Archaeologists study antiquity, or ancient things. Archaeology is considered a science, though “not an exact or exclusive discipline,” in that by necessity it interacts and merges with many other disciplines, like geography, history, ceramics, numismatics, language, etc. This kind of study is able to retrieve “significant aspects of the past, which can greatly enhance our understanding of history and culture.”
Archaeology is beneficial to biblical studies in several ways. To name a few, the discipline can help to verify biblical history, provide background information, and even inform biblical interpretation. Archaeology can illumine, or put simply, “bring the Bible to life,” so to speak. Though archaeology and biblical studies are different disciplines, they are friends. To illustrate this point, I will provide below just a few of my favorite examples of archaeology’s intersection with the New Testament.
A Second-Century Inscription Found at Thessalonica (cf. Acts 17:6, 8)
The first example shows how archaeology can help to verify biblical history. The Greek inscription above, now inside the British Museum in London, England, was discovered at Thessalonica and dates to the second century A.D. The inscription lists six “politarchs” among other officials. In the first century, Luke correctly used the same word in Acts 17:6, 8 to refer to city officials in Thessalonica, though for years many scholars claimed that he was wrong in referring to politarchs. However, this Greek inscription found at Thessalonica helped to correct the misconception that Luke was mistaken.
A Jerusalem Temple Warning Inscription (cf. Ephesians 2:14; Acts 21:27-30)
The next example shows how archaeology can provide background information and help to inform biblical interpretation. The temple warning inscription above is located inside the Istanbul Archaeological Museum in Istanbul, Turkey. This stone marker was located in the outer court of the Jerusalem temple platform and warned Gentiles not to enter the inner court area of the temple on penalty of death. The inscription dates from the first century and would have been present in Jesus’ day. Compare Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:14—“For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility” (NET; italics mine).
Paul talked about peace between Jews and Gentiles at the same time he talked about reconciliation to God (cf. Ephesians 2:1-10). A literal barrier existed between Jews and Gentiles. In the Jerusalem temple was a series of concentric courts. The outer court was called the Court of the Gentiles. The Gentiles were allowed to go no further than that. Within it was the Court of Israel, and around that court a barrier included warnings that forbade Gentiles to cross the boundary and enter the temple proper. The rigid centuries-old distinction between Jews and Gentiles was symbolized by this barrier. When Paul talked about the wall in Ephesians 2:14, he might well have had in mind this real physical picture of separation. At one point in his ministry, Paul got into trouble in Jerusalem for supposedly bringing a Gentile across the barrier into the forbidden area (cf. Acts 21:27–30). However, though a solid physical barrier, it only symbolized the real barrier, which was the Jewish law with its many rules and regulations (Ephesians 2:15)—things that people had to keep if they wanted to belong to God’s people. Now, Paul wrote, Christ has broken that barrier down (Ephesians 2:14)! So, no longer is there an exclusive part of the temple. No longer does a law discriminate between Jews and Gentiles. God has made both groups into one new people. Through Christ, His purpose was to create in Himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace (Ephesians 2:15).
The Roman Triumph (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 and Colossians 2:15)
[Photos 1 and 2]
Roman triumphs were spectacular parades decreed by the city of Rome to celebrate great conquests; to honor the emperors, generals or consuls who achieved those victories; and to give thanks to the deity who bestowed them. The triumph’s central focus in the procession was the person being honored as victor and savior (sōtēr as “one who brings good fortune”). He rode in a chariot, typically pulled by four horses (called a quadrigo; see Photos 1 and 2). The triumphator was “dressed in a purple gown, wore a tunic stitched with gold motifs and had a crown upon his head.” The victor’s face “would be painted red and he carried an eagle-crowned scepter in his hand,” which elements were “taken from Jupiter’s depiction” in Rome’s most important temple, the Jupiter Capitolinus, where the parade ended with sacrifices and thanksgiving offered on behalf of Rome. The honoree in the triumph would be surrounded by soldiers and displays of the spoils of war (see Photo 3), with subjugated captives being mockingly paraded as slaves, many of whom would be put to death. Paul used the imagery of the Roman triumph metaphorically in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 and Colossians 2:15 to portray God as “the sole, divine ruler and sovereign victor over his enemies.” Consider the words of Colossians 2:15, “When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him” (NASB).
The Great Theater at Ephesus, the Goddess Artemis and Her Temple (cf. Acts 19:23-41)
[Photos 1 and 2]
The two pictures above are of the Great Theater at Ephesus; the one on the right was taken from the very top. The theater seated about 25,000 people and has fantastic acoustics. The ruin is located opposite the harbor street near the city’s south entrance. The theater is mentioned in Acts 19:23-41, which gives the account of a riot against Paul.
Ephesian craftsmen and silversmiths who made silver shrine replicas of Artemis and her temple opposed Paul and the Gospel. During this time in Ephesus, Demetrius became infuriated over dwindling shrine trade, undoubtedly affecting his livelihood, and incited a crowd to drag away Paul’s Macedonian traveling companions, Gaius and Aristarchus, before an assembly of Ephesians in the city’s theater (Acts 19:24-29). Paul wanted to appear before the assembly in the theater as well, no doubt in an effort to help, “but the disciples would not let him” do so (Acts 19:30). When it looked like Gaius and Aristarchus would be killed, the city clerk urged the assembly not to do anything rash because the men had neither robbed temples nor blasphemed Artemis (Acts 19:37). He advised the crowd that if Demetrius and the craftsmen had complaints or charges, then they should follow due process on those matters through the available judicial means (Acts 19:38-39). To do otherwise, he warned, ran the risk of being charged with rioting and inviting Roman reprisal since they had no reason to justify their disorderly gathering (Acts 19:40). After speaking, “he dismissed the assembly” (Acts 19:41).
During the height of the uproar over Paul and his associates, the Jews pushed forward Alexander, one of their own, to give a defense before the assembly in the theater (Acts 19:33). Their motive was apparently to distance themselves from the tumult caused by the Christians. However, when Alexander sought to make his defense, the mob would have none of it. The crowd knew that Jews opposed Artemis, and when they recognized Alexander as a Jew, they all shouted “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” in the Great Theater (Photos 1 and 2 above) for about two hours (Acts 19:34).
Roman coins are helpful in providing background information about this first-century cultural context. For example, “Claudius issued a series of silver cistophorii in A.D. 50-51 to celebrate his marriage to Agrippina the Younger. These coins reflect on their reverse evocative portrayals of the temple of Diana [Artemis] in Ephesus, including the cultic statue of the goddess.” As seen at the beginning of this section, disputes over replicas of Artemis’ statute and her temple, reflected on the coin’s reverse (Photo 3 below), are what led to Paul’s conflict with Demetrius and the silversmiths.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is a great place to learn not only the New Testament and biblical archaeology but any of the disciplines to help you become a more effective steward of the Gospel with which God has entrusted us. The seminary is intentionally evangelistic, committed to text-driven preaching, and emphasizes Baptist distinctives. Join us and allow us the joy and privilege of helping prepare you for a lifetime of ministry.
J.R. McRay, “Archaeology and the New Testament.” Pages 93–100 in Dictionary of New Testament Background (eds. Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter; Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000), 93.
By this, I do not mean definitively prove or disprove our theological assertions.
Unless indicated otherwise, translations are my own.
S.J. Hafemann, “Roman Triumph.” Pages 1004–1008 in Dictionary of New Testament Background (eds. Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter; Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000), 1004.
Coins and relief panels provide tremendous insights into ancient history and culture. The photo of the gold coin called an aureus (Photo 1, left) with Titus Caesar’s image on the front and shown on the reverse in triumphal quadriga was borrowed from http://www.wildwinds.com/coins/ric/titus/RIC_0370[vesp].jpg; accessed April 18, 2017. The photo of the relief panel (Photo 2, right) is from the Arch of Titus, dedicated in A.D. 81 to celebrate the emperor’s victory in the Jewish War of A.D. 66–74, which featured the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in A.D. 70. The image was borrowed from http://www.ancient.eu/uploads/images/1286.jpg?v=1485680457; accessed April 18, 2017.
Hafemann, “Roman Triumph,” 1005.
In this relief panel scan from the Arch of Titus (Photo 3), Roman soldiers parade the Jerusalem Temple’s spoils of war in the Roman triumph. The image is part of the Yeshiva University Arch of Titus Digital Restoration Project and was found at http://cdn.biblicalarchaeology.org/wp-content/uploads/imperial-city-3.jpg?x10423; accessed April 18, 2017.
Hafemann, “Roman Triumph,” 1005.
L.J. Kreitzer, “Coinage: Greco-Roman.” Pages 220–22 in Dictionary of New Testament Background (eds. Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter; Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000), 221. The insert is mine; Diana is the Roman name for Artemis.
The silver cistophorus has Claudius’ image with the coin reverse showing the temple of Diana (Artemis), which includes her cultic statue (Photo 3); coin photo borrowed from https://www.acsearch.info/media/images/archive/93/2617/2710672.s.jpg; accessed April 19, 2017.
As a parent of teens, I long for my kids to mature into faithful followers of Christ who put others before themselves, live for a greater purpose, and embody Christian virtues. I long for them to be surrounded by a community of Christ-following peers and mentors who spur, encourage and challenge them to be find their identity at the foot of the cross.
Much of the responsibility for their formation in Christ falls to us as parents. We also look to the church to support us in these efforts.
The church today finds itself in a bit of a pickle, however. In order to keep kids interested and engaged in spiritual things, a high value is placed on entertainment. Unfortunately, this high value on entertainment can, and often does, undercut the process of spiritual formation. In his book You Are What You Love, James K.A. Smith goes for the jugular:
What passes as youth ministry is often not serious modes of Christian formation but instead pragmatic, last-ditch efforts to keep young people as card-carrying members of our evangelical club.
I’m not sure. I don’t think many youth ministries are merely trying to keep folks in the club, nor do I think the focus on entertainment represents a last-ditch effort. The intent, I think, is to create an environment where our youth feel loved, accepted and built-up in the faith. The wide-spread belief (at least anecdotally) seems to be that the best way to lead kids unto the green pasture of spiritual vitality is through the door of entertainment.
I believe this is a mistake. Smith puts his finger on the problem when he notes that a high value on entertainment reinforces the “secular liturgies” (that is, formative practices structured around a secular vision of the good life), which in turn undercuts Christian spiritual formation:
So while young people might be present in our youth ministry events, in fact what they are participating in is something that is surreptitiously indexed to rival visions of the good life. The very form of the entertainment practices that are central to these events reinforces a deep narcissism and egoism that are the antithesis of learning to deny yourself and pick up your cross (Mark 8:34-36).
Do I think we should stop entertaining our youth? Absolutely not. Make it fun. But there are more ways to have “fun” than throwing another video game or pool party.
Help our youth see the “fun” of sharing the Gospel with others. Help them see the “fun” of praying for each other or meeting the needs of the less fortunate. Help them see the “fun” of going deep into God’s Word. Help them see the “fun” of learning theology and apologetics. Better, challenge them to aspire to greatness and show them that true greatness is not found in being the most popular or athletic or best looking person, but in following Jesus.
The Gospel story is the best story ever told. It is the only story that truly satisfies, and it beckons us—and our kids—to find our meaning and purpose in loving and following Jesus. As we structure our youth ministry around the Gospel story instead of mindless entertainment, our kids will become lovers of all that is good, true and beautiful.
Chubby Bunny fills the mouth (for the uninitiated: with as many marshmallows as you can shove in), but teaching our kids the spiritual disciplines characteristic of authentic Christian community feeds and shapes the soul.
James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2016), 145–6.
In the midst of the raging culture wars and a sharply divisive political environment, Christians in America can often feel schizophrenic over how they should relate to our culture. Should the church retreat from the world and form Christian communities—tiny pockets of Christian civilization—or should the church remain embedded in the world while not taking on the ways of the world? These options have always been before the church in every age. What option does the Bible give us?
Evangelical Christians in general, and Baptists in particular, should not be surprised at the increasingly marginal state in which we find ourselves in our culture. Paul reminds us that we are living in this present evil age, and all who would live godly lives in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. Living counterculturally as believers in the world not only reminds us that we must enter the Kingdom of God through much tribulation, but it also constantly challenges us to define what our primary role in society is as the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Israel in exile is a good model for understanding the place and role of the church in the world. God has embedded His people in cultures around the world in order to be salt and light and to shine as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. Jesus calls and sends the church to be sowers of Gospel seed in the field of the world. God does not call us to retreat but to engage.
The church in Jerusalem was scattered abroad after the stoning of Stephen and led to the advancement of the Gospel outside of Jerusalem. Both Peter and James wrote to the diaspora of Christian believers under their pastoral charge. The assumption of the writings of the New Testament is that local churches existed in cities and not Christian cultural enclaves. We are not called to geographical isolation from the world but daily engagement with the world through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, bearing witness to the Kingdom of God among the kingdom of humankind.
The church is not a place but a people. Why has there been temptation for Christians to retreat from society? I believe it is in part the failure of evangelical churches to live up to our collective calling to be what we are: a family and a fellowship, overcoming our cultural individualism by engaging life together as the people of God, equipping and being equipped to live godly lives in this ungodly age, and bearing witness to the Gospel in our neighborhoods, schools and workplaces. We are part of the fellowship of the Gospel, which means that we are a community that God has transformed through the Gospel and that is now responsible for being the agent of the Gospel to all nations.
Our options are defined by Christ’s commands. We are to live worthy of the Gospel, following the pattern of Christ’s love and sharing in the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings. Christ commands His church to make disciples of all nations, a command that is undercut by Christian retreat. Making disciples of all nations involves the Holy Spirit’s empowering and sending of God’s people to the ends of the earth. God does not call His people to be concerned about self-preservation but to Gospel propagation. It is in the propagation of the Gospel that the church not only survives but thrives. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21). Christian travail in the world is a means God uses to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Further insulating ourselves from unbelievers only undercuts the mission of the church.
In our time, we must return to the well of Scripture to refresh our understanding of the identity and role of the church. We are salt and light, a city set on a hill, and a holy priesthood tasked with the joy of proclaiming the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness into light. We are not called upon to preserve a mythic Christian civilization but to bear witness to the coming Kingdom of God through our individual and corporate lives together as the people of God. Such Kingdom witness calls upon believers to engage culture at all levels, not retreat from it.
The 1939 film adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz portrays the fantasy tale of Dorothy Gale’s journey to the Emerald City in order to inquire of its wizard the way home from Oz to Kansas. While on the yellow brick road to the city, she encounters and subsequently enlists a brainless Scarecrow, a hollow-chested Tin Man, and a cowardly Lion. In addition to Dorothy’s wish to go home, the Scarecrow desires a thinking brain; the Tin Man, a beating heart; and the Lion, ferocious courage.
Arriving at the Emerald City, Dorothy and her band of misfits present themselves before the great and powerful Oz, who knows what they want before they even ask. He agrees to grant their requests providing they can defeat the Wicked Witch of the West and bring him her broomstick. So, Dorothy leads her mindless, heartless and fearful army to undertake a mission impossible to achieve without brains, heart and bravery.
In a reality that mirrors fantasy, Jesus assembled an unlikely group consisting of fishermen, a tax collector, and a Zealot in an assault on the god (2 Corinthians 4:4) and ruler of this world (John 12:31) by proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. In fact, one time, when 70 of them returned to Him after preaching the Gospel, He told them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning” (Luke 10:18).
What was the secret of their success? Did all of them possess “the gift of evangelism”? No, they did not. Those who heard them preach perceived them as untrained and uneducated men (Acts 4:13a). How, then, did the followers of Jesus who preached the Gospel “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6, ESV)? They did it through their Gospel preaching because of the time they spent with Jesus (Acts 4:13b) and because they had received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4, 18).
The belief that the Holy Spirit bestows a “gift of evangelism” upon a select, exclusive group of believers to carry out the work of evangelism is gaining increasing acceptance today. Some believers convince themselves that only those who possess “the gift of evangelism” have a responsibility to evangelize. Other believers accept the responsibility to fulfill the Great Commission through evangelism but conceive that those not “gifted” in evangelism can practice it more passively and occasionally than those they believe have “the gift of evangelism.”
The Bible never mentions “a gift of evangelism.” Paul does identify grace-gifted “evangelists” (Ephesians 4:11) whom he explains equip all saints for ministry along with the grace-gifted apostles, prophets, pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:12-13). In the contemporary era, Christ continues to equip believers for ministry through evangelists, pastors and teachers. As such, all believers are responsible to be equipped for ministry, which includes being equipped by grace-gifted evangelists to evangelize. Rather than describe a spiritual “gift of evangelism” bestowed upon a select few, Scripture presents evangelism as a spiritual discipline to be practiced by all believers intentionally and consistently.
However, what would it mean for Christ’s evangelistic enterprise if such a “gift of evangelism” did exist? A number of problems would arise. Consider the following:
1. If evangelism were a spiritual gift, then additional spiritual gifts would exist outside those identified in the New Testament. The New Testament spiritual gift inventory can be found in Romans 12:4-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-31; Ephesians 4:7, 11-13; and 1 Peter 4:10-11. The following comprises the Bible’s list of spiritual grace gifts: a word of wisdom, a word of knowledge, faith, healing, effecting of miracles, prophecy, distinguishing of spirits, speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues, administration, service, exhortation, giving, leadership, mercy, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. This list verifies, as mentioned earlier, that the Bible never references “a gift of evangelism.” If the Holy Spirit does endow some believers with a “gift of evangelism,” then it follows that additional grace gifts of the Spirit exist outside those provided in Scripture. How can the existence of additional spiritual gifts not mentioned in Scripture be verified? What prevents someone else from asserting a “gift of reading the Bible” or a “gift of prayer” as a reason why he does not have the responsibility to read the Bible or pray either consistently or at all?
2. If evangelism were a spiritual gift, then the beneficiaries of spiritual gifts would need to be reconsidered. The New Testament’s inventory and explanation of spiritual grace gifts demonstrate that the purpose of every spiritual gift is to unite differently gifted believers in the body of Christ (Romans 12:5); to benefit the common good of the body (1 Corinthians 12:7); to equip the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12); and to serve one another (1 Peter 4:10). Generally speaking, all the spiritual gifts are given to serve the body of Christ, not unbelievers. Specifically, Ephesians 4 states that Christ gave evangelists to equip the saints, not to be the only ones who evangelize sinners. Rather than do the work of evangelism for the saints, grace-gifted evangelists equip and encourage the saints to do evangelism.
3. If evangelism were a spiritual gift, then fewer unbelievers would hear the Gospel. The world-wide, evangelistic mission cannot be achieved by evangelism practiced only by believers supposedly endowed with “a gift of evangelism.” A couple of reasons for this assertion include that 1) God has ordained that all, not a select few, believers evangelize all creation (Mark 16:15); and 2) these so-called “gifted” evangelists will never have access to as many unbelievers in their spheres of influence to evangelize all creation as all believers do. Nowhere in the Gospels did the Lord appoint only spiritually gifted evangelists to fulfill the Great Commission on their own. If He had, not all of those first disciples who received the Great Commission would have evangelized others; neither would they have encouraged those who became His disciples, through their evangelism, to evangelize. Their example remains a model for today’s believers.
4. If evangelism were a spiritual gift, then the Great Commission, as well as the promise of Jesus’ presence, would be reserved only for evangelists. In An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens, William Carey confronted those in his day who argued that the Great Commission was not binding on the English Baptists. He described the position many believers during his day held concerning the Great Commission when he wrote the following:
[B]ut the work has not been taken up, or prosecuted of late years (except by a few individuals) with the zeal and perseverance with which the primitive Christians went about it. It seems as if many thought the commission was sufficiently put in execution by what the apostles and others have done; that we have enough to do to attend to the salvation of our own countrymen; and that, if God intends the salvation of the heathen, he will some way or the other bring them to the gospel, or the gospel to them. It is thus that multitudes sit at ease, and give themselves no concern about the far greater part of their fellow-sinners, who to this day, are lost in ignorance and idolatry. There seems also to be an opinion existing in the minds of some, that because the apostles were extraordinary officers and have no proper successors, and because many things which were right for them to do would be utterly unwarrantable for us, therefore it may not be immediately binding on us to execute the commission, though it was so upon them.
Nevertheless, Carey contended that all believers of all ages have a duty to obey the Great Commission of our Lord. Among other things, he exposed the fallacy in their logic by arguing that if Jesus’ commission to make disciples were no longer binding upon him and his contemporaries, then the promise of His presence always to be with them by means of the Holy Spirit would no longer be binding (Matt. 28:20). Carey rejected this erroneous idea and maintained that believers of all ages are promised Jesus’ presence just as they are also obligated to make disciples through evangelism.
In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion returned triumphantly to the wizard with the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West. The wizard rewarded the Scarecrow with a Doctor of Thinkology diploma, the Tin Man with a ticking heart clock, and the Cowardly Lion with the Triple Cross Medal of Courage. He explained to them, however, that by virtue of the way they defeated the Wicked Witch, the brainless Scarecrow had been able to think all along, the heartless Tin Man had been able to love all along, and the Cowardly Lion had been courageous all along!
Similarly, believers abound who have convinced themselves that because they have not been endowed with a “gift of evangelism,” they do not possess enough knowledge, love and/or courage to evangelize. However, God’s people do not require a “gift of evangelism” in order to evangelize; they already have what—or, more specifically, Who—they need in order to evangelize intentionally and consistently. God does endow believers with a Gift to evangelize, but it is not a “gift of evangelism” … it is His Holy Spirit!
William Carey, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens (Leicester: n.p., 1792), 8.
Alfred Loisy expressed the dilemma many feel about the relation of church and kingdom in the biblical narrative: Jesus preached the kingdom, but it was the church that came! The underlying assumption of the dilemma is that kingdom and church are different realities. Those who heard Jesus preach the kingdom would naturally have understood it in terms of the future kingdom predicted and prophesied in the Old Testament. That kingdom was to be a political reality on earth. The church, on the other hand, is a spiritual reality. These are antithetical realities. Or are they?
It should be obvious that one’s understanding of the relationship of church and kingdom directly affects how one reads the storyline of the Bible. At the risk of oversimplifying, there are three basic ways one might explain this relationship:
1. The first is what we might call the redirected narrative. The Old Testament predicted a future kingdom. Jesus preached the kingdom, but He proceeded to change its meaning to something different from what the Old Testament expected. He redefined the kingdom as the church. So, of course, the church came.
The most common versions of this view argue that it was never God’s intent to bring about a future kingdom on earth in the literal manner in which it was presented by the prophets. The Lord accommodated ancient peoples’ inability to comprehend a spiritual kingdom by presenting it in type form as a political reality. Jesus, however, revealed the church as the spiritual reality that had always been the true meaning of the kingdom. Obviously, this view would also say that there is no future for Israel nationally or territorially in the plan of God. The Old Testament promises regarding Israel are all part of the typology that is “fulfilled” in the church. This view is typical of many books by covenant theologians presenting a redemptive-history reading of canonical Scripture.
The problem with this view is that it contradicts the promises of God in the Old Testament. Such a serious charge might be considered if the New Testament specifically required it. However, nowhere in the New Testament is the kingdom clearly redefined. Jesus speaks of the kingdom in such a way as to expect His hearers to be familiar with it—a familiarity that they would presumably have received from the Old Testament. Furthermore, Jesus refers to political, material realities as expected features of the coming kingdom. In Matthew 19:28-30, He speaks of thrones, houses, and lands to be inherited in the kingdom. In Matthew 25:31-46, He speaks of the Son of Man assuming His throne over the nations when He comes in all His glory, a feature fully consistent with Old Testament expectation. In addition, Jesus speaks of a future restoration of Jerusalem (Luke 21:24). Both Peter and Paul speak of the restoration of Israel at the coming of Christ (Acts 3:19-21; Romans 11:25-32). All of this is fully consistent with the expectation of the coming Kingdom of God presented in the Old Testament.
2. Another approach might be called the interrupted story. Jesus preached the kingdom just as the Old Testament predicted it, but He also spoke on occasion of the church, not as the replacement of the kingdom or as its spiritual fulfillment, but as a different and distinct program separate from the kingdom. The New Testament then presents more revelation on this distinct program of the church.
This would be the view of traditional dispensationalism. The story of the Bible is actually two stories—one of a future political kingdom for Israel and Gentile nations and one of the church, a spiritual reality that interrupts the kingdom story. So, it was a surprise to many that the church came after Jesus preached the kingdom, but it is a surprise that will run its course, after which, the kingdom preached by Jesus will come exactly as He and the Old Testament expected.
The problem with this view is that it ignores the many ways in which the church in the New Testament is connected to the kingdom theme preached by Jesus and expected by the Old Testament. For example, some of Jesus’ parables on the kingdom in Matthew 13 speak of an inter-advent age that corresponds to the time of the church. Paul, in Colossians 1:13, speaks of believers in the church of Colossae as having been transferred into the kingdom of God’s Son. John says in Revelation 1:6 that God has made us to be a kingdom of priests. The teaching of Ephesians 1:22-23, that Christ has been given as head of the church, His body, which He fills with His fullness, is framed in a description of kingdom authority. To this may be added the many connections made in the New Testament between the church and Old Testament covenant promises.
3. The third approach might be called the crucial clue. It is the approach of progressive dispensationalism, or what might be called a holistic kingdom theology.
A closer examination of Old Testament predictions of the kingdom reveals that although it was certainly to be a political order, it was not merely that. The Old Testament reveals the problem of sin that threatens all aspects of human existence and destabilizes all forms of human organization. The future kingdom was predicted in concert with covenanted promises to forgive and cleanse away sin (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25, 33), based in an atonement offered by a coming Servant of the Lord who would subsequently be exalted (Isaiah 53:10-12). Israel’s position in the kingdom was said to be secured by the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit transforming their hearts (Ezekiel 36:26-27; this leads to the kingdom order pictured in Ezekiel 37).
These are the same salvation realities referenced in the New Testament description of the church. However, the New Testament is clear that only a down payment has been given in the present time. The full blessings of complete sanctification and the immortality of resurrection life await the return of Christ. Also, the New Testament teaches that the full realization of kingdom promises likewise awaits His return (Acts 1:6-11; 3:19-21). Although all authority has presently been given to Him, His direct political administration of nations awaits His return (Matthew 25:31-46).
A unique feature of the church in biblical history is the equality of blessing of Jew and Gentile in Christ. No distinction is made between Jewish and Gentile believers in the gift of the Holy Spirit and in their personal union with Christ (Ephesians 2:11-22, 3:6; Galatians 3:26-29). It is this feature that is often cited in the claim that the church is the spiritual reinterpretation of the kingdom. However, the explanation given at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) for the phenomenon of the baptism of Gentile believers by the Holy Spirit (Acts 10-11) draws upon a literal descriptive feature of the coming kingdom in Old Testament prophecy. It is not offered as a spiritualization of kingdom description. James, drawing upon Amos 9:11-12, notes that in the future kingdom, Gentiles as Gentiles will be called by the name of the Lord. The future kingdom in Amos is still the same worldwide political order that it is in other future kingdom prophecies. However, the church saw that Gentiles would bear the name of the Lord as Gentiles in that kingdom. Some work of God on Gentiles was necessary for that to happen. That work was now seen to be an equal sharing in the regenerating, sanctifying ministry of the Holy Spirit that had previously been revealed for Israel. And with that, the key to the everlasting stability of the prophesied multi-national kingdom—of Israel and all nations—was revealed.
The church in the New Testament is sometimes referred to as an inaugural form of the kingdom. However, in New Testament explanation, it is best seen as an inaugurated form of a key aspect of the future kingdom—a Spirit-wrought unity of holiness and sanctity achieved by an equal indwelling of God in the hearts and lives of all kingdom participants regardless of ethnicity or nationality. The presence of the church does not indicate that other kingdom features specifically covenanted by God—namely national, ethnic, and territorial features—have been spiritualized. There remains, for example, a national and territorial future for Israel in the kingdom plan, as well as blessings for Gentile nations.
Nor should the phenomenon of the church be taken to indicate a completely new and other work of God in addition to or alongside the kingdom. Rather, what has been revealed is a crucial clue to the fulfillment of the kingdom plan and program revealed in the Old Testament and proclaimed by Jesus.
Yes, Jesus preached the kingdom and the church came. But it did not come as an alternate reality interrupting or redirecting the plan for the kingdom. It came as an inaugural revelation of the glory that is still yet to come.
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!
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.” 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.
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.
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.” 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.”
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. 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].” 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.
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.” 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.”
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. 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. 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.” A litany of recent evangelical publications evidence Oden’s assessment.
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.”
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.
Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 2.9.
C.S. Lewis, “Preface,” 12, 13.
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.
Thomas Oden, After Modernity—What?: Agenda for Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), 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).
C.S. Lewis, “Preface,” 13.
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).
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.
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.
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.” 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!
Information is summarized from Malcolm McDow & Alvin Reid, Firefall (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1997), 275–279.
As cited in McDow & Reid, Firefall, 279.
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. 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.
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. 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.
Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28.
Psalm 33:6, 9; 148:5; Hebrews 11:3; 2 Peter 3:5.
Los Angeles Review of Books, 15 February 2016.
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.”
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.” 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.
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. 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. 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,” 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.”
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. 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.”
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.
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.
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. 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. 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.
See, for example, http://www.businessinsider.com/iowa-republicans-divorce-women-2013-3.
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.
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.
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.
Judith S. Wallerstein and Joan B. Kelly, Surviving the Breakup: How Children and Parents Cope with Divorce. (New York: Basic Books, 2008).
Wallerstein, Unexpected Legacy, xxiii.
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).
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.”
Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18-19; 1 Peter 3:1-7; Titus 2:1-6.
“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.
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, 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). 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.
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 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!
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.
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.
Unless otherwise noted, the Bible translations are mine.
The “work” in 1:6 to which Paul refers is found in 1:5—the Philippians’ “partnership in the gospel.”
Greek: “the things that differ.”
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. Tada encouraged Christians to respond to the film by proclaiming that “life really is worth living,” so “face circumstances courageously.” 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.” 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. 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].” 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
In regard to the Negro-American, our country has a dark history, the consequences of which we are still facing today. 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 and restricted anyone from educating slaves. 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. For generations, the damage these measures caused to slaves and their families far outweighed anything our country had done to right these wrongs.
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 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.” 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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
 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.
 Systematized inequities, racial biases, etc.
 This is not to deny progress that has been made within our country—Brown vs. Board of Education, constitutional amendments, etc.
 That is, the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).
 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
 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/
 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.
 At least in regard to the issue of race.
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.
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.
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.”
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?
Dean M. Kelley, Why Conservative Churches are Growing (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), 151.
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.