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.
¿Qué otras implicaciones podrían extraerse de la narrativa de Babel (Gén 11:1-9), además de saber que es el evento que causó la confusión de los idiomas? Bueno, una aplicación puede ser dirigida a los ministros, que no deben hacerse un nombre famoso, ni construir torres, sino que se les anima a edificar el reino de Dios. Génesis 11:1-9 continúa la demostración profunda de la naturaleza pecaminosa de los hombres al resaltar su intención de construir una ciudad y una torre tan grande que se hagan un nombre por sí mismos. Uno puede preguntarse por qué construir una ciudad y hacerse un nombre famoso es tan malo. Bueno, este evento demuestra el problema del hombre, que continuamente desea una vida aparte de Dios. El hecho es que si esta antigua ciudad hubiese sido construida, habría ido contra el mandato de Dios al hombre en Gén 1:28. En Gén 1:28 el hombre es bendecido y se le ordena, “llenen la tierra.” La idea de promulgar la raza humana sobre la faz de la tierra es la implicación que se desprende de estas tres palabras en Génesis 1. Sin embargo, en Gén 11:4, se lee de la rebelión del hombre contra el mandato de Dios de extenderse sobre la faz de la tierra.
El propósito de construir una gran ciudad y una torre en la tierra de Sinar era para obtener fama (Gén 11:4). La expresión, “nos haremos famosos” es otra forma de buscar el reconocimiento. Hoy los ministros, luchan con este problema. Los cristianos normalmente tienden a pensar en la fama en relación con las estrellas de cine, conducir autos exóticos y vivir en mansiones. Sin embargo, hoy en día la fama o el deseo de reconocimiento debido al éxito ministerial ha crecido considerablemente. Años después de una cruzada en Corea donde un millón de personas escucharon el evangelio, el Rev. Billy Kim vino a los Estados Unidos para visitar al Rev. Billy Graham. El Rev. Kim fue el traductor del Rev. Graham en Corea. El Rev. Graham le preguntó: “¿Deseas tener un ministerio exitoso?” El Rev. Kim respondió: “¡Sí!” Entonces el Rev. Graham le dijo: “Nunca hables de ti mismo.” Vivimos en una sociedad done el ser humano está más preocupado por hablar sobre sus logros, habilidades, capacidades, y el auto-promoción que por elevar el nombre de Cristo.
¿Es válido hacernos famoso como ministros del Evangelio? La respuesta a esta pregunta se puede encontrar en Génesis 12. La historia introduce un nuevo personaje: Abram. De las muchas bendiciones de Dios sobre Abram una de ellas fue que Dios hará su nombre famoso (Gén 12:2). Como resultado Abram llego a ser conocido como el padre de las naciones (Abraham), Gén 17:5. Entonces, ¿Qué diferencia hay entre los hombres de Sinar (Génesis 11) y Abram (Génesis 12)? Claramente, Dios es el que otorga grandeza. Abraham no buscó tener un gran nombre, pero se le concedió debido a su temor y obediencia a Dios (Gén 22:12, 18). ¡Qué verdad tan relevante para nuestro tiempo! Como ministros del Evangelio, nuestro propósito es temer y obedecer a Dios. Desafortunadamente, hoy en día muchos desean construir torres como los hombres de Sinar, para el reconocimiento. Qué gran tentación está a la puerta de cada ministro del Evangelio. Cada hombre y mujer de Dios se enfrentará con el reto de edificar el reino de Dios o construir su babel. El reto en si es ¿Quién se lleva la gloria? Que el Señor ayude a cada ministro a considerar el propósito de edificar el reino de Dios en lugar de sus propias torres.
What implications can be drawn from the narrative of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9, apart from knowing that it is the event that caused the confusion of languages? Well, one application can be directed toward ministers, that they are not to make a name for themselves, nor build towers, but are encouraged to build God’s Kingdom. Genesis 11:1-9 continues the deep-seated demonstration of the sinful nature of men by highlighting their intention of building a city and a tower so grand that they would make a name for themselves. One may ask why building a city and making a name for oneself is so wrong. Well, this event demonstrates the problem of man, that he continually desires a life apart from God. The fact is if this ancient city would have been built, it would have cut against God’s command to man in Genesis 1:28, where man is blessed and commanded to “fill the earth.” The idea of promulgating the human race across the face of the earth is the implication drawn from these three words in Genesis 1. Yet, in Genesis 11:4, one reads of man’s rebellion against God’s command of spreading over the face of the earth.
The purpose of building a grand city and tower in the land of Shinar (Gen 11:1) was to obtain fame. The expression in Genesis 11:4—“let us make for ourselves a name”—is another way of saying, “Let us become famous.” Fame is one of the struggles that ministers face today. Christians normally tend to think of fame in relation to movie stars, driving exotic cars, and living in mansions. However, fame or the desire for recognition because of ministerial success continually creeps up. Years after a crusade in Korea where a million people heard the Gospel, Rev. Billy Kim came to the states to visit Rev. Billy Graham. Rev. Kim was Rev. Graham’s translator in Korea. Rev. Graham asked him, “Do you desire to have a successful ministry?” Rev. Kim replied, “Yes!” Then Rev. Graham told him, “Never speak about yourself.” We live in a world where many are preoccupied with speaking more about their accomplishments and seeking self-promotion than they are with lifting up the name of Christ.
So is the aspect of “making a name for yourself” out of the question for ministers? The answer for this question can be found in the next chapter. Genesis 12 introduces a new individual, Abram. One reads of God’s many blessings upon Abram. Out of the many blessings directed toward Abram, one was that his name would become great. In time, Abram became Abraham, the father of nations (Gen 17:5). But what is the difference between the men of Shinar in Genesis 11 and Abram in Genesis 12? Clearly, God is the one who grants greatness. Abraham did not seek to have a great name, but it was granted to him because of his fear and obedience to God (Gen 22:12, 18). What an important point to drive home. As ministers of the Gospel, our aim is to fear and obey God. Unfortunately, today, many desire to build, as the men of Shinar, towers for themselves for recognition. What a great temptation crouching at the door of every minister of the Gospel. Every man and woman of God will face the reality of either decreasing in stature so that God’s name increases, or suppressing God’s work so that ministerial towers may be built that have no lasting effect, but are worthless babel before God. May the Lord help ministers to be mindful of building God’s Kingdom rather than one’s own towers. If you desire to accomplish great things for God, you must place your eyes upon Him and off yourself.
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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Recently, I have found myself and others engaged in debates over the components of the biblical Gospel. Some may question why such conversations still persist after 2,000 years of Christianity. After all, the core message of Christianity is the Gospel. However, Christians do not always agree on the necessary components of the Gospel. Numerous Christians articulate the Gospel as the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. However, more and more evangelicals are articulating the Gospel in terms of Scripture’s story over Jesus’ story. This emergent articulation of the Gospel comprises four areas: 1) creation, 2) fall, 3) redemption, and 4) restoration. Why are they articulating the Gospel as a set of stories comprising a grand meta-narrative? Why is Jesus’ sacrificial atoning death, His burial, and His glorious resurrection only part of what comprises the Good News?
A Shift from Christ Event to Meta-Narrative
In their attempts to discover the Missio Dei, proponents of this meta-narrative form of the Gospel have adopted a missional hermeneutic of the entire Bible rather than investigating the early church’s proclamation of the Gospel. Thus, these proponents conceive the Gospel message preached by the early church as a component of the Bible’s meta-narrative. Christopher Wright, one of the proponents, states,
The Bible presents itself to us fundamentally as a narrative, a historical narrative at one level, but a grand narrative at another. It begins with the God in creation, moves on to the conflict and problem generated by human rebellion against his purpose for creation, spends most of its narrative journey in the story of God’s redemptive purposes being worked out on the stage of human history, and finishes beyond the horizon of its own history with the eschatological hope of a new creation.
Consequently, Wright and others holding the same position broaden the Gospel to an outline of the Bible: Creation-Fall-Redemption-Restoration.
Is Christ Part or All of the Gospel?
Proponents who articulate the Gospel in meta-narrative form frequently utilize the Christ event as part of a group of stories that constitute the Gospel. Although Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration serve as frameworks to help unbelievers understand the Gospel better, must the personal evangelist articulate each component part of the meta-narrative in order for redemption to take place?
The sermons of the early church found in the book of Acts do not include all four themes. For example, Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 does not mention the creation or the fall stories. However, the Bible reveals that redemption took place when it states, “And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47b).
The early church did not perceive that their good works and their preaching of the Good News would restore this world to a golden age in order to usher in the return of their King. Instead, they preached the Good News in order to bring people into His Kingdom so that Jesus could restore all things upon His return (e.g., Acts 1:6).
The Early Church’s Use of the Gospel
A brief look at the early church’s proclamation is vital to understanding how to articulate the Gospel. The Apostle Paul’s understanding of the Gospel derives from two sources. First, Paul stated, “I received it [the Gospel] through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12b). Second, he understood the same Gospel to appear in Scripture. He articulated the Gospel according to Scripture when he stated,
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
Paul acknowledged that the Gospel emphasized the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Therefore, Paul, as well as the other apostles, understood the Gospel message to contain essential points that emphasize the historicity of Jesus Christ. What were these essential components of the early church’s Gospel proclamation?
What Should the Gospel Message Contain?
The early church fulfilled the Great Commission by evangelizing with a Gospel that included specific truths. Thus, the message consists of the fulfillment of Old Testament promises (cf. Acts 2:16; 3:18, 10:43; 13:32-33). Second, the Gospel places emphasis on the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (cf. Acts 2:30; 3:20.). Third, the message concerning Christ offers forgiveness leading the hearers to repent and believe (cf. Acts 2:38).
Theological liberalism was birthed when scholars started focusing on the reliability of history over the supposed mythology of Jesus’ story. While those who utilize a meta-narrative Gospel over the concise Gospel should not be charged with theological liberalism, my fear is that they are adopting a similar method with a different application. In this construct, His story gets lost in history. Therefore, let meta-narrative proclaimers remind us proclaimers of the simple Gospel that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” along with the history that these elements contain. But may they also be reminded of the old hymn that says, in telling the “old, old story,” we must focus on “Jesus and His love.”
Christopher Wright, The Mission of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 64.
Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost presents the previously mentioned elements as well as those that followed.
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.
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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.
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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.