As the baby boomer generation continues to age, the percentage of Americans at retirement age is expected to explode, with about 9000 reaching age 65 each year. “Forty-eight million Americans were age 65 and older in 2015, 18 percent more than just five years earlier. The number of older Americans will increase to 74 million by 2030, and 98 million by 2060” (http://www.urban.org/features/how-retirement-changing-america).
For many, retirement holds promises of travel, relaxation, and leisure. God certainly wants His children to enjoy the good gifts He has provided. But He also expects us to live our entire lives for Him, not just our working years. That’s why Christians don’t retire from being Christians—you never cease serving Christ.
I’ve had the privilege to work closely with several members of our church who have used their retirement as an opportunity to serve with our campus ministry at Wayne State University. One of the greatest examples I have seen of using your retirement for the glory of God was Clif Tally.
After retiring from being an engineer, Clif audited several classes here at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, simply because he wanted to better understand God and His Word. He became more involved with multiple Bible studies at different retirement homes. He helped start the campus ministry at Wayne State University in 2003 and served there faithfully for the last 13 years. He would spend 25-35 hours a week leading 10-15 different small group and one-on-one Bible studies. He built relationships with scores of international students (many of which were Chinese), spending an hour in English conversation and an hour studying the Bible with them each week. He helped to collect donated furniture and organize a furniture give-away for incoming international students each fall. He incorporated his love of bird-watching into two annual trips with international students to bird-watching events as a means of strengthening the relationships for the sake of the Gospel. Clif never retired from serving Christ, but on Monday God called His good and faithful servant home to enter the joy of his Lord.
Clif exemplified the truth that Christians do not look for their home in this world but in the world to come. They enjoy this life, but they are more concerned with investing in eternity. The years of retirement are an excellent time to serve Jesus. It’s an opportunity to take the wisdom, understanding, and experience gained over the years and pour them back into the lives of others.
Christians don’t retire. They may stop their earthly careers, but they do not stop their work for God. Because they know one day they will be called to enter God’s rest.
“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” (Heb 4:9-10)
After 33 years of faithful ministry at DBTS, Dr. McCabe will be retiring this year and moving with his wife to Arizona to live with their family. Paul Finkbeiner sat down with him in his office to talk about his life as a seminarian and Old Testament professor.
Paul Finkbeiner: How did you end up working at DBTS?
Dr. Robert McCabe: Robert Smith, Pastor Doran’s brother-in-law, invited my wife and me to visit DBTS while I was working on my Th.D. After we visited, I sent my resume to Dr. McCune who then offered me a job in the fall of 1983.
PF: What was it like going to seminary?
RM: It wasn’t easy. I married my wife after finishing my first year as an M.Div. student. During my Th.D. work, I worked two full-time jobs, which included working at a publishing house called Eisenbrauns and doing security work too. It took me three years to finish my thesis.
PF: Why did you pursue ministry rather than a secular vocation?
RM: After getting saved, I wanted to serve God however I could. My passion was to be in ministry.
PF: What made you interested in the Old Testament?
RM: The best teacher I had at Temple Baptist Theological Seminary was an Old Testament professor named James Price. After having him for an Old Testament Introduction class, I realized that he was a true scholar, and he became my mentor as I pursued Old Testament studies.
PF: How long have you taught at DBTS?
RM: For 33 years. Overall, I’ve taught for 37 years, and I’ve spent half my life teaching at Detroit.
PF: What have you enjoyed about teaching?
RM: Two things mainly – camaraderie with my colleagues and my students. Besides those relationships, I really enjoyed doing an Israel study hour and Great Britain study tour. Another great experience was going whitewater rafting on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon as part of a young earth creationist tour.
PF: What was challenging for you as a professor?
RM: It was hard getting everything together when I first started and creating my own syllabi. During my first two years at DBTS, I was completing my dissertation while teaching full-time.
PF: What were some of your favorite classes that you taught?
RM: 1st and 2nd year Hebrew, OT Poetic Books, and Ecclesiastes
PF: How do you hope you have influenced your students?
RM: I hope I’ve influenced them to focus more on the Old Testament. And I hope I have influenced them to be pastor-scholars.
PF: How have your students influenced you?
RM: As I’ve aged, they have helped me stay younger. And they have helped me think more carefully about how I relate to them and to see things from their perspective as well as my own.
PF: What’s your favorite book or passage in the Bible? Why?
RM: I started teaching it when I first came to DBTS. And I have continued studying it for many years. My favorite passage is Ecclesiastes 7:13-14. With some of my surgeries these past few years, I’ve gone over this passage again and again for comfort.
PF: What have you learned during your years of study in Ecclesiastes?
RM: I think Ecclesiastes reflects life. Life is full of ups and downs. But in the midst of it all, if we have the fear of God, we can judiciously enjoy life.
PF: What will you miss about teaching?
RM: I will miss my colleagues, my students, and the friendships I’ve developed for 33 years. I’m sure my wife and I will make friends in Arizona, but it can never compare to friends we’ve had for more than 30 years.
PF: What do you plan to do during your retirement?
RM: I would like to find a good church to be involved in. I hope to find a Bible institute where I can teach.
PF: What do you look forward to in retirement?
RM: I look forward to being with my son and three daughters. And I look forward to potentially having a swimming pool in my backyard.
PF: Are you going to miss Michigan winters?
RM: Absolutely not. I’ll come back here to visit friends and family in the late spring or summer.
PF: What advice do you have for seminarians beginning their ministry?
RM: Keep your focus. There’s a lot of other sidetracks that will distract you. Keep your objectives. Keep your family intact. And do as well as you can with the time you have.
After we had completed the interview, we chatted for a little while longer and reflected on the history of DBTS and its future. Time goes on, and no one knows what the future may hold. But certainly, Dr. McCabe’s time spent at DBTS for over three decades has been a wonderful investment, and his influence here will continue as he moves on to the next phase in life. As a professor, colleague, and friend to many, he will certainly be missed.
1 Corinthians 4:1-2; 2 Timothy 1
What is true success in ministry? More importantly, how does God measure ministry success? Pastor Tracy Fressel speaks on the characteristics of faithfulness in the Minister’s life.http://dbts.edu/podcasts/Fressel.mp3
So said Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:23. And so we must agree with him. Still, I wonder whether this verse can sustain all the freight that has been loaded onto it over the years. Does it mean, as John Piper suggested a few months ago, that Christians should not carry concealed weapons or use lethal force against violent intruders/rapists? Does it mean, as one side of last week’s boycott battle over Target affirmed, that Christians should eschew boycotts? Does it mean, as a man insisted to me last month at the Menno-Hof Museum in Shipshewana, IN, that we must be resolute pacifists? The following are a few thoughts on the topic:
- While nearly every activity in which we engage has at least some remote implication for the gospel, not all things that we do in life are for the Gospel in a primary sense. Some things that we do are not primarily redemptive but civil in nature. Going to war, replacing a septic tank, buying a car, tightening a bolt firmly on the assembly line, going to a niece’s wedding, using a urinal rather than a brick wall, and a thousand other things are done primarily because of their civil ends. Yes, they all have implications for the Gospel (some more immediate than others), but they are not primarily “Gospel” activities.
- Scripture teaches that God is glorified not only by the successes of special grace, but also those of common grace. God is glorified by the restraint of evil and the performance of civic good (1 Pet 2:14), as well as the successful implementation of the dominion mandate in every sphere of life (Gen 1:26ff), whether in a field of crops (Psa 65:5–13) and even flowers (Isa 35:2) or in the intimacy of marital love (Song of Songs, passim). IOW, we can glorify God without conscious reference to the progress of the evangel proper.
- Scripture even intimates that God’s glory may be achieved in surprisingly “judgmental” ways. God is glorified when certain criminals are capitally punished (Gen 9:6)—even though it summarily ends all opportunity for their repentance. God is glorified when good triumphs over evil in violent battle (with the same end). God is even glorified in the consignment of the wicked to the Lake of Fire that effectively ends the age of special grace.
- We cannot, of course, escape the fact that Paul sees the success of the Gospel as a matter of singular import, even instructing us to temporarily curtail our enjoyment of God’s common graces (eating and drinking in our context) in our quest for Gospel success. So even as we delight in God’s common graces, pursue the dominion mandate, and attempt to resist/restrain evil (say, with a boycott), we need to be aware of the implications of our actions for the Gospel, suppressing our liberties to that end.
- The effects of our actions on the Gospel are not monolithic in nature—sometimes, in the context of our governing text, you must eat the meat and sometimes you must not eat it. Furthermore, an action may have conflicting immediate and long-term effects that must be measured with great care. For instance, a violent war might end a soldier’s chance to embrace the Gospel, but then create a “tranquil and quiet life” in which godliness and the Gospel flourish (1 Tim 2:1–4). A boycott might make some unbelievers hate God and the Gospel all the more, but might also extend God’s longsuffering just a little bit longer and cause certain other unbelievers to assess their wickedness afresh in the light of a biblical worldview.
To summarize, all that I do should be done with an awareness of all possible implications of my actions on the success of the Gospel. However, the success of the Gospel is not for that reason the only interest that informs my actions. My life must be lived attentive to the comprehensive glory of God in every sphere, including spheres both redemptive and civil.
Millions of people each year participate in short-term ministry trips, with many now preparing for trips this summer. I have the privilege of leading a team from our church to Zambia this summer. We will be visiting a missionary couple sent from our church with the purpose of encouraging them in any way we can; of learning more about them, their ministry, and their cultural context; and of reporting back to our church.
One thing we are doing to prepare for the trip is reading Duane Elmer’s Cross Cultural Connections: Stepping Out and Fitting In Around the World. He begins the book with an excellent little story to illustrate the importance of learning how to serve across cultures.
A typhoon had temporarily stranded a monkey on an island. In a secure, protected place, while waiting for the raging waters to recede, he spotted a fish swimming against the current. It seemed obvious to the monkey that the fish was struggling and in need of assistance. Being of kind heart, the monkey resolved to help the fish. A tree precariously dangled over the very spot where the fish seemed to be struggling. At considerable risk to himself, the monkey moved far out on a limb, reached down and snatched the fish from the threatening waters. Immediately scurrying back to the safety of his shelter, he carefully laid the fish on dry ground. For a few moments the fish showed excitement, but soon settled into a peaceful rest. Joy and satisfaction swelled inside the monkey. He has successfully helped another creature…
Here are my thoughts on the story. First, the monkey was courageous, had good intentions and noble motives. He also had zeal. However, his motives were misdirected because of his ignorance— he could not see beyond his own frame of reference. He believed what was dangerous for him was dangerous for the fish. Therefore, what would be good for him would also be good for the fish— a crucial assumption. As a result, he acted out of his ignorance or limited frame of reference, and ended up doing damage rather than the good he intended. Unfortunately, the monkey may not even have known the damage he did, because he may have walked away leaving the fish “resting.” (pp. 14, 15-16)
Far too often Americans are like monkeys on our short-term ministry trips. We are quick to act, assuming we know the best thing for the other person. Then we leave, thinking we helped when in reality we left damage behind. If we do not want to be monkeys, we need to learn how to work with those of a different culture.
Perhaps the most important skill in learning to interact across cultures is withholding a judgment of right or wrong until you better understand what is happening. We almost universally assume that our way is the right way.
For many years, Sidney Harris wrote a widely syndicated editorial column for the Chicago Tribune. Among his penetrating insights, I remember one in particular. He stated that “every book that is ever published, every article ever written and every speech delivered should have the subtitle ‘How to Be More Like Me.’” His point: We all believe that our way is the right way, our beliefs are correct and our culture is superior. So whenever I write or speak, the subtle message that transcends my words is: “You would be wise to change your ways to be more like me.” (p. 22)
Since we assume our way is right, we quickly judge a different way of doing something as wrong (immoral, inferior, less effective, etc.). If we are to be effective in working across cultures, we need to work to get our initial reaction to be “that’s different” instead of “that’s wrong.” After taking time to really learn the other culture (years of work) we are better suited to determine whether something is right or wrong—though even then we will often conclude it is just different. But we will not be able to gain that understanding on a short-term trip.
So for those preparing for short-term ministry trips this summer, be aware that your culture is different from the one to which you are going, make sure the help you are offering is something the person in that culture would appreciate, and work to label things as different rather than wrong. And pick up a book or two like Cross-Cultural Connections to give you a better understanding of these issues.
DBTS is offering four courses this summer in a module format. The courses taught residentially include Introduction to Missions, Church Polity, and Greek Exegesis of 2 Peter and Jude. Each course can be taken for credit for either the M.Div. or Th.M.
First Session: May 17-27 (8:00–11:50 a.m.)
515 Introduction to Missions (2 hours), Missions Director, D.Min.
An introductory survey of the theology, history, and methods of the missionary enterprise, with special emphasis on recent developments, crucial issues, and future trends.
Introduction to Missions will be taught by a missionary with experience in three different continents. He will be assisted by others who are currently serving on the field.
246 Greek Exegesis of II Peter and Jude (2 hours), Dr. Compton
This course will involve the student in translation, syntactical study, and other exegetical procedures. Prerequisites: Greek Syntax and Reading and Greek Exegetical Methods.
Second Session: May 31-June 10 (8:00–11:50 a.m.)
345 Church Polity (2 hours), Dr. Snoeberger
A survey and biblical analysis of ecclesiastical polity as practiced broadly within the Christian church, with particular attention given to variations of the congregational model. Specific topics discussed include the relationships of the local church, the number and description of ecclesiastical offices, the interchange between pastoral oversight and congregational rule, as well as church order and discipline.
An additional summer course will be offered at First Baptist Church in Wixom, MI from July 30-August 6. The course will be a study of the Life and Letters of the Apostle Paul. Dr. Tim Miller will lead the study for the week-long module. It will be held in the evenings from 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm on August 1-5, plus additional class time on Saturday morning, July 31 and August 6.
Also, the fall class schedule is available at http://www.dbts.edu/class-schedule/.
If you have any questions about these courses, please feel free to contact the DBTS office at 313.381.0111 or email@example.com.
Congratulations to our five winners from last week’s book giveaway.
- Bo Bowman
- Jerry Goodwin
- Trisha Priebe
- Mark Williams
- Jason Woelm
Your books are in the mail. And thanks to all who commented on the post.
From time to time publishers send me free books in the hope that their books will be reviewed in the Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal. Some of these end up being reviewed in the journal, but others do not. Right now I have five books published by Crossway sitting on my desk ready to be given away. Here are the titles:
Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross
Kevin DeYoung, Taking God at His Word
Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson, ed., Fallen: A Theology of Sin
Vern Poythress, Chance and the Sovereignty of God
David Wells, God in the Whirlwind
In order to have a chance to win one of these books, you just need to leave a comment on this post indicating which book you’d like to win. This Friday afternoon (April 15), we’ll randomly select five winners to receive the book they requested. Winners will be contacted by email, and then the winners will be announced on the blog.
In perhaps John Lennon’s most famous song, “Imagine,” he calls people to envision a world that would be at peace—where “the world will be as one.” He views certain ideas or beliefs as currently standing in the way of this utopia, including countries, religion, and possessions. But the first obstacle he names is belief in an afterlife:
Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today
These lyrics reflect a common sentiment: believing in things like heaven and hell only lead to conflict. If people stopped thinking some of us are going to heaven while others are going to hell, we could all get along.
Why are beliefs in heaven and hell blamed for conflict? Perhaps it is their connections to religions, which are often blamed for the violence and fighting in our world. Perhaps it is the idea that believing you are going to heaven while someone else is going to hell leads you to be arrogant and hateful towards others. Perhaps it is the idea that focusing on the afterlife makes people not care about this present world.
Rather than trying to answer all of these potential reasons, let’s take a moment to actually imagine that there is no hell. This life is all there is, and when you die you cease to exist. Is that a better reality? Is the world better if there is no hell?
Some people may prefer this reality. Some may want no hell because they hate the idea of loved ones being in a place like hell. But others would love for there to be no hell because that would mean they could do what they want without fearing any consequences.
So what happens when people stop believing in hell? Richard Wurmbrand, a pastor who was tortured under the Soviet Regime, shares what he saw was the result of denying the existence of hell.
The cruelty of atheism is hard to believe. When man has no faith in the reward of good or the punishment of evil, there is no reason to be human. There is no restraint from the depths of evil which is in man. The Communist torturers often said, “There is no God, no hereafter, no punishment for evil. We can do what we wish.” I have heard one torturer even say, “I thank God, in whom I don’t believe, that I have lived to this hour when I can express all the evil in my heart.” He expressed it in unbelievable brutality and torture inflicted on prisoners. (Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ (Bartlesville, OK: Living Sacrifice Book Co., 1967, 1998), 36.
Let’s consider one person who did not believe in heaven or hell: Mao Zedong. As a young man he wrote: “Of course there are people and objects in the world, but they are all there only for me….People like me only have a duty to ourselves; we have no duty to other people.” [Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, Mao: The Unknown Story (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), p. 13]. And he lived out his philosophy. He refused to visit his mother on her deathbed because he was concerned it would leave him with an unfavorable image of her (p. 18). He abandoned his second wife (his first wife had died about a year after they were married) and three children in order to advance his military career, then married his third wife less than four months later. Later, his second wife was executed in revenge after Mao attacked the village where she lived (80). He declined to visit his third wife after she was nearly killed by a bomb because he was “tired” (149). The hardships he forced his third wife to experience eventually led to a mental breakdown (197). As the leader of the people, he confiscated private property whenever he wanted in order to build multiple expensive private residences, rarely ever visiting them after they were built (p. 193).
Ultimately, he was responsible for the death of over 70 million people during “peacetime,” many of them starving because Mao confiscated food as payment in order to buy military weaponry (p. 3). Yet, as he neared the time of his death, he was able to make deals so that his fourth wife and other high ranking officials would be punished for his evils in this world (609-10). Thus, he died a relatively peaceful death, without facing any real consequences for his atrocities in this life. And if there’s no hell, he never faced any justice.
What is often lacking in discussions of hell is the issue of justice. Crime sometimes does pay. The good die young, while evil men live long and prosperous lives. Elderly people are robbed of their retirement by deceptive schemes, while those who devise these schemes enjoy their ill-gotten gain. Innocent people are sexually abused, often for years, while their abusers remain respected and free in the community. People go on shooting sprees in schools, set off bombs in public places, and commit genocide. And without hell, many of these people would get away with their crimes. The cries for justice from those who have been abused by wicked and powerful people would go unanswered.
Imagine there’s no hell. Then thank God there is.
Once again the anniversary of Christ’s death is opening up the question whether it is proper to say that God died on the cross, with good men leveling arguments at and past one another. Some argue that God, being immortal (1 Timothy 1:17; 6:16; etc.), by definition cannot die. Others, citing passages like Acts 20:28 and Galatians 2:20, which actually state that God died, conclude oppositely.
They can’t both be right, and the Bible is never wrong, so how do we achieve resolution? I’d like to suggest that the starting point for resolution necessarily begins with theological definition. What exactly does it mean for God to die? Some theses for consideration:
- All agree that when Christ died, the Second Person of the Godhead did not cease to exist, but of course death never means annihilation anyway, so this resolves nothing.
- We must also agree that Christ did not cease to be God when he died, or else his death would have no value for his people. Only an infinitely holy divinity could bring infinite value to Christ’s sacrifice. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor 5:19).
- For the same reason, we must agree that Christ’s humanity and divinity were not divorced from each other on the cross. Christ is indivisibly both God and man, with neither division of his person nor conflation of his natures.
- We must further be careful not to affirm that the Trinity itself was in breach or suspended for a period of time while Christ was on the cross. God is eternally, immutably, and indivisibly Triune, and cannot be otherwise.
- When God “forsook” Christ and poured out wrath upon him, Christ personally experienced that wrath in his indivisible person, effectively knowing death in an experimental way apart from which God could not have known it.
- This forsaking falls short, however, of an inter-Trinitarian “estrangement.” God did not viscerally hate Christ on the cross—God is impassive and incapable of such angst. Nor did they “lose fellowship” with each other (whatever that means). His was a dispassionate and judicial wrath that in no way interrupted the stream of eternal and necessary inter-Trinitarian love and delight that each person of the Trinity has in the others. Without this, again, God would not be God (John 10:17).
So may we say that Jesus the man died? Absolutely. His material and immaterial were disjoined, the former being entombed and the latter dismissed to go elsewhere.
May we say that Christ the God-man died? An equally firm “Yes.” The hypostatic union is such that the experiences of the one person can never be partitioned off into distinct experiences of his respective natures.
May we then say that the Second Person of the Trinity died? Absolutely not. God is immortal. While it might be said that God knew death by experience through the hypostatic union in a way that he could not have experienced it apart from that union, we cannot say that he died—at least not without gutting the idea of death of all its known meanings.
Those of you who know me know that I don’t like to self-identify as an evangelical. The label has some usefulness, of course. Were I to use it, the label would inform people that I hold to inerrancy in some form. It would inform people that I am not a card-carrying devotee of mainstream Protestant denominationalism—at least as my first family. And it likely would still communicate that I am not a Modernist: I still accept the “fundamentals” of the early 20th century as binding, whether or not I regard them as particularly urgent. Using the label might communicate slightly more to evangelical “insiders,” but not a whole lot.
For anyone who is not an evangelical insider, being evangelical has for decades communicated primarily something about one’s view of culture and society. It meant that one is Neo-Kuyperian. To be Neo-Kuyperian (at the risk of offering a woefully simplistic gloss) is to blur the lines of distinction between common grace and special grace, using each with little restraint in the service of the other. Civil/secular society is to be domesticated and manipulated to serve the Church and its many causes; the prospering Church reciprocates by throwing its collective shoulder into redemptive or “faith-based” solutions to the many problems facing civil/secular society—war, poverty, racism, injustice, and concern for cosmic renewal.
For about the last half-century, we could count on evangelicals to vote pretty much as a bloc for candidates who promised to advance Christian concerns. The problem of abortion, especially, spurred evangelicals to vote “pro-life,” and the problem of homosexual marriage, more recently, spurred them to vote “pro-family.” Of course, not all evangelicals were Neo-Kuyperian, and even those who were could be teased away from their assigned voting bloc by “lesser” socio-economic concerns; still, this was the reputation that the evangelicals earned over time.
Donald Trump’s popularity among Republicans generally and among evangelicals specifically defies this pattern. Few know and fewer care about Trump’s views on abortion or homosexuality. Indeed, whether he is conservative in any sense (social, fiscal, foreign policy, etc.) seems totally irrelevant. How do we explain this? If I can hazard a guess, I would say that more and more evangelicals each voting cycle view Neo-Kuyperianism as a lost cause. They’ve not yet reached the tipping point (it still appears as though Rubio and Cruz collectively still have more support than Trump), but the threshold is not far away.
So what are the disenfranchised evangelicals doing? They are becoming fearful, angry, and even belligerent toward the politically correct machine that is creeping inexorably toward them, threatening to destroy all they have built. And Trump not only offers a garish and realistic picture of that threat, but also promises to wreak havoc on the machine. That is his one “virtue,” it seems, and that virtue appeals to a great many.
What I want to do in this post, then, is not to promote any one candidate (and, incidentally, we won’t allow this to happen in any discussion that might follow). But since this is in part a Christian/evangelical phenomenon, it is to that degree a theological phenomenon—whether a conscious or an unconscious one. And it behooves us to become conscious of the theological nature of not only our personal voting proclivities, but also those of the churches we serve.
“You can’t legislate morality.” I see this phrase come up in often in discussions of the government’s role in moral issues. Whether debating previous laws against adultery or current laws about drug use or marriage, many people argue that the government has no ability to dictate right or wrong.
I think part of the sentiment behind the statement is true: you cannot transform people through laws. The only way to truly bring about change is through God’s work of renewing hearts and minds. In that sense, you cannot make people moral through legislation.
However, the idea that “you can’t legislate morality” is mostly wrong. First, it is wrong because one of government’s primary God-given roles is to restrain evil and promote good (Gen 9:6; Rom 13:1-5; 1 Pet 2:14; 1 Tim 2:1-2). God instituted government as a means of maintaining morality. Second, because many of our laws are directly tied to morality. Laws against murder, theft, and rape are pretty clear examples. But other laws indirectly flow from moral understandings—the particulars of laws concerning divorce, adoption, unemployment, building codes, etc. flow from what is considered right or wrong.
In his book Politics, Wayne Grudem offers a brief reminder on the role the government plays in shaping morals as one means of highlighting how important it is for believers to work to try to get the right people into government.
Governments have an immense influence on the conduct of people in a society. The psalmist knows that there are “wicked rulers” who “frame injustice by statute” (Ps. 94:20)—that is, they pass laws to enable wrongdoing! Isaiah says, “Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression” (Isa. 10:1). Another psalm implies that evil rulers can influence people toward wrongdoing, because it implies that if “the scepter of wickedness” (a symbol of authority held by wicked rulers) ever would “rest on the land allotted to the righteous,” then there is much greater likelihood that the righteous would “stretch out their hands to do wrong” (Ps. 125:3). Sometimes governments can pass laws that authorize horribly evil deeds, as when Haman persuaded King Ahasuerus to sign a decree that all the people in the kingdom of Persia could “annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day” and then “plunder their goods” (Esth. 3:13).
This is one reason why Paul encouraged Christians to pray “for kings and all who are in high positions,” so that Christian believers “may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:2). Once again, the implication is that good rulers can influence a nation toward good conduct, while evil rulers can encourage and promote all sorts of evil conduct among their people.
In part, the influence of government comes by personal example….
Another reason that government influences conduct is that laws have a teaching function. For many or perhaps most of the people in a society, if the government passes laws that say something is legal, people will also think that it is morally right. If the government says that something is illegal, then many people will think that it is morally wrong. This is especially true for people who do not seek moral guidance from the Bible, but it can also be true for Christian believers.
The teaching function of law is one reason why there are still so many abortions in the United States, for example. Many people take the easy way out and reason that if the government allows something, society must think that it is morally right or at least morally permissible. So they decide to have an abortion, perhaps even going against the quiet inward voice of their conscience. But if there were laws prohibiting people from taking the lives of preborn children, then many of these same people would find that their conscience agrees with the law and would support it and think that it is right.
To take another example, my own conversations in the state of Arizona (where I live) suggest to me that the large majority of evangelical Christians there would think it perfectly natural and morally right for Christians to own a gun for purposes of self-defense in case of an emergency. But I suspect that a similarly large majority of evangelical Christians in England (where I have stayed many times for study or for teaching) would think it morally wrong for Christians to do this. I do not find this surprising, since the laws of England make it nearly impossible for private citizens to own guns, but the laws and customs in Arizona make it very easy for private citizens to do so. The laws have a teaching function, and they influence people’s ideas of right and wrong.
The same considerations apply to people’s attitudes about same-sex “marriage,” the proper grounds for divorce, the age at which it is appropriate for children to drink alcoholic beverages (compare laws in the United States with much more liberal laws in Europe), the place of secular religious speech in public activities, and so forth. Laws have a teaching function with respect to the general population.
In addition to this, what the government considers legal or illegal affects what is taught in schools to the children in any society. Recent court actions that legalized samesex “marriage” in Massachusetts, Iowa, and Connecticut will give added incentive for schools to teach that homosexual conduct is to be considered normal and morally right, and to attempt to silence anyone who would express the view that homosexual conduct is morally wrong. This influence on the children in a society will have a profound influence on their sense of moral right and wrong and their future sexual conduct.
Therefore the laws and policies of a government have enormous impact on the conduct of people in a society. Christians should care about this, first, because sin destroys people’s lives and Christians are commanded, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39), and, second, because the entire course of a nation is set by the moral conduct of its individual citizens, and “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Prov. 14:34). While it is true, then, that government cannot save people or fundamentally change human hearts, whenever we say this, we must simultaneously affirm that government policy and laws do have an immense influence on a nation for good or for evil.Wayne A. Grudem, Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture (Zondervan, 2010) pp. 97-99.
Dr. Kyle Dunham will join the DBTS faculty full time in the fall of 2016 as Associate Professor of OT.
After earning his Master of Divinity and Master of Theology in biblical studies from DBTS, Dr. Dunham completed his Doctor of Theology in Old Testament from The Master’s Seminary.
A distinguished scholar and author, he has published multiple articles and is currently co-authoring an in-depth commentary on Ecclesiastes with Dr. Robert McCabe. His areas of theological interest include OT wisdom literature, a theology of kingdom and Ancient Near Eastern theodicy.
Dr. Dunham also brings his passion for ministry to the classroom. He and his family assisted with a Baptist church plant in Bakersfield, CA while he completed his ThD. He has also served as a short-term missionary in Ecuador and taught abroad in Kenya, South Africa, and southeast Asia. As a “churchman,” he desires to see pastors and missionaries fully equipped to handle the Word of God with accuracy, integrity, and compassion.
Dr. Dunham and his wife Judith, a Michigan native, will relocate to the Detroit area this summer along with their two daughters. DBTS will also feature Dr. Dunham at the Rice Lecture Series on Friday, March 18. His topic will be “Holy War: Past, Present, and Future Implications” (more information here). We encourage you to attend the lecture and hear Dr. Dunham address this vital topic.
Please join us on Friday, March 18 from 8:30 am to noon for the 2016 Rice Lecture Series. Dr. Kyle Dunham will speak on the topic: Holy War: Past, Present and Future Implications.
Date: Friday, March 18, 2016
Time: 8:30 – Noon
Location: Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary
Speaker: Dr. Kyle Dunham
Theme: “Holy War: Past, Present, and Future Implications”
8:00-8:30 a.m. Complimentary Continental Breakfast
8:30-9:30 a.m. Session 1: “The LORD Is a Man of War: Holy War in the Old Testament”
9:30-10:00 a.m. Fellowship Break
10:00-10:50 a.m. Session 2: “The Cross and the Crescent: Genocide, Jihad, and the Christian”
10:50-11:00 a.m. Fellowship Break
11:00-11:50 a.m. Session 3: “The Once and Future Holy War: Eschatological Implications for Israel”
11:50-12:20 p.m. Q&A
12:30 p.m. Complimentary Luncheon
About Our Speaker
Dr. Dunham will address questions that skeptics often ask, such as:
- Was the God of the Old Testament a vengeful, hateful God?
- Why did He command “genocide” for the inhabitants of Canaan?
- Isn’t the holy war of the Old Testament the same as Islamic jihad?
His goal is to help you address these questions with honest, thoughtful, biblical answers and defend God’s word effectively.
As always, you’ll have an excellent opportunity to connect with ministry colleagues, area pastors, alumni, and students. It’s going to be an encouraging, edifying morning of learning and fellowship.
We’ll provide a continental breakfast beginning at 8:00 am and a complimentary luncheon following the lecture at noon.
We look forward to seeing you!
In the past few months I have encountered several conflicting ideas about forgiveness in unexpected counseling situations. Nor is the confusion confined to the uninformed or immature. The biblical idea of forgiveness is an elusive one that is often missed entirely or sometimes mixed with other ideas—ideas that are not necessarily bad, but that are not exactly what the Bible is trying to convey by its use of the word forgiveness, either. Note the following:
- Forgiveness is clinically defined as releasing thoughts/feelings of animosity, bitterness, or revenge toward someone who has wronged you. Biblically speaking, this is the immediate response required of all those who have been wronged. Period. We should not harbor and nurture bitter thoughts of vengeance—vengeance is not the proper purview of the individual, but rather that of God and the state; further, such bitter intentions can be personally/psychologically debilitating (Rom 12:19, etc.). The idea of “letting go of bitter feelings,” however, while necessary to biblical forgiveness (the root meaning of ἀφίημι, in fact, is “to release” or “let go”), is more of a prequel to forgiveness than the act of forgiveness itself. IOW, while forgiveness requires “letting go,” it is more than this.
- Forgiveness is legally defined as releasing the wrongdoer from all punitive or legal debt/obligation. This legal definition is sometimes reflected in Scripture, especially when the forgiveness of a material debt in in view (Matt 18:27), but this definition likewise does not exhaust the semantic range of the term. We also observe in Scripture that while the cancellation of the consequences of sin may be a gracious accoutrement of forgiveness, it need not be in every case. Even God’s own forgiveness of his children does not mean that he will automatically free us from every consequence of sin. This is particularly important in a counseling setting, in that it makes room for a Christian victim to seek legal protection from, file legal complaint against, and even seek reparations from a wrongdoer without violating God’s command to be ready to forgive.
- Forgiveness is popularly imagined at times to involve ignoring an offense or pretending that a sin has never happened. For this understanding, appeal is sometimes made to 1 Peter 4:8, where “love covers a multitude of sins.” Now this verse surely teaches that, having been biblically addressed and forgiven, sins should not be made a matter of public broadcast to be rehearsed over and again (so also 1 Cor 13:5). Peter is most definitely not teaching, however, that believers must adopt a general policy of ignoring or concealing sins (so Matt 18:15, among dozens of other texts). Not only is such a policy detrimental to the spiritual life of the offender, but it can also put the safety of other potential victims at risk (e.g., when we “cover up” chronic abuse, sexual assault, or tendencies to physical violence)….so again, counselor, be warned. Forgiving and forgetting are not coextensive concepts; more than this, forgiving and ignoring are mutually exclusive concepts.
- An amalgamated construct of forgiveness extracted from pieces of all three concepts above is the idea that forgiveness necessarily includes the reinstatement of a wrongdoer to the status/office/rank that he held before being caught in a sin. This simply does not follow. Just as there may be lingering legal consequences for the forgiven, so also there may be practical consequences for the forgiven. An elder, for instance, who violates the qualifications requisite to his office (1 Tim 3) forfeits his office even when he is forgiven. And it goes without saying that we should not restore a person caught abusing a child or embezzling funds, upon being forgiven, to the functions that he may have had in prior to his sin in, say, children’s ministry or the treasurer’s office, respectively. That simply is not what forgiveness is. That’s stupid!
- What, then, does biblical forgiveness require? Well, some of the ideas above contribute to our understanding, but none, I think, captures the totality of the idea of forgiveness. Forgiveness begins by abandoning feelings of bitterness and vengeance and may graciously expand to include the cancellation of debts (financial and/or punitive), but these are not properly forgiveness, the former being a prequel to forgiveness and the latter a hopeful accessory of forgiveness. The heart of biblical forgiveness is instead reconciliation, or the restoration of a mutual relationship and even mutual respect (1 Cor 5:17–21). The term mutual is critical here, and suggests that forgiveness rests necessarily on an overture by the wrongdoer: forgiveness in its proper sense is not a unilateral action; the offender must instead humble himself to seek it by expressing repentance. Only then may the “record of the offense” be erased and the sin “covered.” The biblical requirement is not that believers forgive willy-nilly, but that they stand ready at all times to extend forgiveness to those who confess and repent of their sins, following the example of God in Christ (Eph 4:32; 1 John 1:9).
To summarize, God’s requirement that we forgive others as God has forgiven us does not mean that we must (1) ignore sin, (2) conceal sin, (3) endure sin silently, (4) let sins go unresolved, or (5) abandon all hope of relief from abusive sin.
But his call to forgive others as he has forgiven us does demand that the obedient Christian (1) eschew bitterness/vengefulness, (2) seek reconciliation and stand ready to extend it instantly upon a genuine expression of repentance, and, thereupon, (3) respect the repentant wrongdoer enough to “cover” the sin without resentment or personal censure.
For more information on this topic, see Moises Silva, NIDNTTE, 1:444–49 and esp. Chris Brauns, Unpacking Forgiveness (Crossway, 2008).