commit adultery.” Believers do not get to cherry-pick the commandments. Is sending a teenager to a tournament on Sunday morning any different from sending a teenage couple to a motel on prom night?

God created the Jewish Sabbath (and its Christian equivalent) to give mankind a weekly way to remember and honor Him. “If because of the Sabbath, you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and honor it … then you will take delight in the Lord” (Isaiah 58:13-14).

One of the central ways God chooses to be honored on His day is through the coming together of the church to worship, “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25). Sunday worship is God’s plan for all nations through all generations.

Jesus pushed back on the Pharisees and their legalism concerning the Sabbath. They had lost the fact that Sabbath observance was to give honor to His Father and provide occasion for His people to worship Him. Today, He likely would resist with equal intensity anything that takes eyes off of the Godhead and precludes the weekly assembling of the body of Christ.

Inconsistent with the Goal of Parenting

Believing parents have no higher goal than this: To see their children leave home to live lives that bring great glory to King Jesus. Children exist for the glory of God, so every parenting action and decision should directly support that purpose.

Parents know that college athletic scouts are more likely to study prospects on a traveling sports team than a school team. For lukewarm church parents, the fact that a traveling team plays on Sunday is less important than the prospect of a scholarship.

Transformed parents work toward and celebrate the accomplishments of their children. But when choices have to be made, they always come down on the side of decisions that glorify Christ now and into the future.

Wise parents explain their decisions to their children. But instead of saying, “Our family always keeps the rules, and going to church is a rule,” discipling parents say, “Our family loves and adores King Jesus, and keeping His day sacred is our way to show that.”

Of course, parents have to set the example with their own choices. For example, after a Saturday night meeting out of town, Dad may have to decide between:

  1. Catching a 7:00 a.m. flight home in order to worship with the family, or
  2. Leisurely grazing the hotel breakfast buffet and then flying at 10:30 a.m.

Kids absorb and pursue what they perceive to be a parent’s priority. Actions always speak louder than words.

Inconsistent with the Life of a Young Disciple

As with all believers, teenagers need their hearts connected to the heart of Christ by a double helix. They need a strand of intimate, warm love intertwined with a strand of adoration and awe (almost holy fear).

Godly parents nurture the “love” strand so that someday a 25-year-old would rather spend Sunday morning with his Beloved than anyone else. And parents nurture the “awe” strand so future young adults so honor God that skipping church never seems like an option.

Teenage disciples are called to “count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). “All things” means all things—including a scholarship given by a college scout on a Sunday morning; or moving from JV to Varsity because coach saw a player working hard in the weight room on Sunday morning; or making first chair in the state orchestra performing on Sunday morning. All those things are good, but Jesus is better.

Teenage behavior patterns tend to last a lifetime. The boy who misses some Sundays becomes the dad who leaves his family at home while he hunts on Sunday mornings. Parents who allow their children to be inconsistent on Sundays need to look ahead. They may grieve when they try to call their future grandchildren, Sunday at noon, and discover they still are in bed.

Church parents sometimes look for excuses to help explain inconsistent respect for God and His fourth commandment. I have heard parents say, “I realize the girls are out five Sundays in a row, but you need to know the coach always reads John 3:16 before Sunday games.” God instructs His children to give Him their attention for a day, not for three minutes. He desires hearts united in worship, not a tip of the hat.

Such reasoning only appeals to those who assume church-going is a religious rule—and therefore any ritual performed satisfies that rule. This is similar to the church member who will not tithe, but drops a dollar in the plate. On Easter.

Parents who deeply desire to see lifetime disciples come from their home will instill love and awe toward King Jesus, toward His day, and toward the weekly gathering of His people.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Don’t Judge Me!

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 09:44

Standing for biblical truth elicits many negative responses from those outside the church as well as from some within. This is not surprising since Jesus told His disciples that they would be hated on account of Him (John 15:18-19, 1 John 3:13). While we may simply shrug this off as part of the reality of life, what is more challenging to navigate is the suggestion that by using the word “sin” for certain activities, we violate Jesus’ command not to judge. In popular sentiment, “do not judge” means that one cannot say any behavior is wrong. This understanding is pervasive, but it is severely flawed.[1]

There are pitfalls of judging that we must avoid, but doing so does not mean we cannot call sin what God has called sin. In fact, if we refuse to do so, we act as God’s judge, claiming that our perspective on the situation trumps His own. Similar to the rejection of God’s testimony in 1 John 1:10 and 5:10, this is tantamount to calling God a liar. We must call sin, sin, but we must also remember that God knows all of the details of the situation. We never will, and we often lack key information. As John 7:24 notes, we must not judge by mere appearances but must make a just judgment. If we wish to do so, we are wise to listen well and listen long, remembering the folly of giving an answer too quickly (Proverbs 18:13).

Jesus frequently identified sins, and Paul did the same. Jesus gave instructions for how to deal with a brother who has sinned against you (Matthew 18), and Paul told the Corinthians that he had already judged the brother who was engaged in sexual sin with his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5). Even the Matthew 7 passage most commonly used to prohibit judging includes parameters for identifying sin in someone else’s life.[2] None of these required activities would be possible if identifying something as sin were not permitted. Furthermore, if you cannot rebuke someone else who has wronged you, there is no room even to say, “Don’t judge me.”

In addition to identifying certain behaviors as sinful, believers must judge in at least three other senses: evaluating the merits of a dispute between fellow Christians, evaluating the character of ministry candidates, and evaluating the teachings of those who claim to speak in the name of the Lord.[3] With respect to the first, Paul chides the Corinthians for failing to do so (1 Corinthians 6). Rather than turning to fellow believers to settle a dispute, some went to the courts. In doing so, they guaranteed defeat regardless of the outcome. In the pastoral epistles, Paul lists many qualifications for ministry candidates, primarily focused on character (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1).[4] The evaluation of these qualifications requires wise judgment. Third, believers are commanded not to believe every spirit but to test the spirits to see if they are from God (1 John 4:1). In addition to the content of the message, understanding the character of the speaker is quite important in this evaluation.

While many activities commonly associated with judging are actually required Christian duties, there are some pitfalls that we must avoid, the first of which is hypocrisy. In Matthew 7, Jesus refers to a person concerned with the speck in a brother’s eye instead of being concerned with the log in his own eye. In Romans 2:1-3, Paul rebukes those who pass judgment on others while they themselves do the same things. Before focusing on others, we must deal with the sin in our own lives. Whether it is the same sin we see in others or something completely different, let the light of Scripture and the Holy Spirit’s conviction address us first. This does not mean that we cannot speak to others about sin until we are completely done with sin (that will never happen), but rather that we have dealt significantly and in an ongoing manner with our own sin.

Another pitfall associated with judging is a condemning attitude.[5] I recently saw a friend who was called out for a mistake. Such was fine, but what came with it was not. In addition to calling out the error, I saw broad-brush insults and an attitude of arrogant superiority. If we are tempted to think that someone is beyond hope or that we are far superior to them, let us remember that most of the heroes in the Bible made extreme mistakes. What is more, all of us are just one bad decision away from a radically different life. Our role is not to condemn. That must be left to God. This, of course, is part of the reason that we must warn about sin. Since sin and the wrath of God are real, we must warn others about the coming judgment. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:11, “knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men.”

Just as condemnation is not our role, there are times when we are tempted to address a situation that is none of our business. Romans 14-15 help us here. If the matter is something of a preference rather than a biblical mandate, we are told to keep our perspective to ourselves. Two questions may provide assistance. Are we trying to enforce a law that no longer has authority based on the finished work of Christ (clean and unclean foods, for example)? Are we trying to enforce a law that never had biblical authority in the first place? Determining the difference can be challenging, but it is a task that believers can accomplish by the power of the Spirit.

There are contexts in which Christians must judge, but we must judge justly. As we do so, may we remember the manifold grace and mercy of God in our lives and respond to others in a way that affirms not only the seriousness of sin but also the love and forgiveness that God offers through Christ Jesus.

[1]David Croteau addresses misunderstandings about judging in chapter 7 of his helpful book, Urban Legends of the New Testament.
[2]Croteau, Urban Legends of the New Testament, 38.
[3]In the future, the disciples will take part in judging the 12 tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28), and believers will judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3).
[4]Croteau, Urban Legends of the New Testament, 183.
[5]Croteau affirms the same with respect to Matthew 7:1-2.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Don’t Judge Me!

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 09:44

Standing for biblical truth elicits many negative responses from those outside the church as well as from some within. This is not surprising since Jesus told His disciples that they would be hated on account of Him (John 15:18-19, 1 John 3:13). While we may simply shrug this off as part of the reality of life, what is more challenging to navigate is the suggestion that by using the word “sin” for certain activities, we violate Jesus’ command not to judge. In popular sentiment, “do not judge” means that one cannot say any behavior is wrong. This understanding is pervasive, but it is severely flawed.[1]

There are pitfalls of judging that we must avoid, but doing so does not mean we cannot call sin what God has called sin. In fact, if we refuse to do so, we act as God’s judge, claiming that our perspective on the situation trumps His own. Similar to the rejection of God’s testimony in 1 John 1:10 and 5:10, this is tantamount to calling God a liar. We must call sin, sin, but we must also remember that God knows all of the details of the situation. We never will, and we often lack key information. As John 7:24 notes, we must not judge by mere appearances but must make a just judgment. If we wish to do so, we are wise to listen well and listen long, remembering the folly of giving an answer too quickly (Proverbs 18:13).

Jesus frequently identified sins, and Paul did the same. Jesus gave instructions for how to deal with a brother who has sinned against you (Matthew 18), and Paul told the Corinthians that he had already judged the brother who was engaged in sexual sin with his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5). Even the Matthew 7 passage most commonly used to prohibit judging includes parameters for identifying sin in someone else’s life.[2] None of these required activities would be possible if identifying something as sin were not permitted. Furthermore, if you cannot rebuke someone else who has wronged you, there is no room even to say, “Don’t judge me.”

In addition to identifying certain behaviors as sinful, believers must judge in at least three other senses: evaluating the merits of a dispute between fellow Christians, evaluating the character of ministry candidates, and evaluating the teachings of those who claim to speak in the name of the Lord.[3] With respect to the first, Paul chides the Corinthians for failing to do so (1 Corinthians 6). Rather than turning to fellow believers to settle a dispute, some went to the courts. In doing so, they guaranteed defeat regardless of the outcome. In the pastoral epistles, Paul lists many qualifications for ministry candidates, primarily focused on character (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1).[4] The evaluation of these qualifications requires wise judgment. Third, believers are commanded not to believe every spirit but to test the spirits to see if they are from God (1 John 4:1). In addition to the content of the message, understanding the character of the speaker is quite important in this evaluation.

While many activities commonly associated with judging are actually required Christian duties, there are some pitfalls that we must avoid, the first of which is hypocrisy. In Matthew 7, Jesus refers to a person concerned with the speck in a brother’s eye instead of being concerned with the log in his own eye. In Romans 2:1-3, Paul rebukes those who pass judgment on others while they themselves do the same things. Before focusing on others, we must deal with the sin in our own lives. Whether it is the same sin we see in others or something completely different, let the light of Scripture and the Holy Spirit’s conviction address us first. This does not mean that we cannot speak to others about sin until we are completely done with sin (that will never happen), but rather that we have dealt significantly and in an ongoing manner with our own sin.

Another pitfall associated with judging is a condemning attitude.[5] I recently saw a friend who was called out for a mistake. Such was fine, but what came with it was not. In addition to calling out the error, I saw broad-brush insults and an attitude of arrogant superiority. If we are tempted to think that someone is beyond hope or that we are far superior to them, let us remember that most of the heroes in the Bible made extreme mistakes. What is more, all of us are just one bad decision away from a radically different life. Our role is not to condemn. That must be left to God. This, of course, is part of the reason that we must warn about sin. Since sin and the wrath of God are real, we must warn others about the coming judgment. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:11, “knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men.”

Just as condemnation is not our role, there are times when we are tempted to address a situation that is none of our business. Romans 14-15 help us here. If the matter is something of a preference rather than a biblical mandate, we are told to keep our perspective to ourselves. Two questions may provide assistance. Are we trying to enforce a law that no longer has authority based on the finished work of Christ (clean and unclean foods, for example)? Are we trying to enforce a law that never had biblical authority in the first place? Determining the difference can be challenging, but it is a task that believers can accomplish by the power of the Spirit.

There are contexts in which Christians must judge, but we must judge justly. As we do so, may we remember the manifold grace and mercy of God in our lives and respond to others in a way that affirms not only the seriousness of sin but also the love and forgiveness that God offers through Christ Jesus.

[1]David Croteau addresses misunderstandings about judging in chapter 7 of his helpful book, Urban Legends of the New Testament.
[2]Croteau, Urban Legends of the New Testament, 38.
[3]In the future, the disciples will take part in judging the 12 tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28), and believers will judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3).
[4]Croteau, Urban Legends of the New Testament, 183.
[5]Croteau affirms the same with respect to Matthew 7:1-2.

Categories: Seminary Blog

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