Seminary Blog

Book Reviews

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Mon, 07/16/2018 - 22:30

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Categories: Seminary Blog

2 tips for using technology (without losing your soul)

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 07/13/2018 - 11:57

I grew up surrounded by technology. I am child of the 80s, a time before most people had a personal computer much less the internet in their home. But my dad worked for Xerox for over 25 years so we have had a personal computer and some form of the internet for as long as I can remember. We had the old dial up modems that would kick your sister off the phone with her boyfriend when you logged on. My dad decided to add two phone lines to our home so that the sibling fights would stop. Those days seem like an eternity ago in this internet powered digital age.

In 2018, we have a host of new technology issues to think through like protecting our online privacy in a world of data mining and how to deploy artificial intelligence in ethical ways. Even our coffee pots and other household items are “smart” and connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) and these items have more processing power than some supercomputers did in the when I growing up.

So how do we minister to and help guide our churches through this digital age? Here are two ways that you can help your people to navigate in our ever-changing society.

1. Remember that some things will be different, but the most important never change.

This future we enter is very different from the one that our parents had. Gone are the days of dial-up internet and cell phones so big that they had a corded handsets and car-mounted antennas. Today, there is not a single sector of society that has not been affected by the rapid expansion and adoption of technology especially artificial intelligence. 

AI is being adopted at an exponential rate in career fields like medicine, manufacturing, finance, security, and even warfare. Most sectors of society will be connected to some form of AI in the near future. In the transportation sector, it is estimated that five million professional drivers will have their jobs replaced by self-driving technologies within the next decade or two if trend line continues with the rise of AI-empowered self-driving vehicles. This will affect cross-country freight drivers and even local delivery drivers dropping off your latest Amazon purchase.

This leaves many in our churches rightfully fearful and overwhelmed by the amount of the change. Many fear if there job is next to be cut or drastically affected by technology. Though others will be full of optimism and hope at the new opportunities that technology allows us to have as a result of the rapid expansion. This is not just a generational divide.

Church leaders have the unique God-given role to remind our people of the foundational truths of the Bible that will never change. No amount of technological innovation will change the fact that we are each created in the image of God and that our worth and dignity is found solely in how we were each created. Much of technology, especially artificial intelligence, is based in an evolutionary worldview that sees these technological shifts as another phase of evolution where humans create machines that are able to outpace us in terms of productivity, quality, and sheer breadth of work. These machines just serve as the next phase of evolution.

When our worth and dignity is tied directly to what we can offer society, human value decreases because we are entering an age where machines will be able to do things in ways that we can only imagine today. But as Christians, we know that our dignity is tied to the fact that we are the only part of the entire creation to bear the image of God. Even the angels which are much more powerful than we are recognize that humans were created uniquely in this image. They even long to know what has been revealed to directly to us (1 Pet. 1:12). The know that even with lesser abilities that we are the crowning part of creation.

Pastors are able to help their people see the truth of the gospel and the fact that our God is not surprised or caught off guard by this rise of technology. Technology is a good gift that God has given us to use as tools to glorify him and to seek the good of society. You do not need to know everything there is to know about technological trends and artificial intelligence, but we do need to be up to date on how these things might affect our people’s daily lives. The church will be there when things change and become challenging for our people. We must proclaim the good news of our God that is always reigning above the heavens and that nothing takes him off guard.

2. Guard family and community time.

It should come as no surprise that there are new and unique challenges to the family in this digital age.  The inability to disconnect from smart devices is growing by the day. We fill our homes with technology that makes our lives easier but also keeps us from connecting deeply with the ones that we love. We waste countless hours on social media or the internet, often to the neglect of our kids, spouses, and neighbors. We are tempted to automate mundane tasks and outsource others in the name of speed and saving time. Today, you can even purchase robots to clean your home and mow your lawn. But what are we doing with all of this time that we are “saving”?

Pastors need to encourage our families to take time to disconnect from wireless world around us to focus on caring for one another. This will be harder than you think but we were each created for this type of authentic personal connection with other people. We were never meant to live life alone or just socially connected through various online platforms. We were created to be in flesh and blood relationships with one another that are often hard, messy, and uncomfortable.

We need to encourage ourselves and our people to take time to be with family and friends without all of the distractions. Maybe that means a no-phone dinner and game night. Or maybe a vacation where we don’t document it all on social media. You might even do something manually, like mow your lawn, and learn together the value of hard work and how to develop work ethic.

It is easy to become overwhelmed with all of the technology developments and news coming out these days. But as pastors, you have the unique role to speak into the lives of your people to remind them that even though things are changing by the minute all around us that the foundational truths of the Bible don’t change. Our God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow regardless of the challenges that technological development brings. 

We will be reminded of those truth as we gather together to proclaim the glorious gospel of Christ as a church as together as families. So let’s power down, seek to connect with one another, and encourage each other to press on as we together proclaim the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).

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Categories: Seminary Blog

5 questions to ask before preaching any sermon

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 07/10/2018 - 10:23

One of the great privileges in my life is preaching God’s word week in and week out. I have been doing this for over 15 years now and steadily look for ways to grow in my skill as a preacher. One of the unfortunate things I have discovered is that I can fall into lazy habits and practices if I do not think carefully about my sermon preparation.

Last year I developed a set of questions to ask myself about every sermon before I preach it. This helps me to evaluate its tone, content, and application. All of this presupposes that I finish the first draft of my sermon by at least Thursday at noon so that I can have time to look over it, reflect on it, and make necessary changes before I stand up to preach on Sunday morning at 10:30. (You can hear our sermons from Chelsea Village and subscribe to our podcast here.)

If you don’t preach, you may wonder what this post has to do with you. If you are a follower of Jesus, you want to learn how to take his word more seriously and listen to it with greater benefit. When you know how sermons work and what they are intended to do, you are able to be a more informed listener who catches more treasure from God’s word each week.

Here are five questions I ask of every sermon before I stand up to preach.

1. Is this sermon faithful to the biblical text?

While this ultimately may not be the most important question, it is the first one to ask because the rest of the sermon falls apart without it. Because Paul instructs us to “preach the word,” (2 Timothy 4:2) the sermon is the exposition of a biblical text. The pastor takes a passage of Scripture, explains its message, illustrates its message, and applies its message.

The text sets the agenda for the sermon, so before I preach, I look over my sermon notes and ask if what I plan to say is faithful to the biblical text under consideration. Is my sermon’s main point the passage’s main point? Am I accurately explaining what the text says? If the answer to this question is “no,” I rewrite the sermon until the answer is “yes.”

2. Is the gospel message clear in this sermon?

Sidney Greidanus spelled out a test for pastors to ask themselves about their sermons, especially ones from the Old Testament– “Could I preach this in a Jewish synagogue?” He phrased the question this way because many pastors preach biblical texts divorced from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even if the sermon technically says what the text says, if it does not point to Jesus and his work, we have missed the ultimate main point.

When I look at my sermon notes, I ask if the finished work of Jesus Christ upon the cross is necessary to fulfill the main application of my sermon. I ask if I am pointing to Jesus’ perfect righteousness, death for sin, and victory over the grave. Furthermore, I look at the imperatives in the sermon to see if they are rooted in what Christ has accomplished for us. Do I point people to their forgiveness, their justification, the adoption, their hope, and their reconciliation as the basis for why they obey God, love their neighbors, and press on in following Christ?

3. Does this sermon contain grace for hurting people?

The Bible offers real hope for people walking through overwhelming pain, difficulty, and sadness. As a pastor, if I preach as if hurting people are not in the room, I am denying them access to the grace the Scripture holds out to them.

When a pastor knows the people he preaches to every week, he knows how many of them are walking through stress, pain, anxiety, fear, and sadness. The world offers them countless options for dulling their pain or dealing with it in destructive, self-centered ways. The Bible calm for our stress, healing for out pain, peace for our anxiety, hope for our fear, and joy for our sadness. Every week, I look to make sure I offer the Bible’s solutions so they know how to go to the word instead of the world.

4. Does this sermon confront Christians in their sin?

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that the Bible is a “two-edged sword.” It convicts and it comforts. It wounds and it heals. Often, healing lies down the path of repentance and we will not walk down it unless we sin our sin for what it is. Therefore, the sermon must confront Christian’s in their sin and call them to repentance.

Early in the preparation process, pastors need to ask if there are root sins that the passage under consideration addresses. The passage might not deal with obvious sins like drunkenness, adultery, or lying, but it likely deals with sins of the heart that lie behind ones we can see. As I look at my sermon notes, I ask if I am helping people learn how to identify and repent of their sins. Otherwise, people come to worship and leave as they are.

5. Does this sermon call unbelievers to faith in Christ?

Jesus addressed a crowd at a feast in John 7 and told them, “If any man thirsts, let him come to me and drink and from his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.” Jesus called out to the crowd and told them that any person with a thirsty soul could find refreshment and salvation in him. Jesus offered a general call to any who knew they had a need to repent and believe. We would be wise to do the same in every sermon.

I look at the layout of every sermon and ask, “what is the best place to explicitly and clearly call people who do not believe to faith in Jesus Christ?” This needs more forethought than we usually put into it because evangelical pastors have so often closed with the call to trust in Christ. While that feels like a natural thing to do, there may be other spots in the sermon that are better suited to issue the invitation to trust in Christ. Wherever a pastor chooses to put it–it must be there.

There are many more questions we could ask of our sermons, but these five get to the heart of biblical preaching. Am I faithful to the text? Am I preaching the gospel? Am I calling people to holiness and comforting the hurting? If we are doing these things, we can be sure that people who hear us will be experiencing repentance, growth, and encouragement.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

8 reasons you need the Puritans more than you think

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 07/06/2018 - 14:33

For many years before surrendering to vocational ministry, I was a conservative evangelical Christian whom God had called to work in the dog-eat-dog world of secular media. While working for a metropolitan daily newspaper in Georgia, one of my ultra-liberal colleagues was teasing me about being a conservative “boy” from a small town in the sticks of North Georgia. She said, “You know what you are? You’re a Puritan!” At the time, I didn’t really know what to make of it. Today, I see it as a high compliment. Perhaps someday. 

In my pre-ministry days, I knew little about the Puritans other than were present at the first Thanksgiving, that they seemed to have a fetish for stove-pipe hats, belt buckles, knickers, and puffy shirts adorned with collars that looked like sunflowers. In the minds of many, Puritanism equals scrupulous rules keeping, dour Christianity, or as the inimitable American journalist H. L. Mencken once quipped “Puritanism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” 

Over the past few decades, thanks in large part to the publishing efforts of Iain Murray at Banner of Truth and the advocacy of Martyn-Lloyd Jones, the English and American Puritans have made a strong comeback among Reformed evangelicals. During my years in seminary, I fell in love with the Puritans. Now, I delight in teaching about the Puritans and during my time as pastor, men like John Bunyan, Thomas Watson, and John Owen were my pastors through their incredible works. Though dead, they certainly still speak. 

We Need the Puritans: Eight Reasons

In the age of iPhones and Twitter, we need the Puritans more than ever and here are eight reasons why: 

1. Because they were mature and we are not

J. I. Packer hits the mark here: “Maturity is a compound of wisdom, goodwill, resilience, and creativity. The Puritans exemplified maturity; we don’t. We are spiritual dwarfs. A much-travelled leader, a native American (be it said), has declared that he finds North American Protestantism, man-centered, manipulative, success-oriented, self-indulgent and sentimental, as it blatantly is, to be 3,000 miles wide and half and inch deep. The Puritans, by contrast, as a body were giants. They were great souls serving a great God.” Oh, how we need that. Would anyone deny that modern evangelicalism is 3,000 miles wide and a half-inch deep? 

2. Because they understood the deep sinfulness of the human heart

John Owen (1616-1683) called the human heart a hornet’s nest of evil. He wrote the most famous treatment of sin among the Puritans, The Mortification of Sin, on sin that remains and must be killed in the life of the believer. Because they understood the depravity of the human heart, the Puritans realized that only a unilateral work of sovereign grace could rescue fallen man. Thus, their keen understanding of the deadness of the human heart led them to plant their feet firmly upon a theology of grace as the only catalyst to bring dead hearts out of the grave. 

3. Because they knew their best life was later

The Puritans suffered long, but they suffered well. Death was a constant companion for the Puritans of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In England, they faced deadly persecution at the hands of the Church of England, the very church they sought to purify. In the New World, they faced a physical climate that was as harsh then as it is congenial in 2015. Writes Packer:

“Ease and luxury, such as our affluence brings us today, do not make for maturity; hardship and struggle, however, do, and the Puritans’ battles against the spiritual and climatic wilderness in which God set them produced a virility of character, undaunted and unsinkable, rising above discouragement and fears, for which the true precedents and models are men like Moses, and Nehemiah, and Peter after Pentecost, and the apostle Paul.” 

4. Because they viewed the family as a little church

Puritan fathers were deeply committed to catechizing their children and serving as shepherds in their homes. One of the great needs of our day is for God to raise up an army of brave-hearted husbands/fathers who will love their families by teaching them the Word of God, by modeling biblical headship and churchmanship for them. I have written more extensively on the Puritans and family discipleship here

5. Because they saw all of life as being lived coram deo—before the face of God

For the Puritans in old England and new, there was no sacred/secular divide. If they worked as plumbers, the calling was to plumb to the glory of God. If they farmed, they sowed and reaped in dependence upon God. The Puritans knew vividly that God is omnipresent, that there is not one square inch in all creation where he is not present or where he is not interested in radiating forth his glory. Hard work was for the Puritans a central part of Christian living and what we call the Protestant Work Ethic is a gift passed down from them. 

6. Because they were highly-decorated soldiers on the spiritual battlefield

They viewed spiritual conflict as central to the Christian’s calling. As Packer memorably puts it, “They never expected to advance a step without some sort of opposition.” This is evident in John Bunyan’s classic allegory Pilgrim’s Progress, where every stretch along the path to the Celestial City is filled with fighting without, fears within. In an age of prosperity Christianity, we need desperately to see this reality today. Ask anyone who has ever pastored a church and they will agree. Wrote John Geree (c. 1601-1649), in The Character of an Old English Puritane or Nonconformist: “His whole life he accounted a warfare, wherein Christ was his captain, his arms, praiers and tears. The Crosse his Banner and his [motto]: he who suffers conquers.” William Gurnall (1617-1679) penned what endures as the best books on spiritual warfare called The Christian in Complete Armour.  

7. Because they were skilled physicians of souls

Long before our dear brothers Jay Adams and David Powlison pioneered a movement, the Puritans excelled in biblical counseling. They saw God’s Word as sufficient for the Christian’s every need, including counsel. Writes Tim Keller, “Clearly, the Puritans rested their counseling approach on Scripture. In many ways the Puritans are an excellent laboratory for studying biblical counseling, because they are not influenced by any secular models of psychology. Many of those today claiming to be strictly biblical in their counseling approach still evidence the heavy influence of Maslow or Rogers or Skinner or Ellis. But the Puritans had the field of ‘the cure of souls’ virtually to themselves; they had no secular competition in the area of counseling. Thus we need to consider very seriously their counseling models.”

8. Because they understood contentment in Christ as the key to genuine happiness

Christ was enough for them. He had to be; with no modern medicine and at times precious little food available, life expectancy was around thirty, particularly in the early colonial experience. If a family had four children, two would die in child birth. Roughly half of the mothers died during child birth. There was no aspirin, no penicillin, no surgery. Economic hardship was a reality for virtually all of them with the exception of merchant princes and landed gentry. Christ was all for them and they wrote often of contentment. Among the best works ever written on this topic, in my opinion, was The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs and The Art of Divine Contentment by Thomas Watson. 

Read the Puritans

John Piper and his ministry have been shaped by a close, careful, decades-long engagement with the Puritans. Piper nails it as to why we need the Puritans: “My own experience is that no one comes close to the skill they have in taking the razor-like scalpel of Scripture, and lancing the boils of my corruption, cutting out the cancers of my God-belittling habits of mind, and amputating the limbs of my disobedience. They are simply in a class by themselves.” Amen. Go, and read the Puritans. 

Where to begin: A brief annotated bibliography About the Puritans

J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Crossway, 1990). Simply the best book I have ever read about the Puritans, their theology, and its application to everyday life. If you love the Bible and good theology, this book will delight your soul. 

Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Zondervan, 1986). An excellent survey of the Puritans, the good, the bad and the ugly about them. Well-written and a pleasure to read. You may find yourself laughing at times as Ryken points out some of the Puritans’ foibles and excesses.

Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson, Meet the Puritans (Reformation Heritage, 2013). Contains a guide to modern reprints. Contains brief sketches of the life, ministry, and writings of hundreds of Puritan ministers on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Reformation Heritage, 2013). A companion to Meet the Puritans, this work is more or less a Puritan systematic theology. 

Kelly M. Kapic and Randall C. Gleason eds., The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics (IVP, 2004). An excellent primer on the representative Puritans and their best-known works. If you are new to the Puritans, this may be the place to start. 

By the Puritans (in addition to those linked above) 

John Bunyan (1628-88), Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners  

John Flavel (1627-91), The Mystery of Providence

Thomas Boston (1676-1732), The Crook in the Lot: The Wisdom of God Displayed in the Afflictions of Men 

Richard Baxter (1615-91), The Reformed Pastor

Thomas Watson (1620-1686), A Body of Divinity, All Things for Good, The Doctrine of Repentance

Joseph Alleine (1634-68), An Alarm to the Unconverted 

Richard Sibbes (1577-1635), The Bruised Reed 

William Bridge (1600-70), A Lifting Up for the Downcast 

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Categories: Seminary Blog

Should a pastor use Greek and Hebrew in his sermon?

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 07/03/2018 - 10:22

I think there is a bit of mystique that shrouds a pastor’s study: What exactly is taking place in there? How does he emerge with a sermon to preach every Sunday? And does he have a mini-fridge in there?

Recently, someone asked about my sermon preparation, and I thought I would swing wide the door to my study for any who might be interested to peer in. Though you wouldn’t ever know it from my Sunday sermons, I actually spend most of my study in the original Greek and Hebrew languages. If you are a pastor or seminarian, this might seem daunting–if not impossible. If you are a church member, this might seem like overkill.

Why study the Bible in Greek and Hebrew?

My reasons are pretty simple. First, I want to get my people as close to the original text as possible. If I’m studying in an English translation, I’m once removed from the original text. Then when I preach, my people receive it from me now twice removed from the original. But when I study the original Greek and Hebrew, that means my people are only once removed from the original text.

Second, as a pastor I am the resident expert. I don’t say this to be prideful, but let’s be honest: if I don’t understand Greek and Hebrew, no one else in the church will. After all, that’s why they pay us the big bucks!

Third, American pastors are extremely privileged compared to pastors of almost any other country or era. Most of us have been to seminary. We have had the opportunity and resources to take Greek and Hebrew. Hopefully we will try our best to show our gratitude to the Lord for his astounding grace by putting our education to use. (This is why it irks me to no end when seminarians talk about “just trying to get through Hebrew.”)

So, what does it look like to prepare sermons from the original Greek and Hebrew?

1. It requires dedication and discipline.

It will not be simple and easy. Depending on your skill level, a preacher could possibly spend the first full day of sermon prep translating the text–for the first couple of years. If that is not suitable to your schedule, or if it is quickly going to seem like a waste of time, I would advise that you avoid the frustration altogether.

Sermon prep from the original languages is not required to be a faithful preacher. We have many accurate English translations, and the Holy Spirit moves mightily through preachers who labor weekly to study and exegete and apply the biblical text in their native tongue.

2. I begin at the photocopier.

You’re on my blog, so you’re gonna see how I do things. At the beginning of each book that I’m going to preach, I take either my Greek NT or my Hebrew OT to the photocopier and make single-sided copies of every page in the book. I also usually blow up the size to 130% so that the text has wider margins for notes and scribbles.

On Mondays, I work through the selected passage, putting my translation into a Word document. I do not have any electronic lexical tools like Logos or Accordance. While helpful, I think those can quickly become a crutch for novices in the languages, which is why I use my two trusty bad boys–BDAG and BDB. (I do actually have E-Sword, which is a very cheap resource that I find helpful.)

It might sound counter-intuitive, but the goal of translating the passage is to not need the translation when you’re finished. After I’ve done the hard work of translating the passage, I save the document and set the translation aside and work only from my photocopied page of the Greek or Hebrew text.

3. I begin scribbling.

This is where the photocopying is so essential. I go to town on the text. Scribbling, underlining, boxing in, arrows, comments in the margins, on the back. I take that stapled packet into the gym with me, to waiting rooms, in the car. It follows me everywhere throughout the week.

When I’m in my office, I open a second Word document titled “Notes” where I type any and every thought the passage brings to mind. I copy and paste huge chunks of other passages that seem connected or related in some way. (I often draw our Scripture readings for the Sunday worship service from this treasure trove.)

In all of this note-taking, I use the Greek or Hebrew text as my base. Sometimes I forget what a word meant, and I can refer back to my translation to remind me. However, my understanding of the text always improves throughout the week. If I were to write a second translation of the text at the end of the week, it would be a vast improvement on the one I made at the start.

Throughout this whole process, I’m praying, meditating, allowing myself to chase any and every rabbit trail the Spirit might lead me down. Nothing is off-limits.

4. Forming an outline.

Some time in the week, the structure of the passage begins to form in my mind. I can see the connecting words in the text, or I recognize shifts in the narrative, or I begin to get a feel for the way the author is structuring his argument. Sometimes this is obvious quickly. Other times I have to work hard at it. I make a third document titled “Outline” and begin to hang notes, illustrations, and important turns of phrase–either from my scribblings or the “Notes” document–on the pegs of the outline.

I try my best to use the language of the passage in my points. I believe that a preacher has done a good job expositing the text if a month later a member would be able to generally replicate his sermon points from the text itself.

The outline phase might be the first time that I begin to interact with the English translation I will be preaching from on Sunday. If I’ve done well on my own, the translations should be pretty close. I hardly every have major discrepancies. Whenever there are, I have the wherewithal to recognize that, even after 12+ years of experience in the original languages, I should almost always defer to the experts.

5. I write the sermon.

When it comes time to sit down and actually craft the sermon, I have fully transitioned to the English translation (I use ESV). While the original languages have shaped my study, my prayers, my application, my notes, and the structure of my outline, when it comes time to write the sermon, I need to work from the translation the people will have in their hands.

After all this time in the original languages, you might be surprised to know that I can’t think of a single time I pronounced a Greek or Hebrew word from the pulpit. I almost never say, “This word could also be translated…” The congregation needs to experience the Word of God in that preaching moment, not feel like I’m recounting some spiritual experience I had earlier in the week–that they missed out on–when I was reading from the Greek or Hebrew.

It may sound a bit herky-jerky, but after almost 6 years, it has become a very organic process. I write my sermons out in full manuscript, and I begin writing by copying and pasting the entire English translation into the manuscript document. Again, this is a testament to the faithfulness of the English translations we have because I usually never have to make any comments about the original languages in order to make my points. They have all been well communicated by the faithful translators and are there waiting for me to point to during my exposition in the English text.


Let’s start with the hard part. There are only so many hours of study in a week. When you choose to devote much of that time to translating the text from Greek and Hebrew, it will mean less time for study in commentaries, listening to other pastors preach the text, and outside research. In my opinion, 95% of most commentaries is stuff I can find myself through study in the original languages. The other 5% will always be there to help you if things get too tough.

It may be a steep learning curve if you only have two semesters of Greek and Hebrew, especially if you didn’t do much translating beyond narrative passages. Although, something like 75% of the Bible is narrative, so you’ve got that going for you! If you have not touched Greek or Hebrew in several years, I would never say never but…well, know your limits, brother.

The good news is, if you make sure to alternate between OT and NT preaching series, your weekly translating should be enough to help you maintain your skills in Greek and Hebrew. There’s always room for improvement if you can find time for vocab review or to thumb through a grammar and syntax textbook every once in a while.


I derive a great amount of satisfaction and edification from doing my own studies in Hebrew and Greek. Donald Whitney actually expressed my sentiments perfectly in his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

Don’t settle only for spiritual food that’s been ‘predigested’ by others. Experience the joy of discovering biblical insights firsthand through your own Bible study!

At the rate I’m going, and if the Lord tarries, and if the Spirit protects and sustains me in my ministry, I should finish expositing the Bible in the next 30 years. When I do, I’ll also have my own personal translation of the Scriptures. That’s pretty cool. That could be you, too…

Finally, I think one of the greatest benefits of preparing sermons from the original languages is the boldness it gives you when you enter the pulpit. There are no lingering doubts that I am putting too much emphasis on something that seems important in the English translation but is actually not in the Greek or Hebrew. Because I have been there in the text myself, it gives me a great freedom to press hard into my own heart and into the lives of my hearers. With humility, I am able to preach Christ week by week in Spirit-inspired confidence drawn from the Spirit-inspired text.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

The Perils of Patriotic Preaching

Southwestern Seminary - Tue, 07/03/2018 - 09:30

What does a theologian teach to young preachers at the dawn of the Third Reich? Such was the dilemma of Karl Barth, a Swiss-born theologian, noted professor and outspoken critic of Adolf Hitler.

Barth launched a resistance movement amidst the German firestorm of 1932-1933 with a series of “open” lectures—not on the subject of political theory or military conquest, but on preaching.[1] Angela Hancock recounts the theological and political framework of those lectures in her book Karl Barth’s Emergency Homiletic. Over 100 young people regularly “packed the house” to hear this older professor speak on the subject of preaching. Barth was well-versed in social critique and certainly could have addressed the political turmoil of the day. But it was preaching that drew his interest, for he believed preaching was the only thing that could save the country.

The backdrop to these “emergency lectures” was Hitler’s cunning, systematic overhaul of Germany. The nation was reeling in the aftermath of the Treaty of Versailles, and many of the Volk had their hopes set on a Fuhrer who would lead them back to political and societal salvation. Unbridled patriotism fueled the ambition that enabled so many, including many in the clergy, to turn a blind eye to the horrors of the Nazi regime.

The church and, more specifically, the pulpit, is where Karl Barth took his stand.

In one particular lecture, Barth dealt with the relationship between the preacher and the Bible. He concluded by reminding his students of “three fatal possibilities” that preachers must avoid, especially when compared to the “political theology” of his day. Preachers of modern pulpits would do well to heed the same warnings.

First, the preacher who attends to Scripture cannot be a “cleric.”

Barth proffered a posture of humility on the part of the preacher. A preacher should not be conceited about his office, mission or theology. He should recognize that his ultimate authority is rooted in the Word of God, not in the office conferred to him by the church. Barth declared, “Where Holy Scripture reigns, no clericalism can develop, and no preacher can be secure or self-satisfied.”[2] One needs to look no further than the German church of the 1930s to see what happens when this advice is not observed.

Hitler, with the help of Bishop Ludwig Muller, branded an entirely new denomination of “German Christians” practicing what they called “Positive Christianity.” A patriotic fervor mixed with fear of the totalitarian state fueled many clergymen to throw out the “Jewish” Old Testament, redefine Jesus as “the greatest Aryan hero” and proclaim the cross as a symbol of war against the Jews. The church was no longer a bastion of orthodox Christianity. It was now a cesspool of Nietzschean social Darwinism.[3] The power vested in the priestly office by the state superseded the power of the Bible in the congregation.

Second, the preacher who takes the Bible seriously should not preach his own “great thoughts.”

Barth cautioned against preachers as “well-meaning idealists, who push big ideas around in their heads but have no grasp of reality.”[4] One possible explanation for why the church allowed itself to be manipulated by the state is that it had already, for quite some time, traded biblical authority for a higher critical method that undermined the Bible.

Rationalist Enlightenment preaching had set its hooks deep into the heart of the German pulpit, yielding topical sermons that blurred the lines between matters of faith and matters of political propaganda. Many Protestant preachers saw their primary work as comforting the political fears of citizens while simultaneously urging them to sacrifice their all for the nation.[5] Barth, however, counseled his students to do theology “as if nothing happened,” centering their preaching in the Bible and not in the national Politik.

Third, the preacher should not be boring.

The decades-long push for topical, war-time sermons in Germany had a practical dimension. People in the pew found the pedantic preaching of the German pulpit to be boring. Church attendance was plummeting. Pastors were searching for an easy fix to tickle ears and create a crowd.

A new “modern” preaching took hold that elevated contemporary issues and diminished the Bible. And it worked! But the Word of God, rightly divided, is never boring. Barth declared, “If a sermon is biblical, it will not be boring.”[6]

Here, we text-driven preachers offer a boisterous “Amen.” The Word of God is not boring. The structure, spirit and substance of each text offers a depth of material by which we can, thrillingly, re-present God’s Word to His people. Barth referred to this depth of material as a “mystery” and said that trying to fully exhaust it was like trying to drain the ocean with a spoon.[7]


Barth’s contention was not with patriotism in and of itself, but with any rival to the Word of God as central in the life of the church. To be sure, we should proceed with caution when reading the famed professor. His admirable view of preaching stems, unfortunately, from a less than authoritative view of the Bible. Barth did not believe that the text itself was the Word of God, only that it was a witness to the Word of God when rightly preached. Nevertheless, Barth’s lectures on homiletics and his warnings against the perils of political theology are massive contributions.

Angela Hancock sums up the significance of these lectures well. She says, “Barth’s classroom in the summer of 1933 was like the eye of the hurricane—a place of relative calm amid the roar and bluster of the Third Reich.”[8]

[1] These Predigtvorbereitung lectures were published several decades later in a book entitled Homiletics.
[2] Karl Barth, Homiletics (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1991), 79.
[3] Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 173.
[4] Barth, Homiletics, 79.
[5] Angela Dienhart Hancock, Karl Barth’s Emergency Homiletic (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2013), 160.
[6] Barth, Homiletics, 80.
[7] Ibid., 128.
[8] Hancock, Karl Barth’s Emergency Homiletic, 321.

Categories: Seminary Blog

How to pursue self-control (without being a legalist)

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 06/29/2018 - 13:52

I grew up in the shadow of Nike (the shoe company, not the Greek goddess). The first church I attended sat next to the Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. I played high school tennis with the son of Nike’s founder, Phil Knight. To top it all off, my college dorm stood across the street from Hayward Field, where Knight and his track coach, Bill Bowerman, famously tried out the first pair of Nike running shoes with soles formed in a waffle iron. In 1988, when Nike unleashed the “Just Do It” campaign, I was all in. If you work hard enough and put in the time, you can do anything—or so I thought.

Experience soon taught me life is more than blood, sweat, and tears. All the training in the world isn’t going to make my 5’9” body a starter on the college basketball team. It doesn’t matter how many all-nighters I pulled, God didn’t design my brain to master quantitative macroeconomics. Just ask Professor Ellis who memorably wrote on my first assignment, “If this work is evidence of your ability, I highly doubt you will be able to pass this class.” Ouch.

As Christians, we wrestle with this same tension. On one hand, there is work to do. We must exercise self-control. On the other hand, it’s a work we cannot do. Try as we may, it doesn’t matter how tall or strong or fast or smart we are, in our flesh we simply lack the self-control required to walk in a manner worthy our calling (Eph. 4:1).

But there is hope. Thankfully, even when the flesh is weak, self-control remains a potent piece of the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

What is self-control?

Self-control, simply put, is the ability to look at a piece of chocolate cake, and not eat it; to accidentally click on an explicit link, and immediately close the window; to hear a tidbit of salacious gossip, and end the conversation. When the seductress woos the self-controlled young man, “I have perfumed my bed with myrrh” (Prov. 7:17), he flies away like Joseph (Gen. 39:12). Self-control is the rejection of temptation and the refusal to give indwelling sin the upper hand.

We can’t dismiss self-control, even if some wrongly boil down Christianity to a list of dos and don’ts. When Paul, while on trial, shared the gospel with Felix, “he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment” (Acts 24:25). Resisting temptation is not the gospel, but it is a mark of all who have come to truly embrace it. Paul later insisted Christians will sometimes give up what they are free to enjoy if it means winning others to Christ. Such benevolence requires self-control (see 1 Cor. 9:25). Peter agreed. True believers have more than head knowledge. They are marked by self-control, which flows from the faith God gave them (2 Pet. 1:5–6).

It should be no surprise Paul ends his list of the fruit of the Spirit with self-control. After noting love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness, Paul wants us to get to work. Whatever is keeping us from loving others or being gentle must be put to death. But the desires of the flesh won’t go down without a fight. Walking in love and joy won’t be easy. We need self-control. Paul put it this way, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24). The presence of self-control proves it.

The Fight for Self-Control

The fruit of the Spirit in your life will not come without a fight. There’s a reason Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). The Christian life is hard. There is no easy path, no broad entrance. We will find ourselves at war with sin, bloodied and bruised, before the last battle is won and the tears are gone (Rev. 21:4).

When they came up with the slogan, “Just Do It,” Nike’s ad executives tapped into a truth viscerally known by even pagan minds: nothing worth having comes without a cost. This is true for Olympic runners, Nobel laureates, outstanding fathers, and ordinary Christians. Kevin DeYoung noted how “growth in godliness requires exertion on the part of the Christian.” The old Puritan, Thomas Watson, used violent language to make the same point when he charged believers to “spill the heart blood of every sin.”

I’m not the first to say we’re prone to give into temptation before the fight really begins. We slide into sin, without ever taking out our sword and going for sin’s throat. We rationalize, “I’m just looking.” We make excuses, “I didn’t start the conversation.” We presume upon God’s grace, “I know he’ll forgive me, he’s God after all.”

A few years ago, a young man sat in my office and shared his testimony. He was unaccustomed to talking about his faith. I probed into his life and doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16). I wanted to know not only what he believed, but how these beliefs shaped the way he lived. He talked about his dating relationship and quickly admitted to going too far. He showed no remorse, and when I asked him how he made sense of his actions and the biblical call to purity, he smiled and said, “Jesus understands—he knew how hard it is to be single.”

It’s easy for me to roll my eyes, even as I type out that memory. This man was immature; he may not even have been a Christian! And yet, sadly, I know what it’s like to presume upon God’s grace. To let my eyes and thoughts wander into places that defile the marriage bed (Heb. 13:4). To let my mouth run off, unconcerned about the fire I’m lighting (James 3:6). To let my ears gulp down gossip, with no love for the brother or sister being dissected by critical words. In each instance, I’ve taken the path of least resistance and presumed upon God’s grace. Instead of attempting to “spill the heart blood of every sin,” I’ve drunk it down.

To have self-control is to fight temptation and put sin to death. Not just one day, every day. Not just one hour, every hour.

The Fruit of Self-Control

It’s good to remember the fight for self-control. I must fight more. But the fight isn’t the whole story. Self-control is both a call to action and a gift to be received. Self-control is a piece of the fruit of the Spirit. Until this fact is understood, and understood deeply, we’ll never go to God for help. We’ll never live with the confidence he’ll provide.

At the dawn of the Reformation, Martin Luther preached a sermon about the righteousness of Christ. He called it an alien righteousness because it doesn’t naturally belong to the Christian. It is Christ’s righteousness. It belongs to him. Grace means this righteousness can be ours, through faith in Christ alone. “All that he has becomes ours,” Luther said, and not only that, “he himself becomes ours.” Through faith, Christ gives us himself. And with himself, he gives us the power to defeat sin in our lives.

It is through this theological lens that Luther understood the fruit of the Spirit. It is only because of Christ’s righteousness, credited to our account, that we can “spend a life profitably in good works . . . slaying the flesh and crucifying the desires with respect to the self.”

In short, do you want self-control? Look to Christ. Trust in his death and resurrection. The self-control we practice—sometimes all-too painfully and poorly—is actually “the fruit and consequence” of Christ’s work on our behalf.

This is good news. Self-control is a gift and a promise to each of God’s children. God does more than command us to obey; he equips us. He does more than point us in the direction we have to walk; he carries us. God does more than give us his Word to guide us; he fills us with his Spirit and leads us.

I know my own soul, and one of the reasons I sometimes give into temptation before the fight really begins is because I fail to remember the power of the Spirit in my life. Self-control seems like a mountain too tall for me to ever scale, until I remember Christ already climbed it, for me. Holiness seems like a room too sterile to enter, until I remember Christ already died, for me, to cleanse me from my sin.

Self Control is Possible

I learned long ago that “Just Do It” may be a great slogan for the world’s largest manufacturer of sportswear, but it’s a horrible motto for the Christian life. Still, it’s a lesson I need to remind myself of daily. I didn’t begin the Christian life on my own effort, and I certainly can’t walk in the Spirit by the power of my own steam. Self-control isn’t the product of true grit; it’s a piece of the fruit of the Spirit.

I can no more exercise self-control on my own, than I can repent on my own. Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers put it well:

Have you ever tried to repent? If so, if you tried without the Spirit of God, you know that to urge a man to repent without the promise of the Spirit to help him, is to urge him to do an impossibility. A rock might as soon weep, and a desert might as soon blossom, as a sinner repent of his own accord. If God should offer heaven to man, simply upon the terms of repentance of sin, heaven would be as impossible as it is by good works; for a man can no more repent of himself, than he can perfectly keep God’s law; for repentance involves the very principle of perfect obedience to the law of God. It seems to me that in repentance there is the whole law solidified and condensed; and if a man can repent of himself then there is no need of a Savior. He may as well go up to heaven up the steep sides of Sinai at once.

Now, re-read Spurgeon’s words but replace “repent” with “be self-controlled.” The point is the same. Without the Spirit of God we can’t do it. Self-control is required; it’s a must. But only those with the Spirit can be self-controlled.

What’s Next?

Do you want to see the fruit of the Spirit manifest in your life? Do you want to grow in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness? I know I do! How can we grow in this way? How can we have more self-control?

Remember the cross. When the sins of hatred and anxiety, harshness and impatience rear their ugly heads, we have to be willing to pull out the sword and “spill the heart blood of every sin.” We can only do this if we recall that Christ purposefully spilt his own blood so we could die to sin and live to righteousness. Without a mind fixed on the cross, your self-control will be little more than self-help, and it won’t last.

Embrace the fight. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking a life marked by self-control—or any of the other pieces of the fruit of the Spirit—will be easy. It won’t be. There are just too many passages reminding us the Christian life is a painful battle (see Rom. 8:13, Col. 3:5, and 1 Cor. 9:24–25, to name just a few).

Bring the fiercest battle into the light. Though it’s true all our temptations are common (1 Cor. 10:13), it’s also true that each of us has unique struggles. Some battle gluttony, others gossip. Some battle with pornography, others with video games. Where is the battle for self-control waged most vigorously in your life? This is what you need to share with a godly friend you trust. Bring it into the light and you’ll find brothers and sisters going to battle with you and for you.

Plead with the Spirit. You need God’s help to hate your sin, to mourn its presence in your life, to repent of its grip in your life, and to equip you to live without it. This is a prayer God is sure to answer. Pray forcefully (Luke 18:1–8). Pray confidently (Rom. 8:32). Pray daily (Luke 5:16). If self-control is lacking in your life, could it be because prayer is lacking? “Watch and pray,” Jesus said, “that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41).

Of all the pieces of the fruit of the Spirit, this is the one I want to focus on most. Not because it is most important—each is equally important. In fact, they all go together, like a beautiful patchwork quilt. And yet, self-control is the thread tying them all together. Show me a Christian overflowing with self-control, and I’ll see someone full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness.

Pastors Need Self-Control

Preaching about self-control is so much easier than exercising it. Brother pastors, let’s not forget each of us is in desperate need of holiness, and not just because we need to be good examples for the flock (Luke 6:40), but because without holiness we won’t see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). The moment we care more about our reputation than our soul, we’ve lost the battle and are on our way to losing the war.

God is invincible, but I’m not (1 Cor. 10:12). I can still fall and make a shipwreck of my faith (1 Tim. 1:19). I know the Holy Spirit is within me, and I rest in the fact that with God’s help I’m strong. But resting in this truth doesn’t lead me to fight less; it prods me to fight more.

For this reason, I’m committed to being an open book with all of the elders with whom I serve. But a willingness to be open when asked is not enough—at least not for me. Therefore, I take the initiative to confess my sins to one elder in particular. He’s neither my priest nor my mediator; he grants no pardons for sin. Still, I know how pastors are uniquely tempted to hide. I often want people to think I never lack self-control. That’s a dangerous desire, and it’s one I kill by making myself share with a brother I respect, a man who will help me stay attune to any signs of “an evil, unbelieving heart” (Heb. 3:12).

Pastors, don’t let a meditation on the fruit of the Spirit excuse you frm the hard work of rooting out the “works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:18). Do it for the sake of your family and your congregation. But, ultimately, pursue holiness for the sake of your own soul.



Editors’ note: This article was originally published at 9Marks.


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Categories: Seminary Blog

Dealing with disappointment to the glory of God

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 06/26/2018 - 10:08

Life is one long, steady disappointment. This dawns on most people by their thirties. Childhood is all potentiality. The teenage years are all angst—but even angst betrays some hope, since it is only quiet outrage that things could be better. A person can still carry into his twenties the illusion that the world will soon blossom. Not until his thirties does a person realize that much of what’s coming won’t be better than what has come. The forties, fifties, and on often only reinforce Alexander Pope’s infamous beatitude, “Blessed is the man who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” To live is to be disappointed. Even in ministry. You will look hard and long for a pastor or minister who won’t admit to disappointment with at least some aspect of ministry. 

So cheer up. Oddly enough, disappointment can be an indicator you are seeing the world correctly. No one enjoys feeling disappointment. In itself, disappointment is akin to the sadness of loss, and ultimately we were not designed for it. But like all emotions, disappointment is a gauge of how a person perceives his life—what he believes about it and wants from it. When you’re living in a broken world, sometimes believing and wanting the right things means you’ll be disappointed.

How we experience disappointment

Human beings are capable of disappointment because they are capable of having expectations. We were made to dream of better days. Every Cleveland sports fan knows this. So does every acne-faced teenager, every sleepless parent of a newborn, every young professional clawing for a career, every recent divorcée sitting in a house now quiet. All of us cast in our minds a widescreen projection of a better reality to move around in, free of the most painful parts of the present. We live in a desert but imagine a garden.

Disappointment is what we experience when that garden never blooms. Of course, we know it won’t blossom immediately. But maybe it will incrementally? Maybe in the next phase of life? Maybe around the next bend? All of these maybes are the projectors on the screen of the mind. What they project we could call expectations.

We experience disappointment as a sense of loss when reality fails to meet our expectations. The key words there are reality and expectations, and both of these terms are charged with theological meaning.

Disappointment is a gauge of how a person perceives his life—what he believes about it and wants from it.

A theology of disappointment

Reality is the world that surrounds us, a world that existed before any of us first took in a lungful of oxygen. The world is a given component of our experience, the context we are born into and move around in. It is beyond our control, it is outside our determination, and it operates according to laws we had no say in laying down. Reality is, well, reality. And it constantly fails to match the Eden we love to inhabit in our minds.

Reality is the world in which God placed us. It’s easy to overlook the theological significance of Genesis 2:8: “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.” God made Adam to be an embodied image of Him in a physical location. This world preceded Adam. It was outside his determination yet under his dominion to be the context of his obedience (1:28). Adam could not have simply lived in his head; he had to traffic in a reality outside his head.

Expectations, on the other hand, are a human response to reality; and as responses, we do have a say in them. Expectations are part hope, part prediction of what reality will be. They are part hope in the sense that they are an expectancy of good. No one is disappointed when something bad they were expecting fails to come about; instead, they experience relief. Hope is the anticipation that reality will be characterized by greater joy, greater provision, greater accomplishment, greater peace.

Adam lost his spot in an ideal reality by disobeying God, who sent him and his wife out of Eden and into the ultimate disappointment of a world stalked by death and decay (Gen. 3:8–24). A world that was once generous with fruit became hostile with thorns. This is the reality that Adam’s grandchildren have inherited. But they’ve also inherited the memory of that garden. Our very ability to be disappointed shows that we carry expectations of a world better than the one we live in.

So, in a sense, disappointment is an accurate response to a disappointing world. We see disappointed expectations all over the place in Scripture—from Job cursing the day he was born, to the sons of Korah comparing this place to the land of the dead, to Paul describing creation itself as groaning in pain and disillusionment (Job 3:3; Ps. 88:12; Rom. 8:19–22). This collective disappointment is a sure sign that we know to expect more.

Dealing with disappointment

So, how do we process our personal disappointment? Here are a few principles.

Your specific disappointments are only the manifestations of a broader disappointment. As we acknowledged at the outset, life is one long, steady disappointment. This long disappointment manifests itself in a thousand short ones. Broken families, failed careers, declining health. Years of planning and labor that result only in more uncertainty, not less. Fear that your adult children won’t carry on the values of the family. Relationships that should have been lifelong don’t even attain their half-life. Or perhaps worst of all, you’ve attained the objects of your desire, and they simply fail to deliver what they promised.

These regular disappointments are about so much more than the situation that’s disappointing you. The wise man of Ecclesiastes, sitting under the swaying fruit trees of his sunlit garden, feasting with fawning dignitaries from around the world, stared blankly into the sky, saying, “I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind” (Eccl. 1:14).

The Preacher’s disappointment was not ultimately about the trees or the food or the dignitaries. His disappointment was an all-encompassing realization not simply that this world doesn’t provide ultimate satisfaction, but that it can’t provide ultimate satisfaction. Your specific disappointments are only your personal realization of this same reality.

If you want to handle disappointment in a godly way, you must start by simply acknowledging that your specific disappointments are not exclusive to you. The world is not uniquely unfair to you. It is unfair to everyone. To think that your own disappointments are a greater burden to you than those of others are to them will lead quickly to self-pity and to self-pity’s more subtle cousin, self-hatred.

Editors’ note: This article was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

3 ways to misread the Sermon on the Mount

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 06/22/2018 - 11:14

The Sermon on the Mount is probably the most famous sermon ever preached, and for good reason. Its speaker is the Lord Jesus Christ; its location on a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee is unique; and its language is both beautiful and profound. Even non-believers are familiar with many of the words Jesus spoke in this sermon.

Yet, for as well-known as the Sermon is, it is often misunderstand and misused. Therefore, as we begin to study this passage of Scripture, we should look at three common, but misguided ways to approach the sermon.

1. The liberal way

Now, the word liberal used in this context is not a political term, but a theological term. Liberal theology is an approach to Christian doctrine and especially the Bible and the person of Christ, which denies the miraculous, rejects the supernatural claims of the Bible, and explains away the full deity of Christ—to list only a few credentials of Protestant Liberalism.

With respect to the Sermon on the Mount, therefore, a liberal approach extracts this passage from the rest of Matthew’s Gospel. It sees Jesus as a great teacher, but only as a teacher or rabbi. It fails to see how the Gospels present Jesus as God’s Son, and how Matthew shapes his Gospel to highlight the humanity and deity of Christ.

In other words, it fails to see how Jesus’s teaching about the kingdom of God (in Matthew 5–7) is presented in combination his miracles of healing (in Matthew 8–9). Instead of seeing the full portrait of Christ, the liberal way of reading the Sermon on the Mount makes it a “pamphlet” with Jesus as a superlative moral teaching.

Clearly, such a reading mischaracterizes who Jesus is, who Jesus said he was, and what the eye witnesses testified about Christ. But honestly, Bible-believing Christians can also fall into a liberal reading of the Sermon, if we miss the connection of Jesus words with his deeds in Matthew 8–9. In other words, if we only read the Sermon as a corpus of his teaching, disconnected from the rest of Matthew’s Gospel, we are preparing ourselves to misread the Sermon.

Therefore, we must understand the Sermon in the context of Matthew’s Gospel, and specifically in the context of Matthew 4:23–9:38, which is the first of five blocks in Matthew that is composed of Jesus’ speech and Jesus’ actions. For more on the whole book of Matthew read this.

2. The legalistic way

In contrast to the liberal way of reading the Sermon, the legalistic way takes the words seriously. In fact, it reads Jesus so seriously that it seeks to apply the radical demands of Jesus as the regulations of the Christian life.

While there is something to this plain reading, passages like Matthew 5:48 (“You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect”) make it sound like we must be perfect in order to please God. Yet, such a reading fails to understand the meaning of this word (teleios) and the wisdom genre Jesus is employing in this sermon. More on this in a minute.

Under this legalistic category, the Sermon has been used in church history as a standard for monastic orders and the creation of a special classes of Christians. The trouble with this, of course, is that Jesus addresses his disciples (5:1), and he tells these same disciples in Matthew 28:19 to teach all disciples to obey all that he had taught them.

So, the Sermon on the Mount is not just for some followers of Christ; it is for all of us. Yet, a straightforward reading, especially one that does not understand the original meaning of the word makarios (“blessed”) in the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3–12) and or teleios (“perfect”) in Matthew 5:48 will incline Christians to read the Sermon as a legal document, outlining the rules they must obey.

In response to this sort of legalism and the rewards based on such Christian works-righteousness, we find a third way to read the SM, which is theologically better but also misguided.

3. The Lutheran way

Martin Luther, as you may know, was the man God used to ignite the Protestant Reformation. And it was the goal of this German Reformer to stand against anything that looked like the works-righteousness of the Catholic church, which is why he often questioned the book of James.

Yet, because the Sermon on the Mount is very similar to the book of James—some scholars believe the book of James “echoes” the Sermon on the Mount—and because Luther was so committed to justification by faith alone, he failed to understand the purpose of Jesus words in Matthew 5–7. Thus, when he read the call for righteousness in Jesus’ sermon, he understood it as an “impossible ideal” that was meant to lead him and us back to God’s grace in Christ.

As Jonathan Pennington puts it in his commentary, Luther saw the Sermon with its “impossibly high demands” as goad “meant to make all people aware of their sin and poverty before God and thereby turn to Christ in faith” (p. 6). Theologically, Luther’s approach has great merit. But it in the end, it fails because it does not rightly perceive the way Jesus is fulfilling the law, bringing the good news of the kingdom, and speaking to disciples who have already been brought within the bounds of this kingdom.

In other words, Jesus is not giving a new law for us to obey, nor is he aiming to afflict us with God’s high ideal, so that we would flee to him for grace. Rather, Jesus is announcing the fulfillment of the law (5:17), the arrival of the kingdom (6:33), and the gracious message that God’s people now have access to the Father through the arrival of the Son.

Jesus is not preaching law; he’s announcing the good news of the law fulfilled. And, as we’ll see, Jesus sermon’s is a message of apocalyptic wisdom—which is to say Jesus is revealing (hence apocalypse) God’s kingdom and bringing healing to the nations. As Matthew 4:17, 23 indicate, he is teaching about the kingdom and fishing for disciples who will join him in the kingdom he is bringing.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

Take Your Bible, Not Politics, Into The Pulpit

Southwestern Seminary - Tue, 06/19/2018 - 09:30

Recently, I was invited to a meeting with area pastors about a serious issue that our school board was facing. An organization was suing our school board for various acts of religious expression that they felt violated the separation of church and state. It had made national news. Suddenly, so many things collided: faith, politics and my congregation. How was I, as a pastor, going to lead our people through these challenges? I had politicians in my church, teachers, the school superintendent, students, parents and more.

As the events unfolded, I knew I could not remain silent or neutral. No matter the controversy, I needed to speak biblical truth and encourage and instruct on matters that many would rather avoid. But God was so gracious, and thousands of students and families stood stronger in their faith. It was an interesting and challenging season for sure.

Over the years of my pastoral ministry, I have had church members say to me, “Pastor, I would highly recommend that you not bring politics into the pulpit.” And when they say this, it is usually accompanied with a tone that says the pulpit should never be controversial. This has been an interesting recommendation to consider.

I want to first ask, “What do these fellow Christians mean when they say ‘politics’?” Most people simply think “politics” includes voting for a candidate and voting on issues. Additionally, they envision the mean spirit and deceptive tactics so often seen and associated with those running for a particular office in a local, state or national race.

Without question, there are actions and attitudes that are cringe-worthy and un-Christlike in political races, and I do not blame church members for not wanting those things emanating from the pulpit, much less from the life of their pastor. The result of these concerns is that many pastors will avoid anything that can be construed as political in their preaching ministry.

But is this the best reaction? Paul called Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2 to “preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season.” Every pastor is to preach, teach and proclaim the Word of God to the people of God. All of it.

You know what I have discovered? The Bible speaks to every issue that intersects with our political debates. And there are many issues that become positions in politics. Some of these issues are abortion (Jeremiah 1:5), same-sex attraction (1 Corinthians 6:9-11), racism (Galatians 3:26-28) and numerous others.

If you are a pastor who preaches the Bible and is committed to teaching your flock all of God’s Word, then you will ultimately preach on issues that many will deem political. But God’s Word must be our standard and foundation of all truth, and, as pastors, we must be committed to delivering His Word to His people so that the church can be strong in the faith and Christians can stand boldly in our world regardless of the issue. Our people need to know what God’s Word says about any particular issue more than what some person or company says about it on Twitter.

Beyond the issues that intersect with political debates are the people who desire places of leadership on the local, state and national levels. Does never bringing politics into the pulpit mean that a pastor can never speak about a candidate seeking a place of leadership? In our American form of government, that place might be in a local, state or national office.

The Bible is clear that within the roles of government and leadership are people who will either fill those roles responsibly or irresponsibly. For example, in Ecclesiastes 4:1-3, Solomon teaches us that those in roles of power and leadership can use their position to bless or oppress others. Those who are in positions of power and leadership really do matter.

Think about it: God greatly used the leadership of Joseph (Genesis 41:39-42) to bless others rather than oppress them. God greatly used the leadership of Esther (Esther 8) to bless others rather than oppress them. God greatly used the leadership of Daniel (Daniel 6) to bless others rather than oppress them. Leadership truly matters, and having great leaders in places of authority and power is critically important.

While you should consider the pros and cons of publically endorsing a particular candidate, preaching and teaching about the importance of leadership and being engaged in the opportunity of seeing people put in leadership who will bless rather than oppress is an awesome opportunity and responsibility. Pastors do not need to cower in the face of elections. Religious liberty, the value of human life, the sanctity of marriage and so much more are directly impacted by those who become leaders on every level government affords. Much is at stake, and every pastor must be courageous and clear, even when it comes to those issues our people might deem political.

So am I going to bring politics into the pulpit? No, but I am going to bring my Bible. Yes, it will be controversial. Yes, some will perceive it to be too political. But preaching the Word of God is what we are called to do. And what God says about every issue and every quality of leadership is what we really need.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Ten Bible books that you can read in less than 90 minutes

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 06/19/2018 - 09:30

In the first post in this series, I mentioned the change that reading whole books of the Bible in one sitting made for my understanding of the Bible. In the second post, I mentioned thirty-three books of the Bible that can be read in thirty minutes or less as a starting point for this discipline. In this post, I want to offer perspectives on reading books of the Bible in the 40 to 90-minute range.

Focus needed

Even the most distraction-prone reader can (probably) muster up the patience to sit for 30 minutes or less and focus on reading a shorter book. Such reading often fits within the grooves and rhythms of our day with minimal disruption. They might easily be read before leaving the home for school or work, during a lunch break, while waiting for an appointment, etc. 

Yet reading for more than a half-hour requires more time and focus than many of us in Gen X and younger are accustomed. I may share some experiences and opinions on why my generation and those younger than me struggle to read in a subsequent post, but if I have identified an area where you struggle, be encouraged: one of the blessings of the gospel in the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit, who brings “patience” and “self-control” into fruition (Gal 5:25) within believers. That is good news indeed when it comes to Bible reading, for we need both of those virtues to flourish as thoughtful readers.

10 books for one (longer) sitting

By my count, ten books of the Bible fall into the 40 to 90 minute range. 

  • Ezra (40 minutes)
  • Nehemiah (1 hour)
  • Daniel (1 hour 15 minutes)
  • Zechariah (40 minutes)
  • Mark (1 hour and 30 minutes)
  • Romans (1 hour)
  • 1 Corinthians (1 hour)
  • 2 Corinthians (40 minutes)
  • Hebrews (45 minutes)
  • Revelation (1 hour 15 minutes)

Just glancing at the books on this list brings back memories of particularly meaningful times spent reading them over the years. It is a diverse list: three books are heavily apocalyptic and have some of the most powerful (and debated) imagery in the whole Bible (Daniel, Zechariah, and Revelation). Three are epistles written to specific congregations to remind them of the gospel and its implications for life together (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians). Two are OT narratives of the return from exile and really should be read together (Ezra and Nehemiah). One is the shortest and perhaps earliest Gospel and one is a general letter that bridges the OT and NT so magnificently.

Reading a book (or two together) on this list may require you to re-order part of your day or night around reading. It might mean adding this reading to your Bujo or iCal as an intentional to-do item. Or, in keeping with the theme of these posts, each of these books is a perfect candidate for you if your summer schedule slows down a bit. Because their length requires extra focus, you should approach these books when you are at your sharpest, with the most energy, and least competing distractions. That time will look different for each reader. It looks different during different seasons for me.

On vacation last summer I sat in my in-laws’ gazebo from 6:30-8 a.m. with a really big coffee mug, a Leuchtterm notebook and Namiki Falcon fountain pen in hand, and read all of 2 Corinthians, really slowly, writing lots of notes, before everyone else was awake. At other times I have sat during the quiet of the witching hour, reading from midnight until 1 a.m., while everyone in my home (as well as those who might send me emails or texts) were sound asleep. Before we had children, my wife and I once spent a Sunday evening reading Hebrews out loud, alternating chapters with each other. In every one of these circumstances, I had to be intentional about spending time, an extended time, reading. So will you.

The post Ten Bible books that you can read in less than 90 minutes appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog


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