This year, God has used Southern Equip to train hundreds of thousands of pastors, missionaries, counselors, and other gospel leaders – both current and future – for more faithful service. Here is a collection of our most popular resources from 2018.
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Trained instincts — that’s how fighter pilots can react immediately to rapidly changing situations as they operate $27 million war machines. When a threat aircraft is closing in, there’s no time for pilots to reason through what to do. They have to rely on instinct, but not just natural instinct. They need instincts shaped deep within them through years of regiment. The countless little decisions they make in the cockpit are automatic, but that doesn’t mean they’re involuntary. The pilot voluntarily trained for them, and in the cockpit he reaps the instinctive benefits of that training.
This is a good illustration of how unintentional sin works. Can we be guilty for sinful responses that seem to erupt in us automatically? Can we really consider sin voluntary if it is not consciously chosen?
Scripture’s view of human experience is complex enough to answer, “yes.” Scripture speaks of involuntary sins as including three characteristics: they are (1) from ignorance of God’s will and therefore (2) not deliberately chosen as hostile acts against God, yet (3) they are disobedient nonetheless. Leviticus 5:17 describes unintentional sin as “doing any of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, though he did not know it.” Peter told his law-celebrating Jewish brothers they “killed the Author of life” because they “acted in ignorance” (Acts 3:15, 17). Paul told his idol-loving Greek audience their long artistic history was actually “the times of ignorance” that God had overlooked (Acts 17:30).
The Jews killed Jesus. The Greeks crafted idols. Both of these actions were instinctive expressions of hearts not conditioned by God’s revealed Word, but by differing (yet equally sinful) sets of beliefs and values. The Jews believed in a legalistic god of their own making and valued their cultural version of righteousness; the Greeks believed in their human-crafted gods and valued the beauty of their own imaginings. Their actions simply expressed these deeper structures of ignorance. The Jews did not intend the killing of Jesus to be a hostile act against God, and the Greeks did not intend their pursuit of earthly pleasure to be a direct rebellion against Him. But they were nonetheless.
So it is with us. Our responses flow from somewhere — from the deeper realities of the hearts we’re stewards of. We are stewards of the deeper realities just as much as we are of the surface expressions. So, we can sin without deliberate choice because we are always acting intuitively out of hearts conditioned by inherited sin. Jesus gave us the general paradigm for this when he told us that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34).
Like the fighter pilot’s hours of training, our hearts are under a regimen that gives shape to our intuitive responses — a regimen of beliefs and values that don’t align with Scripture, drilled into us through what we put in our heads, what we receive as wisdom from other sources, what we accept as normal from culture. All of these shape our unintentional sin.
Think of the way sins such as partiality (James 2:1), jealousy (3:14), or harshness (4:2) function in real life. Rarely do people intentionally decide to show partiality. Yet, they’re instinctively drawn to a beautiful person who comes into the room. Why? Because of their established perception of what is attractive. Jealousy is the automatic impulse that arises when my deep value for a certain thing meets my hidden assumption of personal entitlement to it. Harshness is the result of the quiet desires of my heart smacking up against a person I perceive as withholding those desires from me.
These sins tend not to have a moment of decisive action; they sort of emanate from our vitality. And in case that’s not bad enough, these basic unintentional sins can emanate in more complex forms, too: Partiality can express itself as racism, jealousy as workaholism, harshness as manipulation.
Sins of ignorance can only be remedied with knowledge. Far from being an excuse for sin, ignorance is the thing that keeps us in it. We become aware of unintentional sins—and more than that, are given the ability to do something about them—only by an external word from God. In Leviticus, this is a man “realizing his guilt” by knowing the will of God as laid down in Scripture (5:17). Peter’s solution to the Jews’ ignorant murder of Jesus is to refer them to Scripture’s prophecies about Him (Acts 3:18). Paul speaks to the Greeks’ idolatry about the one God not made of gold or silver (17:29). Only then, with this new awareness of truth, can they possibly take the proper action against their unintentional sin: “Repent, therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out” (3:19).
If we’re using it rightly, Scripture is that uncomfortable knife — a sword, in fact — that cuts deep (Heb. 4:12). But as deeply as it cuts, it is for the purpose of God’s sculpting that glorious, instinctive design He put in us when He saved us. When a person believes God’s Word, he is given a mind characterized by the righteousness of Christ, out of which flows new understanding (1 Cor. 2:14–16). The same design that makes human beings able to sin instinctively is now used for good. When people come to faith in Christ, they receive His righteousness—not just as a declaration of right standing before God (justification), but also as a living power that reshapes their core beliefs and values, and therefore the instinctive responses that flow from them (sanctification). Their automatic responses are characterized by greater righteousness. Trained instincts, but now under a new regimen.
Editors’ note: This article was originally published at Ligonier.
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Something that my wife and I constantly tell our children is that giftedness and intelligence are vastly overrated. We also tell them that hard work, discipline, and convictional courage is vastly underrated. We tend to misjudge what is most valuable in almost every aspect of our lives — including our spiritual lives.
Think with me for a moment about how we often view evangelism and missions. We tend to think that the reason some people seem to be really good at evangelism is that they are gifted with charisma or have had the right training. But neither of those things are true. The main ingredient that makes a good evangelist is Christ-centered courage. Faithful courage. Without courage, you will use your giftedness, your charisma, your intelligence for self-protection. Thus, hindering the spread of the Gospel. Your giftedness, without courage, is a waste.
In Acts 7, we find a man with convictional courage. His name was Stephen. He was the first Christian martyr. And yet, the focus of the text is not on the fact that Stephen was martyred, but rather on the results of Stephen’s courageous willingness to die for Christ.
The courage to live the right story
Something we need to know about Stephen is that he was a deacon in the church. Stephen was known as a servant, not a teacher. And yet, we find him giving a detailed biblical history account that he then applies to his interrogators. Stephen was arrested on trumped-up charges of speaking against the Law and the Temple. And when he was given his opportunity to defend himself, his defense was not really a defense of himself, but rather a defense of Christ. He explains the whole history of Israel and at the end, he backloads the application. “You may know the events,” Stephen is saying to them, “but you do not know what they mean.” Stephen is telling them that all the promises of God are “Yes” and “Amen” in Jesus Christ.
What is absolutely amazing is that Stephen does all of this from memory. He’s not pulling out his Greek Standard Version Study Scroll and using the study notes to make all these connections. He doesn’t need to. Why? That’s the story he lives. If you were to ask me questions about my family, I’m not going to need to go do some research and get back to you. That’s my life. The story Stephen recounts is his story. It’s part of him.
His interrogators lived a different story. They believed the Law was a means to gain righteousness. They believed the Temple contained the glory of God. But Stephen is saying, “I live a different story.” You get the story wrong if you don’t see Jesus as the center and the goal. But when you get it right, you understand, as Stephen did, that suffering makes sense. For even our Lord and Master was crucified. Why would we expect comfort and ease? Stephen understood that his proclamation was not likely to end with him being carried off to cheers and adoration. He knew that persecution was coming as a result. But that made sense to him within the story he was living.
The courage to choose mercy over judgment
The response to Stephen’s exhortation was hate. They were “enraged” and “ground their teeth.” And as they were stoning him, Stephen makes two statements that should sound familiar to us. First, he says, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” That sounds a lot like Jesus on the cross, “Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). Second, Stephen says “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Again, this sounds like what Jesus said from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). While they are bashing Stephen’s head in with rocks, he is pleading for the mercy of God on their behalf.
The power of mercy and love is much stronger than the power of hate. And love and mercy will reign forever when hate is cast away into outer darkness. Stephen loved his enemies. He wants them to know mercy, not judgment. He is dying, literally, so that they would know the Gospel truth.
There is a powerful word for us in his example. If you merely hate your cultural enemies, you are imaging Satan. We must stand against many things in our culture because we love our neighbors and know the truth of scripture, but our goal, in the end, is not the destruction of our cultural opponents, it is their salvation. You will not be on gospel mission for someone that you hate. Love your enemies. That’s not a religious cliché, that’s a life purpose. It is not dependent on giftedness and intelligence but it is dependent on gospel courage.
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They wanted to talk about my preaching. I hadn’t been at the church very long, but they had some concerns. A few single women recently left the church, and these deacons were convinced it was my fault. My sermons, they insisted, must be too “masculine.” I didn’t know what they meant — I still don’t! I certainly had no intention of preaching masculine or feminine sermons. Nonetheless, they weren’t pleased.
Several months later, an older couple wanted to talk. They, too, had some concerns. It was about my family. They offered constructive criticism, especially for my wife. In public, they were quite friendly and seemed to like us very much. Privately, they had reservations about us as a ministry team.
Around this time, another member told me something was wrong with the morning service. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it. He seemed glad I preached the Bible, but he wanted something a little less serious and a little more joyful. He said our gatherings didn’t have a “sense” of worship.
Welcome to ministry.Helpful criticism
If you are a pastor, criticism comes with the territory. These examples are from my early years of ministry. A decade in, the church I serve has more unity than ever before. Still, there’s always criticism. Just the other day a brother said the first point of my sermon was too long. He was right! I strive to heed godly criticism.
“The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise” (Prov. 15:31). Everybody needs correction, and a good leader will receive it well. “Righteous lips are the delight of a king, and he loves him who speaks what is right” (Prov. 16:13). It is right to be exhorted to change when change is necessary. It is good to be told you’re doing something wrong when you are, in fact, doing something wrong. Criticism may sting in the short-term but, if it’s true, we can embrace it as a gift from the Lord. “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future” (Prov. 19:20).Can we keep it at a minimum?
The mature pastor knows criticism is helpful, but he’d like it kept to a minimum. This is because criticism hurts. Heap too many coals on the fire, and the steak is likely to burn. Heap too much criticism on the pastor, and he’ll likely burnout. Criticism, however well-intentioned, can be harmful in large doses. No one will thrive in a perpetual state of discouragement. “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad” (Prov. 12:25).
Unfortunately, pastors can control neither the rate nor the quality of the criticism that comes their way. Some of it is wonderful, helpful, and life-giving. Other criticism is simply unfair, unjust, and unkind. A batter can’t demand his favorite pitch, and a pastor can’t make a member be compassionate. Sometimes people say things that just aren’t true.
- “You care more about membership than people.”
- “You’ve never said a kind word to me, I don’t think you like me.”
- “You just want people to obey your commands, you aren’t really looking for input.”
- “You don’t love the older people, you just care about the young folks.”
- “You’re an okay preacher, but not much of a shepherd.”
Criticism like this may be completely unhitched to reality. Or it may have a grain of truth but be flung at you in a spiteful, hurtful way. Sheep have been known to bite their shepherd. How should pastors respond in the face of unjust criticism?
In a nutshell: don’t be thin-skinned and be sure to be tender-hearted.Get some alligator hide
The thin-skinned pastor won’t last very long in ministry because he will take every question about the direction of the church as a personal slight. Each member leaving feels like a dagger in his back. He has a hard time discerning between fair and unjust criticism. Spider-Man has “spider sense” — he always knows when danger is nearby. Thin-skinned pastors always seem to sense a word of criticism is around the corner.
Some thin-skinned pastors demonize their critics. They see themselves as truth-warriors and wonder why the rest of the troops aren’t falling into line. When people probe into the reasoning behind a decision, voice opposition, or simply and quietly disagree, a thin-skinned pastor takes it as a personal affront. A thin-skinned pastor may not change course, but he’s disappointed and pained by any confrontation.
Other thin-skinned pastors are so nervous that they question every decision they make. When people oppose their leadership, such pastors quickly assume they must be steering the ship in the wrong direction. They base the quality of their leadership on the noise of the crowd instead of the Word of the Lord.
Either way, the thin-skinned pastor cares too deeply about what others think. Their opinion casts a long and disheartening shadow over his ministry. He always feels the need to prove himself. (See Jared Wilson’s The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry) Pastors like this build walls that keep people away. This is a dark and lonely place to be.
Simply put, thin-skinned pastors should probably not be in ministry because they will not last.Let the sheep chew on you
A thick-skinned pastor cares more about approval from the God he worships than approval from the church he serves. He can usually sleep well on Sunday night, because he knows the kingdom of God is not shaken by his less-than-stellar sermon. He can hear bad news in the afternoon — the cancer is back, my wife has left me — and still be emotionally available for his kid’s soccer game that evening. The thick-skinned pastor finds profound comfort and strength in the reality of God’s sovereign goodness.
Because the thick-skinned pastor knows the future of his church depends on the power of the Spirit and not himself, he makes decisions that serve him and his family well. He takes the time off he needs—even if a few members may question his priorities — because he knows his family and his church need a well-rested shepherd. He’ll say no to some church functions to spend quality time with his wife and kids. He recognizes some may want him to be more available, but he proves with his schedule his family comes first. (See Brian Croft’s The Pastor’s Family: Shepherding Your Family through the Challenges of Pastoral Ministry)
Most importantly, a thick-skinned pastor lets the sheep chew on him because he knows, after all, they’re sheep! Christians who have received a steady diet of topical preaching for decades may bristle at the idea of going through a book of the Bible chapter by chapter. The thick-skinned pastor isn’t offended by their opposition; he patiently explains why he thinks expositional preaching is more helpful. A thick-skinned pastor may be criticized for leading a church away from special music to more congregational singing. But he doesn’t get upset when people wrongly conclude he doesn’t like music; he humbly explains why the moves he’s suggesting are for the long-term good of the congregation’s corporate worship of God.
In other words, every pastor will inevitably face a barrage of criticism. This isn’t heaven. But the thick-skinned pastor will keep his eyes on the cross, his heart in the Lord, and his hand to the plough.
And because of that, he’s more likely to last in ministry.Be tender-hearted
The skin of an elephant can withstand the sun of the Sahara Desert but, let’s face it, who wants to hug an elephant? If a thick-skinned pastor isn’t careful, he’ll seem unapproachable. He may pit fidelity to God’s Word against compassion toward God’s people.
The apostle Paul is such a good example for us here. The same man who told the Galatians he did not seek the “approval of man” likened himself to a “nursing mother taking care of her own children” when he described his ministry to the Thessalonians. Thick-skinned: Galatians 1:10. Tender-hearted: 1 Thessalonians 2:7.
Even better is the example of Jesus. He demonstrated remarkable tenderness toward those who would reject him. The Savior described himself as a “hen [who] gathers her brood under her wings” (Luke 13:34). If our King could be so gentle to Jerusalem, then shouldn’t we be compassionate to the church of the living God (1 Tim. 3:15)?
Being thick-skinned has its dangers. We can be slow to accept good criticism. We can appear stern, detached, or uninterested in others. We can assume those around us are as thick-skinned as us and give criticism in a brusque, unhelpful manner. We can speak with a force, clarity, and abrasiveness that hurts the very sheep God has entrusted to our care. (See John Crotts, Graciousness: Tempering Truth with Love)
Let’s work hard to avoid such pitfalls. The members of our church are precious in God’s sight, even when they bite. If we’re too thin-skinned, we’ll cave under the weight of their disappointment in us. If we’re too thick-skinned, we’ll push away the brothers and sisters God has called us to serve and lead. Therefore, be sure to be tender-hearted. The thick-skinned and tender-hearted pastor is best positioned to minister for the long haul.
The Christian life begins with learning — learning the gospel. No one is made right with a God about whom he knows nothing. No one is made right with God unless he learns about him and his message to the world, a message of good news called the gospel. To know God, people must learn that there is a God (Heb. 11:6), that they have broken his law, and that they need to be reconciled to him. They must learn that God’s Son, Jesus, came to accomplish that reconciliation and that he did so by means of his sinless life and his death on the cross as a substitute for sinners. They must learn of his bodily resurrection and their need to repent of their sins and to believe in Jesus and what he has done. Apart from people learning these things, “How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” (Rom. 10:14).
Intentional learning is implied in Jesus’ offer in Luke 9:23: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” So from the very start of discipleship, to follow Jesus implied learning from him, for as did Peter, John, and the others, anyone would certainly learn from Jesus if they would follow him. But Jesus is even more specific about learning from him in Matthew 11:29: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” To accept the yoke of a disciple of Jesus means to commit to a lifetime of learning about Jesus and from Jesus.
To emphasize learning as essential to following Jesus is not advocacy for egghead Christianity. Like Jesus, we want both a heart for God and a head for God. Remember that the Great Commandment emphasizes loving God both with all the heart and with all the mind, as well (Mark 12:29–30). As R. C. Sproul once wrote, “Burning hearts are not nourished by empty heads.” God’s truth — which must be learned — is the fuel for the spiritual fire that flames in the Christian heart.Lifelong learning
The Christian life not only begins with learning, it proceeds through a process of lifelong learning. This includes deeper discoveries of intimacy with God, an ever-growing grasp of the Bible and its doctrines, a greater awareness of our sin, and an increased knowledge of the person and work of Christ. A mature understanding of these things does not come quickly or without effort. Simply put, it is impossible to grow into Christlikeness one knows nothing about. By the Spirit’s power, we must learn what Christlikeness means and how Jesus wants us to follow him. We learn this through the Bible, of course, but it involves learning nonetheless.
Those whom the Bible considers wise and intelligent understand this. According to Scripture, “The wise lay up knowledge” and “An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge” (Prov. 10:14; 18:15). So the primary measurement of wisdom and intelligence is not your IQ or GPA but whether you pursue knowledge, that is, whether you discipline yourself to continue learning the things of God throughout your life.Intentional learning
A hunger to learn the Word of God, the ways of God, and the will of God expresses a hunger for God himself. Those who love God long to be taught about him and from him. That doesn’t mean all Christians are to manifest an affinity for learning exactly the same things and in identical ways. But it is true that apathy toward learning the things of God is a mark of those who do not know God.
We are blessed to live in a time when the means of and opportunities for expressing a love for God through learning greatly exceed our ability to take advantage of them. But all these profit little if a person doesn’t pursue them. This is why learning must always be a discipline, for a person can be surrounded by wisdom and knowledge yet live without their riches if he or she does not possess the discipline to learn them.
Thus, learning is indeed a gospel-driven spiritual discipline; those who are not exerting themselves to learn the things of God will gain spiritual and biblical knowledge only by accident or mere convenience. By contrast, intentional learners will seek to learn the things of God and will do so individually as well as with the church, disciplining themselves to learn from those who are gifted by God and recognized by the church as teachers.
Editors’ note: This article was originally published in Tabletalk.
It is lazy and unloving to be dismissive of a person from the past without considering their context. Chronological snobbery is the belief that one’s present time is superior to the past and that people and ideas from generations gone by are necessarily inferior to those in the here-and-now. The truth is that though every generation experiences progress, progress in itself is no indicator of worth and supremacy.
Questions must be asked: What have we progressed from? What did we leave behind? Why did we leave it behind? The snob arrogantly looks at the mistakes of history, the “primitive” thinking of previous cultures, and vainly imagines that, had he been there, he would not have thought, felt, or acted as people then did. He sees himself as way too sophisticated to dilly-dally around with the ignoramuses of what he considers to be unenlightened people. “Out with the old and in with the new,” is the mantra of the self-professed morally, spiritually, and intellectually superior modern man.Shallow idolatry
There is another way of thinking about the past and also swerving into error; it is to so admire the exterior of antiquity that the glow of former days is used as a kind of varnish on one’s present personal ambitions. This error leads to idolatry and shallowness, idolatry because the hero-worshipper wants to be what he envisions from romantic days gone by.
“Heroes were successful and I want to be successful like them,” says the peddler in hagiography. Such is shallow thinking because its focus on the veneer leaves little time to ponder deeply the interior of the man, woman, or philosophy idolized. It is patently unloving towards those who ran the race prior to us to worship them. It is also unhelpful and shallow.Loving heroes
As Christians, we are charged to love everyone. Therefore, we must love and not slander those who left their footprints in the dirt of history. We must study history as objectively, lovingly, and fairly as we can. To do so requires humility about one’s self and culture. As loving Christians, we must attempt to look at history as it was — not simply as we are. We cannot love or learn from notable figures of the past if we simply attempt to import our way of thinking back to their time of living.
Sadly, we will not want to learn from old dead folks if we are exclusively enamored with the latest and greatest. We will also mine only fool’s gold from former days if we glamorize the good to the neglect of the bad. We really do have to consider how Martin Luther, for example, can be a real hero and yet have embraced some really bad views. We, as loving Christians, must attempt to look at history as it was.Charles, Susie, and Victorianism
I have spent not a little time over the past four years researching Victorian England in an attempt to better understand Charles and Susie Spurgeon. Part of the fruit of my research is found in Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon (Moody, 2018). However, though my understanding of Victorianism is still somewhat on the veneer, I do realize the danger of assuming that I can simply transport my immediate frame of reference to the years 1837-1901 when Victoria waved to her adoring subjects.
I get, at least intellectually, that the people who lived in Victorian England cannot be defined by my culture, nor can they can’t be fully defined by their own. In other words, one’s cultural context helps to provide a peephole from which to see the influences of their surroundings, but it does not define any one individual. There are factors that outweigh his contemporary setting, the main one being his religious convictions and where he got those convictions.
Take Charles Spurgeon, for example. Spurgeon, though raised after the Puritan era, was still raised on Puritan soil, read Puritan literature from the time of his childhood, and lived beneath the roofs of a Puritan-thinking grandfather and a Puritan-thinking father. Spurgeon simply cannot be understood outside of the context of a previous generation as well as his own.
Spurgeon’s Puritanism was not so much about the exterior (clothes, manners, customs, etc.) but of the interior, convictions about God and the Bible. And among the Puritans, Spurgeon was most influenced by one Puritan, the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan. That means, in part, to understand Spurgeon one needs to understand something of Bunyan and Bunyan’s writings.Trouble with Spurgeon’s contemporaries
Spurgeon bled Puritan blood, and he was criticized for his blood type. He was mocked for being out of touch with the more refined thinking of higher-brow London. Ironically, a good number of those who once mocked Spurgeon, ultimately came to respect him and a fair number of those who once respected him ultimately rejected his way of thinking. Spurgeon’s view of the Bible, the atonement, and his Puritan gospel were viewed as outdated.
Even some students that he trained for ministry turned away from Spurgeon’s old-fashioned view of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture and slid, slowly at first and later more rapidly, down the Down-Grade. (You really should read Iain Murray’s Book, The Forgotten Spurgeon to learn more about the Down-Grade Controversy and its after-effects.)Valiant for truth
Spurgeon’s old Puritan-like context supported him as he fought valiantly for truth against a tidal-wave of modernism and liberalism. Considering Spurgeon’s context from Puritanism to Victorianism might encourage godly folks to erect a few barriers in front of the slope that many professing Christians seem all to happy to slide down like a ride at an amusement park.It’s hard to be humble
Be humble about yourself and your surroundings. Mac Davis, the spinner of folksy philosophy sang, “Its hard to be humble when you are perfect in every way.” But humility we must have if we are to live rightly by living lovingly. And the only way to live rightly is to think backward even as the flavor-of-the-day crowd screams at us about our irrelevancy.The ill-informed Spurgeonite
I have met and talked with people who revere Spurgeon. But I wonder, how acquainted some of them are with the “Prince of Preachers.” It is tempting for a church leader, for example, to regard Spurgeon as a great leader who built a mega-church, and was held in high regard. Admiring Spurgeon’s exterior, the leader makes Spurgeon’s accomplishments, his own objectives, which is shallow idolatry. That’s not the way to read Spurgeon, love Spurgeon, honor Spurgeon, and follow the Christ of Spurgeon. And to read Spurgeon like that is to miss the wounds, the scars, the pain, the tears, and the depressions that bubbled beneath Spurgeon’s lauded accomplishments.
There is also the Spurgeon-idolater who keeps a “safe” Spurgeon neatly in a theological box, one that the idolater himself is confined within. When he boxes Spurgeon in, he then fails to grasp Spurgeon’s great-heart towards those who differed doctrinally from him, something the idolater cannot fathom for himself.Context is king
I am not suggesting that you must excel in Victorianism in order to get Spurgeon, but you do need some acquaintance with his time period and the surroundings of his life. I am not even advising that you need to morph into J. I. Packer (perhaps the greatest living Puritan scholar). However, you do need to dig a bit deeper into the Puritan ground to discover the BIG truths taught by Spurgeon that he found beneath the blood-soaked Puritan soil where he turned his spade.He did not seek fame
Spurgeon didn’t aim to be famous; he did aim to know Christ, preach the gospel, and to live a holy life. He didn’t set out to be a mega-church pastor, sought-after conference speaker, or best-selling author; he set out to be faithful to the old gospel that he learned from his parents and grandparents, that they learned from reading of the Puritans.
For Spurgeon to have become the Spurgeon that we love, he had to breathe the air of three worlds; Puritan-land, Victorian England, and Heaven. Spurgeon, in fact, lived in several places at once, the past, the present, and the future. That was his context. He had one foot on Puritan soil, one foot in Victorian England, and his one heart set on Christ, the gospel, and heaven. The latter fueled his life; the former helps us to understand his application of the gospel to his context and then to better love Spurgeon.
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His defense of the deity of the Holy Spirit and the Trinity was instrumental for the expansion of the Nicene Creed at the Council of Constantinople (381).Augustine of Hippo
We are all Augustinians in the West! His work has been of untold blessing for the church.Jonathan Edwards
The greatest American theologian ever — bar none.Andrew Fuller
The Baptist theologian par excellence and a key figure in the globalization of the gospel.Augustine of Hippo
Outside of the Bible, I suggest The City of God has shaped the West more than any other text. I read it annually and there is no writer that has shaped my mind more than Augustine.Thomas Aquinas
Thomas has helped me think carefully about the relationship between philosophy and theology, and the potential dangers of the former without diminishing its necessity for theological analysis.Herman Bavinck
I can remember exactly where I was when I read the first chapter of volume one of Reformed Dogmatics on the contours of dogmatic theology.Oliver O’Donovan
My views on the nature of rights, justice, the shape of Christian ethics, and political theology have been significantly influenced by O’Donovan’s writings. He does not waste a single word, which makes his analysis dense, but he’s worth understanding.Augustine of Hippo
Augustine’s understanding of humanity in his Confessions and of the Kingdom of God in City of God shaped Christianity, to be sure, but also affected me personally. When I first read Confessions as a teenager I could not put it down and read it all in one sitting.John Calvin
In all candor, I am influenced far more by Calvin as a preacher and a pastor than as a theologian, but I recognize the indelible impact of his Institutes. If Jesus does not return for another 1000 years, Christians will still be reading and learning from Calvin.Martin Luther
I first fell in love with Luther as a freshman in college when I was assigned to read John Osborne’s play Luther. Stirred to learn more about him, I fell in love with the earthiness of his brilliance and the clarity of his understanding of grace.B. B. Warfield
Though my father had me read Hodge at 8 years old, Warfield later became my favorite of the Princeton theologians. I don’t believe you would have had a conservative resurgence in the SBC, certainly not in the form it took, if Warfield had not articulated a clear doctrine of inspiration so precisely 100 years earlier.Augustine of Hippo
His anti-Pelagian writings firmly fixed the trajectory of the church’s commitment to salvation as a result of divine grace rather than the mere achievement of human nature.Thomas Aquinas
The greatest thinkers from the period of Reformed orthodoxy found in Aquinas a well of faithful instruction concerning the divine essence and attributes as well as the particulars of Trinitarian theology.John Owen
Owen represents the very best of Reformed theology in full maturity. In him, the dogmatic precision of the most learned theologians of the past meets the exegetical mastery of the finest of biblical scholars of the modern disciplinary divisions.Andrew Fuller
What Mt. Rushmore would be complete without a faithful Baptist witness? I love the legacy of Fuller’s articulation of a warmly evangelistic Calvinism.Athanasius of Alexandria and Augustine of Hippo
Athanasius and Augustine are profound theological geniuses who continue to shape my own thinking about the Trinity, creation, and the divine economy.Thomas Aquinas
It’s difficult to think of a more gifted and measured theologian. Aquinas constantly reminds me that prayer and metaphysical depth are inescapable for the theologian.John Owen
If Owen wrote about the issue or commented on the text, I’m always interested to know what was going on in his mind. He’s not always as disciplined and organized as I’d prefer, but his instincts — learned from the fathers and scholastics — are impeccable.Augustine of Hippo
He wrote insightfully about total depravity, God’s grace for salvation and sanctification, and delighting in God.John Calvin
Read his magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, for a high view of God and true knowledge of human hearts.Charles Spurgeon
His expressions of God’s truth are heartfelt and Christ-centered, reflecting an intimate knowledge of God through his studies and sufferings.J. Gresham Machen
He defended God’s truth with intellectual rigor, bold persistence, and biblical wisdom.Anselm of canterbury
Not only was he an intellectual genius, he also exemplified Christian scholarship in a beautifully worshipful way.Charles Hodge
Though I never came to agree with Hodge on everything theologically, I became fascinated with arguably the most important American seminary professor of the nineteenth century. I especially was moved by his dedication not only to faithful theology, but also to understanding the times philosophically and scientifically.Carl F.H. Henry
Having read everything he wrote when I was a seminary student, I originally sought to emulate his way of thinking. Having read his autobiography, then spending time with him in person several times, I came to want to emulate his way of following Christ.The Unspoken Hero in Another Country
Well, this person might live in the United States, but this Christian labors faithfully in obscurity, difficulty, and even under persecution for Christ. Theology applied in the fires of a sacrificial Christian life leads to impressing the Lord himself.
The post Theology Forum: Who would be on your theological Mt. Rushmore? appeared first on Southern Equip.
The languages: the dread of every new seminarian. You think you’ve come to seminary to be a Serious Theology Student, but suddenly you’re back in kindergarten again — reading an alphabet aloud and slogging your way through the Koine equivalent of “Jane throws the ball”. It’s even harder to learn ancient languages that are no longer spoken in their biblical form. Jesse Stewart, who is working toward his Th.M. in biblical theology, has helped lots of students wrestle the monster of Elementary Greek. Here are few ways he can help you.Back to elementary school
When embarking on the sometimes-treacherous journey that is the study of Biblical Greek, it’s important to have a survival guide. A tool to help you navigate the journey from ignorance to competence; from inexperience to proficiency. The road may be difficult, but the rewards are far-reaching and more than outweigh the suffering experienced on the expedition. The following are some survival tips for novices to language acquisition – and particularly to first-semester Greek students. May this guide help you survive as you engage in the blessed struggle that is learning Biblical Greek.Do your Homework
This may seem obvious, but it is often overlooked by students trying simply to pass Elementary Greek. Your professor has assigned you the weekly workload necessary for your success. So, let your homework determine your pace for this first semester. Trust the homework. Give yourself to the homework. Complete all of your homework. And don’t think yourself wiser than your professor by neglecting the homework. There’s no squeezing by without it. Do this, and not only will you thank yourself during your next quiz, but you’ll set a healthy rhythm and pace for the rest of the semester.Make (Studious) Friends
“Birds of a feather flock together.” Don’t flock with those of the lazy feather; rather, intentionally flock with those of the studying feather. Study buddies can be an incredible asset if they give themselves to their work, but they will be a damaging distraction if they’re simply trying to pass the course. Remember that lazy company corrupts good study habits.Memorize Vocab in Small Time-Chunks
Incremental studying is a time-tested method for acquiring vocabulary. When there are natural lulls in the day, review your vocabulary cards (i.e. during breaks between classes, lunch breaks), or have a friend review you while you’re driving. Do this for 5 minutes, 2 to 3 times per day. This study method takes patience and pace, but yields substantial results.Slay the Greek Verb Monster
My Elementary Greek professor in college called our unit on the verbal system, “the Greek Verb Monster.” He explained that the Greek verbal system is multifaceted and complex, and if one is to understand the language, he must overcome the all-important hurdle of the Greek verb. When translating, I always focus on the heart of the sentence first — which is typically the verb — and then work out from there. One of my very successful classmates called the verb “the glue that holds everything else together.” I’ve lived by that phrase. If you can slay the Greek Verb Monster, you can slay everything else. Well, maybe not everything. But you’ll have slain the biggest giant you’ll face.Study Deeply & Widely
Deep study: memorization of words, forms, grammar, and paradigms. Wide study: reading and translating.
Mix your deep study with your wide study as much as you possible can. Often, we can treat language as a science to the neglect of language as an art. Your deep study will help you dissect the meaning, but your wide study will help you achieve the sense of what is being said in context by immersing yourself in the world of the text. Don’t treat language as a mere code to be deciphered; it is a work of art, and it carries contextual meaning.Read, Re-Read, and Re-Re-Read
Read, re-read, and re-re-read a text in its wider context to best grasp it. Remember that each sentence is part of paragraph, and each paragraph is part of a larger chapter or book, rather than being a fragmented thought. When you start to think this way, you will find yourself mindful of the sense of the overall passage, which will help you see the sense of the specific text you’re translating. Sometimes context can even help you guess at unfamiliar vocabulary.Bring Quandaries to Class
Your professors are academic tools provided for your success. Use them! They want to help you, and can best aid you if you know what quandaries you’re facing. Don’t be embarrassed to bring up these questions in class. It is almost certain that someone else in your class is facing the same issue and will be helped by the professor’s answer.Take a Daily Dose for Maintenance
Robert Plummer has an excellent program here called “Daily Dose of Greek.” You can watch these 2-minute daily videos for free. He takes a passage from Scripture and walks through the Greek fundamentals required to translate each passage.
Also, as soon as you’re able, read Greek as a part of your daily devotional time with the Lord. Language acquisition is all about immersing yourself, so plunge yourself daily.A Final Word
If you think you can “work smart, not hard” to acquire Biblical Greek, you’re fooling yourself. You need to work smart and hard. This journey takes time, effort and persistence. So keep persisting, and I promise you that the trees will give way to the forest, and you will see glories in the text previously inaccessible to you.
Live by these tips for your first semester and you will survive Elementary Greek – and perhaps even set the stage for a lifetime of competent translation.
Jesse Stewart is available for personal Greek tutoring at the SBTS Library. To contact him, email [email protected].
In the evangelical church, humble leadership is one of the hardest things to pull off. Each year, the church seems to hear yet another story about a pastor who has bulldozed people, rubbing congregants the wrong way, and not carrying himself like a minister of the gospel of peace should. Sometimes, it seems as if our whole leadership model is broken. Timothy Paul Jones and Michael S. Wilder, both veteran pastors and scholars in the area of leadership, call Christians back to a thoroughly biblical model of leadership in their new book ,The God Who Goes Before You. Starting with the text of Scripture, they set out to prove that the Bible — when rightly interpreted — communicates a three-part leadership process: union with Christ, communion with the people of God, and mission to the world. Below, they discuss how this process works, along with an especially timely message about how personal power must push a leader to empower others.
AJWS: How does this book explore a uniquely Christian approach to leadership? What does Christianity offer to a philosophy of leadership that other leadership structures don’t?
MW: Early in the writing process, we knew we had to define Christian leadership, which is a messy amalgamation in all the leadership scholarly literature. I spent three months reading everything I could, gathering every definition I could find. The answers were all over the map. What we came back to was a deep and rich conviction that Christian leadership must be primarily understood in our identity in Christ and our union with Christ. I became convinced that there must be a redemptive framework for the way we do Christian leadership. I think that’s one of the unique elements of Christian leadership particularly — there’s a redemptive framework. And there’s a deep identity in Christ — a union with Christ and his people. So, leadership is rightly understood in the context of community, which in communion with other people in the church eventually leads to a particular mission we are meant to fulfill. But it all begins with a redemptive framework — an identity in Christ that drives us.
TPJ: One of the things David Prince always says is: “If Jesus didn’t have to be crucified and raised from the dead for this sermon to work, go back and try again.” That’s been the approach we took throughout the project. That was a principle that I really applied, all the way through, even in the editing. In the book, we discuss a three-fold leadership structure: Leadership is about union, communion, and mission. It involves union with Christ, and therefore leadership itself comes out of our identity in Christ. I’ve not seen another leadership book that starts there. That union flows into our communion with God’s people. It’s not that the leaders, who are united with Christ, tell everybody in the church what to do. Rather, the people we lead are also in union with Christ. Our shared union creates communion with one another.
That’s where the subtitle of the book comes from: Pastoral Leadership as Christ-Centered Followership. As leaders, we are never above or beyond the people. We lead among the people. And in some sense, our people follow Christ through us. Of course, they are not following us — they are following Christ through us. Not only are we unified with Christ and in communion with other believers, but we are doing Christianity on mission. We have a particular mission that is greater than ourselves — it transcends who we are.
AJWS: There are a lot of Christian books about Jesus and leadership. But many of them aren’t very biblically based. What makes this book different from the many others in its genre?
MW: We’ve started with Scriptures first, rather than starting with theory or pragmatism. Instead of a pragmatic foundation, the book genuinely has a biblical, theological, and Scriptural foundation. We are not prooftexting; we are asking what Scripture teaches us, first and foremost, about who we are. And then we ask, “What does that mean for leadership?” Then, we press out from there into the function of leadership rather than imposing a pragmatic, theoretical base back upon the text.
TPJ: I think of the analogy that I believe Matt Chandler uses: “Is Scripture your diving board or your pool?” And by that, he means: Do you jump off the Scriptures into another topic, or are the Scriptures the context in which you’re swimming? I think most books on Jesus and leadership treat the Bible as a diving board. In this book, we have tried to let the Bible be the pool in which we swim. That means there’s a whole biblical theology that must be addressed before we even get to the practical topic of leadership.
AJWS: If leadership is within a community and not above a community, that means good leaders don’t force people to do what they say, right? Leaders should be integrated with their people and part of the community. But is that hard to do?
TPJ: It’s not hard; it’s impossible — in our own power. The only way we do that is by actually living out of our union with Christ. That removes our need to leverage people for our own ends, or our need to impress people. I think that is the biggest struggle every leader faces. We must lead from a sense of absolute security in Christ, and that’s just really hard. It is only through Christ that we’re able to lead that way.
MW: Until his identity in Christ is firm, I don’t think a pastor will perceive himself as a brother raised up amongst brothers and sisters to lead the church rightly. We don’t want to downplay the office or the authority of pastoral elders in the church, but until you rightly understand yourself as a fellow brother, you can’t lead. I became very consumed during the research process for this book by Peter’s formation of his own identity in the New Testament. In 1 Peter 1, Peter calls himself an apostle. But then by the time we get five chapters into the letter, he writes that he is a “fellow elder.”
As evangelicals, I think we’ve got a lot of lead pastors and senior pastors who think that they’re the only ones that matter. Having a right understanding of your identity — as a brother in Christ among your people — changes everything. Once that identity is rightly ordered, then you are able to work within the context of the community.
I think being among your people, and having a spirit of collectivism in the body — I think that’s a part of changing the culture of the church. We don’t lose our individuality or our personhood, but we are first and foremost understood as a collective. As a leader, I am a part of that collective and I lead as part of that collective. That is the mindset and perspective of the pastor. If he does not have that, then healthy community is never going to come to fruition. But that requires a whole cultural change at your church; that doesn’t happen overnight. Yet it starts with the leader properly understanding his own identity in Christ before it’s ever going to work out in the body.
AJWS: Why is it important to recognize that power in leadership is not inherently our own power — that we receive it from God?
TPJ: If we think that we possess power, then ultimately that power will possess us. We want to recognize that we do not possess power in ourselves — we are stewards of another’s authority. That has been delegated to us, and it is our responsibility to steward it well. That means we should never take power lightly, and we should never use the power that we have for our own personal benefit. Almost every disorder in leadership — especially anything scandalous — begins when somebody starts to live as if the power belongs to them. When that happens, scandal is not far behind.
MW: Ask a group this question, as I often do in class: “When you hear the word ‘power,’ what is your initial reaction to that word?’ Good, bad; evil, righteous? Almost always, it carries for people a negative connotation — and that’s always derived from the abuse of power. But God is the origin of power, and so power is necessarily good, right, and beautiful. God is omnipotent, and that involves both the essence and action of power. So, it is good and right, but Timothy is correct — we are only the stewards of God’s power. As leaders, we derive both power and authority from God, and we are supposed to exercise those derived responsibilities wisely in order to affect change. So, when we couple those two things and understand that they are both delegated and derived from God and not ourselves, that changes things. We will start to steward it well. We will employ it in a gentle instead of an abusive way.
TPJ: And you are more able to give your power away.
MW: Yes. In true communion, leaders should develop, empower, and equip fellow laborers. That involves a giving away of that power. A right theology of power has to include a right theology of empowerment. Every time we see God’s powers — in creation, redemption, or consummation — they are always used for empowerment. So, if we fail to model that kind of empowerment in the way we lead, we come up short.
Basil Manly, Jr., one of the four founders of Southern Seminary, is primarily remembered today as the author of three important compositions: the Abstract of Principles, the hymn “Soldiers in Christ, in Truth Arrayed,” and The Bible Doctrine of Inspiration Explained and Vindicated. All three have played important roles in the history of Southern Seminary, and each is a testament to the school’s theological identity in training Christian ministers and missionaries to proclaim God’s Word. The first two compositions were prepared for the first year of the seminary’s existence, but the book-length Bible Doctrine of Inspiration did not appear in print until 1888.
In May 1879, Old Testament professor Crawford H. Toy resigned from the seminary due to public controversy regarding his heterodox views of biblical inspiration. Toy’s departure left an obvious void in the seminary faculty—which had reduced to only three in number—and it needed to win back the trust of its commitment to orthodoxy in the minds of many Southern Baptists. In its hour of need, the seminary called upon Manly to return to the institution he had helped establish two decades earlier. Manly, who had been serving as the president of Kentucky’s Georgetown College since 1871, answered the call, signed the Abstract of Principles a second time, and made efforts to promote a robust view of biblical inspiration in his classes and publications.
In an 1878 letter to his son, George, Manly confessed that one of his own besetting sins was procrastination, often due to indecision rather than indolence. He noted that he could become hesitant to finish many planned projects on account of his penchant for being “too omnivorous” in his reading of subjects in varied fields of literature. Thankfully, Manly’s procrastination problem would not prevent the publication of his most ambitious contribution a decade later.
The 1888 publication of The Bible Doctrine of Inspiration reached a wider audience than any of his classroom lectures. In the preface, Manly dedicated the book “to the candid, faithful examination of those in all Christian denominations who love and honor God’s blessed Word.” The product of his lifetime of study, Manly sought to lay out an extensive defense of the doctrine while taking into consideration as many viewpoints as possible. Its publication was timely, as Manly passed away only four years later.
In his history of Southern Seminary, Gregory Wills noted that Manly’s defense of verbal, plenary inspiration “rejected Toy’s method of extricating the spiritual meaning from the external framework of human speech.” Manly contended that the Bible was “all written by man, all inspired by God,” and “it is all by singular and accumulated evidence declared to be the Word of God.”
During the latter half of the 20th century, however, some seminary faculty members openly taught a contrary position on the doctrine of biblical inspiration. Although most of the seminary’s faculty had drifted far away from the doctrine of biblical inerrancy by the 1980s, Manly’s book still proved a significant influence on the seminary’s conservative resurgence. Arkansas evangelist David Miller joined the seminary’s Trustee Board in 1988, and he wanted to see the seminary’s doctrinal identity reflect the Abstract of Principles. While on the board, Miller acquired 65 copies of Manly’s Bible Doctrine of Inspiration and sent a copy to each of the seminary’s trustees, insisting that Manly’s book would provide the best interpretation of the intention of the Abstract’s first article on biblical inspiration:
Since Basil Manly wrote the Abstract, he was in a better position to explain what the Abstract meant than ‘academics’ who, sadly, too often re-write history for their own agenda.
Miller also noted, in a 2009 interview, that an inerrantist interpretation of the Abstract’s article on “The Scriptures” served as a fundamental motivation in selecting a new seminary president “who embraced all twenty articles,” ultimately leading the trustees to choose R. Albert Mohler, Jr. as the institution’s ninth president in 1993.
More resources on Basil Manly, Jr. can be accessed courtesy of the SBTS Archives and Special Collections, located in the James P. Boyce Centennial Library.
The post History Highlight: basil manly’s fight for the truth of the bible appeared first on Southern Equip.
SINGER, SONGWRITER, AND WORSHIP LEADER1. What makes for a good hymn?
In two words — to invoke John Wesley on what makes a good sermon — “sublimity and simplicity.” There needs to be some arresting beauty, and then some tangible truth. In three points, I would say a good hymn has a lyrical and theological density, an aesthetic and melodic beauty, and a congregational singability.2. What’s your earliest music-related memory?
I just remember the old living room piano in the house I grew up in. Escaping there.3. Many churches emphasize either musical innovation or theological nuance. How can Christians musicians be excellent at both?
This is a situation where I think the question is the answer. We need to remember our propensities, and graciously defer to and learn from others. This is crucial and should be an ongoing practice in our church communities. It is also much of what it means to be truly the Body of Christ. No one does this incarnational balance perfectly, but we strive toward it as we worship Jesus.
The God Who Goes Before You: Pastoral Leadership as Christ-Centered Followership by Timothy Paul Jones and Michael S. Wilder, B&H 2018, $29.99
Review by Andrew J.W. Smith
The Christian leadership book market is, one can say, saturated. But many of the books rely on secular pragmatic leadership theory, and often impose that theory upon the text of Scripture. This results in Christian leadership models that are heavy on worldly wisdom, and light on the timeless wisdom of the Holy Scriptures. Even worse, the biblical principles are often overly simplified, based more on prooftexts for non-biblical principles than the message of the Bible itself.
The God Who Goes Before You: Pastoral Leadership as Christ-Centered Followership, seeks to be different. Rooted in careful interpretation of the Bible, Timothy Paul Jones and Michael S. Wilder use good hermeneutics and careful exegesis to build a solid and robust foundation for their leadership model, which is itself thoroughly biblical. Good leadership, according to Jones and Wilder, has three parts: union with Christ, communion with his people, and mission to the world. This, they write, is radically countercultural.
“Our goal in The God Who Goes Before You is not to present timeless principles that would work as well in a synagogue or a mosque as in the life of a follower of Jesus,” they write. “Our purpose is to highlight patterns that are uniquely rooted in God’s revelation of himself in the whole of his written Word and, supremely, in Jesus Christ. Moralistic principles distilled from incidents in the lives of religious sages may work to accomplish human objectives in an organization. Yet they will do little to lead us toward patterns of leadership that are shaped by the Triune God and grounded in our union with Christ.”
In His Image by Jen Wilkin, Crossway 2018, $12.99
Review by Ruthie Shaw
Following her previous study of God’s incommunicable attributes, None Like Him, Jen Wilkin helps reveal the believer’s purpose in life by instead focusing on God’s communicable attributes in her new book, In His Image. It is a book for anyone who has ever questioned God’s will for his or her life, and the answer is found in the character of God himself.
“God’s will for our lives is that we conform to the image of Christ, whose incarnation shows us humanity perfectly conformed to the image of God.” Men and women will benefit from this book by seeing the Savior more clearly and being challenged to be more like him.
The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield, Crossway 2018, $19.99
Review by Gabriel Reyes-Ordeix
Your neighbors might not be the ones you have prayerfully asked for, but they are the ones God planned for you. In The Gospel Comes with a House Key, Rosaria Butterfield presents a biblical view on how hospitality and the gospel are intertwined — and how those relationships should play out in the wider culture.
The leper, illegal and dangerous to society, represents today’s needy and outcast, she writes. “Jesus … wasn’t afraid to touch hurting people,” he drew people close, met them empty and left them full. This contagious grace in radical hospitality should be model for the Christian’s home as “the place where we bring the church to the people.”
Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness by David Powlison, New Growth Press 2016, $19.99
Review by Tabitha Rayner
In Good & Angry, a book as much about God’s mercy as our anger, David Powlison guides his readers through their experiences with anger, what anger is, how to change, and how to practically navigate specific types of anger. Each chapter ends with a set of questions that allow the reader to apply personally the teachings from the chapter. The book functions as a much-needed and, at times, painfully insightful guide through living in a broken world.
Echoes of Exodus: Tracing Themes of Redemption through Scripture by Alastair J. Roberts and Andrew Wilson, Crossway 2018, $17.99
Review by Andrew J.W. Smith
If you are still doing your 11-month old New Years’ resolution to read the whole Bible in a year, you have probably realized how central the Exodus is to the story of the Old Testament. The Exodus — the story of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt — is referenced constantly by authors throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.
In Echoes of Exodus, Alastair J. Roberts and Andrew Wilson want you to see how the Exodus deeply resonates with the New Testament, too. They draw heavily from musical metaphors, showing how the story of the Exodus is a motif that reverberates throughout the whole Bible.
Should a pastor conduct the wedding of two non-Christians? What about a Christian marrying a non-Christian? Are there any circumstances in which a pastor should not marry two Christians?
These are questions I hear all the time from other pastors. What makes it permissible to conduct a wedding in this or that situation, and when should a pastor say no?
I’m keenly aware there are many strong opinions on each version of the marriage question, and lively disagreements about which couples evangelical pastors should marry. And with the 2015 Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, the debate does not end there.
Assuming agreement that marriage is between one man and one woman, I suggest the following boundaries within three common templates.Christian marrying a non-Christian
Most agree, as I do, that Scripture does not permit a Christian to marry a non-Christian (e.g., 1 Cor. 7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14–18), so it’s unwise for a pastor to perform a wedding in this circumstance. Though many of us know examples where the unbelieving spouse was eventually converted, I would never encourage a believer to marry an unbeliever. And therefore I would never encourage a pastor to conduct such a wedding.
That said, if you are shepherding a Christian spouse married to an unbeliever, 1 Peter 3:1–6 is profoundly relevant. A Christian woman trying to live in faithfulness and peace with an unbelieving husband is one of the most powerful witnesses to Christ I’ve encountered. Still, I would never willingly encourage a woman to assume this post. Marriage between two believers is hard enough.Christian marrying a Christian
A pastor’s ideal scenario is to marry two Christians — particularly a couple he knows well, one he’s able to counsel before the wedding and will be able to shepherd through the early years of marriage. Wisdom and discernment are required when two Christians ask a pastor to marry them yet are neither plugged into a local church nor connected to a pastor who’s taken responsibility for them.
Regardless of the scenario, if you marry two Christians the ceremony should be seen as a worship service in which the gospel is preached. You should be acquainted well enough with the couple that you can exhort them to relate to one another in a way that clearly displays Christ’s love for his bride, the church (Eph. 5:22–33), and to live with one another in an understanding way when marriage gets difficult, which it will (1 Pet. 3:1–7).
If a couple is living in open, habitual, and unrepentant sin (such as cohabiting or being physically intimate), you should forego performing the ceremony — assuming they persist in their unrepentance — since you cannot commend them as public witnesses living exemplary lives.Non-Christian marrying a non-Christian
This is where much of the debate lies. Biblical warrant for marrying two non-Christians comes from Genesis 2, where marriage is viewed as a common-grace institution of creation in which God is glorified as his original design (one man and one woman) is reflected — even if the union doesn’t fulfill his ultimate redemptive purpose (Eph. 5:22–33).
But it is ultimately a matter of conscience.
If your conscience allows you to wed two non-Christians, make sure the wedding isn’t presented as a worship service. It should be done simply as a ceremony that allows you, a pastor, to join the man and woman together with witnesses present. This can serve as a strategic opportunity to preach the gospel—but I’d make that part of the agreement with the bride and groom before committing to marrying them in the first place.
Remember, you should never feel forced to do any wedding, regardless of the pressure that comes from family or church members. If you have concerns whether two people should be married, here are three ways to seek God’s guidance:Listen to your conscience
The Holy Spirit works powerfully through our conscience, and we should not ignore it. Conscience is especially important on matters not explicitly clear in Scripture. Listen well.Be guided by Scripture
Your certainty on whether to conduct a wedding should equal your certainty on how clearly God’s Word addresses the issues involved. We must not shout where Scripture is silent. As Tim Keller puts it, “We must be so immersed in God’s written Word and truth that we are trained to choose rightly even in cases to which the Bible doesn’t speak directly.”
This simple principle is helpful in determining complicated wedding decisions.Seek counsel from other pastors
We should always sit at the feet of older, more seasoned pastors, and learn from their mistakes. Often, the implications of a wedding don’t show up for years, sometimes even decades. Listen to wise voices who’ve married some and rejoiced, but have also married others and grieved. They will help you avoid similar mistakes.
And whatever you decide about a unique wedding circumstance, don’t make the decision alone. Involve others. Get help from those who’ve walked in the tracks you now tread.
Every pastor will eventually face a decision surrounding a unique wedding situation. May God grant us wisdom to think through each case with pastoral sensitivity and biblical care.
Editors’ note: This article was originally published at The Gospel Coalition.
When Kristen Wanamaker started at the Baptist College of Florida, she promised her pastor and herself one thing: She would never become Baptist.
Growing up in the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America (PCUSA), Wanamaker was baptized as a baby and became a believer at 14, but it wasn’t the custom in her church to make a public profession, so she never did.
In high school, she felt a call to ministry, and she’d heard that even if she attended the Baptist college, she wouldn’t be pressured into joining the denomination. She knew there were some differences in theology between Baptists and Presbyterians, but she hadn’t taken time to think through their significance.
But during her freshman year, she came to see that not everyone thought the same thing she did.
“I realized people have really strong opinions on baptism, on women in ministry, even on church structure,” she said. Wanamaker had never thought through why she was baptized as a baby. She’d never questioned the validity of the ordination of the woman who filled her pastor’s pulpit each time he was out of town. She didn’t give thought to the fact that her denomination was called Presbyterian because it had presbyteries. In short, she was a Presbyterian, but didn’t really know why.
For her, a new world was about to open. “I was thinking, ‘Nobody is going to change me. I’m not going to be that person who went away to a Baptist college and got sucked in,’” she said.
But, during that first year, she was enrolled in what she describes as the “trifecta” of classes: English, Spiritual Formation, and Baptist Heritage. In Spiritual Formation and Baptist Heritage, the topic of baptism was discussed at length. And she was genuinely confused.
“Through the course of the semester, I realized very quickly that my opinion on baptism was very misinformed,” she said. She sat down with her pastor, hoping he could explain why she was baptized as a baby. “And I was not satisfied with his answer.”
From the explanations in class, studying the Baptist Faith and Message, and reading Scripture for herself, she grew convinced that she was wrong. Yet, she pushed those thoughts aside, confident that her salvation wasn’t dependent on baptism. It wasn’t worth leaving the church she’d grown up in and breaking off theologically from her family.
However, when she sat down to write a position paper for her English class, things changed. The topic she’d chosen for her position paper was women in ministry; she set out to argue in favor of the ordination of women.
“I started working on an English paper, and it was hard to do. The more I researched, from my perspective, I started thinking, ‘I don’t know about this,’” she said. “I went into this thinking all of these Baptists just don’t like women. They don’t want us to be in ministry at all.”
But one resource, Two Views on Women in Ministry, was particularly troublesome. Specifically, Southern Seminary Thomas R. Schreiner’s contribution made Wanamaker uncomfortable.
“My attitude toward it was very bitter at first, but the more I wrote that paper, and the more I tried to argue for the position of the ordination of women, I realized I can’t justify this with Scripture. All of my arguments were based off feelings, not facts,” she said. Still, she continued to write her paper from the perspective that women could fill a lead pastoral role, on an as-needed basis.
“I went back and reread all of Dr. Schreiner’s arguments. I read pretty much everything that he wrote on the topic,” she recounted. And I realized, ‘This guy knows what he’s talking about.’”
She was thankful that one thing that was taught from the pulpit of her home church and within her home was that the Bible was always right. It had the ultimate authority.
Before she turned in the paper, she rewrote the entire thing.
“Women are a little hesitant to being told we can’t do certain things,” Wanamaker said. “But just because we’re hesitant doesn’t mean it’s not what Scripture says. Either I’m wrong or scripture is wrong, and Scripture is not wrong.”
Wanamaker decided she needed to follow what the Bible said, but before long she was not only convinced by the truthfulness of the Bible’s teaching, but began to take joy in it, she said.
By the end of that semester, she also became convinced that, although not part of her salvation, if she were being obedient to Christ’s commands, she must be biblically baptized. She worried how her family would react to her new convictions.
But God was gracious, she said, and as she made these decisions, her family was right beside her.
“On June 1, 2014, I’d finished my first year at the Baptist college I attended — where I said they wouldn’t make me a Baptist. My parents and my sister and I were all baptized together at First Baptist Church,” she shared. “It was hard to leave the church I grew up in, but it was the right decision.”
A couple years later, on a mission trip to Los Angeles, she became burdened with the lostness in North America. Not knowing exactly what that would look like, her heart surrendered to North American missions.
When she finally decided to look into seminary, she realized that there was one of the six Southern Baptist seminaries that offered a program dedicated to that very thing: Southern Seminary — the school where Schreiner teaches.
She stepped out of her car on Preview Day, and her heart was set. “It felt like home,” she recounts. Wanamaker is now in her fourth semester of her masters of divinity at Southern.
“It’s been everything I can imagine.”
I slumped in an unpadded pew, half-listening to the morning Bible study. I wasn’t particularly interested in what the Bible teacher in this tiny Christian high school had to say. But, when the teacher commented that the New Testament Gospels always reported word-for-word what Jesus said, I perked up and lifted my hand. This statement brought up a question that had perplexed me for a few weeks.
“But, sometimes,” I mused, “the words of Jesus in one Gospel don’t match the words of the same story in the other Gospels — not exactly, anyway. So, how can you say that the Gospel-writers always wrote what Jesus said word-for-word?”
The teacher stared at me for a moment, stone-silent.
I thought maybe he hadn’t understood my question; so, I pointed out an example that I’d noticed — the healing of a “man sick of the palsy” in Simon Peter’s house, if I recall correctly (Matt 9:4-6; Mark 2:8-11; Luke 5:22-24, KJV).
Finally, the flustered teacher reprimanded me for thinking too much about the Bible. In retrospect, this statement was more than a little ironic: A Bible teacher in a Bible class at a Bible Baptist school accused me of thinking too much about the Bible! What I was doing, he claimed, was similar to what happened in the Garden of Eden, when the serpent asked Eve if God had actually commanded them not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge.
I didn’t quite catch the connection between my question and the Tree of Knowledge, but I never listened to what that teacher said about the Bible again. I knew that something was wrong with what he was telling me. Still, it took me several years to figure out the truth about this dilemma — a truth which, just as I suspected, had everything to do with the teacher’s faulty assumptions about the Bible and nothing to do with Eve or the serpent. What I learned later was that the idea of word-for-word citations and quotations is a modern notion that would have been foreign to the authors of Scripture.
Here’s what my Bible teacher assumed: If the Bible is divinely inspired, the Bible must always state what was said word-for-word, with no variations. To question this understanding of the Bible was, from this teacher’s perspective, to doubt the divine inspiration of Scripture.
Oddly enough, when it comes to differences between biblical manuscripts, some skeptics seem to pursue a similar line of reasoning to the one my teacher followed when I asked the differences between the Gospels. “How does it help us to say that the Bible is the inerrant word of God if in fact we don’t have the words that God inerrantly inspired,” one such skeptic claims, “but only the words copied by the scribes — sometimes correctly but sometimes (many times) incorrectly?” In other words, if there are variations among the many thousands of copies of Scripture, how can anyone reasonably claim that the Scriptures are inerrant?
So how can Christians respond to such suppositions? Let’s look together at three crucial facts that can equip you to counter these skeptical claims.‘Inerrant’ describes the original manuscripts, not the copies
First off, inerrancy has never meant that every copy of Scripture throughout history has been identical. The word “inerrancy” refers to the original autographs of Scripture, not to every manuscript and printed copy made afterward. Inerrancy does not mean that every copied manuscript is free of errors — only the original texts. That’s what we affirm in the Chicago Statement on biblical inerrancy:
“Inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. … Copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.”
This means the original manuscripts of the Bible were fully God-breathed and therefore without errors. God inspired the authors of Scripture and safeguarded their words from any mistakes. God did not, however, prevent the thousands of copyists across the ages from making mistakes as they copied the manuscripts. As a result, the surviving copies of Scripture are sufficiently accurate for us to recover the inerrant truth that God intended and inspired, but they have not always been copied with perfect accuracy.The differences between the manuscripts are real
Is it true, then, that the biblical manuscripts differ from one another? Of course they do! The copyists were human beings, and being human means making mistakes. God did not choose to override the copyists’ humanity as they copied the New Testament; as a result, these human beings were every bit as prone to short attention spans, poor eyesight, and fatigue as you or I.
What’s more, they had no eyeglasses or contact lenses to sharpen their vision, and they relied on the flickering light of lamps to see. Since God did not “re-inspire” the text each time it was reproduced, the copyists occasionally miscopied their sources. Once in a while, copyists even tried to fix things that weren’t broken by changing words that they thought might be misconstrued. The result is hundreds of thousands of copying variants scattered among the New Testament manuscripts — but these variations in the manuscripts are only one part of the story.The New Testament text is highly reliable, and none of the variants affects any essential truth Christians believe
One popular skeptic’s much-repeated soundbite is that “there are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.” This statement is technically true but, unless his listeners are aware of the vast number and the overwhelming stability of New Testament manuscripts that survive today, it’s also a bit misleading. There are around 138,000 words in the Greek New Testament, and more than a half-million variants can be found scattered among the Greek manuscripts — but that number of variants comes from estimating every difference, not including spelling variations, in every surviving manuscript from the Greek New Testament. Well over 5,000 Greek New Testament manuscripts have been preserved as a whole or in part — more than any other text from the ancient world. With millions of words in these fragments and manuscripts, it doesn’t take long for the number of variants to exceed the number of words in the Greek New Testament.
If only one manuscript of the New Testament had survived, there would have been zero variants (and this single manuscript would probably have become some sort of idol!). But early Christians believed that all of God’s Word should be accessible to as many of God’s people as possible. That’s why more than 5,000 whole or partial manuscripts survive today. Of course, scholars seeking to reconstruct the earliest form of the New Testament text don’t utilize all of these fragments and manuscripts. In almost every instance, the text can be reliably reconstructed using a handful of the earliest manuscripts. That’s because, despite the variants that do exist, the surviving texts of the New Testament are incredibly stable. Spread across millions of words in more than 5,000 manuscripts, the variations represent a minute percentage of the total text. According to scholars’ best estimates and analyses, the New Testament text is more than 92 percent stable. In other words, all the variants affect less than 8 percent of the New Testament text.
But there’s another fact that’s even more significant than the number of manuscripts or the overall stability of the text: No variant in these many manuscripts changes any essential belief that Christians hold about God or about his work in the world. The overwhelming majority of the differences have to do with words that have been rearranged or spelled in alternative ways — differences that have no impact on the translation or meaning of the text. The remainder of the differences may be noticeable at times in translations, but they do not alter any tenet of the Christian faith. What this means practically is that the text of the New Testament has been sufficiently preserved for us to be confident that we can recover the meaning that God intended and inspired in the original text.Inerrancy in practice
By Timothy K. Beougher, Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth
Knowing that the Bible is true and reliable in all it teaches means we can read it, study it, and then apply it with confidence. As someone has noted, “If you want to hear God speak, read your Bible aloud.” What Scripture says is what God says.
When we base our worship on God’s trustworthy revelation, we know that we are worshiping the true God in the proper way. When the center of our worship is the proclamation of God’s inerrant Word, we experience content which is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16).
God inspired the Scriptures to reveal Himself to sinful humankind. When we share the Gospel message from the pages of Scripture, we know we are presenting the true Savior, the one and only hope for the world. The Scriptures are “living and active” (Heb 4:12) and are able to make us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15).
Timothy Paul Jones is the C. Edwin Gheens Professor of Christian Family Ministry at Southern Seminary.
The argument has been made, in both academic and popular venues, that Christians holding to biblical inerrancy are something of a novelty. Prior to the rise of the Enlightenment in the 18th century, so the argument goes, this particular doctrine was unheard of. Well, was this doctrinal conviction held prior to the long 18th century? In a word, yes.Inerrancy and inspiration in the ancient church
Scholar Bruce Vawter, himself not an advocate of biblical inerrancy, noted in his 1972 book, Biblical Inspiration: “It would be pointless to call into question that biblical inerrancy in a rather absolute form was a common persuasion from the beginning of Christian times, and from Jewish times before that. For both the Fathers and the rabbis generally, the ascription of any error to the Bible was unthinkable; … if the word was God’s it must be true, regardless of whether it made known a mystery of divine revelation or commented on a datum of natural science, whether it derived from human observation or chronicled an event of history.” Thus, Clement of Rome, writing right after the end of the Apostolic era, urged his readers to “study the sacred Scriptures, which are true and given by the Holy Spirit. Bear in mind that nothing wrong or falsified is written in them.”
At the other end of the Patristic era, Augustine (354–430), stated similarly in a letter written to the Bible translator Jerome (died 420) in 405:
“I confess … that … I believe most firmly that only the authors [of the canonical books of Scripture] were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me contrary to the truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it. But, when I read other authors, however eminent they may be in sanctity and learning, I do not necessarily believe a thing is true because they think so, but because they have been able to convince me, either on the authority of the canonical writers or by a probable reasons which is not inconsistent with the truth.”
As Hans Küng, certainly no friend to biblical infallibility, has commented: for Augustine, “the whole Bible was free of contradictions, mistakes and errors.”
As for inspiration, lapidary summary of the ancient church’s thought about the inspiration of Scripture is found in the final phrase of the third article of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed: “We believe … in the Holy Spirit … who spoke through the prophets.” The Fathers uniformly regarded the divine inspiration, authority, and inerrancy of the Scriptures as a given. As H. B. Swete noted: “No work of the Holy Spirit was more constantly present to the mind of the early post-apostolic Church than his inspiration of the Old Testament.” The only possible exception might be the Syrian exegete Theodore of Mopsuestia (c.350–428) — or “Teddy the Mop,” as my Doktorvater John Egan was wont to call him! Theodore’s rejection of the allegorization of the Song of Songs as a love song between Christ and his people appears to have involved also serious questions about this text’s canonical status and inspiration.
On the other hand, typical of the Fathers’ view of the Scriptures is this statement by the fourth-century theologian Hilary of Poitiers (died c.368):
“The Apostle, who instructs us on many things, also teaches us that the Word of God must be treated with the greatest reverence, saying “whoever speaks, [let him speak] as uttering the oracles of God” [1 Peter 4:11]. For we ought not to treat Scripture with a vulgar familiarity, as we do in our ordinary speech; rather, when we speak of what we have learned and read we should give honor to the author by our care for the way we express ourselves… Preachers, then, must think that they are not speaking to a human audience, and hearers must know that it is not human words that are being offered to them, but that they are God’s words, God’s decrees, God’s laws. For both roles, the utmost reverence is fitting.”
Similarly, Hilary’s contemporary Basil of Caesarea (c.329–379), whose thought deeply informed the pneumatology of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, frequently mentioned the Spirit’s authorship of the Bible. For example, in his refutation of the radical Arian Eunomius of Cyzicus (died c.393), penned in the early 360s, Basil referred over and again to the Spirit’s inspiration of Scripture. He cites John 1:1 and Psalm 109:3 at one point and called these texts “the very words of the Holy Spirit.” About fifteen years later, when Basil was defending the full deity of the Holy Spirit against the Pneumatomachian Eustathius of Sebaste (c.300–c.377), he expressed amazement that Eustathius, who believed that the Bible was “God-breathed [2 Timothy 3:16] since it was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,” was reticent to confess the divine honor due to the Spirit. Scripture was worthy of our total respect because it came from the divine source of the Spirit.
Again, in a pastoral letter that Basil wrote to a widow, who had a deeply troubling dream, the bishop of Caesarea reminded her that she had the “consolation of the divine Scriptures” and thus would “not need us or anyone else to help you see your duty; sufficient is the counsel and good guidance you already have in the Holy Spirit.” To heed the teaching of the Scriptures is to be instructed and counseled by the Spirit.A Reformer’s view of the Bible
The ancient church’s view of the Scriptures as inspired and inerrant was shared by the Reformers a millennium later. Consider the French Reformer John Calvin (1509–1564). When Calvin speaks about the nature of Scripture, his position is unambiguous. The Scriptures, he says, are “the pure Word of God,” “free from every stain or defect,” “the certain and unerring rule.” Unlike all other texts, these alone are a sure and certain guide for the believer’s life and thinking, according to Calvin. He thus was faithful to the Reformation rediscovery of that central biblical principle: sola scriptura. He assumed that Scripture, rightly interpreted, will not be found to make false assertions. This was the basic presupposition of all his exegesis and preaching.
Moreover, for Calvin, in the Scriptures, God speaks clearly. As he said: “the office of preaching is committed to pastors for no other purpose than that God alone may be heard there.” Consequently, the whole message of the Bible had to be brought before God’s people and this could be done only through expository preaching. Little wonder then that, for Calvin, as well as the Reformers in general, preaching the inspired and inerrant Scriptures was the central means of grace in ecclesial renewal and revival. For these men, along with the other Reformers, hearing was the key sense of the Christian man and woman. Medieval Roman Catholicism had majored on symbols and images as the central means of teaching. The Reformation, coming hard on the heels of the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century, turned back to the biblical emphasis on words, both spoken and written, as the primary vehicle for cultivating faith and spirituality. As Calvin aptly put it in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, “the Word is the instrument by which the Lord dispenses the illumination of his Spirit to believers.” In the minds of the Reformers, there could be neither true Reformation nor genuine spirituality apart from the Holy Scriptures, inspired and inerrant.Andrew Fuller and the Bible
Our third witness to the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible is the Baptist theologian Andrew Fuller (1754–1815), whose theology undergirded the missionary movement in which his friend William Carey (1761–1834) played such a large role. For Fuller, the Bible is nothing less than “the book by way of eminence, the book of books.” It occupies such a place of pre-eminence because it is “unerring” and is characterized by “divine inspiration and infallibility.” In the Scriptures, God speaks and conveys knowledge about himself that can be obtained from nowhere else. Fuller is thus emphatic that the search for truth about God must begin at and be rooted in the Scriptures:
“Many religious people appear to be contented with seeing truth in the light in which some great and good man has placed it; but if ever we enter into the gospel to purpose, it must be by reading the word of God for ourselves, and by praying and meditating upon its sacred contents. … If we adopt the principles of fallible men, without searching the Scriptures for ourselves, and inquiring whether or not these things be so, they will not, even allowing them to be on the side of truth, avail us, as if we had learned them from a higher authority. Our faith, in this case, will stand in the wisdom of man, and not in the power of God. … Truth learned only at second-hand will be to us what Saul’s armour was to David; we shall be at a loss how to use it in the day of trial.”
Fuller here differentiated between the books of fallible men, albeit good thinkers, and the truth of God in Scripture. The writings of fallible men are, at best, unable to sustain a lifetime of genuine spiritual growth. Since they stem from fallible minds, they are inevitably partial perspectives on the truth and inadequate to support the believer in a time of trial. By contrast, Scripture is a sure guide for believers. It brings godly balance and perspective to our lives, and provides us with a wholly adequate support in the face of life’s challenges.
The importance Fuller placed on these convictions is evident from the fact that he made essentially the same point in an ordination sermon based on Ezra 7:10. “Learn your religion from the Bible,” Fuller told the prospective minister:
“Let that be your decisive rule. Adopt not a body of sentiments, or even a single sentiment, solely on the authority of any man—however great, however respected. Dare to think for yourself. Human compositions are fallible. But the Scriptures were written by men who wrote as they were inspired by the Holy Spirit.”
There is therefore a line of uniformity and continuity between the ancient Christians like Hilary and Basil and more modern believers like Andrew Fuller. Only with the rise of 18th- and 19th-century biblical criticism would this line be broken for far too many professing believers. But Fuller was right: If we are to flourish spiritually as Christians, we cannot be anything other than a Bible-grounded and Bible-centered people — men and women who love the Bible, love to hear it preached, love to read it and memorize it, and love to apply it to our lives. If this is God’s Word written, inspired and inerrant, we can do no less.
Michael A.G. Haykin is professor of church history and biblical spirituality at Southern Seminary.
I am encouraged. I am really hopeful.
I see more signs of healthy church leaders today than I have seen at any point in my 30 years of ministry. This trend portends well for the future health of our congregations. Healthy church leaders will lead churches to greater health.
The seven traits presume foundational issues such as an affirmation of the truthfulness of the Bible, the exclusivity of the gospel, and the work of the Holy Spirit. Emanating from these foundational issues are key leadership traits. If a leader has all of the following seven traits, it is likely that leader will lead the congregation to greater health.
They embrace change. Healthy leaders do not fear change. To the contrary, they embrace it. They understand the constant power and hope of the gospel only presents opportunities. They don’t complain about change; they get excited about it.
They have a healthy grasp of history. Healthy church leaders are grateful for the past, but they do not dwell there. They take the lessons and the leaders of the past as steps to move forward in the future. Their attitude toward the past is not nostalgia. Rather, they respect the past without revering the past.
They constantly evaluate methodologies. These leaders are not program-driven, building-driven, or procedure-driven. They are constantly asking how they and their churches can do better. They don’t do things the way they’ve always done them. They constantly and persistently evaluate everything.
They intentionally interact with non-Christians. They get out of their offices and into the community. They attend community functions and make friends with non-believers. They believe the Great Commission is a mandate for them personally.
They accept responsibility. These leaders don’t play the blame game. They know God has called them to lead their churches, and they must accept the mantle of responsibility. It’s not the members’ fault. It’s not the denomination’s fault. It’s not the fault of other staff. And it’s not the community’s fault.
They see reality. Healthy church leaders have a clear and firm grasp of reality. They know how their churches are doing, for better or worse. They don’t try to rationalize away difficult news. Yet they readily celebrate good news. They want to know the unvarnished truth because they know a clear vision of reality is critical to moving forward.
They invest in one (and only one) major outwardly-focused effort at a time. This trait is a characteristic we have been seeing for the past few years. It is one of focused simplicity. The leader is always doing one more thing to move the church and himself to a greater outward focus. But it only one thing at a time. This discovery has been a major insight we have gleaned specifically with revitalized churches. We will unpack this trait with more detail in the future.
I remain an obnoxious optimist about the future health of churches. And one key reason is that I am seeing more and more church leaders with these seven traits.
Outrage. Fear. Confusion. Anger. Nostalgia. Withdrawal. Many of the ways we Christians respond to opposition are far from ideal.
Peter knew what it was like to face opposition — to lash out in anger or draw back in fear; to be restored in love, and then to step out boldly with gospel courage. It took him years to learn, but with Christ beside him and the Spirit within him, he did. Later in life, he wrote a letter to fellow sufferers and taught them how to respond Christianly to opposition. His lessons can help you, too.Don’t be surprised.
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet 4:12).
This isn’t new. It isn’t strange. It’s normal. Paul promises that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12). “In the same way,” Jesus reminds us, “they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt 5:12). Don’t be surprised. God certainly isn’t.Calm your outrage.
“Have no fear of them, nor be troubled” (1 Pet 3:14).
The constantly outraged Christian is a sad sight. Don’t respond to opposition with that toxic blend of fear and anger. Respond with grace and truth. The words “outrage” and “courage” both have the word “rage” in them. But they’re totally different attitudes. We need less reactionary outrage and more courageous love.Repent when needed.
“But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler” (1 Pet 4:15).
Sometimes, Christians aren’t respected because we’re not respectable. Sometimes the world says “Christians are hypocrites” and the world is right. Sometimes our opponents see our failures far more clearly than we do. If you’re a racist, you need to repent. If you hate gay people, you need to repent. If you’re rude or gossipy or arrogant at work, don’t get all blustery and claim “persecution” when a coworker calls you on it. Let’s own our sins, and repent when needed. Jesus will forgive us and change us — he’ll even save us if that’s what we need — and the world will appreciate the rare example of humility.Keep loving each other.
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly” (1 Pet 4:8–10).
When a community faces challenges, we’re tempted to turn against each other. Like Euodia and Syntyche, we who’ve labored side by side in the gospel sometimes end up toe to toe in some intramural battle (Phil 4:2–3). We need to guard against this temptation, especially when opposition heats up. If our battle isn’t against flesh and blood (Eph 6:12), our battle certainly should never be against each other.Always love your enemies.
“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called” (1 Pet 3:9).
Ultimately, it’s never us vs. them. It’s Jesus for all. It’s the gospel for all. It’s grace and truth for all. The best way to imitate Christ is to treat people well when they wrong us. Loving our enemies, whether individual or collective, means treating others like Jesus has treated us.Trust God and do good.
“Therefore, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good (1 Pet 4:19). For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (1 Pet 2:15).
Keep doing kingdom work. Keep serving each person you meet. Keep loving everyone who crosses your path. Don’t try to silence the critics and skeptics by yelling louder. Trust God and do what’s right. Remember that example is the loudest voice in every room. God will take care of us, so keep calm and carry on.Share your hope.
“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15).
In a world like ours, if your life is marked by grace and truth and love and integrity and hospitality and Christian warmth, people will eventually ask what’s wrong with you. So develop “gospel fluency,” and stay ready to answer people’s questions and challenges. If you’re a Christian, you have a mesmerizing hope. Act like it, and be prepared to share it.Always be respectful.
“Yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15).
A rude evangelist isn’t. As you share Christ with people, always be respectful. Evangelism sometimes means difficult conversations, but we should never be difficult people. Avoid verbal fights, be gentle, and “show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:2).Remember your Christian family.
“. . . firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Pet 5:9).
We’re not the first ones, the last ones, the only ones, or the main ones who are suffering. In the West, most of our micro-suffering would barely register among so many brothers and sisters abroad. We should remember, with prayer and sympathy and great respect, the many others who endure so much more opposition than we do. Even when we do face legitimate challenges to our faith, we’re in good and noble company.Look to the east.
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Pet 5:10). “Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:13).
Darkness has never stopped the dawn. So we have every reason to fix our eyes on the far horizon. We have every reason to hope that God “will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish” us. We have every reason to anticipate our “eternal glory in Christ.” Jesus is coming back. So when the night deepens, stay on the trail and look to the east.