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The Christian Life Is No Picnic

Sat, 07/26/2014 - 07:00

Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260–c. 340) is generally considered the church’s first real historian. Although he provides invaluable insight into the history and workings of the early church, Eusebius is often criticized for his selective record and especially for his rather generous depiction of Emperor Constantine (c. 272–337). Shortly after the emperor’s death, Eusebius wrote a panegyric in which he described Constantine in very positive terms while omitting some of the more negative details about his character and domestic life. In addition to his book on Constantine, Eusebius also wrote several other works including an account of the church’s first three centuries titled Church History. This too was not strictly speaking a critical work, but it is the earliest chronological description of the church in this period which is still extant. Without it, we would be much the poorer.

In his Church History, Eusebius covers the time from Christ to Constantine. He describes the persecution which many early believers faced at the hands of Roman authorities. He tells of Ignatius of Antioch the early second century bishop who was martyred in Rome and “became food for wild animals because of his witness to Christ” (3.36). He records the conflict which surrounded the various heresies which the early church was forced to confront and the difficulties which notorious heretics caused within the church (e.g., 4.7; 5.14–20). And he recounts some of the terrible events which took place during the Diocletian persecution of his own day (8.1–13).

In describing the persecution which some second-century believers faced, Eusebius preserves the following account from the church in Gaul:

In addition to all this, on the last day of the games Blandina was again brought in, with Ponticus, a lad of about fifteen. Each day they had been led in to watch the torturing and were urged to swear by the idols. Furious at their steadfast refusal, they showed no sympathy for the boy’s youth or respect for the woman but subjected them to every torture. Ponticus was heartened by his sister in Christ and bravely endured each horror until he gave up his spirit. Last of all, the blessed Blandina, like a noble mother who had comforted her children and sent them on triumphantly to the king, rejoiced at her own departure as if invited to a wedding feast. After the whips, the beasts, and the gridiron, she was finally put into a net and thrown to a bull. Indifferent to circumstances through faith in Christ, she was tossed by the animal for some time before being sacrificed. The heathen admitted that never before had a woman suffered so much so long.

Not even this was enough to satisfy their maniacal cruelty. Goaded on [by Satan], they threw to the dogs those who had been strangled in jail, watching day and night that we did not tend to them. Then they threw out the remains left by the beasts and the fire, torn and charred, while a military guard watched the heads and trunks of the rest for many days, denying them burial. Some gnashed their teeth at them; others laughed and jeered, glorifying their idols for punishing their foes. The more moderate, with little sympathy, taunted, “Where is their god?” and “What did they get out of their religion, which they preferred to their own lives?” (5.1).

At times Eusebius’s account is quite interesting, and in many places, such as this, it is quite troubling. One of the great values of Eusebius’s record is that it reminds us that the Christian life bears more resemblance to a battlefield than it does to a park intended for family picnics. Eusebius and the experience of many early Christians illustrates the fact this world is not our home; everything we see here will ultimately burn. Thankfully, the believer’s hope lies not in this world, but in the next.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Basic Library Booklist

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 11:02

For a number of years the Seminary faculty has produced the Basic Library Booklist. It is updated every few years, and you can find the 2014 edition here. The Booklist has been specifically designed to answer the question of which books are the best on a particular book of the Bible or theological subject. In the case of commentaries, best means those that are the most helpful in exegesis and exposition, as well as understanding the overall argument of a book. The books are listed in order of importance. The first book listed is the one that should probably be purchased first, though it is doubtful that one commentary would be sufficient for adequate sermon preparation.

Besides commentaries the Booklist also rates books in systematic theology, historical theology, and practical theology. Check out the Booklist and let us know what you think.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Does God have blood?

Wed, 07/16/2014 - 07:00

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood—Acts 20:28

What does Paul mean in his speech in Acts 20 when he says that God purchased the church with “his own blood”? God doesn’t have blood. He’s a spirit. In fact, it’s precisely because God doesn’t have blood that God the Son became incarnate. Otherwise the human problem of sin and death could not have been solved. So, what is Paul saying here? Let me try to untangle this one by offering three of the more plausible solutions, one text critical and two interpretive.

A text-critical option. One solution to the problem is found in a handful of important manuscripts that read “church of the Lord” instead of “church of God.” For a list, see the online apparatus of NA28 here. As most recognize, however, the manuscript evidence for this alternative reading is pretty evenly matched with the manuscript evidence for the reading followed above by the NIV. What tips the scales away from this solution, then, is the internal evidence, principally two considerations. First, neither Paul nor any other NT author (incl. Luke) uses the phrase “church of the Lord.” Most often the NT refers to the “church of God” (11x) or to the church of a particular region (“of Galatia”) or city (“of the Thessalonians”). The closest the NT comes to the “church of the Lord” is Paul’s reference in Rom 16:16 to “all the churches of Christ.” Of course, all this could suggest that a scribe changed an original “of the Lord” to “of God” to match the NT’s normal idiom. What points against this, however, is the intrinsic difficulty of the resulting phrase, “the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood.” It seems to me (and others) that a scribe would more likely go against the NT standard idiom than introduce such a difficult theological concept. Thus, “church of God” is the more difficult reading and, as a result, explains the existence of the alternative reading and should be preferred. In other words, the text-critical solution probably won’t work.

Two interpretive options. First, the communicatio idiomatum. This option suggests that Paul uses a quality or property of one of Jesus’ natures—the “blood” of his human nature—to describe or predicate his other nature—his “God”-hood (i.e., God’s blood). In theological discussions, this is known as (one version of) the communicatio idiomatum, the “communication of properties.” This solution to Acts 20:28 has been, as far as I’m able to tell, the standard way of explaining the text throughout Christian history. For a couple high-powered examples, see Calvin’s note here and Jaroslav Pelikan’s note here (pp. 221–22). The trouble with this reading, however, is that it is out of step with the NT. Elsewhere the NT never conflates Jesus’ two natures in this way. While it predicates of the one person what is true of both natures, it stops short of predicating of either nature what is true only of the other (cf., e.g., Harris’ note here). (Luke 1:43 is no exception. On this text, see, e.g., Bock’s comments here.)

Second, a term of endearment. This options suggests that what Paul means here is that God purchased the church with the blood of his Own. That is, “own” refers not to God’s own blood but rather to the blood of God’s Own, which is to say, to Jesus. Thus, the idea would be similar to what we find in, e.g., Eph 1:6 when Paul talks about Jesus as “the beloved” or in Acts 3:14 when Peter calls him “the righteous one.” What points in favor of this option, moreover, is that elsewhere in the NT when “own” is used adjectively (i.e., “God’s own blood”), it’s not often found in the word order used in Acts 20:28. That is—and this one’s for the Greek students out there—it occurs 68x in the first attributive position (art. + adj. + subst.) and only 4x in the second attributive position (art. + subst. + art. + adj.), the position it’s found in here. Added to this, “own” is used substantively in the NT (i.e., “blood of his Own”), and in literature contemporary with the NT, it’s used substantively as a term of endearment (see, e.g., MM here).

While it’s not a total home run, this last option is the best of a bad lot or, as my dad likes to say, it leaves the least number of questions unanswered.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Learning about the Past: Reading Christian Biographies

Fri, 07/11/2014 - 07:00

Over the past month or two, I’ve put forward a few suggested reading lists in the field of church history. These lists have included surveys of church history, books on the history of Christian doctrine, books that discuss church history in specific areas of the world, and books related to Baptist history. In this last post of the series, I am going to recommend a few Christian biographies. There are so many good biographies available that it was hard to decide which ones to mention. Below is a list of six Christian leaders from the past 500 years with a recommended biography of each. If your favorite biography doesn’t appear in the list, feel free to mention it in the comments at the end of the post.

Martin Luther (1483–1546) is generally credited with beginning the Protestant Reformation. He was a bold, courageous voice at a pivotal time in church history. There are many good biographies of Luther and several great ones. One of my favorites is still the classic work by Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (1950). There are certainly a number of more detailed and more recent biographies of Luther, but in terms of spiritual encouragement and enjoyable reading, Bainton’s work remains one of the best.

Sometimes people think of John Calvin (1509–1564) and Martin Luther as being contemporaries who interacted on a regular basis. However, Calvin was a young boy living hundreds of miles away when Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door in Wittenberg, and although the two men eventually read each other’s works, they apparently never met. Luther and Calvin shared some similar goals, but they were in many ways quite different from each other. Whereas Luther was a fiery prophet of sorts, Calvin was naturally reserved, and of the two, Calvin was the more careful thinker. Like Luther, Calvin has been the subject of dozens of biographies, and there are a number of very good works on his life. One of the best biographies of Calvin was published just a few years ago. Written by Bruce Gordon, Calvin (2009) is both rigorous and readable. It’s a great introduction to a deep thinker who continues to influence large portions of the Christian church.

Many people regard Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) as the greatest theologian ever born in America. One could argue that designation, but Edwards was clearly an important figure within the Great Awakening, and he was a profound thinker who authored a small library of influential theological works. While there are several good biographies of Edwards, George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life (2003) stands as the definitive work on Edwards’s life and thought. At about 600 pages, this one’s a bit longer, but it is worth the effort to read. In addition to being a great study of Edwards, this book is a model of how to write an intellectual biography.

In contrast to Luther, Calvin, and Edwards, George Müller (1805–1898) is not usually remembered as a key figure in shaping the direction of the Christian church. He didn’t leave behind any significant theological works or begin a new school of thought within the church. What he did leave behind were thousands of children who had been cared for and taught the Scriptures in the orphanages he built west of London. And in building these orphanages, Müller also left behind remarkable evidence of God’s ability to hear and answer prayer. A. T. Pierson was a contemporary of Müller. Shortly after Müller died Pierson decided to compile a memoir of Müller for the benefit of American readers (Müller was born in Prussia and ministered primarily in England.). Pierson’s George Müller of Bristol (1899) appeared about a year after Müller died. In terms of spiritual encouragement, I can think of few better places to turn than to biographies of Müller, and in particular this one by Pierson.

James Petigru Boyce (1827–1888) is best known within Southern Baptist circles. He was a pastor, a theologian, and an educator. One of my favorite Baptist historians has written the definitive biography of Boyce. Tom Nettles’s James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman (2009) is a sympathetic, well-researched study of a key leader among nineteenth-century Baptists.

The last figure I want to highlight in this post is Charles Spurgeon (1834–1892). Known as the “prince of preachers,” Spurgeon was a uniquely gifted Baptist pastor who ministered in London during the mid-to-late 1800s. A number of good biographies of Spurgeon have been written in recent years. A shorter one, and in fact the shortest book in this list, is Arnold Dallimore’s Spurgeon: A New Biography (1984). Several longer, more detailed works on Spurgeon are definitely worth reading. But this little volume by Dallimore is a good place to find a quick overview of Spurgeon’s very fruitful life and ministry.

If you are not in the habit of reading Christian biographies, I’d challenge you to try to read at least one during the second half of this year. Good biographies of imperfect but faithful Christians can be great tools for encouraging spiritual growth.

Categories: Seminary Blog

In Defense of Teaching Morals

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 07:00

A few weeks back I offered a tribute to my dad for being a good parent to an unbelieving child (yours truly) by (1) being an agent of common grace, introducing me to “received laws” that God communicates generally to man in his image (language, logic, conduct, industry, etc.) and by (2) offering me the special grace of salvation and urging me to receive it. In his mercy God softened my heart in my late teens to receive the latter, but in the meantime, my parents were not stymied in their parenting efforts—they had plenty of common grace to pass along to their little pagan. They knew well that the world is filled with pagans of various degrees. Some pagans are morally upright, honest, industrious, law-abiding, and conservative. Others are immoral, dishonest, lazy, lawless, and licentious. And since I was at the time determined to remain a pagan, they deduced that a moral pagan was preferable to an immoral one. So they heaped common grace upon me and worked hard to make me the best possible pagan I could be.

Common grace, you see, is the sphere in which believers and unbelievers are able to successfully interact, and the sphere in which special grace is introduced. Greater levels of common grace typically lead to greater opportunities for the Gospel. And that is because greater levels of common grace tend to make the intersection of believers and unbelievers more agreeable and thus more frequent. When common grace is abundant, Christians are more easily able to earn a hearing as neighbors, teachers, lawyers, governors, etc. Further, when common grace is abundant, unbelievers themselves tend to be better neighbors, teachers, lawyer, governors, etc. As a result, we are able to have greater confidence in our pagan acquaintances, whether they be pagan gas station attendants, pagan grocers, pagan auto mechanics, pagan building contractors, or pagan governors. Most of us will even entrust our children to the care of pagan relatives, pagan doctors, pagan athletic coaches, and pagan teachers of various types. Reciprocally, when believers are on the giving end of these graces, it is easier to offer neighborliness, medical care, coaching, and other forms of instruction to children—Christian and pagan alike—without discrimination.

That is why I am a bit perplexed when I read parenting books that suggest we raise toddlers as though they were already Christians, viz., recipients of the special grace of God. In such a situation, we’re told, we must shepherd their little Christian hearts, paying attention, especially, to the avoidance of draconian rules that can never commend us to God and that tend rather to “moral paganism.” We should instead give them grace, cultivating authentic fruit in hearts grateful for God’s saving grace. One Presbyterian blogger went at length last week to assert that parenting is practically impossible if parents cannot regard their children as Christians from their infancy (by means of infant baptism), adding, “I wouldn’t actually know how to raise [my children—two of which he divulged to be just three years old] if I were not a Presbyterian.” He then expressed astonishment that Baptists could be good parents, imagining, apparently, that Baptist parents are left twiddling their thumbs nervously until Junior says the sinner’s prayer before the shepherding process can begin.

As a staunchly Calvinistic Credobaptist who would happily die before applying the label Christian or extending the waters of baptism to infants/toddlers, my response is very simple: until one’s children are demonstrably Christians, parents should be hard at work creating respectful, obedient, industrious, safe, and otherwise moral pagans.

At a basic level all parents do this. Irrespective of the faith commitments of parent or child, parents everywhere manage to teach their children to walk, talk, read, add/subtract, avoid common hazards, catch a ball, sing a song, and ride a bike without ever explaining the “why” of these disciplines to their little hearts—we simply tell them what to do and they do it. Of course when kids finally mature sufficiently to sustain discussions about the philosophical/theological basis and reasons for these skills and disciplines, faith commitments do emerge (I am deeply committed to presuppositional apologetics and the transcendental approach to gospel witness if any were wondering), but we do not ordinarily think of these as Christian skills per se; rather, we think of them as human/social/civic skills. Christian parents can cultivate these skills successfully in both pagan and Christian children, and pagan parents can cultivate these skills successfully in both pagan and Christian children. And that is because the family is, first and foremost, a civil institution created for mankind generally. And so we should treat it as other civil institutions.

For instance, if I am a Christian governor ruling pagans, my goal is to produce not a Christian society, but a “peaceful and quiet” society where the opportunities for the gospel abound and are unhindered (1 Tim 2:2). If I am a Christian mechanic fixing cars that belong to pagans, my immediate goal is not to convert my customers, but to “try to please them and not to steal from them, but show them that I can be fully trusted, so that in every way I will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (Titus 2:9–10). If I am a Christian wife married a pagan husband, I should be “submissive,” “pure,” “reverent,” and “beautiful,” in order to “win over my husband” (1 Pet 3:1ff). And if I am a Christian parent charged with the stewardship of a pagan child, I should cultivate in that child the kinds of discipline, obedience, and honor that anticipate, as much as it lies within the apologist, a respectful hearing of the Christian gospel.

I would argue further that this approach is strongly implied in the qualification lists for NT elders. Paul does not demand that elders be fathers of Christian children, but rather fathers of children who, so long as they are part of his household, are “respectful,” “submissive,” “obedient,” “faithful” (in their deportment), and “not accused of being wild or rebellious” (so 1 Tim 3:4; Titus 1:6). In other words, the minimum requirement for an elder is that his children be moral pagans. Of course we should yearn for the realization of the greater goal of producing Christians, but that is not the requirement for the children of elders. The biblical requirement is that an elder’s children exhibit morality vis-à-vis immorality—because that is the extent of a Christian father’s purview.

Moralism is under assault in Christian parenting literature today, and I sometimes wonder whether morality is under assault too. True, the most hopeful end for our children is not that they become moral pagans. But producing moral pagans is not, as is sometimes assumed, necessary evidence of parental failure. All Christian parents should both hope and pray earnestly for God to save their children, but if God chooses not to do this (a prerogative that he alone possesses), then the goal to which Christian parents should aspire is the production of moral pagans in whose hearts are faithfully planted the seeds of the saving grace of God.

Categories: Seminary Blog

For to me, to live is Christ . . . ?

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 19:21

One of the best-known lines from St. Paul is found at the beginning of his letter to the Philippians where he says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21). I think this was my life verse for at least a few years. In fact, I’m pretty sure I put the reference under my name in a handful of my friends’ high-school yearbooks. The problem, however, is that it’s never been obvious to me exactly what this verse means. I’ve known, of course, that it has something to do with Paul’s commitment to Christ. I just haven’t been sure about much beyond this. After all, Christ isn’t an obvious pair with gain. We’d expect something more like “For to me, to live is loss and to die is gain” or “For to me, to live is pretty good; it’s not terrible. But, to die—to rest with Christ, that is gain indeed.” Why does Paul use Christ here? What’s he trying to say?

The key, it seems to me, is found in the five verses that follow, which suggest that were Paul to continue to live, his ongoing ministry would benefit the Philippians (vv. 24–25; cf. also “fruitful labor” in v. 22) and, as a result, would benefit Christ (v. 26)—in an even greater way than would his martyrdom (v. 20). They’d be strengthened in their faith and would, therefore, boast in Christ as a result of Paul’s renewed ministry (cf. 2 Cor 1:11 with Phil 1:1926). So we might restate what Paul says in v. 21 like this: For to me, to live is gain for you—and, thus for Christ—and, in at least one sense, loss for me (v. 23b), and to die is gain for me and loss for you—and, thus, in at least one sense, for Christ (cf. v. 20b with v. 26). Admittedly, stating it this way isn’t quite as elegant, but I think it captures what Paul is after.

What’s more, while Paul doesn’t quite say it, he gives the impression in vv. 24–26 that he’s chosen to live for the benefit of others rather than to die for his own benefit. This is, in any case, what he’s convinced God has decided. On this reading, then, Paul’s brief autobiographical reflection here plays a vital role in the letter, illustrating one of its central themes: Christians live worthy of the gospel when they, like Christ, put others’ interests before their own (2:4; vv. 5–11). The point of the reflection, then, is pretty clear, even if the logic of v. 21 is a bit compressed: Paul was willing to put others’ gain before his own. And the challenge for us, therefore, lies right on the surface: how can we, who are likewise called to imitate Christ’s selfless sacrifice—his loss, do anything less?

Categories: Seminary Blog

Learning about the Past: Exploring Baptist History

Mon, 06/30/2014 - 07:00

In recent weeks, I’ve posted a few suggested reading lists in the field of church history. These lists have included broad overviews of church history, books on the history of Christian doctrine, and books that discuss church history in specific areas of the world. In this post, I want to narrow in on the Baptist denomination and recommend a few books related to Baptist history.

The standard Baptist history survey text and the one we currently use at DBTS is H. Leon McBeth’s The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness (1987). This fairly large book (850 pp.) is arranged by region within an overall chronological scheme. Although McBeth’s work is largely about Baptists in England and America, it doesn’t overlook the origin and growth of Baptists in places like Canada, Australia, and continental Europe. While not as geographically broad-sweeping as Robert Johnson’s A Global Introduction to Baptist Churches (2010), McBeth’s Baptist Heritage is generally a better guide. One unusual strength of McBeth’s work is that the author has also written a companion volume titled A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage (1990). This volume follows the same basic outline as its predecessor, but it consists of primary source documents (excerpts from books, letters, confessions of faith, etc.) that support and illustrate the narrative found in Baptist Heritage.

A more recent and very substantial work (743 pp.) is James Leo Garrett’s Baptist Theology: A Four-Century Study (2009). This book covers much of the same ground as McBeth with the twist that Garrett emphasizes Baptist theologians. One interesting feature of Garrett’s work is a chapter on “New Voices in Baptist Theology” (ch. 13). Here Garrett includes short discussions of contemporary Baptists such as John Piper, Tom Nettles, Wayne Grudem, and David Dockery, among others. Overall, Garrett’s book is a little more biographically and theologically oriented than McBeth.

Even more recent than Garrett’s work is David Bebbington’s Baptists Through the Centuries: A History of a Global People (2010). This book is a very interesting read, and at fewer than 300 pp. of actual text, it is also a much quicker read than either McBeth or Garrett. Although described by the publisher as “a chronological survey” (back cover), Bebbington’s work is largely arranged in a topical format that can be be helpful though it also has the potential to be a bit disorienting at times. For example, I found it rather odd to read about William Carey almost 100 pages after Walter Rauschenbusch when Carey was born exactly 100 years before Rauschenbusch. Similarly, the book includes a chapter titled “Women in Baptist Life” (ch. 10). I wondered, why not just discuss key Baptist women at appropriate points in the historical narrative (e.g., in the first nine chapters)? I don’t see a compelling reason for making that topic a distinct chapter. A similar observation could be made about the chapter on religious liberty (ch. 12). On the other hand, if one wants to read an insightful chapter on these topics or on things like Baptists and the social gospel (ch. 8) or Baptists and race relations (ch. 9), Bebbington is a very good place to turn. Overall, Bebbington’s work is definitely helpful and well worth reading, but the potential reader should realize that Bebbington doesn’t tell the story of Baptist history in anything like a chronological narrative. So I’m recommending it with the caveat that if you like to read history in a generally chronological format, Bebbington may drive you crazy. But if you want to read about some key topics in Baptist history, this is a helpful book by a first rate historian.

The last book I’d like to recommend is rather different from the rest, and it isn’t really the kind of book that one is likely to read straight through. William Lumpkin’s Baptist Confessions of Faith (first published in 1959, but updated by Bill Leonard in 2011) is a classic compilation of Baptist confessions. Chronologically, it ranges from the Anabaptist confessions of the 1500s up through the SBC’s Baptist Faith and Message (2000). In terms of geography, while Lumpkin and Leonard certainly include the major confessions from Baptists in England and America, they also include confessions from Baptist groups in places such as France, Germany, Romania, Russia, and New Zealand. Even a few smaller Baptist institutional confessions from places like Hong Kong and the Middle East are included thanks to Leonard’s 2011 update. If you want to explore what Baptists have professed to believe through the centuries, Lumpkin’s work is the single best place to look.

Categories: Seminary Blog

The New Coach: A Parody on Sanctification

Fri, 06/27/2014 - 07:00

“OK, men, everyone gather around, and let’s get this football season under way,” Coach Paul deTarsus bellowed out.

As the young recruits swaggered over, jostling each other manfully, Coach deTarsus continued gruffly, “This year the school steering committee has asked us to try a totally new approach to the game developed by a new assistant coach they’ve hired for me—Coach Terry Trzwijiasck. He wants you to call him Double T, so do it.” With that, the grizzled old coach turned to a young fellow standing nearby: “Double T,” he said, “They’re all yours.”

As one, the recruits turned to give their attention to Double T.

The new coach smiled winsomely and began speaking. “I know that you’re used to working hard, striving to meet the team’s high standards, and knowing the rulebook and playbook from cover to cover. But this year, we’re trying a new approach,” he said. “And the key to the new approach is to remind yourselves over and again that your coaching staff accepts you no matter what. Win or lose, we accept you. Fumbles or first downs, we accept you. Turnovers or touchdowns, we accept you. And when you’re laying flat on your back after you’ve missed that game-saving tackle, don’t despair. Just remind yourself one more time that we accept you. Winning is fine, but when it’s all done, it’s not about what you do. All that matters is that we accept you. Any comments or questions?”

Puzzled, the players glanced at each other, not sure what to say. Coach deTarsus was a tough old bear, and they were not used to this kind of kid-glove treatment. Finally, Tim Wothe stepped forward. Tim was a senior linebacker and the obvious choice as defensive team captain, a position he had held for the past two seasons. “Yes, sir, Coach Double T, I do.”

The junior coach smiled and interrupted. “Just call me Double T,” he said, “and there’s no need to call me ‘sir.’” Then he leaned forward and added, “When I hear ‘sir’ I look around to see if my grandpa is in the room.” Everyone laughed tentatively.

“OK, D-double T,” Tim said, glancing over at Coach deTarsus to make sure he approved. deTarsus stared back with his gray eyes hard as flint, revealing nothing. Not sure what to make of his coach’s steely glare, but knowing he was the team leader, Tim turned to the new coach and asserted, “You got it, Double T. We’re with you 100%. So what’s the first step? Blocking? Tackling? Sprints? Ball Security? Let’s do this.”

“Let’s do this,” the upperclassmen echoed in a booming unison. They had been repeating this slogan for years now, and when they all said it together, it was very, very intimidating.

Double T held up his hand softly and wiggled his forefinger back and forth. “Uh-uh-uh,” he said. “Remember, it’s not about what we do. It’s all about getting used to what’s already done: we accept you. In fact, my first policy change—wait, check that: my first suggestion—is that we modify the slogan we use when we break huddle to those very words: ‘We accept you.’ And don’t say it with so much chest-beating bravado—say it…well…say it more authentically.

Then, deliberately brushing Tim aside, Double T touched a wiry freshman on the shoulder and beckoned him to step forward. “What’s your name, son?” he asked.

“My real name is Antino Mahan,” the boy replied with a thick accent. “But since my family were just declared citizens of this great country last week, I want to go by the name Liberty instead.”

“That’s wonderful, Liberty!” Double T said with great sincerity. “But have you ever tackled someone carrying a football?”

“Nope,” he replied. “They don’t have football where I come from. We played with switchblades and brass knuckles.”

“Oh my,” Double T said with mild surprise. “That’s OK. We accept you no matter what.”

Then, placing a football into the hands of great lumbering fellow with the name “Samson” on his jersey, Double T instructed the big fellow to run past Liberty to see whether Liberty could tackle him. Samson smirked, gave a bellow, and rumbled toward Liberty. But just as the team was closing their eyes to avoid seeing Liberty get a medical redshirt on his first day of practice, Liberty rammed his knee into Samson’s groin, stuck a rigid finger under Samson’s helmet directly into his left eye, grasped Samson’s faceguard firmly with his other hand, twisted hard, and in a moment Samson was moaning on the ground.

“Perfect!” Double T said, picking up the ball that Samson had dropped. “With moves like that, I think we’re ready to handle just about anything!” Hearing these words of approval, several of the freshmen squealed excitedly. They clearly liked Double T a lot.

Not able to handle his consternation any more, Tim burst out, “That’s not how it’s done! Coach deTarsus has told us over and over that we’ll never win unless we play according to the rules!”[1]

“Rules!” Double T ejaculated with a snort. “The sooner you stop thinking about rules, the better off this team will be. Now everyone pair off for some sharing time and think happy thoughts about your coaching staff.”

“No sir,” said Phil, gaining courage from Tim’s words. Phil was the senior starting quarterback and the team’s offensive leader. He had earned the respect of the whole team (including Coach deTarsus, who in his coaching career had kicked more players off the team than he had kept). “I’m very happy that you have confidence in us, Double T, but our team is not ready,” Phil said firmly, “and we’re surely not perfect. We’ve not yet lived up to the confidence that you’ve given us. We need to work hard and strive mightily if we’re going to win that state championship at the end of the season. I speak for all the seniors here, and that’s what needs to happen.”[2]

“That’s right,” chimed in a talented transfer player, who hadn’t yet played for Coach deTarsus, but who had obviously received some very good instruction from some other nameless coach. “We need to work off that weight we put on this summer and re-establish disciplined habits, do those wind sprints, and everything else that Coach says we need to do to perfect our skills for a long season.”[3]

“Yeah,” growled Big Thess, the starting tight end. “And whoever doesn’t work, doesn’t play.”

Just then, the school’s most famous alumnus, Abraham Fromur, stepped off the bleachers and walked up to the group. Abe had played for 13 years in the NFL, had played in three Pro Bowls, and wore a Superbowl ring on his right hand. But he always stopped by on opening day of football tryouts to inspire the young men. “Men, when I played years ago in this school, I started out as a skinny kid with no skills. But the fellow coaching here at the time accepted me onto the team like he did so many others. He called me one of his ‘project kids.’ I never figured out why he chose me and not some of the other, stronger fellows, but I didn’t sit around idly and think endlessly about that mystery. Instead, I worked hard to make him proud of me, and the more I worked, the more alike we became. And you know, I really think that this was my coach’s greatest joy in life—seeing his players following in his footsteps and forging friendships that have lasted to this very day.”[4]

Striding to the center of the circle, tramping hard on Double T’s toes and eliciting a yelp in the process, Abe gathered the young men around him and said, “It’s true that once your coach picks you for the team, you have his acceptance. But don’t ever imagine that his acceptance means that you’re ready for the game of football. You get ready for football by learning the rules and cultivating the disciplines that make you game ready. These disciplines will be hard, but if you persevere, your hard work will pay off. But if you don’t pursue those disciplines, then I guarantee you that none of you will ever see a state championship.”[5]

Then, looking straight into Coach deTarsus’s hard eyes that, try as he might, could not hide their appreciation, Abe barked out, “And now, let’s do this.”

“Let’s do this,” the young recruits roared back.


[1]2 Tim 2:5

[2]Phil 3:12–16.

[3]Heb 12:1ff.

[4]Rom 4:1ff with Jas 2:22–24.

[5]Heb 12:10–14.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Two Things I Learned from John Stott

Wed, 06/18/2014 - 16:17

Who was John Stott? It’s been a couple of years since Stott died, and his legacy is still taking shape. I suspect that for many of us he’ll be remembered as the author of one or two books on our shelves—probably The Cross of Christ and/or Basic Christianity—or as the name we associate with the International Congress on World Evangelism(think Lausanne). One thing that he deserves to be remembered for was his life-long passion to see his native England and the world beyond won to Christ. Alister Chapman recently wrote about this in a book entitled Godly Ambition: John Stott and the Evangelical Movement. Chapman highlights Stott’s passion for evangelism and explores the tension between Stott’s desire to maximize his own gifts and influence for the sake of the gospel and the temptation he faced to do the same for self-promotion. I suspect that most of the seminarians reading this will resonate with Stott’s big dreams and this tension and, therefore, would benefit from reading Chapman’s account. I don’t want to spoil it all here with a dry, full-scale review. Rather, I simply want to pass along two things I learned from Stott thanks to Chapman’s book. The first is that Christians should beambitious. The second is that it’s possible to tell when ambition is godly and when it’s not.

First, Stott reminded me that Christians can be ambitious because ambition can be godly. Stott, in fact, would want to say that Christians mustbe ambitious and that our ambitions must be extravagant. As he put it, “[a]mbitions for God…if they are to be worthy, can never be modest. There is something inherently inappropriate about cherishing small ambitions for God” (155). “They ha[ve] to be great because God [is] great” (156). What Stott meant by all this is that if God is worthy of honor and glory and if our gifts bring him these things, then we should “develop [our] gifts, widen [our] opportunities, extend [our] influence, and [seek] promotion in [our] work—not to boost [our] own ego or build [our] own empire, but rather through everything [we] do to bring glory to God” (8, also 157). Here Stott is simply echoing sentiments we find in the New Testament, not least those found in the parable of the bags of gold where Jesus tells his disciples that they must “improve their master’s assets” as they wait for his return (cf. Matt 25:14–30; for a similar reflection, see here).

Second, Stott’s life taught me that it’s possible to tell when ambition is godly and when it’s not. Two examples come immediately to mind. The first is the way Stott pursued his ambition on the parish level as Rector of All Souls Church. His church could have been much more successful than it was had Stott continued to focus on the demographic where the gospel was having the greatest success, namely in the well-heeled section of his parish. Stott, however, had a vision for All Souls that included more than filled-pews and, in fact, more than simply conversion growth. Stott wanted to see the power of the gospel displayed in every area of his parish and, as a result, gave persistent, prayerful, and creative attention to the working-class areas of his parish. As God would have it, Stott’s efforts here were constantly frustrated. But, it’s the effort and, indeed, frustration that lets us see that Stott’s ambition, his vision for success, was not simply a pious mask hiding a heart singularly-aimed at self-promotion. Had he wanted that, it seems, he would have cared more that his pews were filled and less about who filled them.

The second example is the way Stott used his post-retirement years. Stott could have eased up a bit in his latter years and enjoyed some of the fruit of his labors and influence. Instead, it was during these years that he became increasingly burdened for the plight of the evangelical cause worldwide. And, at the center of his concern was the plight of the majority-world church, particularly its need, as he saw it, for evangelical resources and for theologically-equipped clergy. Stott, therefore, started a trust that would provide for both, and funded it largely at his own expense. (In fact, several of my own international friends at TEDS sat side-by-side with me in class thanks to the vision and generosity of John Stott.) Once again, had Stott’s ambition been simply for his own advancement and the material benefits such advancement often brings, then his sacrificial commitment to the majority world makes little sense.

Who was John Stott? Well, like most of us, he was an imperfect Christian. I suspect he’d be the first to admit this. Still, Stott wasa powerful example of what it means to pursue God’s glory with every last ounce of energy we have and to develop our gifts and expand our influence in the service of this worthy, world-transforming pursuit. So, in a month, when we remember Stott’s life and reflect on his legacy, let’s take a few moments to thank God for his godly ambition and let’s ask God to put something similar deep within our hearts as well.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Learning about the Past: The Church around the World

Sat, 06/14/2014 - 07:00

Over the past few weeks, I’ve posted a couple of suggested reading lists. These lists have included broad overviews of church history and books on the history of Christian doctrine. In this post, I’m going to recommend a number of books that focus on the history of the Christian church in specific geographic areas.

The Church in North America

My favorite book in this category is Mark Noll’s work, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada. Although the vast majority of this book is about the church in the United States, Noll includes an extended section (ch. 10) on the history of Christianity in Canada, and he includes other references to Canadian Christians throughout the book. Our neighbors to the north are often overlooked and understudied by church historians, and their inclusion in this work is, to me, a strength of this volume.

In addition to Noll, a few similar books are worth mentioning. Edwin Gaustad and Leigh Schmidt’s The Religious History of America is excellent. It’s a bit shorter and perhaps a little simpler than Noll’s work, but it’s definitely worth the read. If you are feeling ambitious, you may want to check out Sydney Ahlstrom’s A Religious History of the American People. Including the bibliographies and index, Ahlstrom’s work is just a hair short of 1,200 pages, so it is not a “read on the airplane” kind of book. But if you want to consult one of the best and most detailed works in this area, Ahlstrom is the place to turn.

The Church outside North America

Looking to our south, Justo González and his niece Ondina González have recently written a book titled Christianity in Latin America: A History. In just over 300 pages, this is currently the best overview of church history in Latin America.

With regard to Christianity in Asia, Catholic historian Jean-Pierre Charbonnier has written a fairly robust history of Christianity in China titled Christians in China: A.D. 600 to 2000. Beginning with the spread of Syrian Christianity eastward, Charbonnier discusses the arrival of Christianity in the Far East and the condition of the church in China during various time periods up to the present. A shorter, more readable, and more Protestant-focused work is Daniel Bays’s A New History of Christianity in China. Bays’s book isn’t very long (just over 200 pp. of text), but it’s probably the best place to begin reading about Christianity in China. And then one of the more broad sweeping works on the history of Christianity in Asia is Samuel Moffett’s 2-volume A History of Christianity in Asia (vol. 1; vol. 2). Moffett focuses largely on western missions in Asia, not Asian Christianity as such, but since the author is the son of Presbyterian missionaries to Korea, perhaps this is not too surprising. Overall, Moffett provides a remarkably full study of Christianity’s spread and growth throughout the continent of Asia.

In recent months, I’ve read a couple of works related to the history of Russia and the former Soviet Union. One of the books I’m currently working through is Thomas Bremer’s Cross and the Kremlin: A Brief History of the Orthodox Church in Russia. This book is generally more topical than chronological, but it’s a good overview of major themes in the history of Orthodox Christianity in Russia. And for a helpful summary of the history of the Eastern Orthodox Church as well as an introduction to its major beliefs and practices, one could hardly do better than Timothy Ware’s standard work, The Orthodox Church.

Concerning the church in Africa, two of the best works currently in print are Elizabeth Isichei’s A History of Christianity in Africa and Adrian Hastings’s The Church in Africa, 1450–1950. Hastings’s work is the longer of the two. Admittedly, both works are somewhat challenging for readers with limited familiarity with African history and geography, but both books are indexed and well-outlined.

In compiling the list above, I haven’t attempted to be geographically comprehensive, but if you are looking to read about the history of the church in one of these regions, these are some of the best books to check out.

Categories: Seminary Blog

A Perfectly Good Father

Thu, 06/12/2014 - 07:00

Father’s Day is this Sunday (just in case you’ve forgotten.) It’s a day set aside for us to show our gratitude to the men who have provided, cared for, and guided us throughout our lives. Unfortunately, too many have never experienced the joy of having a father. Some were deprived by death, while many others were deprived by the bad choices their fathers made. One of the greatest problems we face today is the failure of men to be good fathers. It is a terrible thing when a child cannot look up to his/her father and want to be like him.

I am truly grateful that the Lord has given me a godly, loving father. I could not begin to recount all the ways in which my dad has influenced me for good and helped me to grow in the Lord. I can confidently say that I both admire and want to be like my dad in many ways.

Yet, my father isn’t perfect. In fact, none of our fathers are perfect. In reality, all of our fathers are evil, which is exactly what Christ said. Jesus, while encouraging His disciples to pray to their Father in heaven, made an interesting assertion.

Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”  (Matt 7:9–11).

Did you notice how he described earthly fathers? They are evil! Every person on earth, no matter how “good” they are, is by nature evil. But the wickedness of earthly fathers stands in stark contrast to the goodness of God, the Father of believers. Because our heavenly Father is good, He will surely give us good things if we ask Him.

This Father’s Day, you may not be able to celebrate your earthly father. But if you have trusted in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you can rejoice in your perfectly good heavenly Father. If God is not your Father, then this Father’s Day would be an excellent time to become His child.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Give Them Common Grace Too

Tue, 06/10/2014 - 07:00

When I was a boy I grew up in a traditional American home. My father taught me the value of hard work, integrity, courtesy, and the disciplines of standing alone for right, offering a firm handshake, and looking people square in the eye. He had learned these things from his father, he from his father before him, and so on for many generations of my family. The Snoeberger name was a good one, I was told, and I knew early on that it was my duty to represent that name well. I reflect fondly on this bit of personal history as Father’s Day approaches.

My father also introduced me to the Gospel. Not every father in the Snoeberger clan did this. While I can’t bring to mind a Snoeberger who was not a good citizen and a hard worker, I regret to say that not all were genuine followers of Christ. Some lived, it seemed to me, as though their reputation for industry, integrity, and benevolence were sufficient ends unto themselves, and, as a result, they put little stock in the work of Christ, except perhaps to follow his ethical example. By God’s grace my father knew better, and so he taught me not only that I should be a good student, citizen, and worker, but also that success in these areas could never save. Only Christ could save, and that quite entirely apart from the virtues I might cultivate before or after I submitted to Christ.

I did not submit to the saving grace of Christ’s Gospel until my late teens. My father told me regularly about God’s saving grace, but I refused it. This refusal did not, however, bring his parenting efforts to a grinding halt. And that is because he also had common grace to offer. He taught me how to drive a nail straight and true, how to mow the lawn and shovel the drive swiftly and in tidy rows, how to read both books and people, and in summary, how to be a disciplined, careful, and contributing member of human society. Even though I was not growing in favor with God, he knew, I could and should be growing in favor with men (cf. Luke 2:52). He was troubled, no doubt, by the absence of God’s regenerating work, but he did not think it dangerous or sub-Christian to teach me how to live according to the received standards of moral integrity. And in this way he prepared me, as best he could, both for the inevitability of life in the civic sphere and also for the hope of a life in the ecclesiastical sphere.

The trend in Christian parenting these days is to favor “grace-based” over and against discipline-heavy parenting. I laud the emphasis on grace, but reject the insinuation sometimes communicated that discipline is the enemy of grace. Christian parents should not, of course, have the goal of raising “moral pagans,” but in view of the fact that parents really don’t have the final say (or any say, for that matter) in whether or not their kids turn out to be “pagans,” it seems to me that we should be working pretty hard at the “moral” part. My hope and prayer is ultimately that I will raise two morally informed Christians, but if in God’s inscrutable wisdom he has appointed me to raise a pagan, then I certainly hope to raise a moral pagan and not an immoral one!

I think my dad got it right. Thanks, Dad, for giving me grace—of both varieties.

Categories: Seminary Blog

The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses

Thu, 06/05/2014 - 07:00

These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.—Colossians 2:17

Colossians 2:17 gives us another important insight into how the earliest Christians put their Bibles together. But, the NIV here nicely obscures some of the difficulties of this verse, which literally reads: “These are a shadow of the things to come, but the body of Christ.” Here I simply want to surface Paul’s biblical theology by untangling his compressed logic.

Three observations.

An uncommon metaphor. Paul uses an uncommon metaphorical word pair when he contrasts shadow with body. Let me tease this out with five observations on the use of this sort of metaphor and word-pair in Paul’s day. (a) Literal objects cast shadows. (b) One of the objects that casts a shadow is a body. For a quick example, see Philo, Confusion 190. (c) This literal phenomenon generated various metaphors. For the classic example of this, see Plato’s Allegory of the Cave here. (d) When this sort of metaphor was used, the reality casting the shadow was most often a “thing” (Heb 10:1) or a “model” (Philo, Alleg. Interp. 3.96) and only occasionally a “body.” One clear example of the latter is found in Herod Antipas’s accusation against his brother Archelaus, whom he insisted “desire[d] the shadow of…royal authority, whose substance [“body,” σῶμα] he had already seized to himself” (Jos., J.W. 2.28). (e) Paul, therefore, uses the less-common metaphorical word-pair “shadow-body” in Col 2:17 likely because of the prominence of the latter word (“body”) in the letter. See Col 1:18, 22, 24; 2:11, 19, 23; 3:15 (cf. also 2:9).

Mosaic law. The “shadow” in Col 2:17 is the Mosaic law. This is confirmed by four observations. (a) The “shadow” in  Col 2:17a is cast by “the things that were to come.” And these “things…to come” are related in Col 2:17b to the messianic era, since the “body”—“reality”—casting the “shadow” is related to Christ or messiah: literally, “the reality of Christ/messiah.” What else, besides pre-Christian Judaism and, more specifically, its law, could be described as the preparatory “shadow” of the messianic era? (b) The items in Col 2:16 called a “shadow” in verse 17 are all Jewish practices, rooted in the Mosaic law. This is seen, above all, in the mention of “Sabbath” observance. For the association of “eat[ing] and drink[ing]” with the law, take a look at the Letter of Aristeas, 128, 142 and 158 (see here, 129, 143 and 158) and Heb 9:10. (c) This understanding of the Mosaic law—that it’s a shadow of the messianic era—would correspond with early Christian thought found elsewhere (see Heb 8:5; 10:1). (d) And, in fact, this understanding would correspond with Jewish thought found elsewhere. For example, the Jewish commentary on Genesis, Genesis Rabbah, notes, “There are three antitypes: the antitype of death is sleep, the antitype of prophecy is dream, the antitype of the age to come is the Sabbath” (17:5; for this translation, see here).
Ellipse. The trickiest part of Col 2:17 is the ellipse in the second half of the verse. The Greek simply reads “but the reality of Christ.” Translators, therefore, have to infer the phrase’s logic, since it’s incomplete as it stands. Thus, the NIV reads “the reality, however, is found in Christ” and the ESV and NASB both have “But the substance belongs to Christ.” The verse would have read quite a bit smoother had Paul exchanged “not” for “but” (NIV’s “however”) and repeated “of the things that were to come” instead of inserting “of Christ”:

These are a shadow of the things that were to come not the reality of the things that were to come.

Paul, however, wanted to say more than this. He wanted to say not only that the Mosaic law is a shadow and not the reality that is to come; he also wanted to identify what the reality that is to come is and show that it had come. (After all, if what was to come is still to come, Paul’s argument would have lost its steam. His opponents might simply have insisted on the shadows “in the meantime.”) Paul, in fact, wanted to do this—to identify the reality and show that it had come—and he wanted to make a word play. What Paul says here then is this: “these practices are the-things-that-were-to-come’s-shadow, but [...] the body of Christ” and what he means is this:

These practices are the-things-that-were-to-come’s shadow, but the-things-that-were-to-come’s reality belongs to Christ.

What is left implied, therefore, (the ellipse) is “of the things that were to come.” Moreover, the genitive “of Christ,” like the genitive “of the things that were to come,” signals something like possession, which explains my insertion of “belongs to” (as in the ESV and NASB) and the apostrophe in the (admittedly-clunky) “the-things-that-were-to-come.” Thus, Paul identifies the things that were to come with Christ, which indicates the coming things had indeed come—the opponents, after all, were ready to admit messiah had come—and, Paul’s ellipse preserves the word play, which literally reads, “body of Christ.” In other words, had he repeated “the things that were to come,” this would have muted the word play, giving us instead (and, once more, quite literally): “but the body of the things that were to come of Christ.” That this sort of word play explains Paul’s ellipse here is suggested by the uncommon metaphorical word-pair (noted above) of “shadow-body” and by the familiarity of the Pauline idiom it preserves: “body of Christ.” For other occurrences of this phrase, see Rom 7:4; 1 Cor 10:16; 12:27; Eph 4:12 and here. (Compare the similar idioms found in 1 Cor 6:15; 11:24, 27; Eph 1:23; 5:30 and Col 1:22, 24.)

In short, what Paul says here in Col 2:17 is this: the regulations of the Mosaic law and, thus, the law itself foreshadowed the Christian era. “Why let anyone judge you by the shadow, when the reality has come?” Finally, this understanding of the role of the law is of a piece with what Paul says elsewhere. The law served a specific purpose and that purpose has expired (see, for example, Gal 3:10–4:7 and 2 Cor 3:7–18, on which, see here).

Categories: Seminary Blog

Learning about the Past: What Has the Church Believed?

Sat, 05/31/2014 - 07:00

About two weeks ago I began a recommended reading list for those who wish to brush up on the history of the church. My initial suggestions included a couple of church history survey texts. In this post, I’m going to mention a few titles that focus on the development of Christian doctrine over the past 2,000 years or so. The earlier list was comprised of books that emphasize key people and events (the story); these books emphasize the development of theology (the ideas).

In the summer of 1998, I took my first course as a test drive student at DBTS. The course I chose was History of Christian Doctrine, which was then taught by Dr. Gerald Priest. Our textbook for that class was Louis Berkhof’s classic work, The History of Christian Doctrines. I thoroughly enjoyed both the lectures and the reading. Berkhof’s work (first published in 1937) is now somewhat dated, but it remains a fine place to begin reading about the history of Christian doctrine. In fewer than 300 pp., Berkhof discusses the historical development of theology under headings such as prolegomena, the Trinity, the doctrine of Christ, the doctrines of sin and grace, and the doctrine of last things.

Another work that is slightly longer and much more recent is John Hannah’s book Our Legacy: The History of Christian Doctrine (2001). Whereas Berkhof was no friend of dispensationalism, Hannah is a dispensationalist and a long-time professor of historical theology at Dallas Theological Seminary. Like Berkhof, Hannah discusses the historical development of major theological ideas within chapters that focus on topics such as authority, the Trinity, the person of Christ, the work of Christ, end times, etc. Both Berkhof and Hannah are excellent “read through” type volumes.
In addition to the volumes by Berkhof and Hannah, there are a couple of very good longer works that one may want to dip into. In an earlier post, I mentioned Justo González’s Story of Christianity. González has also written a three-volume work titled A History of Christian Thought (rev. ed., 1987). Weighing in at something over 1,100 pages, most people probably won’t want to read straight through this set, but it is a helpful companion to the Story of Christianity volumes. Unlike Berkhof and Hannah, this set is more chronological in nature, with volume one covering the early church, volume two the medieval church, and volume three the Protestant Reformation up through the mid-twentieth century. In keeping with this layout, volume one includes chapters on the theology of the apostolic fathers, western theology in the third century, the theology of Athanasius, and Trinitarian doctrine in the West, among others. Chapters in the second volume discuss topics such as the theology of Augustine, western theology after Augustine, and eastern theology up to the fall of Constantinople (i.e., 1453). And chapters in the third volume cover topics like the theology of Luther, the theology of Calvin, Reformed theology after Calvin, and theology in the twentieth century.

Another even more recent work in this field is Gregg Allison’s Historical Theology (2011). Intended as a companion volume to Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, this volume largely follows the topical arrangement of Grudem’s book. Like the three-volume set by González, most folks probably won’t choose to read this work cover-to-cover, but this is a great volume to consult when one wants to read about the historical development of a specific doctrine. This book contains 33 chapters in a little over 700 pp. A few of the more interesting chapters focus on topics such as the canon of Scripture, the interpretation of Scripture, creation, providence, the atonement, justification, church government, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Christ’s return and the Millennium. Within most chapters, Allison discusses what the church believed about a particular doctrine and how that doctrine developed during four different time periods: (1) the early church, (2) the Middle Ages, (3) the Reformation and post-Reformation era, and (4) the modern period.

All four of these works provide a good overview of how the church has developed theologically over the course of its history. The volumes by Berkhof and Hannah can be read through pretty quickly; the volumes by González and Allison are reference works that lend themselves more to perusal and “spot” reading.

Categories: Seminary Blog

A Century-Old Answer to Tchividjianism: Studies in Perfection by B. B. Warfield

Wed, 05/28/2014 - 07:00

Normally when book reviews appear on this website, they’re for new books: cutting edge books that add some new piece of information or fresh analysis to our ever-growing bank of theological information. But we also need to reflect on historical gems—classic treatments that inform the present far more thoroughly and penetratingly than any one week’s worth of web chatter can possibly hope to do.

So for my contribution to the Tchividjian controversy, rather than manufacture some spectacular new twist, I’d instead like to commend to our readers B. B. Warfield’s out-of-print work Studies in Perfectionism, a condensation of his larger block of material on sanctification that appears as vols. 7 & 8 of his Collected Works (still available for sale today). Those familiar with this work will recognize it as perhaps the most devastating critique of Keswick theology ever written. But it is more than that. It is a critique of a recurring error that has erupted perhaps dozens of times in the history of the church—an error that stands opposite that of Legalism/Pharisaism and has earned labels like “Antinomianism,” “Libertinism,” or in Warfield’s tome, “Perfectionism.”

If legalism errs by leaking a deadly sort of synergism back into the doctrine of justification, granting works an inordinate role in earning divine favor and assaulting the doctrine of solus Christus, perfectionism errs by projecting a deadly form of monergism forward so as to subsume sanctification in its scope. Frustrated by dead orthodoxies where individuals work very hard to earn favor with God, perfectionists seek ways to grow in grace authentically, without expending any effort at all, relying wholly upon Christ to unilaterally accomplish for me the Christian growth that I once thought was accomplished through obedience (or to use a more sinister word, “law-keeping”). This all-I-have-is-Christ approach to sanctification occurs almost magically: all I need to do is to “reckon” on my standing in Christ (that’s the Keswick version) or preach the Gospel to myself (that’s the Tchividjian version), and I will grow—almost without even trying and free from the frustrations experienced by those wicked folks who are “striving” to be more like Christ.

To be fair, many perfectionists defy their own theology and actively live holy lives, so we must be careful not to overstate the perfectionist error. But it is an error, and it is not new. Just as Romanism (the premier expression of legalism) found its pendular opposite in Lutheranism, Scholasticism in Holiness Theology, and Modernism in Keswick Theology, so also the excesses of Fundamentalism have produced Tchividjianism. I can only wish that Warfield were here today to write an appendix to his most excellent book.

Tolle Lege.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Are Women More Easily Deceived Than Men?

Thu, 05/22/2014 - 07:00

And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became sinner.—1 Timothy 2:14

Does 1 Tim 2:14 suggest women are more easily deceived than men? Here I want I to answer this question by saying something (1) about the function of 1 Tim 2:14 and, then, saying something (2) about its meaning.

Function. Paul’s statement in 1 Tim 2:14 is one of two explanations Paul gives for his prohibition in 1 Tim 2:11–12. (We’ll leave off presently what Paul prohibits in these verses and simply refer throughout this post to “what Paul prohibits in vv. 11–12” or something like that. Not exactly elegant, but it’ll help keep our focus.) 1 Tim 2:13 begins with “for” and v. 14 begins with “and.” Thus, Paul says, “women shouldn’t do [vv. 11–12] because [“for”] v. 13 “and” v. 14.

Meaning. The first reason Paul gives for his prohibitions in vv. 11–12 is creation order (v. 13). Adam was created first; Eve was created second. Therefore, women cannot do the activities in vv. 11–12 because this would reverse and, thus, violate creation order. The second reason Paul gives has been understood in a number of ways in Christian history; here I’ll focus on two of the more common. Some have understood v. 14 as an a separate reason. Others that it illustrates the first reason.

A separate reason. Some suggest that 1 Tim 2:14 grounds the prohibition in vv. 11–12 in an ontological difference between men and women. Women cannot do vv. 11–12 because they are more susceptible to deception than men are. After all, Paul says, “Adam wasn’t deceived; Eve [was].” This way of reading Paul finds all sorts of support in Church history (see Doriani’s essay here). This reading also would help flesh out Paul’s first point in v. 13. That is, if all we had were v. 13, then the only reason women couldn’t do the activities in vv. 11–12 would be divine fiat, raw sovereignty; they were created second. Since it’s Scripture, this would, of course, be enough. But most of us would like more. Enter v. 14. Women can’t do the activities of vv. 11–12 not simply because they were created second, but also because they were created with an inferior capacity for spiritual and intellectual discernment. Thus, to Peter’s note about women’s physique (1 Pet 3:7), Paul adds a note about their psyche. Finally, this reading also has the advantage of being offensive to modern sensibilities, which can be—though isn’t always—a useful hermeneutical consideration. After all, doesn’t the Bible talk about the world’s hostility toward God and Holy Scripture? Doesn’t it suggest this hostility will only get worse?

An illustration. Others argue that 1 Tim 2:14 does not ground the prohibition of vv. 11–12 in any ontological difference between men and women. Rather, v. 14 grounds the prohibition by showing what happens when God’s created order is reversed. What Paul’s second reason for his prohibition does, then, is explain why creation order must not be violated, which is to say, why vv. 11–12 must be obeyed. Paul explains by giving an illustration: the very first instance of role reversal and its consequences. Satan deliberately violated creation order and approached the one God created second. “Adam was not approached and deceived by the serpent, but woman [was]” (see Schreiner’s essay here). Satan prosecuted his case with the one created second. And this one took an initiative which, Paul implies, was not hers to take. This reading places the emphasis on Satan—the actor behind v. 14’s passive verbs—and on woman—the second-created human, who acted in a capacity out of step with God’s order. This reading has the advantage of more easily harmonizing with what Paul says about women elsewhere in his letters. That is, if v. 14 suggests that women can’t do the activities in vv. 11–12 because they are fundamentally more open to deception, one wonders what mitigates this susceptibility sufficiently to allow for the sorts of activities described in 1 Cor 14:26 (prophesying), Titus 2:3–4 and 2 Tim 3:15 (teaching; cf. Acts 18:26), and 1 Cor 11:5, 13 (public prayer), among others (see, e.g., Rom 16:1, 3, 7; also 1 Cor 5:4). If, however, the prohibitions in vv. 11–12 are grounded in creation order in both v. 13 (principle) and v. 14 (illustration), this more easily explains why women can have certain ministries and not others. Some ministries violate creation order; others do not. Related, if v. 14 grounds the prohibition of vv. 11–12 in ontology—women are more easily deceived than men—one wonders why this sort of susceptibility is more problematic for one doing the activities of vv. 11–12 than a susceptibility to sinning with eyes-wide-open as (arguably) Adam did. Does Adam’s sin mitigate his ability to do vv. 11–12 less than Eve’s? Finally, this reading also has the advantage of preserving Paul from saying something that many in our day would find really offensive: women are less able to spot deception than men. Caution is necessary here, of course, considering the other things people find offensive in Christianity (see 1 Cor 1:23 or 1 Tim 2:13!). Still, there’s no special prize for taking away the salt when we don’t have to.

On balance, the second reading is preferred. Granted, it does not answer all the questions it raises. But, in this case, I tend to think that’s a virtue and not a vice. It goes just as far as Scripture requires and then puts its hand over its mouth and refuses to say any more.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Learning about the Past: The Beginnings of a Reading List for Pastors, Future Pastors, and Curious Christians

Sat, 05/17/2014 - 07:00

I recently had a student ask what books pastors and future pastors should read in order to become familiar with the church’s past. I’d like to answer that question by suggesting a short list of books over a couple of blog posts.

The nature of church history is such that one should probably begin by reading at least one or two survey texts before moving on to narrower studies and primary sources. And that’s how I’ll begin this list.

One of the best single-author surveys of church history is Justo González’s Story of Christianity. Each volume of this 2-volume set is about 500 pages long, which in my view is long enough to survey the time period without becoming tedious. As the title suggests, González tells the story of the Church’s growth and development throughout history, and in my opinion he tells that story very well. Both volumes of the current edition of this work were published in 2010.


Another excellent and even more recent survey text is the 2-volume Church History published by Zondervan. The first volume of this work was written by Everett Ferguson and was first published in 2005. That volume was updated very slightly and then released as a new edition in 2013. The second volume of the set was co-authored by John Woodbridge and Frank James and was published for the first time in 2013 (see my earlier post). This multi-author set is a bit longer than the González volumes but obviously covers similar ground.* For a couple of years, I had students read the volume by Ferguson and then the second volume by González. For the upcoming fall semester I’ve switched to using both volumes by González, but this set by Ferguson, Woodbridge, and James is very good as well.

Both of these surveys of church history contain helpful maps, photographs, and charts. Both are well-outlined and well-indexed making it easy to find a particular person, place, or topic. And both include suggested reading lists throughout the text. If you are looking for a way to brush up on church history this summer, either set would be an excellent investment. And all four volumes are available in either print or Kindle editions.

*The volume by Ferguson is just over 500 pages long, while the volume by Woodbridge and James is up over 850 pages. Interestingly, Zondervan printed the second edition of the Ferguson volume on extra thick paper so it appears significantly longer than the first edition even though both editions are exactly 544 pages long. The use of thicker paper in the second edition of volume 1 also caused the two volumes published in 2013 to appear to be the same size despite the fact that volume 2 is more than 300 pages longer than volume 1.

Categories: Seminary Blog

An Evaluation of the Word of Faith Movement

Thu, 05/15/2014 - 07:00

The suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross is at the center of Christianity. In Righteous Riches: The Word of Faith Movement in Contemporary African American Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), Milmon Harrison notes that the prosperity and well-being of Christians is at the heart of the Word of Faith movement. Harrison is associate professor of African American and African Studies at the University of California, Davis. Harrison became a Christian in his mid-twenties and began attending a Word of Faith church in Sacramento, CA, in 1987 as a new convert. Though he is no longer part of a Word of Faith church, his past involvement in the movement provides an insider’s perspective.

Summary of the Book

The book focuses on the members and practices of Faith Christian Center—the Word of Faith church where Harrison was a member—to provide insight into the broader Word of Faith movement. In particular, Harrison highlights the significance of the movement within the African American church. In the introduction, Harrison explains three core features of the Word of Faith message: “the principle of knowing who you are in Christ; the practice of positive confession (and positive mental attitude); and a worldview that emphasizes material prosperity and physical health as the divine right of every Christian” (8).

The first chapter addresses the teaching of Word of Faith churches and leaders as understood by members of the church. Different emphases set Word of Faith teaching apart from traditional Christian instruction. Some of the members emphasized the feeling of power and control they gained from the Word of Faith message. Those who traditionally were not in positions of privilege or power, such as women and members of ethnic minorities, are often drawn to the message because it promises them the ability to determine what their lives will be like. Many of the members contrasted the Word of Faith teaching with the teaching from their Christian past, communicating that they believed the Word of Faith teaching offered something more.

Virtually all of the interviewees said, either directly or indirectly, that they wanted something more than what they were getting in their previous churches or than what their previous understanding of Christianity gave them. They did not say something “different,” they all said something “more.” When they heard the message emphasizing prosperity, self-development and self-actualization, personal power, and control over circumstances of one’s own life—and that all these things could be theirs as a result of being saved—they each realized that they had found what they’d been looking for. (27)

Another emphasis is on the present and practical nature of the teaching—one focused on this life and not just the next. Further, Word of Faith teaching carries a combination of confidence and defensiveness—confidence because of the importance of owning the entitlement God has given to believers and defensiveness because the teaching contains new revelation from God that seems strange to traditional Christians (47).

The second chapter discusses the way that members live out the teaching in their daily lives. Members are encouraged to pursue success in this life and are equipped with a worldview that explains their ability to move upward socially. The emphasis on positive confession leads members to employ only positive language, even to the point of denying the possibility of suffering. One of the members, Russell, provides an example of this practice.

And they say, are you going to get a flu shot? No. Why I gotta inoculate myself against something that I’m not gonna get? Doesn’t mean symptoms won’t come. So the power of positive confession says that “by his stripes I was healed.” If I was, then I am and I will be. So it’s not flue and cold season, it’s health season. Okay? I just reach out and grab more health ‘cause I’m already well” (54, emphasis original).

Positive confession is heightened by confessing publicly, like telling others God is going to give you a job you do not yet have. Since words possess power to help bring about reality, certain words or phrases are to be avoided. Another interviewee, Arlette, shared the reticence of a ladies’ choral group to sing the phrase “[God gives me] strength to suffer.” She was forced to change the phrase to “strength to prosper” (59). In response to the follow-up question “who is to blame if suffering does not end shortly” according to Word of Faith teaching she answered, “You! Basically. Your faith must not have been strong enough, you must have been outside the will of God, you must have let The Enemy [Satan] in somewhere, you must not know the Word. Something. It’s your fault” (60, emphasis original).

Word churches place a great emphasis on wealth. Members are encouraged to pursue wealth in order to be a blessing to others. A controversial part of the emphasis on wealth is the encouragement to plant financial seeds through giving to the church. Members feel the tension of being pressured into giving to the church to become financially prosperous even though their giving seems to keep them from financial well-being.

The teaching that giving money—especially tithing on a regular, consistent basis—will result in financial prosperity can place believers in a precarious position, threatening their ability to actually realize the promise of financial abundance while frightening them with the possibility of losing what they have due to God’s wrath or the withdrawal of his protection. (70)

The third chapter looks at the practices of Faith Christian Center as a typical Word church. Word churches place great emphasis on teaching or instruction. As opposed to traditional Pentecostal churches, believers are encouraged to grow over time rather than through an immediate and ecstatic experience.

The church is predominantly African-American, but Faith Christian Center endeavors to be multi-ethnic. They avoid any human images of Jesus or other saints so that no particular ethnic group would be given prominence. They utilize interpreters in the service and have a Multicultural Sunday each month where members are urged to invite a guest of a different ethnicity.

Though teaching is important, active involvement is also required of members. Harrison notes one occasion where the pastor rebuked those not involved in ministry for being in sin, asked them to stand and repeat a prayer of confession, and then exhorted them to sign up for a ministry immediately after the service (94). Each member is also required to contribute financially. “Of all the particulars of doctrine taught at Faith Christian Center, tithing would have to be numbered among the most frequently and strongly emphasized” (97). Members are taught that their failure to tithe keeps the others in the church from the prosperity God intends for them (98). The pastor will also ask members who are not tithing to stand and repent. The culture of the church motivates many to publicly admit their failure to give by standing.

Of course, one could simply remain seated and no one would know one’s personal financial-spiritual situation But in this atmosphere, in which so much is believed to be promised to the believer from God, and the threatened consequences of not doing what the pastor says (because he is God’s representative, after all) are so dire, standing up and suffering embarrassment or public humiliation may seem better than incurring God’s wrath by not giving at all. (99)

In addition to giving to the church, members are encouraged to give for special gifts for the pastor, including Rolex watches, cars, and cruises (100).

The pressure to give and serve can be burdensome to members, and chapter four addresses four ways that members cope with these demands: (1) filtering, or accepting certain teaching while rejecting others; (2) venting networks, or groups of dissatisfied members sharing their frustration; (3) break taking, or stepping away from ministry or the church for a period of time, and (4) leave taking—a permanent move away.

The fifth and final chapter looks more broadly at the concept of prosperity in African American religion, even outside of the Word of Faith movement. Though Word churches are known for their emphasis on prosperity, African American churches already had a history of caring for their members and the community. Thus, aspects of the Word of Faith movement were already present in African American churches.

Critical Analysis

Harrison offers a helpful sociological look at the Word of Faith movement, explaining and clarifying its teachings through the eyes of its practitioners. Though Harrison notes that his past involvement with the church created tension for his sociological study (viii), he maintains a relatively objective approach throughout the work. Since he does not offer any overt critique of the movement, I will focus my evaluation on the movement as described in the book rather than the book itself.[1] The evaluation will largely focus on the Word of Faith movement’s fit within evangelicalism.

There are some commendable features of the movement. Its focus on practical living is a healthy reminder that the Bible is to control the everyday lives of Christians. Their effort to produce a multi-cultural church challenges the failure of many evangelical churches to display the barrier-breaking power of the gospel. The emphasis on studying the Scriptures is also vital for healthy churches. However, the movement has several negative elements that must be addressed.

Continuing Revelation

Word of Faith pastors believe God provides them special revelation that they are then entrusted to deliver to others. Thus, they deny the evangelical understanding of preaching, where the pastor expounds on the message already delivered through the Bible. “Rather than a sermon, as in more traditional churches, in the Word of Faith Movement, the pastor or other speaker sees himself or herself as coming to instruct, to deliver information and insight—‘new revelation,’ as it were—from God to the people” (88). Since the pastor’s teaching is direct revelation from God, those who differ are automatically in error. However, this line of communication between God and the pastor may not always be fully accurate. In fact, it may even be contradictory. Harrison provides an example of this change in teaching. The pastor of Faith Christian Center taught for several years that believers were to bind evil things and loose good things based on Matthew 18:18. That teaching was later revealed to be wrong, and the congregation was urged to bind good things and loose evil things (112-113).

The pastor’s claim to be God’s mouthpiece may lead the congregation to one of two errors. Some may fall into a kind of worship of the pastor, viewing him as greater than other members of the church. For example, the café the church operated had “a number of framed posters and old newspaper clippings with the pastor as the subject” on the walls (33). Russell, an enthusiastic member of the church, had an 8 X 10 photograph of the pastor prominently displayed in the entrance of his home. The congregation was challenged to sacrifice to provide lavish gifts for the pastor or to afford a $300 ticket for the formal dinner celebrating the pastor’s birthday (101). These members will uncritically follow the pastor and his teaching.

Others are more critical of the pastor, choosing to accept some teaching and rejecting others. This is a common mindset among evangelicals and is often encouraged by pointing to the example of the Bereans in Acts 17.  However, those in Word of Faith churches are told that the pastor is providing communication received directly from God, which means they are choosing to reject what God has said—not what a fallible man has said.


Related to the belief in continuing revelation is the denigration of traditional methods of Bible study and education. Since God speaks directly to people, there is little need for study or education.[2] Most of the leaders in the movement have no theological education, but they claim to have a better grasp on the meaning of the Bible than those who do because of the revelation they receive from God.

This direct revelation of God’s will and mind through his Word and prayer is seen as a purer form of knowledge and source of scriptural meaning than that which can be attained or accomplished through the intellect in formal training and study in biblical exegesis and hermeneutics. The knowledge of God’s will that can be attained by common folk…who may not be college or seminary educated, is more highly valued (7).

This anti-intellectual stance opens the door for theological error. Throughout church history, those who labored to gain the necessary skills for Bible interpretation were crucial in maintaining orthodoxy, while heresy has often run rampant when teaching was not allowed to be challenged by those with expertise.

Positive Confession

One of the most well-known tenets of the Word of Faith movement is the practice of positive confession. Harrison offers an explanation of this belief.

Members are taught that once they know who they are in Christ, they can then speak the same words about themselves that God has spoken about them in the Bible. This allows them to access and exercise the power vested in them through their identification with Christ’s finished work on the cross…. In the biblical account of creation, God spoke and there was light. The Faith Message teaches believers that the same world-creating power is theirs as born-again Christians, and that it is a spiritual law that the spoken word sets creative (or destructive) forces in motion. (9-10).

Because of this teaching, members are very careful to guard what they say, never verbally admitting that they are sick or suffering. Harrison states that this practice stems from New Thought or Mind Science (11).

The practice of positive confession, perhaps unwittingly, leads to the slandering of God. Members are encouraged to publically confess what they are believing—e.g., that one will get a job, or overcome an illness, or receive a car. Often this public confession is given before unbelievers. “The act of voicing to others those things one is ‘believing (God) for’ (to give them or do on their behalf) is taught in the Faith Message to be an act of faith, opening one’s self up to potential ridicule by unbelievers and daring to take that risk because of their faith that God will not let one down” (57). However, it is not only the believer who is open to ridicule if the event does not happen. God is blasphemed before unbelievers for not doing what his followers said he would do—though He never said He would do it.

Promise of Prosperity

Positive confession is intimately related to the belief that God wants every believer to prosper and be in health. God wants to bless Christians, and the only thing hindering that blessing is the Christian’s lack of faith. This belief leads to several problems. It places pressure on members to act as though they are more prosperous than they are. Since a failure to prosper is a sign of unbelief, individuals are incentivized to put on fronts of success. Further, it places people in positions of financial hardship. They are bullied into giving more than they are able because they are promised more wealth in return. Unfortunately, that return rarely materializes.

Worst of all, members carry the burden of guilt and doubts created by the false teaching. Harrison’s discussion with Fran is disheartening. Though she made more than $50,000 a year, she believed she was struggling in her faith because she did not see the prosperity she had been promised. As she considered the teaching on prosperity, she lamented the fact that the teaching did not seem to match with reality.

I think it’s [the teaching on prosperity] good, but I think that area to me the church doesn’t understand. Because I don’t see nobody really prospering at church. I mean, only one I see is pastors [prospering]! All these people are giving at church, but we don’t have millionaires! Why—we should have millionaires! But I think that’s a hard one for everybody to grasp. ’Cause if it wasn’t then he [the pastor] wouldn’t be having such a hard time getting [money] from people! You know, they don’t wanna give it up because they don’t never see nothing coming back maybe! (72, emphasis original)

As she shares her frustration, she ultimately believes the problem lies with her. She battles with blaming God before ultimately blaming herself.

I gave five hundred dollars one time, and then recently I gave another thousand, and it’s like ‘well, when am I gonna get my money?!’ You know, I sowed into—I’m trying to believe the Word. I sow—and then I thought, ‘Well, maybe it’s because I don’t pay my tithes consistently, you know?’ So maybe that’s why I’m not receiving the blessings because I’m not applying the principles—I’m not doing what God tells me to do in order for me to get it. (71)

Ultimately, the conversation with Fran reveals a flawed understanding of God and Christianity—an understanding promoted by the Word of Faith teaching. Fran believes that God will bless her if she obeys. This burden leaves her frustrated and hopeless.

I think that if we’re living the life of Christ, or living an upright live, then we should have just as—at least equal to, or more than what the people who ain’t doing right have…. I’m not perfect…I mean, I lose it, or I may not go to church every three weeks or something like that, or I get frustrated and then I go off on the deep end, but I mean most of the time I try to do right. But why isn’t prosperity working for me? I don’t understand. (74)

Thus, the emphasis on prosperity undermines the evangelical understanding of the gospel. People are not rewarded by God on the basis of their ability to follow his principles. Rather, God freely provides all the blessings that are in Christ to those who could never follow his principles—to those who trust in Jesus. However, true Christians do not come to Jesus in the hope of gaining prosperity, but in the hope of gaining his person. The errors of the Word of Faith movement lead people away from simple faith in Christ and, ultimately, into eternal separation from Christ.

[1]He does state some brief criticisms brought against the movement, but does not state whether or not they are legitimate criticisms (12-13).

[2]Though formal education is disavowed, Faith Christian Center requires new members to complete a ten week series of classes introducing them to the teaching of the church. Thus, the problem is not formal times of teaching but the fact that those who have received theological education typically disagree with the Word of Faith interpretation of the Bible.

Categories: Seminary Blog

A Graduation Observation

Tue, 05/13/2014 - 07:00

Last week I received one of those Tweets that had been forwarded about a half dozen times before it landed in my inbox. It purported to offer an idea for a “Calvinist Graduation Card”:

“Happy graduation. You did nothing. You are nothing. So just march.”

It was funny and I laughed. Of course, it really doesn’t capture Calvinism very accurately, and I suspect that the original Tweeter (or is it a Tweetist?) knows this: it was a joke and I “got it.” But the reason the Tweet is funny is because some Christians actually think this way. Since “God did it all,” they reason, then we are nothing and can do nothing.

But that’s not true. It is true, of course, that we contribute nothing to our justification because we are nothing and have nothing (in terms of merit, in fact, we have less than nothing). But by God’s grace, when he justified us he also made us new creatures in Christ, regenerate persons capable of pleasing God, commanded to please God, and even anticipating a reward for pleasing God. If we do little, the reward will be small. If we do much, the reward will be large. It’s a fairly straightforward and prominent theme in the New Testament.

By God’s grace and for his glory, the DBTS students that will receive diplomas this Thursday night for their efforts over the past several years have done something: They have “worked hard so they can present themselves to God and receive his approval.” And they are and are becoming something: “Good workers who do not need to be ashamed and who correctly explain the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15, NLT). So don’t worry if you can’t find one of those elusive “Calvinist Graduation Cards” for these men. Find a card that commends them for a job well done.

Thank you, graduates, for your efforts, and congratulations one and all.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Ecclesiastical Separation and the Two Kingdoms

Sat, 05/10/2014 - 07:00

Commencement season has revived a fresh spate of debate about separation. Should Liberty University have invited Glenn Beck to speak? Should Al Mohler have gone to BYU (again)? And related, should Bob Jones University have invited Dennis Praeger to speak?

None of these three situations is the same, of course, and as they say, the devil is in the details. But the following factors connect all three situations: (1) they all involve faith-based universities with feet squarely in both the ecclesiastical and civic spheres, (2) each of which who has invited a speaker prominent in both the ecclesiastical and civic spheres who (3) professes a faith wholly irreconcilable with the faith-base of the institution to which he has been invited.

The complexities of our three representative scenarios should not go unnoticed. Were this a simple matter of a Mormon or a Jew being invited to preach at the worship service of a Christian church, or of an Christian pastor being courted to preach at the regular meeting of a synagogue or temple, the solution would be simple: no ecclesiastical fellowship is possible because Christ and Belial do not get along. On the other hand, if this were a matter of a civic university inviting a believer to address them on the strength of his/her success in some civic arena (say, business, medicine, politics, etc.), there is nothing (on the surface of things at least) that would prevent this address from occurring: civic “fellowship” does not rest on the same ground as does ecclesiastical “fellowship.” Christians hold a dual membership in life—we are members of churches, and we are citizens in civic society—and the basis of citizenry and “belonging” in those two communities is quite different.

The difficulty in the three situations in question is that a faith-based university is a complex blend of ecclesiastical and civic elements. Seen as a civic institution, on the one hand, a Christian university would hear few objection were it to invite an unbelieving expert in his field to offer a lecture or host a field study—so long as the “field” is something like piano repair or heart valve replacement or public court procedures. Seen as a para-ecclesiastical institution, on the other hand, Christian universities would rightly receive many complaints were it to host a persuasive sermon or theological lecture by a Mormon or Jewish expert in, say, hermeneutics, evangelism, or worship.

The question at issue in each of our three scenarios, then, is this: is it possible to establish in any or all of the scenarios proposed that a civic leader was addressing a civic issue in a civic setting? I would argue that to the degree that this may be established (i.e., to the degree that both the speakers and the institutions effectively communicated and preserved the civic nature of the event), then such an exchange of speakers is appropriate. To the degree that the ecclesiastical and civic spheres were conflated (i.e., to the degree that civic responsibilities were presented as being grounded necessarily in common ecclesiastical/faith commitments), then such an exchange of speakers creates considerable confusion.

Let the reader decide.

Categories: Seminary Blog