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Puny preachers and subpar sermons are a gift from the Lord

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 06/21/2019 - 06:00

My family had recently moved to a new city and we were visiting a new church. The service started well, but moments after the preacher entered the pulpit, my heart stopped. This was going to be the worst sermon I had ever heard.

Quickly, the preacher checked off my pet peeves for poor preaching. Topical message? Check. Mechanically reading his manuscript the entire time? Check. PowerPoint slides? Check, check, and check. I soon dismissed the sermon and decided we would not attend this church ever again. I decided that his lack of theological sophistication, sermon craft, and public presentation disqualified him from being worthy of my attention.

But more troubling than his lack of rhetorical ability was my lack of spiritual maturity. I have had the privilege of sitting under some of the very finest Bible teachers, and yet, by dismissing this preacher, I missed a great opportunity for growth. Poor preachers are gifts from the Lord. That’s what I learned, ironically, from one of the greatest preachers who ever lived.

The idol of eloquence

In his famous work Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin argues that pastors are necessary kingdom workers. Calvin learned this from the apostle Paul, who taught that God is the one who gives the church shepherds and teachers (Eph 4:11). Calvin explains:

 “[The Lord] uses the ministry of men to declare openly his will to us by mouth, as a sort of delegated work, not by transferring to them his right and honor, but only that through their mouths he may do his own work — just as a workman uses a tool to do his work” (4.3.1).

Because of this delegated work, unimpressive preachers provide believers with a unique opportunity. Calvin writes:

“When a puny man risen from the dust speaks in God’s name, at this point we best evidence our piety and obedience toward God if we show ourselves teachable toward his minister, although he excels us in nothing” (4.3.1).

That’s right — Calvin argues that believers can demonstrate their love for Christ by paying attention to “puny” preachers.

Mature believers can see beauties that unbelievers and baby Christians miss. Before he was a believer, Augustine dismissed the Scriptures for their lack of eloquence. After his conversion, though, he testified, “Where I understand them, it seems to me that nothing could be wiser, nothing more eloquent than the sacred writers” (On Christian Doctrine, 4.6.9). The gospel of Christ must always rule over the desire for beautiful expression or else posturing and pretense is sure to follow (On Christian Doctrine, 4.28.61).

When Calvin exhorts us to pay attention to “puny preachers,” he is calling us to recognize the idol of eloquence. The Corinthian church followed this idol when they dismissed Paul because of the ineloquence of his speech (1 Cor 2:1; 2 Cor 10:10). We can show our ultimate allegiance is to the Lord Jesus and not to any bumbling messenger of his.

Listening well to poor sermons

Calvin provides two specific ways to help us listen to a poor sermon. First, he calls us to listen carefully to demonstrate our affection for Christ himself. By listening carefully to a poorly crafted presentation, we recognize and demonstrate that the ultimate message being spoken is not the poorly formed sermon from the preacher but the very word of God that the Spirit is speaking to his church each Sunday morning.

We don’t receive life from the preaching of the preacher, but the written and preached word that points us to the living Word, Jesus Christ. Just as a loving husband notices his wife even when she is dressed grubbily, Christians can show their love for the living Word of God when he is proclaimed by inelegant preachers.

Second, Calvin calls us to listen carefully to demonstrate our obedience to Christ. A sermon is not primarily an exercise in rhetorical skill. Instead, it is a proclamation of Christ’s finished work with implications for holy living. Believers can demonstrate that they understand this fundamental distinction by listening to a poorly crafted or poorly executed sermon with the goal of holy living. We are not serving men — including our own pastor. It is the Lord Christ we serve (Col 3:22–24). By hearing and obeying his call, we demonstrate our love for him and our affinity with him.

Mature believers are easily edified

The more spiritually mature we become, the more we are easily edified. May what Justin Taylor said be true of us, “It is so easy to edify him. It doesn’t take much. It doesn’t need to be the best sermon ever preached, or the most excellent song ever composed, or the most powerful book ever written, or the most theologically eloquent statement ever uttered. Just the simplest truth was enough to refresh his heart in Christ.”

And so may the Lord protect us from this worldly temptation. The Lord commanded his preachers to speak “as one who speaks oracles of God” (1 Pet 4:11). May we recognize that when we hear a sermon, the preacher carries the heavy load of speaking for Christ. This preacher may not have theological sophistication or public eloquence, but if he has the word of God and the Spirit of God, then may God give us ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to our church through him.

Editors’ note: This article was originally published at Desiring God.

The post Puny preachers and subpar sermons are a gift from the Lord appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Episode 4: Church planting, prayer, and preaching with John Onwuchekwa

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Thu, 06/20/2019 - 00:00


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Pastor Well S1E4 Show Notes:
  • Introduction and background
  • Joys and challenges of church planting in Atlanta
  • Preaching style, preparation, and philosophy
  • John’s wife, Shawndra, and the blessings of having a supportive wife while preaching and pastoring
  • The role of prayer in the life of a pastor
  • Lighting Round!

The post Episode 4: Church planting, prayer, and preaching with John Onwuchekwa appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Tributes to Rolland D. McCune

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Wed, 06/19/2019 - 12:11
Monday, June 17, 2019, Rolland D. McCune went to be with his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Dr. McCune served as professor of Systematic Theology at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary from 1981 until 2009, during which he also served as President of the Seminary for ten years and Dean of the Faculty for six years.... Read More
Categories: Seminary Blog

Why was Jesus baptized?

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 06/18/2019 - 16:47

If we were to compile a catalog of practices that are essential to the Christian faith, what would be included? Among other essentials, baptism would certainly need to be high on the list. Baptism is one of the means by which Jesus commissions his followers to make disciples (Matt. 28:18–20). It’s also central to the preaching of the gospel at the inception of the church at Pentecost (Acts 2:38). In short, the idea that Christians should be baptized—regardless of when or how—is central to the Christian faith. This should come as no surprise.

What may come as a surprise, however, is that Jesus himself was baptized. Baptism wasn’t just something Jesus commanded his followers to do, but an experience he also underwent. As familiar as we may be with the Gospel accounts, the fact that Jesus submitted himself to baptism may still strike us as odd.

The plot thickens even more when we consider that the baptism Jesus submitted himself to was John’s baptism, which is described as (1) accompanying “repentance” (Matt. 3:2); (2) in conjunction with people “confessing their sins” (Matt. 3:6); and (3) as the means by which to “flee from the coming wrath” (Matt. 3:7).

It doesn’t take much pondering to realize that this doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of what the New Testament says about Jesus—that he was God’s virgin-born (Matt. 1:19–25), sinless (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15), perfectly obedient Son (Heb. 5:8–9; John 17:4), fully pleasing to the Father (Matt. 3:17), who pre-existed as divine but laid aside his glory to take on flesh (Phil. 2:5–8). Nonetheless, Jesus says it is fitting and appropriate that he be baptized (Matt. 3:15).

All this leads to an important question: Why did Jesus need to be baptized?

Did Jesus need to be baptized?

Both Mark and Luke record this story but don’t raise the question (Mark 1:9–11; Luke 3:21–22). John’s Gospel doesn’t give us the events of Jesus’s baptism but emphasizes the same effect as the other Gospels—that the Spirit of God descended on Jesus, anointing him as the Son of God (John 1:32–34). Only Matthew raises the issue by including a piece of the story that the other Gospel writers don’t—John himself was hesitant to baptize Jesus. John, aware that Jesus wasn’t just another person coming to repent and confess his sins, protests: “I need to be baptized by you, but you are coming to me?” (Matt. 3:14).

Jesus’s answer to John’s reluctance is instructive, both in answering our question and also in revealing an important aspect of Matthew’s theology. Jesus said, “Let it be so, for it is fitting in this way for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). This is a weighty answer, containing two words—“fulfill” and “righteousness”—that are central ideas in Matthew’s Gospel. Something important is going on here.

Nonetheless, Jesus’s response to John remains a bit esoteric for most readers today. So allow me to offer the following paraphrase: Jesus is fulfilling his role as the obedient Son of God by practicing the required righteousness of submitting to God’s will to repent (i.e., to live in the world wholeheartedly devoted to God).

Does a sinless man need to repent?

To understand this, there are a couple of elements we need to unpack.

First, “righteousness” in Matthew refers to whole-person behavior that accords with God’s will, nature, and coming kingdom. Paul uses this word in some other ways, but Matthew’s usage is more typical of the Old Testament sense of heart-deep, faithful obedience to God. In submitting to John’s baptism Jesus is showing himself to be the good and obedient Son who does God’s will perfectly.

Second, we must understand what “repentance” means. Today this word often evokes the image of someone on the street corner with a sandwich board that reads, “The end is near!” Biblical repentance is broader and tuned differently. The call to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matt. 3:2; 4:17) is an urgent invitation to reorient our values, habits, loves, thinking, and behavior according to a different understanding, one rooted in the revelation of God’s nature and coming reign. In short, repentance means, “Become a disciple!” Jesus repents not in the sense of turning from sin (our repentance necessarily includes this where his does not), but in the sense of dedicating himself to follow God’s will fully on earth.

Thus, the qualms we (and John) may have about why Jesus would undergo John’s baptism dissipate. Even as a virgin-born, divine-incarnate, unique person in the world, the Son desires to be wholeheartedly obedient to the Father (i.e., righteous). Thus, he must submit to the God-ordained message of life-dedication preached by John. To call this a “fulfillment” of all righteousness taps into what Matthew has been arguing repeatedly from the beginning of his book (Matt. 1:18–2:23), and what he will continue to do in the following stories (Matt. 4:14–16; 5:17)—Jesus is the fulfillment of all God’s work in the world. He is the final goal and consummation of all God’s saving activity. God has sent John as the final herald of the King’s return, and now Jesus comes in line with this and fulfills it by submitting to John’s baptism.

The Last Adam

So why did Jesus need to be baptized? Because central to Jesus’s purpose in being the Savior of the world is his own faithful obedience to the Father. He was obedient even to the point of death on a cross (Phil. 2:8; Rom. 5:18), thereby securing our salvation.

As Brandon Crowe helpfully summarizes, “Jesus is portrayed in the Gospel as the last Adam whose obedience is necessary for God’s people to experience the blessings of salvation.” Jesus’s baptism signals the inauguration of his mission as the obedient Son and of his model of what it means to be faithful to God.

The church’s ongoing practice of baptism—like another essential practice, the Lord’s Supper—is simultaneously a repetition of and a post-Pentecost transformation of Jesus’s own act. Jesus was baptized as a sign of his dedication (wholehearted obedience), and so too we follow his example. At the same time, his own baptism is transformed in our experience because he is more than just a model. We don’t simply get baptized because he did. We’re baptized into him, and he baptizes us with the Holy Spirit.

Though like John the Baptist we may at first be perplexed as to why Jesus was baptized, we can see now that Jesus’s baptism is a crucial part of his saving work in the world, always to be remembered.

Editors’ note: This article was originally published at The Gospel Coalition.

The post Why was Jesus baptized? appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Episode 3: Writing, Teaching, and Women in Ministry with Jen Wilkin

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 06/14/2019 - 10:37


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Pastor Well S1E3 Show Notes:
  • Jen’s introduction to theology and call to ministry
  • Complementarianism and women in ministry
  • Jen’s writing, and her desire to teach people how to read the Bible
  • Personal teaching/writing style and philosophy
  • Role and responsibilities as Classes & Curriculum Director at the Village Church Institute
  • Teaching through books of the Bible
  • Your best advice for young women preparing for ministry?
  • Lighting Round!

The post Episode 3: Writing, Teaching, and Women in Ministry with Jen Wilkin appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

7 ways to engage adherents of other faith traditions

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 06/07/2019 - 14:59

The other day, as I was driving to church, I passed several mosques, a couple of Hindu temples, a Bahai temple, an Ethiopian Orthodox church and food markets from around the world.  As globalization continues to thrive in America, more immigrants and refugees are finding a new home in the U.S., and we are discovering that religious liberty is creating a whole new world of religious affiliation, temples, mosques and churches from around the world. Our children are growing up in schools where multiple languages are spoken, many nationalities are represented, and religious pluralism is growing.

If we believe that our churches should represent the community in which we live, how can we best reach out to the religiously pluralistic society we now live in? How can we teach our children to reach their classmates with the gospel when their friends may have a drastically different picture of Christianity than the truth that is held in Scripture? I would like to suggest seven things families and churches can do to reach their neighbors and co-workers from other faith traditions.

  1. We must rid ourselves of fear.

First John 4:18 reminds us that “. . . perfect love drives out fear . . .” and then in verse 19 “We love because he first loved us.”  The love of God in our lives should drive us to recognize that those of other world religions, who surround us, are lost and there is no hope in their world religion. That might appear harsh in today’s politically correct environment, but according to the Word of God.

Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). We need not fear those who are perishing but fear for them of the judgment that is to come. God has placed them near us so we can share the good news of Jesus with them. Fear has no place in the life of the believer nor in the lives our families.

  1. We need to pray.

Jesus reminds us that the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few (Matt. 9:37). Pray for opportunities to engage your neighbor or co-worker. Look for causal opportunities where you can express your allegiance to Jesus and share your beliefs about God. Pray that your new friends’ heart might be opened and for opportunities to love them well.

Teach your family to pray for the nations represented in your community and take time to lean about them. Prayercast.comand Joshuaproject.nethave excellent resources to help your family learn about your neighbors, co-workers, and students from around the world.

  1. We want to learn.

Challenge your church and pastors to teach on world religions. At our church we have “missions academy” where we take on the world religions surrounding us and help our members understand what they believe and how the gospel might intersect in their lives. Just learning some basics about your friends’ beliefs will help as you seek to interact with them daily.

While you do not need to know everything about every world religion it helps to know a little. For example, it helps to know that practitioners of all world religions believe that their way to “god” or “afterlife” or whatever they believe happens to their best adherents of faith, is the best and only way to achieve their best form of their world to come.

I do not believe there is a genuine world religion that tells us no matter what you do, we all end up in the same place. Hindu adherents reach Nirvana by practicing their faith, being a good person, going to temple, and believing in all the gods. Buddhists reach the same through meditation and practice of the Noble Eightfold Path.  No one practices their religion because they think there is a better way. They believe their way is the best way. Learning some simple things about their faith will go a long way in establishing relationships.

  1. We want to make friends.

I often talk about how important it is to practice “presence” in the life of your lost friends. How you handle life, family, friends, and religion will speak wonders of your relationship to God. Talk about your faith as much as you talk about your favorite ball team or activity you enjoy.

For most other world religions, faith is a part of everyday life. To not talk about “faith” is to ignore a vital part of life. Why are you a follower of Jesus and how does he impact your daily life? Allow them to do the same, it is important to understand that their religion holds a power over them. They follow their religion because it brings them life and fills a need in their lives.  What we want them to understand is that God created us to know Him and the only way we can know Him is through Jesus Christ.  Our relationship with Him changes everything.  As we live lives that glorify God, we are salt, and light in our community (Matt. 5).

  1. Try to understand your cultural differences.

Is your friend from a collectivistic culture or an individualistic culture? Most of us come from very individualistic cultures where we make our own decisions, look out for ourselves, and “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.” A collectivistic culture thinks primarily about those who are around them, is concerned not only with their immediate family but extended family as well.

Many internationals send money “home” every paycheck to support extended family members or parents. Collectivistic cultures promote selflessness and put the needs of the community ahead of their own. People are considered “good” if they are generous, helpful, dependable and genuinely care about the needs of others. Individualistic cultures tend towards assertiveness and independence. As we live out our faith, we should care about the “other” and their needs.  We love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Mark 12:31).

Another example is what your friends think of the elderly. Many other cultures value age and place a high priority on caring for the elderly. As you share the gospel with your friend, bring along someone with gray hair to help you. Their words will have a lasting impact in the life of your friends. Our culture tends towards valuing youth and ignores the value of experience and a life well lived. Your friend, probably, does not feel the same. Age earns a listening ear.

  1. Get rid of your ethnocentrism.

Ethnocentrism is the belief that your culture, your way of doing things, is the best way of doing things. Everyone is ethnocentristic. However, that doesn’t give you the right to impose your way of doing things on your international friend.

I often hear people say immigrants and refugees want to be in the U.S. because we do things the right way. Truth is, most immigrants and refugees want to be in the U.S. because it is safe and secure. If their countries were safe or if they were secure back home, they would still be there.  They love their culture, their language and their food. Learn to love the same. As you learn to love their culture, their food, and even their language, you’ll be able to go deep in your relationship to them. No longer the “ugly American,” but now the loving neighbor Jesus created us to be.

  1. Make sure you preach Jesus.

It will be easy to talk about God, religion, differences in religious understanding and church. However, the crux of the issue is not religion, but Jesus. Remember Paul who tells us “The way of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but it is the power of God to those being saved” (1 Cor. 1:18).

Your friends won’t appreciate the fact that you say Jesus is the only way to know God — however, they need to hear you say it. The world says there are many ways to God, but the Bible says there is only one way — through Jesus. Help them understand tell them because you love them and want them to know and love Jesus as you do.

The post 7 ways to engage adherents of other faith traditions appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Episode 2: Missions, Preaching, and Spiritual Warfare with Paul Chitwood

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 06/07/2019 - 09:35


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Pastor Well S1E2 Show Notes:
  • The current state of the IMB
  • Dealing with spiritual warfare in the midst of challenging new ministry opportunities
  • How theological training has shaped his past and present ministry
  • Personal philosophy of preaching
  • Serving local churches as president of the IMB
  • Any future projects being planned?
  • The Chitwood family
  • Lighting round!

The post Episode 2: Missions, Preaching, and Spiritual Warfare with Paul Chitwood appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Why I Will Still Sing About Christ Being Forsaken: A Response to ‘Neither Forsaken nor Estranged from God.’

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 06/04/2019 - 08:20
If you have not yet seen Dr. Mark Snoeberger’s recent article about the death of God in the death of Christ, I encourage you to consider it. Snoeberger’s argument there helps to refine and safeguard the way we think and discuss the death of Christ so that we are consistent with the biblical teaching about... Read More
Categories: Seminary Blog

Why I Will Still Sing About Christ Being Forsaken: A Response to ‘Neither Forsaken nor Estranged from God.’

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 06/04/2019 - 08:20
If you have not yet seen Dr. Mark Snoeberger’s recent article about the death of God in the death of Christ, I encourage you to consider it. Snoeberger’s argument there helps to refine and safeguard the way we think and discuss the death of Christ so that we are consistent with the biblical teaching about... Read More
Categories: Seminary Blog

3 things to look for in choosing hymns for corporate worship

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Mon, 06/03/2019 - 11:25

The church possesses two books to aid in worship: the Word of God and the hymnal. The Scriptures stand as the perfect and unwavering revelation of God throughout the ages. It is our rule, and the only infallible word on all matters of our faith and practice. The hymnal exists in submission to the authority of Scripture and assists the people of God in singing truth. Its songs are an ever-flowing stream, sung by people responding to God in worship.

Choosing hymns for the local church is a sacred task. Even when the hymnal used is electronic and lacks binding and pages, the practice of Christian singing remains vital. As Colossians 3:16 says,

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

In this text, Paul teaches the Colossians the importance of singing in the local church. The hymns we sing are not to be chosen clumsily, but with intentionality and with care. Hymns have the ability to teach us, to admonish us, and to provoke our hearts to worship our Savior with thankfulness.

Choose hymns that teach

The hymns of the church ought to be built on, shaped by, and saturated with the Word of God. While the New Testament is silent on many of the specifics of corporate worship, Scripture is clear that the Word of Christ must be central. When the hymns we sing are aligned with the Word of God, our souls are nourished by its truth. Singing is a unique way to “let the word of Christ dwell richly” in us. One reason our songs should be closely tied to the Word of God is their didactic effects. Singing for the Christian is formative and responsive, and therefore must be informed by Scripture. We learn what we sing.

Let us think of singing as a form of exposition that uses poetry to teach the Word of God. When Isaac Watts published Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, his intention was not to sing Scripture line by line, but to create poetic and emotive renditions of Scripture that allow a church to sing the truths of Scripture. Songs are sermons. They don’t work like homiletical exegesis, but they articulate, exegete, and pronounce biblical truths. Our hymns teach and shape the way people view God, man, Christ, and how we are to live in light of the gospel.

One way to ensure our singing is biblical is to comb through our songs to see if we cover the breadth of themes presented throughout the canon of Scripture. Our songs should be held up to the light of God’s Word to ensure we are singing the glories of its truth.

Choose hymns that admonish

The songs we sing as a church are meant to teach and admonish. When we gather as the church on the Lord’s Day, we need to be admonished in various ways. Throughout the week, other things call for our praise, attention, and affection. Singing hymns of God’s character reminds us of His greatness. Singing hymns of our sin reminds us of the role of confession. By singing hymns of the atonement, we remind one another of the efficacy of the work of Jesus. Hymns of consecration remind us of the dependence of Christians upon the steadfast grace of God.

We sing to admonish the weak and the weary that their salvation is in God. We sing to admonish the doubting to believe and be renewed. We sing to admonish the suffering that they have a hope that is unwavering.

Our songs ought to exhort and admonish. Our songs ought to encourage and remind. In this practice of song, God’s people will be pointed to the Scriptures, reminded of truth, and rooted in the gospel of Christ.

Choose hymns that provoke thankful hearts

We should choose hymns that provoke thankful hearts. When we sing robust theological truth, our hearts should erupt with praise. The aim of singing hymns is engaging both the head and the heart. The reason we read, study, and meditate on the Scriptures is not primarily so that we might amass knowledge, but so that our knowledge would lead to worship. The chief end of theology is doxology.

In choosing hymns for corporate worship, we should choose songs that make our hearts sing. From the content of the lyrics to the movement of the melody, we want beauty and transcendence to come together and serve the people of God. In our pursuit of theological precision, let us not neglect the pursuit of heartfelt response.

A church’s hymns are not a mere preamble to the sermon. Singing is not obligatory filler time to warm up a congregation. Singing is a holy practice. We sing because God has commanded it, and our songs should fill our hearts with thankfulness and delight in our great God.

Editors’ note: This article was originally published at Ligonier.

The post 3 things to look for in choosing hymns for corporate worship appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Book Reviews

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Sat, 06/01/2019 - 15:34

The post Book Reviews appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Episode 1: Preaching, Politics, and Parenthood with Russell Moore

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 05/31/2019 - 09:34


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Pastor Well S1E1 Show Notes:
  • Introduction of today’s guest: Russell D. Moore. Moore is the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is also a noted author, theologian, preacher.
  • Russell Moore on his calling to engage with political and social issues.
  • Moore’s new book “Storm-Tossed Family” and how its principles apply to pastors avoiding potential pitfalls.
  • Moore as a father, and his sons’ growing up.
  • Moore’s preaching style, influential preachers, and favorite authors
  • Lightning round!

The post Episode 1: Preaching, Politics, and Parenthood with Russell Moore appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog


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