Seminary Blog

Faith that moves mountains: What Jesus didn’t mean

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 03/20/2018 - 11:56

Peter tells us Paul wrote some things that are hard to understand (2 Pet. 3:16).

Jesus said some difficult things, too.

Twice the Lord told his disciples that if they had faith like a mustard seed they could do jaw-dropping things. In Matthew, mustard seed faith is tied to expelling a demon, and Jesus says those who have such faith can move mountains (Matt. 17:20). In Luke, those with mustard seed faith will be able to forgive those who sin against them since such faith can pluck up mulberry trees and cast them into the sea (Luke 17:6). All kinds of questions enter our minds.

What is faith like a mustard seed?

Why doesn’t our faith move mountains?

Are we failing to see great things from God because of our lack of faith?

Encouraging faith

In the stories recounted in both Matthew and Luke, the disciples long for more faith. Then they could do great things for God. Then they could cast out demons and forgive a brother or sister who’s especially annoying. Jesus tells them they don’t need great faith; they need just a little faith. He clearly speaks of a small amount of faith since the mustard seed was the smallest seed known in his day. Jesus also informs his disciples that the kingdom of heaven is as small as a mustard seed (Matt. 13:31).

We’re prone to think if we just had more faith, then God could do amazing things through us. But Jesus tells us something quite astonishing. The issue isn’t whether we are full of faith but whether we have any faith. If we have the smallest amount of faith, God works on our behalf. Jesus stops his disciples short and asks them: Do you believe in me at all? Do you trust God at all?

Why is Jesus’s answer encouraging? Because we don’t get caught in the morass of thinking about whether we have enough faith. When facing a given situation, we call out to God to give us faith—no matter how small. A small amount of faith is sufficient because the focus is not on our faith but its object.

Why is it true that mustard seed faith can move mountains and uproot mulberry trees? Jesus plainly tells us. It isn’t because of the quantity of our faith but the object of our faith. If our faith is in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, then it has a great effect. Our faith makes a difference not because it is so great but because God is so great, because he is the sovereign one who rules over all things. Our faith doesn’t thrive when we think about how much faith we have; it springs up when we behold our God—when we see Jesus as the One crucified and risen for us.

Standing on the Promises

Still, we have questions about this verse. Does our mustard seed faith move mountains and uproot mulberry trees? Do we see this happen today? Are prosperity preachers right in saying that if we had more faith, we wouldn’t get sick and would enjoy the riches of this world?

First, it’s critical to note Jesus is using an illustration. He’s not literally talking about moving mountains and uprooting trees. There’s no example in Scripture of mountains disappearing because someone had faith. Jesus is teaching that stunning things happen if we have faith. The question is, what kind of stunning things should we expect?

Here we must take into account the entire Bible. The old saying is correct: a verse without a context is a pretext. And the context is the whole Bible, which includes reading it in its covenantal and redemptive-historical timeline. We can’t just pluck any verse in the Bible and apply to our lives without considering how it relates to the sweep of Scripture as a whole.

Faith isn’t abstract; we put our faith in the promises of God, in the truth he has revealed. Scripture never promises believers they will be healthy or wealthy. Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7–10) was probably a physical disease, and though he prayed three times for deliverance, God said “no.” Similarly, it wasn’t God’s will to heal Paul’s ministry partner Trophimus (2 Tim. 4:20), and it wasn’t because Paul lacked mustard seed faith! Additionally, Timothy wasn’t healed miraculously and instantaneously of stomach ailments, but was told to take wine to settle his indigestion (1 Tim. 5:23). Certainly Paul believed God could heal Timothy, but God had determined he would not be healed. Moreover, Romans 8:35–39 clearly teaches some believers are persecuted, and some suffer from lack of food and clothing. God never promised us a comfortable life.

Mountain-moving faith, then, must be based on God’s promises—on what is revealed in his Word—not on what we wish will happen or even fervently believe will happen.

Misguided faith can lead to disaster. In the 1520s, Thomas Muntzer believed he was led by the Holy Spirit to bring in the golden age, and warred alongside the peasants to overturn political power. But Muntzer was inspired by fantasies and died in the revolt he led. He trusted in “spiritual revelations” rather than the written words of Scripture.

We must ask first, then, whether one’s faith is truly based on the Word of God. Otherwise, it rests on the vain imaginations of man.

Then what is mountain-moving faith?

The question remains: What is mountain-moving faith? Notice what Jesus says in Luke: Those who have faith like a mustard seed do great things. They have the faith to forgive brothers and sisters who sin against them repeatedly.

The illustration Jesus provides, then, is enormously helpful. We know it’s God’s will that we forgive those who sin against us. Yet when we’re faced with actually forgiving them, we often struggle because the pain is so severe.

Mustard seed faith, then, is faith that kills works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19–21) and produces the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23). Love, joy, peace, and patience are mountains that can only be climbed by faith; faith, after all, expresses itself in love (Gal. 5:6). Mustard seed faith believes the gospel will go the ends of the earth and triumph over the gates of hell. And the clearest evidence of mustard seed faith is whether you love God and your neighbor.

Our greatest enemies are not outside of us but within. Our greatest foe is the hate and rebellion that overtakes us, and mustard seed faith—because it is placed in Jesus Christ—gives us the victory over our sin.

Yet we are freed from the sin that enslaves when we rely on Christ and not our own strength and works. Mustard seed faith is enormously powerful—not because of our faith, but because it unites us to the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published at TGC.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

5 strategies for actually reforming your church

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 03/16/2018 - 10:22

Every parent knows the routine. After laboring to get a restless infant to sleep, one quietly walks toward the baby bed, slowly moves the baby from snuggle to prone position, and then stealthily tiptoes from the bed to a much hoped for quiet evening. Tiptoeing continues just in case the little bundle of joy discerns a slight noise and the process begins again.

On the other hand, sledgehammers know nothing of quietness. An old slab of concrete oddly left in a yard needs removing. It won’t happen by tiptoeing with a sledge. That kind of job requires the heaving, backbreaking blows of the ten-pound forged steel hammer, crashing away at the concrete.

Tiptoeing and sledgehammers have their appropriate places.

But that’s not in pastoral leadership, especially when dealing with church polity.

Traditions, traditions

Over the years, churches can amass unbiblical habits, traditions, and practices when they neglect biblical polity. Their polity practice can resemble the chaos of a middle school playground or the boring formality of a corporate boardroom or the rival fraternity food fight or the competitive, dog-eat-dog atmosphere of the local union hall. All the while, they fail to display the glory of the gospel that is supposed to unite them. They fail to act like the church that Jesus redeemed with his own blood (Acts 20:28).

Then the church issues a call for a man to serve as pastor. They’ve grown so accustomed to their disastrous polity that they don’t even notice it. But he does. He sees the disunity, the infighting, the confusion, and the failure to walk together in love. He grimaces at the revolving door membership that bloats the church roll while further crippling the congregation’s health. He recognizes the lack of faithful shepherding that should be done by elders but without elder leadership in their polity, doesn’t happen. With great courage, he accepts the church’s call to serve and begins the painful journey of leading toward biblical practices.

The pastor knows that changes need to happen. He’s convinced even more as he reads the New Testament, studies church history, and hears reports of healthy churches. He researches, seeks godly counsel, and starts to strategize on how to turn the ship around. Previous pastors seem to have done little to move the church toward establishing biblical polity. Neglect and procrastination make the new pastor’s responsibilities more difficult and intense.

But what is he to do? If he tiptoes for years in fear of the inevitable backlash, appropriate change won’t happen, and he’ll just bide his time until he can evacuate. If he takes a sledgehammer approach, he’ll likely split the church and wound a lot of faithful people in the process, while he smugly dusts off his resume for a new position.

There’s a better way.

A Better Way

1. Faithfully expound God’s Word at each Sunday corporate gathering. Nothing can replace the sequential study through books of the Bible for dismantling flawed ideologies, building a gospel-centered foundation, and establishing a framework for church unity. The Word is sharp, powerful, and piercing, going right to the heart of the matter. Instead of jumping into a detached series on polity, deal with it naturally in the Pastorals or Acts. Let the congregation see and experience the biblical context as you open up those essential truths for biblical polity.

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2. Disciple men. Follow Paul’s prescriptive to Timothy of teaching faithful men (2 Tim. 2:2) since they will spread that good word in teaching others. This means that you can’t get in a rush to change polity. It’s a matter of discipling rather than pushing for an administrative change to make life easier for you. As men learn to walk with Christ they naturally desire to be faithful to his teaching. They will affirm what you preach from the pulpit if you’ve patiently discipled them in thinking biblically.

3. Concentrate on the church’s health ahead of polity changes. While I do believe that biblical church polity affects the church’s health, it is not an end-all or magic bullet. The congregation must understand the gospel. If you are to lead them in biblical church membership then they must grasp the nature and practice of the local church. They must see the priority of unity in the body.

That doesn’t mean that everyone will cooperate. Typically, as a pastor expounds the Word, teaches godly men, and focuses on applying biblical teaching to the church’s health and unity, there will be reaction by some not inclined toward biblical Christianity. That leads to a fourth practice.

4. Patiently but surely move forward in teaching, training, and applying the Word regarding biblical church polity. Rarely do I hear of a church that doesn’t have nay-sayers when it comes to changing polity. That’s just part of it. Here is where you face the challenge to endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ (2 Tim. 2:3). Here’s where your patience as a spiritual leader will be tested (2 Tim. 2:24–26). It seems that if there’s a biblical foundation in a particular church that when the pastor patiently leads them, carefully teaches them, loves them despite their faults, and slowly moves them in the right direction, most churches will follow if the pastor endures.

By my observation, too many good brothers give up too soon before the church has time to absorb his teaching and learn to follow his leadership. They get impatient when the church doesn’t immediately respond, and then think that they must find greener pastures. It doesn’t work that way, brothers. So press on but do so patiently.

5. You need not tiptoe around biblical teaching; nor should you pound it into the congregation. Good shepherding takes place in the steadiness of feeding, nurturing, caring, and watching out for the flock. You can’t do that by tiptoeing. Nor can it be done with a sledgehammer. It happens when pastors seek to serve like Jesus did.

Be encouraged

By way of encouragement, I recently heard about a couple of pastor brothers that have patiently, slowly taught their church about biblical polity, including regenerate church membership and elder leadership. Their church didn’t have any polity documents, so they started from scratch. The church operated on the fly by whatever had been done before. They had not thought through about what the Bible teaches on polity.

After thoroughly teaching biblical polity, the pastors reached out individually to most of the congregation to ask if they had read the polity proposal. Some who hadn’t read it still voted against the new polity, admitting that they were told by someone else to oppose it. When the dust settled, the strong majority of the church approved the move to biblical church polity. Instead of bailing out when things got tough, these two pastors patiently endured and continue to love their flock toward biblical changes. Thank God for the grace he gives for such pastoral work!

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Categories: Seminary Blog

3/15/2018 DBTS Chapel: Dr. Bruce Compton

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Thu, 03/15/2018 - 14:31
Dr. Compton concludes his in-depth series on the qualifications for pastoral ministry Download and subscribe to our Podcasts here
Categories: Seminary Blog

3/14/2018 DBTS Chapel: Dr. Mark Snoeberger

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Wed, 03/14/2018 - 14:25
In this chapel message, Dr. Snoeberger explains from 2 Peter why both protology and eschatology should profoundly impact our Christian lives. Download and subscribe to our Podcasts here
Categories: Seminary Blog

Why your personality shapes everything you do in ministry

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 03/13/2018 - 10:33

“Should my personality influence my ministry?” A student recently asked me this question in a discussion about counseling, but it applies to any responsibility a person might hold. Whether leading, managing, preaching, organizing, parenting, or discipling, we often wonder how our personalities should affect our Christian responsibilities. The longer we live, the more we see that our personalities do affect every part of our lives, along with every person whose lives we touch. But should they? If so, how?

A thoughtful answer, from a Christian worldview, must be uniquely Christian.

What is personality?

We should first acknowledge that the word “personality” is a constellational term playing host to a cluster of ideas. Google defines “personality” as “the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character.” We all basically know what we mean by the term, but even Scripture itself illustrates this multi-layered concept. Look no further than the differences between Jacob and Esau, the savvy mama’s boy and his rugged hunter of a twin. Or compare Peter and John, the foot-in-mouth-disciple turned gospel-proclaiming apostle alongside the apostle of love whom Jesus himself loved. The Scriptures themselves (not to mention church history) illustrate personality differences—sometimes vast—among key figures in God’s redemptive plan.

These elements of personality, though, are not simply psychological neutralities. No human’s personality escapes the light and darkness of biblical anthropology, so no human’s personality is wholly righteous or wholly wretched. No matter how twisted our personalities, we’re still made in the image of God, and we reflect him in the ways intended by his design; and no matter how lovely our personalities, we’re still soiled and marred at the deepest levels because we’ve chosen autonomy over trust and transgression over obedience. Thus the special characteristics and unique qualities that mark our personalities refract the colorful rays of divine design while also clouding and distorting (through our sinfulness) the divine image. All of our personalities stand as evidence of God’s image in man, but all of our personalities are also corrupted and convoluted by sin.

Each of us is an individual, too, with an individual personality. Just have a few kids, and you’ll see just how different we can be, even when sourced and raised (like siblings) with the same factors at play in our lives from the earliest years.

So how do we become who we are? No one but the omniscient God himself can answer that question infallibly for any given person, but observation, experience, and wisdom confirm what Scripture clearly shows: Every individual’s personality is a creative and unique integration of inborn characteristics and external forces. In just one example, we watch Jacob, at birth, reach for his brother’s heel, and we also see his mother Rebekah’s conniving ways encouraging and shaping Jacob’s approach to his place in the family. Seen from a Christian worldview, nature and nurture both are involved in the formation of the personality, with our traits springing (to some degree) from the mysterious ground of God’s custom design for our bodies and souls, and cultivated (to some degree) by the many environmental factors he’s using to shape us along the way.

Thankfully, though, this blend of intrinsic traits and external shaping is not the end of the story.

Rehumanized personalities

The direct and dramatic acts of God in the gospel renew the image of God in us by resurrecting us in the image of Christ. No aspect of our personhood, including our personality, is left unscathed. Through faith our whole being dies and rises with Christ, including those unique qualities and characteristics that make us us. As we rise with him, even our personalities are redeemed and regenerated and renewed and reformatted. How obvious this renewal is depends on how blatantly and observably our personalities have been hijacked by sin. Either way, our personalities are then yielded to the Holy Spirit as we seek to obey our new Lord and Master with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

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That being said, in conversion and in sanctification, God does not press our personalities through a single-shaped funnel that distorts the real us. Rather, he brings us alive by birthing Christ in us, reshaping us from the inside out and expressing the abundant life and holy love of his Spirit through the contours of our God-given personalities.

Salvation does not dehumanize us but rehumanizes us.

Compelled by the holy love of Christ’s Spirit, our personalities, like the rest of us, freely enlist in the glad service of love. No longer do we follow mantras like “you do you” or “just be yourself.” Instead, our personalities mature and grow, with the gospel energy of our regenerate life pressing our temperaments into a cruciform shape and coloring our hearts with a new creation hue. We grow into a vibrant, joyful life of sacrifice, following the promptings of love and happily laying aside even those aspects of our personality or preferences that are uniquely comfortable to us.

Diverse personalities, diverse spiritual fruit

Still, all along the way, the unique gifts of the Holy Spirit are channeled through our personalities, with our redeemed personalities being one expression of the spiritual gifts God stewards through us. Even the God-ordained proportions of the Spirit’s diverse fruits are measured out through the instrument of our personalities.

Indeed, the diversity of the many-membered body of Christ consists of more than our differences in personality, but certainly not less. Our spiritual gifts, according to the New Testament, are often marked by dispositional differences as varied as administration and generosity, zeal and mercy, teaching and tenderness (e.g., Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:28). The full-bodied church of Jesus Christ is full-bodied not because we all cast off our personalities and recast ourselves in the perfect personality of the God-man, but because we embrace the God-man by faith and seek to channel the strong current of his holy love through the God-given banks of our personalities. We are the body of Christ best “when each part is working properly,” because the body is “joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped” (Eph. 4:15-16).

Not sacred

None of these robust theological realities are reasons to view our personalities as sacred, to protect them at all costs, or to defend our dispositional weaknesses with lazy ideas about how we just need to “be ourselves.” Our personalities should not be lionized or demonized. There is a more excellent way: We become more faithful sheep in God’s pasture when we allow the good shepherd to pastor our personalities and shape our dispositions.

Thus your personality should be a flavor of your ministry, but never the meal. If you laugh easily, seeing the more humorous side of life, then you will (and should) laugh regularly in your ministry. If you’re analytical about life, lingering over the stats and details and nuances, don’t shut off your analytical mindset which God will use to reveal life’s textures and solve life’s problems. If you’re a teacher at heart, running everything through pedagogical grids and lurching at teachable moments, know that God will use your instructional bent as a blessing to many.

Personality should touch but not torch your ministry

But also beware that your weaknesses are the dark side of your strengths. The teacher can overtalk and the verbose counselor or parent can lose their audience through misplaced lectures. The rich analysis, as we all know, can become a paralysis of indecision, or perhaps worse, a warhorse and chariot that you come to trust more than the Lord your God. And the humor and wit and satire, rich though they may be, can lose you conversational traction and relational capital through misuse or overuse.

Thus personality should touch your ministry but never torch it, just as pepper is a wonderful spice but a terrible meal. Every pastor must preach through his personality, but he must be careful not to preach his personality. Every counselor must counsel through his personality, but he must beware not to counsel his personality. Every mother must parent through her personality, but it is her torah—her actual instruction—that Solomon urges his son to follow (Prov. 1:8).

Be yourself in Christ

So what does all of this mean for life and ministry? How does being natural relate to being spiritual? How does being yourself relate to being in Christ? It means that the maturing Christian does not unthinkingly embrace her personality or ashamedly reject her personality but discerningly renews her personality by submitting herself to the daily cross of Christian living, directing her soul by the signposts of Christian love, and living her life through the Christ who is making all things new.

If you want to use your personality Christianly, the path starts here: Walk in union with Christ, each day being the newest person you’ve become as God continues sanctifying you. Marinate your personality in his life, death, resurrection, Spirit, and Word. And then go, with all the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of your personality, and do this one thing all day long: Be your in-Christ self.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

4 tough questions every pastor needs to ask about food

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 03/09/2018 - 08:09

As a Southern Baptist pastor, I try to attend the annual convention every year. It is important to be there, and I am able to see pastor friends I never see apart from this annual event. Besides, the Southern Baptist Convention always contains an unpredictability that is at times entertaining. The convention draws about 5,000-7,000 pastors and members of SBC churches all around the country. There is a portion of the convention that gives time for an open mic. In other words, anyone can get up on a mic and speak to a motion or issue. Anyone. As you might imagine, some interesting, sad, and contentious words have been said throughout the history of this denominational meeting.

One conversation on the open mic floor sticks out to me. It was a year where the older generation who had historically seen alcohol as a sin and destructive in every way was defending its position against a younger generation that didn’t have the same convictions. In fact, the younger generation saw alcohol consumption as a gift from God if it was done responsibly and in moderation, citing no biblical command against alcohol, but drunkenness. The conversation became intense and heated as one side spoke, then the other side responded. It felt like things were about to get out of hand, until a young 30-year-old pastor went to the mic and spoke about his own father’s battle with alcohol. He concluded with these unforgettable but sobering words:

“This conversation saddens me. As I look around this room it appears an over-consumption of alcohol is not our major problem, but an enslavement and over consumption of food.”

And with those piercing words, the elephant in the room of the world’s largest Protestant denomination was escorted to center stage. There exists a massive obesity issue in the SBC, particularly with the pastors. In the eyes of some, being extremely overweight is endearing in a pastor as it is a sign they are loved and fed well, similarly to the way being fat in certain cultures is a sign of wealth. Nevertheless, it is a significant problem and doesn’t just speak to the eating habits of pastors, but to the state of their soul.

Two kinds of people

Here’s a gross generalization to make a point. There are ultimately two kinds of people in this world and how they deal with stress: Those who eat when they are stressed and those who don’t eat with they are stressed. Food and what we use it for can be a very insightful gaze into the state of our souls. It does for me. I come from a long line of stress eaters. Those who stress-eat cross the line of eating for enjoyment and providing nutrients for the body, to slide into that dangerous place of allowing food to be a means of comfort. I am convinced this is the main reason for the major obesity problem in America. As a result of the intense levels of stress pastors constantly endure, I am also convinced this is why so many pastors are overweight and unhealthy.

Let us also not miss the other side of this issue: those who avoid food to deal with stress. This soul exposure is more hidden because it doesn’t parade itself as an obese, overworked pastor likely enslaved to food. Nevertheless, it causes a pastor to deal with the difficulties of the ministry in a way that is unhealthy for his physical body and ignores the cry for help in his soul.

Caring for the soul

How does a pastor come to realize that food and his eating habits have strong implications for his soul? Here are four ways to consider.

  1. Grow in awareness. Self-awareness is the most important tool for our growth. Without knowing the real problem, we cannot address it. First, become aware of your family history and how you were taught to view and consume food. Was food a reward? Was food something used for comfort in difficult times in your home? Each of us needs to be aware of how we use food now. It was a profound truth for me to realize food was a means of comfort for me amidst stress and anxiety. Until that realization came from God, I would just eat too much and not know why. It also brought a helpful insight to the other side of the spectrum when I was caring for women in my church who were struggling with eating disorders. The first step is realizing that the way we view and consume food can reveal much about our souls.
  1. Keep a close eye on your weight. I once heard pastor Al Martin address a group of pastors and he shared this simple, but important truth for pastors: “What you eat and what is not burned off that day goes here, here, and here (referring to parts of his body).” My weight has become a very helpful gauge on how well I am doing with my battle to find comfort in food. When my weight goes up, it could mean a number of things. But, what it almost always exposes is that I am under more stress and eating more as a result. The managing of my weight becomes a gauge of not just stress level, but how I am coping with it. For the pastor who is 50 to 100 pounds overweight, that might expose an even greater turmoil in the soul that cannot be ignored.However, weight does not tell the full story. I once talked with a pastor who battled overeating, and yet was very skinny. He lamented how hard it was to battle overeating, and yet hear often, “You are too skinny. You need to eat more.” Likewise, there are those who are overweight because of a thyroid or metabolism issue, not because they overeat because of stress. Despite these exceptions, our weight can tell us a lot about our souls. Keep an eye on it.
  1. Care about your personal testimony. Keeping one’s weight down and staying in shape becomes harder the older we get. I’m not suggesting a person who has a bit of extra weight and doesn’t exercise as often as they wished they did is in danger of marring their gospel testimony. Nor am I advocating that we are to somehow pursue an attractive exterior for our message to be heard. We are all broken vessels being used in the Master’s hands. But for any Christians to appear utterly enslaved to any substance, be it drugs, possessions, or food, risks harming their testimony of freedom we have in the gospel. This was the elephant in the room at the convention that particular year. The gospel provides freedom from sin and the world and the power of that message can become confusing when it’s shouted by a man who is 150 pounds overweight and gets winded walking to the pulpit. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit that needs to be born in our lives to affirm our testimony. Peter calls all pastors to be examples to the flock (1 Pet. 5:3). Be mindful of your personal testimony.
  1. Find your comfort in Jesus. It’s a powerful thing to realize the impact food has on the soul and that we use food as a means of comfort in this fallen world. But the solution doesn’t stop by mere awareness. Our souls are nurtured and cared for when we realize our comfort in the stress and difficulties of our ministries is not in food, but in Jesus. We have to own our pursuit or rejection of food before Jesus can come and provide the only lasting comfort amidst this world’s sufferings. What resonates with the Holy Spirit that resides in each of us as followers of Jesus is that Jesus satisfies in a way the best food cannot.
Be honest about food

Pastors, be honest with the place food has in your life. It took me 30 years before I was honest about it. It will always be a battle for me. I assure you, the soul will continue to languish in the pain and sadness that exists that food tries to cover. Remember, God’s grace will meet you in that place of openness and honesty and will give you strength to walk in self-control and victory with the snares that food brings. It will create a space in your soul that will bring the relief and peace you truly seek.

This article was originally published at Practical Shepherding.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

The Kingdom of God

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Thu, 03/08/2018 - 10:00

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True Greatness

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 03/06/2018 - 10:00

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If Christians can lose their salvation, we all lose the gospel

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 03/06/2018 - 08:00

I grew skeptical when he called it “an offer you can’t refuse.” Either this man was hiding something about the house he was trying to sell me, or his sales technique was deeply influenced by The Godfather movies. The “deal” was a dirt-cheap price on a house in one of the best part of Louisville. It didn’t make sense. Deals like this one never find me.

Soon, I learned why he had stamped a giveaway price on the house: the foundation was cracked. In a matter of time, the structure would be compromised, and the house would crumble like my son’s Lincoln Log creations. Needless to say, I said no to this house with a hidden but fatal flaw.

Christian theology is similar: if we remove any of the foundational doctrines—the Trinity, the incarnation, the authority of Scripture, the person and work of Christ, and so on—then the entire building of our faith comes tumbling down. The cardinal doctrines of Christianity stand or fall together.

I want to suggest that one crucial doctrine is sometimes relegated to the “good men disagree” category that should sit closer to the heart of orthodox Christianity: perseverance of the saints. Why do I say so? Is it really heresy to reject the doctrine of perseverance, a doctrine often referred to as “eternal security”? I’m not ready to call it heresy to reject perseverance of the saints and embrace the possibility of apostasy by genuine Christians. But I think it is far more dangerous to reject this doctrine than perhaps first meets the eye. Like the rickety house I once nearly bought, rejection of perseverance renders unstable many other critical doctrines that rely on it as a solid foundation.

If genuine believers can lose their salvation and be cast away forever, consider the collateral damage to other biblical doctrines:

Election and predestination

If God chose his people in Christ before the foundation of the world, is it possible for those same people to then “unchoose” themselves? No matter one’s view of election, final apostasy seems to render meaningless Scripture’s teaching on God’s eternal predestining of a people. Even if one holds to election based solely on foreknowledge, final apostasy seems to make God unreliable at best.


According to Mark 10:45, Christ gave his life as a ransom for many. Jesus bore God’s wrath we deserved so he could buy us back from the curse of the law. If a ransomed one can be finally lost, doesn’t that then mean that the ransom price paid was not enough to actually purchase its intended product—the eternal salvation of God’s people? Final apostasy also seems to undermine the substitutionary nature of the atonement, since Christ was condemned in the place of his people. This view would seem to indicate that due to an exercise of their free will some of God’s people have once again fallen under condemnation with their sins no longer covered by the sacrifice of the substitute—even though they were once covered through the blood of Christ.

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Justification by faith

Justification is a legal declaration that says because of faith in Christ’s work on the cross, one is no longer guilty, positionally or legally, before God. Final apostasy seems to undermine God’s verdict and re-establish guilty charges against those who were exonerated by faith in Christ. This view mangles the foundational Reformation truth of sola fide.

Indwelling (or sealing) of the Holy Spirit

In Ephesians 1:13-14, Paul describes believers as those who have been “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” It seems that a doctrine of final apostasy undermines Paul’s teaching of the Spirit given as a down payment guaranteeing salvation. If salvation can be lost, then the guarantee is meaningless, as is the down payment. And yes, we can grieve the Spirit (Eph. 4:30), but can we evict him? Scripture never says that.

Promises of God

In John 10, Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish and no one will snatch them out of my hand . . . and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” Also, Philippians 1:6 promises that God will complete the work he begins in his people, and the glorious passage in Romans 8:31-39 promises that nothing can separate the believer from the love of God. But how comforting are these promises if we can, as some argue, remove ourselves from Christ’s hand or circumvent the work God has begun in us? In what way do they remain as promises? If these promises are not true, doesn’t that undermine the very Word of God? Can we trust a God who is unable to keep his promises from being undone by the power of human choice? Is the will of man stronger than the will of God?

Intercessory work of Christ

If Christ lives to intercede for us as Hebrews and Romans 8 contend and as John 17 and Luke 22 demonstrate, then in what meaningful way can we trust his prayers if he does not get what he prays for? If Christ prays that we will be kept as in John 17 and those prayers are frustrated, then it would seem to undermine both his intercessory work and his infallibility—Christ prays and then hopes his prayers will be answered and that we will remain in the faith, but our future salvation remains uncertain.

Preservation of the saints

Inextricably linked to perseverance (and Christ’s intercession) is preservation. First Peter 1:3-5 contains a beautiful promise of God’s preserving grace for his redeemed people: “He has caused us to be born again . . . to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation to be revealed in the last time.” If God is guarding our inheritance in heaven, then to assert that free will can lead one to lose his or her salvation seems to exalt the power of man and denigrate the power of God, not to mention what it means for Peter’s language describing the inheritance as “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.” Those words seem to ring with an empty note if it is possible for human beings to give away their inheritance.

No doubt, there are many additional implications for the denial of this doctrine, but these are a few of the most devastating consequences that show how crucial the doctrine of final perseverance is for Christian theology. If my reasoning is fully biblical, then it would seem that perseverance of the saints is anything but a tertiary matter. If the foundation crumbles, how can the building stand? Let us preach, teach, and defend this doctrine and demand it as critical winsomely, but without apology.

This article was originally published at The Gospel Coalition.

The post If Christians can lose their salvation, we all lose the gospel appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

For the Sake of His Name on Kindle

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Mon, 03/05/2018 - 17:58
  For the Sake of His Name: Challenging a New Generation for World Missions was first published in 2002 as an outgrowth of the Student Global Impact conferences held at Inter-City Baptist Church. The book aimed to inspire and ground young people interested in the mission field, drawing on the history of the student volunteer movement and laying... Read More
Categories: Seminary Blog

Why every pastor needs to become a better listener

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 03/02/2018 - 08:54

Are you a bad listener? What would your spouse or best friend or roommate or children say about you? People tend to think much more highly of themselves than they actually deserve.

So what would you say: are you a good or bad listener?

Impatience leads to shoddy listening. An impatient listener is not able to appreciate or be fully engaged in her present circumstances. She is not willing to hear her friend out. She interrupts or cuts him off. In her impatience, she communicates that she doesn’t care about what her friend has to say.

Another killer of conversations is tiredness. In a fast paced society, people don’t rest much. Little or no sleep means you’re already exhausted when you begin to talk, which doesn’t usually lead to true conversation.

Think about your listening abilities during a Sunday morning sermon. How much do you zone out, especially when you’re bored with what the pastor is saying? It’s easy for the mind to wander to other things—work, what you’re doing that afternoon, a conversation with a friend or spouse that morning, etc. The tendency to be easily distracted makes for bad listening.

Or you might tend to interrupt others before they finish talking. Your thought is so pressing—and your tongue is so loose—that you blurt things out before the other person is even done speaking. Impatience, tiredness, zoning out, interrupting—these are just a few of the things that can lead to poor listening. Do any of these descriptions fit you?

Impatience, tiredness, zoning out, interrupting—these are just a few of the things that can lead to poor listening.

A bad listener

Consider the biblical picture of a bad listener—the proverbial fool.

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” (Proverbs 18:2)

“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” (Proverbs 18:13)

“Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” (Proverbs 29:20)

The biblical picture of the fool is one who doesn’t listen and therefore doesn’t understand. Instead, he speaks too quickly. In Proverbs 18:2, the fool finds pleasure only in saying what he wants to say. Because of his pride or selfishness or lack of love, he doesn’t care about understanding. He is impulsive. He answers before he hears. Thus, in Proverbs 18:13, such a man is deemed foolish and shameful. Or as one commentator put it, this impulsive fool is “stupid and a disgrace.”

Are you the proverbial fool? Be honest. If you are, you might need to confess your lack of patience, love, and understanding before the Lord (Ps. 51:3-4) and to those around you.

A good listener

Contrast the proverbial fool with the advice we get from the apostle James:

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19)

James’s encouragement is to be quick to hear and slow to speak—a disposition that evidences both wisdom and love.

The profile of a good listener is the opposite of the proverbial fool: patient, energetic, focused. He lets the other person finish without interrupting. Because he is eager to put others before himself, he listens and works hard to understand the other person. He doesn’t think so highly of himself that he regularly speaks before he hears.

Just think about Jesus. Think about his conversations. How engaged he seemed. How much he listened to others, and asked questions in response. How skilled he was at drawing others out, and communicating his sympathy for a person. What would Martha, or blind Bartimaeus, or the woman at the well, or the disciples say about Jesus? Would they say he was a good listener? Would they say he cared about them and took the time to understand them? I think they would.

Do you want to be like the proverbial fool or do you want to be like Jesus?

How about you, pastor?

Pastors are teachers and preachers. They regularly proclaim God’s Word and, along the way, often grow accustomed to being listened to. Every Sunday, church members sit in silence and listen to the pastor’s words. God’s Word is powerful. It transforms lives. It does not go out void. This is how the kingdom works. God speaks through the instrument of a pastor, and the Word goes out to change hearts and minds. This is all good.

But transfer this setup into a counseling room and things might not go so well. Pastors often expect that they will speak and others will listen. So, after a few minutes of conversation, the pastor might make a few assumptions, speak into a situation with great authority, quote a Bible passage or two to make his point, and then be done with the matter (and the person) for the time being.

Pastor, who do you resemble in the counseling room: the proverbial fool or Jesus? As pastors, we need to remember that good shepherding starts with knowing the sheep (John 10:3, 11, 14-15). Such knowledge requires a lot from us, including patience, careful listening, and true understanding.

So be slow to speak and quick to listen. Before you say anything, figure out what your member is struggling with and what’s motivating him to do what he’s doing. Only speak into his life after you’ve made sure you truly understand what he has told you.

Listen up

Ultimately, no matter how good or bad you currently are, listening is a skill that you can grow in. But you’ll never do it apart from God’s strength (Ephesians 6:10; 1 Timothy 1:12) and his grace (Rom. 15:15).

Work harder at being a better listener, but remember that God is at work in you to make you more like his Son (Phil. 2:12-13; 1 John 3:2). Praise be to God that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us.

This article was originally published by Crossway.

The post Why every pastor needs to become a better listener appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

3/1/2018 DBTS Chapel: Dr. David Doran

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Thu, 03/01/2018 - 15:07
From 1 Corinthians 3, Dr. Doran warns of the temptation and tendency to pursue novelty in the ministry rather than keeping our eyes on the Final Day when we give an account for our faithfulness to the Word and to his Church. Download and subscribe to our Podcasts here
Categories: Seminary Blog

Southern Seminary houses the only school endorsed by Billy Graham

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Thu, 03/01/2018 - 14:18

Billy Graham leaves behind a rich legacy not only in evangelism and American religious life, but in the history of Southern Seminary. In 1963, under the leadership of SBTS President Duke McCall, the school established the Billy Graham chair of evangelism, which became a position now held by Timothy K. Beougher. In 1993, Southern Seminary announced The Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry, which is the only school in the world to bear the name of America’s most famous preacher. Below, trace long shadow of Billy Graham’s influence on Southern Seminary.


Legendary evangelist Billy Graham speaks at Louisville’s Freedom Hall, Oct. 14, the eve of R. Albert Mohler Jr.’s inauguration as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. That evening, Mohler announces the founding of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth.

“In 1993 when I was elected president, Dr. Graham eagerly encouraged me and the vision that brought me to Southern Seminary by speaking at my inauguration, and by allowing us to establish the Billy Graham School of Evangelism, Missions and Church Growth, as it was then known. Dr. Graham was very directly involved in helping me to begin my presidency, and throughout my presidency he was an active encourager and always a partner in prayer in this task.”

Mohler, reflecting on Billy Graham’s influence on Southern Seminary after his death, Feb. 21


Thom S. Rainer, a two-time Southern Seminary graduate and pastor in Birmingham, Alabama, is installed as the first dean of the Billy Graham School. In August of that year, the school officially opens with 33 students.


Timothy K. Beougher moves to Southern Seminary from Wheaton College to fill the newly endowed Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth.


Rainer leaves the Billy Graham School to become the president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources in Nashville, Tennessee. Chuck Lawless, who had been serving as Rainer’s senior associate dean and associate professor of evangelism, becomes the second dean of the Billy Graham School.

“This school, the only one of its kind in the Southern Baptist Convention, will put Southern Seminary on the cutting edge and in its rightful place of leadership in this denomination on behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention and of the larger evangelical world. It will offer the highest quality of preparation through programs leading to both masters and doctoral degrees, and it will call together a world-class faculty of evangelical scholars committed to taking the gospel to the whole world.”

Mohler, at the announcement of the Billy Graham School, Oct. 1993


Zane Pratt, a veteran IMB missionary in Central Asia, becomes the third dean in the history of the Billy Graham School after Lawless assumes the role of vice president for global theological advance at the IMB.


Adam W. Greenway, who had been serving as senior associate dean, replaces Zane Pratt, who resigned as dean to become the global theological education team leader with the IMB. The school is restructured to combine the School of Church Ministries, and is renamed the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Ministry.

The post Southern Seminary houses the only school endorsed by Billy Graham appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog


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