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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Are Seminaries Really Necessary?

Let’s consider here for a moment a proposal that, at first looks very attractive:  to turn the training of ministers over to the churches rather than to the seminaries (John Frame proposed something very much like this in 1972, though he admits some seminaries are doing a much better job than his analysis at the time indicated.  See http://www.frame-poythress.org/proposal-for-a-new-seminary/  accessed 1/25/2014.).  After all, we are training ministers, not academic theologians.  The traditional seminary setting is too bound up with concerns about grades, attendance reports, accreditation, and academic parity to focus on the really important matters that a minister needs, especially in a rapidly changing world.  Let pastors mentor young ministerial candidates and give them “on the job training.”  The result will be better prepared ministers, who are more aware of the real challenges of church life, something you can never get in the classroom.

That sounds very good, but the reasoning is flawed on several points.  For one thing, many seminaries now include some kind of field education requirement. Seminary professors these days are often involved in church ministries and are acutely aware of the need to encourage students to gain hands-on experience while in seminary.  In addition, there are essential aspects of ministry training that can best be gained in an academic, seminary type setting.  Without these, the minister who has had on the job training only will be ill prepared for many of the challenges offered in today’s secular and pluralistic world.  Seminaries offer a place where the ministerial candidate can be well prepared to meet those challenges. Here is why:

Seminaries offer a “safe place” where important biblical truths can be discussed, where ideas can be considered, adopted, and abandoned, and where (in general) no one’s spiritual life is in danger.  Consider, for example, the question of the existence of evil.  This “philosophical” and doctrinal problem becomes a very real question in our churches when a young couple loses their baby; when someone in the church dies in an accident, when the church bus crashes, or when a beloved church member is a victim of murder.  Every pastor will face one or more of these circumstances in his lifetime.  How much better, if he has worked through, in his own mind, a deep and settled conviction of the goodness of God, even in the face of tragedy.  His tone of voice and demeanor will communicate that reality to those who are grieving.  The minister who is faced with working out his beliefs on this matter at the time that a grieving young couple is sitting before him is in trouble, but so is the couple.  If he can say nothing that comforts, and in fact is clearly floundering, he may damage the spiritual life of a young family for decades to come.  It is well then that young ministers in training should “hack out” this issue in systematic theology, and apologetic classes, and even in the student lounge. These are places where all kinds of ideas can be tried out, rejected, refined, and replaced—and nobody is going to walk away from God because of it. 

A second reason for Seminaries as a place for preparing ministers is that they offer a diversity of mentors, in the persons of the faculty. The Seminary at Liberty University, for example, has graduates of Dallas Theological Seminary, Southern Baptist Seminary, Southwestern Baptist Seminary, Baylor University, Wayne State University, Denver Seminary, University of Virginia, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Michigan State University among its faculty including those with degrees from Liberty University itself. These men come from a variety of pastoral and ministry experiences in large churches and small ones, and from various states across the US.  The ministry candidate whose training consists of mentoring by one older pastor draws from a narrower vein of experience, and from the ministry of only one church.  Seminaries bring together a community of people who have helped plant churches, revive churches, build youth groups, and who have served overseas short and long term in a variety of mission settings. Rather than being mentored by a single pastor (who may have a passion for theology, but little else, or a passion for evangelism but little interest in discipleship) the student is exposed to a broad variety of passions, emphases, philosophies of ministry, and interests.  The experience gained from such a cloud of mentors cannot be replaced in any single local church setting.

The third reason has to do with the library resources available to students.  In the course of a Seminary master’s degree, students will use a variety of Bible commentaries, as well as resources related to youth ministry, pastoral ministries, missions, and issues in church life. By the time the student graduates, there is a deeper awareness of what kinds of resources are most helpful for the student’s specific calling and gifts in ministry.  Commentaries and other resources are expensive. By the time the student graduates, he has a mental list of favorite writers, and publishers and styles that will prevent much waste of money in the decades ahead.

And so, while it sounds attractive to train ministers “on the front lines” the fact is, Seminaries offer the best opportunity for upcoming candidates to try their gifts, develop their understanding of the things of God, and to gain knowledge and tools that will go with them through a lifetime of effective ministry.  Pastors and churches should encourage young people called to ministry to attend seminary, and should educate themselves as to what seminaries such as Liberty University’s have to offer in terms of degree programs and opportunities.  Churches should forge an alliance with seminaries in expectation of sending young people there, and should invite the Seminary to supply them with part time ministers, volunteer help and pulpit supply in an intentional effort to come to know the Seminary better.  The Seminary will benefit, as will the churches, and especially those churches that receive well trained and ready leadership, able to maintain a steady hand while guiding the spiritual growth of the congregation.

 

- C. Fred Smith, PhD

Associate Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies

Posted at 11:09 AM | Permalink

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Cup Just for You

The Christian Church is a miracle. 

Not many people in the world fully grasp the dark, toxic environment in which the first believers stepped into to share the light of God’s love in Jesus Christ.

Not many people today understand just how many people died for the faith in the first three centuries of the faith, so that we can worship the one who died and rose again to set us free.

But the historical truth is that the first followers of Jesus shocked the Mediterranean world with their crazy notions of kindness, and purity, and truth, and sacrifice.

Acts 2 tells us that “All the believers were together and had everything in common…Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Many embraced these new loving ideas, and pockets of Christianity began to pop up first near Jerusalem, then into Galatia and Antioch, Thessaly, Greece, and into Rome herself. But others found the new followers’ views troubling, vexing, and made it their life’s purpose to exterminate this new Christian sect.

The leaders were the first to be attacked—Stephen, James, Paul, Peter, Luke--and these Disciples and Apostles suffered too often from religious leaders threatened by the challenge of Christianity, and political leaders irritated by any social disorder that might interfere with the Pax Romana—the Roman Peace that brought so much wealth and power to the Empire.

Sadly, the Christians had little friends in political circles, and whatever money that they had was frequently distributed to the poor—“They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”  Thus, while others could buy or bribe their way out of trouble, the first followers could only suffer for their faith, just like Jesus. 

In Philippians 3, the Apostle Paul states, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”

Remarkably, the Jesus movement grew despite this intense hostility and persecution.  The first Christians’ message of love and hope echoed in the hearts of needy men, women, and children oppressed by the greediness and violence of Roman tyranny. And they saw in Jesus Christ a leader with whom they admired and respected—unlike the Emperors who operated mainly on terror, vanity, and too often insanity.

The entire New Testament was composed and recorded during this fiery, bloody era of martyrdom and executions of the faithful.  Reading through the epistles, it is easy to hear about standing strong despite turmoil, holding fast to the faith, remembering the reward in store for those who hunger after righteousness, and courageously refuse to abandon Him who saved them from the “rewards” of the World--neglect, immorality, paganism, and even death.

The author of Jude writes,

“But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, ‘In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.’ These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.

But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.”

The message rings strong throughout the New Testament—God sees you. God wants to call you friend. God has made a way just for you. He doesn’t care about your social status. He doesn’t care about your gender. He opens His arms of forgiveness to you, no matter what their transgressions or sins.  He wants to walk with you once again.  Because you matter to God. He loves you, ultimately and unconditionally.

Affirming this, Galatians 3 states, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The Mediterranean was a dry desert--religiously and morally—and the people had been dying of thirst for so long, so very long.  The first group of Christians should have been too small to change the world, logically. But these believers opened the floodgates of living water to all they encountered, and the people drank deep the loving waters of redemption and renewal, and they felt the fullness of Christ fill their hearts and souls, which had been so empty before.

The Prophet Zephaniah spoke of this human need centuries earlier:

The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.?He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.

At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you. I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honor?in every land where they have suffered shame.

At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth?when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes, says the Lord.”

That promise, that miracle is still available today for all who are thirsty and hungry for healing and wholeness, for those craving an eternal relationship that they can count on despite the turmoil in their lives.

Wonderfully, 2,000 years later, God still reaches out His holy hands and says, “Come and drink the living water, my friends.

I have poured out a cup just for you.”

 

-John S. Knox, PhD

Adjunct Professor of Apologetics

Posted at 9:36 AM | Permalink

Monday, March 24, 2014

Three Reasons to Marry for Love

In the post-modern world, societal mores are changing in all aspects of life —not least of which is that of marriage, perhaps the oldest social institution of them all. Some sources (www.prb.org) suggest that close to 108 billion people have lived on the earth since life began, and no one would doubt that marriage was an important event for the majority of those people, regardless of their cultures.

Unfortunately, historians and sociologists do not have an exhaustive reservoir of cultural data to examine regarding marriage throughout history. We know about the lives of the rich and the famous, but scant about the commoners in their society. Yet, often without any evidence to back it up, one can read in the media assertions like, “For most of human history, marriage wasn’t a very romantic institution. It was more akin to a business deal between men, the bride in question had very few rights or other options” (people.howstuffworks.com), and “When love entered the picture as the reason to marry, dissolutions became more commonplace” (www.psychologytoday.com).  Proclamations like these only add darkness to the matter and provide an ulterior, but not necessarily helpful explanation for the presence of divorce and annulment.

Reading the article in Psychology Today entitled, “Three Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Marry for Love” (Gadoua 2013), it is evident that modern thinking discards traditional understanding and incentives for marriage, opting for a more self-serving agenda. Considering the individualistic spirit of the age, it is not surprising; however, shallow argumentation is evident, especially concerning marriage in the context of Christianity.

The article begins with the (incorrect) axiom of “But if you really think about it, love is a luxury.”   The dictionary defines a luxury as “an inessential, desirable item that is expensive or difficult to obtain,” but if love comes from within a person’s heart and mind, then its expression and application costs nothing, materially.  

The author, Gadoua, continues, “When you marry for love, it generally means you have all—or at least most—of your other needs met (like food, shelter, warmth, etc).” Few young adults have luxurious riches when they decide to wed; typically, it is the opposite—couples with no steady job or abundant income for either, with more bills than money, but still with a long-term expectation of loving and working and struggling to survive. 

According to the article, however, “in our attempt to make marriage stronger by raising the bar to meet our higher love and romance needs, we have seriously weakened the institution. These are both highly changeable emotions: When love wanes, the marriage gets shaky; when the romance stops, the nuptials die.”  The mistake in this evaluation is the author’s separation of “love” and “romance.”

In C.S. Lewis’ book, The Four Loves, Lewis presents the basic types of love demonstrated in humanity: Storge or natural affection, Philia or friendship, Eros or romance, and Agape or charity, which is the highest, selfless form of all loves. Each one of these kinds of love has a different goal and implementation, and working together can bring harmony and health to any relationship.  The problem is if one embraces or exhibits only one of these in a marriage or intimate relationship; then, the union will be strained, which the article misses in its conclusions on marriage.

Instead, Gadoua offers, “People whose primary reason to marry is other than love — such as to have children with someone they believed would be a good co-parent, to have financial security, or for companionship — generally have longer and perhaps better marriages because their choices are made for a defined purpose.”  Of course, the author offers no evidence or statistics to back up this jaw-dropping advice. She concludes, “I’m not saying love shouldn’t be on the list of things that need to be in your relationship, but it doesn’t need to be number one (and perhaps shouldn’t be).”

For the Christian, though, love must begin all life choices.  In Matthew 22 (ESV), Jesus commands, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Such advice negates the self-focused, problematic guidance in Gadous’ article.

Wisdom and love comes from someone outside of us—God, whose amazing love for us, once embraced, covers and flows through us to everyone else, spouses included. This good counsel is seen in other Biblical passages. 1 John 4 (ESV) states,

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

In simplifying marriage to a mere social contract present to provide mental peace and physical comfort alone, Gadoua has missed the holistic nature and divine origins of love, which begins in and is sustained through productive, charitable actions without absolute certainty of reaping benefits for oneself.  It is hard to see the big picture when you only stare into a mirror.

Marriages don’t fold because spouses are kind, affectionate, self-sacrificing, and understanding. Unions end because of self-absorption and hatred, because of an unwillingness to submit to God’s ethical design for relationships.  Gadoua places the focus on what one can get from the marriage; God places the focus on what one can give to the marriage. It is doubtful that any marriage would end if spouses simply and devotedly followed Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 13 (ESV):

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

In contrast, Gadoua’s article reminds me of the book of Ecclesiastes, with its emphasis on human pursuits without God (and His love) in the center—vanity, vanity--a chasing after the wind.  Instead, let us follow God’s lead in our relationships and in marriage, which, after all, is just a glimpse of the joy to be had for eternity in Heaven.

Thus, I end with my own three reasons why you must marry for love.

  1. God is love and expects us to be loving if we are His followers.
  2. Love is the only power that can truly heal emotional, psychological, and spiritual wounds.
  3. Love is the only force that is eternal, leaving behind a legacy influencing others for good.

 

- John S. Knox, PhD

Adjunct Professor of Apologetics

Posted at 9:49 AM | Permalink

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What Every Pastor Needs from His Flock

     I have often heard what churches need from their pastor. Usually the expectations are set extremely high. Today, I would like to reverse the equation and provide a glimpse of what a pastor needs from his flock. Here are my thoughts.

  1. He needs for you to embrace a biblical understanding of his role and responsibility. God has called him to shepherd the flock of which you are a part. God holds him accountable to lead, feed, and intercede. That comes from Acts 6 where Deacons are appointed to assist the pastors with the work of the ministry. You must understand that for your pastor, it is not just a job. It is a calling from God.

  2. He needs your prayers. In Ephesians, Paul asked the congregation to pray for him. During the crisis time leading up to Jesus' crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus told Peter that Satan had requested to "sift you like wheat." Then Jesus states, "but I have prayed for you." If Paul and Peter needed prayer on their behalf, certainly your pastor does as well. Every pastor trying to accomplish God's work faces tremendous opposition from the world, the flesh, and the devil. Please pray for him. You have no idea what he is dealing with on a daily basis and it is difficult to understand the burden he carries as God's shepherd of your flock.

  3. He needs your loyalty. By this, I mean loyalty to the Lord, to him, and to your local church family. When you become a member of a congregation, certain obligations come and one of those is your support. Let me suggest that you talk with your pastor to see if disagreements, disappointments or differences of opinion can be worked out. No doubt, expectations clearly understood and clarifications should be made if possible. If you cannot be supportive of your pastor and you find yourself at an impasse, that may well be an indicator that you need to be in another church.

  4. He needs your commitment to a biblical vision. This means that you embrace the biblical mandates that the church exists to fulfill the Great Commission, to impact your community and the world with the gospel, and to equip believers to accomplish the work of the ministry. Way too many churches seem to have lost that biblical vision of why they exist. Some even go so far as to question whether or not a church which has become completely inward focused instead of outward focused is even a church in the biblical sense. Perhaps that needs to be studied further.

  5. He needs for you to give him the benefit of the doubt. Every pastor is human and makes mistakes. I challenge you to give him the benefit of the doubt that his heart is in the right place. It amazes me how many church members are quick to be critical and quick to speak. Perhaps we need to be reminded of James' words that we are be swift to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Before you make a snap judgment or listen to gossip, it would be wise to exercise caution. Way too many pastors have been hurt by carnal gossip, and unquestioned and distorted perceptions of reality. If there is a problem, talk to him not about him.

  6. He needs for you to be present and participating. No one can be present every time the church doors are open, but every member of a church family should be present on a consistent basis. Does not the Scripture admonish us "not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together?"

  7. He needs for you to love him and his family. This includes encouragement, making sure he is provided for, that he has adequate time off, and that he has necessary tools to work with. He needs books, resources, time to learn and appropriate help.

     As a member of the flock, you can help your pastor be the man God has called him to be.

-Jerry Sutton, PhD
Adjunct Professor of Practical Studies
 

Posted at 9:25 AM | Permalink

Friday, February 21, 2014

Wrestling and Lostness

In Matthew 9:36 the Bible tells us that Jesus was moved with compassion when He saw the multitudes.  In our busy lives, with our familiar surroundings, it is often hard for us to see the multitudes of lostness around us.  There are times, however, when the Lord gives us eyes to see.  Such a time happened to me this weekend at an unusual place – a youth wrestling meet.

This was the second year that I accompanied a local youth wrestling team from Las Vegas to the Beehive Brawl in Richfield, Utah.  As the second day of wrestling was about to start all of the kids competing gathered into the stadium’s tunnel and grouped together by their home state.  As the kids came running out there was great excitement.  The house lights were dimmed, rock music was blaring, and spotlights and multicolored lights were flashing as a fog machine rounded out the ensemble of effects to welcome these young athletes.  The crowds cheered as the boys came running out as their state was called.  Finally, the host state, Utah was announced.  Several hundred boys came running into the arena excited to wrestle in such a big tournament as the crowd gave the loudest cheer of the morning.

As I watched these boys run into the arena I was suddenly overwhelmed with the reality that there is a really good possibility that every one of them is lost.  They live in one of the most unreached states in the union that is dominated by the Mormon religion.  Dr. J.D. Payne posted the least reached metro areas in the United States, and Utah, with a population of only 2.8 million, had two cities that took the first and seventh positions.  As I began to process this information, several realities hit me:

  1. The lostness of Utah is great!  The city of Provo is 99.4% lost according to the census data.  That means only 0.6% of that city claims to be a Christian.  How can America, a “Christian Nation,” have a city that lost?
  2. We have no viable plan to actually reach the state with the gospel.  I am not saying that no one is working to reach Utah, but the reality is that we do not have a plan that will sufficiently get a gospel witness to the people of Utah in a timely manner.  I have two good friends who are working to plant churches in Utah.  The problems, however, are that it is a slow work, there are few workers in the harvest, and the support needed for a church plant to survive usually dries up before the church is fully established.
  3. A great wave of persecution will come as people turn to Jesus.  Mormonism is powerful and well organized.  People will lose their jobs, businesses, homes, and community if they turn to Jesus.  This is something that happens on a regular basis anywhere there is an overwhelming Mormon presence in a community.  This makes the task of reaching people with the gospel and planting churches much more complicated.
  4. If the above three observations do not change, then the reality is that most, if not all of the boys I saw today will grow up, live their lives, and then die under a false religion without ever getting to hear the true gospel.

So how does this impact you?  What can you do to change the situation in Utah? 

Let me challenge you to pray for four things:

  1. Pray that God would call out workers into the fields of Utah.
  2. Pray that God would help our churches and denominations develop effective, sustainable church planting models that will endure the strains of persecution.
  3. Pray that families in Utah would come to Christ together.  This will provide needed community for the new believers and allow a movement to begin.
  4. Pray that believers who face persecution would thrive in the midst of it.

I thank the Lord for the times that He opens my eyes to see the multitudes the way He does.  I pray that you too would see the multitudes afresh and that God will use you in a mighty way to be His witness to the lost.  Finally, I pray for those boys and their families – may their eyes be opened to the truth of who Jesus is and what He has done for them!

- Neal H. Creecy, PhD

Instructor of Global Studies

Posted at 9:15 AM | Permalink

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

What a Successful Pastor Needs to Know

"What you don't know can kill you." This is a common truism which in the case of ministry may be an overstatement. Nonetheless, when it comes to ministry, what you don't know can certainly hurt you. That said, what is it that pastors and ministers need to know? Here are nine knowledge clusters that I believe are critical for ministry success.

1. A successful pastor knows the Scriptures. He knows them intellectually and devotionally. He has worked to understand the structure of the Word, what it says and what it means. More importantly, he has let it shape his own life and ministry, his purposes and priorities. He has a confidence that the Scriptures reveal the mind, heart, ways, and will of God. He is assured that the Scriptures have the spiritual power to transform lives, his own and others. Because of this conviction, he has confidence to stand on God's word as he embraces its promises and obeys its commands. He believes without hesitation that all Scriptures point to Jesus.

2. A successful pastor knows leadership principles. He has worked to understand how to be a leader. He knows how to assess the present condition of his flock and his community. He knows how to go from where he is to where he needs to be. He knows how to persuade those he leads. He understands how authority, responsibility, and accountability interact. He understands the importance of problem solving, decision-making and, planning. He understands how to delegate. He has a grasp of how to recruit and how to provide direction.

3. A successful pastor knows people. He works to understand how each person thinks, feels, and decides. He seeks to understand people's hurts, failings, fears, and scars. He knows that no two people are the same. He is diligent to motivate people and point them to Jesus. He is compassionate yet cautious. He wants to believe the best about people unless he has a clear reason not to. He is constantly on the lookout for wolves among the sheep as Paul warned the Ephesians pastors to do. He understands that everyone is on a spiritual journey and is located on a different part of the maturity-immaturity spectrum. He labors to move people to a closer walk with God. He is not naive, however, about the ravages of sin and the snares of the devil.

4. A successful pastor knows hardship. No ministry is comfortable. No ministry is easy. To be a pastor is to be in constant spiritual war. Temptations, disasters, inconveniences, and pressure never cease. Yet the good news is that God uses the suffering we endure to mature us, to strengthen us, and to equip us for greater service. When we are faithful to our calling, God watches and rewards. The hardships we face prepare us for greater opportunity. Recall David's words to King Saul on how fighting lions and bears had prepared him to face Goliath. Remember how Jesus promised that the one faithful in that which is least will be made ruler over much. Hardship has its benefits.

5. A successful pastor knows systems. Particularly when he looks at the church, his attention is to observe how things operate. He looks for power structures, legitimizers, and past patterns of handling conflict. He understands the dynamics of transitioning the congregation through decision-making and ministry divisions of labor as the church grows. He sees growth restricting obstacles and anticipates needed steps to overcoming them. He is constantly anticipating what needs to be done in the present as well as the future. He is continually crying out for wisdom and discernment. Like Nehemiah of old, he is trying to address problems at hand, deal with the consequences of past failure, and bring about change for the good of the people he leads and the glory of the God he serves.

6. A successful pastor knows the culture. He is diligent in his efforts to see trends, understand who is shaping public perception and mores, and perceive what direction the world is moving. He watches the media with its news and entertainment in an attempt to know what people are thinking. He is not afraid to address the moral and cultural issues as he proclaims God's assessment. He is not concerned with public opinion. He is concerned with God's.

7. A successful pastor knows that he needs to be a learner. He reads, he listens, and he   gives time to cultivating his understanding. He discusses issues and works at increasing his understanding. He not only sets aside time to cultivate his mind, he guards that time. Because he understands that preparation precedes performance, he prepares. He took the time for school and he has now transitioned into becoming a life-long learner.

8. A successful pastor knows what is at stake. When he stands to preach he knows that he represents God and he is God's spokesman. When he ministers to people in their pain, he is God's representative. He realizes that people's response to his messages and witness are a matter of life and death. He understands what is at stake. 

9. Finally, a successful pastor knows that his opportunity is short. He has only so much time to serve God and then it is over. So he works in light of Jesus' words that the night is coming when no one can work. He is constantly aware of Moses' prayer, "Lord, teach us to number our days so that we may gain a heart of wisdom." He desires to make the most of his time and his life. He lives with the sense that he needs to do all he can while can.

These are some things that a successful pastor knows. Let's be diligent to show ourselves approved by God because we have been diligent in our pursuit of knowledge and its application.
 

- Jerry Sutton, PhD

Adjunct Instructor of Church History

Posted at 10:09 AM | Permalink

Friday, February 7, 2014

Christians and Politics

     Each time I moderate the discussion centering around John Calvin, I inadvertently see the same reaction from students.  While some of them find something to emulate from Calvin’s handling of the church in Geneva, the majority of my students responds with the same “you can’t legislate morality” sentiment.  I wonder if I can challenge that sentiment just a bit here.

     I absolutely agree with the understanding that Jesus’ primary function on this earth was the transformation of the heart and not to overthrow the Roman government.  In fact, remember when after the feeding of 5,000 Jesus had to withdraw from the people because He knew that they were going to come and take Him by force in order to make Him a king (John 6:15)?  Certainly, the largest part of that which drove them to want to do so was the fact that they would be the first welfare society on the earth.  After all who wouldn’t want to have a king that can miraculously feed everybody without their doing any work for it?  But I do believe that another reason why Jesus withdrew was because He did not want to engage in a political challenge to Rome, that was not His mission after all.  His primary mission was to offer His life as substitutionary atonement for the sins of humanity and Jesus stayed focused on that.

     Allow me to submit to you that, while we are certainly to emulate Jesus, we must do so intelligently and in the way that is biblically defensible.  As such, it is not valid to say that because Jesus did not get involved in politics, neither should we, for at least two reasons.  First, our political environment is completely different today from that of first century Rome.  There was no context within which a Jew could get involved in the political process of the Roman Empire without being perceived as a threat and ending up crucified. 

 

     Second, our mission on this earth is not to offer our lives as a sacrifice for sin, but to be light and salt in this world (Matthew 5:13-16).  As salt, our presence is to preserve the wicked and sinful generation in which we operate.  I like the way Craig Blomberg expresses this idea as he comments on this passage in The New American Commentary: “Of the numerous things to which salt could refer in antiquity, its use as a preservative in food was probably its most basic function.  Jesus thus calls his disciples to arrest corruption and prevent moral decay in their world (Craig L.Blomberg, Matthew, New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 102). And again, “Christians must permeate society as agents of redemption” (Ibid.). As lights, we are to let Jesus, who is the light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5), shine through us exposing the deeds of darkness and illuminating the rest of the world in pointing the way to God.  Nowhere in Scripture do we have an instruction to limit our saltiness or our light to the church contexts alone.  No, we are to shine brightly in all contexts in which we currently find ourselves. 

 

     We are to share the good news of salvation with the lost and dying world first, and we are to do everything within our power to preserve the moral standards of our society, even including participation in the democratic political processes of our nation.  It doesn’t have to be either or, it can, and, in my opinion, should be both and.  Both light and salt.  Both shine and preserve. Both share the gospel and participate in politics for the purpose of advancing God’s kingdom in every arena. 

 

     We know that in the end it is not going to be our efforts but God Himself who will make all things new, but nevertheless we are not to ever quit trying to do everything within our power to continue spreading preserving influence of the gospel around us.  Including political involvement, whether it may be opining on the current events in light of biblical message, staying abreast of the latest developments in the political arena in order to ascertain their scriptural significance, educating those around us of what biblical values look like, and voting those values.  Withdrawal from the political process in the name of our Christianity in the nation where we can still make a difference is tantamount to restricting our saltiness to the boundaries of our church buildings.  Whatever we do, Blomberg is absolutely right in his warning that “we dare not form isolated Christian enclaves to which the world pays no attention.”[1]

 

- Simon V. Goncharenko, PhD
Adjunct Instructor of Theology and Church History



[1]Ibid, 103.

 

Posted at 9:38 AM | Permalink

Monday, February 3, 2014

On “Churchy Phrases” Scaring Away Millennials

     In Addie Zierman's recent blog, "5 churchy phrases that are scaring off Millennials" she purports to explain why the new generation of adults are leaving the church. She goes on to explain that for many, such as herself, the departure is only a temporary hiatus. In their 30s many are reluctantly returning with families in tow, but not without an attitude. It seems that according to her brief survey of followers on Facebook, they left at 18 because of shallow clichés. Now they want back, but don't want to hear those simplistic catch-phrases anymore. They have been surfing the internet and know better than to have confidence in the Bible and in the God who wrote it. After all, they saw it on the internet--it must be true. For those who are curious, here is the list. "The Bible clearly says…" "God will never give you more than you can handle…" "Love on" (as in, "as youth leaders, we're just here to love on those kids.") Black and white quantifiers of faith, such as "Believer, Unbeliever, Backsliding." "God is in control…has a plan…works in mysterious ways."

     Okay, I grant that these words often precede truly vacuous comments/sermons. I agree that often they are voiced when someone finds themselves in a situation (such as with a grieving parent) where they just don't know what to say and don't know that all the person needs is presence and a tender touch. But, really now…is this the best they can come up with? How shallow is their Christianity that they can abandon God's church--the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, because they hear too many clichés?

     Living beyond three score and ten years may give some advantage here, but it seems to me that these "stats" Addie cites have been around at least as long as I have been alive. I recall the same statistics cited in the 60s bemoaning that young people were leaving the church about the time they went off to college and didn't reconnect until they were married and realized that the church they had been neglecting while they were prioritizing career, relationships, marriage, and children, may just be important once again to establish healthy friendships and to teach Christian truth and values to their children.    

     I know she doesn't want to hear this, especially from an old guy, but a young person's cliché may just be an old saint's short-hand for a worldview perspective that has worked like a road sign to guide them through many a stormy night for longer than Millennials have been alive.

     She complains, "the Bible clearly says…" sounds too assertive to the internet-savvy post-adolescent who has downloaded the shared ignorance pervasive in his world. I was reading the recent interview with the renowned NT scholar, Dale C. Allison concerning the current internet driven rash of Jesus mythicism. Recent skeptics are claiming that a case can be made for the notion that Jesus never really existed. He was created as a sort of midrash on OT narratives. Allison's response was (to paraphrase)," Move on--nothing to see here. The issue is a century old. We studied this in Grad School. It was debated and debunked by scholars a hundred years ago." Before the internet, there were scholars who screened material that was published as serious scholarship. Now, all one needs is a computer, a fertile imagination, and a blank slate. Maybe if we would read the Bible more we might actually discover what it does say. And if we would be considered "scholars," perhaps we should read a few real scholars before we imagine that we belong to the guild.

     Addie scoffs at the saying, "God will never give you more than you can handle." Most people don’t seem to know that it didn't come from the Bible. Perhaps, but 1 Corinthians 10:13 is in the Bible and Deuteronomy 31:8 is in the Bible, and yes, life is more complicated than what this catch-phrase may suggest. Maybe God's purpose is to "break" us. But when a believer is unable to see their way, sometimes the only thing they have is the promise of God's presence and protection. So if the misappropriation of the phrase is problematic, the denial that it is based on biblical truth is equally problematic. 

     I agree that some of the clichés cited can be a bit hollow and maybe even sound a little creepy. So change them! We don't love the people to whom we minister as "objects," but as "subjects." We are agents of God's love. With that we all agree, but to complain about how we "say" this is shallow and immature in the extreme. 

     On that note I wish to make one more comment/observation. A few years ago, The Lighthouse Community Center was formed as two people opened an empty building in the inner city in order to (if you please) "love on" anyone who came through the doors. People who came were lost, they were hungry, and they were homeless. Many suffer from mental illnesses and addictions that have brought them to their present state. We just loved them in concrete ways. We fed them. We clothed them. We sat with them and treated them with human dignity. Some are "believers," and some are "back-sliders." Some are "unbelievers." How else can you say this? We preached the gospel, "using words when necessary." We formed them into a worshipping community. A "church" was born as "believers" began to worship and serve the God they have just come to know and experience in a new way. They know from experience what the consequences of sin are. They already know the sulfuric smell of hell. When they discover the new life in Christ they begin to develop a new mind through daily reading of the Bible, prayer, and in communion with one another. They are not so sophisticated and nuanced in their new faith to be anything but filled with exuberance and joy. The thought of complaining about such silliness as annoying clichés doesn't cross their minds. They are thrilled that despite their situation, God is with them and will never forsake them.

     If Millennials have enjoyed the luxury of surviving a decade and a half of neglecting the church and now they want to re-engage I suggest they take a long hard look at themselves in the mirror. If the church has suffered it isn't always because of those that stayed. Maybe it's because of those who left. If all they want to complain about are the clichés, maybe they should sit behind a dumpster and talk with some of our parishioners. Maybe they should try to get beyond the smell and "love on" people they have never looked in the eye. 

     The new wave of emerging Millennial adults will bring a refreshing change in our churches as they put away childish things and take on the mantle of leadership for the next generation. I promise you that they will create their own clichés at which their children will balk. Paul's words are timely: "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:11-13).

 

- Dan Mitchell, PhD

Professor of Theological Studies

Postedby Joshua Dugan at 1:36 PM | Permalink

Monday, January 27, 2014

Contemporary Evangelism

            Regarding contemporary evangelism, I concur with Dr. Kennedy Adarkwa that the idea of proclaiming the Gospel has become less and less popular in the US. As one considers this trend, we should avoid any type of reasoning that would lead us to think that our contemporaries feel inadequate to proclaim the Gospel, and therefore, proclamation is down.

 

            This anti-evangelical trend has its roots in Satan’s advance in His war against God. Whenever local churches allow Satan and his angels to shape our contemporary culture, Satan takes advantage of the circumstances and develops further his anti-Creator milieu. It is time to wake up from our slumber and start fighting for the lost. If we have not noticed, most churches in the US have become very similar to the Laodicean church as described by Jesus Himself (Rev 3:14-22).

 

            Over the years, this anti-evangelistic trend has become more and more apparent. In many cases, our churches are becoming country clubs that our youth find inept and avoid as they become adults. I believe that the root of the problem is a salvation issue for many. Without a genuine conversion, without being born again, there is no new or renewed creation (2 Cor 5:17), and therefore, there is no genuine concern for the lost. Consider my thoughts from an excerpt taken from Experiencing Jesus’ Joy:

 

Jesus said that only those who had a desire to do the will of the Father would come to know Him (John 7:17; 8:39–47; cf. Matt 25:31–46; Rom 2:13). He also said that there would be some who called Him “lord” who would not be with Him in Heaven because they had not done the Father’s will (Matt 7:21). If someone wants to know God, he or she must be willing to follow His lead. God does not weigh people’s good and bad activities throughout their lives to see if they have done enough good to enter Heaven. Perfection is required and no one other than Christ has lived a perfect life. In reality, God only accepts people into His eternal family who are willing to allow Him to shape them into Jesus Christ’s moral image and obediently follow Him. There is no place in God’s eternal holy family for lukewarm followers of Christ (Rev 3:16). God requires commitment with corresponding action! (p. 151)

 

            In reality, people change when they truly start following Jesus: they want to see the lost saved:

As people consider God, His holiness, and His great love for all, “I am reminded that we all need Jesus as both lord and savior in every aspect of our lives. I know that God will lead all who listen to Him out of an unfulfilled life into one filled with inner peace, joy, and great expectation. In addition, I know that as individuals start listening to God, their lives change for the better immediately and forever. Within a relatively short period of time, their family and friends will be blessed right along with them. There is no greater gift for a parent, spouse, or child than for a loved one to start following Jesus.  . . .  There is nothing more important that any of us can do than to witness about God and His glorious nature to those who are living out their lives on that wide road leading to destruction.” (p. 147)

 

            As we consider this anti-evangelical trend, there is a second key to this alarming trend: many in our local churches think that they are saved yet exhibit none of the attributes of a disciple of Jesus (Luke 14:26-33). Can a person really be saved and not be a follower of Jesus? I do not think so. Consider this from Experiencing Jesus’ Joy:

 

If we would be honest with one another, most of us would admit that we want things our way and want everything to be as easy as possible. From what I see from God’s Word, it takes commitment and effort in order for anything to advance, whether good or evil. From the side of evil, Scripture is clear that Satan has been and will continue to work hard to overthrow God and His children until he is permanently confined in Hell after Christ’s thousand year reign. He will not win, but he is putting as much effort into bringing as many of God’s children with him as possible. . . . If all advancement takes commitment and effort, why do so many think that God, who is fighting on our behalf, wants His children to sit on the sidelines and do nothing? Everything in Scripture teaches that God’s children are to be fully involved in living holy lives and allowing God to lead them in righteous works overcoming evil with good. Yet there are many people who claim to be Christians (Christ-like), who do not live according to God’s holiness nor try to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. These same people will tell you that they are confident that they are going to Heaven when they die. This way of thinking is totally contrary to what God’s Word teaches. . . .  Nowhere in Scripture does God teach that someone can come to Him, pick up a pass into Heaven, ignore the battles going on around them, die physically, and have Jesus escort his or her spirit into Heaven. . . . Satan has sold the world one of His biggest lies since the beginning of the Creation. Many believe that salvation is nothing more than obtaining a pass into heaven for when one dies. This lie causes people to think that they have to wait until they get to Heaven for anything to be better. What a lie! Sanctification, being molded and shaped by God, and good works starts immediately for all who truly start following Jesus (Rom 6:22) (pp. 106-108).

 

- James Joseph, PhD

Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies

Postedby Joshua Dugan at 10:47 AM | Permalink

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Reflection on the State of Evangelism Today

            It is doubtless and well documented that the passion for evangelism has waned in the twenty-first century (Bobby Welch, "Revitalization," in The Southern Baptist Texan, December 16, 2013, p. 7. Welch provides growth status of SBTC Churches in 2012). Some of the reasons given for the decline are not new. It is similar to the question that the ultra-Calvinists posed to William Carey when he was getting ready to launch into world missions in the Orient. Some are saying today that God does not need our help in reaching the lost world. This is a lie from the enemy. If God does not need our involvement then, Jesus would not have come to save us in the first place. He would not have invested His life by choosing disciples to pour His life in them and train them to take the gospel to the world (Robert Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1972), 21). The second reason for the decline in evangelism is that evangelism is hard work. If you want to be a good farmer and reap bountiful harvest, you have to work hard (Dave Earley and David wheeler, Evangelism Is . . . (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2010), 85-91). Third, there are inconveniences in evangelism and today people do not want anything to occupy their time because they already have too much on their plates. Some say that many people are preoccupied with the pressures of life such as job loss, dysfunctional families, etc. However, this is the reason why people need the gospel. Jesus is the one who can restore the broken family and give rest to a person who is under the pressures of life (Matt. 11:28-30). Fourth, some people have rejected the gospel because of past hurts and bad experiences they had with "Christians." This is where believers have to have empathy, listen to their grievances, and become authentic as we offer our support and help. When we do this, the Holy Spirit will help them to overcome their past hurts and open up to Christ's offer of salvation.

           Evangelism is not telling others how bad you were and how good you have become. It is pointing others to the salvific work of Christ. The Scriptures should become our primary weapon in evangelism. However, a believer can share his testimony if he learns to weave Scripture into the testimony and not draw attention to self. Furthermore, prayer should be the context in which evangelism should be carried out. Evangelism is hard work and I am afraid that we are rearing believers today who are lazy and do not want to toil for the Lord. I believe that is why some pastors have kept evangelism at the back burner of the Church.

          The myth and fallacy that many believers have bought into hook, line, and sinker in evangelism is that we are to leave it for the "professionals" (Will McRaney, Jr., The Art of Personal Evangelism (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2003), 197). I do not blame some of the people who come up with this line of explanation or excuse. Some churches do not preach and teach that every believer is an evangelist and that the Great Commission was not for select elite of the Christian faith. Some Christians do not really believe that when a person dies without Christ, he/she goes to hell. We have allowed secular humanism and moral relativism to invade our lives and churches that we do not consider the Bible as the inerrant and infallible word of God. Furthermore, we do not believe in the exclusivity and finality of Christ. If we believe in these things then, we would be driven by love and compassion to share the gospel with others as the first century believers did. One thing we need to understand is that evangelism should become our lifestyle. If evangelism is a lifestyle, we can always have a smooth transition to share the gospel with anyone that we encounter in our lives. That means we have to go our way to build relationships with others. Jesus did that and we must emulate His example.

          There is always a temptation in getting involved in the lives of unbelievers. However, Jesus has set up a perfect model for us. For example, when Jesus accepted the invitation of Matthew (tax collector) and went to dine with him, Jesus knew that there would be other tax collectors there. However, He was not tempted to do anything that would soil His reputation and mission. Yes, the Pharisees accused Him of eating with sinners and tax collectors and yet they missed His motive and mission. Therefore, in our efforts to reach the lost with the gospel, we must know who we are and whose we are. We must understand our mission is to point others to Christ, who is the Fountain of life.

          Many believers do not realize that when we engage in evangelism, we are entering the territory or the domain of Satan. Therefore, there is going to be a fierce battle to be fought. We see this in the Gospels and the Book of Acts. When people reject the gospel message, some believers take it personal and become discouraged. They do not realize that there is a spiritual battle raging. That is why we have to pray and go in the name of Christ and in the power and discernment of the Holy Spirit. The "god of this world has blinded the eyes" of some unbelievers. Therefore, we should pray that their spiritual eyes would be opened so that the Word of God can penetrate their heart and mind.

          I would say that in evangelism we do not even have to be "expert" in the Scripture. The Gerasene demoniac who was healed by Jesus did not know the Scriptures. However, he was able to share with others what Jesus has done in his life (Mark 5). Some Christians give excuses for not sharing the gospel because they do not know the Bible thoroughly. Therefore, one does not have to attend a Seminary or have a theological degree to share the gospel. The love for Christ, and people, and compassion for the lost should be our motivation and passion for sharing the "good news." Therefore, let us lay aside every excuse and objection and go in the name of Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit to share the good news with those who are yet to know our Lord and Savior, who came to seek and to save those who are lost (Luke 19:10).

 

- Kennedy A. Adarkwa, Ph.D.

Instructor of Practical Studies

Postedby Joshua Dugan at 9:33 AM | Permalink


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