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Selah … Pause and Think of That!

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 09:30

The world is such an uncertain place. We are awash in political, economic, even religious uncertainty. Currents of circumstances crisscross one another in endless complications. Terra firma is difficult ground to find in these days of turbulent turmoil. It seems the one certainty in every area of life is uncertainty.

It was that way in April 1521, when Luther’s ramshackle cart wobbled its way to Worms, Germany. He had been summoned to appear before the emperor and Catholic prelates to give an account of this new “heresy” he was teaching called “justification by faith alone.” The learned Johann Eck laid out all of Luther’s writings and then asked Luther if he was prepared to recant.

Luther retired to his room that night. His Bible fell open to Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change…. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.”

Luther returned the next morning to stand before his Catholic detractors. In response to their call to recant, Luther responded, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”

The Reformation was off and running.

Psalm 46 was Martin Luther’s favorite psalm. During the dark and dangerous periods of the Reformation, Luther would turn to his trusted friend Philip Melanchthon and exclaim: “Let’s sing the 46th Psalm, and let the devil do his worst!” It inspired his great hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

No psalm in all the psalter expresses the tremendous truth that God’s presence and power are with us in all circumstances more than Psalm 46. We need to know God offers us two kinds of help: a stronghold into which we can flee and a source of strength by which we can face the uncertain future.

Psalm 46 is divided into three stanzas, each ending with the mysterious Hebrew word “Selah.” “Selah” was most likely originally a musical notation indicating a pause in the music for contemplation on what was just sung. You might translate it, “Pause and think of that!” When the mountains quake, the Lord is my refuge and strength … Selah! When nations are in uproar and kingdoms fall, the Lord Almighty is with us … Selah! Be still and know that I am God … the Lord Almighty is with us … Selah!

Every new year brings us 365 days of uncertainty. Every new day brings us 24 hours of uncertainty. But every second of every hour of every day, God’s presence and power in our lives is available to us. What does the future hold? It really doesn’t matter, does it, as long as Psalm 46 is true! HIS KINGDOM IS FOREVER! So every day, reflect on Psalm 46, or any passage of Holy Writ, and Selah—pause and think of that!

Categories: Seminary Blog

The time has come to read old books

Tue, 03/14/2017 - 09:30

Each fall, when I begin my survey of church history, I take the time to read and discuss C.S. Lewis’ now famous introduction to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation. Lewis is fascinated by this classic treatment of the incarnation from one of the champions of fourth century Christian theology. As he navigates through the Greek text, Lewis recognizes immediately that it is nothing short of a “masterpiece.”[1] Only a cold, hard heart would not sing when, in the second book, Athanasius brings his argument into focus, proclaiming:

Even so it is with the King of all; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled, and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be. For the human race would have perished utterly had not the Lord and Savior of all, the Son of God, come among us to put an end to death.[2]

The Word of the Father, through whom all things were made, has condescended and entered our world to become like us. He thusly thwarted the devil’s schemes, overturned death, and leads the way to true life. What Lewis finds in Athanasius’ work is a glimpse into what he calls “mere Christianity” that comprises the “great mass of common assumptions” shared from one Christian generation to the next.[3]

Lewis is certainly not the first evangelical to advocate for the value of engaging early Christian thought. Many, many Protestants arising from the various streams of the post-Reformation world often returned to the fountainhead of the fathers to confirm their own theological perspectives.

But the problem in the modern period, as Lewis goes on to say, is that more often than not, the great works of Christian past are set aside in preference for more contemporary books. In the modern world, what is newest is best. Why settle for version 1.0, when 2.0 is already out?

Lewis describes this kind of modern presentism, or chronological snobbery, saying, “There is strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books.”[4] A few lines later, he adds that this “mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology.”[5]

In Lewis’ diagnosis, the modern anxiety of ancient books “springs from humility” because the contemporary Christian thinks himself or herself woefully inadequate to grapple with the intellectual giants of our theological heritage.[6] I have no doubt that this is true, at least in part. But I fear there are other, less virtuous and more pragmatic reasons for this kind anti-ad fontes that privileges the modern over the ancient.

But whatever the reason, Lewis rightly offers the antidote in a clarion call for Christians to pick up and “read the old [books].”[7] A new book, in Lewis’ thinking, is potentially even more dangerous and more deceptive than an ancient one. He argues that those who have no acquaintance with classic Christian thought have no grid (or rule of faith) through which to filter the errors of contemporary books. He writes:

A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said.[8]

Lewis is right. It would take little effort to list a horde of modern books that have captured the hearts and minds of contemporary Christians and directed them off the straight and narrow path.

Lewis makes the poignant observation that the modern Christian has a particular vantage point, and our perspective is “especially good at seeing certain truths and especially liable to make certain mistakes.”[9] The reality is, as Lewis contends, where old books are true, they will help confirm for us the very convictions we already held or even correct some of the blind spots in our own theological reasoning. Where they are false, they will warn us from falling for the same errors and help us steer clear of pitfalls as we navigate the Christian life. Lewis even rounds out his argument with the practical advice to “never … allow yourself another new one [book] till you have read an old one in between.”[10]

The early church was, of course, in no way infallible, as any good student of patristics will be quick to point out. They certainly made their fair share of mistakes. But more often than not, as Lewis recognizes, they did not make the same mistakes.[11] Many recent studies of the evangelical ressourcement of the early church are right to fear any glossing over of the egregious errors of our ancient forbearers.[12] Recovering the theology and exegesis of the early church is not an exercise is idolizing them, but learning from them.

In recent years, it is easy to see how Lewis’ apology for studying early Christian theology participates in a larger movement within contemporary Evangelicalism to recover the theology of the early church. Thomas Oden, who, in many ways, advocated for and accelerated this renaissance, writes, “The sons and daughters of modernity are rediscovering the neglected beauty of classical Christian teaching. It is a moment of joy, of beholding anew what had been nearly forgotten, of hugging a lost child.”[13] A litany of recent evangelical publications evidence Oden’s assessment.[14]

Within this context, Southwestern Seminary is pleased to announce a new center dedicated to the study of the ancient church called the Southwestern Center for Early Christian Studies. The seminary, in fact, has a long track record of research and publications in early Christianity, but now it meets with a heightened focus and attention. A new website, special lectures, patristic reading groups, regular graduate and postgraduate seminars, and a group of faculty and students dedicated to researching the early church will all be features of this new initiative.

I have the privilege of directing this center, but I share this venture with a host of faculty who contribute a wide range of expertise in early Christianity. Anyone interested in studying the early church will find at Southwestern a vibrant academic community interested in recovering what is best from the voices of the past and serious about engaging the fathers for the sake of the church and proclamation of the Gospel.

We are excited about this new initiative and the prospects it holds for future research and teaching at the seminary. For any prospective students or researchers in early Christianity, I encourage you to check out our website and subscribe for regular updates.

Most of all, through the work of the center, we will strive to read more old books and, in the words of Lewis, “keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds.”[15]

[1]C.S. Lewis, “Preface,” in St. Athanasius the Great of Alexandria, On the Incarnation: Greek original and English Translation, 11-17 (Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2011), 16.
[2]Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 2.9.
[3]C.S. Lewis, “Preface,” 12, 13.
[4]Ibid., 11.
[5]Ibid.
[6]Ibid.
[7]Ibid., 12.
[8]Ibid.
[9]Ibid.
[10]Ibid.
[11]Ibid., 13.
[12]See, for example, Paul Hartog, “The Complexity and Variety of Contemporary Church—Early Church Engagements,” in The Contemporary Church and the Early Church: Case Studies in Ressourcement (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2010), 1.
[13]Thomas Oden, After Modernity—What?: Agenda for Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), 14.
[14]See for example: D.H. Williams, Evangelicals and Tradition: The Formative Influence of the Early Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2005); Mark Husbands and Jeffrey P. Greenman (eds.), Ancient Faith for the Church’s Future (Grand Rapids, MI: IVP, 2008); and George Kalantzis and Andrew Tooley (eds.) Evangelicals and the Early Church: Recovery, Reform, Renewal (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011).
[15]C.S. Lewis, “Preface,” 13.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Stick Figures as an Act of Worship: 8 Tips for Helping Children Listen in Big Church

Tue, 03/07/2017 - 09:30

Drawing stick figures can be a spiritual act of worship. That statement may sound childish to you, but it can become a gateway into engaging your children with your pastor’s weekly sermon. And, you might be surprised at how often it causes you to engage more as well.

In elementary school, I sat in the pew of my local church each Sunday and drew pictures during the sermon. My mom bought me twistable crayons, which I thought were awesome, and I created masterpieces on the back of church bulletins. However, these masterpieces had nothing to do with the sermon because, honestly, I wasn’t listening. My mom had simply given me something to pass the time.

As a young adult, I heard a pastor say he challenged the children in his church to draw pictures of his sermon. The children often showed him their works of art afterward, and he was amazed that these children were indeed listening to, and understanding, his sermons. He kept some of the sketches as reminders of how the Word of God was shaping even the youngest hearts in his congregation.

As my own children graduated from the nursery, my wife and I committed to helping them learn to worship in Big Church. More than trying to teach them to “behave and be quiet,” we wanted them to engage in the music, prayers, offerings and sermon as best they could at their age. Frankly, I wasn’t sure how it would go. Sure, they could participate in the music and “get the wiggles out,” but could children really grasp everything in a 30- to 45-minute sermon? But time has proven that I underestimated how much they pick up.

It hasn’t been easy. Some weeks caused me to want to give up and default into “behave and be quiet” mode. But by God’s grace, we kept at it and little by little began to experience the overwhelming joy of seeing our elementary-age kids grasp the Word of God and grow in their understanding of the Lord. Through trial and error, we developed a pattern to help our kids stay engaged throughout the church service and draw pictures from the sermon rather than just draw pictures during the sermon.

Here are eight tips we’ve learned along the way:

1.    Prepare in advance – During the week, talk with your children about how everyone in the family is going to start drawing pictures of the sermon. Talk about how fun it will be to see what they draw. Have this conversation every week at the beginning and then periodically as reinforcement thereafter. Parents set the attitude, so speak in a positive manner rather than harp on past mistakes.

You’ll also want to prepare supplies. We bought inexpensive canvas bags for each child that we call “Bible bags.” Inside the bag they keep their Bible, a spiral notebook, a pencil and … twistable crayons. Early on, we realized that once they filled up the back of the bulletin, they would check out, which could be five minutes into the sermon. The notebook provides a solid surface and unlimited pages to keep them drawing throughout the sermon and bundles together what God is teaching them through His Word. On Saturday evening, remind everyone of your expectations and ensure Bible bags are ready to go. Trust me, one of the quickest ways to derail your efforts is to get to church and realize your child’s bag is empty because of the mad rush to get out the door that morning.

2.    Sit close to the front – Many parents sit in the back of the auditorium because they don’t want to distract others. We choose the opposite approach and sit as close to the front as we can in order to remove distractions from our kids. They are more engaged when they can see the musicians and preacher up close. Of course, we also don’t mind taking our children out to the foyer if they become a distraction.

3.    What to draw – We keep it simple and tell our children to draw pictures of whatever they hear in the sermon. It could be from an illustration, the biblical text, or an application, but we give them free reign. Sometimes it looks bizarre. You may look down and see an elaborate drawing of a car driving across your son’s paper and think, “Oh no, he’s totally checked out and not listening.” Then, when you discuss it, he says something like, “I drew this because Pastor John said the Gospel drives a wedge between us and sin.” Though it’s humorous, he got it, and that’s the point.

4.    Model it – This tip, and the next one, will make or break your efforts to build this discipleship pattern in your kids’ lives. You need to be drawing pictures of the sermon as well. My drawing skills are terrible, but my weirdly drawn stick figures have actually been an encouragement to my kids that it’s not about being a good artist. I let them copy my drawings because it shows them how to draw pictures of more abstract concepts when the sermon is not from a narrative passage of Scripture. If they don’t see you doing it, they’ll likely be less interested in it. As a side benefit, you’ll actually be surprised at how much it helps YOU pay attention to the sermon as well!

5.    Discuss it over lunch – Every Sunday while we’re eating lunch, everyone in the family takes turns sharing their drawings, which capitalizes on the innate “Daddy, look what I did,” and reinforces what they learned. When our kids have shown disinterest in drawing the sermons, we’ve often looked back and realized that we fell out of the habit of sharing our sketches at lunch. Some of the sweetest times of family discipleship have occurred during these lunchtime show-and-tells.

6.    Share it with your pastor – Pastors are greatly encouraged when they see how God’s Word is shaping the children in your congregation. Scan a drawing and email it to your pastor.

7.    Teach and reteach – Like other areas of parenting, it’s trial and error. Some weeks will be better than others. Some sermons will be easier than others. Don’t give up. Hit the reset button each week, and you’ll eventually see fruit in your efforts.

8.    Teaching is worship – The reason most of us fall into the “be quiet and behave” mode is because we don’t want our kids to distract us from worship. One of the most powerful concepts I’ve learned is that even if I might feel a little distracted during that worship song because I’m redirecting my son, or I might miss one of the sermon points because I’m helping pick up a rogue crayon rolling under the row in front of me, teaching my kids how to worship the Lord in Big Church is actually a form of worship in itself. One way we love God with all our hearts and souls is by teaching our children how to love Him too (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

Categories: Seminary Blog

Dear Pastor: Apologetics is a standard operating feature of Gospel-centered ministry

Tue, 02/28/2017 - 09:30

Let me begin by making a claim that many will find rather contentious: Apologetic ministry—the ministry of commending and defending the “faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3)—is a vital and essential part of Gospel-centered, New Testament ministry. To many evangelical laity and non-laity alike, this claim not only lacks the clear ring of truth, but it is much too strong, as it needlessly saddles “ordinary” followers of Christ with the responsibility of being seriously intellectually engaged with ideas. Here, I briefly underscore the Scriptural grounding of apologetic ministry, and why the consistent New Testament witness is that such ministry is an essential component of impactful, Gospel-centered ministry.

In both its noun (apologia) and verb (apologeomai) form, the word “apologia,” from which we get the English word “apologetics,” is used a total of 13 times in the New Testament. To give an apologia for the truth of Christianity both as a set of beliefs and as a way of life is to speak (lego) away (apo) charges brought against it. The word “apologia” is most frequently translated as “defense” in the New Testament and is often used in a legal context as a defendant’s reasoned reply to various accusations (see Paul in Acts 22:1; 25:16; 26:1-2).

I am convinced that the consistent New Testament witness is that pastoral ministry minimally involves both the engagement with and the refutation of ideas and patterns of thinking that are contrary to the Gospel. While a fully-orbed, New Testament portrait of pastoral ministry involves much more than apologetic ministry, it most certainly involves nothing less.

Throughout the pastoral epistles, Paul admonishes those in pastoral leadership to be good stewards (1 Corinthians 4:1) and guardians of a particular set of ideas (1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:14), namely the “pattern of sound words” that marks out the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul considers the doctrinal content of this deposit of sound teaching to be very precious indeed, so much so that he deems it “good” and worthy of protection, even entrusting it to Timothy (2 Timothy 1:14) and charging him to “pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching” (1 Timothy 4:16).

Paul tells us why pastors are responsible for exercising such great care in protecting this good deposit: because it consists of “doctrine conforming to godliness” (1 Timothy 6:3) and enables the saints of God to be “sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13). There is, for Paul, an intrinsic and organic connection between sound doctrine (literally: “healthy doctrine”) and godly and sound living. And it is precisely this deep conviction that underlies Paul’s urgent plea to those in pastoral ministry to be equipped and ready to “correct,” “rebuke,” and destroy “speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5-6). Paul describes his own Gospel ministry as aimed at the strategic dismantling of distinctively ideological strongholds that are contrary to the Kingdom of God, that is, as targeting arguments and lofty opinions (“strongholds”) and aiming to take “every thought captive to the obedience Christ.”

Even more, Paul tells Timothy that the church of the living God is the “pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). “Support” in this context refers to a source of defense or reinforcement. Thus, it is part of the very nature and function of the church of God to reinforce and defend the truth of the Gospel of Christ. And it is, first and foremost, the responsibility of pastors to cast a vision for the local church that is oriented toward an abiding and public concern for the truth of the Gospel, which minimally includes equipping those in their care to gracefully defend it at all costs.

Without question, Paul himself practiced what he preached regarding the vital importance of the engagement of ideas in Gospel ministry. Throughout the book of Acts, we find Paul regularly devoting himself to ministry oriented around the engagement with and refutation of ideas. In Acts 17, we find Paul engaging the intellectual elite in Athens by quoting pagan sources from memory (17:28), as well as ministering to the Jews in Thessalonica even as he “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead” (17:2-3). Luke even points out that some were persuaded and decided to follow Paul and Silas as a result of his rigorous and public apologetic endeavors in Thessalonica (17:4). In fact, Luke sees fit to emphasize that a ministry of intellectual engagement and persuasion was a regular and customary part of the apostle’s ministry (17:2). For Paul, the principal basis of Gospel proclamation was objective and not subjective, an appeal first and foremost to the truth of Christianity and not an appeal to felt needs.

In fact, in Acts 19:8-10, Luke tells us that in Ephesus, Paul “entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them [the Jews] about the kingdom of God.” After his efforts were met with fierce opposition and resistance, Paul “withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.” Luke goes on to say that Paul’s daily reasoning ministry in the hall of Tyrannus at Ephesus lasted two full years.

What was the impact of Paul’s fervent commitment to a two-year apologetic ministry in Ephesus? We do not have to speculate, as Luke tells us in the very next verse that “all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (19:10). Strategic apologetic engagement yields impactful Gospel ministry.

Likewise, the Apostle Peter offers what is perhaps the most straightforward injunction to engage in the task of apologetic ministry in the New Testament: “… but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence…” (1 Peter 3:15). Similarly, in the face of false teaching that threatened to undermine the very lordship of Christ, Jude “felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (3). The word Jude employs for “contend” is epagōnizomai and denotes a deep and earnest struggle, which in the immediate context refers to an urgent struggle against false ideas that are contrary to the truth of the Gospel.

Moreover, Peter offers a clarion call to pastors in particular to “… shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness” (1 Peter 5:2). Pastors as shepherds are called to stay out ahead of the flock of God, protecting it and looking out for its spiritual welfare. Yet the flock of God is threatened today not by wild animals but by false ideas that are hostile to the Gospel and corrosive of an abundant life in the Kingdom of God (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).

Consequently, the New Testament teaching and practice regarding pastoral ministry minimally involves (1) being a good steward and guardian of the truth of the gospel (Acts 17, 19; 1 Timothy 1:3, 4:6; Titus 1:9), and (2) staying out ahead of the flock of God, protecting it from all that might threaten to subvert Christian commitment (1 Peter 5:2). As a result, pastors should themselves aim to be competent in and strive to equip leaders for training in apologetic ministry.

Yet, in my experience, it is often the case that apologetics has a severe public relations problem among evangelical Christian laity and non-laity alike. The very word “apologetics” tends to invoke a host of thoughts and emotions, chief among them being that apologetics is strictly for those who tend to be more cerebral, heady, and at home in the world of science, history, philosophy and cultural studies. Apologetics, it is often thought, is more like optional leather trim than a standard operating feature of Gospel-centered ministry.

Yet, at its root, apologetic ministry is a ministry of service; it serves both to help pave the way of Christ for non-Christians as well as to answer what theologian Avery Dulles calls “the secret infidel in every believer’s heart—that is, a kind of dialogue that takes place between a believer and an unbeliever in a Christian’s mind.” And as a Christ-centered Gospel ministry, speaking or reasoning away charges to the Christian faith ought to take place in the manner of Jesus, the master.

As ambassadors for Christ, the task of reasoning and persuading others to embrace the Way of Christ must be—just like any form of ministry done in the name of Christ—“full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), with “gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15), and “with wisdom toward outsiders” in a manner that is always gracious, “as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:5-6). Pastors, may we not neglect this essential intellectual dimension of such a noble task.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Do You Need and Desire Revival?

Tue, 02/21/2017 - 09:30

We are living in a time of spiritual and political unrest. As believers, we should be comforted by the reality that we serve a sovereign God and resurrected Savior. It seems that there are many even within the church who are in a continual state of fear and anxiousness or anger and bitterness. I am convinced that we should be crying out passionately for revival, but it often seems we care more about trying to win arguments on Twitter.

Jesus spoke to the church at Ephesus,

But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent. (Revelation 2:4–5)

I believe Jesus is calling the Ephesian church to revival. He is calling them to remember, repent and return to a greater love to Him.

I believe God is calling His church to revival once again. We need a love revival: love for Jesus, love for His church, love for each other, and love for the lost. Not some sentimental, commercial-driven kind of love, but a Holy-Spirit-driven, Christ-centered, Gospel-proclaiming movement of God!

One of my favorite revival accounts is the story of the Welsh Revival of 1904–5. It began like most revivals, with various calls to prayer and a recognition of the spiritual coldness of the day. The revival expanded when a coal miner by the name of Evan Roberts experienced personal revival and began to be used mightily of the Lord. He began to travel from town to town, speaking about the change God had rendered in his life. He began to pray that God would convert 100,000 souls in a six-month period. God answered the prayer, and the newspapers even published the results: 70,000 after two months; 85,000 after five months; and more than 100,000 in six months.[1]

The impact of the revival was noticeable throughout the land in many ways. Chapels were overflowing with attendees; judges were presented with white gloves to signify there were no crimes to be tried; and taverns had to shut their doors because alcoholism was halved.

My favorite account was that so many of the coal miners had been saved, they had to re-train the horses how to haul the coal out of the mines. A manager stated, “The haulers are some of the very lowest. They have driven their horses by obscenity and kicks. Now they can hardly persuade their horses to start working, because there is no obscenity and no kicks.”[2] Even the horses could recognize there was something different about the men who worked in the mines.

Roberts shared consistently what he called “Four Points,” or four requirements, for revival. We understand that revival comes by the power and Spirit of the Lord, but men and women who follow these four points provide fertile ground for such a movement. Roberts shared that one must:

  • Put away any unconfessed sin. We cannot expect God to move in power in our lives when we refuse to deal with unconfessed sin. We must confess and agree with God about sin if we expect to grow in our love for Him and for others.
  • Put away any doubtful habit. In a culture and even a Christian culture that cries out for our “rights” or liberty, we often forget that we are slaves to Christ. If there is anything that causes us or others to stumble, we need to be willing to quickly put it away. Normally, if you need to ask whether it should be part of the Christian life, it probably is not something that needs to remain in your life. There are many things that are not particularly sinful but have become so in your life because they have grown too prominent in your life.
  • Obey the Holy Spirit promptly. If we expect to fall more in love with Jesus and really see revival, we MUST walk in obedience.
  • Confess Christ publicly. If genuine revival is to happen, it must be ALL ABOUT JESUS! There is nothing in us that is worth lifting up other than our Savior, who dwells in us!

Will we take Evan Roberts’ challenge? Do we want to please Jesus more than we want anything else? May God strengthen us to confess any known sin, put away any doubtful habit, and obey the Holy Spirit. And may Jesus be high and lifted up!

[1]Information is summarized from Malcolm McDow & Alvin Reid, Firefall (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1997), 275–279.
[2]As cited in McDow & Reid, Firefall, 279.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Words to Live by

Tue, 02/14/2017 - 09:30

They were pretty while they lasted, I suppose. For Valentine’s Day, I had given Pamela an arrangement of flowers. The florist had included some red roses, a few pink carnations, and, since it’s one of her favorite colors, a selection of lavender flowers. She liked them. Onto her desk at the office they went, and eventually, they made their way home, where she displayed them for a few more days, fussing over their care.

But it wasn’t long before I found myself one evening washing my hands at the kitchen sink. I looked over to where she had placed the flowers. For a moment, water dripping from my fingers, I grieved. They were gone. They had not been able to sustain their beauty. Once, we savored their perfume; but not that night. The space they had brightened was now dark. Gloom replaced the color they had once brought to our home. Their promise of cheer had been rescinded.

“He was right,” I said, too quietly for Pamela to hear. “Flowers do fade.” And as my heart once again ached with the memory of a loved one’s death, I added, “Yeah, and so do we.”

“He,” of course, is God, speaking through his prophet, Isaiah:

A voice says, “Call out.” Then he answered, “What shall I call out?” All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever. (Isaiah 40:6-8)

Here, the prophet, like Job and the psalmist before him (Job 14:2; Psalm 102:11; 103:15-16) and James and Peter after him (James 1:10; 1 Peter 1:24), compares the bitterness of human mortality to the frailty of the fields. The beauty of both flesh and flower decomposes. This was Paul’s point as well when he writes of all creation groaning until it is released from its “bondage to decay” and God’s children experience the resurrection of their bodies that had returned to the dust that they always had been (Romans 8:21-23; Genesis 3:19). This is the sad, desperate, withering condition of the fallen creation.

But one line in verse 8 of Isaiah 40 stands in heartening contrast to this hopeless condition: “but the word of our God stands forever.” Although the destiny of all fields and flesh is decay, for they have no ability to restrain time’s onslaught of decomposition, one thing laughs at time and remains unthreatened, unmoved, unchanged: God’s Word.

The immutable Word of the God of Israel and Isaiah does not whither; it does not fade, decompose or decay. It is not transitory. It stands forever. Or, in the words of our Lord, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). In contrast to those things that God created in the beginning, the words of Jesus endure; they do not perish.

We should not be surprised by any of this. The contrast that is drawn, by both the prophet and the Lord, is one between the creation, the creature, and the words of the Creator. This contrast is foundational to the record of creation given in the first chapter of Genesis. As Moses describes how God created the heavens and the earth and all that fills them, he repeats the key refrain, “God said…” 10 times.[1] In other words, God creates by the power of His Word; by speaking. The universe is made, comes into being, and exists by His Word. The Word of God is the foundation, the cause of all creation. Repeatedly, the Bible gives witness to the creative activity of God’s Word.[2]

We can now return to Isaiah 40:8 and Matthew 24:35 with deeper understanding. God’s Word eternally stands and does not perish—that is, it is imperishable because it is not part of those things that were created, that are temporal, and that have a beginning and an end. The Word of the Lord created; it is not a frail creature. It does not share the creature’s disappointing destiny of decay. It comes forth from the one who is eternal and, therefore, it is eternally steady. Also, as uncreated, God’s Word does not share other creaturely attributes, such as fallibility or capacity for error. Unlike human beings, who are constantly in flux, repeatedly wavering between accuracy and inaccuracy, and once born, already dwindling, God’s Word is not untrustworthy or transitory.

When Bible critics, then, deny the Bible’s credibility in matters of history or science, or insist that its perspective is inconsistent, contradictory or obsolete, they attribute creaturely traits to that which has not been created. Creatures (human beings) have been used of God to speak and write down His Word in different human languages and in diverse human cultures, so the Bible certainly has a human dimension. However, the Bible testifies of itself that even though its human authors unquestionably composed it within time and space and it remains a collection of ancient and culturally bound human words, the Creator so acted as to ensure that, miraculously, it remained, dependably, God’s Word. (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-13).

So, when reviews like that of Jim Hinch’s 2016 essay “Evangelicals are Losing the Battle for the Bible. And They’re Just Fine with It” appear, we might take note of the disappointing trajectory, but we need not reconsider the Bible’s inspiration or inerrancy.[3] And when, for example, Hinch relates as emblematic the opinion of a 25-year-old “evangelical” director of a pastoral training center who rejects inerrancy, we should not assume a creaturely weakness in Scripture’s nature, but recognize the disappointing fallacy in this young man’s faith. The inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture are corollaries of its nature as the Creator’s Word.

[1]Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28.
[2]Psalm 33:6, 9; 148:5; Hebrews 11:3; 2 Peter 3:5.
[3]Los Angeles Review of Books, 15 February 2016.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Let’s Talk

Tue, 02/07/2017 - 09:30

Let’s talk. Let’s talk in our families, in our churches, and in every venue where we spend a portion of our lives.

Let’s talk about God’s Word. Let’s talk about it personally, deeply and frequently.

Let’s select a Scripture passage, perhaps one per month, and seek to memorize it, meditate on it, internalize it, and speak about it with our loved ones, friends and acquaintances. Let’s make Scripture a part of our daily conversation, sharing how this passage is enhancing and transforming our lives by God’s supernatural power through His Word.

No, you do not have to achieve perfect recall, especially if the passage entails two or more sentences. If you forget how it starts or some of the key words and phrases, just work at memorizing it anew. Quite possibly, it will speak to your life anew.

Here are some passages that we, together, could talk about:

  • Colossians 3:12-14 – a marvelous statement on human relationships—how we as Christians are called to extend grace to one another.
  • Romans 10:8-10, 13 – life-saving words that you needed and I needed; monumental and eternal words we must convey to folks we know and to literally billions of souls around the world.
  • 1 Peter 3:15-17 – significant yet winsome instruction for speaking of Romans 10:8-10, 13 to whomever we encounter.
  • Psalm 19:7-11 – an enjoyable, poignant description of the extraordinary sensibility of our ages-old faith.
  • 1 Peter 2:9-12 – a firm reminder of who we are as God’s people and the divine calling upon our churches as the body of Christ amid the world’s brokenness and lostness.
  • 1 Peter 3:7 – a powerfully succinct exhortation to husbands as leaders of families that must form the bedrock of our churches and our society.
  • Galatians 5:22-23 – a way of daily introspection and communion with Christ, or a checklist, to review our godliness, our need for repentance, and the vibrancy of our faith.
  • James 3:17 – a highly useful passage for weighing the extent to which godly wisdom is affecting our thoughts and actions.
  • Philippians 4:4-7 – special instruction for trusting God amid life’s hardships, emotional struggles, doubts and fears; a spiritual “antidote” to lift our spirits in times of worry, sadness and depression.
  • Philippians 2:14-15 – an unparalleled call for maintaining a good attitude in every realm of life.
  • Ephesians 3:16-19 – an absolutely glorious reminder of the supernatural work of God in our lives when we live with Him as our Lord and Savior.

Pastors, Bible study leaders, fathers and mothers, let’s add a new dimension to our relationships. Let’s add God’s Word.

If this idea seems familiar, perhaps it’s because you’ve read it from God Himself, in Deuteronomy 6:6-7: “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” Let’s turn to each other, then, and talk about what God has been showing us through His revelation in Scripture—what He is calling us to be and to do in a hurting world.

Granted, there will be plenty of other things to talk about with our loved ones and friends—God’s blessings, church activities, workplace challenges, teachers and homework, illness, financial strain and troubled relationships. But even in these, the Scripture in our hearts can be a catalyst and an answer to the apostle’s prayer in Philippians 1:9-11: “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

Categories: Seminary Blog

Marriage, No-Fault Divorce, and Children

Tue, 01/31/2017 - 09:30

Last month, Matt Krause, a state representative from Fort Worth, introduced a bill to ban no-fault divorce in Texas, “a process that now lets a couple end their marriage without assigning blame to either spouse.”[1] Now, in Texas, it takes only one spouse to divorce, based upon “insupportability” of the marriage, with limited cost or exertion. Krause’s is not the first or only such effort by lawmakers across America to close this door.[2]

In a recent Theological Matters column, I bemoaned the fact that it was Ronald Reagan, then-governor of California, who signed the first no-fault divorce law in 1970, setting off a chain reaction that, in less than 15 years, led to a vast new experiment with disposable marriage all across America.[3] Prior to that revolution, marriage carried at least the force of a simple contract. Today, in most states, one party may break a marriage “contract” even in contradiction of the desires of the other party, giving the marriage certificate a uniquely irrelevant texture in the law.

Yet the purpose of this post is not to delineate the history and the nearly criminal costs to our culture and society of no-fault divorce.[4] Rather, in this brief space, the object is to call the reader to engage a biblical view of marriage and to place children in biblical perspective relative to the parental relationship.

In 1994, a woman named Karen stopped by to see Dr. Judith Wallerstein. Wallerstein, as a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley from 1966-1991, had produced research that asserted that “divorce is difficult for children, but in time, they’d adjust,”[5] providing support for the divorce revolution by comforting divorcing parents and no-fault divorce legislators. But according to Wallerstein, Karen’s visit “was to entirely revise my understanding of divorce and how it has changed the nature of American society.”[6]

Karen had been part of a study begun by Wallerstein in 1971 that resulted in a best-seller, Surviving the Breakup: How Children and Parents Cope with Divorce.[7] As the book’s title indicates, the book showed that children cope with divorce, and that its major impact is temporary. Karen taught Wallerstein differently. As a result, Wallerstein revisited the children, now adults, in her study and discovered two key myths that had been believed about divorce.

First, Wallerstein discovered that the belief, “if the parents are happier the children will be happier, too,” is not true. A child’s happiness is not dependent upon the happiness of the parents. According to Wallerstein, children generally “don’t care if Mom and Dad sleep in different beds as long as the family is together.”[8]

Second, Wallerstein exploded the myth that “divorce is a temporary crisis that exerts its most harmful effects on parents and children at the time of the breakup.” Rather,

It’s the many years living in a postdivorce or remarried family that count … feeling sad, lonely, and angry during childhood … traveling alone on airplanes when you’re seven … having no choice how you spend your time. … It’s worrying about your mom and dad for years. … And most tellingly, it’s asking if you can protect your own child from having these same experiences growing up.[9]

Given the damage we know divorce does to children into adulthood, marriage, and the parenting of their own children, the church must consider seriously its response to widespread divorce, even within its own congregations. Yet, I do not believe that responding to divorce is the church’s primary and best help for children. The church must understand, teach and obey biblical instructions concerning marriage.[10]

As Christ loves the church and gave Himself for her, seeking her holiness, so must a husband love his own wife and seek her holiness.[11] Can you imagine a husband who loves his wife this way, seeking her holiness above his own comfort and preferences, filing for no-fault divorce? Doing so is an immediate admission of disobedience to our Lord. Could a wife who lives a life in submission to her husband, praying for him and loving him, file for no-fault divorce?

And in no way can no-fault divorce be reconciled with Scriptural teachings on marriage or on divorce except in the most tortuous and strained bending of God’s Word. But more, when a couple stands in front of a congregation, who are witnesses with God, and vow to God and to each other to keep those vows until death, can the congregation, can the pastor, simply wink when those vows are shattered outside any biblical sanction?

America will not change until the church allows Christ to demand through each church that the biblical standard of marriage be upheld, that husbands obey the command to love their wives, that wives obey the command to reverence their husbands, and that they both sacrifice their own desires in love for their children.[12] So long as we do not obey God’s Word ourselves, the world will not respect us or it, and the children always will be the ones who pay.

[1]http://www.star-telegram.com/news/politics-government/article126493459.html
[2]See, for example, http://www.businessinsider.com/iowa-republicans-divorce-women-2013-3.
[3]http://www.nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/the-evolution-of-divorce. Interestingly, Illinois (1984) was almost last, followed only by South Dakota (1985) and Utah (1987), in establishing no-fault divorce, the application of which has varied widely state to state. See http://content.csbs.utah.edu/~fan/fcs5400-6400/studentpresentation2009/04DivorceReadingVinsky.pdf.
[4]See http://www.albertmohler.com/2006/06/09/no-fault-divorce-the-end-of-marriage-2/ and http://www.nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/the-evolution-of-divorce for an introduction to that.
[5]http://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-me-judith-wallerstein-20120703-story.html
[6]Judith S. Wallerstein, Julia M. Lewis, and Sandra Blakeslee, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A Twenty-Five Year Landmark Study. (New York: Hyperion, 2000), xiii.
[7]Judith S. Wallerstein and Joan B. Kelly, Surviving the Breakup: How Children and Parents Cope with Divorce. (New York: Basic Books, 2008).
[8]Wallerstein, Unexpected Legacy, xxiii.
[9]Ibid., xxv. These findings have been confirmed and affirmed. “Sociological studies have shown that people who experience parental divorce as children, compared with individuals who grow up in continuously intact families, have lower educational attainment (McLanahan, 1985), earn less income (Hill, Augustyniak, & Ponza, 1987), and are more likely to be dependent on welfare (McLanahan, 1988). They are also more likely to bear a child out of wedlock (McLanahan & Bumpass, 1988), get divorced (Glenn & Kramer, 1987), and be the head of a singleparent family (McLanahan, 1988). These problems for adult children of divorce, in turn, may be associated with decrements in psychological well-being (Amato, 1988; Glenn & Kramer, 1985). A recent review of the literature on adult children of divorce has found broad support for the notion that parental divorce has lasting implications for children’s life chances (Amato & Keith, 1991).” http://slatestarcodex.com/Stuff/divorce_paper.pdf. See also, http://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/divorce-and-infidelity/should-i-get-a-divorce/how-could-divorce-affect-my-kids; Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially (New York: Doubleday, 2000); Elizabeth Marquardt, Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce (New York: Crown Publishers, 2005); Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, The Divorce Culture (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997). For a longer, sociological view, see James Q. Wilson, The Marriage Problem: How Culture Has Weakened Families (New York: Harper Collins, 2002).
[10]Beyond divorce, the church’s lack of visible and unabashed commitment to a biblical practice of marriage certainly has reduced friction against America’s move toward the exaltation of fornication and ultimately homosexual “marriage.”
[11]Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18-19; 1 Peter 3:1-7; Titus 2:1-6.
[12]Romans 12:1-2.

Categories: Seminary Blog

A Prayer for Partners in the Advance of the Gospel

Tue, 01/24/2017 - 09:30

“I want you for U.S. Army.” “We do more before 9AM than most people do all day.” “Be all that you can be.” Most of us will recognize these statements as maxims used in the past by the U.S. Army. One of the Army’s more recent slogans was, “An army of one.”

The Apostle Paul urged a favorite church of his to advance the Gospel as an “army of one.” He wrote the letter to the Philippians, most probably from Rome in A.D. 62, while under house-arrest among Caesar’s praetorian guards. He anticipated a trial soon. He sent the letter to the church folk at Philippi to inform them of his circumstances, but primarily to urge them to advance the Gospel together with him.[1]

Paul considered the Philippians “partners” (κοινωνία, “partnership,” 1:5) with him in achieving that aim (1:3–6), even in the face of opposition (3:2), but a problem was present in the church. The Philippians could not participate in advancing the Gospel as an “army of one” the way that they should because disunity existed amongst them (1:27; 2:1–4; 4:2). A civil war of sorts was apparently taking place in their midst,[2] and a church in disunity cannot advance the Gospel as effectively—if at all—as one that is unified.

Paul wanted the Philippian church to have a “united front” as they advanced the Gospel. To do so, the church members needed to focus on having a selfless mindset (found only in Christ) that produced unity.

The Lord desires unity amongst His people. He does not want believers to be in one accord “at all costs” in which they compromise or sacrifice the faith or their convictions, but He does want them to have a unified front as they partner together in spreading the good news of Jesus Christ in this unbelieving, and sometimes hostile, world.

Paul prayed for the Philippians in 1:3–11 toward this end, and we can learn much from his prayer about advancing the Gospel together. The apostle’s prayers for the churches that he wrote were often in keeping with his reason for writing, and that practice is no different here.

First, Paul thanked God for the Philippians (1:3–8). Central to his prayer for them is the reason for his thankfulness: because of their “partnership in the gospel” (ἐπὶ τῇ κοινωνίᾳ ὑμῶν εἰς τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, 1:5).[3] Paul was grateful that he was not alone in advancing the Gospel. No wonder that his prayers for the Philippians were always offered to God with joy (1:3-4), and that he “longed” for them “with the affection of Christ Jesus” (1:8). Further, Paul was confident that God would complete the work of their partnership and participation in the Gospel that He had begun in them.[4]

Just as Paul realized that he was not alone in the Gospel enterprise, so also we are not alone in the Gospel initiative. No one can do it alone, and we ought to thank God for our partners in this endeavor. Southern Baptist churches give through the Cooperative Program to support their state conventions and the SBC’s missions and ministries. All of these constituents work together toward a common goal that no one person or church can accomplish on their own: sharing the Gospel with every person on the planet.

Second, Paul prayed a petition prayer for the Philippians that they might have an increased love that results in a pure and blameless status at Christ’s return (1:9–11). Interestingly, the word “love” (ἀγάπη) in the text does not have an object. One might wonder, therefore, whether Paul referred to loving God, loving others, or both. Though the church cannot love others as they should without first loving God, the letter strongly indicates that the apostle had in mind the Philippians’ love for one another (1:16; 2:1–2). Love for one another is needed if the church is to achieve the united front that is needed to advance the Gospel. Paul especially prayed that his readers’ love would abound/increase in “knowledge/moral insight” (ἐπίγνωσις) and thorough “discernment” (αἴσθησις) (1:9). Their love needed to be accompanied by this overflow of insight so that they might approve after testing, i.e., discern (εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν, indicating purpose, or possibly result) the things that really matter[5] when it comes to the advance of the Gospel. Paul prayed that this practice might result in them standing blameless (concerning their motives and the Gospel’s advance) on the day of Christ (1:10). Fruitful activity and living of this sort is all done “to the glory and praise of God” (1:11).

Churches can get easily distracted from their primary mission of advancing the Gospel and making disciples. They do so often by arguing over things that do not really matter when it comes to the Gospel’s propagation, like what the color of the carpet should be, having pews versus chairs, singing only hymns or no hymns, using PowerPoint in sermons or not, etc. If we are not careful, matters like these can detract from or prevent effective Gospel ministry. So, it is extremely important for us to discern the things that are most excellent when it comes to Gospel ministry. We need to make the best possible decisions and focus on the things that really do matter as we all seek to spread the Gospel in our communities and across the globe.

How else could the Philippians achieve the united front necessary to advance the Gospel effectively? They would achieve that essential selfless mindset by embracing the mind of Christ, who epitomizes unselfish thinking. Paul commanded the church,

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5–8, NASB).

Though He is God, Jesus did not take full advantage of His deity while on the earth. Rather, He selflessly “emptied” Himself. How? The biblical text tells us the means by which He did so: He “emptied” Himself by taking on the form of a servant. He left the glories of heaven and became human, and he became humbly and wholly obedient to the point of death on a cross.

Paul offered some ways to put the mindset of Christ into practice. For example, just prior to the kenōsis passage, he encouraged the church to live together in harmony in 2:1–4. He directed the Philippian believers to have “the same mind,” to maintain “the same love,” to be “united in spirit,” focusing on one purpose (2:2). He instructed them to “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit,” but in humility to regard others as more important than themselves (2:3, NASB).

Consequently, we should make it a point to shelve any disputes that threaten unity in our churches (4:1–2). We should never allow a spirit of divisiveness or bitterness to permeate our lives or our congregations. Our time on earth is far too short to be spent upon having bad attitudes or arguing over petty matters. Believers in the Lord Jesus should love one another and live in harmony. When they do so, a powerful message is sent out to the world (John 13:35)—“Jesus Christ has saved us from our sins; He makes a difference in people’s lives, and you need Him!”

So, ponder those qualities that are necessary as we work together to share the Gospel. Focus on Jesus Christ and His attributes (4:8–9): things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent, and worthy of praise. Both Paul and Jesus exhibited these attributes, and so should we. When we practice these things, the Lord will bless our evangelistic efforts in the Gospel’s advance. Preach the Word! Reach the world!

[1]The overarching theme of Philippians is “partnership for the advancement of the gospel,” not “joy” or “contentment,” as many teach. The latter two are sub-themes but not the main themes.
[2]Interestingly, Paul used language in this letter found in accounts describing the Battle of Philippi, a civil war fought in 42 B.C. that took place among the Romans to avenge the assassination of Julius Caesar. Marc Antony and Octavian led forces on the one side, while Brutus and Cassius did so on the other.
[3]Unless otherwise noted, the Bible translations are mine.
[4]The “work” in 1:6 to which Paul refers is found in 1:5—the Philippians’ “partnership in the gospel.”
[5]Greek: “the things that differ.”

Categories: Seminary Blog

The Virtue of Suffering

Tue, 01/17/2017 - 09:30

Last year saw the release of the film “Me Before You,” a movie about a man who ends his life after an accident leaves him disabled. In response, Christian radio host Joni Eareckson Tada raised very serious concerns with the message of the film. An article on theblaze.com reports on her podcast interview with The Church Boys in which Joni expressed great concern over the danger of the film’s message, one which radicalizes individual rights while removing the moral component from those rights.[1] Tada encouraged Christians to respond to the film by proclaiming that “life really is worth living,” so “face circumstances courageously.”[2] She added that affliction is an unavoidable part of life.

In her critique, Tada drew attention to a sobering reality that most people never see: the virtue of suffering. “Because we live in such an entitlement society, we already see no virtue in suffering … already we believe that affliction should be avoided at all costs.”[3] These two things—virtue and suffering—we rarely, if ever, associate together. Joni Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic and founder of Joni and Friends, an organization that serves those with disabilities, knows of what she speaks.

Many years ago, an Austrian Anabaptist addressed the same issue. While awaiting execution in a cold Tyrolean prison in the town of Rattenberg, Leonhard Schiemer described God’s three-fold grace, a grace that includes suffering.[4] God’s first grace, Schiemer said, is the law, given to us in order to convict us of sin. Upon receiving the law’s conviction, we despair and ask God for grace in salvation. God responds with a second grace: Christ’s cross of suffering.

Notice Schiemer’s assertion that the affliction that the cross brings is a gift of God’s grace—something to be received, not avoided. The cross’ pain is not only unavoidable; it is essential. Schiemer explains that salvation means loving nothing but God Himself. What is it that prevents us from loving God wholly? Very simply, it is sin, enjoying the “love, comfort, pleasure, and delight of creatures [worldly things].”[5] Therefore, God must remove all loves and dependencies on everything except God alone. The application of Christ’s cross means that God purges sin from our lives, a painful experience involving both inward affliction—“the struggle of the flesh”—and outward suffering—“the renunciation and deprivation of the body.”[6]

As Schiemer explains it, the virtue of suffering caused by Christ’s cross is that God’s grace works through inner and outer afflictions, eradicating sin from our lives and producing a single-minded love for and dependence upon God. However, the pain and affliction are not the final say.

Once someone embraces the suffering of the cross, God gives a third grace: the comfort of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s comfort overwhelms the suffering; however, the grace of the Spirit’s comfort cannot come until one first receives the grace of suffering. Schiemer knew this all too well. After a bitter seven-week imprisonment, he was beheaded and his corpse burned for his Anabaptist faith on Jan. 14, 1528.

Schiemer and Tada insightfully remind us of a profoundly hard biblical truth—the “virtue of suffering.” Jesus taught, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great …” (Matthew 5:11-12). On the night before His death, Jesus reminded the disciples of what awaited them: “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. … If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you …” (John 15:18, 20).

Peter remembered this lesson and told his persecuted brethren not to “be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing … but to the degree that you share in the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing … you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” (1 Peter 4:12-14). Likewise, Paul instructs that “we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:3-5). In a similar vein, James encourages his readers to “Consider it all joy … when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

More Scriptures could be cited, but just these few yield an impressive picture of the virtue of suffering. Suffering produces perseverance, a tried and true character, a non-disappointing hope, and spiritual and moral maturity. Also, suffering as Christ’s follower is both expected and an occasion of blessing and joy. In the midst of the affliction, God has promised great reward and the Holy Spirit’s presence.

God knows of what He speaks; He knows what it is to suffer. God did not remain distant and aloof from our pain and suffering. Jesus Christ came as God incarnate and faced the worst that evil could throw at Him. Jesus suffered physical pain beyond comprehension, the emotional pain of utter human rejection and hatred, and worst of all, the spiritual trauma of bearing humanity’s sin on the cross. He suffered as propitiation for sin to bring salvation for humanity, truly a gracious and virtuous act. Though our affliction is not redemptive, there is virtue in tribulation as it purges sin and produces a deeper love for Christ, whose virtuous suffering saved us.

[1]http://www.theblaze.com/news/2016/06/16/we-live-in-such-an-entitlement-society-famed-quadriplegic-advocates-warning-about-why-this-new-hollywood-film-is-so-dangerous-and-her-powerful-message-about-courage/. The article also contains a link to Tada’s podcast interview with The Church Boys.
[2]Ibid.
[3]Ibid.
[4]Leonhard Schiemer, “Concerning the Grace of God; Concerning the Bottle,” in Jörg Maler’s Kunstbuch: Writings of the Pilgram Marpeck Circle, ed. John D. Rempel, Classics of the Radical Reformation, vol. 12 (Kitchener, Ontario: Pandora Press, 2010), 203-34.
[5]Ibid.
[6]Ibid., 207-08.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Martin Luther King Jr., Black Lives Matter, & The Church

Fri, 01/13/2017 - 09:20

One of my worst moments in seminary happened when I missed two weeks of Church History class. Why? Because the day I got back to class, I had no idea what we were talking about! My timeline of a historical narrative was fragmented, and without taking that into account, understanding the latter part of history was made far more difficult. To properly understand a historical narrative, it is imperative that we take its entirety into account.

It is my fear that we, as a body of believers, have gravely misunderstood the historical narrative of not only Martin Luther King’s era, but also the current Black Lives Matter movement and our role in properly responding as Christians. Why do I have this fear? Because often, our response to modern riots, protests and civil disturbances has been to isolate the incident instead of taking into account its historical context.[1] This has led to a misinterpretation of modern incidents within our country that entail highly charged racial tensions that further drive and validate division among us.

Let us, as a body of believers, objectively examine what has transpired over our country’s history and how we can better respond to the current climate.

Looking back…

In regard to the Negro-American, our country has a dark history, the consequences of which we are still facing today.[2] To deny the modern-day effects attributed to this dark history is similar to denying modern-day effects Jews still endure from atrocities done by the Nazis. The reality is that we all suffer from consequences of choices made in the past.

In the early stages of our country, the U.S. Constitution regulated laws that devalued the humanity of much of the slave population. For example, at one point, the law denied the full humanity of slaves[3] and restricted anyone from educating slaves.[4] For almost a century, the first fight for slaves in this country was not for freedom; rather, it was a fight to be considered equally human.[5] For generations, the damage these measures caused to slaves and their families far outweighed anything our country had done to right these wrongs.[6]

This is not stated in an attempt to illicit any sort of apology or to demand any type of reparation for descendants of slaves. Rather, this is intended to accentuate that the perception of the Imago Dei[7] in an entire people group—as far as others and even they themselves perceive it—has been damaged. Within the American church, one man sought to champion this fight for humanity and help the country rightfully perceive the devalued Imago Dei in a people group.

In April 1963, amidst his fight for civil rights, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was imprisoned in Birmingham, Ala. King, being a pastor at the time, did not separate theological aspects of his faith from social issues. In fact, King’s faith and his heart for people are what thrust him into his role as a civil rights leader. His heart from the pulpit and movement was to ultimately see the image of God within a people group—which had been largely disavowed in history—rightly perceived by those both inside and outside the group.

At the time of his arrest, a collective group of prominent, Alabama clergymen published an open letter reprimanding King’s philosophy of peaceful and immediate protesting. They condemned his view of change and his actions as both “unwise and untimely.”[8] However, King was no stranger to staunch opposition, especially from other fellow believers. In King’s response to these clergymen, notice the language King uses,

Beyond this, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. … Just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Graeco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular hometown. … Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.[9]

King called for immediate justice through peaceful demonstrations in this letter, and he received strong opposition even from those within the American church. Historically, we as a convention and body of believers at large have been behind the curve of justice.[10] Oftentimes, we are so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good. The reason we can look back on Dr. King and honor his path is that he did not separate earthly race relations from his heavenly theology.

Black Lives Matter

The controversy continues after the death of Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968, racial division continued in America. Since King’s death, there has not been a central figure within the American church (black or white) possessing a loud enough voice to stand up and continue speaking toward repairing perceptions of the Imago Dei in the descendants of slaves. There have been many who tried, but very few commanded a movement like Dr. King. That has been true until recently.

In 2012, #BlackLivesMatter began in response to the controversial death of Trayvon Martin. The following is taken directly from their website’s “About” page; notice the language this movement uses:

Rooted in the experiences of Black people in this country who actively resist our dehumanization, #BlackLivesMatter is a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society.… #BlackLivesMatter is working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. We affirm our contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.[11]

In many ways, this is the same language used by Dr. King during the Civil Rights movement. BLM is seeking an immediate change, to affirm the humanity of black people, and to restore the brokenness in many black lives.

So what is the major difference between BLM and Martin Luther King Jr.?

While King operated through the church and uplifted God to restore the Imago Dei during the Civil Rights movement, BLM has little to no church involvement, especially within its leadership roles—a major reason being that several founders and prominent leaders of this movement have deviated from church involvement due to BLM’s stance on homosexuality and women leadership.[12] While their goal is similar to that of King’s during the Civil Rights movement—to restore the misperceived image of God within a people group—they are doing so apart from God Himself. One can almost categorize it as seeking to attain the blessings of God detached from God.

Looking Forward…

This is in no way a critique, defense or advocacy of BLM and past/future actions regarding race relations. It certainly has many short comings, but since its inception, the movement has addressed an important issue within our country.[13] My intention in highlighting BLM is to expose what happens when we as a body of believers fail to properly take up our charge from the Lord.

This is a historical fact: When the church steps back from a role it was designed to fulfill, the world steps in and responds. This is the case with soul care in America, political involvement, and properly addressing racial inequities that began hundreds of years ago. Unfortunately, we as a body of believers have not done our part to continue the work of Dr. King in rightfully repairing the perception of the Imago Dei within a people group. And just as we have seen throughout history, wherever Christians remain silent, others have spoken up. Where the church has dropped the torch, the world has picked it up.

As I write this, I wish I could appeal to a time in our country’s history where we, as an entire church body in America, “got it right.” Unfortunately, as far as the church in America is concerned, I cannot.[14] So, instead of calling you to do what we “used to do,” I must plead with all of my brothers and sisters in the faith to be what the Bible has called us to be. We, as the body of Christ, are to rightfully love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39), to speak up for those who have no voice (Proverbs 31:8), to become a voice amidst a dark world (Matthew 5:14-16), and to show no partiality in our treatment of others (James 2:9). Our failure to collectively do these things at the national level is why we have the problems today that we do.

So who is to blame for all the civil unrest in the current climate? The “worldly people” in the streets fighting to restore that which was broken, or the people in the pew who condemn voices in a cause that they themselves should have upheld?

In a sense, one may be able to conclude that because of the American church’s nearly non-existent voice in this matter, Christians have forced the world to create its own answer that is separate from the teaching of the one true God. If we were the voice God commanded us to be, the world would not need to look for other answers. So the next time we as Christians see people who, apart from God, champion Gospel-centric causes—such as the acknowledgement of the Imago Dei in every individual, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or nationality—may our hearts be broken, and may our hands and feet become like those of Christ Jesus. This was the heartbeat of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and my prayer is that it rings deeply within the hearts of us in the body today.

[1] By this statement, I am not claiming that all riots, protests and civil actions are part of the grand historical narrative referenced in the article. There are certainly random acts of violence and disorderly conduct that have occurred all across our country throughout its history by all people groups.
[2] Systematized inequities, racial biases, etc.
[3] http://aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/three-fifths-compromise
[4] http://www.pbs.org/wnet/slavery/experience/education/docs1.html
[5] https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/amendmentxiv
[6] This is not to deny progress that has been made within our country—Brown vs. Board of Education, constitutional amendments, etc.
[7] That is, the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).
[8] http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/letter-to-martin-luther-king/
[9] http://abacus.bates.edu/admin/offices/dos/mlk/letter.html
[10] It was not until 1995 that our Southern Baptist Convention as a whole acknowledged and publically condemned its historically racial past. www.sbc.net/resolutions/899/resolution-on-racial-reconciliation-on-the-150th-anniversary-of-the-southern-baptist-convention
[11] http://blacklivesmatter.com/about/
[12] For more information, see “Reason No. 3: They’re not trying to mobilize the black church” in this article by CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/29/us/black-lives-matter-blowing-it/
[13] That is, the argument that black lives do hold value and significance, contrary to what our history has communicated. It is not a matter of whether we philosophically believe that all lives are of equal importance; rather, it pertains to the fact that, historically, black lives have been devalued and dehumanized which is a biblically inaccurate notion.
[14] At least in regard to the issue of race.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Religion is for Old People

Tue, 01/10/2017 - 09:30

When I lived in Central Asia, it was very interesting to see how many of the young Muslims viewed their religion. They said that at their age, they could enjoy life and wait until an older age to get serious about religion. Their thinking was that God is more interested in the afterlife, and that only becomes an issue when you are close to the afterlife, which is where old people find themselves. Once you are of a grandparent-type age, they thought, you then need to prepare for the afterlife by doing religious activities. This is a very convenient way of seeing religion and allows for a position where God is able to fit into our way of thinking rather than us needing to fit into His way of thinking.

Is this religious worldview unique to the young people of Central Asia and to Islam, or is it also present in many of the young people of the U.S. who call themselves Christians? At the heart of this worldview is the idea that this earthly life belongs to me, and I get to decide how I live it. As long as I believe in Jesus and have my ticket to heaven, I can check the religion box and then live life as I see it. This line of thinking continues, “Sure, God is around and interested in me, but the way this looks is that He is there to bless me and make my life successful. In this life, I am not there for God, but God is there for me!”

It is interesting that in Matthew 6:9-13, as Jesus is teaching His disciples to pray, He does tell them to ask the Father for their daily provisions (bread). The context of this, however, is that He has just told them to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus is teaching that we pray and ask the Father to provide for us, even bless us, for the clear purpose of building His Kingdom according to His will. There is no way to interpret this prayer to mean that we ask Him for blessings so that we can build our kingdom our way in this life and then jump over to His Kingdom in the afterlife.

In American Christianity, we run the risk of lowering the bar for our young people, and whether intentionally or not, we end up offering a therapeutic Christianity that is careful not to offend or challenge them too much. We hope that as they get older they will mature into the right type of Christians, and so we reinforce the idea that “religion is for old people.”

But our young people can change the world now! I try to consistently extend this challenge to my four sons: “You can change the world or the world can change you—which will it be?”

If the answer is that young Christian people can change the world, then the Bible comes alive with meaning. Here are just two examples:

“And He was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me’” (Luke 9:23). This verse has no meaning for young Christians who have developed a worldview that God is there for them. But for young Christians who understand that they are there for God and His Kingdom, this verse is full of meaning and becomes a measuring rod for living out their faith.

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). For young people who live for themselves, this verse makes no sense and needs to be rephrased as follows: “For to me, to live is me and to die is religion.” But for young Christians who embrace God’s priority in their lives, this verse becomes a life focus. Jesus becomes the measure of success. Each day without a focus on Jesus is a day wasted.

Let’s raise the bar for our young people and live out a daily commitment to Jesus and His Kingdom.

Categories: Seminary Blog

The Third Time is a Charm

Fri, 01/06/2017 - 13:59

The Dec. 17, 2016, issue of The Dallas Morning News carried a shocking headline: “Conservative Belief Spurs Church Growth.” The story recounts the astonishing discovery of David Millard Haskell, associate professor of religion, culture and digital media and journalism at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada. Apparently, there is a connection between what conservative churches believe and growth patterns that are largely absent from more liberal churches. This happens even though conservative pastors often violate their own convictions and cast the sheep of their congregations into the spiritual equivalent of slaughter houses. Furthermore, not all conservative churches demonstrate growth, and one can still find some liberal churches that have experienced a modicum of increase.

But wait! This is not news. In 1972, Dean M. Kelley wrote a monograph entitled Why Conservative Churches Are Growing, published by Harper and Row. Some of his definitions were too broad, but who would have anticipated such a book from a United Methodist clergyman who, at that time, was working for the National Council of Churches? Kelley wrote:

If now the leaders of that organization expect to summon those members into the struggle for social improvement, they are simply calling the wrong collection of people. The churches and synagogues are not social-action barracks where the troops of militant reform are kept in readiness to charge forth at the alarums and excursions of social change. Rather, they are the conservatories where the hurts of life are healed, where new spiritual strength is nourished, and where the virtues and verities of human experience are celebrated. To rally those within to launch an attack on the status quo is like trying to lead into hand-to-hand combat a collection of nurses, teachers, physicians, and gardeners, people who are capable, responsible, and responsive—at something else.[1]

Then in 1992, Rutgers University Press, hardly noted for being a vehicle for fundamentalism, published the work of Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, The Churching of America 1776-1990. These two sociologists used different examples, but the conclusions are identical. Now Haskell has followed suit. So every 20 to 25 years, people who are not particularly sympathetic with the narrow conclusions of conservative churches keep arriving at the same conclusions. Perhaps the third time will be a charm, and a firm grasp of the obvious will finally be achieved.

How is it that something this obvious seems to be absent from the thinking of so many? Well, let’s see if I might be able to help. I am not adroit with technology. So, I have decided to establish a new social order based on the rejection of technology. I remember with delight when I had to have a quarter and find a phone booth to make a call. At home, we had a tail attached to our phone so you could not wander far, but since it was a party line, you could still listen to what all the neighbors were saying. In this society, I suggest that we reject cell phones and inveigh against them. How many followers, even among the elderly, do you think I will have?

Everyone knows that technology is here to stay, and we all enjoy the freedom afforded by use of our cell phones. There will be little success in my new social order, even though it is not without its redeeming features. To critique technology and urge people to live simpler lives is going to gather precious little following. In fact, one would enjoy greater success in a boxing match with an enraged grizzly than to have a social order that rejects technology. By the same token, criticism of the Bible and churches that faithfully proclaim its truth, while always popular in the academy, in the liberal press, and in a few self-congratulatory elitist circles, is anything but profound.

Here is the stern truth of the matter. Among folks who are interested in attending church, there is little appeal in hearing an erudite minister give a lecture on understanding the ways Plutarch’s approach to biography will somehow help us dance around the “mistakes” in the Gospel accounts of Jesus so as to uncover the real message, which some “scholar” then must translate into our limited context. Since Porphyry launched his attack on Daniel in the late third century, fashionable scholarship has attacked the Bible. Eighteen centuries later, conservative churches are growing worldwide! In spite of all the foibles of its clergy, specious arguments sometimes advanced in its defense, internal debates about such things as style of music and inconsistencies in the lives of Christians, people still want to know if God has anything to say about this life and existence that we share.

Greater Vision Quartet has a song from the point of view of a parishioner: “Preacher, if you want to be my friend, don’t tell me what I want to hear.” The parishioner goes on to ask that the preacher tell him what God says. No one anticipates perfection from even the leaders in the church, but they know well that, in terms of ultimate answers, the universities have failed, the psychiatrists have moved the patients over to recline on their own couches, and the politicians have created such a muddle that any hope there perished long ago. On the other hand, the majority of people who follow Christ and invoke the Bible as a guide for life are a happy people, forgiving offences rather readily, loving one another and even their enemies, accepting the providences of God, and, when necessary, suffering and even dying for their faith with confidence. They tend to be good citizens, they neither steal nor murder, and, in spite of many miscues, they usually maintain the best in family life.

Usually, Christians of a conservative stripe do not spend an inordinate amount of time fretting over the end of the age, the status of dictators in the world, or the possibility of nuclear annihilation. The Bible has taught them how to live, how to think, and how to trust God by faith. These Christians are appropriately concerned, but they believe with all their hearts that the final chapter in human existence has been penned by God.

And by the way, there is a reason why conservative seminaries are holding their own in a day when most of the rest are on a downward turn. Of the 10 largest seminaries in America, almost all of them have a conservative persuasion. As Finke and Stark note, “Because most Baptist seminaries in the North were independently organized and thereby free of denominational control, they easily became a haven for the expression and development of liberal theology.”[2]

With the millions of abortions taking place, coupled with the failure in the local churches to call out the called and the prevailing tendency among millennials to see little need of instruction, these conservative seminaries are attuned closest to the local churches and remain strong. The close pastoral relationship between these seminaries and the local churches that support them with prayer and funding results in a steady stream of students who hold them close to the Bible. How many more sociologists will have to recount this history before the social establishment notes the phenomenon and begins to ask why this is the case?

 

 

[1]Dean M. Kelley, Why Conservative Churches are Growing (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), 151.
[2]Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, The Churching of America 1776-1990: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press), 172.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Seasoned and Shining: A call to a resilient faith in Christ

Tue, 01/03/2017 - 09:30

It’s hard to believe that another year has come and gone. As I reflect on last year, I am amazed at the events that took place throughout the world. While I am saddened by many of the things I have seen and heard, I am aware that the Lord is still at work. The condition of marriages, families and communities; the increasing hostility and division between people of differing ethnicities; and the continual disregard for the value of human life, born and unborn, are all things that I will remember from last year. While sad, I remain encouraged that the Lord knows, cares and expects His followers to have an impact on this world for His glory.

In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus speaks of the role that His followers would play in the world. He tells the disciples and anyone else that would follow Him,

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

What does it mean for those who follow Jesus to be salt and light in a world of decay and darkness? Jesus understood that His followers would need both character to influence a world in decay and an outward witness that points to the Father. Pure lives will act to hold back corruption, while dedication to spreading the Gospel and meeting needs with love will bring the love of God to the forefront.

In light of the times in which we live, I have three thoughts that I hope will be helpful as we move through the new year and engage the decay and darkness around us:

1. The truth of any matter is a matter of truth.

It is vital that we understand the source of the decay that we see and experience daily. It comes from the fall of man, and the fall was set in motion by a lie. The account can be found in Genesis 3. It is amazing that the enemy begins his attack by calling into question the Word of God: “Indeed, has God said…?” By doing this, Satan also calls into question the character and nature of God. Once God’s Word is questioned, the next step is to reject it. As we engage the issues dealing with ethnicity, marriage and life, let us remember that the main issue is an issue of truth. We must engage with truth; a lie has speed, but the truth has endurance. Indeed, God has said that from one man came all men; that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world; that marriage is God’s idea, a holy covenant that He established; and that human life is precious.

2. The Word is not only free from error but sufficient for life.

As we engage the decay and shine in the darkness, we must rely on the Word as the source of our message and director of our lives. There is a trend to view the Bible as holy and good, but not sufficient. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” The Word is sufficient and will provide the wisdom, training and help that is needed to make an impact for the Kingdom of God. We must be committed to conforming our lives to the Word of God.

3. It is not the truth you know, but the truth you obey that makes a difference.

To be effective for the Kingdom, it is vital that hearing the Word results in godly action. James 1:22 says, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” Whenever an area of our life is in contradiction with the Word, we must quickly conform our life to the Word. As we conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel, we reflect the light of Christ in the dark world in which we live and point others to the only source of hope for humanity. Let us exercise our faith with our feet so that the watching world can see and glorify our God.

The Lord does some of His best work in dark and dirty times, seeds grow best in fertile soil, and lights are most visible in the darkest night. Our disappointments many times will be opportunities for His divine appointments. As you move through the new year and engage tough life issues, my encouragement is that you look at and engage the issues through a biblical lens and framework.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Popular articles of 2016

Thu, 12/29/2016 - 09:30

TheologicalMatters.com provides a range of helpful articles written by Southwestern faculty addressing topics such as preaching, ethics, apologetics, current events, church history, marriage, family, ministry and more. Below, you’ll find excerpts from some of our most popular articles within the year 2016. Search the blog to read the full articles and share them with friends, family and church members.

– Less traditional student ministry might mean more disciples

By Richard Ross | Professor of Student Ministry

If student pastors were to stop doing about two-thirds of what they are doing, we might begin producing more disciples. Why? Because if they stop doing some things, then they will have time to do other things that offer even more promise. I have much confidence in the student pastors as leaders, but the time has come for their workweeks to change. Read more here.

– What if this is the end of freedom in America?

By Malcolm Yarnell  | Research Professor of Systematic Theology

A quick review of recent news headlines in the United States reveals an increasing number of incidents where governmental executives, legislators and judges have borrowed from the intolerant presuppositions of secular progressivism to restrict the religious liberties of believers. These incidents are strong signs of not just a lack of respect for the “first freedom,” but of an insidious, incipient hostility toward believers in traditional religion.

… The evidence indicates something has shifted in American culture: intolerance toward religious believers, and in particular toward evangelical Christians, is on the rise. And this intolerance is being manifested in all three branches of government and at the local, state and federal levels. One need not be a prophet to read a cultural swell building against believers in Jesus Christ. Read more here.

– Is extending an invitation really relevant for today?

Denny Autrey | Dean, J. Dalton Havard School for Theological Studies

The contemporary pulpit of the 21st century has become silent. Not in regard to story-telling, pithy sayings, anecdotes, and illustrative pictures of everyday life, but with regard to any concrete explanation of the text of Scripture. In some cases, the use of Scripture in the preaching event has become non-existent. Thus, is there really a need for extending an invitation at the conclusion of the contemporary sermon?

… What the contemporary pulpit requires is a return to the semantic understanding of the biblical text communicated in a relevant fashion that engages the hearer. The proper approach to text-driven preaching mandates a response that cannot be avoided. Read more here.

– The Bible, the preacher, and the presenting issue

Steven Smith | Vice President for Student Services

As any counselor will tell you, the real issue is most often not the presenting issue. The presenting issue seems to be strategies for preaching and evangelism in the local church setting. But the real issue is a global confidence in the Word of God.

Should we assume that believers trust Scripture when we preach? Of course not. We, therefore, reason with them. We argue for the text. However, in assuming they do not believe it, should we concede that is it unbelievable? Of course not. Read more here.

– An appeal to pastors—Please call out the called

Charles Patrick | Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Communications

Pastor, you are the greatest influencer for a man or woman who is sensitive to God’s call. There are approximately 7,300 students in the six seminaries from 46,500 churches. This is roughly one student per six churches being sent to be equipped. Imagine the cohort of church planters, missionaries, pastors, children’s ministers, music ministers, etc. that could be raised and equipped if each of the 46,500 churches committed to sending at least one student. We’d instantly have a sixfold increase in students being equipped and deployed around the globe. The harvest is there if churches will send the laborers. Read more here.

To stay up to date on Theological Matters articles, click here to subscribe and receive the newest content.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Fake news, false ideas, and the knowledge of God

Tue, 12/27/2016 - 09:30

The latest buzz word since the 2016 election is “fake news.” Just what is fake news? Well, like a lot of words in pop culture, there’s no precise definition. Here’s what we know. Fake news is, according to most, a bad thing. Sometimes it is even used to say, “Well, you know what? You are fake news, and your mother smells like one too.” I realize that makes no sense, but neither do many who talk about fake news in the media!

I think that there are at least three different uses of the term “fake news,” and I argue that it is not always bad. There is some fake news that is actually quite interesting, and of course, some that is morally wrong. There are also false opinions, and we need to approach these differently than we would fake news.

Fake News

Let’s look at three different kinds of fake news.

The first is what we will call satirically fake news. Satirically fake news includes publications like The Onion and the Christian satirical site The Babylon Bee. These are sites that intentionally, and in clear view, write stories that are false, but they do so for a point—sometimes a very powerful point. People are occasionally duped by these stories (let’s be honest, we’ve all been there), but fooling people doesn’t seem to be the primary point of these publications. The point seems to be to help people have ears to hear and eyes to see a critical point. What I mean is that we don’t typically welcome criticism, especially criticism of our sacred cows. The Babylon Bee is able to criticize, say, how we do worship music in many of our churches. One article is entitled, “Worship Leaders With Ripped Jeans Show Significantly Higher Levels Of Authenticity, Study Finds,” and another, “Hillsong United Renegotiates Contract, Will Now Split Glory With God Fifty-Fifty.” These are fake, and yet they sting us a bit. But, we kind of can’t help but smile all at the same time.

Though I enjoy satire, there is satire that takes it too far. When satire is downright cruel, perverse or damaging, it fails at its intended purpose of critique. We just come away offended. There can be a fine line between satire as an interesting form of criticism and satire as cruel mockery.

Secondly, there is entertainingly fake news. These are publications that are found in most supermarket checkout lines, and they are meant simply, I think, to be entertaining. You’ve probably seen publications that, with a straight face, announce the discovery of Bat Boy or that space aliens have endorsed the Republican candidate for president. Who knows what the precise point of these publications is, except to make us smile at the outlandish. But (let’s hope) everyone knows these are fake stories and may be worth a chuckle or two. I wouldn’t myself ever subscribe or even peruse most of these magazines beyond glancing at their covers. But this isn’t because I think it would be morally wrong to do so. It’s more that I don’t find them all that interesting and I just don’t have that kind of free time.

Third, there is what may be called deceptively fake news. These are stories that are written in order to deceive readers. Typically, these are intentionally false stories that aim at damaging someone’s reputation.

This phenomenon did not suddenly arise in our latest election. Deceptive fake news has been around for a long time. Deceptive fake news includes tabloid magazines (also found in supermarket checkout lines) that dish on the latest Hollywood gossip, much of which is untrue. But there are also political stories that are put out there and sometimes referenced by political candidates and other news agencies since they score political points. So what if Hillary Clinton is not actually dying from some disease, or Donald Trump hasn’t owned slaves? If people believe it, even if momentarily, then this can impact an election or provide some small political advantage. It seems to me that the Christian should have nothing to do with deceptively fake news.

Is this a big problem worthy of all the current airtime that it is getting? No, not in my view! Again, this is nothing new. Politicians have been scoring political points with fake news stories since ancient times. The internet, of course, enables these stories to disseminate more quickly. But the internet also allows us to take 30 seconds to make sure the news article is reputable. If the site is one you have never heard of, or no one else is running the story, then it is probably not credible. Disaster averted! To be sure, it is sometimes difficult to tell, but this is the very rare exception.

False ideas

What is sometimes confused with fake news is just simply (what we take to be) false ideas. In fact, fake news, as a term, is sometimes used as a pejorative to slam a view with which one disagrees. So, a more liberal individual might claim that FoxNews trades in fake news. The conservative will say that MSNBC is often faking the truth. But using the term this way is a mistake. What people are labeling “fake news” is often political commentary. But this can’t be fake news since it is not even news to begin with. Now, there is no question that pundits are often wrong about what they claim. Just think about how many media figures expected to be talking about President Hillary Clinton right about now. But it is not fake news when a commentator makes a mistake, even when it is an egregious mistake.

The real problem with labeling something with which we disagree as “fake news” is that this seems to be nothing more than name-calling. Using “fake news” as a slam strikes me as an attempt to shut down another person’s perspective. But, beyond being morally inappropriate, this is rarely effective. One reason that we should value the freedom of speech is that a bad idea is not typically stopped by calling it (or the person) a name. Trying to stifle a view often emboldens proponents of that view, since there are now emotions standing guard around the view. Thoughtful and careful discussion rarely happens in this case.

Now, there are clearly false ideas out there. I’ve claimed that we shouldn’t merely disparage these views, but what should we do? Should we just accept these ideas as equally valid? Certainly not! We need to be biblical and demolish these ideas. Paul says we are to destroy speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Paul uses battle language here to describe the fact that, in one sense, the Christian’s engagement in the world is a war of ideas. We need to destroy the arguments (imagine the walls of a fortress) and then take captive the thoughts (the inhabitants of the fortress). Part of engaging the world, it seems, is to point people intellectually to the knowledge of God. This is, of course, not all that is involved in coming to or being a disciple of Christ, but surely it is part of it. Paul is saying that we need to dismantle, destroy and demolish the arguments and ideas (not the people who hold these ideas) that stand in the way of this knowledge. This requires us, among other things, to refute those ideas.

I think that Christianity is true. So, if an idea runs contrary to this truth, then it follows there is a refutation for the idea. Now, I don’t think this is all about what’s sometimes called “pure reason.” After all, Paul is clear that the weapons we use in this endeavor are ones with divine power. The point, however, is that, given the truth of Christianity, ideas set up against the knowledge of God are false and need to be shown as such.

In sum, fake news, in its many manifestations, has been around for a long time, and it seems it is here to stay. But let’s be careful what we call fake news. Let’s not disparage others by calling them fakes. Let’s, instead, engage those ideas and show them false in contrast to the surpassing value of knowing Christ.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Don’t Miss the Star

Fri, 12/23/2016 - 09:30

Away from the busy city filled with lights, the dark winter nights are bright with stars. The celestial configurations enrapture, and the stillness captivates. The lesser lights of the busy city streets can be distracting. The light below veils rather than unveils the natural lights of the night. In much the same way, the season of Christmas can be hidden from view, overshadowed by our inconsequential rituals. Without delicate care, the way we celebrate Christmas tends to herald the lesser lights so that we miss the Star.

Solitude

In the modern concept of Christmas, there are few silent nights to contemplate the glories of the holy night. The long-awaited Star had come into the darkness, not to be overshadowed by darkness but to be hidden by lesser lights. Blinded by the ordinary, the extraordinary prophesied Son of David appeared but was barely noticed. There was no parade that day to welcome the king of the universe to earth. Aside from the census, Bethlehem was quite ordinary. As Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, few noticed the Savior at 12. He was Immanuel, “God with us,” but scarcely was He known. He remains with us, yet we could be accused of giving Him the same attention as those on the streets of Capernaum. The birth of Christ was announced to those who were silently keeping watch in the quiet of night, and suddenly the declaration of the birth of peace pierced through the darkness. Does the clamor of Christmas jade our view? In the solitude and quiet of night, the light of the world shines brighter, be still and know.

Sacrifice

The invasion of lights, malls, sales and traditions into Christmas has skewed our view of Christ. Christ is evident in the name of the holiday and the decorative nativities, but the meaning of Christmas remains obscure. We attempt to Christianize the commercialism with phrases like, “It is better to give than receive.” It is true that Christmas is about giving, but not the giving of things. As Christ is one with the Father, He owns all things. If the giving of temporal blessings were sufficient, there would be no need for Christ’s incarnation and, therefore, no need for His death. He could have managed that type of Christmas, giving from the comfort of His celestial home. The giving of things, however, is a cheap imitation of Christ’s first advent. He made Himself flesh and “dwelt among us.” He did not give men things to please temporarily; rather, He gave Himself to satisfy for eternity. Christmas giving is not the giving of stuff, but the giving of self.

The sacrifice of Christ did not begin on the cross, but in the emptying of Himself to dwell among us, to feel like us, to breathe like us, to agonize like us, to be tempted like us. All the while, He was giving Himself, in obedience to the Father, for us. Giving money is easy—we can always make more of that—but giving yourself is Christmas, because there is nothing more to give. More like the folk drummer boy than the Magi, we “have no gift to bring … that’s fit to give a king.” The giving of Christmas is the sacrificial gift of you so that the world of darkness would see the great light. He was “born to reign in us forever.” The more of my heart I give to thee, the more of your light is shone through me.

Wait

Since God’s announcement of a seed that would crush Satan’s head, man had been waiting. Despite man’s consistent rebellion, God was faithful to keep His promise. The proclamation was made, yet Mary waited—nine long months of anticipation. “Come thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free.” The Christ foretold has come. He came to his own, but they did not receive Him because they were not waiting. They had left their post of anticipation and expectancy. The ones not waiting missed the sight of the Star of Bethlehem.

Does Christmas build your anticipation? The fulfillment of the manger prophesied from the infancy of time proves our God is faithful to His promises. He was “born thy people to deliver, born to set thy people free.” The faithfulness proven in His first advent assures the faithfulness to His promise to come again. So we patiently wait for His full deliverance. Christmas is a reminder that God remembers His people and sovereignly brings His promises to pass for His own name’s sake and for our good. “Amen. Come Lord Jesus.” And we eagerly wait … celebrating lest we forget the promise.

Celebration

We live in the land of the imminent, having curiosity’s cure at our finger tips. Rarely do we wonder, for Google has staggered our anticipation. But Christmas demands hope-filled expectancy. We celebrate to commemorate that God dwells with us, that He came to save, and that He keeps His promises. We celebrate to remember that He came to dwell with us, as Immanuel, but also to live with courage, knowing He remains with us until the end of the age. We celebrate that He has set us free from our fears and sins. The fallen and broken tainted by sin, exposed as naked and ashamed, are picked up, made whole, washed and clothed in white. Jesus has been coming from the very start, the promised seed and root of the shoot of Jesse. We celebrate to proclaim that He is the Christ, the hope of all the earth. We celebrate to anticipate the certainty that He is coming again.

Our celebration is a proclamation of lights. Are we celebrating the lesser lights that veil the Christ child Star? Celebrate to declare the past coming of the Savior in order to prepare for the surety of the King’s coming again. Don’t miss the star.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Why I Read Matthew’s Gospel on Christmas Eve

Tue, 12/20/2016 - 09:30

I will never forget one Christmas Eve many years ago when my family decided to read the account of Jesus’ birth in Mathew instead of Luke. It’s a tradition among my extended family, as I’m sure it is with other families, to read Scripture at this special holiday gathering, and we naturally gravitate to Luke’s version. The stories of Luke are so familiar to us, and many can recite the narratives nearly verbatim. Luke, after all, is famous for describing the details of Jesus’ birth with the beauty and wonder of a master storyteller. Nearly all of the essential parts of the story, save the account of the Magi, come from Luke, including Caesar’s decree, the journey to Bethlehem, the inn with no room, the shepherds quaking, the angels singing, Mary pondering everything in her heart, and so on.

So one Christmas Eve, in an attempt to shake things up a bit, I suggested we try reading Matthew instead. Not wanting to break from tradition, my family reluctantly agreed. So, I turned to Matthew 1 and began.

It is no mystery that Matthew and Luke emphasize different aspects of the birth of Christ. From the start, the family was quickly losing patience because, unlike Luke’s account, Matthew begins with one of those long, repetitive genealogies. Not quite the same as the heart-warming narratives of Luke. But we persevered.

Everyone seemed more engaged when we finally made it to the familiar stories of Mary and Joseph. All of our restless children were happy because these accounts are much shorter than the similar stories we find in Luke. Nearing the end of Matthew 1, our family was smiling as they listened to the astonishing stories of the angelic visitors and Joseph’s inspiring resolve to obey the Lord by taking Mary as his wife.

Beginning in Matthew 2, the scene of expectation and hope crescendos with the visitation of the wise men, who saw the star and rejoiced when they found the child. Matthew 2:10-11 describe the scene of worship that is so familiar to us (and often conflated with Luke’s story of the shepherds): “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him.” The euphoria of celebration and adoration emanates from the passage. The long-awaited Savior has arrived! The Messiah, the Son of David, is here! Let all heaven and nature sing!

Then, we read Matthew 2:16. In a moment, the smiles were gone. The sense of hallelujah was shattered when the reality of sin and death reentered the scene. Matthew 2:16 recounts Herod’s reaction to the threat of the birth of the Messiah, saying, “Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi.” Unspeakable joy and unspeakable horror, barely even five verses apart. Suddenly, we were not reading about the thrill of the Savior’s birth but rather the heinous sin of a crazed man and the loss of many precious infants.

But Matthew is not fazed by such horror. Instead, he makes it an integral part of his birth narrative and connects it to testimony of the prophets. He cites the words of Jeremiah, “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be comforted, because they were no more.” Ramah, just a few miles north of Jerusalem, is traditionally associated with Israel’s deportation to exile. In Jeremiah’s account, Rachel, the wife of Jacob and mother of Joseph and Benjamin, is the national representation of a mother weeping for children who are headed into captivity. Here, in response to Herod’s acts, Matthew sees the fulfillment of Jeremiah as the nation weeps for her children because sin and death still reign.

There is also little doubt that Matthew’s readers would have immediately detected the echoes of similar heinous acts committed by Pharaoh in the narrative of Moses’ birth (Exodus 1:15-22). The literary connections are unmistakable and envision Christ as one like Moses who has come to deliver His people, not from bondage to Egypt or even Babylon, but from the even greater bondage to sin and death (Matthew 2:14-15, Hosea 11:1).

In the middle of reading this portion of the story, I recall one family member making the lighthearted interjection, “I’d forgotten about this part.” Another questioned innocently, “Do we really need to hear this tonight?” After their comments, I paused for a moment. I honestly wondered if I should read on. Do we really need to hear about Herod? Christmas is about love, joy and peace, right?

I even remember thinking in that moment about how many nativity scenes I have witnessed over the years that portray the visitation of the Magi in Matthew 2:10. The serene images of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus surrounded by the wise men humbly kneeling, offering gifts, and worshiping. There is no hint of what is about to happen. Certainly sin and death are not to be celebrated at Christmas, but Matthew reminds us that they are not to be brushed aside either. The truth is that the account of Herod’s acts convey the very reason Christ came in the first place. He became incarnate to overcome sin and death.

After a few awkward moments of silence, I went ahead and finished reading the chapter. When we ended Matthew’s account, my family reverted to tradition and recited Luke’s narratives. But the haunting thoughts of Herod’s acts in Matthew’s account lingered in my mind.

It seems to me that what is so helpful about Matthew’s version is the dramatic tension of the holiness of the birth of Christ set in contrast with a shocking story that illustrates the desperate need for this Messiah to save His people. Reading Matthew’s account undermines any attempt at sanitizing the birth of Christ. The trivial holiday songs, stale Christmas specials, and inedible fruitcakes fade away in light of Matthew’s Gospel, as the reason for the season is ushered to the forefront. When we read Matthew, we feel the joy of shouting with the wise men, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come”; and then we realize in the acts of Herod the hope of proclaiming, “No more let sin and sorrow reign!”

In an important section of his famous work On the Incarnation, the church father Athanasius (d. 373 A.D.) captures this theological tension, saying:

But now He [the Word] comes, condescending towards us in his love for human beings and his manifestation. For seeing the rational race perishing, and death reigning over them through corruption, and seeing also the threat of transgression giving firm hold to the corruption which was upon us, … and seeing the excessive wickedness of human beings, that they gradually increased it to an intolerable pitch against themselves, and seeing the liability of all human beings to death—having mercy upon our race, and having pity upon our weakness, and condescending to our corruption, and not enduring the dominion of death, lest what had been created should perish and the work of the Father Himself for human beings should be in vain, he takes for himself a body and that not foreign to our own. … And thus, taking from ours that which is like, since all were liable to the corruption of death, delivering it over to death on behalf of all, he offered it to the Father, doing this in his love for human beings….

The words of Athanasius bring together the compassion of the Son of God who sees His creatures languishing in sin and condescends to enter their world and become like them—the same world where Herod rules and God’s creatures suffer. In His unfettered love for us, He became like us and offered up Himself to overcome sin and death.

I think about this every year on Christmas Eve as I open my Bible to choose which story to read. Now, I cannot help but read them both. While I love Luke’s account, and it remains the standard-bearer of all Christmas Eve gatherings, I find myself drawn to Matthew for the way it challenges our holiday sentimentalities and vividly reminds us why the Word became flesh.

 

 

[1] Athanasius: Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 2.8.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Resisting the Sacred vs. Secular Divide

Tue, 12/13/2016 - 09:30

As Christians, we affirm Christ’s lordship over all of life—or at least we know we’re supposed to. Should our lives be separated into distinct spheres, with our secular interests and pursuits—what many think of as the ordinary humdrum of day-to-day life—belonging in a lower, spiritually less significant sphere, and the overtly “spiritual” parts of our lives—things like volunteering at church, personal evangelism, and Bible study—belonging in a higher, sacred sphere? Such thinking implies that God cares little (or at least less) about our secular lives, being primarily concerned with our sacred lives.

When presented in such blatant terms, I doubt any Christian would say that our lives are properly divided into sacred versus secular spheres. The trouble, however, is that many Christians have, to some greater or lesser extent, simply absorbed such thinking into their worldview.

When thinking, for example, about how their faith relates to their vocation, Christians often view their “secular” Monday-Friday jobs as mission fields where they’re surrounded by co-workers who need to hear the Gospel. Now, I don’t disagree—we should look for opportunities to tell others about the salvation available in Christ. Evangelism is, of course, not optional for Christians. But if we think “being a Christian at work” just means treating our job as nothing more than a place where we share the Gospel, then we have tacitly accepted the idea that what matters (in this case, evangelism) is sacred, while our work is only really valuable when the sacred invades it from time to time; the work itself is merely secular.

The point is thrown into sharp relief when we notice that, in such thinking, one must cease working in order to engage in evangelism. Again: this is not at all to diminish the significance of evangelism, but rather to highlight one example of the way in which many Christians tacitly accept the sacred-secular divide. By now, I hope it’s clear that, as we’re using it, the term “secular” is not synonymous with “sinful.” All Christians recognize that sinfulness has no proper place in our lives. What I’m trying to highlight, rather, is the way in which many Christians incorrectly valuate different parts of their lives.

During the fourth century, the churchman Augustine of Hippo sought to refute the charge that the decline of the Roman Empire was due to its Christianization. In his refutation, Augustine distinguished between what he called the “city of man” and the “city of God.” These are not, of course, literal cities, nor is Augustine talking about competing political entities. The two “cities,” rather, symbolize different manners in which people orient their lives. Augustine recognized that people act in accordance with their loves, and so we may say that the two cities “have issued from two kinds of love. [The city of man] has flowered from a selfish love which dared to despise God, whereas [the city of God] is rooted in a love of God that is ready to trample on self.”[1] In other words, the “city of man” denotes a life consumed by love of self and domination of others—in a word, idolatry; the “city of God,” however, denotes a communal life of ordered harmony before the Lord, united in the love of God.

This is worth noting, I think, because Augustine’s two cities are not meant to correlate to distinct “sacred” and “secular” spheres of life. Far from it, in fact: according to Augustine, our lives are to be lived in the city of God—that is, we are to love the proper things in proper ways. Once we have properly ordered loves (which is possible only through Christ), we will find the proper value in all aspects of our lives.

Far from prescribing a compartmentalized view of life, the very metanarrative of Scripture—from creation through the Fall and into Redemption and beyond—with each stroke, paints a portrait of how life is meant to be lived: holistically, before God. In Genesis 1:28, man is instructed to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it”—what is often termed our “cultural mandate.” God’s intention for our lives, since before the Fall, is that, having been created in God’s image, we are to cultivate both the world of nature and a social world: fulfilling this mandate as God intends is to live a life that is worshipful (or “sacred”). As Nancy Pearcey puts it in her book Total Truth:

The biblical message is not just about some isolated part of life labeled “religion” or “church life.” Creation, Fall, and Redemption are cosmic in scope, describing the great events that shape the nature of all created reality. We don’t need to accept an inner fragmentation between our faith and the rest of life. … The promise of Christianity is the joy and power of an integrated life, transformed on every level by the Holy Spirit, so that our whole being participates in the great drama of God’s plan of redemption.[2]

Or, as pastor Jimmy Draper likes to put it, “Christianity is not a way of doing certain things; it is a certain way of doing all things.”

In writing to the Colossian Christians, Paul offers simple exhortation that “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17). Paul says Christians are to have a view of life such that all aspects of life, even the seemingly mundane—wiring receptacles, repairing motors, delivering newspapers: the parts of life typically regarded as “secular”—are to be equally done in the name of Christ (that is, they are to be recognized as “sacred”).

As Paul says a few verses later, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (3:23-24). No part of our lives is spiritually insignificant.

A similar point is made in Ephesians 2:10—“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Here, Paul has just been crystal clear that salvation is never the result of our works; it’s not due to any self-achievement (2:8-9), but he is equally clear that, because we—believers—are a new creation in Christ, we are to perform the “good works” set before us. As one commentator puts it, “We are created in Christ Jesus for works that are morally and beneficially good for us, for those around us, and for God.”[3]

Well what, specifically, are those “good works”? It’s not as though, upon conversion, we are handed a list of (specific) tasks that we are responsible to complete before the Lord’s return. Rather, notice the end of Ephesians 2:10—“… that we would walk in them.” The idea is that our way of life, our view of life in its entirety, is to reflect Christ in us—and this is not restricted to our times of formal worship (i.e., church stuff). In fact, Paul intends quite the opposite: walking in good works is not restricted to what people tend to designate the “sacred” parts of life; it is not a role that we play during the “spiritual” parts of our lives.

But for all that, the fact remains that Christians frequently do unreflectively embody the sacred-secular divide. Why? I have found John Stott’s essay titled “Guidance, Vocation and Ministry” helpful on this score.[4] Scripture teaches that God’s general will for all Christians is that they grow in Christlikeness. Additionally, Stott explains, God has a particular will for each Christian, which is your “vocation”—but not vocation merely in the “what job do you happen to perform” sense. In the biblical usage of “vocation,” Stott observes, the “emphasis is not on the human (what we do) but on the divine (what God has called us to do). For ‘vocation’ is a Latin word, whose Anglo-Saxon equivalent is ‘calling.’”[5]

In light of this, the question for each of us is, “What is my calling?” In other words, “What is my vocation?” That question demands thoughtful consideration. What we must notice is that our individual callings—our vocations—are whatever God would have each of us do toward fulfilling the cultural mandate and the Great Commission. This realization is what prompted the Reformer Martin Luther to insist that “tailors, cobblers, stonemasons, carpenters, cooks, innkeepers, farmers and all the temporal craftsmen” have been “consecrated” to “the work and office of his trade” just as the priest—or pastor—has been to his office.  Luther recognized that when we use the word “calling” correctly, there is no room left for thinking that only certain jobs are sacred whereas others are secular. After all, God called Nehemiah to work on the walls no less than he called Ezra to work in the temple.

Let us, then, practice seeing the entirety of our lives as God sees it. Let us regain God’s vision of our Monday-Friday lives, and let us encourage one another away from dividing life into secular versus sacred spheres.

 

 

[1]Augustine, City of God, trans. and ed. by Vernon J. Bourke (New York: Oxford, 1958), 14.28.
[2]Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), 95
[3]Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 348.
[4]John Stott, “Guidance, Vocation and Ministry,” in The Contemporary Christian (Grand Rapids: IVP, 1992), chapter eight.
[5]Ibid., 132.
[6]Martin Luther, “To the Christian Nobility,” in Luther: Selected Political Writings, quoted in Stott, 136-137.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Why I Practice Cold-Call Evangelism and Why You Should Too!

Tue, 12/06/2016 - 09:30

Many of us have received a phone call from an unknown number and, upon answering, found out that the person calling is a random salesperson from a different state attempting to sell the next revolutionary product on the market. When these calls come to our cell phones, many people get annoyed and simply hang up the phone. I, personally, have received several of these calls over the years and have responded in a number of ways. Sometimes, I politely tell the salesperson that I am not interested and hang up the phone. Other times, I ask them to please put me on the “do not call” list. However, if the salesperson calls at the right time and offers a deal that simply cannot be refused, I have “taken the bait” and purchased the item or service.

This sales strategy is called cold-call sales, which simply means that a company acquires a list of random names and phone numbers and methodically marches down the list, calling people to whom they have never spoken before and offering their product and/or services. The question I have regarding this practice is, “Why are so many companies still attempting this type of sales if so many people turn them down?”

In the church, there is a similar approach to evangelism called cold-call evangelism in which Christians acquire a list of random names and contact information, either by mapping out the area around the church or using other strategic ways of gathering such information, and methodically marching house to house, knocking on doors and sharing the Gospel. Some Christians believe this approach has outlived its usefulness because of the lack of fruit that they see while attempting to do cold-call evangelism, but I hold the conviction that cold-call evangelism is a practice that I will continue to do, and so should you. Here are several reasons why I believe this:

1.    It is biblical.

The book of Acts gives the account of the birth of the 1st century church. The apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit and both publicly and personally proclaimed the Gospel to the world around them. One does not have to look very hard to find examples of cold-call evangelism in this account. In Acts 8:26-40, we see Phillip evangelize to the Ethiopian eunuch using the book of Isaiah. Paul evangelizes the Philippian jailer and his whole household in Acts 16:25-34. But probably the most convincing argument for cold-call evangelism is found in Acts 20, where we see Paul’s defense of his ministry before the Ephesian elders. He explains to them that he served with humility, even in the midst of trials (Acts 20:19), and then he describes how he did not shrink back from declaring the Gospel to both Jew and Greek “from house to house” (Acts 20:20). What was he proclaiming to them? Repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21). If Paul saw the benefit of cold-call evangelism, so do I.

2.    It is economical.

The church, like any other organization, has a budget to work from and must make the most out of the money that it is given. Many churches send their members across the country or even around the world to do mission work, and I wholeheartedly believe this is an important and necessary task. However, many of these same churches often neglect sending them across the street! Why are we willing to spend thousands of dollars to send people to other continents when we can spend little to nothing sending them out into the community around the church? Cold-call evangelism is an opportunity to get the Gospel out to the lost that costs nothing more than the material that is handed out. Though stewardship is not the primary reason I participate in cold-call evangelism, it does help build the argument for doing this type of evangelism.

3.    It is practical.

One of the major benefits of doing cold-call evangelism that many people overlook is that this practice helps Christians develop evangelistic skills that they may not build otherwise. I have been going door-to-door for more than six years now, and through this practice, I have engaged people of all different backgrounds—Mormons, Catholics, Jehovah Witnesses, Buddhists, and about every other major religious background. Not only does this practice help build my own personal evangelistic skills, it also provides an opportunity for me to train other believers how to share their faith. By inviting believers to “come and see” (John 1:39) and then helping them to “go and do” likewise, I am able to effectively multiply my evangelistic efforts through other believers.

4.    It is effectual.

Some believe that door-to-door evangelism is dead, and I understand why they do so. In my experience with this type of evangelism, I get turned away more than I get the opportunity to lead people to faith in Jesus Christ. However, in six years of regularly doing this type of evangelism, I have also seen a number of people turn to Jesus and get folded into a local church. Just because people turn us down doesn’t mean that cold-call evangelism is dead! People turned Jesus down during his ministry as well (Luke 18:23; John 6:66). We cannot control what other people say in response to the Gospel; we can only control what we say and do when attempting to get the Gospel to people.

Let me be very clear: the church is not a business, and we should not simply treat the Gospel as a product that we offer to consumers. However, the church is the body of Christ, and the Gospel is the power of God to salvation and the greatest offer that has ever been extended to mankind. Regardless of the response, I intend to do everything possible to get the Gospel to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, and as persuasively as possible.

Is cold-call evangelism the best way to evangelize? Maybe not. Is cold-call evangelism the only way to evangelize? Absolutely not. However, cold-call evangelism is a biblical, economical, practical, and effectual approach to evangelism in which I have personally seen numerous people turn to Christ. For these reasons, I choose to continue to methodically engage the lost with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Will you join me?

For more information about Southwestern Seminary’s efforts to reach every home within a two-mile radius of the campus, go to swbts.edu/everydayevangelism

Categories: Seminary Blog