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Apologetics in Service of the Gospel

Southwestern Seminary - Tue, 05/09/2017 - 09:30

It is sometimes said that apologetics is a waste of time because no one comes to Christ through apologetics. You can’t, after all, argue someone into the Kingdom.

Now, it may come as a bit of a shock, but I (being a professor of apologetics) actually agree that no one comes to Christ through apologetics. No one is won to Christ on the basis of apologetics since that’s simply not the basis upon which one is won to Christ. One comes to Christ on the basis of the Gospel and the Gospel alone.

But does that mean apologetics is a waste of time?

Well no, definitely not. Let’s tease out some of the confusions here. But first it may be helpful to define Christian apologetics. Christian apologetics is the discipline of commending and defending the truth claims of Christianity without making assumptions an unbeliever cannot make (e.g., we do not merely cite Scripture in giving the defense).

The first confusion here is thinking of apologetics as merely one way to do evangelism (perhaps for the nerdy few!). I’d like to suggest that apologetics is not merely evangelism to the more cerebral among us. In fact, it is best to understand apologetics as importantly related to evangelism, but a substantively different pursuit.

This is perhaps easiest to see given the different (but, again, related) aims of apologetics and evangelism. Apologetics aims to provide intellectual reasons for assenting to the claims of the Gospel and removing any intellectual roadblocks to faith. Evangelism aims to bring people to faith in Christ as the Holy Spirit works through the sharing of the Gospel.

How are apologetics and evangelism related, then? When it comes to outreach, apologetics is not, in my view, necessary for evangelism, but it is often incredibly helpful. Apologetics is often characterized as pre-evangelism. Sometimes, hearing a straightforward Gospel message is all some people need. Other times, people must journey a long road in order to arrive at a place where they surrender to Christ in faith. On this road, there are often questions of an apologetic nature, some of which can be quite pressing. These questions often act as a kind of intellectual roadblock for faith. And, for many, these questions require a thoughtful answer.

Moreover, by all accounts, our country and culture is trending away from its Christian influences. It seems there are times when people do not even have the basic categories in order to grasp the content of the Gospel, given the lack of a Christian background. More and more, apologetics does the work equivalent to what Bible translators do for an unreached people group. The Bible translator must get the content of the Gospel into the vernacular of the people for an individual to even grasp this content. Could the Holy Spirit miraculously allow the tribesman to understand the Gospel in a foreign language? Absolutely. However, it typically takes the hard work of translation. Likewise, God can bring conviction if He wants, but it often takes the hard work of engaging in apologetic discussion for someone to be able to grasp the content of the Gospel.

But let me stress that we have to get to the Gospel. It is entirely possible to get mired in endless discussions about technical issues and never get to sharing the Gospel. This is a big mistake. It is not our job to argue someone right up to the steps of the Kingdom before we ever share the Gospel. We should be agile enough to move into an apologetics discussion, and as we are able to address someone’s questions, we should move into an evangelistic mode. But perhaps one hits upon another question that seems to stand in front of faith. As we address this question, then we look once again to share the Gospel. And remember, in all of this, it is all about being faithful to Christ.

The second confusion is thinking that if apologetics doesn’t have value for evangelism, then it doesn’t have value at all. Even if, despite what we’ve said above, one concedes that apologetics doesn’t have value for evangelism, it doesn’t follow that there is no value at all.

Don’t get me wrong. This is in no way to lessen the call for evangelism. Anyone who thinks sharing the Gospel is not crucially important for each and every Christian simply doesn’t understand what it is to be a Christian. But that’s not all of what it is to be Christian. An important part of growth and an important part of discipleship is asking the deep and difficult questions and growing in our worldview. When we don’t ask the deep and difficult questions, then our worldview tends to be only thinly Christian. In fact, Jesus commands us to love God with all of who we are, including our minds (Matthew 22:37). What does it mean to love God with our minds? I think we love God with our minds when we embrace an intellectual pursuit of God and the understanding of our faith as an important part of our discipleship.

Part of doing this (though certainly not all of what this means) is thinking about issues of apologetics. So it is not merely getting prepped to hit the streets to answer every question that may come from unbelievers. And it is not suddenly asking questions because some hostile unbeliever is giving us trouble. It is genuinely and honestly asking these questions for ourselves out of curiosity and the desire to know God more fully.

What we should notice is that when we seek God intellectually by asking the deep and difficult questions, we will find ourselves well-equipped to encounter unbelievers when they do ask us those questions. In fact, our answers will likely be much more thoughtful since we have genuinely asked the questions for ourselves.

In sum, apologetics has value (along with our other Christian pursuits) in that it makes for more powerful evangelism and helps us to pursue and love God with our minds.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Apologetics in Service of the Gospel

Southwestern Seminary - Tue, 05/09/2017 - 09:30

It is sometimes said that apologetics is a waste of time because no one comes to Christ through apologetics. You can’t, after all, argue someone into the Kingdom.

Now, it may come as a bit of a shock, but I (being a professor of apologetics) actually agree that no one comes to Christ through apologetics. No one is won to Christ on the basis of apologetics since that’s simply not the basis upon which one is won to Christ. One comes to Christ on the basis of the Gospel and the Gospel alone.

But does that mean apologetics is a waste of time?

Well no, definitely not. Let’s tease out some of the confusions here. But first it may be helpful to define Christian apologetics. Christian apologetics is the discipline of commending and defending the truth claims of Christianity without making assumptions an unbeliever cannot make (e.g., we do not merely cite Scripture in giving the defense).

The first confusion here is thinking of apologetics as merely one way to do evangelism (perhaps for the nerdy few!). I’d like to suggest that apologetics is not merely evangelism to the more cerebral among us. In fact, it is best to understand apologetics as importantly related to evangelism, but a substantively different pursuit.

This is perhaps easiest to see given the different (but, again, related) aims of apologetics and evangelism. Apologetics aims to provide intellectual reasons for assenting to the claims of the Gospel and removing any intellectual roadblocks to faith. Evangelism aims to bring people to faith in Christ as the Holy Spirit works through the sharing of the Gospel.

How are apologetics and evangelism related, then? When it comes to outreach, apologetics is not, in my view, necessary for evangelism, but it is often incredibly helpful. Apologetics is often characterized as pre-evangelism. Sometimes, hearing a straightforward Gospel message is all some people need. Other times, people must journey a long road in order to arrive at a place where they surrender to Christ in faith. On this road, there are often questions of an apologetic nature, some of which can be quite pressing. These questions often act as a kind of intellectual roadblock for faith. And, for many, these questions require a thoughtful answer.

Moreover, by all accounts, our country and culture is trending away from its Christian influences. It seems there are times when people do not even have the basic categories in order to grasp the content of the Gospel, given the lack of a Christian background. More and more, apologetics does the work equivalent to what Bible translators do for an unreached people group. The Bible translator must get the content of the Gospel into the vernacular of the people for an individual to even grasp this content. Could the Holy Spirit miraculously allow the tribesman to understand the Gospel in a foreign language? Absolutely. However, it typically takes the hard work of translation. Likewise, God can bring conviction if He wants, but it often takes the hard work of engaging in apologetic discussion for someone to be able to grasp the content of the Gospel.

But let me stress that we have to get to the Gospel. It is entirely possible to get mired in endless discussions about technical issues and never get to sharing the Gospel. This is a big mistake. It is not our job to argue someone right up to the steps of the Kingdom before we ever share the Gospel. We should be agile enough to move into an apologetics discussion, and as we are able to address someone’s questions, we should move into an evangelistic mode. But perhaps one hits upon another question that seems to stand in front of faith. As we address this question, then we look once again to share the Gospel. And remember, in all of this, it is all about being faithful to Christ.

The second confusion is thinking that if apologetics doesn’t have value for evangelism, then it doesn’t have value at all. Even if, despite what we’ve said above, one concedes that apologetics doesn’t have value for evangelism, it doesn’t follow that there is no value at all.

Don’t get me wrong. This is in no way to lessen the call for evangelism. Anyone who thinks sharing the Gospel is not crucially important for each and every Christian simply doesn’t understand what it is to be a Christian. But that’s not all of what it is to be Christian. An important part of growth and an important part of discipleship is asking the deep and difficult questions and growing in our worldview. When we don’t ask the deep and difficult questions, then our worldview tends to be only thinly Christian. In fact, Jesus commands us to love God with all of who we are, including our minds (Matthew 22:37). What does it mean to love God with our minds? I think we love God with our minds when we embrace an intellectual pursuit of God and the understanding of our faith as an important part of our discipleship.

Part of doing this (though certainly not all of what this means) is thinking about issues of apologetics. So it is not merely getting prepped to hit the streets to answer every question that may come from unbelievers. And it is not suddenly asking questions because some hostile unbeliever is giving us trouble. It is genuinely and honestly asking these questions for ourselves out of curiosity and the desire to know God more fully.

What we should notice is that when we seek God intellectually by asking the deep and difficult questions, we will find ourselves well-equipped to encounter unbelievers when they do ask us those questions. In fact, our answers will likely be much more thoughtful since we have genuinely asked the questions for ourselves.

In sum, apologetics has value (along with our other Christian pursuits) in that it makes for more powerful evangelism and helps us to pursue and love God with our minds.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Does the Earliest Gospel Proclaim the Deity of Jesus?

Talbot School of Theology - Mon, 05/08/2017 - 12:00

Scholars generally agree that Mark was the first written Gospel. As a result, critics often claim that the doctrine of the deity of Christ does not appear clearly in Mark but emerges later in the Gospel of John.

While there are certainly explicit claims to deity in John, such as when Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (8:58), this critical challenge overlooks distinct proclamations of the deity of Christ throughout the Gospel of Mark.

Here is my contention: From the first chapter until the end, the Gospel of Mark proclaims that Jesus understood himself to be God. Consider six brief examples ...

Categories: Seminary Blog

The Function of Short Term Mission Experiences in Christian Formation

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 05/05/2017 - 16:17


Expectations are always high when it comes to short-term mission experiences. After all, the sometimes multi-year process of identifying where to go, who will go, and how they will get there usually comes to an exhausting, but successful conclusion, complete with video clips and jet-lagged participants. The reentry from the trip commonly brings with it the requisite refrains “I’ll never be the same,” and “It changed my life.” These oft heard phrases are standard fare in the midsummer heat of peak short-term mission season, but they are all-too-often distant echoes, at best, by the time the opening kickoff takes place at your local high school in the fall. Because this lackluster outcome can be mixed with other personal stories of men, women, and children who have experienced sustained change, a fair question that we must pursue is: Can short-term missions experience truly play a significant role in the substantive Christian formation of those who participate?

Biblical Mission: Expressed Foundations in the Old Testament

Before directly attempting to estimate the value of STM for Christian formation, it may be helpful to, first, frame the discussion in terms of the biblical rendering of mission. Many times, our notions of what the Bible teaches about mission start, and many times end, with a handful of New Testament texts, but Walter Kaiser argues that this is an inadequate approach to capturing the biblical picture:

The Bible actually begins with the theme of missions in the Book of Genesis and maintains that driving passion throughout the entire Old Testament and on into the New Testament. If an Old Testament ‘Great Commission’ must be identified, then it will be Genesis 12:3—‘all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through you [Abraham].’ This is the earliest statement of God’s purpose and plan to see that the message of his grace and blessing comes to every ethnolinguistic group on planet earth. The message did not begin there. The basis for it, in fact, went all the way back to Genesis 3:15.[1]

In Genesis 3:15 (ESV), God issues a key post-Fall promise to the serpent:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.

Andreas Köstenberger and Peter O’Brien note that “Christian scholars have understood this as the protoevangelium, the first glimmer of the gospel.”[2] T. Desmond Alexander further clarifies that this promise of “good news” in “the seed of woman” is to be seen as “referring to a single individual and not numerous descendants.”[3] The move toward the fulfillment of this promise, then, becomes the key narrative element in the remainder of both the Book of Genesis, as the narrative is structured, and the whole of the Old Testament.[4] The manner in which this fulfillment unfolds is clarified and refined in each of the further promises of the Abrahamic (Gen 12:1-3) and Davidic (2 Sam 7) covenants.

By the time we reach the end of the first eleven chapters of the Book of Genesis, there are 70 established “nations.” It is against this backdrop that the promise to Abram is given in Genesis 12:1-3 (ESV):

Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’

This pledge is not alone in its emphasis on Abraham’s offspring being a blessing to all nations, through the Man of Promise, “the seed” of Genesis 3:15.[5] A similar message of Gentile inclusion and engagement with the reality of God is captured in both the texts of Exodus 19:5-6 and Psalm 67.[6] Each of these passages offers an explicit injunction to Israel, and her constituent members, to understand and rejoice in God’s inclusion of the Gentiles.

The mission emphasis in the Old Testament is largely on God bringing blessing and restoration to the nations, rather than a far-reaching missionary deployment from among Israel’s ranks. However, there are notable exceptions to this: the eschatological sending of messengers in Isaiah 66; Jonah’s task; Elijah’s ministry to the widow of Zarephath (1 Kgs 17:8-24); and Elisha’s trip to Damascus (2 Kgs 8:7-15).[7] These are unique examples, but they do demonstrate an incipient practice of God sending messengers to the nations, as part of His activity among them.[8] This “sending of messengers” image is more fully developed, and normatively expressed, in the outline of mission in the New Testament.

Biblical Mission: Explicit Structure in the New Testament

In the Old Testament, the mode of mission is primarily “by attraction, not by active invitation.”[9] Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert note that, “Missions, in the sense of God’s people being actively sent out to other peoples with a task to accomplish, is as new as the New Testament.”[10] In the New Testament, this God-centered mission is extended and clarified, as the Father sends the Son to accomplish the missio Dei (“mission of God”), by means of the Son’s determined obedience to the Father (John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38; 8:29).[11] This obedience was ultimately pointed toward his willingness to die in the place of his people (Phil 2:8), for the sake of his own exaltation and the glory of the Father (Phil 2:11). After completing this “saving mission,” Jesus then sends his disciples to carry out their resultant “commission” (John 20:21).[12]

This “Great Commission,” which is sometimes confined strictly to the content of Jesus’ teaching to the apostles immediately preceding His ascension (Matt 28:16-20; Mark 13:10; 14:9; Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:8), may be thought of more broadly. New Testament scholar Robert Plummer applies this concept, and title, to all passages that address “Christians’ obligation to share the gospel with non-believers.”[13] Plummer says that in order for the Great Commission to be rightly understood and expressed, it must be realized in broader terms than simply “explicit imperatives.”[14]

He offers an understanding of the theme of the Great Commission that includes: (1) the command to make disciples (Matt 28:19); (2) “the role of God’s Spirit in empowering and directing the gospel’s spread” (Acts 5:32); and (3) Paul’s epistles, for example, which focus on “the gospel as God’s dynamic word that inevitably accomplishes his purpose” (Col 1:6).[15] The movement of the gospel into and among the nations of the earth is comprised of all three of these active Great Commission elements.

Disciple-Making and the Great Commission

First, in Matthew 28:16-20, we have the command to “make disciples,” which is the nucleus of the apostles’ mission. Disciple-making, in Matthew’s account, is seen as instruction that is thoroughgoing and rooted in “all things” which Jesus has commanded his disciples. [16] However, it also prizes the importance of the apostolate following the model of Jesus in their teaching. Instructing the followers of Jesus means communicating both “a teaching and a lifestyle.”[17] Gospel living may be more caught than taught, as the cliché goes, but it may be that these are to be interdependent. Lifestyle teaches the student, and biblical teaching that “lives,” is both understood and integrated into the learner’s life.

These Christian disciples are those “who live in community, in fellowship with teachers and with other followers of Jesus.”[18] The point of emphasis in this commission is that Christ will build his church globally (Matt 16:18), through the establishment of local congregations, via the missionary work of the apostles and subsequent generations of disciples.[19]

Spirit-Directed Advance and the Great Commission

Throughout the early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, Luke’s emphasis is on the Holy Spirit and his work within the believing witnesses to disseminate the truth (e.g., 2:4, 37-41; 4:8, 13; 6:5, 10; 7:54, 57). While each of these instances displays the work of the believer, as he is empowered by the Spirit, Acts 5:32 contains a nuanced understanding of what is actually taking place. Here, Peter declares: “And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” Unlike the texts which point to the work of the Spirit in and through the witnesses, the statement here seems to indicate that the Spirit also bears witness to the truth of the gospel in “direct parallel” to the proclamation of the apostolic witnesses.[20] Bill Larkin comments on these emphases in Acts:

Luke does not neglect the ‘salvation accomplished’ portion of the gospel: the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead. However, the main focus is on ‘salvation applied’—the church in mission taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. Luke constantly reminds us that this is the mission of the Triune God. Not only does he send and guide his missionaries (apostles, witnesses to the resurrection, evangelists, believers), but he is directly calling people to himself as his word grows and the number of his people increases.[21]


It is this activity by God, both parallel to and in concert with his “sent ones,” which is the power from which the disciple-making effort draws its real strength. His Spirit bears witness to His absolute magnificence, even among those who reject this message, as the extension of His gospel truth accomplishes His stated purposes, eventually among every people group.[22]

Gospel Extension and the Great Commission

In his letter to the Colossian believers, Paul observes that this gospel “. . . which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth” (Col 1:6). Here, the gospel is active in “bearing fruit and growing.” As Plummer puts it:

Paul’s understanding of the gospel as God’s dynamic word that inevitably moves forward and accomplishes the divine purpose provides a theological basis for the church’s mission . . . for Paul, when the gospel is genuinely present in a congregation, he is confident that the dynamic nature of that word will guarantee its ongoing triumphant progress.[23]

As this global mission is carried out, through going, teaching and baptizing, the aspects of disciple-making and the successful establishment of the church, by this “word,” are accomplished by the Spirit. This is the active process, and method, that is fulfilling the Great Commission, through and in the local church, to the glory of God the Father.[24]

STM: Definition and Relationship to Christian Formation

If the directive to make disciples panta ta ethne (“all peoples”) necessitates Spirit-directed gospel extension, and this mandate is given to the church, through the apostles, where do we properly place STM in the landscape of this mission advance? While there is much debate on whether or not all STM experiences may properly be called a “missionary” exercise, the historical proliferation of shorter terms of service, particularly in North America from the 1960’s on, seems to indicate that the practice is here to stay.[25]

While missionaries prior to, and during, the twentieth century had no pretense of frequent returns home, if they ever returned, partly because there was no ability to travel with any degree of relative ease. Modern travel has changed that forever.[26] Even many career missionaries who go overseas for a “lifetime” come back on home assignment at regular intervals, and they speak to family and friends almost daily, in some cases, using video communication programs that are now readily accessible.

This means that definitions of, and options for, timeframes deployed to the field have dramatically changed as well. Current categorizations vary, but generally long-term, or career, missionary service usually applies to any period of 2 years, or more, in length. Any term that is between 3 months and 2 years is generally labeled mid-term, although some organizations and missiologists categorize these as short-term.[27] These designations are basic guidelines, because deployment terms and expectations are established by each agency, or church.

Some organizations and churches utilize these “levels” (long-term, mid-term, short-term) as steps to what they hope will be progressively longer seasons of service. The principle idea is that the tiered approach allows participants to be involved in mission activity and, progressively, progress to the next sequential step. The operative thought is often that this exposure helps them see what life is like firsthand, and it also allows the agency, or church, to see if the missionary demonstrates the ability to be successful during progressively longer periods of deployment.[28]

It is the grouping of the “shortest” mission trips (3 months or less) that will be, predominately, in view here. The “participants” in view will include Christian children, adolescents, and adults, so the observations will apply, in varying degree, to these distinct but interrelated groups. The following working definition of STM, as offered by anthropologist Brian Howell will be employed: “short travel experiences for Christian purposes such as charity, service, or evangelism.”[29] This accommodating definition will allow for the widest geographic variety of STM experiences, so domestic and international trips will be in view, with primary observational emphasis on cross-cultural experiences.

Some would say that a prioritization of attention toward formational benefits to those who go simply demonstrates that STM of this persuasion should be questioned. This mindset appears to present a false dilemma, as Christian disciples are witnesses and heralds of the King, while they are also concurrently hoping in the gospel, in the midst of a cruciform life of service (Col 1:24-29). This is not to propose that service is the primary indicator of formation, as progressive sanctification in Christ is, chiefly, an inward reality that engenders specific outward evidences (Eph 5:19-21; John 15:10-12; Col 3:1-11; Isa 66:2; Rom 7:14-25; Matt 6:1-3; Luke 9:26; Matt 4:4; 1 John 4:11-18; Eph 6:1-2). The sobering truth is that general “serving” does not have any inherent relationship to formation, or even being in union with Christ (Matt 7:21-23).

When we dig at it deeper and consider the full ordo salutis (“order of salvation”), while paying specific attention to the thread of sanctification throughout, the discipleship value of formational intention becomes increasingly more apparent. Timothy Paul Jones and Michael Wilder provide a helpful definition of progressive sanctification, to further guide our thinking on this point:

Sanctification is the process of being set apart for God’s purposes and restored to the image of God by means of the Holy Spirit’s gracious work in the believer’s life from regeneration through glorification.[30]

The restoration of the imago Dei (“image of God”) is made possible by Christ’s finished work. This restoration of God’s image entails being renewed in “knowledge” (Col 3:10), so that “we become more like God in our thinking.”[31] This restoration is a growing into greater maturity and likeness to Christ (2 Cor 3:18).[32] Paul Barnett’s comment on Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians, as it is connected to God’s ultimate aim in his sanctifying work, is informative:

Paul makes it clear that we must understand our transformation to be the will of God for us and that we should actively cooperate with him in bringing to reality the eternal destiny for which we were predestined (Rom 12:1-2, 28-30). Our transformation is nothing else than a transformation into the moral and spiritual likeness of the now glorified Christ. It is transformation into that Christ-likeness which will be ours in the end time, when he will be the ‘firstborn among many brothers’ (Rom 8:29).[33]

This progressive transformation, then, is holistic in its scope, with its full realization to be experienced in the eschatological kingdom, such that even now it is a renewing of the whole of the believer, as he conformed further to the image of the one who is the exact image of the Father (Heb 1:3).[34]

If this transformative work is holistic, then an operational summary of Christian maturity might be “a regenerate person’s act of living a life that more accurately reflects the glory and image of God in his behavior, thinking, passions, and motivations.”[35] If we work from this formational vantage point, in the construction of STM approaches, these short-term experiences may have a substantive role to play in supporting Christian formation.

STM: A Consciously Formational Approach

There are several philosophical and programmatic norms that can encourage the conscious stitching of STM into the discipleship fabric of church and home. It is not enough to treat mission trips as transformative vehicles, in and of themselves, apart from the ongoing Christian formation understanding and exercise of the local church.[36] Therefore, the approach outlined here will offer philosophies, and street-level practices, which cover ground far beyond the discrete arena of STM trips; however, this material is offered in an attempt to firmly situate the whole of the short-term process within the more foundational portrait of local church formation and discipleship.

The Church and STM: Formative Relationships and Teaching

First, to appropriate short-term missions for Christian formation, we must root the STM approach in formative relationships and teaching, within the local church. Familial, intergenerational, and community emphases are integral to the New Covenant community. Examples of these biblical concepts are: (1) the parental, and particularly paternal, responsibility to instruct and train children (e.g., Deuteronomy 6:6-7; Psalm 78:5-8; Ephesians 6:4); (2) the intergenerational nature of church community discipleship (e.g., Titus 2:1-10); and (3) the biblical portrait of community as a reconciled people (not unrelated individuals) to God and each other, by the “mercying” work of the gospel (e.g., 1 Peter 2:9-10).

Formative Relationships for STM

Since all of these relationships are innately related to Christian formation, the particular gravity of familial relationships is of first order significance.[37] Since many of those who engage in short-term mission, in a given annual term, are children and adolescents, the central role of parental direction and influence must be considered.[38]

The training of children is the discrete domain and responsibility of parents, and this instruction, by necessity, includes worldview formation (Deut 6:4-9; Exod 31:3, 6; Deut 34:9; Ps 127:3-5; Prov 1:7). It then follows that the economy of the family is vital to the formative process of children ascertaining and embracing mission perspective and proclivity, as part of this complex of philosophical life perspective. Also, the potential for mission experiences with parents to build into children and adolescents a formative “lifelong impression” is strong.[39] The convergence of family-based biblical instruction, gospel-centered living in repentance and faith, and shared STM experiences provide an environment where ongoing conversation can take place regarding truth and practice.[40] In light of this priority of the home, equipping parents to disciple their children, through and in gospel mission, is a crucial responsibility for the pastoral and volunteer leadership that aspire to capitalize on transformational aspects of STM. [41]

The related ability of parents to share these formative training opportunities with pastoral leaders and trusted adult volunteers, actually provides an opportunity to surround a student with supportive relationships. This benefit is also true for STM participants of any age, as supportive as local church-based relationships that exist before, during, and long after the brief field experience will best serve to shape the whole of the person. The biblical undergirding for this multi-relational, community oriented approach is, in part, that formation was intended to take place in the context of community.[42]

The individual family is intended, then, to prioritize relationship to his redeemed people (God’s family), as they are adopted brothers and sisters reconciled to God and to one another, through the work of the Son (1 Cor 12:13; Eph 2:14-22; Titus 2:14; 1 Pet 2:9). Mission is a constituent element of what it means to be a doxologically-motivated local church, so living as a part of this reconciled people is most foundationally driven by this God-centered impulse (Col 3:12-17). Therefore, a local church intent on understanding and actively promoting the role that parents, leaders, and other disciples play in the lives of one another avails itself of discipleship and mission engagement processes that can best achieve these relational goals, as parents and pastoral leaders shepherd children and adults.[43]

The church must not only support these individual believers in short-term mission experiences, but it must also think well about its own cultural values related to mission prayer, direction, strategy, training, sending of personnel, and funding.[44] Entailed in the taking on of a “mission culture,” will be a local emphasis on community engagement with the gospel, as well as, optimally, the identification of a specific people group, or region, for ongoing support and partnership.

This approach, again, allows STM to be one piece in a broader formational process to invest in long-term outcomes (e.g., short to long-term deployment progression for missionaries, sustained prayer through the formative years for children, and sacrificial generosity toward the missionary work among the same people group by families). This longitudinal approach allows STM to be consistently cast within the larger picture of Christian formation, locally (in the ministry of the supporting church) and globally (in the ministry of the missionaries and church among the adopted people group or region).[45]

Formative Teaching for STM

The formational process would also include the church’s identification of a well-defined mission curriculum, which is more comprehensive than preparatory training materials for specific short-term trips. When identifying and developing curriculum for mission emphasis, it may be helpful to think in terms of three essential categories: (1) biblical and theological instruction; (2) historical and philosophical instruction; and (3) cultural and anthropological instruction.

These three domains are listed in order of primacy, as biblical teaching and preaching, that inform and direct parental, pastoral, and small group-based dialogue and discovery learning exercises are crucial to STM preparation and sustainable bearing on student lives. Scripture is the rule and standard by which we must judge all other experiences and realities. The biblical plumb line is the only means by which we may faithfully ensure that the epistemological basis of the one being formed is scripturally-moored. This approach allows for a biblically-informed perspective on historical and cultural issues in mission, rather than starting with the issues of culture and historical interpretation.

This curricular scope can be seen in the following example, based on teaching Psalm 67. If, in teaching the Psalm to the participants, the teacher emphasizes the primacy of this prayer’s hope in God for the peoples of the earth to worship and glorify God, as the pinnacle outcome for mission and life, you can also canvas textual markers that demonstrate this theme throughout the Canon of Scripture (e.g., Isa 43:6-7; Jer 13:11; John 12:27-28, 17:24; Rom 3:25-26; Eph 1:4-6; Rev 21:23).[46]

Since the “nations” here are “people groups,” a teacher might also describe to them what it means for these ethno-linguistic groups to be without the gospel, giving them details about their number and place in the world. This approach enables participants to see where the exclusivity of Jesus and the state of sinful humanity come to bear on their view of global reality. This perspective can be informed by, and properly placed within, the scope of the metanarrative of Scripture as well, so that the participants understand where this material relates to creation, fall, redemption, and consummation.

At this point, offering biographical sketches of missionaries to one of these groups can round out the intentional progression from biblical, to philosophical, to cultural instruction, in one teaching session. This type of approach allows the participant to not only understand the session content, but also begin to think in this holistic manner himself.

This inclusion of historical and philosophical study, informed by theological foundations, is supportive to formational approaches to STM. Considering how the church has understood and expressed cross-cultural mission, through the centuries, can both challenge and inform missionary disciples. Expecting disciples to have a “global vision” is no new standard, and emphasizing this through the study of church history, historical theology, and missionary biography can reinforce the biblical reality that Christ is keeping his promise to build his church, across generations (Matt 16:16-18).[47]

This historical and philosophical study can also support a proper understanding of worldview development, as well as the effort to identify and contrast philosophies that run counter to orthodox Christianity, which can offer STM participants basic logic and philosophy instruction as well as an introductory apologetic background.

Mission education that is wed to STM involvement will also need to assist participants in understanding how and why people live, act, and interact, within their culture the way in which they do, from a biblically-rooted anthropological perspective. This brings the discipline of anthropology back to its genesis, since it was originally conceived as a way to “understand people from a theological perspective,” which is key to effective cross-cultural ministry.[48] Understanding, even in elementary terms, the nature of culture and man will, ideally, give STM participants the ability to begin to wisely navigate cross-cultural situations with greater wisdom.[49]

As mentioned above, the formative relationships of parents and pastoral leaders are critical in formational STM experiences. The reason for this is not the role they play in staffing the relatively brief field-based trip, but the God-ordained placement in the totality of the formational approach, by virtue of their parenthood or pastoral leadership. As comprehensive instruction takes place, it can travel in, or be reinforced through, intentional dialog with parents, family, leaders, and other STM participants.

The Church and STM: Formative Processes and Practices

To achieve maximum formational benefit, we must also root the STM approach in formative processes and practices, within the local church. Establishing processes and uniform practices demonstrates a deliberate and focused intention toward growth. This is in keeping with the commands given for Christians to actively advance in sanctification (John 14:23; 15:2, 4, 7; 1 John 1:7; 3:3; Rev 2:25; 3:11).[50] These efforts are inseparable from the positional sanctification that believers maintain, in Christ, because of his imputed righteousness. Christian formation, then, is the Holy Spirit’s work to “bond us to the Son in love.”[51] Because we are being conformed to the image of Christ, an element of the Spirit’s ongoing work is to also train us to be active in wisdom and discernment (Heb 5:14).[52]

Formation and Wisdom

Therefore, one of the salient needs for an STM philosophy is that it lend itself to encouraging those in Christ, through the teaching of parents and leaders, to actively exhibit and intentionally seek humble wisdom (Prov 8:32-36; 11:2; 16:16: 19:8). Simply stated, wisdom is clearly hearing and acting on God’s Word. The pursuit of wisdom is both found in Christ (1 Cor 1:24, 30; 1 Cor 2:7-8), and it is empowered by Jesus, the incarnate wisdom of God (Matt 11:2-4), as Christians are called to: (1) receive wisdom as a divine gift (James 1:5-8; 3:13-18); (2) fear God and trust God’s wise provision (Job 12:13; Prov 9:10; Isa 40:28; Rom 11:33); (3) make decisions wisely, in keeping with biblically-prescribed ethics (Col 1:9-10; Rom 3:31; 8:3-4; 1 Cor 7:19; 1 Thess 5:21; Gal 6:2-5; Rom 12:2; 14:22-23); and (4) teach, and be taught, wisdom to “from one generation to the next” (Deut 4:5-6).[53] Across all segments of STM preparation, deployment, and the return home, functional wisdom is to be sought and taught, so that maturational hope would be in view (1 Cor 3:1-4). 

Formation and Wisdom through the STM Cycle

The short-term mission trip is, generally, viewed as consisting of three progressive segments: (1) pre-field preparation; (2) on-field engagement; and (3) post-field reflection. This “linear” manner of looking at STM has been critiqued, because in western thinking, this enables us to see that we have “accomplished something.”[54] This certainly can be an indicator of culture guiding perception; however, distinguishing each of these aspects of STM approach from one another can also be quite helpful. This effort can enable more cogent thinking about the manner in which these segments of STM relate to one another, as well as to the ongoing teaching and praxis of the church.

If we view the pre-field, on-field, and post-field aspects as cyclical, as opposed to linear, the STM process may be harnessed as an essential means of forming disciples. From this perspective, “the stages of STM preparation, deployment, and reentry into our own culture, are part of what God is doing to shape us and those to whom we minister cross-culturally, rather than a rare and isolated vacation from the norm.”[55] This cycle would mean that disciples are always in preparation for their next STM, on the field, or going through the post-trip process, which leads progressively into the next STM experience.

Pre-Field Process and Practice

In considering pre-field formational practices, the following common elements may be required: (1) application; (2) fundraising; (3) cultural research; (4) mission book review; (5) team service projects; and (6) training meetings. In each of these areas, the emphasis is placed on the development of the participant, particularly as it is related mission awareness and preparation.

An STM application may include: (1) a written account of their conversion and spiritual journey; (2) reasons for interest in the trip; (3) any health concerns; and (4) personal references.[56] These applications give the leader an initial assessment as to the participant’s maturity, written expression, reputation with others, and fit for the specific STM team. Garnering prayer and financial support for an STM requires guidance, for many participants. There are basic principles of financial stewardship and sacrificial generosity that can be emphasized, in the process of raising funds, just as Paul did with both churches in financial hardship (Phil 4:10-20), and churches in a stronger financial position (2 Cor 8:1-9:15). This practice is part of the reality of mission deployment, for many of those who are engaged in mid and long-term placement. Their agencies, or independent ministry structures, require them to raise financial support. Understanding a little bit about this process gives STM participants a more realistic view of this dynamic, while it also provides an understanding of the ability to partner through praying and giving.[57]

Mid-term and long-term missionaries must, by necessity, study the culture to which they are going, in order to maintain biblical fidelity in their thinking and carefully contextualized practices (1 Cor 9:19-23). This balanced approach is necessary because Participants can perform abbreviated cultural research, along with reviews of mission texts, or missionary biographies, which can begin to inform their thinking about missiology, before the on-field experience.

Finally, the use of service projects and training meetings is vital to gauging, and developing, participant preparedness for STM deployment. These mandatory, shared experiences set expectations, build camaraderie, and provide the best preparation for the team. These meetings should begin several months before mobilizing short-term. Training meetings include some of the aspects above (e.g., presentation of research, tips on raising support), with the addition of logistical information (e.g., passports, travel, immunizations, etc.), and team Bible study and prayer.

On-field Process and Practice

Intentionally shaping the on-field portion of the STM for participant formation can be assisted through several practices. First, although it seems counterintuitive to some pervasive mindsets about STM goals, a significant task for many short-term teams should be to spend time with indigenous peoples, specifically those who are in Christ (assuming that the STM is in an area where a church has been established). Because formationally-oriented short-term experiences are largely focused on learning, and “getting your feet wet,” it is helpful to think through the degree to which participants can “learn from,” or “learn with” nationals.[58]

A second on-field practice is Bible study, which is accompanied by, and informs, prayer. Biblical texts and metanarrative themes, force the thoughts and prayers of participants in a Godward direction. Study topics should scaffold participants to assess the new culture, and any prominent ideas, in light of the biblical material. The hopeful intent would be that the Bible would shape their thoughts, which in turn shapes their prayers, as this a helpful lifelong practice for all believers.[59]

While debriefing is, many times, reserved for the return home from a short-term trip, daily debriefing on-field can provide a real-time barometer of how the team is processing their experience, individually and corporately. The requirement of a daily journal entry can greatly assist in this process, as well as in the post-field debriefing sessions.[60] The need for daily, focused debriefing is highlighted because the effort to utilize STM in the service of Christian formation, while many times serving in cultures hostile to biblical Christianity itself. This reality will require participants to be learners of the culture, while they are in the culture.[61] This deferential attitude, wisely tempered with instruction on the avoidance of cultural practice that might be ethically or morally compromising, must be emphasized in pre-field training and continue to be reinforced on-field.

While the on-field portion of the STM cycle is the shortest, it will likely be the most emotionally and physically intense. Because of this strain, this time can also be distressing, in muted or more pronounced measures, depending on the participant. Well-prepared parents and leaders can best support STM participants through the post-field process and practice.

Post-Field Process and Practice

Although it is an integral phase in STM, the post-field timeframe is often the most neglected, when it comes to capturing the value of the experience toward formative outcomes. By the time you step off of the plane, the work seems finished, when in fact it has just begun. Several key practices that can maximize the formational impact of these trips are assessment through debriefing, reporting to supporters, and post-trip service projects.

Assessment needs to take place within the relationships participants have with parents, mentors, and leaders. However, the “re-entry” period, needs to include several specific relational venues. First, leaders should schedule “re-entry meetings,” which allow participants to meet with parents, if a child or student, and leaders to reflect on their experience and gain guidance and direction. Second, leaders can hold “debriefing meetings.” These include both individual and team meetings, in which the team leader, or pastoral leader, leads guided discussions about the experience, with the intent to move participants toward the next appropriate developmental step. Finally, “next step meetings” can integrate the participant’s personal observations, team discussion, and leader(s) insight. From this collective information, a next steps plan can be established and executed in concert with all of the influence connections (parents, leaders, team, church). These post-field steps enable the student to continue mission thinking, while pointing them toward the next cross-cultural action or behavior.

Prebriefing (pre-field) and debriefing (on-field and post-field) processes are crucial to the optimization of mission service and outreach as a preferred means of formative development.[62] Quality debriefing can provide a piece of the necessary discipleship scaffolding for participants in STM to develop wisdom. If wisdom, as mentioned already, is a chief indicator of Christian maturation and growth, debriefing provides an environmental practice which allows participants to better move from simple knowledge of their experiences, to understanding why these things are so, and finally to a wise apprehension of how they might act, biblically, in light of these experiences.[63]

Upon their return, participants will also want to communicate with those that supported them. This not only informs those who have prayed and given, but it can also strengthen the students’ understanding of, and commitment to, mission outcomes. The resultant encouragement that they may receive from some supporters can also help to undergird their commitments.

Along with the ongoing debriefing and recounting of experiences, participants need to also be involved in similar cross-cultural service at home. Mission principles and practice have to live and breathe as they do, where they are, and wherever they may go. The distinction here is that, as was the case in preparing them to go, when they return home, service projects act as a continuation of what has taken place. Ideally, this hands-on exercise, then, becomes another step in their pre-field progression to the next short-term deployment.

In an approach to STM that is rooted in Christian formation and Great Commission understanding, the pre-field, on-field, and post-field movements must be understood in light of, and made subordinate to, a broader formational framework. The off-field elements of short-term mission are crucial to a formational approach, as these are the means to establish true understanding and wisdom, in regard to the STM trip itself


Formative, lasting change may happen as a result of isolated short-term mission trips. However, an approach that demands a more robust view of STM, informed by Christian formation through the church and home in philosophy and method, may provide an optimized approach for families and churches alike. If wisdom is granted by God, the STM participant may develop greater gospel understanding of himself, his family, the church, the lost, the world, and how each of these point to the immeasurable worth and glory of God. If that is achieved, then perhaps the doxological criteria that Jonathan Edwards offered to a missionary society gathering more than 200 years ago will, in some sense, have been met: “. . . the glory of God, a regard to his honor and praise in the spread of the gospel, ought to be the governing motive in all missionary exertions and the animating principle in the breast of missionaries.”[64]

[1] Walter Kaiser, Mission in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 7.

[2] Andreas Köstenberger and Peter O’Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2001), 27.

[3] Desmond Alexander, “Further Observations on the Term ‘Seed’ in Genesis,” Tyndale Bulletin 48 (1997), 363. For additional discussion on a singular, rather than plural, understanding of “seed” in Genesis 3:15, see also James Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 75-76.

[4] John Sailhamer, The Meaning of the Pentateuch (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2009), 221-23. Also see John Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in vol. 2 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 55-56.

[5] John Stott, “The Living God is a Missionary God,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, 3rd ed., ed. Ralph Winter and Steven Hawthorne (Pasadena: William Carey, 1999), 4.

[6] Walter Kaiser, “Israel’s Missionary Call,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, 3rd ed., ed. Ralph Winter and Steven Hawthorne (Pasadena: William Carey, 1999), 11.

[7] Christopher Wright, The Mission of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2006), 503.

[8] Ibid., 502-03.

[9] Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, What is the Mission of the Church? (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 43.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Gregg Allison, Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 140-41.

[12] Köstenberger and O’Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth, 19.

[13] Robert Plummer, “The Great Commission in the New Testament,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 9.4 (2005): 4.

[14] Ibid., 9.

[15] Ibid.

[16] John Harvey, “Mission in Matthew,” in Mission in the New Testament, ed. William Larkin and Joel Williams (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1998), 131-32.

[17] Lucien Legrand, Unity and Plurality (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1990), 78.

[18] Eckhard Schnabel, Jesus and the Twelve, vol. 1 in Early Christian Mission (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004), 355.

[19] Ibid., 355-56.

[20] William Larkin, “Mission in Acts,” in Mission in the New Testament, ed. William Larkin and Joel Williams (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1998), 177.

[21] Ibid., 185.

[22] James Hamilton, God’s Indwelling Presence (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2006), 85.

[23] Plummer, “The Great Commission in the New Testament,” 9.

[24] DeYoung and Gilbert, What is the Mission of the Church?, 62.

[25] For an historical overview of the development of short-term missions philosophy, terminology, and use in relationship to longer-term service personnel see Brian Howell, Short-Term Mission: An Ethnography of Christian Travel Narrative and Experience (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2012), 69-101. Within this discussion, Howell notes that simultaneously advances in air travel technology, global air travel infrastructure, and a spike in disposable income, from the late 1960’s through the 1980’s correlate to the growth in STM.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Enoch Wan and Geoffrey Hart, “Complementary Aspects of Short-Term Missions and Long-Term Missions: Case Studies for a Win-Win Situation,” in Effective Engagement in Short-Term Missions, ed. Robert Priest (Pasadena: William Carey, 2008), 65-66.

[28] Empirical data is mixed in establishing a strong correlation between short-term deployment and long-term engagement in longitudinal studies. For example, see Scott Moreau, “Short-term Missions in the Context of Missions, Inc.” in Effective Engagement in Short-Term Missions, ed. Robert Priest (Pasadena: William Carey, 2008), 1-34.

[29] Howell, Short-Term Mission, 20.

[30] Timothy Paul Jones and Michael Wilder, “Faith Development and Christian Formation, “ in Christian Formation: Integrating Theology and Human Development, ed. James Estep and Jonathan Kim (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 193.

[31] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 445.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 208.

[34] Anthony Hoekema, Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 216.

[35] Michael Wilder and Shane Parker, Transformission: Making Disciples through Short-Term Missions (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 118-19.

[36] Gary Parrett and Steve Kang, Teaching the Faith, Forming the Faithful (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 412. Parrett and Steve Kang emphasize a comprehensive approach to Christian formation, within the context of the church as New Covenant community. The writers note that “three great tasks” of the church, historically and contemporarily, have been worship, formation, and outreach, which are interrelated and overlapping.

[37] Although the longitudinal study focuses on “religious continuity” and “faith transmission,” rather than biblically-rooted norms of Christian formation, the findings offered in Vern Bengston, Norella Putney and Susan Harris, Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down across Generations (New York: Oxford, 2013) indirectly support the catalog of community norms presented here.

[38] Priest, Effective Engagement in Short-Term Missions, ii-iv.

[39] Jay Strother, “Family-Equipping Ministry: Church and Home as Cochampions,” in Perspectives on Family Ministry, ed. Timothy Paul Jones (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2009), 153.

[40] Steve Keels and Dan Vorm, Transparenting (Nashville: B&H, 2006), 71-73.

[41] Merton Strommen and Richard Hardel, Passing on the Faith (Winona: Saint Mary’s, 2000), 81.

[42] Joseph Hellerman, When the Church Was a Family (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2009), 223-28.

[43] Greg Ogden, Transforming Discipleship (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 105-17. The author outlines a model of discipleship and formation that is derived from the following Pauline epistolary themes: “imitation” of a model (1 Cor 4:16; “identification” with the mentor (1 Thess 2:7); “exhortation” to live faithfully (2 Tim 4:5); and “participation” in partnership with the disciple (Rom 1:11-12).

[44] Tom Telford, All-Star Missions Churches (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 133-34.

[45] Wilder and Parker, Transformission, 217-18.

[46] See John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 22-27, for a more extensive listing of texts outlining God’s intention that all mission be for His glory, as it is established among the nations.

[47] Gregg Allison, Historical Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 28-29.

[48] Paul Hiebert, Cultural Anthropology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983), xvi.

[49] David Livermore, Serving with Eyes Wide Open (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 111. Livermore offers his theory of “Cultural Intelligence,” which provides a framework specifically designed to assist STM participants in becoming more adept at navigating cross-cultural experiences with understanding. See also David Livermore, Cultural Intelligence (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009).

[50] Bruce Demarest, The Cross and Salvation: The Doctrine of Salvation (Wheaton: Crossway, 1997), 411. Demarest outlines these practices as “abiding in Christ (John 15:4, 7), walking in the light of God’s presence (1 John1:7), holding fast to their Christian profession (Rev 2:25; 3:11), purifying themselves from sin (1 John 3:3), continuing in Christ’s teaching (John 14:23; 15:7), and submitting to providential discipline (John 15:2).”

[51] Kyle Strobel, Formed for the Glory of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2013), 13.

[52] John Piper, Counted Righteous in Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2002), 80.

[53] Eckhard Schnabel, “Wisdom,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. Desmond Alexander, Brian Rosner, Donald Carson, and Graeme Goldsworthy (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2000), 843-48.

[54] Roger Peterson, Gordon Aeschliman, and Wayne Sneed, Maximum Impact Short-Term Mission (Minneapolis: STEM, 2003), 128.

[55] Wilder and Parker, Transformission, 201.

[56] Judy TenElshof, “Selecting and Screening Volunteers for Service,” in The Short-Term Missions Boom, ed. Michael Anthony (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 65-66.

[57] Kathy Hicks, Scaling the Wall (Waynesboro: Authentic, 2003), 183.

[58] Duane Elmer, Cross-Cultural Servanthood (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2006), 93. See also Richard Slimbach, “First, Do No Harm,” Evangelical Missions Quarterly 36 (2000): 439.

[59] Donald Whitney, Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2001), 34-35.

[60] Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1991), 206-07.

[61] Sherwood Lingenfelter and Marvin Mayers, Ministering Cross-Culturally (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 24-25.

[62] Ibid.

[63] David Johnstone, “Closing the Loop: Debriefing the Short-Term College Mission Team,” Missiology 34 (2006): 525.

[64] Jonathan Edwards, “To the Glory of God,” in Classic Texts in Mission and World Christianity, ed. Norman Thomas (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1995), 60.

The post The Function of Short Term Mission Experiences in Christian Formation appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Exploring the Impact of Collegiate Context on Pre-Ministry Undergraduate Epistemological Maturity and Formation

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 05/05/2017 - 15:24

A series of recent and ongoing research studies are exploring the nature and extent of intellectual and ethical maturation among pre-ministry evangelical undergraduates at varying institutional types. This line of research represents the most in-depth analysis ever conducted among this population with regard to epistemological development—i.e., students’ maturity in their ways of thinking, reasoning, and judgment, as well as in their personal commitments to ways of living that exhibit a reflective consistency with the biblical worldview. This article highlights a number of prominent and notable common themes identified in the findings of this research as bearing relevance to pre-ministry undergraduates’ epistemological development, personal formation, and Christian discipleship. Also, the nature and impact of varying social-environmental conditions among pre-ministry college students is addressed.

Research Context

The findings and themes presented in this article are drawn from the initial study[1] in an ongoing series of qualitative research studies, in which pre-ministry undergraduates from three institutional contexts were interviewed according to a standardized semi-structured interview protocol.[2] The three institutional contexts included secular universities, confessional liberal arts universities, and Bible colleges. Thirty students, including ten from each context, were interviewed. This study thus served to initiate precedent findings for subsequent studies to augment and deepen lines of inquiry and investigation among this population. Currently, follow-up studies are being conducted in each of the three original contexts, and additionally among pre-ministry undergraduates and evangelicals attending non-confessional liberal arts universities, two-year colleges and universities, and evangelical seminaries.

While the Perry Scheme of Intellectual and Ethical Development[3] served as an interpretive lens for the study, the researcher introduced the “Principle of Inverse Consistency” as a paradigm for critically interacting with Perry and other developmental theories.[4] Additionally, an original methodological contribution of the study was the design and implementation of a new content analysis framework for identifying and qualifying various elements of epistemological positioning. This framework articulates three categories within which epistemic priorities and competencies may be categorized: (1) biblically-founded presuppositions for knowledge and development, (2) metacognition, critical reflection, and contextualistic orientation, and (3) personal responsibility for knowledge acquisition and maintenance, within community.[5]

In addition to the findings gleaned from this structured analysis, the research yielded a number of prominent, common, and epistemically-formative themes that emerged directly from participants’ articulations related to their particular institutional environments. The significance of these themes was determined according to consistent recurrence among interviewees within or across differing institutional types. Relatedly, categories of pre-ministry students’ perspectives and positions on various issues germane to the college experience were discerned. These themes, identified in the original study and currently the subject of intentional exploration in the ongoing research, are recounted in detail below.

Pre-Ministry Undergraduates

The body of literature comprised by studies on the topic of undergraduate epistemological development is well-established and wide-ranging. Prior to the initiation of this line or research, however, no study addressed the distinctiveness of varying types of institutions in affecting or promoting epistemological maturity among evangelical students, nor had any study specifically engaged the population of pre-ministry college students with regard to intellectual and ethical development. This population represents a diverse range of college students who experience cognitive maturation, identity-formation, social assimilation, and professional preparation in markedly differing environments, depending on which type of college they attend. Given the formative nature of the college years[6] and the essentiality of environmental factors in human development,[7] the influence of institutional types represents a topic worthy of exploration with regard to pre-ministry undergraduates’ worldview, identity, and lifestyle.

Unlike many professions that require mastery of specified disciplines of study on the undergraduate level, there are no specific prerequisite degree requirements for pre-ministry students, regardless of whether or not they enroll in seminary. The result of this is that students preparing for a career in ministry develop their epistemological priorities and values while immersed a number of different institutional contexts—contexts which, by their diverging nature, have unique formational influences and manifestations. This initial study along with its follow-up studies are investigating the nature of these divergences and the resulting effects on pre-ministry students’ maturation.

Significant Recurring Themes

The general findings of the structured content analysis procedures undertaken in the initial phase of this research indicate that overall, epistemological positioning is generally consistent among pre-ministry students from differing institutional contexts.[8] By certain measures, however, positional ratings among institutional groupings are appreciably distinguishable.[9] Extending from the structured analysis protocols, a priority for this series of research studies is the identification of recurring themes that illuminate the impact of differing social-academic environments and cultures on pre-ministry undergraduates’ epistemological perspectives and values. Unlike the findings based on the structured analysis, differentiations between the epistemological expressions of participants from varying institutional types are readily apparent with regard to these prominent themes. The following is a summary of notable themes derived from the initial research study in this series.

The Primacy of Relationships

The most prominent common theme that voluntarily emerged among participants in this study was the primacy of relationships as the most significant single, formative aspect of the overall college experience. Among multiple instances of coordination, this finding most specifically harmonizes with one of the most prominent and definitive works in higher education literature–Astin’s What Matters in College? Four Critical Years Revisited. Astin’s extensive, longitudinal study suggests two key realities regarding the influence and impact of relationships during college: the nature of faculty-student relationships strongly affects both the quality of higher education and students’ satisfaction and appreciation of their college experience; and, “The student’s peer group is the single most potent source of influence on growth and development during the undergraduate years.”[10] Both of these findings were clearly reflected in this study, though with different emphases according to institutional affiliation.

Following Perry, the researcher began each interview with the general question, “Thinking back through your college experience overall, what would you say most stands out to you? What was most significant to you?” In response to this question, nearly three-fourths of responses were predicated on the primacy of relationships, including eight Bible college students, seven liberal arts university students, and seven secular university students. Figure 1 illustrates the striking majorities of students from each institutional context who stated that their college experience was most significantly defined by their relational connections and experiences.

Figure 1 illustrates the striking majorities of students from each institutional context who stated that their college experience was most significantly defined by their relational connections and experiences.

While a majority of all participants cited the primacy of relationships as the most definitive element of their overall college experiences, differentiations were apparent among sample groupings. Of the seven Bible college students who referred to their relationships as most significant, all but one of them spoke specifically of their relationships with professors. Ashley[11] was a recent Bible college graduate who compared the benefit of the relational connections between students and teachers at Boyce College versus a lack of connection at other schools with which she was familiar or had personal experience.

Figure 1. Initial Responses to “What most stands out to you about your college experience?”

Just being able to come to a college where the professors are investing daily in their students and wanting to genuinely help them through college. Any other college I had been to, it was just like you come, you go, and the professors don’t really care unless you come to them. It was just really nice to have that relationship with the professors at Boyce, and know that they aren’t just there to teach, but they want to see you grow in your walk with the Lord and in every aspect of the ministry that you’re going into.

Of the seven liberal arts university students who cited relationships as the most significant aspect of college for them, a wide range of variation was evident. Students spoke about several different avenues of relational connection, including relationships with professors, mentors, peers or close friends, church, campus life connections, and dating relationships. Jacob commented on the link between the genuine peer relationships he had through his college’s residential community and the solidification of his own calling, as well as identification with the body of Christ. He responded in this way when asked by the researcher about how his residential community experiences impacted his life such that he would not have been the same otherwise:

A big part of it is just realizing different approaches on the Christian life. If I would’ve stayed at home I would’ve been around a lot of the same people I grew up with. Being able to come here to college and being thrown into an atmosphere where not only do people have different backgrounds as far as denominations go, but also the fact that I’m a Bible major and a lot of my friends are engineers and science majors. I’ve always enjoyed science, but how they view and live out their Christian life, what they hope to do and accomplish in life as an engineer or as a business man–it’s just a different view that I might have, considering I’m going into full-time ministry. And I think it’s really challenged me to step back and reconsider, “Why am I going into full-time ministry? How can I use business and other contexts that I have to best glorify and best help the Kingdom, working together as a community of believers. Just being able to talk about differing subjects and even conflicts that we may have, but realizing that we’re still the body of Christ and working through it to really understand each other better and understand the issue better.

Responses from secular university students who emphasized the defining significance of relationships in their college experiences all centered on the nature of belonging and developing within authentic Christian community. Some of these responses emphasized relationships with campus ministry leaders in particular, but each focused more broadly on the significance of maintaining a bond of Christian community within the secular university context. Adam spoke about how his active involvement in the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) at his school facilitated his spiritual awakening, development, and discipleship mentality, coming from a non-Christian background.

The people there (BCM Bible study group) realized where I was coming from, and I told them about my spiritual background, so they held me accountable. They kept me in check in making sure that I was doing fine. They constantly asked me if I was doing okay—wanting to help me out with anything I was having trouble with. And I opened up to them, which is something that I never did with anybody, even in my own family. . . . Since then, I’ve become a lot more of an outgoing person. I used to be really shy. . . . As I went along in my college career, I started to turn my attention more towards the people around me and how they were developing.


Another prominent theme that was intentionally addressed in almost every research interview was the influence and importance of mentors. The researcher asked interviewees whether or not they had a mentor relationship during college, and all but four respondents confirmed that they did. Most commonly in each sample grouping, students’ mentors were pastors or ministry leaders. Five Bible college students and five liberal arts university students reported that their mentors were pastors or ministry leaders in their local churches. In contrast, mentors for each the six secular university students who reported having pastoral-type mentors were campus ministry leaders.

Alex was a liberal arts university student whose primary mentoring relationship was with his pastor, but he also reported having mentor-type relationships with some of his peers and teachers. He said this when asked about the sum impact of his mentoring relationships:

There is just absolutely no way to quantify the impact. There’s things that I think and do that I might not ever know why I did them, but it very well could be because of what I’ve been taught by those guys, and how I’ve seen them live their lives. So I think it’s just kind of impossible to quantify the sum impact, but I will say that those guys and the relationships that I’ve been in have forever changed my life. Ask me in 45-50 years if I’m still kicking, and I’ll still probably tell you something similar.

Joseph, a Bible college student, also spoke about the overall value and impact of having a mentor during college.

You can learn so much from a book; you can learn great philosophy from a book; but if you really want to learn practical things, and if you really want to learn real things that can genuinely, directly help you, you really need a mentor to guide you through it. Their wisdom and guidance are invaluable, because they’ve been through ministry; they’ve done years of this, so nothing really surprises them. They’ve gone through it and they’ve come out the other side. And they know you as well, which is something that a lecture or a book really can’t help. They personally know you, your situation, and they know the best way that you could handle something. . . . They can really custom-fit and speak truth into your life.

Jeffrey, a secular university student, emphasized the impact of his mentoring relationship on his holistic development–particularly how the relationship engendered a manner of thinking that is predicated on God’s special revelation.

(Jeffrey) He was my campus minister at the BCM. I can’t remember who actually first introduced this idea–the idea of a three-stranded cord of Paul, Timothy, and Barnabas. You have a Paul figure–a guy that invests in you and pours into you, and a Barnabas figure who is right by your side like your best friend, and your Timothy is the person that you pour into and you see a flow or movement of discipleship through that model. And he was really the first Paul figure that I’ve had in my life–a guy that challenged me. He talked through some tough passages with me, he led me through a lot of things, and he never forced me to think about anything–he let me think more for myself. That was really huge.

(Interviewer) In what ways did you start thinking more for yourself? What do you mean by that?

(Jeffrey) Like, trusting in the fact that the same Holy Spirit that is in him and that’s in theologians is in me, and I can trust in the Holy Spirit as I should trust in the Holy Spirit to speak to me about Scripture, and let God’s Word speak for itself and devote myself to that study.

Some participants reported that their mentors were their college teachers. Among these were four Bible college students and three liberal arts university students. No secular university students reported having mentors who were also their college teachers. One secular university student reported that his primary mentor was one of his peers. Notably, no participants reported that they had mentoring relationships with one or both of their parents.

Relationship with Teachers

The nature of participants’ relationships with their college professors was a theme that provided clear distinctives between students from different institutional contexts. Overall, Bible college and liberal arts university students reported having relationships with one or more of their teachers that were personal, substantive, and dynamic. By contrast, no secular university students reported having a significant personal relationship with their professors. Among Bible college and liberal arts university students, teachers were often referenced as either pastoral influences or personal friends, and sometimes in both respects. Amanda, a Bible college student, said this regarding the pastoral nature of Boyce College professors:

You learn a lot about living life in the ministry and growing in your relationship with Christ and walking with Christ from the professors at Boyce, because they show it and they talk about it and they lead in that way. I feel like it was very beneficial and influential for my personal walk to be under people who were showing us and teaching us how to walk with Christ. . . . Most of them were very pastoral in nature towards us, and it was really neat to see all the stuff that we were learning working out in the immediate life of a minister, and to know that we weren’t just learning something from a book; we were learning stuff that really was being effective in the local church.

Eric expressed his perspective on how having personal friendships with his professors affected his educational experience and personal development.

At Union there’s an underlying, often unspoken, sometimes spoken principle that Christian education is really about more than preparing you to enter into the work force; it’s about training you as an individual and directing you to a certain end. And I feel like I got another level of that training because the same people whose job it was to train me in those aspects–when you enter into a friendship-type relationship in addition to the teacher-student one, the same goals are still there, but it is all the more practical and available in the sense that we spend that much more time together, and we talk about whatever comes up in regular activity. I think just the time and the availability make those goals of education happen all the more. There are that many more opportunities to direct the student to those ends.

Purpose of College

Another clear differentiation emerged among participants from varying institutional contexts with regard to their perspectives on the essential purpose of college. The researcher discerned three categories of perspectives that corresponded to participants’ attendance at their respective types of schools.

Students who attended confessional Christian liberal arts universities, by a proportion of 70% of respondents, expressed that the primary purpose of college is thus: to shape one’s identity as a person, holistically–to establish a mature, authentic lifestyle and manner of thinking. One Bible college student and no secular university students provided this type of response.      Numerous expressions on the part of liberal arts university students articulated this priority. When asked about “how students should change as a result of going through college,” Tyler responded in this way: “Their worldviews, their way of thinking, their way of executing their work, their way of studying, their way of handling difficult situations, their way of dealing with people and interacting with people–just all those different aspects of life should’ve changed for the better. The way they view society, the way they view how they act with their friends.” Emphasizing the intellectual-lifestyle objective of college, Jacob said, “College should be a place where you learn how to be a learner.” Kevin summed up the “proper” holistic-developmental priority of undergraduate education by referring to his own experience:

I think one thing college has taught me–particularly a liberal arts college like Union–is learning how to live well, which sounds like a really vague statement. But I’ve learned the importance of making sure that I’m a well-rounded person, appreciating things like music and art, and engaging myself in different cultural mediums–not just combining myself and my learning into one career or into one specific task, but just growing intellectually in the same way that I’m striving to grow spiritually. So one thing that I would hope that students would learn from college is just to have the proper view of education. Unfortunately, I don’t know that all colleges give that.

A secondary theme that emerged among liberal arts university students was that a college education should serve as a means of increasing in knowledge in order to construct a coherent worldview. In recommendation of this prioritization, Thomas said, “A student coming out of high school going into college should end up with a concrete worldview, and should have a consistent philosophy and ideology across the board. What I mean by that is: not pick and choose when to believe certain things; not pick and choose to believe the Bible at times and not at other times.”

Bible college students expressed a different priority regarding the purpose of college. According to 70% of participants within this grouping, the primary purpose of college is thus: to gain knowledge that is applicable, in order to prepare for one’s vocation. One secular university student and no liberal arts students expressed this view.

Among the typical expressions that articulated this view was a statement made by Chris, that the purpose of college “is to prepare you for work in the real world of ministry.” Also, Joseph stressed that college students should maintain involvement in local church ministry and seek out opportunities to learn from mentors. He articulated the purpose of one’s college education in terms of broad, vocation-oriented learning: “Ministry has so many different aspects and so many different elements . . . so you need to learn and take classes and have a working knowledge of every aspect of church and ministry, so you can at least be equipped and it won’t be a surprise to you.” Anthony, a recent Bible college graduate who also had the experience of attending a liberal arts university, provided a perspective that clearly focused on vocationally applicable learning while also integrating the majority liberal arts view of education:

I do feel like an ideal college education involves knowledge being imparted–so yes, intellectual growth. Those categories of knowledge need to be created if they’re not there, they need to be broadened if they’re already there. They need to be challenged and sharpened. But it has to go beyond that. Life-on-life mentoring with professors and mentors is where that knowledge really–where the rubber meets the road and that knowledge can be applied as wisdom. So I would say: transferring of knowledge, life-on-life application of that knowledge such that wisdom is modeled, and then opportunities to apply that knowledge in wise ways oneself. So definitely hands-on ministry–getting messy in the local church. I feel like that is so important for college students to realize. As they’re learning these categories, they need to hit the harsh realities of everyday life. And they need to be sharpened and softened–or hardened–with the reality of messy ministry in the local church.

A clear and unique perspective regarding the purpose of college also emerged among secular university participants. Among this sample grouping, 70% of respondents expressed that the primary purpose of college is thus: to “grow up” or mature in personal (self-identity) and practical (self-responsibility) ways; to increasingly exhibit a sense of personal responsibility regarding education and life. While this view represented more than half of secular university participants, no Bible college or liberal arts university students made any expression related to this priority.

Students from five of the six represented secular universities provided statements that reflected the sample grouping majority. Adam, a participant who became a Christian and committed to vocational ministry during his time at Kentucky State University, said that “a complete, full satisfying college education is one where you find yourself. College is where you split off from everything that you’re used to. . . . You can become you in college.” Similarly, Lauren said, “My college experience has allowed me to get to know myself. I thought I knew myself before coming to college, but I didn’t. I didn’t know a lot about myself, and everyday I find out something new, and I’m just blown away!” In his articulation regarding the primary purpose of college education, Cody summarized the connections between personal responsibility, hard work, devotion to the task of learning in general, and appreciation for the educational process. He said,

A student should gain an appreciation for education. I feel like often middle school or high school students think really dutifully of homework and studying and reading. Because in high school you have homework every night, practically, and you have classes every day for seven hours a day. And in college, usually you get a syllabus that has when your four papers are due and when your four tests are. And you can look at it in a dutiful way, or you can treat it as a job and understand that this is beneficial to you, and you need to read and you need to study and you need to do well. So just having an appreciation for education–I would say that’s as important as whatever degree you get. . . . You need to learn to apply yourself, and you need to care and be intentional about whatever you’re learning.

Impact of College

The researcher was able to discern multiple common sub-themes among participants across and within differing institutional contexts with regard to the overall personal impact of the college experience. While multiple issues and findings explicated in this research coordinated with the results of Pacarella and Terenzini’s comprehensive examination of the effect of the college experience on students, similarities and echoes were most notable in light of these sub-themes. In the most recent volume of How College Affects Students, the authors report that throughout college, “Students not only made statistically significant gains in factual knowledge and in a range of general cognitive and intellectual skills but also changed significantly on a broad spectrum of value, attitudinal, psychosocial, and moral dimensions.”[12] Broadly speaking, the self-reports of the pre-ministry students included in this research indicated that the college experience facilitated a period of personal growth and change that was fundamental, holistic, and permanent. It should be noted that in many respects, the nature of the impact of college on students has been documented to be generally consistent over the past half-century. Pascarella and Terenzini summarize the highlights of this abiding impact for all college students–including (albeit with some inversely-oriented orientations of growth) the participants in this study:

Students learn to think in more abstract, critical, complex, and reflective ways; there is a general liberalization of values and attitudes combined with an increase in cultural and artistic interests and activities; progress is made toward the development of personal identities and more positive self-concepts; and there is an expansion and extension of interpersonal horizons, intellectual interests, individual autonomy, and general psychological maturity and well-being.[13]

In this research, the most general and common sub-theme–articulated by nearly half of all participants–was the recognition that from the beginning of college to the end, he or she became “a completely different person.” This expression was provided by fourteen participants, including seven Bible college students, four liberal arts university students, and three secular university students. Among them was Joseph, a Bible college student who made a clear statement about the fundamental change that he underwent regarding vocational direction, personal maturity, and practical responsibility.

Oh me, I’m a completely different person! As a freshman, I was really unfocused. Ministry was far-off. I was very immature. I knew I wanted to do ministry, but it was far-off, and I just wanted to enjoy college. . . . When I was 18, it was a great blessing that I was able to go to school for free. I could go full-time, I didn’t have to work, so I could just focus on school. I didn’t really have to worry about financing. . . . Now I’m working in a bi-vocational position at a church. The church covers about 60% of what I need, and I work another part-time job about 30 hours a week. I’m a lot more focused, I would say. That would be the key difference: I’m a lot more focused; I’m a lot more mature. In regards to, “This is exactly what I want to do”–I wouldn’t do anything else. This is my passion. This is my desire. I’m a lot more responsible, a lot more mature, and a lot more focused.

Mark, a secular university student who committed to vocational ministry during college, framed his metamorphosis in terms of a shifting view of himself with regard to his sense of overarching purpose and personal motivation.

I feel like I’m a completely different person, almost entirely. My mindset was completely different as a freshman. It was just like, “How can I look the coolest? How can I have the most friends and be in the in-crowd? What can I do to advance myself socially?” And now at the end of college, my heart and my mind are more focused on God and what he wants for my life and how I can serve him. So I think it’s really a huge difference from “how can I serve myself?” to “how can I serve God?”

The most common sub-theme that was directly relatable to participants’ epistemological attitudes and development was evident in multiple students’ expressions that the college experience served to confront him or her with what (or how much) he or she did not know. This expression was identified in more than one-third of all research interviews, including five liberal arts university students, four Bible college students, and two secular university students. While a correlation between this expression and epistemological maturity could not be suggested based on the data acquired in this study, it was observed that most students who provided statements that reflected this perspective received positional ratings in the higher ranges of the sample population. Furthermore, these expressions often provided prime examples of Perry’s concept of “metathought,” or the ability to think about thinking. When asked to elaborate on what he meant by saying that learning was a process of finding out how much he did not know, Robert, a recent Bible college graduate, spoke from his own experience and articulated an implication that addressed the doctrine of progressive sanctification.

From high school to college you realize, “I was really dumb in high school.” That’s your first thought. Then you think, “well, maybe I’m dumb now and I just don’t realize it.” Then sure enough as time goes on you begin to realize that you really do have a lot to learn. So I don’t think I have any of this completely figured out at all. So when I say that “the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know,” I just mean that I think it’s going to be a long walk and a long process for me to get to where I need to go, and it won’t end until perfection in the New Creation. I just think that I should be learning to be faithful where I’m at, and trusting that I don’t have all the answers. That’s been a big lesson for me to learn throughout my college career.

Richard, a recent secular university graduate who also attended a liberal arts university for two years, provided the clearest articulation of this view. He explained how the recognition of his own lack of complete understanding yielded a spirit of humility that enabled him to apply a new perspective and attitude to his interactions with other believers as well as non-believers.

From my freshman year to my senior year, I really learned how I knew a lot less. When I was a freshman, I was more arrogant–I thought I knew everything, so I didn’t need all this. But as a senior I realized how much I didn’t know. And so I guess I really learned a lot more humility . . . . Through my years of college, God really showed me how much I didn’t know, how much I needed to change my own life, and my own personal character flaws that I needed to address. So as a freshman, I was quick to argue, slow to listen, quick to answer, and always all about myself and what I thought was correct. So I was always quick to jump on people if I thought they were wrong on something, because of how much I thought I knew on everything. And now as a senior I really realize how much I didn’t know and how much I don’t know, and I have just learned to be a lot more humble in my interactions with people, and also in just being more gracious in discussions with people with whom I disagree.

A third clear sub-theme that emerged among liberal arts and secular university students regarding was that a decisive impact of the college experience involved the process of gaining more independence and responsibility in practical matters or personal discipline–i.e., gaining a more mature perspective with regard to entering adulthood and the professional world. Half of respondents within the liberal arts and secular university sample groupings provided expressions that reflected this perspective. Notably, no Bible college students put forth this type of articulation. A typical statement representative of this sub-theme was made by Jacob, a first-semester senior at Cedarville University.

I would say the biggest point of responsibility I’ve seen myself grow in is just managing time and relationships. . . . I’ve realized that the things that I’m going to devote my time to need to be things that matter in retrospect to God’s Kingdom and the work that he would have us do as Christians. . . . I think that’s probably the biggest thing–being able to step back and look and see which things in life I should keep pursuing, and which things that, although not necessarily wrong, are just taking up time that could be better used elsewhere.

The fourth sub-theme relating to the overall impact of the college experience emerged among an equal number of students from each of the three institutional context groups in this study was the expression of development from a more legalistic or personalistic perspective to a more authentic, personally-committed, and selfless perspective regarding one’s faith, worldview and lifestyle. Three students from each sample grouping provided statements that reflected this transition. One of the clearest articulations that represented this sub-theme came from Mark, a pre-ministry student who experienced a faith-transformation while attending the University of Louisville:

I had a general understanding of the gospel, of who Jesus was–that he died for my sins, that he rose again–but I don’t think that there was a relationship there. Because it’s not just “I recognize that Jesus exists,” it’s having that relationship with God. I think that I lacked that relationship. I believed that Jesus was the son of God and all those things, but there was no fruit in my life. There was no proof of a changed heart. Being a Christian for me was just like being a good person; like, “If I don’t do this, don’t do that–Jesus tells me not to do those things, so if I don’t do those things I’m a Christian; I don’t drink or smoke like all my friends in high school, so I must be okay.” That was the mentality I had about Christianity. It was very legalistic. Coming into college changed this idea of legalism to the idea of freedom in Christ, and grace, and a relationship with Christ.

One final sub-theme that also emerged among an equal number of participants from each sample grouping was expressed as a transition from a faith and worldview that was accepted or received from one’s parents, church, peers, etc., to a faith and worldview that was personally-invested–i.e., maintaining one’s convictions in a responsible manner.

Three participants from each category provided statements that represented this perspective. Among them was Sarah, a liberal arts university student, who related her own self-confrontational experience:

I had to make a decision: if being a Christian was just something I’d grown up with and something my parents had taught me, or if it was something that I truly and completely believed in. I had to make that decision for myself without anybody there to hold my hand and take me to church, to Bible study, to the BCM where I was going to grow. I had to make the decision to do those things.

Perspective regarding Seminary

One theme that was intentionally engaged by the researcher in almost every interview was participants’ perspectives regarding seminary. All responses were assignable to one of two positions, with the exception of one response by a liberal arts university students who articulated a hybrid-view, incorporating both positions.

A clear majority of all participants were classified as having an “idealistic” perspective regarding seminary–the view that seminary is primarily necessary or beneficial for the knowledge and skills that are to be gained there, in preparation for vocational ministry. Every secular university student maintained this perspective, as well as eight of the ten liberal arts university students, and six of the ten Bible college students. Cody, a secular university student, expressed his personal view that seminary would serve as a necessary completion of his ministry preparation on a formal level, after being trained on an experiential level in college. He said,

It’s necessary for me to go to seminary for knowledge. There’s too many pastors who don’t know why they do what they do. And even me, I’m still figuring it out. As a pastor–as someone who is going to teach the Word of God and who is going to serve in the church the way that God has designed Christians to interact here on earth–you need to know the history of the church and you need to know the Scriptures and how the church should be set up–the polity. You need to be able to counsel people. You need to be wise in the decisions that you make and how you lead the church. I feel like I got plenty of ministry experience serving at Campus Crusade and serving at my church through college, but those are things you have to investigate on your own and what you have to be taught and read.

Alex articulated his idealistic view by expressing his hope that his seminary education would share priorities that are in concert with his idea of a liberal arts education–focusing on “expanding horizons” and interacting with ideas in an effort to arrive at a more informed, reflective set of convictions.

I hope to be challenged. In the same way as Union–I want my horizons expanded. I want to not necessarily arrive at different conclusions, but be exposed to a whole lot of different perspectives along the way to those conclusions. So maybe I go into Southern (seminary) thinking this way about the atonement. I may leave Southern thinking the exact same way about the atonement, but on the other side of Southern, I hope to have been exposed to a lot of different perspectives.

In contrast to the idealistic view, a second categorization of participants’ perspectives regarding seminary was the “practical-utilitarian” view–that seminary is primarily necessary because it is a prerequisite for obtaining employment in a career-type ministry position. Among respondents who expressed the practical-utilitarian view, four were Bible college students and one was a liberal arts university student. Most notably, Aaron expressed his disappointment and frustration because of the virtual “requirement” of a seminary degree in order to be considered as a qualified candidate for employment at most local churches.

I dont think it’s necessary (to go to seminary), but it is necessary. It’s necessary because churches have such a skewed idea, that you look at almost any requirement, and they require a piece of paper before they think you’re qualified to be a pastor. . . . I’ll be honest with you, . . . I don’t think that seminary, in any way, shape, or form, is going to be very beneficial for me. I would see more of a hindrance than a benefit, in the sense that it’s going to steal more time away from the church I’m already serving at. It’s going to be rehashing all the exact same things we studied at Boyce. . . . I’m very much aware that not many people will hire me without a degree. So I think our society has made seminary necessary. I think biblically and in reality, it’s not, but you’re going to be hard-pressed to find a job in ministry without a degree, because it’s what everyone wants.

The Bubble

One final recurring theme that emerged among a significant number of Bible college and liberal arts university participants was identified as the perspective at the root of a common terminological reference–“the bubble.” Nearly half of all Bible college and liberal arts university students included in this study voluntarily used this term in the course of the research interview when discussing the nature of their institutional context. Ashley, a Bible college student who transferred to Boyce college after attending a secular university, referenced the term while acknowledging the danger of losing a real-world perspective within the confines of a strictly evangelical environment. She said,

They warned us when we came into Boyce about the “Boyce bubble.” They said, “You’re going to form this bubble and not want to get out into the real world and be around real people.” And I’ve seen that. If I go home for a weekend and I’m around unbelievers it’s hard to adjust to that, because you’re daily surrounded by believers (at school). So when you’re among unbelievers it’s hard to adjust. It’s almost like culture shock. It’s always hard for me, because when I was in a secular college it wasn’t that it didn’t bother me, but it was nothing to hear girls on my basketball team cuss and swear. And now when I hear those things, it throws me off. In that aspect, I think it’s a drawback–if you get so surrounded by believers everyday and it gives you a culture shock when you go into the real world. I think there should be a balance there. Yes, it’s okay to be around believers but don’t isolate yourself either.

As a liberal arts university senior, Kevin reflected on both the benefits and the costs of his educational environment. He provided this response when asked if he would choose to attend the same type of school again, rather than choosing to experience an institutional context that included a greater diversity of worldviews and confrontational cultural norms.

Absolutely I would. There’s no question about that. For better or worse, Union is the way that it is, and you do miss out on some of those interactions. But at the same time, I’m just extremely grateful for the way that Union approaches learning in general and how it views the intellectual life as something that comes under the authority of Christ. The philosophy that Union has is that learning is something that is ultimately supposed to prepare us to meet God face to face. So that’s something that’s not going to be the focus at secular universities, where you have more learning to equip you for some type of career or task. I don’t think that focus is what it should be. Not to mention, the opposition from professors that you would face, who are skeptical of Christianity, the opposition from other students in the student body, and just the general degenerative environment that unfortunately pervades a lot of secular campuses, where you have a lot of temptations and a lot of immorality going on.

Considering The Impact of Social-Environmental Conditions

A second extension of the structured analysis component of this series of studies is the intentional consideration of the impact of differing social-environmental conditions relating to personal discipleship and formation, life and ministry preparation, and epistemological maturity. To this end, the initial research study in the series analyzed participants’ experiences and perspectives with regard to three particular conditions: challenges to personal beliefs and values, interaction with ideological diversity, and exposure to multiple disciplines. A number of distinctive contextual realities and perspectives stemming from students’ immersion in their respective institutional contexts were uncovered. For pre-ministry undergraduates, these distinctions are likely to influence the trajectory of personal development, the course of epistemological maturity, and the application of gained knowledge and skills in the practice of ministry.

Challenges to Personal Beliefs and Values

The first social-environmental condition explored by the researcher with regard to participants’ experiences within their respective institutional contexts was the nature and impact of personal confrontations with worldviews that served to challenge one’s own beliefs and values. The division between categorical perspectives with regard to students’ experiences was understandably stark. One-hundred percent of secular university students experienced interactions within their educational environments that directly challenged and conflicted with their core, fundamental beliefs. By contrast, no Bible college or liberal arts university students reported such interactions. Sixty percent of participants from both of these sample groupings did report experiencing interactions within their educational environments that posed challenges to their non-fundamental beliefs.

Core, fundamental beliefs. While all secular university students expressed that they had the experience of confronting direct challenges to their core beliefs and values as a result of immersion in their respective institutional contexts, it is important to note that no students reported that they doubted their core convictions as a result. Many did, however, state that engaging with conflicting worldviews served as a means of helping them mature in their own formation and application of the biblical worldview. Adam addressed his appreciation for these confrontational experiences in this way:

I definitely value them now, although at the time it was hard to value them. Looking back and thinking about it, it’s like, “If not for those things that challenged me, I wouldn’t be as confident in what I believe.” So because of these controversial things that came up, I was able to realize and fully develop my own opinion on the matters so that I can be more confident in them. I definitely value them, although they challenged me at the time.

More specifically, numerous students described the connection between their interactions with non-Christian worldviews and cultural norms during college, and the emergence of a missional perspective according to which they began to view their ministry calling. Richard, a recent graduate from Western Kentucky University, articulated such an attitude as he spoke about how challenges to his core beliefs and values led to a more self-invested and responsible personal faith and missional attitude toward doubters and skeptics.

Being exposed to a lot of anti-Christian philosophical arguments, it makes you have to think. It really challenged me in a lot of what I believed. So there was never a point of outright disbelief, like “I’m not entirely sure what I think,” or “I’m not entirely sure what I believe.” But I had to really rely on God and sort things out: What do I believe myself?–not “How was I raised to think?” or “What did everyone else tell me about how I was supposed to believe?” but “What exactly do I see in Scripture and who is the God that I see that exists, and how does he reveal himself?” So it was really that first year at Western, three years ago, when I went through a time of skepticism. And through that time, God really showed me a lot about how I needed to handle people, and he also showed me a lot about what to say to other people that were dealing with a lot of the same things that I dealt with. It was like God led me through that valley to show and teach me a lot, so that now when I deal with people who are at that place like I was, I know what to say, I know much more how to handle what they’re going through.

Non-fundamental beliefs. Among Bible college and liberal arts university students, 60% of respondents reported experiencing challenges to non-fundamental beliefs, but not core beliefs. Among these was William, a recent liberal arts university graduate. He provided a very thoughtful and reflective articulation regarding the experience and benefit of interacting with varying theological and philosophical perspectives while maintaining an openness to having his own perspective revised–within the bounds of orthodoxy.

There are a lot of incorporations of philosophy that the church throws out very often, even some postmodern ideas, or post-structuralistic or whatever you want to call it. And for me, the requirement to engage with those ideas was really good because it made me think about how I have been taught or asked to swallow the pill of just holistically rejecting those ideas. And I think the reality is that there’s a lot of good knowledge there, and some ideas that line up with biblical thinking. And I think that that is what some of us might call “common grace.” We should not holistically embrace those ideas but dissect them, or, to borrow a term from the times–“deconstruct” them–and realize that conservative ideas hold a lot of good truth, but neither are they holistically true. That led me to think about some maybe academically leftist ideas and pick apart where they might line up with some biblical truths, but also identify where they’re dangerous and where they don’t.

Interaction with Ideological Diversity

The second social-environmental condition intentionally explored by the researcher was the nature and impact of participants’ interaction with interfaith dialogue across varying institutional types. More broadly, this condition addressed the extent to which pre-ministry students’ were exposed to ideological diversity and the level at which they interacted with competing ideologies, according to their respective college environments. Findings regarding this condition were essentially identical to the previous condition.

Oppositional worldviews.

Without exception, every secular university student reported that his or her primary interaction with ideological diversity involved engaging people within the college environment who held oppositional worldviews. Among Bible college and liberal arts university students, one student from each context reported that his primary experience with diverse ideologies during college involved engaging people with non-Christian ideologies. In both of these cases, however, the student’s medium of interaction was completely removed from any campus-based context.

Similar to the findings related to the first condition, a common refrain of secular university students with regard to their encounters with diverse ideologies was that those experiences enabled them to establish and apply a missional perspective. One such expression was provided by Cody, who spoke about how his interactions with diverse worldviews served to frame his perspective about his ministerial calling. Regarding the impact of those interactions, he said,

I would say that the biggest impact it has is that I would have classes with twenty or thirty people, and there might be one other person I know who’s a Christian, but there are eighteen others who aren’t. And you get to have group discussions–especially in the Religious Studies program, where every class is discussion based. You get to have lots of discussions and peer-editing papers, and lots of just going and grabbing lunch with people after class and hanging out and inviting guys to come over and watch a movie–all kinds of different stuff. It just gives you a heart for a broken world. It is living in an environment where you have to be missional minded, because 90% of the people around you don’t believe in the gospel.


Later in the same interview, speaking of how his default perspective toward non-Christians fundamentally changed, Cody said,

Before college I had this view of non-Christians–like they had this disease, and I would have to act differently around them and talk differently around them. And it was the same early in college, like I had to have my guard up to lots of friends that I made that were not believers . . . Kind of this leprosy thing. It took a while to be exposed to it enough to realize I have the same leprosy that they do–the same sickness–to not be scared of the fact that they are an unrepentant sinner, but to really embrace the fact that I also was that. There’s kind of a level ground there, that I had to almost walk up to, or I guess walk down to–where I thought too highly of myself and I thought that these people were weird and I didn’t want to be friends with them; I didn’t want to let them into my life; I didn’t want to know them. And so being at a secular university really exposes that.

Differing doctrine or ecclesiology. A majority of Bible college and liberal arts university students reported that their primary interaction with ideological diversity in college involved engaging other evangelical Christians with differing doctrinal or ecclesiological positions. Eighty percent of liberal arts students responded in this way, as well as 60% of Bible college students. A typical response among participants from these two sample groupings to the researcher’s question, “Did you encounter ideas during college that challenged your own beliefs and values?” was Steven’s. He said,

Yeah, I had a roommate for 3 years that grew up in the Assemblies of God church. I was raised Independent Southern Baptist. So obviously meeting my roommate, we had tons of theological discussions about different ideas. So yeah, I did come into contact with a lot of different beliefs. I even found, after spending some time at some different churches and spending time around the pastors on staff there, a lot people who believe the same thing but emphasize different things. So I always thought that was interesting too. I did get a lot of different beliefs, but nothing that I would’ve ever broken fellowship over. I would say there was definitely more people that I met that believed similarly to me but placed emphasis on different things.

Exposure to Multiple Disciplines

The final condition explored by the researcher addressed exposure to multiple disciplines. This condition was not applicable to Bible college students, since their curricula did not include multi-disciplinary requirements. The researcher specifically asked participants from liberal arts and secular universities about the value and perceived benefit of exposure to multiple disciplines. This was in an effort to potentially discern an identifiable relationship between exposure to interdisciplinary studies and pre-ministry students’ epistemological maturity. Analysis, however, did not reveal any relationship between encountering or valuing interdisciplinary studies and participants’ epistemological positioning. Overall, half of participants from each sample grouping expressed that they felt their experience with multiple disciplines was significant and helpful.

Conclusion: Research Applications

The findings and observations discussed in this article are drawn from the first in a series of ongoing research studies that are exploring the variance of epistemological development and maturity among pre-ministry undergraduates according to institutional affiliation. The completion of current and future follow-up studies will serve not only to fill a void in the area of undergraduate development, but more strategically will serve the church by highlighting the idiosyncrasies, benefits, and drawbacks of differing collegiate environments.

This research directly applies to current or forthcoming evangelical college students who have made (or will make) commitments to pursue vocational ministry. This line of research offers a unique aggregate of perspectives, delivered by the first-person viewpoints of pre-ministry undergraduates from multiple schools across differing contexts, regarding the nature of distinctive collegiate environments as it is related to the experiences of evangelical students in general, and pre-ministry students in particular. Students may utilize this research as a tool for introspection, evaluation of their own current college experiences, and diagnosis of their own trends of discipleship and maturation. Considering the implications presented above regarding the environmental distinctions between contexts, current or forthcoming pre-ministry students may gain an awareness of ways in which they should seek to capitalize on the opportunities provided within their own contexts, as well as ways in which they may seek to expand their personal growth and preparedness for ministry by engaging outside contexts. For example, pre-ministry students in secular college environments may intentionally seek opportunities and methods by which to enrich their knowledge, understanding, and application of biblical presuppositions and key theological concepts and issues—while also taking advantage of the extraordinary opportunities for authentic relational interaction and missional engagement with non-Christians.

In the same way that this research applies to current or forthcoming pre-ministry undergraduates, it also applies to those who advise them and mentor them. Thus, parents, mentors, local church pastors and ministry leaders, campus-based ministry directors, and any others entrusted with influence in the lives of future vocational ministers may utilize this research to inform the wisdom of their counsel.

This research also applies to college teachers, administrators, and student service professionals at higher educational institutions that train future ministers. Teachers may utilize this research to evaluate their effectiveness in facilitating students’ intellectual development and overall maturity, as well as their relational connections with students. Such was clearly demonstrated in this study to be key element of pre-ministry undergraduates’ college experiences. Student service professionals and administrators at evangelical colleges may utilize this research to review their diagnostic methods of evaluating students’ Christian formation, as well as to inform their priorities and practices with regard to encouraging students’ personal maturation. Also for higher education personnel, this research may be utilized as an evaluative tool with regard to the formational efficacy of the institution’s curriculum design and implementation.

Finally, this research applies to seminary faculty and administrators at institutions that receive graduates from varying collegiate environmental backgrounds. This study provides significant insights regarding the variation of epistemic positions and attitudinal perspectives on the part of current and incoming seminarians according to their respective, divergent collegiate experiences—academically, socially, and culturally. Particularly, these insights may be used to inform seminaries’ methods and processes of assimilating and advising prospective and incoming students, as well as new and current students.


[1] John David Trentham, “Epistemological Development in Pre-Ministry Undergraduates: A Cross-Institutional Application of the Perry Scheme” (Ph.D. diss., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2012).

[2] The full interview protocol is included in the Appendix 5 of Trentham, “Epistemological Development in Pre-Ministry Undergraduates.”

[3] William G. Perry, Jr., Forms of Ethical and Intellectual Development in the College Years: A Scheme (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1970). The Perry Scheme proposes that undergraduates and young adults progress in epistemological maturity by progressing through a series of positions which represent movement away from dualistic forms of thinking in favor of forms that are contextual and relativistic, propelled by decentering encounters with diversity through the college experience. A guiding premise for this line or research is that there is an evident consistency between the pattern of development suggested by Perry and the biblical pattern for transformative maturation unto wisdom through progressive sanctification.

[4] The Principle of Inverse Consistency maintains that a preliminary commitment to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture must be the guiding evaluative premise on which all secular developmental models are assessed. The orderly world is so created by God that secular social science research may accurately observe and identify human developmental patterns and behaviors. The noetic effects of sin are so pervasive, however, that the ability of secular researchers to rightly interpret those patterns is radically limited. Namely due to its anthropocentric disposition, secular social scientific analysis cannot adequately prescribe norms of growth and maturation. Rather than conformity to Christ, positive development is conceived in terms of self-identity or self-actualization. While secular and biblical models may include consistent patterns of maturation, they are oriented toward respectively opposite goals: self and Christ. Inverse consistencies thus exist between the biblical notion of positive maturation and secular developmental notions, which in the the Perry Scheme entails an existentialist form of self-referential identity and commitment.

[5] See Trentham, 128.

[6]The most recent and exhaustive analysis of the influence of the college experience is Ernest T. Pascarella and Patrick T. Terenzini, How College Affects Students: A Third Decade of Research, 2nd ed. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005).

[7]This is described by Lewin’s interactionist equation, B = f (P X E), which is the foundational principle for understanding college student development theory. See Nancy Evans et al., Student Development in College: Theory Research and Practice, 2nd ed. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 29.

[8] Epistemological position ratings of interviewees were determined according to evaluation and scoring analysis performed by William S. Moore, director of the Center for the Study of Intellectual Development (CSID). The researcher’s original content analysis framework, rooted in biblical presuppositions and focusing on epistemological priorities and competencies, confirmed the ratings of the CSID for each institutional grouping.

[9] For instance, in the initial study, among participants who were five years or less removed from high school, liberal arts university students reflected a distinguishably higher collective position of epistemological maturity.

[10]Alexander W. Astin, What Matters in College? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass (1993), 383-98. See also Astin’s helpful and succinct summary of the study: Astin, “What Matters in College?” Liberal Education 79 (1993), Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed November 6, 2012).

[11]Personal names of all interviewees have been changed to preserve anonymity.

[12]Ernest T. Pascarella and Patrick T. Terenzini, How College Affects Students: A Third Decade of Research, 2nd ed. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005), 572.

[13]Ibid., 577.

The post Exploring the Impact of Collegiate Context on Pre-Ministry Undergraduate Epistemological Maturity and Formation appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

The Historical Paul

Talbot School of Theology - Fri, 05/05/2017 - 12:00

This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.

Dr. Craig,

... Recently I was witnessing to a friend of mine who is an atheist and he had a friend with him who is a religious studies major. As we got into the historicity of Jesus and His resurrection I argued for the origins of the church and the subsequent conversions of James the brother of Jesus and Saul of Tarsus. I was a little thrown off by the response of the religious studies major who stated "Hardly any scholar believes Paul actually existed. It is believed it was a pseudonym for a number of anonymous church members to get their beliefs into church doctrine" ...

Categories: Seminary Blog

God does extraordinary work through ordinary means

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 05/05/2017 - 09:52

Cal Ripken Junior became an extraordinary baseball player by doing an ordinary thing: he showed up for work. He did it again and again and again—a record 2,632 consecutive times. The hall-of-fame shortstop first appeared in the Baltimore Orioles starting lineup on May 30, 1982 in a game against the Seattle Mariners and his name was next absent from it on September 20, 1998.

Barry Bonds became an infamous footnote to baseball history by attempting to do something extraordinary in an extraordinary way: he bent the rules. One of the most feared sluggers of the 1990s and 2000s, Bonds broke one of the game’s most hallowed records—Hank Aaron’s all-time home run mark of 755 homers. Bonds did it by cheating. For the last several years of his career, he took drugs that artificially enhanced his performance—and inflated his home run totals—enabling him to pass Aaron. To many fans, Bonds is baseball’s Benedict Arnold.

These two players illustrate well two different approaches to ministry—God’s way and our way. In the historic evangelical tradition, preaching, prayer, and the ordinances—baptism and the Lord’s Supper—have often been referred to as “the ordinary means of grace” because they form the heart of corporate worship and the main methods of ministry in a faithful, biblical church. They’re God’s means of transforming sinners.

But I fear, in our good and right desire to see God’s church built, we get thrown by the term “ordinary.”

Think Ripken, not Bonds.

Grace is not ordinary

The phrase “ordinary means of grace” can be interpreted as suggesting that God’s work is dull and unspectacular. But there is nothing ordinary about God’s grace. God uses the public proclamation of a book that’s at least 6,000 years old in places and his Spirit to cause a gargantuan army of his enemies to love him and desire to join his family. What are the ordinary means of grace? The answer to question 95 of the Baptist Catechism defines them this way:

The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are His ordinances, especially the Word, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper and Prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation. (Rom. 10:17; James 1:18; 1 Cor. 3:5; Acts 14:1; 2:41,42).

A few months ago, a man from my hometown told me he had planted a new church. I asked him to tell me a little more about it. As only a mountain man from north Georgia could put it, he said, “Well, it ain’t much. Just preachin’, prayin’, and sangin.’ I figure that’s plenty.”

Plenty, indeed.

When we use extraordinary means

It’s plenty because tragic things happen when we exchange God’s means of grace for our own—or when we misuse his means. Just ask Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu. While handling the sacred things in the worship of God, they rebelliously offered “strange fire” on the altar of God—a means of worship the Lord did not command. The result? God vaporized them in his wrath.

Ask Old Testament Israel who embraced the pantheon of deities worshiped by the nations around them and God used Assyria and Babylon—wicked nations—as instruments of judgment. Of course, God in his holiness, turned around and poured out his judgment on those nations for their sin as well.

Obeying God is always best. One of the often under-discussed principles of the Reformation was that of simplicity. That is, worship, ministry, and all the things that go with it (including the architecture of a church) should be simple—lashed to Scripture. My north Georgia friend was on to something that we—even in our correct motives of seeing God’s people edified and sinners come to Christ—often forget: God performs his extraordinary work of spiritual awakening through ordinary people and ordinary things.

When we use God’s ordinary means

In Acts 2:23, Peter preached “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men,” and in verse 41 we read, “. . . there were added that day (to the church) about three thousand souls.” The “foolishness of preaching” has power that confounds our wisdom, because what the world sees as weak is strong in God’s eyes and vice-versa (2 Cor. 12:1-10). Acts 2:42 tells us that the whole church “devoted” itself to the ordinary means of grace: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel boldly to the Gentiles and God brought awakening: “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.”

The conversion of Charles Spurgeon is a remarkable illustration of the power of God’s Word. The 15-year-old Spurgeon ducked into a Primitive Methodist Church on a Sunday to escape a snowstorm. The regular preacher was away and a substitute stepped into the pulpit and merely read Isaiah 45:22—“Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else.” God cut Spurgeon to the heart and drew him savingly to himself. Spurgeon’s impact for Christ’s kingdom defies imagination. But it began with the bare reading of Scripture.

When we use God’s ordinary means, we get God’s power with them. There are many reasons to build our churches around a ministry of God’s so-called “ordinary means of grace.” Here are five:

  1. God’s ordinary means of transformation are timeless.

God’s Word is eternal truth. God does not change, nor does his Word. Protestant Liberalism argues that Christianity must change or die. Today, churches that bought into that message are dying. By God’s unfathomable grace, churches that preach the gospel of Jesus Christ are growing.

  1. God’s ordinary means of grace may be deployed by any faithful church.

I pastor a church of approximately 60 people. We certainly desire to grow in both grace and number, but we don’t have to wait until we have bricks and mortar or a top-notch sound system to be a valid church doing valid, Word-centered ministry. I pray we are faithful in doing it now in every area of our ministry. We take no pride in being small—that’s a different heart issue—but our elders and members simply trust God to honor his Word.

  1. God’s ordinary means of grace do not require extraordinary innovation.

In God’s economy the weak is strong and the strong is weak (2 Cor. 12:1-10). Thus, the bar for success in ministry is persevering faithfulness. The ordinary means of grace appear in the eyes of most as pathetic and insignificant, with very little potential to accomplish anything of broad impact. But God works this way. He uses a rebellious prophet to reach Ninevah with the good news. He turns a weak, halting, thrice-denying disciple into one of the most courageous preachers the world has seen. And though we are deeply flawed and desperately weak, he uses us.

  1. God’s ordinary means of grace promote humility and worship with reverence and awe.

When God sets the agenda and we follow it, we are admitting he is sovereign, and we are not. When we deploy his means, we are saying, “You are God, and I am not, and you have revealed yourself in Scripture and I joyfully, willingly, submit to your wisdom.” That’s humility. When we humble ourselves, we are then positioned to worship God with reverence, awe, with thanksgiving, because he has done it, not us.

  1. Using God’s ordinary means of grace rightly is an act of faith.

In Matthew 16, Jesus promised, “I will build my church and the gates of hades will not overcome it.” God builds his church on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, which means his Word, with Christ Jesus (the sum and substance of the Word) as the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:20). The ordinary means of grace are the divinely-appointed, Spirit-driven carpenter of God’s church. The Word of God and the Spirit of God conspire to form the engine that pulls the cars down the tracks of salvation and sanctification. We must unleash them faithfully with all the passion and energy God gives us, trusting he will use them to perform his miraculous work of transforming sinners into saints.

No shortcuts

On a purely human level, our task as leaders of the local church is simple. Like Cal Ripken, we must show up every Lord’s Day, at every evangelism outreached, at every short-term mission jaunt, day after day, week after week, year after year, and be faithful to unleash his ordinary means of grace and then watch our great God build his church in a way the world, with all its extraordinary things, will never be able to explain.


The post God does extraordinary work through ordinary means appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Cinco maneras en las que el Evangelio transforma nuestra paternidad – Parte 2

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Thu, 05/04/2017 - 16:59

Hace unos años, se hizo una encuesta a los padres acerca de lo que ellos consideran como exitoso en la paternidad. Las repuestas más populares de los padres fueron que la paternidad exitosa significa criar hijos que son felices y que tienen buenos valores. La repuesta que que se acercó detrás de las dos primeras tuvo que ver con que el hijo sea vocacionalmente exitoso.[4] Si las respuestas de esta encuesta realmente representan las prioridades reales de los padres, entonces padres y madres están más enfocados en criar a sus hijos para que actúen bien, se sientan bien y sean financieramente exitosos.

Moralidad, felicidad y éxito no son malos, por supuesto—pero son realmente metas mezquinas para la paternidad. Cuando esas metas vienen a ser nuestra definición de paternidad exitosa, el evangelio no está moldeando más nuestra prácticas de paternidad del día a día. Sin contar con el evangelio de Jesucristo, el enfocarse en una buena moralidad tiende a resultar tanto en auto-justicia o rebeldía en nuestros hijos. El éxito financiero no puede garantizar gozo o paz permanente, y lo que hace a nuestros hijos felices en el corto plazo podría no ser lo que los apunte hacia Jesucristo en el largo plazo. Ninguno de esos valores supera esta vida, pero esos son los valores dominantes en nuestra cultura cuando se trata de paternidad.

Ahora, si los hijos no fueran más que un regalo para esta vida, un enfoque único en la felicidad y el éxito de los hijos podría cobrar sentido. Mientras la agenda frenética de una familia asegure un lugar para el hijo en una universidad de primer nivel, aun perdiendo una formación espiritual intencional, pero con el fin de que pueda participar de ligas deportivas competitivas o un lugar en clases de primer nivel, todo eso sería entendible—si es que los hijos fueran un regalo solo para esta vida. Trabajar a toda hora sería convincente, haciendo posible que los amigos de tus hijos estén visiblemente impresionados con la casa que tú apenas puedes costear. Si los hijos fueran un regalo solo para esta vida, podría tener sentido el criar hijos con calendarios que están llenos, pero almas que están vacías, cautivados por ilusión mortal de que su valor depende de lo que puedan lograr aquí y ahora.

Pero el evangelio nos llama a buscar un propósito para nuestros hijos que vaya más allá de esta vida.

Aun antes que la humanidad cayera en pecado, Dios diseñó la crianza de los hijos para que sirva como un medio para la multiplicación de su gloria manifestada alrededor del mundo (Gn. 1:26-28). Unas pocas mordidas de la fruta prohibida, la crianza de Caín como la de Abel, y un servicio de adoración que terminó en asesinato cobró un precio alto a la primera familia—pero Dios se negó a rendirse a su primer propósito de convertir a la familia en un medio para la revelación de su gloria. Dios prometió que, a través de la descendencia de Eva, Él enviaría un Redentor que pisaría la cabeza de la serpiente satánica y que inundaría toda la tierra con gloria divina (Gn. 3:15; 4;1; Hab. 2:14). De principio a fin en el plan de Dios, la familia ha sido su sendero escogido para derrotar la oscuridad, revelar su gloria y hacer pasar su historia de una generación a otra.

Lo que esto significa, de manera práctica, es que deberíamos ver a nuestros hijos bajo la luz de un propósito mayor, viéndolos como potenciales portadores del evangelio a las generaciones que no han nacido todavía. De acuerdo al buen diseño de Dios, es muy posible que nuestros hijos críen hijos que, en su momento, engendren más hijos. De la forma en que moldeemos las almas de nuestros hijos mientras viven bajo nuestros techos, de esa misma manera moldearán las vidas de los niños que todavía no han tomado su primera bocanada de aire (Sal. 78:6-7). Por eso es que nuestro primer propósito para nuestros hijos no debería ser algo tan pequeño y miserable como su éxito temporal.

“Pues, ¿de qué le sirve a un hombre ganar el mundo entero y perder su alma?” Jesús le preguntó a sus seguidores (Mc. 8:36). Si esto lo vinculamos con nuestros hijos, deberíamos hacernos una pregunta como esta: ¿Qué beneficio hay que mi hijo se gané un premio académico y nunca haya experimentado tiempos de oración y devocional consistentes con sus padres? ¿Qué beneficio hay para mi hijo si tiene éxito deportivo y nunca conoció los ritmos de un hogar en donde estuvimos dispuestos a librarnos, en cualquier momento, de cualquier cosa que nos tuviera demasiado ocupados como para no discipularnos mutuamente? ¿Qué beneficio habría para nuestros hijos en nuestras iglesias si es que fueran aceptados en las mejores universidades, pero nunca estarían dispuestos a presentar sus vidas para ir a proclamar el evangelio entre las naciones?

En el principio, Dios infundió humanidad con un anhelo de eternidad (Ecl. 3:11). Si el rango de nuestra visión para nuestras vidas o para las vidas de nuestras hijos se encoge hasta ser más pequeña que la eternidad, nuestra sed por eternidad nos llevará a tratar de llenar nuestro vacío con una multitud de metas y dioses menores—incluyendo el éxito y felicidad fugaz de nuestros hijos. Cuando la felicidad y el éxito de los hijos viene a ser el marco controlador de la vida, los padres esperarán que sus hijos tengan, hagan, y sean más que todos los demás, y ellos estarán dispuestos a sacrificar el discipulado familiar y la proclamación del evangelio con tal de alcanzar ese objetivos.


No estoy sugiriendo que los éxitos académicos, atléticos o vocacionales están, de alguna manera, fuera del buen plan de Dios. Aprender y practicar un deporte son gozos que Dios mismo tejió en la auténtica matriz de la creación. Aunque maldito después de la caída, el trabajo era también parte del buen diseño de Dios antes de la caída (Gn. 2:15; 3:17-23). Aún más, donde sea que cualquier actividad—sin importar cuán buena ésta podría ser—se agranda hasta el punto que no queda margen para que los miembros de la familia puedan discipularse mutuamente y compartir el evangelio en el mundo que los rodea, entonces un gozo divinamente diseñado ha sido distorsionado y convertido en ídolo maligno. Nuestro propósito en todo lo que hacemos como padres debería ser liberar las vidas de nuestros hijos para el avance del reino de Dios, para que así la gente en cada tribu y cada nación acceda a la posibilidad de responder en fe al Rey de Reyes.

Hay un par de frases que he repetido una y otra vez a lo largo de la vida de mis hijos, particularmente cuando ellos están considerando sus posibilidades vocacionales. Lo que les digo es simplemente esto: “Preferiría tenerlos al otro lado del mundo buscando la gloria de Dios que en la casa de al lado buscando su propia gloria. Y preferiría tenerlos en una tumba en la voluntad de Dios que en una mansión resistiendo la voluntad de Dios”. Uno de mis hijos puso estas frases a prueba hace un tiempo atrás.

Nuestra hija mayor había escogido Consejería como su especialización antes de empezar la universidad y ya había avanzado más de la mitad de su primer semestre. Una tarde, ella se encontró conmigo en una cafetería y empezamos a hablar acerca de cómo aplicaría su educación en el futuro.

“Papi”, dijo, después de unos minutos. “¿Sabes que no estoy en el programa que se supone debería estar?”

“No”, le dije, un poco confundido. “¿En qué carrera deberías estar?”

“Se suponer que debería ser misiones, pero no se si quiero estar tan lejos de la familia”.

Esta afirmación abrió una puerta en nuestra conversación, y entramos allí con mucha cautela, explorando el llamado que mi hija había sentido por algún tiempo. Hubo algunas lágrimas y muchas preguntas, pero al final ella decidió cambiar sus estudios de Consejería a Estudios Globales.

Mientras nos levantábamos de la mesa, ella me dijo, “tú siempre dices que preferirías que esté al otro lado del mundo en la voluntad de Dios que como tu vecina fuera de la voluntad de Dios. Sin embargo, nunca supe cuán real era esto que decías”.

La única respuesta honesta que pude darle fue esta: “Tampoco yo. Pero espero que sea así. Siempre esa ha sido mi esperanza”.

Dios nos llama—así como llamó a nuestro padre Abraham—a estar dispuestos a soltar cada deseo de seguridad y éxito de nuestros hijos por el bien de la obediencia a la Palabra de Dios (Gn. 22:2-18). No es que cada hijo crecerá—o deberá crecer—para convertirse en un misionero en el otro lado del mundo. Pero cada hijo está llamado a ubicar el Reino de Dios dondequiera que estén, y cada padre cristiano está llamado a estar dispuesto a buscar la extensión del Reino de Dios mucho más allá de cualquier comodidad o éxito terrenal. Esta actitud no se logra con facilidad. De hecho, ¡esta disposición no viene de nosotros en lo absoluto! Nada menos que la obra de Dios a través de su Santo Espíritu podría crear tal disposición en nosotros. Y aún más, lo que Dios pide de nosotros es liberar a nuestros hijos para que se unan a su misión no es menos de lo que Él mismo ya ha hecho con Jesucristo: “El que no eximió ni a su propio hijo, sino que lo entregó por todos nosotros…” (Ro. 8:32).


Mientras más tiempo he sido padre, más me he encontrado a mí mismo buscando refugio en una verdad final acerca del evangelio y la paternidad. La verdad que ha venido a ser mi refugio es simplemente esta: Debido a la gracia que viene a través del evangelio, la disposición de Dios hacia mí no depende de qué tan bien lo haga como padre. No he hecho nada para obtener el favor de Dios y no hay nada que pueda hacer para mantenerme en el favor de Dios. A través de la fe, he sido adoptado en Cristo (Ro. 8:15-17; Gál. 3:26). Debido a lo que soy en Cristo, Dios el Padre nunca podrá pensar nada menos de mí de lo que piensa de su amado Hijo, Jesucristo.

Entonces, ¿qué tiene que ver esta verdad con mi paternidad?


Medita por un momento en las consecuencias de esta verdad: Debido al evangelio, la aprobación de Dios de ti no depende de que hayas provisto a tus hijos con todo lo que los demás piensan que necesitan. La aprobación de Dios no depende de las forma en que tus hijos actúan en la caja del supermercado. No depende de que tus hijos hayan sido alimentados con leche materna, hicieron sus necesidades solos para cuando tenían dos años, fueron educados clásicamente y les diste alimentos sin preservantes artificiales. Tampoco depende de que ellos persistan en la fe más allá de su graduación de la secundaria. Las buenas noticias del evangelio declara que tu aprobación de parte de Dios no depende de nada que tú hagas; depende únicamente de lo que Cristo ya ha hecho. Todo lo que cada uno de nosotros debe hacer—que no tiene nada que ver con “hacer” en lo absoluto—es recibir lo que Dios en Cristo ya ha hecho.

Las consecuencias de esta simple verdad para la paternidad son asombrosas, y yo necesito con desesperación el ser recordado de estas consecuencias cada día. Debido a que nunca más debemos probarnos a nosotros mismos que estamos correctos producto de nuestras actuaciones perfectas, podemos humillarnos nosotros mismos y pedirle perdón a nuestras familias cuando fallamos. Cuando nos sentimos abrumados como padres, podemos clamar por ayuda. Cuando le decimos que no a los compromisos que pudieran consumir nuestros calendarios y nuestras almas, lo podemos hacer sin culpa o por un temor que crece producto de nuestra anhelo desesperado por lograr la aprobación de los demás. Podemos ser liberados de nuestro persistente deseo por demostrar nuestra propia rectitud al demandar que otros padres se midan con nuestros estándares familiares. Nosotros podemos guiar a nuestros hijos a Cristo desde un fundamento de gozo y descanso, conociendo que Dios ya nos ha dado todo lo que demanda de nosotros.

No hay una lista de reglas para padres moldeados por el evangelio, con puntos que puedes chequear en la medida que los vas completando. Pero si está, sin embargo, Cristo mismo, quién nos ha dado su Palabra, su Espíritu, su pueblo y su evangelio. En todo esto, nuestra meta no es solo llegar al fin del día con el mismo número de hijos que teníamos temprano en la mañana. Nuestra meta es un Reino que nunca termina y nuestro propósito en la paternidad es ver ese Reino revelado a través de nuestras familias.

  1. ¿Cuándo, en tu paternidad, eres más propenso a estar demasiado enfocado en listas y reglas perdiendo de vista el evangelio? ¿Qué puedes hacer, a la luz de estos artículos, para mantener la centralidad del evangelio en tus prácticas de paternidad?
  1. Así es como el evangelio ha sido definido en este artículo: El evangelio son las buenas nuevas que nos dicen que Dios ha inaugurado su Reino en la tierra a través de la vida, la muerte y la resurrección de nuestro Señor Jesucristo. Cuando nos arrepentimos y descansamos en la justicia de Cristo en vez de la nuestra, el poder de su Reino nos transforma, y venimos a ser participantes de la comunidad de los redimidos.

Nombre tres manera, adicionales a las descritas en este artículo, con las que el evangelio puede remodelar nuestras prácticas diarias como padres.

  1. ¿Qué harías de manera regular para discipular a tus hijos? Discute con un grupo de padres cristianos qué es lo que ellos están haciendo para entrenar e instruir a la próxima generación. Aprende todo lo que puedas de las prácticas de discipulado de otras familias y anima a otros padres que están luchando con esa área.
  1. Después de leer estos artículos, ¿cómo definirías el éxito como padre? ¿Tus metas y tus propósitos han cambiado de alguna manera producto de estos artículos? Si han cambiado, ¿en qué manera?
  1. Antes de leer estos artículos, ¿habías pensado alguna vez en tus hijos como potenciales o actuales hermanos y hermanas en Cristo? ¿De qué maneras específicas podría esta verdad transformar las maneras en que tú escogiste reaccionar con tus hijos en las siguientes semanas? ¿Cómo podría tu agenda familiar cambiar si empiezas a pensar en tus hijos, antes que nada, como potenciales y actuales hermanos y hermanas en Cristo?

[4] Mark Kelly, “LifeWay Research Looks at the Role of Faith in Parenting” (March 24, 2009): http://www.lifeway.com

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Categories: Seminary Blog

Cinco maneras en las que el Evangelio transforma nuestra paternidad – Parte 1

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Thu, 05/04/2017 - 16:59

“Papi, tú no dijiste nada acerca de torcerle los brazos a las personas” me dijo, e inmediatamente descubrí cuán peligroso puede ser crear una lista de reglas para tus hijos.[1]

El año que adoptamos a nuestra hija mayor, ella cursaba al primer grado de una escuela Montessori cercana. Allí había tenido algunos problemas para interactuar de manera constructiva con otros niños. Para ser específico, cuando las cosas no salían como ella quería en los juegos, alguien terminaba inevitablemente herido, y ese “alguien” nunca era ella.

No queriendo ser demandado por la escuela o por los padres de sus compañeros, yo creé una lista de prácticas que la gente civilizada percibe, de manera general, como formas inaceptables de responder con otra persona. Esta lista incluía las muchas actividades que mi hija ya había usado como – golpear, patear, dar puñetazos, arañar – más unas pocas prácticas adicionales que ella todavía no había usado pero que, era muy probable, que pronto las usaría, como el detonar una bomba termonuclear en el patio de juegos. Cada mañana yo le leía la lista y le señalaba como Dios nos llama a valorar a cada persona como alguien creado a su imagen. Todo funcionó muy bien por casi una semana. Luego, un viernes por la tarde, recibí una llamada de la escuela.

“Su hija tiene algo que quisiera discutir con usted”, me dijo la administradora. Ella le pasó el teléfono a mi hija, y las primeras palabras que oí fueron, “Papi, tú no dijiste nada acerca de torcerle los brazos a las personas”. Ella estaba en lo correcto. No había incluido esa acción en mi lista, lo que fue un recordatorio del peligro de crear una lista con reglas. Una vez que hacemos la lista, es fácil asumir que todo lo que deberíamos o no deberíamos hacer está incluido en la lista. Tan pronto como quedamos listos con la lista, pareciera que todo está bien—o eso creemos.

Las reglas son necesarias, pero nunca serán suficientes

El asumir que el mantener una lista de reglas logrará que todo lo que se haga sea correcto no se limita a la torcedora de brazos de siete años. “La naturaleza humana después de la caída”, como lo dijo un predicador alemán llamado Martín Lutero, “no es capaz de imaginar o concebir alguna forma de estar bien con Dios que no sean las obras de la ley”.[2] Aparte de la gracia de Dios en Cristo, cada uno de nosotros tiende a juzgar sus vidas y las vidas de otros con una lista de reglas y leyes.

El problema radica en que no habrá lista de reglas que pueda ser capaz de llevar a nuestros hijos a la vida.

Esto no es porque las reglas sean malas, sino porque nosotros somos malos (Ro. 7:12; 1 Tim. 1:9). Las listas de reglas y leyes nos proveen guías útiles para revelar nuestras deficiencias y para frenar la maldad, pero no pueden nunca producir la rectitud que lleva a la vida (Ro. 4:13; Gál. 3:24). Solo el evangelio puede llenar nuestras vidas con verdadera rectitud (Ro. 1:16; Gál. 3:6-9), y Dios nos da esa rectitud a través de la fe en el sacrificio de Jesucristo, completamente aparte de cualquier esfuerzo humano que nos lleve a chequear los puntos de cualquier lista (Ro. 3:21; 10:4-13). “La ley”, dice el evangelista D.L. Moody, “puede llevar a un hombre al calvario, pero no más lejos”.[3]

Los seguidores del Señor Jesucristo entendemos la centralidad del evangelio y los límites de la ley. Aun cuando se trata de la paternidad, puede ser difícil el ver cómo el evangelio debe modelar las guías prácticas diarias para nuestros hijos. Esto es, en parte, porque la paternidad requiere una lista, aparentemente interminable, de reglas que simplemente incrementan la posibilidad de que nuestros hijos ¡sobrevivan a la infancia! Si ninguno de nosotros ha creado reglas para nuestros hijos, nuestros preescolares de seguro hubieran pasado sus días clavándose las narices con clips, metiendo cuchillos de mantequilla en los tomacorrientes y viendo cuánto tiempo puede sobrevivir el hámster familiar en el microondas. Aun cuando los niños y los adolescentes crecen, ellos necesitan límites para mantenerlos lejos de inclinarse a senderos necios y destructivos.

El problema radica en que, algunas veces, esas listas y límites pueden llega a ser el foco primario de nuestra paternidad—muy a pesar del hecho de que somos completamente conscientes que ninguna ley puede producir un gozo permanente en esta vida, o frutos que duren más allá de esta vida.

Quisiera en este artículo desafiarte a que te preguntes algo muy sencillo: ¿Qué podría lucir diferente en nuestras prácticas diarias de paternidad si es que el evangelio remodela mis perspectivas y prioridades?

Antes que tratemos de entregar algunas respuestas, debo admitirte que no estoy hablando como un maestro que ha llegado a destino; estoy compartiendo esto como un peregrino que está viajando contigo. Lo hago como un padre que tiene hijos que van del segundo grado al segundo año de la universidad y que sigue luchando día a día para permitir que el evangelio remodele mis prácticas de paternidad. Por eso trato de recordar diariamente que una paternidad moldeada por el evangelio es difícil. Clava nuestras orgullosas y llenas agendas humanas a una cruz ensangrentada, y nos llama a seguir un propósito que es mucho más grande que la felicidad o el éxito de nuestros hijos. Quizás lo más difícil es que todo esto requiere que veamos a nuestros hijos mucho más allá ser simplemente nuestros y que podamos entregar sus futuros a un Dios que los ama mucho más de lo que nosotros pudiéramos hacerlo. Con eso en mente, miremos juntos cinco maneras con las que el evangelio puede remodelar nuestra paternidad.


Para poder ver cómo el evangelio remodela la paternidad, recordemos, en primer lugar, lo que es evangelio y lo que hace el evangelio. El evangelio son las buenas nuevas de que Dios ha inaugurado su reino en la tierra a través de la vida, muerte y resurrección de nuestro Señor Jesucristo. Cuando nos arrepentimos y descansamos en la justicia de Cristo, en vez de la nuestra, el poder de su reino nos transforma, y venimos a ser participantes de la comunidad de los redimidos. Unidos con Cristo a través del Espíritu, somos adoptados como herederos de Dios y ganamos una nueva identidad que trasciende todo estatus terrenal. Esposos y esposas, padres e hijos, huérfanos y viudas, inmigrantes y ciudadanos, los adictos que luchan por recuperarse y la abuela abstemia—todos nosotros venimos a ser hermanos y hermanas a través del evangelio, “herederos de Dios y coherederos con Cristo” (Ro. 8:17; vean también Mt. 12:50; Lc. 20:34-48; Gál. 3:28-29; 4:3-7: Ef. 1:5; 2:12-22; Heb. 2:11; Stgo. 2:5; 1 Pe. 3:7).

Entonces, ¿qué significa esto para nosotros como padres cristianos?

Significa que nuestros hijos son más que nuestros hijos. Nuestros hijos son, antes que nada, potenciales o actuales hermanos y hermanas en Cristo.

Visto de esa manera, nuestra relación con nuestros hijos toma de repente un significado muy diferente. Yo permaneceré como el padre de mis hijas hasta la muerte, pero—en la medida en que ellos abracen el evangelio—yo permaneceré como su hermano por toda la eternidad. Como padre, soy responsable de proveer para mis hijas y prepararlas para la vida; como su hermano en el evangelio, estoy llamado a dar mi vida por ellas (1 Jn. 3:16). Como padre, las ayudo a ver su propio pecado; como su hermano, estoy dispuesto a confesarles mis propios pecados (Stgo. 5:16). Como padre, les llevo la verdad a sus vidas; como su hermano, les digo la verdad con paciencia, aun buscando la paz que solo el evangelio puede brindar (Stgo. 4:11; 5:7-9; Mt. 5:22-25; 1 Cor. 1:10). Como padre, disciplino a mis hijas para que ellas consideren las consecuencias de sus malas decisiones; como hermano, las discipulo, instruyo y las animo para que persigan los que es puro y bueno (Ro. 15:14; 1 Tim. 5:1-2). Como padre, las ayudo a reconocer el camino correcto; como su hermano en el evangelio, oro por ellas y busco restaurarlas cuando tuercen sus caminos (Mt. 18:21-22; Gál. 6:1; Stgo. 5:19-20; 1 Jn. 5:16).

Tus hijos y los míos son también seres eternos cuyos días durarán más que el ascenso y la caída de los reinos de esta tierra. Ellos, sus hijos y los hijos de sus hijos revolotearán tan brevemente sobre la faz de esta tierra antes de ser llevados a la eternidad (Stgo. 4:14). Si nuestros hijos vienen a ser nuestros hermanos y hermanas en Cristo, sus días en la tierra son preparatorios para la gloria que nunca acabará (Dn. 12:3; 2 Cor. 4:17-5:4; 2 Pe. 1:10-11). Los hijos son hermosos regalos de Dios—pero ellos son más que regalos. Si lo veo desde la perspectiva del evangelio, cada hijo en nuestra casa es, más que nada, un potencial o actual hermano o hermana en Cristo. Si es que nuestros hijos estarán de pie con nosotros en la gloria eterna, ellos no van a estar allí por ser nuestros hijos. Estarán al lado nuestro porque—y solo por esta razón—ellos han venido a ser nuestros hermanos y hermanas en Cristo.

¿Esto significa que, una vez que nuestro hijo viene a ser hermano o hermana en Cristo a través del evangelio, la relación padre-hijo, de alguna manera, desaparece? ¡Por supuesto que no! El evangelio no cancela los roles que están enraizados en la creación de Dios. Jesús y Pablo apelaron con libertad al orden de la creación de Dios como una guía para el liderazgo en la comunidad cristiana (Mt. 19:4-6; Mc. 10:5-9; Hch. 17:24-26; 1 Cor. 11:8-9; 1 Tim. 2:13-15). En vez de negar el orden de Dios en la creación, el evangelio añade una dimensión más profunda y rica que llena el diseño original de Dios.


¿Qué pasa cuando los padres empiezan a ver sus hijos como potenciales o actuales hermanos en Cristo? Los escritos de Pablo nos proveen una pista. El mismo apóstol, quien llamó a Timoteo para que anime creyentes más jóvenes como hermanos y hermanas cristianos, también le encomendó que los padres nutran a sus hijos “… en la disciplina e instrucción del Señor” (Ef. 6:4; vea también Col. 3:21). En otras cartas, Pablo aplica estos mismos dos términos—disciplina e instrucción—para ciertos patrones que caracterizan las relaciones de discipulado entre hermanos y hermanas en Cristo. La disciplina describe el resultado de ser entrenado en la Palabra de Dios (2 Tim. 3:16). Instrucción implica amonestación y guía para evitar comportamientos no sabios y enseñanzas impías (1 Cor. 10:11; Tito 3:10).

A la luz de estos textos, el mandamiento de Pablo de criar a los hijos “en la disciplina e instrucción” de Cristo sugiere que Pablo estaba llamando a los padres—y particularmente a los papás—a hacer mucho más allá que solo dirigir los comportamientos de sus hijos y proveer para sus necesidades. Como creyentes en Jesucristo, estamos llamados a relacionarnos con nuestros hijos tal como lo haríamos con no-creyentes en el mundo o creyentes jóvenes en nuestra iglesia, hablándoles el evangelio y entrenándoles en los caminos de Cristo (Mt. 28:18-20). La creación de Dios y la caída de la humanidad han ubicado a los padres como proveedores y disciplinadores. A través del evangelio, los padres cristianos han sido también llamados a ser discipuladores.

Este proceso de discipulado paterno es posible que luzca diferente en cada hogar. En mi hogar, esto significa un devocional familiar cada tarde del domingo, entrelazado con oraciones diarias y tiempos de discipulado familiar con cada uno de nuestros hijos. En otro hogar, podría ser un devocional nocturno familiar diario combinado con tiempos de conversación después de ir al cine o a un evento deportivo. Y aún en otras familias, podría tomar la forma de canciones y textos memorizados en el auto durante los viajes diarios. La manera precisa en que tú discipulas a tus hijos es negociable; la práctica misma no lo es. ¡Esto no es sugerir, por supuesto, que los padres cristianos deberían ser los únicos instructores bíblicos de sus hijos! Después de todo, la Gran Comisión de hacer discípulos fue dada a toda la iglesia como un llamado a alcanzar al mundo entero, incluyendo los niños (Mt. 28:19). Prácticas consistentes de discipulado deberían, sin embargo, caracterizar las prioridades de los padres en cada hogar cristiano.

Timothy Paul Jones sirve como Profesor C. Edwin Gheens de Ministerio de Familia Cristiana en el Seminario Teológico Bautista del Sur en Louisville, Kentucky, Estados Unidos. Él es el esposo de Rayann y son padres de tres hijas. La familia Jones sirve en el Ministerio de Niños y en el Liderazgo de Grupos Comunitarios de la Congregación Este de la Iglesia Sojourn Community.


[1] Este capítulo fue desarrollado de una transcripción de mi sesión de enseñanza en la Escuela de Liderazgo Masculino en la congregación de Jeffersontown de la Iglesia Sojourn Community el 24 de febrero del 2016. Algunas porciones de esa sesión de enseñanza fueron tomadas de Guía del Campo Ministerial Familiar (Indianápolis: Wesleyan:2011) y Ministerio Práctico Familiar (Nashville: Randall House, 2015).

[2] Martín Lutero, “Tertia Disputatio: Alia Ratio Justificandi Hominis Coram Deo”, Quinque Disputationes, thesis 6

[3] D.L. Moody, Notas desde mi Biblia (chicago: Revell, 1895), 152.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

Is Group-First Christianity A Trans-Cultural Value?

Talbot School of Theology - Thu, 05/04/2017 - 15:00

Is the church here to help me to grow in Christ as an individual? Or has God put me here to help the church grow both qualitatively and quantitatively?

The easy answer is “Both!” And that’s not completely wrong. But the early Christians clearly prioritized the health and growth of God’s community over the goals and desires of individual believers.

This group-first mentality is not only characterized the early church, it characterized family life throughout the ancient Mediterranean world. This is why families arranged marriages. The goal of marriage in the ancient world was the not relational satisfaction of the individuals involved. It was the honor and ongoing viability of the two families who brokered the marriage. The group — in this case the family — came first ...

Categories: Seminary Blog

Why read aloud?

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Thu, 05/04/2017 - 14:14

Reading aloud to your children is one of the best things you can do for them, and with them.

It makes a huge difference in their learning. Philosopher Adam Swift says, “The evidence shows the difference between those who get bedtime stories and those who don’t — the difference in their life chances — is bigger than the difference between those who get elite private schooling and those that don’t.”

But even more important than an educational advantage, reading good books aloud builds close emotional attachments that are rooted in physical closeness, shared memories, beloved characters, and a common vocabulary.

It’s encouraging to see rising support for stay-at-home moms. But if you decide to be among them, amid the long hours of binkies, blankets, and diapers, you’ll inevitably ask yourself at some point, “What are we going to do all day?” In a word: READ. Once you get started you may just find yourself worrying that you’ll run out of time before you run out of books. There is just so much worth reading.

It’s never too soon to start reading aloud — even to babies in the womb — and never too late to continue — even to teenage boys.

Parents often wrongly conclude that once a child can read, it is best to leave them alone with their books and encourage them to get to it. But this is precisely when we must not stop reading to them. Why? Because children can listen several grade levels ahead of what they can read. If we leave them to read only what they can sound out for themselves, they will quickly become bored and conclude that reading is no fun after all. Not even the dullest among us could subsist on Bob Books or Dick and Jane!
To hold their interest, keep reading to them ahead of what they can read to the themselves. And don’t ever stop.

Steve (my husband) used to read to me while I cooked dinner when we were newlyweds. I still love to be read to. He reads to our whole family after dinner. But I also treasure the time we spend reading to each other. Just the two of us.

Power of Story

Stories have the ability to shape our moral imagination. This is why we must choose wisely. A well-timed reading of The Gingerbread Man can challenge a child tempted by worldliness in a way that may go deeper than a simple, “Don’t do that!” warning ever could. (Beware of retellings, and politically correct adaptations, though. For this to be effective, you need the original book where the gingerbread man ends up being lunch for the wily, ever-worldly fox.)

Principles of Reading

Go for Quality. Life’s too short and the library is too full to tolerate uninteresting, uninspiring, or unedifying books. If you start a book and it’s not good, don’t hesitate to set it aside. You’ll be modeling good stewardship of time, as well as media discernment.

Talk about it. If you bring home a library book only to realize halfway through reading it aloud that it was in some way contrary to a biblical worldview, don’t ignore it. Explain from Scripture, and in terms your children can understand, why this isn’t a story to read over and over; why it goes against God’s way; etc. Take advantage of every teachable moment, and trust that God’s sovereignty extends to library book choices.

Plan ahead. Increasingly, the library is full of defiling books for children, and even more, for “young adults.” Sadly these books look good — fun cover art, etc. — but are at best junk food, and at worst, poison. One way to avoid overexposing your children is to order ahead. Most libraries allow you to access their catalogs online, and place holds on certain books. Use a book-of-books, like Honey for a Child’s Heart, to search for and order good, quality books. Then, when you go to the library, you’ll already have a stack of worthy books ready to pick up and take home.

A Word about Dragons

Throughout Scripture, the dragon is consistently a metaphor for Satan (Rev 12:17). It’s important not to confuse children with stories that turn the moral universe upside-down and make the dragon the good-natured hero. Whether dragons, wolves, or thieves, books that call good what we know is evil are books to avoid (Isa 5:20).

Curate Wisely

Moms and dads, it’s up to you to choose books that will nourish, and not defile, your children’s souls. Books have such power. Don’t be afraid to say no to a book or series that “everybody else is reading.” You are the parent. Remember, you will give an account for what your children read in ways librarians, teachers, and publishers won’t.
Proverbs 13:20 says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harms.” As on the playground, so too in the bookstore. Books are friends. Choose wisely.

Author’s Note: One of the best kept secrets in libraries for locals is the children’s lending library at Southeast Christian Church, Blankenbaker campus.

Candice Watters is a wife, mom, and Bible teacher who co-founded Boundless.org with her husband, Steve (VP for communications at SBTS).

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Categories: Seminary Blog

An Encouragement to Use Catechisms

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Wed, 05/03/2017 - 15:35

Many contemporaries have a deep-seated suspicion of catechisms. In our own Baptist denomination, many would consider the words “Baptist catechism” as mutually exclusive. A popular misconception is that catechisms are used in times and places where inadequate views of conversion predominate or the fires of evangelism have long since turned to white ash. If the Bible is preached, they continue, no catechism is necessary; catechisms tend to produce mere intellectual assent where true heart religion is absent. This concern reflects a healthy interest for the experiential side of true Christianity. Concern for conversion and fervor, however, should never diminish one’s commitment to the individual truths of Christianity nor the necessity of teaching them in a full and coherent manner.

In fact, some who profess the Christian faith are so experience-oriented that their view of spirituality makes them antagonistic to precise doctrine. Any attempt to inculcate systematic arrangement of truth is considered either divisive or carnal. Such convictions may be held in all sincerity and may gain apparent support from selected facts, but suspicion of catechisms as a legitimate tool for teaching God’s Word cannot be justified historically, biblically, or practically.

History Commends the Usefulness of Catechisms

The early church was painfully familiar with the apostasy of professing Christians. Persecution and the continued power of heathen worship practices caused many to lapse and prompted the early church to develop methods of instructing apparent converts before baptism. The period of instruction and catechizing served two purposes: it allowed the candidate (catechumenate) to decide if he still wanted to submit to Christian baptism and gave the church opportunity to discern (as far as human observation can do these kinds of things) the genuineness of his, or her, conversion. Then, after engaging in a period of fasting and prayer with the church, the candidates were baptized. This use of catechisms served as a safeguard for the purity of the church. Men such as Tertullian and Augustine served as catechists within the church. Julian the Apostate (ca. 360) so feared the effectiveness of this enterprise that he closed all Christian schools and places of public literature and forbade the instructing of youth.

With the union of church and state by the end of the fourth century and the gradual development of infant baptism the nature of catechetical instruction changed. The procedure of pre-baptismal catechetical instruction shifted more and more to after-the-fact instruction in preparation for confirmation. In many places it vanished entirely. Mass Christianization of barbarian tribes in the middle ages revitalized the catechetical idea. Charlemagne insisted that each baptized person should know at least the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed. This concern then extended to the children of such Christianized tribes. Though minimal, instruction was necessary, and the guarantee for it came from godparents who themselves were required to know the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. As confirmation developed in significance, examination upon the basic points of Christian doctrine became a normal procedure. This kind of practice has led to the impression that catechisms substitute for conversion in some traditions.

The golden Age of catechisms emerged in the Reformation. Both Luther and Calvin placed high priority on instruction by catechetical method and considered the success of the Reformation as virtually dependent on the faithfulness of Protestants to this process. In 1548, Calvin wrote Edward VI’s protector Somerset: “Believe my Lord, that the Church of God shall never be conserved without catechism, for it is as the seed to be kept that the good grain perish not but that it may increase from age to age. Wherefore if you desire to build a work of continuance to endure long, and which should not shortly fall into decay, cause that the children in their young age be instructed in a good catechism.”

The Heidelberg Catechism and the Westminster Catechism have had the most significant impact on Reformed Protestantism. The former, dating from 1562, begins with two questions which establish the format for the remainder of the document.

  1. What is thy only comfort in life and in death?
    That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ, who with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready henceforth to live unto him.
  1. How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou in this comfort mayest live and die happy?
    Three things: First, the greatness of my sin and misery. Second, how I am redeemed from all my sins and misery. Third, how I am to be thankful to God for such redemption.

The three parts of the catechism which follow are entitled “Of Man’s Misery,” “Of Man’s Redemption,” and “Of Thankfulness.” Within these sections full question and answer expositions are given of the Fall, the Apostles’ Creed, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, Perseverance, and Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer.

Hercules Collins, a leading English Baptist of the seventeenth century, adopted the Heidelberg Catechism as the basis for his 1680 publication Orthodox Catechism. Collins, a Baptist, felt that this virtual duplication of the Heidelberg Catechism should strengthen the usefulness of his work, “hoping an Athenian Spirit is in none of you, but do believe that an old Gospel (to you who have the sweetness of it) will be more acceptable than a new.” Part of his purpose was to demonstrate basic unity with the larger Protestant community.

Although literally hundreds of catechisms were produced in English in the seventeenth century, the most influential catechisms were those that arose from the Westminster Assembly, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. The Shorter Catechism especially influenced Baptist life, as it formed the basis for Keach’s (or The Baptist) Catechism and subsequently Spurgeon’s Catechism. In America, the Philadelphia Association catechism and the Charleston Association catechism were duplicates of Keach’s catechism. Richard Furman used it faithfully and effectively.

Several principles appeared to govern the theory of catechisms. One, many catechist believed that catechisms of different levels should be produced. Luther had published two as did the Scottish divine Craig and the Puritan John Owen (Two Short Catechisms). Richard Baxter had three, suited for childhood, youth, and mature age. The Westminster Assembly’s two catechisms are will known. Henry Jessey, another of the leading early Baptists, had three catechisms, all bound together, one of which contained only four questions: What man was, is, may be, and must be. John A. Broadus includes sections of “advanced questions”at the end of each respective section in the body of his catechism. This graduated difficulty in catechism rests on the theory that the earlier the stamping on the mind, the more indelible the result.

Two, exact memory is generally considered important. The power of words to substantiate reality enforces the necessity of some precision at this point. “I serve a precise God,” said Richard Rogers. Luther instructed those teaching the Small Catechism “to avoid changes or variation in the text and wording.” We should teach these things, he continued, “in such a way that we do not alter a single syllable or recite the catechism differently from year to year.” Exact head knowledge, however, is obviously not the end of catechetical instruction. Rather, catechizing aims ultimately at the eyes of understanding, heart knowledge. Even in the Westminster Assembly some were concerned that “people will come to learn things by rote, and answer it as a parrot but not understand the thing.” The design of the catechism is, under God, to chase the darkness from a sinner’s understanding, so that he may be enlightened in the knowledge of Christ and freely embrace him in forgiveness of sin. John Bunyan specifically wrote his catechism, “Instruction for the Ignorant,” that God might bless it to the awakening of many sinners, and the salvation of their souls by faith in Jesus Christ. The major purpose of Henry Jessey’s “Catechism for Babes” was to give instruction concerning how God could forgive those who “deserve death, and God’s curse,” and could still “be honoured in thus forgiving, naughty ones as we are.”

Henry Fish, an American Baptist, screwed in tightly the application of each section of his catechism by a poignant rhetorical question sealing discussion of each doctrine. For example, “Are you a believer, or does the wrath of God abide on you for unbelief?”

A catechism written by the English Baptist John Sutcliffe pinpoints this same concern as the goal of catechetical instruction.

To conclude: what do you learn from the catechism you have now been repeating?

I learn that the affairs of my soul are of the greatest importance, and ought to employ my chief concern.

That this has indeed been the result of catechetical instruction quite often is a happy fact. Luther Rice, that great early promoter of missions in America, said this in reflecting on his conversion:

After finding myself thus happy in the Lord, I began to reflect in a day or two, whether touching this reconciliation with God, there was anything of Christ in it or not! It then opened very dearly and sweetly to my view that all this blessed effect and experience arose distinctly out of the efficiency of the statement made by Christ. That I was indebted wholly to him for it all, and indeed the whole of that luminous system of divinity drawn out in the Westminster Catechism, opened on my view with light, and beauty, and power. This I had been taught to repeat, when a child. I then felt and still feel glad that I had been so taught. A charming reminiscence of one of the children Furman catechized gives a clear picture of the importance he attached to this process and these doctrines. A 1926 edition of In Royal Service quotes the remembrance a grandchild had of her grandmother’s experience under Furman.

We had no Sabbath school then, but we had the Baptist Catechism, with which we were as familiar as with the Lord’s Prayer. At our quarterly seasons, we children of the congregation repeated the Baptist Catechism standing, in a circle round the font. We numbered from sixty to a hundred. The girls standing at the south of the pulpit, the boys meeting them in the center from the north, Dr. Furman would, in his majestic, winning manner, walk down the pulpit steps and with book in hand, commence asking questions, beginning with the little ones (very small indeed some were, but well taught and drilled at home). We had to memorize the whole book, for none knew which question would fall to them. I think I hear at this very moment the dear voice of our pastor saying, “A little louder, my child,” and then the trembling, sweet voice would be raised a little too loud. It was a marvel to visitors on these occasions, the wonderful self-possession and accuracy manifested by the whole class. This practice was of incalculable benefit, for when it pleased God to change our hearts, and when offering ourselves to the church for membership, we knew what the church doctrines meant and were quite familiar with answering questions before the whole congregation, and did not quake when pastor or deacon or anyone else asked what we understood by Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Justification, Adoption, Sanctification. Oh, no; we had been well taught…What a pity that such a course of instruction has been abandoned.

Another kind of understanding was necessary also. Couching profound truth of the Great “I Am” in language digestible and understandable for children takes great discipline and concentration. Henry Jessey recognized a deficiency at this point in some of the earlier catechisms for children in that some of the answers contained Latin and Greek phrases. Jessey “desired to see one so plain and easie [sic] in the expressions, as they the very Babes, that can speak but stammeringly, and are of very weak capacities, might understand what they say.”

John A. Broadus felt the same tension when writing his “Catechism of Bible Teaching.” Reflecting on finishing Lesson 1 entitled “God,” Broadus said, “It is, of course, an extremely difficult task to make questions and answers about the existence and attributes of the Divine Being, that shall be intelligible to children, adequate as the foundation for future thinking, and correct as far as they go.” Those three guidelines should serve well to judge any catechism. Baptist catechisms have existed virtually since the appearance of modern-day Baptists in the seventeenth century. Typical of early Baptist commitment to catechizing is an admonition that appears in the circular letter of 1777 from the Baptist ministers and messengers assembled at Oakham in Rutlandshire, England.

Our confession of faith and our catechism for the instruction of our young people, are published to the world; and from these glorious principles we hope you will never depart…At present, blessed be God, we believe there is no apparent apostasy in our ministers and people from the glorious principles we profess; but, at the same time, we must in great plainness and faithfulness tell you, that catechizing of children is most sadly neglected, both in private families and in public congregations…

Our honoured brethren, the ministers at Bristol, have lately encouraged the publication of two editions of our catechism,…and we do most earnestly entreat you to furnish yourselves with this excellent compendium of true divinity, and that you would teach it diligently to your children in private, and desire your pastors to instruct them, at least for the summer season, in public.

Cathcart’s The Baptist Encyclopedia encourages “parents to employ the Catechism in their own homes” because “this neglected custom of the past should be revived in every Baptist family in the world.”

Southern Baptists developed catechisms as valuable tools for the religious education and evangelization of slaves. In 1848, Robert Ryland published “A Scripture Catechism for the Instruction of Children and Servants” and, in 1857, E.T. Winkler published Notes and Questions for the Oral Instruction of Colored People. Each of these catechisms contains fifty-two lessons, one for each Lord’s Day of the year.

In 1863, when the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention was founded, one of its first publications was A Catechism of Bible Doctrine, by J.P. Boyce. Within a four-month period in 1864, then thousand of these were printed and distributed. In 1879, Southern Baptists requested J.L. Dagg to write “a catechism…containing the substance of the Christian religion, for the instruction of children and servants…” Evidently this catechism was never completed. When the Southern Baptist Convention was considering the reestablishment of the Sunday School Board in 1891, the first new project it proposed was the publication of a catechism by John A. Broadus. This was printed and used widely and advantageously.

Catechisms have served in several capacities historically. During the early centuries of Christian history they were used for prebaptismal instruction. Later, after infant baptism began to become prominent, they were used to educate the masses baptized in infancy. Charlemagne in particular arranged that catechetical instruction should be given in his era of embarrassing ignorance.

During the Reformation, catechisms met several important and pressing needs. As a type of personalized confession, they helped establish clearly the distinguishing doctrines considered paramount by the reformers. Also, their polemical power assisted in the task of bringing a corrective cordial to the deceptive spiritual sickness propagated by Roman Catholicism. Additionally, they were effective in teaching biblical truth as an ongoing enterprise in cities and countries that adopted the Reformation. Puritans and their heirs utilized catechisms as an evangelistic tool. Baptists, including Southern Baptists, produced scores of catechisms for use in this variety of ways.

We see, then, that like all good ideas, catechisms are subject to abuse, and their evil lives after them. We should not, however, let the good be interred with their bones, but resurrect it as an effective instrument for a new day of Reformation.

The Bible Encourages Their Use

In addition to the lessons of history, Scripture itself encourages the use of catechisms in our efforts to be transformed by the biblical message. The divine out-breathings which produced Scripture create both an assumption and a purpose which are consistent with this approach to instruction. The assumption is the authority, sufficiency, and consistency of Scripture; the purpose is the increase of spiritual maturity in the children of God.

Examples or models of instruction used by the first-century church abound in Scripture, both in method and content. These make it clear that the use of summaries, readily digestible portions of revelatory truth, make for effective instruction in the church. In addition, implicit admonitions for this form of education are scattered throughout the pages of the Bible and mixed with the models mentioned above.

The catechetical approach should not be used to serve any fascination with systems and abstractions or to puff one’s self up with speculative knowledge instead of increased love for God (1 Cor. 8:1). Instead, it is one way that Christians may enhance their ability to use Scripture in accordance with its purpose. Instruction with this kind of precision constitutes an obedient response to the Bible itself and fulfills biblical principles undergirding the process of disciple making.

Fulfillment of Scripture’s Purpose

Preaching, teaching, and meditation (biblical means of spiritual growth) require slightly different emphases in the use of Scripture and accomplish slightly different tasks in conforming us to Christ. Preaching comes in the form of a proclamation, challenging and correcting our thoughts and actions, teaching us of the grace of God in the gospel, and calling us to deeper repentance and obedience. Teaching, no more content-oriented nor less confrontive than preaching, employs a format less monologic and more oriented toward questioning and discussion. Meditation involves extended personal appraisal of one’s own thoughts and actions in comparison to the beauty and holy character of God as revealed in Scripture and impressed on the heart by the Holy Spirit.

In each of these, not only does the person who is well catechized have a distinct advantage, the use of a catechetical approach is a basic element of the procedure itself. Those who have good scripture knowledge gain more from good preaching. If, in addition, they have been trained to see the coherent structure of biblical truth and can define its leading principles, their knowledge of Scripture is more precise and thorough. The consequent benefit from preaching in-creases. More will be said about this in the discussion of practical advantages.

A well-catechized hearer doesn’t view the words and ideas of the preacher as isolated fragments of truth; he understands them as constituent elements of the “one faith” which must govern our efforts to achieve “unity in the faith.” Matthew Henry, a seventeenth-century Puritan biblical scholar, states, “Catechizing does to the preaching of the word the same good office that John the Baptist did to our Saviour; it prepares the way, and makes its paths straight, and yet like him does but say the same things.”

This relationship between preparatory instruction and purity of worship was woven into the very fabric of the history of Israel. The people were commanded to instruct their children in the ways of God. When an Israelite child asked his father, “What mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments, which the Lord our God hath commanded you?” the parent was to answer with a summary of the mighty works of God for the redemption of the people (Deut. 6:20-25). These acts of God might be more fully expounded in other contexts, but the summary served as a basis of all conduct and worship.

One could conclude that the entire history of Israel was catechetical preparation for Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. Of course, it was much more than that. Peter explained what the people observed with the words, “This is what was spoken…” (Acts 2:16) and the explanation was sufficient. His appeal to the attestation of Jesus’ ministry by miracles, wonders, and signs (2:22) was consistent with their understanding of God’s activity in pivotal redemptive eras of their history (Moses and Elijah). His recitation of the Messianic prophecies through David made immediate appeal to the orientation of his audience. Also, his references to the pouring out of the Spirit did not refer simply to Jesus’’ promises during his earthly ministry about the coming of the comforter. This would have meant little to Peter’s audience. More likely he referred to the coming of the Spirit as the sign of ultimate redemption and the new covenant (Ezekiel 11:19; 18:31; 36:27; 39:29; Jeremiah 31:31-34). Peter’s announcement of Jesus a both “Lord” and “Christ” met with immediate understanding and conviction. Both words were filled with meaning for the hearers and the string of evidence he presented pointed to the conclusion they drew.

I am not contending that a strong background of knowledge when combined with a compelling argument always makes a convert. NE conviction or conversion will come without the effectual working of the Spirit of God (Eph. 1:19; Col. 2:11, 12). A connection, however, between prior knowledge and proclamation is a part of God’s ordained means of salvation.

The same is seen in Paul’s sermon at Athens. He appealed to what he knew they had discerned from general revelation and had put within their system of worship (Acts 17:22-29). In a sense, nature and conscience had catechized them.

Also, more quickly than those not so trained, those catechized become capable of preaching and teaching. The appeal of preaching he in proclaiming the new (whether it be insight into content or application) based on known truth. Jesus said, “Every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings forth out of his treasure things new and old” (Mt. 13:52). The scribes were the most thoroughly educated people of Israel during the time of our Lord. They were professional students of the law and gathered around themselves pupils to whom they taught the law and the oral tradition which accompanied it, much of which they themselves produced. They taught their students to pass on this content without alteration. Jesus indicates that the person with scribal training, when converted and freed of the idol of human tradition, is capable of teaching others the truths of the kingdom of God. He can understand and communicate how Christian revelation relates to the new challenges the world constantly presents. He gives insight in how one can make fresh applications of the unchangeable truths divine revelation.

Apollos, before he met Aquila and Priscilla, was literally “catechized” in the way of the Lord and was teaching with accuracy the things concerning Jesus (Acts 18:25). Upon receiving more accurate instruction concerning some details, he continued his teaching being of great help to believers and an irrefutable apologist for the faith in public debate with the Jews (Acts 18:27, 28). It was no small contribution to his eventual effectiveness that he was so thoroughly “catechized.”

The biblical evidence for the value of catechisms is not derived solely from inference. The specific admonitions of Scripture support the use of this method. “Teach them diligently to thy children” and “talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” were the instructions accompanying the second giving of the commandments (Deut. 6). This sort of instruction included memorization of fundamental precepts. The psalmist assumes the existence of this knowledge in his numerous exhortations to meditate in the law of the Lord. No meditation can occur where no content is present; and the more accurate and precise the content, the more edifying and uplifting the meditation.

David says, “The unfolding of thy words gives light” (Ps. 119:130 NASB). The word for “unfolding” may mean “entrance” or “opening.” Its root often is used metaphorically for “understanding” or, in a phrase, “grasping the true meaning.” The illumination of the Holy Spirit alone accomplishes this, particularly as it relates to one’s transformation by the renewing of the mind (Rom. 12:2). From a human standpoint, however, the purpose of a catechism is to present true contextual understanding of the biblical revelation. It can give significant and enlightening help in the Christian privilege of meditation on the truths of divine revelation, a practice which gives understanding to the simple.

Admonitions and Examples

Much of the educational task of the church today is parallel with that of the Levites in Nehemiah’s day. When the Israelites were at the threshold of recovering their significance as the people of God, central to this reorientation was the learning of the word of God. Ezra led the scribes and the Levites in intensive sessions with the people: “They read in the book of the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understanding the reading” (Ezra 8:1-8).

Scripture itself gives clear warrant to the use of external aids in order to enhance and accelerate biblical understanding. The Levites “gave the sense.” Preeminently, the preacher serves in that capacity; but providing the same kind of touchstone given by the “rule of faith” in the early Christian centuries, a catechism helps perform the same function. When it has a comprehensive scriptural orientation and is organized logically, a catechism can enhance understanding and give immense help in grasping the sense of Scripture.

Summaries of faith, either in confessional or catechetical form, appear in the New Testament. These are used in situations where strong clear reminders of the distinctiveness of the Christian faith are needed. They serve to exhort, encourage, warn and edify. Bits and pieces of confessions, or perhaps catechetical responses, are very likely present in such passages as Ephesians 4:4-6; 1 Timothy 1:15-17; 3:12-16; 2 Timothy 1:8-10; 2:11-13; and Titus 1:11-14. The faith Paul mentions in Ephesians 4:5, 13 could be the experience of grace of faith. Another and more likely, possibility is that it denote an objective faith, that is a body of teaching. The context seems to favor that understanding. Paul emphasizes the gift of pastor-teacher in verse 11 and, in verse 13, has in mind a doctrinal core around which believers should be united. This is contrasted to the instability of the doctrine characteristic of deceitful teachers in verse 14. At any rate, the words in verses 5 and 6 have an easily memorable form which expressed a foundational and minimal confessional standard for some first-century Christian churches. The simple but clear and exclusive confession could serve as an effective shield of faith against many fiery first-century darts of false teaching.

The phrase “a faithful saying” (literally Faithful the word), in Timothy 1:15 and 3:1 and 4:9, introduces a confessional, or perhaps catechetical formula. The sentences which follow could possibly stand alone as pithy and pregnant epigrams, “one-liner” confessions such as “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” More likely they are part of larger statements as in 1 Timothy 3:16. That particular confession called by Paul “The Mystery of Godliness” begins with a phrase which contains an adverbial form of the word “confess” and literally translates “confessedly great.” Idiomatically it means “undeniably.” That which is “confessed” with such certainty is a six-article Christological confession.

Apparently, Paul considered this confession a helpful safeguard against the encroachment of heresy, for immediately in 1 Timothy 4:6, Paul warns Timothy about the errors of ascetic dualism. That heresy by implication denies the goodness of creation as well as the reality of the incarnation, death, resurrection, and bodily ascension of Christ into heaven. Paul points to the “words of faith” and the inherently good, noble and praiseworthy doctrine he has been following. He uses the same word to describe the “teaching” (v.6) as he does to describe the inherent goodness of the creation (v.4).

The phrase “words of faith” in verse 6 has a strong verbal relationship to the “faithful sayings” in 1:15, 3:1,4:9, and 2 Tim. 2:11. The first uses the noun form of “faith” and the second uses the adjective form. Conceptually, Paul is making the same affirmation. A “faithful saying” incorporates words which summarize certain truths of the faith; thus, “words of faith” becomes “faithful words”, or “faithful sayings.” These are in turn identified with “the sound doctrine” (NASB) Timothy has been following.

Paul is reminding Timothy that spiritual and doctrinal nourishment he received in his early instruction is a strong, and even essential, foundation for an effective ministry with the people of God. Verse 9 then repeats the formula “It is a faithful saying and worthy of full acceptance” that exercising oneself to godliness (v.7) striving and laboring for life now and to come (vv.8, 10) are all part of putting one’s hope in the living God “who is the Savior of all men, especially those who believe.”

These faithful sayings consisted of the teaching of the apostles and N. T. prophets (the foundational gifts to the church) and served as the Christ-centered guide to the interpretation of the 0. T. Scriptures and as paths to life in the presence of the Living God. In 2 Timothy 1:8, Paul encourages Timothy not to be ashamed of the “testimony of our Lord.” The word “testimony” which serves to translate two Greek words contains a rich fabric of meaning. Among the several things that both unite are the following: an event, word, or thing that serves as proof or evidence (John 8:17); a personal conviction about the truth which can not be compromised no matter what the consequences (2 Cor. 1:12); the spoken message about Christ’s person and work (1 Cor. 1:16); and, in The Martyrdom of Polycarp, it refers specifically to the martyr’s death. In 1 Tim. 2:6 the “testimony” is used as an appositive to “ransom.” The death of Christ was thus Christ’s personal witness to and irrefutable evidence of the truth that there is one God and that reconciliation is possible only through a mediator who provides an effectual ransom (antilutron). The death of Christ speaks volumes, infinite volumes, about the unique efficacy of the gospel; it is the testimony in God’s ordained time. And to that specific testimony that Christ made in his death Paul was appointed a preacher, and apostle, and a teacher. When he speaks of the “testimony of our Lord,” therefore, in 2 Tim. 1:8 he has in mind that historical witness of Christ in his passion which is communicated to all generations in the words called the Gospel (“be a fellow-sufferer in the gospel”).

John’s Angel in Revelation 19:10 speaks of those messengers who “hold the testimony of Jesus.” Indeed, the angel continues, the “testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy.” Isaiah, when hounded by the false religionists of his day to consult mediums, replied, “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn” (Isa. 8:20 NASB).

The testimony of our Lord, or the testimony of Jesus, is the fulfillment of all the prophets. This testimony (marturion) is given a form so that witnesses (martus) may testify (martureo) verbally. An elevated prose portion of that testimony is presented in the words of verses 9 and 10 of 2 Tim. 1: “Who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but has now been manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who destroyed death on the one hand, and, on the other, brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” Timothy also is admonished to “guard the deposit” and follow the pattern or standard of “sound words” given him. This deposit and these sound words he was to entrust to faithful men who would b able to teach others. Paul had already written against those who live in a moral squalor opposed to the “sound teaching which is according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God” (1:10-11). In 1 Tim. 6:3, Pat warns Timothy against those who want to teach other things and will not receive “sound words.” Nor will they receive “the teaching” that according to godliness. Instead, they are men who understand nothing and, among other things, are deprived of the truth. He gives similar instruction to Titus that he would select overseers who hold firmly to the sure word which is in accord with “the teaching.” This is so they may exhort others in “the teaching, the sound teaching” and may reprove those who oppose them.

2 Tim. 3:14, 15 pictures Timothy as having learned from his grandmother, mother, and Paul’s sets of truths stated not exactly in Scripture language but founded upon Scripture truth. In the same vein the writer of Hebrews speaks of the need of some to be instructed in the “elementary principles of the Oracles of God” (5:12). Paul’s emphasis on “the teaching,” the “deposit,” the “sound teaching,” the “sound words,” and his instruction that it serve as corrective guideline to false teachings, false teachers, an nonessential subtleties creates a form with clearly recognizable features. Thomas Watson and Matthew Henry are convinced that the “form, pattern, standard of sound words” is a type of catechism: “the first principles of the oracles of God.”

The apostles and other teachers in the New Testament worked with several clear, concise, verbally friendly confessional and catechetical devices to establish a foundation for the entire teaching ministry. The practice of learning by exact verbal patterns was well established, by divine mandate, in Jewish culture. A continuance that would not only be natural but an expected response to the divine disclosure of the words of the gospel. Nothing should hinder the conclusion that memorization of the deposit of truth is biblical. The catechism appears to meet this need most acceptably (See Birger Gerhardsson, Memory and manuscript: Oral Tradition and Writt, Transmission in Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity).

Sola Scriptura

Some object to catechisms because they fear a tendency to replace Scripture. If viewed in terms of the medieval practice, such a fear might have legitimacy, In addition the period of Lutheran Orthodoxy: produced an implicit creedalism that was opposed by the founder of the pietist movement. While Pietism developed its own set of problems, its renewed emphasis on Bible study was a needed practical application of the Protestant emphasis on sola scriptura. The most consistent practice in Protestantism, however, gives positive relief to this important concern. Spurgeon noted the tendency of this fear and addressed it forcefully:

If there were any fear that Scripture would be displaced by handbooks of theology, we should be the first to denounce them; but there is not the shadow of a reason for such a dream, since the most Bible-reading of all the nations is that in which the Assembly’s Catechism is learned by almost every mother’s son [cited in Cathcart, The Baptist Encyclopedia, s.v. Creeds, advantageous).

Matthew Henry, in his “Sermon Concerning the Catechizing of Youth,” expressed, a century before Spurgeon, the same confidence:

Bear us witness, we set up no other rule and practice, no other oracle, no other touchstone or test of orthodoxy, but the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament: these are the only fountains whence we fetch our knowledge;…and far be it from us that we should set up any form of words in competition with it, much less in contradiction to it; or admit any rival with it in the conduct an guardianship of our souls, as some do the traditions of the church, and others I know not what light within. Every other help we have for our souls we make use of as regula regulata – “a rule controlled”; in subordination and subserviency to the Scripture; and among the rest our catechisms and confessions of faith [The Complete Works of Matthew Henry 2 vols. (Grand Rapids; Baker Book House, 1979) 2:159, 160].

Allow a contemporary to testify to the eminently safe and edifying character of a scriptural catechism. In his introduction to his own revised version of Keach’s Catechism, Paul King Jewett anticipates this objection with a strong answer:

It would be anomalous indeed to say that in teaching that the Scripture is the only rule of faith and practice, the catechism is setting itself in the place of Scripture. All that the authors of our catechism have sought to do is to state in a plain, orderly and concise manner what the Scripture teaches. And do we any less in the sermon, which is the very central act of evangelical worship? What is a sermon, or at least what ought it to be, but a clear and forceful statement in the preacher’s own words of what the Scripture means?

And if this may be done in a sermon, why may it not be done in a catechism?

Catechizing is Practical

The practicality of such an exercise can be demonstrated at several points.

First, catechizing forces one to redeem the time. There are many good and helpful ways for parents and children to spend time together. Many parents struggle, however, with finding a means of creating spiritual and biblical discussions with their children. The discipline of catechizing draws parent and child, student and teacher, together in the most helpful and edifying of all activities–the submission of heart and mind to the teachings of the Bible. Other activities may draw the parties together, but time could not be so well spent in any other endeavor. As Matthew Henry affirms, “Your being catechized obliges you to spend at least some part of your time well, and so as you may afterwards reflect upon it with comfort and satisfaction above many other, perhaps above any other, of your precious moments.”

Second, catechizing gives the building blocks from which all Scripture can be comprehended. I considered this idea briefly when considering how a catechism is in conformity with the purpose of Scripture. One of the church’s most influential and, from a teaching standpoint, successful theologians, John Calvin, saw the truth of this principle and employed it brilliantly. He wrote a catechism to be used in all the homes in Geneva and explains his commitment to this idea in the preface to his 1545 French edition of the Institutes of the Christian Religion. He spoke of the benefits to the church of having in writing a treatment “in succession of the principal matters” which comprise Christian truth. Those who took advantage of this benefit will “be prepared to make more progress in the school of God in one day than any other person in three months” since he knows “to what he should refer each sentence and has a rule by which to test whatever is presented to him.”

Marion Snapper calls this the Lodestar hypothesis. In the absence of sophisticated electronic equipment, a maritime navigator must focus on several brilliant and pivotal stars out of the vast and dazzling array of heavenly splendors. The catechism provides these guiding lights. An artist begins learning his gift by observing the forms of circles, triangles, ellipses, squares, and adds understanding of shading, symmetry, and depth. He then combines these into beautiful creations by the skillful addition of detail. A theologian begins with the first basic principles of faith, which if learned well provide the immovable stones which support massive and comprehensive treatments of all the revealed counsels of God.

Though a catechism cannot contain all the beauty of the Scriptures, it may contain “the essentials of religion, the foundations and main pillars” upon which the rest stands. Matthew Henry compares a catechism to a “map of the land of promise, by the help of which we may travel it over with our eye in a little time.” A catechism can no more replace the Bible than a map can replace travel. Though a map does not render the smell of flowers, the heat of the sun, the refreshment of a breeze, or the height of a mountain, the serious traveler would never want to be without one. Traveling from Cuckfield to Canterbury or from Gary, Indiana, to Soddy Daisy, Tennessee, a trip can turn into quite a disaster without a good map for guidance. The terrain is not altered to fit the map; rather, the map is carefully designed to show what the terrain is like. Nor does one sit at home admiring the wonderful map, thinking that he has seen the world because he has studied the map. No, the map aids in my travel and even encourages one to it. One gets an overall view of where one is going from the map, and, conversely, the journey even helps one understand the map better. Even so is a catechism to Scripture.

Third, a catechized congregation makes better sermons and better preachers. Thomas Watson says, “To preach and not to catechize is to build without foundation.” The writer of Hebrews labored under some debilitating difficulties because his readers were inadequately grounded in foundational theological principles (Heb. 5:11-14). What might the writer have told us about the priesthood of Christ had his addressees been mature doctrinally and well catechized? Even so, if a significant portion of one’s regular congregation sees clearly the lodestars of the Faith, more detailed textual exposition becomes possible, if not necessary. Thus, the people are in a position to feed on the sincere milk of the word and the pastoral dimension of feeding the flock of god takes on new and highly challenging dimensions.

Two dangers in this advantage are to be avoided. One, maturity of understanding in a portion of the congregation must not force one into a weekly display of esoteric interests. While every message must have something to stretch and challenge the mature, it must also speak plainly to the children and the uncatechized. Two, one must avoid the spirit of novelty. A strong foundation must not be interpreted to grant one license to produce cute little doctrinal embellishments of one’s own whims derived from hermeneutical oddities and hidden meanings. Such enterprises, in reality, produce only disproportionate, grotesque monstrosities composed of wood, hay, and stubble to be consumed, for they have no coherence or harmony with the foundation, which is Christ. In fact the tendency of the preacher involved in catechetical training with his congregation would be to emphasize the great central truths of the gospel: sin, the cross, atonement, regeneration, repentance unto life, saving faith, justification, the person and work of Christ, the convenantal working of the Triune God in the salvation of sinners.

The fourth practical use of a catechism is its witness to our belief that Scripture is consistent, clear, and can be taught systematically. Popular scepticism towards the possibility of revealed truth produces raised eyebrows and dropped jaws at the mention of “systematic” theology or catechisms of Bible doctrine. Such materials presuppose that the Bible’s teachings on any number of subjects can be arranged in such a manner as to present a consistent, non-contradictory picture of that subject. Catechisms may present real problems to those who feel uncomfortable affirming full biblical truthfulness and consistency; but, for those who accept that position as necessary for the Christian faith, catechisms should be not only welcomed but aggressively sought.

Fifth, arising from the Christian’s commitment to truthfulness, which includes coherence and non-contradiction, the catechism aids in producing minds which are congenial to logic and analysis. A well-constructed catechism weaves itself into a tapestry of truth. All parts depend upon and are informed by all others. The learner does not see items of information as meaningless and disconnected from reality as a whole. Instead, without eliminating the sense of mystery and intruding on things hidden from our view by God himself, a confidence in the coherence of truth is paramount. Everything begins with God as creator, subsists and maintains its being through divine providence, and ultimately is consumed in the divine purpose to God’s glory.

Not only is the created order meaningful, but history is meaningful, and the words used to describe creation and history are meaningful. The God who spoke the world into existence and maintains it by the word of his power, has by those acts vested in written language the possibility, in fact the necessity, of accurate communication. Observe theological procession and analytical integrity of the following series of exchanges.

1. Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?

The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery (Rom. v. 1,2).

2. Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?

The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it (Rom. v.12, to the end; Eph. ii. 1,2,3; James i. 14,15; Matt. xv. 19).

3. Wherein consists the misery of that estate whereunto man fell?

All mankind by this fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever.

4 Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?

God having out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life (Eph. i. 4,5), did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer (Rom. iii. 20-22; Gal. iii., 21,22).

The fall leads to an estate of Sin and Misery. The two estates are defined and their several parts delineated, and deliverance from sin and misery is introduced. This, of course, leads to a section describing the person and work of the Redeemer. These responses are from the Baptist Catechism used by London Particular Baptists, the Philadelphia Association and the Charleston Association. It is based on The Westminister Shorter Catechism, a cut above most other catechisms, but the advantage under discussion still stands for any well-organized catechism.

Sixth, Godly catechizing may serve to bolster faith in man’s conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil. In 1630, Hugh Peters encouraged parents to catechize their children by reminding them “if ever your poore Infants bee driven to wilderness, to hollow caves, to Fagot and Fire, or to sorrowes of any kinde, they will thank God and you, they were well catechized.’ Marion Snapper characterizes this as the “Prison Camp hypothesis.” His judgment is that this is about as realistic as “arguing for obesity in anticipation of landing in a Vietnamese prison camp; it is simply too far removed from the realities of life.”

Though wildernesses, Fagot and Fire may not be a present threat, persecution and opposition of a different sort is just as real and perhaps more subtly destructive. Biblical views of both God and man undergo incessant bombardment in the educational structure of modern society.

What Christian young person hasn’t found himself in the wilderness of a university classroom, or high school room for that matter, wishing he knew concretely the argument for a belief that his parents and his pastor hold dearly. And how many who have only vague impressions of doctrine but no lively and coherent apprehension of them find themselves overwhelmed by the apparent massive scholarship and acute philosophical insights of an unbelieving teacher?

Such an experience tends to isolate “religious” ideas to a corner of knowledge merely mystical and devotional, tangent to reality only at the point of personal value judgments but not considered worthy of the status of absolutes in any sense. Christianity becomes only a matter of private opinion, but certainly not a case to be argued. Catechizing from an early age sensitizes and conditions the person to consider God and his attributes as an essential part of knowledge, indeed foundational for all true learning. In addition, one learns to evaluate man properly both as to his dignity from creation and his intellectual/moral capabilities as modified by the fall. Seventh, catechisms provide the theological foundation to bring reformation, prepare for revival, and avoid fanatical enthusiasm. Reformation is the recovery and propagation of central gospel truth and the ordering of the church–worship, ordinances, officers, and preaching–in its light. Revival is the recovery of love for God and man and results in the establishing of priorities in life on the basis of that love. Enthusiasm, the teaching that special leading and the revelation of truth are given privately to individuals, has been the source of divisive and dangerous error. Catechizing provides a doctrinal and biblical foundation which disarms and disciplines the tendency toward privatization of religious truth.

Spurgeon sums up the matter as pungently as any advocate of catechisms.

In matters of doctrine you will find orthodox congregations frequently changed to heterodoxy in the course of thirty or forty years, and that is because, too often, there has been no catechizing of the children in the essential doctrines of the Gospel. For my part, I am more and more persuaded that the study of a good Scriptural catechism is of infinite value to our children. . . . Even if the youngsters do not understand all the questions and answers . . . yet, abiding in their memories, it will be infinite service when the time of understanding comes, to have known these very excellent, wise and judicious definitions of the things of God. . . . It will be a blessing to them-the greatest of all blessing . . . a blessing in life and death, in time and eternity, the best of blessings God Himself can give.

Those who concur and practice in accordance with such a judgment will find themselves standing in good company and involved in a holy enterprise.

One Essential Article

“Do I address one here who imagines that an orthodox creed will save him? I suppose that no one is more orthodox than the devil, yet no one is more surely lost than he is. You may get a clear head, but if you have not a clean heart, it will not avail you at the last. You may know the Westminster Assembly’s Catechism by heart, but unless you are born again, it will not benefit you. Did you say that you believe the thirty-nine articles? There is one article that is essential-`You must be born again’ (John 3:7). And woe to that man who has not passed through that all-important change.” – Charles H. Spurgeon

The post An Encouragement to Use Catechisms appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

If Christ is not Raised, Your Work is Futile

Talbot School of Theology - Wed, 05/03/2017 - 12:00

In Paul’s famous words, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile …” (1 Corinthians 15:17). Can we say the same for work that Paul says about faith? Without the resurrection of Jesus do our earthly endeavors amount to nothing in the grand scheme of existence? As Darrell Cosden asks in The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work, “Is there any real lasting or ‘eternal’ value in our work?” Cosden answers, “Our everyday work (whether paid or unpaid) actually matters and makes a difference—not just in the here and now, but also for eternity. Work, and the things that we produce through our work, can be transformed and carried over by God into heaven" ...

Categories: Seminary Blog

Editorial: Family-Based Youth Ministry was the first family ministry book I ever read.

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Wed, 05/03/2017 - 10:55

My first response was to reject family ministry as an utterly ridiculous and impractical idea in my context.

It took two years for the struggles of ministry and the work of the Spirit to change my mind.

“I Don’t See Any Way That This Could Work Here”

In 2002, I was called to oversee children’s ministry and Christian education in a growing church. I had spent the previous three years as this congregation’s youth minister; now, in addition to my other roles, I oversaw the new youth minister. A few months after the new youth minister arrived, he came into my office carrying a book with a cover that would have looked trendy a decade earlier.

“I’ve been reading this book,” he said, “and I really think we need to look into trying family-based ministry. This is what our students need.” He held up his copy of Family-Based Youth Ministry and began outlining what he had learned.

“Well, I really like what you’re describing,” I said once he had finished. “And that’s the way things should be done in youth ministry. The problem is, in this church, two-thirds of our students come from broken homes, and we just don’t have enough intact homes to support this. I’ll take a look at the idea, but I don’t see any way that this could work here.”

Once the youth minister finished the book, he passed it on to me. I read a few bits and pieces of Family-Based Youth Ministry and then shelved it. I had completed a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies, a master of divinity, and a doctorate in educational leadership—but I had never read a book about family ministry. As such, I did find the book enlightening. Still, I knew this model would never succeed in my context. If God ever called me to serve in an upper-income suburban church, I might use this book—but not here, not in this low-income exurban neighborhood, blighted with methamphetamine labs and abandoned trailer homes. When I was the youth minister, I had tried intergenerational activities with mixed success, but I wasn’t willing to turn these ideas into a ministry-wide strategy.

New Role, New Challenges, New Openness

A year or two later, much had changed. Our church’s context was the same as it had been for decades, but I had recently transitioned into the role of senior pastor. Looking at the church from this new angle, I was concerned as I saw fault lines emerging between generations. What’s more, the church had continued to grow, and it was becoming clear that the ministry staff needed help to be able to disciple people effectively.

One of the many factors that came together that year for me was the recognition that God designed the family to make disciples and model Christ’s love for his church. I began to look at the church’s ministries from that perspective, and I remembered a book that I had shelved the year before. At the same time, I began an academic bridge program at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to turn my doctor of education degree into a doctor of philosophy degree. These seminars provided a context to wrestle with emerging ideas about church leadership.

Over the next three years in that church, I began to implement more and more family ministry practices. As I learned to reflect more effectively on my ministry, these ideas became increasingly rooted in my study of Scripture and theology. By the end, many of the practices were the very ones that metamorphosed into the family-equipping ministry model described in Perspectives on Family Ministry and Family Ministry Field Guide. In the beginning, however, most of my ideas came from Family-Based Youth Ministry, the very book that I had shelved as impractical a couple of years earlier. As I’ve conversed with hundreds of family ministry veterans over the past eight years, I have discovered that I am not alone. For many of us, Family-Based Youth Ministry was our first introduction to family ministry.

Family-Based Youth Ministry, Twenty Years Later

This year is the twentieth anniversary of the first printing of Family-Based Youth Ministry. We’ve chosen to commemorate this anniversary with a couple of significant research articles focused on ministry to adolescents (“Adolescent Moral Development in Christian Perspective” and “The Function of Short-Term Mission Experiences in Christian Formation”), as well as an interview with Mark DeVries and a few appreciative reflections on the impact of Family-Based Youth Ministry. In addition to these features, this issue also includes a broad range of research articles and brief reflections on family discipleship and Christian formation.

This and other issues of the Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry will be made available free of charge here: equip.sbts.edu. If you prefer a printed journal, don’t despair! Print-on-demand versions will continue to be available, and—if you have subscribed to Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry—we will fulfill your entire subscription.


The post Editorial: Family-Based Youth Ministry was the first family ministry book I ever read. appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Taking Offense at Jesus: Did Israel Have a Wrong View of the Kingdom? (Part 1)

Talbot School of Theology - Tue, 05/02/2017 - 11:37

Reading the other day in Luke’s Gospel I ran across some arresting words aimed indirectly at John the Baptist.  In Luke 7:23, right after the account of John sending a delegation of disciples to inquire whether Jesus is the “Expected One,” Jesus cites his deeds and words to say in effect, “yes, indeed I am.” But then Jesus closes the episode with another “beatitude” seemingly made in John’s direction:  “Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me" ...




Categories: Seminary Blog

To Him be the Dominion Forever, Amen

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 05/02/2017 - 11:23
1 Peter 5:10 But the God of all grace, who called you into his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself put things right, strengthen, empower, [and] secure [you]. 11To him be the dominion forever! Amen! I have enjoyed reading through Karen Jobes’s commentary on 1 Peter for a... Read More
Categories: Seminary Blog

The Forgotten Value of Time with Our Children

Southwestern Seminary - Tue, 05/02/2017 - 09:30

Last week, I took my 10-year-old daughter to a baseball game. It was just the two of us. Our other three children were home with my wife. For nearly four hours, we spent time together in the car and at the stadium. My phone mostly stayed in my pocket (except for taking and posting a few photos), and we talked.

Over the course of the game, we talked about the rules of baseball; I showed her how to tell if the umpire was calling a ball or strike; we even met the people sitting next to us and talked about their experiences watching baseball. My daughter got randomly selected to receive a game-used baseball during the game because she was wearing her Texas Rangers shirt and hat. Clearly, it was a wonderful evening at the ballpark.

The value of that time at the game was priceless. Had it not been for a letter that my 12-year-old daughter penned to my own mother, this opportunity would likely never have manifested itself. Back in November, as the kids were making out their own Christmas wish lists, my oldest daughter put a letter in the mail asking my parents to buy me season tickets to the Texas Rangers for Christmas.

Her motives were pure. She knew how much I loved watching the Rangers play baseball on television. We went to a few games last season and loved every minute. The final reason that tugged at our heartstrings was when she said that she missed being able to go with me to a game—just the two of us—and spend time together. Although my wife and I intercepted the letter before it ever made it to my parents’ house, the letter still had an impact. Last week, I started the summer-long goal of taking each of my four children to at least one baseball game by ourselves.

My second daughter was overjoyed about the opportunity to go first. She has a memory of getting a ball at the game that will never fade from her mind. I even stopped on the way home at 10 p.m. to get ice cream—something only a dad would do. But most of all, we simply spent time together.

We talked. We listened. We slowed down.

If your life is anything like ours, you are busy. Between work, school, church, sports practices, and countless other activities, it can be difficult to slow down and enjoy being in the presence of our children. However, my oldest daughter’s letter and my second daughter’s joy demonstrate that we often forget the value of time. They simply enjoyed being with me and having my attention.

In Deuteronomy 6:6–7, we read, “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” How can we teach our children the words of the Lord if we do not take the time to have conversations with them and listen to their hearts?

For our family, the cure for slowing down is baseball. We love watching the games and acting as if we know the players well. However, watching the sport live gives us an opportunity we rarely get with other activities—uninterrupted time talking. We can sit and watch the game while also having a three-hour conversation.

For you, the activity may be different. You may enjoy gardening, working in the yard, hunting, fishing, or another activity. Why not involve your children in those activities so that you can spend invaluable time with them and hear what is on their hearts?

We see that training children in the ways of God is an essential part of parenting. At least 11 times in the opening eight chapters of Proverbs, Solomon stops to remind his son to listen to his instructions (Proverbs 1:8; 2:1–2; 3:1¬–2; 4:1–2, 10, 20; 5:1–2; 6:20–21; 7:1–3, 24; 8:32–34). In our fast-paced world, we lose sight of the fact that we need to slow down to teach our children. We need to put our cellphones away (in this, I am, as Paul says, “the chief” of sinners), turn off the television, and invest time in our children’s lives. One of these days, they will no longer be in our homes and that valuable time will be gone. Let us not waste it.

Categories: Seminary Blog

The Forgotten Value of Time with Our Children

Southwestern Seminary - Tue, 05/02/2017 - 09:30

Last week, I took my 10-year-old daughter to a baseball game. It was just the two of us. Our other three children were home with my wife. For nearly four hours, we spent time together in the car and at the stadium. My phone mostly stayed in my pocket (except for taking and posting a few photos), and we talked.

Over the course of the game, we talked about the rules of baseball; I showed her how to tell if the umpire was calling a ball or strike; we even met the people sitting next to us and talked about their experiences watching baseball. My daughter got randomly selected to receive a game-used baseball during the game because she was wearing her Texas Rangers shirt and hat. Clearly, it was a wonderful evening at the ballpark.

The value of that time at the game was priceless. Had it not been for a letter that my 12-year-old daughter penned to my own mother, this opportunity would likely never have manifested itself. Back in November, as the kids were making out their own Christmas wish lists, my oldest daughter put a letter in the mail asking my parents to buy me season tickets to the Texas Rangers for Christmas.

Her motives were pure. She knew how much I loved watching the Rangers play baseball on television. We went to a few games last season and loved every minute. The final reason that tugged at our heartstrings was when she said that she missed being able to go with me to a game—just the two of us—and spend time together. Although my wife and I intercepted the letter before it ever made it to my parents’ house, the letter still had an impact. Last week, I started the summer-long goal of taking each of my four children to at least one baseball game by ourselves.

My second daughter was overjoyed about the opportunity to go first. She has a memory of getting a ball at the game that will never fade from her mind. I even stopped on the way home at 10 p.m. to get ice cream—something only a dad would do. But most of all, we simply spent time together.

We talked. We listened. We slowed down.

If your life is anything like ours, you are busy. Between work, school, church, sports practices, and countless other activities, it can be difficult to slow down and enjoy being in the presence of our children. However, my oldest daughter’s letter and my second daughter’s joy demonstrate that we often forget the value of time. They simply enjoyed being with me and having my attention.

In Deuteronomy 6:6–7, we read, “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” How can we teach our children the words of the Lord if we do not take the time to have conversations with them and listen to their hearts?

For our family, the cure for slowing down is baseball. We love watching the games and acting as if we know the players well. However, watching the sport live gives us an opportunity we rarely get with other activities—uninterrupted time talking. We can sit and watch the game while also having a three-hour conversation.

For you, the activity may be different. You may enjoy gardening, working in the yard, hunting, fishing, or another activity. Why not involve your children in those activities so that you can spend invaluable time with them and hear what is on their hearts?

We see that training children in the ways of God is an essential part of parenting. At least 11 times in the opening eight chapters of Proverbs, Solomon stops to remind his son to listen to his instructions (Proverbs 1:8; 2:1–2; 3:1¬–2; 4:1–2, 10, 20; 5:1–2; 6:20–21; 7:1–3, 24; 8:32–34). In our fast-paced world, we lose sight of the fact that we need to slow down to teach our children. We need to put our cellphones away (in this, I am, as Paul says, “the chief” of sinners), turn off the television, and invest time in our children’s lives. One of these days, they will no longer be in our homes and that valuable time will be gone. Let us not waste it.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Essential attributes of an effective worship leader

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 05/02/2017 - 09:02

I have the privilege of training worship leaders. This means I have the task of preparing musicians to lead their congregations in something that they will continue to do in eternity. Done well, this act should help teach people how to live in faith and to one day die with hope.

Leading a task that engages a holy God with such eternal implications should not be handled lightly. It takes a substantive person to plan, prepare, and lead what should be a substantive act.

Here are seven things I believe a worship leader must demonstrate in order to be effective for this significant task:

  1. Musical talent

This is the only characteristic on the list that must be present at birth. Some people have a gift for music and others do not. For those that do, that talent must be developed and refined. This takes time and work, but the combination of these two demonstrates the presence of talent. Effective worship leaders practice and get better.

“Sing to him a new song; play skillfully” (Ps. 33:3).

  1. Teachability

Regardless of how talented a worship leader is, teachability is always required. Good worship leaders are continually learning and seeking instruction. A worship leader who resists instruction will be a poor teacher himself. Effective worship leaders strive to be teachable.

“Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored” (Prov. 13:18).

  1. Biblical knowledge

This is a characteristic that everyone begins life with a total absence of. It is necessary to create a lifelong appetite for God’s Word. Every week worship leaders point people to God while also representing the character and works of God in song and speech. Too many do so out of theological and biblical ignorance.

Effective worship leaders develop a reservoir of biblical truth within them so they can speak and lead intelligently.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16).

  1. Character

The hypocrisy of a duplicitous life on any platform will eventually be revealed. Standing on a platform to lead worship is essentially saying “Follow me while I follow Christ.” Perfection is unattainable for anyone, but sanctification is honest about sin and progressive in growth because it comes from following Christ intentionally. Unfortunately, talent has a way of taking musicians farther than their character can sustain them. Effective worship leaders grow in godliness.

“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:17b).

  1. Passion

Worship should have an appropriate and authentic emotional component. I am not referring to pep rally emotionalism, but neither should there be the appearance of apathy or disinterest. Worship should reflect deep-seated joy, true brokenness over sin, and authentic (even euphoric) gratefulness for the Savior. Effective worship leaders cultivate the capacity to be appropriately affected emotionally because worship is an unparalleled journey of enjoying ultimate fulfillment at Christ’s expense.

“My heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God” (Ps. 84:2b).

  1. Humility

This may be the most elusive characteristic on the list. Performing music can tend to make musicians arrogant. A musical skill can become a motive for boasting in an otherwise reserved individual. The types of thoughts that can come to mind while leading worship can be startling if evaluated honestly. Effective worship leaders pursue God’s glory over their own glory.

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

  1. Love for the church

This can often be the most forgotten item on the list. If allowed, love for music can eclipse love for the people. The true allegiance of our affections will be on display in numerous decisions that we make every week. Effective worship leaders examine their motives and advance strategies that make music a servant, not a master.

“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10).

Being a worship leader is a journey. Proper orientation in these things reflects one’s capability and fitness for being used in a role that none of us truly deserves to hold. We serve at God’s pleasure. Enter humbly, grow intentionally!


Scott Connell is Assistant Professor of Music and Worship Leadership; Program Coordinator, Worship and Music Studies at Boyce College.

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Categories: Seminary Blog


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