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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Significance of Global Bible Translation Now

"Christian faith rests on a divine act of translation: ‘the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us’ (John 1:14). Any confidence we have in the translatability of the Bible rests on that prior act of translation. There is a history of translation of the Bible because there was a translation of the Word into flesh.”

 

-Andrew Walls, The Missionary Movement in Christian History

 

As we watched, the first showing of the Jesus Film in the language of the Dadiya people of northern Nigeria came to a close. Amidst the terrific response, a particular phrase seemed to pass from group to group. Turning to Pastor Illiya, the mother tongue translator who had been the voice of Jesus, I asked what they were saying. He listened: “They are saying Jesus has become a Dadiya man.” Then, as if in his own world, he said it again, very slowly. I responded, “It’s because God allowed you to enable Jesus to speak their language.” He just nodded, amazed. In that moment, I realized just how critical language is to the nexus of our identity and how important it is to God to speak “every tongue” to truly be experienced as Emmanuel.

 

The Bibleless represent a significant portion of our world’s “least of these.”  The languages into which the Scriptures have not yet been brought or in which minimal portions exist are most often the heart languages of marginalized people groups.  Additionally, these languages are often in areas of significant persecution and among unreached and unengaged people groups. The significance for the global Church and missions is clear: Heart language Scriptures provide the optimal basis for extending Christ’s body to where it is not and strengthening the whole Church. What is the significance of translation for us? We get to join in processes which are poised or already in motion and provide tangible experiences of connection to all our graduates with a foundational aspect of pursuing Great Commission while training them as global champions for Christ.

 

Since 1993, an increasing number of Bible translations worldwide have been based on equipping and empowering of “nationals” to do this work. Translation has also been a catalyst for a shift toward working in partnership in missions that is exciting, healthy, growing, and exemplary to the broader Christian community. This was, in part, due to the realization among translation entities that their structures needed to change to accomplish their goal. The degree to which organizations within the Wycliffe family had to, and were willing to, change the way they were working and do so in partnerships, remains one of the most encouraging missions developments I have been privileged to witness firsthand. Today, a Wycliffe Affiliate like the Seed Company partners with over 900 organizations, churches, and national entities. Thus, translation has become increasingly integral to missions today. Evangelism, discipleship, church planting, education, and addressing social/justice issues are built into the structure of translation projects so that God’s Word can have the most immediate impact in a given language and cultural context.

 

Translation of Gods Word will occur in more languages in the next 10-15 years than during any other such time in the history of translation.

 

The state of things is daunting yet encouraging. Over 1 billion people are still Bibleless: lacking the whole Bible in their heart languages. Around 2000 language groups still lack even a single verse of the Bible in their mother tongue. Still, Bible translation is happening faster, more accurately, sustainably and efficiently than ever before. Innovative efforts have made it more integrated into ministry, readily accessible during the translation process, and effectively distributed as translation progresses. God is bringing His Word into the entire world in a way that the translator of the last language to receive Scripture may well be alive today! This generation may see the day when zero languages exist without the Scriptures. If Henry Blackaby is right, that one should look where God is moving and then join Him, this is a movement of God where we should join in fully.

 

Engaging with global missions, Bible translation especially, enhances and increases our understanding, value, awe, and use of God’s Word. The “least of these” are to be learned from, and the Bibleless have so much to teach us. We can be so saturated with exposure to the Scriptures that we often overlook its power. When the Bibleless encounter the Scriptures in their heart language it is new and awesome and exciting! Their joy and love for God from having the Scriptures in their own language can remind us of the joy that God desires in our lives and the overwhelming gift of God’s love that the Scriptures reveal.

 

Reasons for joining the translation movement to end Bible poverty are not limited to vocational leading. We are all missionaries with a neighborhood/city, state, country, and an “end of the earth” we are to be concerned with in being and making lifelong disciples. Strategic short term missions and long term sent missionaries called to other cultures to carry out the Great Commission are both very important. However, in the focus of whether “you or I” are goers or senders there may not be enough on those who are already there because it is their home. Regardless of whether we go or send, we can empower local believers doing the work of global missions and be learners tangibly involved in it. This is certainly true in the world of Bible translation where the majority of translation projects now start with the primary work being done by native speakers partnered with trained translation linguistic consultants.  

 

Since the Scriptures connect with everything we do, what better way to unite our communities than around God’s Word coming alive? Collectively, we can adopt and engage with Bibleless people groups, and together be transformed. As part of the worldwide translation team for those who lack the Scriptures, we can learn, teach, and connect in a unique way to our world – partnering with the "least of these.”

 

David C. Alexander, PhD

Instructor of Church History

Postedby Tiago Souza at 10:20 AM | Permalink

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

On Writing

To Prospective (or Current) Ministerial Students:

 

Whether you’re preparing for the pastorate, to be an evangelist, a church planter, a teacher, a missionary, or something else besides, you find yourself at seminary becoming equipped to fulfill your call. A big part of your job as a student will be to write papers. Up until now, in your undergraduate years for example, writing papers may have seemed like one of those pesky chores that simply had to be marked off your “to do” list. I want to submit that writing papers in graduate school and at seminary can and should become something very different.

 

I don’t claim to be an expert on teaching how to write; I do a fair bit of writing—both books and articles, both scholarly and popular—but I haven’t spent much time teaching writing. That’s my wife’s area, rather than mine, but perhaps I can say some things that will help some of you along in this area. Forgive me for my forthrightness; I’m just going to write what I feel needs to be communicated, and I do it with the sincere desire to help, challenge, inspire, encourage, and correct.

 

First I want to emphasize the importance of writing. As you are seminary students and prospective ministers (in various capacities), I’m sure you understand the importance of such tasks as giving sermons and presentations of various sorts. But especially in this day and age, written communication is of vital importance. You will have to do a great deal of it in your career, whatever particular vocational direction you choose.

 

Beyond the professional requirement of it, writing is one of the most important ways in which we learn to think. Often, if your experience turns out anything like my own, you won’t know exactly what you think about a matter until you’ve sat down and begun committing words to paper. Writing is thinking. The more you write, the better you’ll get at it; the better you write, the clearer a thinker you’ll become. So this matter of writing pertains to nothing less than an aspect of the most important commandment: to love God with all of your minds.

 

The dynamic nature of the writing process reveals something of great importance. You don’t need to have everything figured out in advance before you start writing. Admittedly, you likely won’t be able to generate a finished, final, polished draft as soon as you start to write. Not even professional writers do that. So that’s okay; don’t be afraid of lousy drafts. Some of the best writers write poor first drafts. That is just an inevitable part of the process. The key, though, is not quitting after a first draft. Write, and write again.

 

A paper I wrote in graduate school went through seven drafts before I felt like I finally nailed it. Admittedly, that was a bit much, but don’t be afraid to revise and revise again. Various portions of the book I just finished went, by turns, through multiple dozens of drafts. Don’t be afraid of bad drafts; don’t settle for early drafts; don’t be afraid to keep revising until the job is done. Papers are never finally done, as it happens; one usually just decides to quit. And that’s okay; just don’t quit too soon. First drafts in seminary are rarely done well enough to turn in. This means that last-minute papers should become a thing of the past. You can do better, and you must. Graduate school is a time to take a big step forward in this area.

 

I also see too much reticence to start writing among seminary students. Some students spend a bit too much time obsessing about their paper, trying to get every question answered in advance, preoccupied with the contours and shape and tenor of the project. After following the prompt (and that’s what paper directions are, not a blueprint for every detail and twist to come), I might suggest you start to write. All the inordinate navel-gazing can become an excuse to put the process of writing off interminably.

 

In a class I recently taught, I noticed that, with just a matter of weeks left in the term, some students had yet to write a single word on their paper. It is vital students be willing to dive in, put a stop to procrastination, muster the courage to give it a shot. When a teacher asks for a thesis statement and outline, she expects you to have written something, tried out ideas, to have seen what works and what doesn’t. She is most assuredly not simply asking you to guess and speculate about what you might like to write about. In my own experience with writing, I could never write an outline or even construct a robust, properly delimited thesis statement without doing some serious writing first. If you haven’t realized this before, let this be a lesson you’ll remember in the future.

 

Incidentally, this is not micromanagement on the part of your professor. She knows what good writing involves—both its difficulty and possibility—and she wants to give you the best shot at success. You are still students, and writing is still something you are improving at. Indeed, hopefully, you’ll never stop improving at it. But in seminary you still inhabit the position of a student who has the chance to gain from the expertise of the professor. Honor deadlines and due dates, work incrementally through each stage of the process, and, by all means, take the encouragement, the corrections, the admonitions, and grow the wiser. Don’t bristle, don’t resent the work. If you want to be a leader and a proclaimer of truth and a teacher, you must cultivate teachability yourself.

 

Perhaps some of you harbor fears and doubts about your writing. That’s fine, and perfectly natural; fear provides the opportunity for courage, and can function to remind us of our need for divine assistance. Now, having acknowledged it, get to work and, with God’s help, work through the fear. God doesn’t want you to be timid to the point of its becoming debilitating. That is not humility; it is lack of trust in God to do the work through you. You have got to be a willing, faithful vessel, though. You’ve got to work hard and be willing to risk failure; lack of diligence and faithfulness in this area, however, will only ensure failure.

 

Having said that, you do need to do one very important thing before writing, which reminds me of a troubling trend I have occasionally seen. It is the failure to recognize the importance of the research to be done before you write. When a teacher asks for a bibliography, it’s natural for her to assume that  you actually read the materials you are citing, at least some of them anyway, not just cobbling together a list of sources that strike you as at least tangentially relevant to the topic at hand. And she expects you not just to read the materials, but to take notes, highlight important concepts, underline, discuss, ponder, journal, in short, do active, engaged reading.

 

Teachers hope that something would have taken root—some central idea, some important topic, some engaging question, that mesmerizes your attention, captures your imagination, ignites your passion, and makes you feel like you just have to write about it. A teacher doesn’t expect you to have it all worked out ahead of time; that’s not how it works; but you should have developed at least some inkling, some intimation of a fruitful direction to explore, some guiding theme or motif or at least question.

 

Writing is not just a hoop to jump through. It is a sacred chance to share your thoughts, to glean insights from others on an important question, to enter a dialogue that was going on before you came along and will continue after you’re gone, to attain clarity that you didn’t have before, to become better equipped to minister, and the list goes on and on. This should be a joyous, festive experience for you; instead, too often, it’s like pulling teeth for some, a matter of dread, an unpleasant chore. It can be almost painful to watch. Somewhere along the way I fear that some have lost the sense of what an unmitigated and unadulterated joy writing can be. You simply must recapture such a sense, or catch it for the first time if need be.

 

Have you ever thought about the fact that special revelation has been communicated to us through the written word? God inspired people to write—God worked through their talents and gifts, their minds and writing abilities, even their editing and thought processes, to communicate eternal truths. Obviously none of us will be composing sacred writ, but God’s still in the business of inspiring us to write what He intends. Speaking is often spontaneous and off the cuff; it can be hit and miss. Writing gives you the chance to modify, refine, qualify, revise, polish, texture, and make it as elegant as you’d like it to be, as clear as you can make it, as erudite and eloquent, poignant and powerful as you want.

 

Please, friends, I know you have a lot on your plates; that grad school can feel like an endless litany of requirements and hoops; that you sometimes feel like you hardly have time to breathe. But your faithfulness now is part of your calling. Part of what this requires is that you must come to see the writing process, a central part of your preparation, as a chance at a reprieve from the frenetic pace and harried schedule, a chance to get it right, to attain necessary clarity, to take the time to think an issue through, to be a co-laborer with Christ in producing something that can be a blessing both to you and others. It’s a sacred duty, it’s a privilege, and it’s a joy. Don’t forget that. It’s an opportunity for excellence.

 

David Baggett, PhD

Professor of Apologetics

Postedby Tiago Souza at 10:41 AM | Permalink

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Progressive Embrace of Fallacies

With the culturally proclaimed period of post-modernism, a very negative practice is observable in Progressive Christian apologetics—the embrace of fallacies in order to explain and promote divergent religious principles running contrary to traditional biblical thought.  Thus, it is easy to find the utilization of illogic in the writings and argumentations of theologians and pastors like Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and Matthew Vine, to name a few.  No doubt, most readers and listeners are unaware of the frequency these fallacies, but they occur often and with set purpose, unfortunately.  Thus, this article begins a cursory investigation of several different key cultural speakers and thinkers in Progressive Christianity, and examines the sophistic tools they use to sway readers and listeners in regards to key doctrinal ideas.

 

The “Transcript” of Matthew Vines’ video on gay Christianity (see matthewvines.com) is a very clear example of this embrace of illogic in progressive Christianity. Mr. Vines makes an eloquent, emotional, personal argument defending homosexual activity for the gay Christian, meandering through biblical passages that one-sidedly condemn the activity, utilizing specific Christian ethics and verses to affirm gay relationships, but unfortunately implementing multiple misconstructions and inaccuracies throughout his testimony to justify his position.

 

Vines’ discourse begins with a Strawman Fallacy, setting up a universal dichotomy that is not proven in order to promote his agenda. Vines states, “The most common themes voiced by those who support changing traditional church teaching on homosexuality are those of acceptance, inclusion, and love, while on the other hand, those who oppose these changes express concerns about sexual purity, holiness, and most fundamentally, the place of Scripture in our communities.”  So, only pro-gay Christians are loving, inclusive, and accepting; anti-gay Christians are legalists and literalists who have an exclusive vision of individualism in the Christian community? Such a conclusion comes across as diluted and cursory (and ironic), considering the artificial parameters presented by Vines.

 

Secondly, Vines points to evidence throughout his defense that only supports his pro-gay position while casually dismissing other truths that refutes his assertion; this is known as a Confirmation Bias Fallacy.  For example, he points to six passages that condemn homosexuality but then immediately points out that they are six verses out of 31, 000; however, there are over a dozen verses that specifically condemn the practice and a case could be made for over a dozen more that indirectly refute Vine’s position.  A more important question is how many biblical verses directly and specifically affirm the gay lifestyle for the Christian and the non-Christian (answer: none).  Moreover, I suspect if one biblical verse stated, “Don’t bully homosexuals,” that would be a sufficient proof for Progressives.

 

Another one of Vines’ illogical habits is the Confusion of Correlation and Causation Fallacy.  One of his more clear inconsistencies is evident when he states, “But everyone has a sexual orientation – and it isn’t just about sex,” which is like saying everyone has elbows, but they’re not connected to their arms. Additionally, he writes, “Family is not about sex, but for so many of us, it still depends upon having a companion, a spouse,” and yet, he is arguing for gay Christians to be able to express themselves sexually in a relationship with same-sex partners. Friendship is an integral part of Christianity, and no traditionalist is demanding that gay Christians not have friends or family in their lives.

 

Additionally, condemning traditional Christian sexuality morality, Vines claims, “Gay people are told to avoid romantic relationships entirely,” which is false. Gay people are told to avoid romantic relationships with members of the same sex alone.  All Christians are told to avoid all unhealthy, lustful, romantic relationships, regardless of their gender orientation, and same-sex relationships are completely acceptable provided that they are based on Agape love and not sexual Eros alone.   The relationship of David and Jonathon versus David and Bathsheba are fantastic examples of this notion. Vines’ assertion is that gay Christians just want what heterosexual Christians want, but a more accurate comparison would be gay Christians want what adulterous Christians want, which are relationships forbidden in the Bible as destructive and unhealthy.

 

One of Vine’s biggest false assertions is that, because of his gay orientation, “according to the traditional interpretation of Scripture, as a Christian, I am uniquely excluded from that possibility for love, for companionship, and for family.” Ultimately, Vines is saying that gay Christianity is not about sex; however, he also says that gay Christians are unhappy because they cannot have sexual relationships with same-sex lovers.  They are deprived of “human dignity” because they cannot have culturally-affirmed same-sex lovers, which is in their nature.  Again, using this reasoning, a heterosexual person with a natural lust-problem would be prevented from experiencing love, companionship, and family if he or she was unable to express him or herself in an adulterous relationship outside of marriage, which is absurd.  Love and companionship is easily and regularly found outside of sexual activity; in fact, it is more of the norm in society than sexual relationships.

 

Vines continues, “By holding to the traditional interpretation, we are now contradicting the Bible’s own teachings: the Bible teaches that it is not good for the man to be forced to be alone, and yet now, we are teaching that it is.”  Of course, most theologians and biblical scholars would note that Adam was lonely before he and Eve were aware of their sexuality.  Thus, God gave Adam a friend to tend to his emotional/intellectual--but not sexual--needs.  Sexuality was not an issue until the first couple went against the word of God and brought destruction upon themselves for another natural, innocuous activity, but one rightly prohibited by God.  Ironically, like Adam and Eve, Vines wants his listeners to think that gay Christianity is “good fruit,” acceptable to God despite it being prohibited clearly and unequivocally in both the Hebrew and Greek scriptures.

 

The sorrow of this situation (and what Vines misses overall in his discourse) is that intimacy is defined by God in the Bible and is not defined by sexuality alone, culturally, but that is what Vines is trying to do (and not do) at the same time—dismissing the Word of God and proclaiming sexual needs to be quintessential for fulfillment in life.  Vines utilizes other fallacies to win his argument (appeal to ignorance, argument from authority, begging the questions, composition fallacy, etc), and although his intentions are sincere and his goals may be noble, in the end, his illogical, self-serving arguments negate the authority of his efforts. One cannot build a true bridge on false beams; it will collapse, unavoidably, with the weight of reality.

 

In our modern world of Sacro-Egoism (radical religious individualism), self-serving fallacies are commonly used by Progressives to promote their radical religious agenda, illogically appealing to the personal, emotional wants and needs of people, while ignoring the biblical, evidential facts established by God in the Holy Scriptures long ago.  And while gay Christians’ wants, needs, and human dignity should definitely be important to all Christians if we are to love one another as Jesus commanded, using fallacies to appease their suffering is just a placebo, at best. What every human being needs, regardless of sexual orientation, is a right relationship with God that transcends our humanity.  Finding that right path to emotional well-being and healing begins and ends in truth alone.

 

John S. Knox, PhD

Adjunct Instructor of Apologetics

Postedby Tiago Souza at 10:43 AM | Permalink

Friday, March 6, 2015

Understanding My Position in Leadership

John the Baptist is an example of a leader who knows his position. The fact is that being in a leadership position is easy for us to take control and to forget that we are only servants. In John 3, we see that John the Baptist could have easily taken a position it did not belong to him, and lie to his followers and the rest of the people. Nevertheless, he did not fall into this temptation.

 

As leaders, we are always exposed to different temptations, being one of them, the pride of leadership. It is important, therefore, to understand our position in leadership. In order to do this, we should take into consideration the following guidelines from John 3:27-30.

 

Understand that what you have has been given to you by God.

 

In 3:27 John is referring to Jesus, saying that Jesus could not claim anything unless God had anointed him. In other words, Jesus could not claim to be the Christ, the anointed one, unless this was true. In the case of a leader, it is important for him or her to understand that his/her abilities are God given. To recognize this fact serves as a continual reminder that we are who we are because of the Lord our God.

 

Have a clear understanding of your calling.

 

John clearly understood his calling, to go ahead of Jesus (Jn. 3:28-29). This did not mean to be above, but only to prepare the way of the Lord (Mt. 3:2). In similar way, a leader must always remember that his/her calling is to serve and prepare the way to lead people to the Lord. It does not matter the level of influence a leader has, it might be a large circle of influence or a small one, the fact is that a leader must never forget that he or she has been called by the Lord God.

 

Seek to be continually transformed in your character.

 

John understood that Jesus would gain more and more popularity with the people, and that he needed to diminish (Jn. 3:30). This required a test of his character. A leader must understand that with time and personal achievements, his/her fame will increment, but he/she must transform his/her character in order not to confuse himself/herself and forget who called him/her. This requires a change; a transformation of oneself until Christ be formed in us and we reach his full stature (Eph. 4:13). Let us remember that Paul admonishes us to transform our minds (Rom. 12:2), which is something we do by letting the right thoughts into our minds, and rejecting those which my lead us astray from glorifying the Lord.

 

The irony of the Kingdom is clearly demonstrated by John the Baptists which is that if we want to be great leaders, we must be servants of all.

 

Augusto Rodríguez, PhD

Adjunct Instructor of Global Studies

Postedby Tiago Souza at 12:34 PM | Permalink

Friday, February 27, 2015

Evangelical Environmentalism

     The task of systematic theology is, in part, to contemporize the Christian message. The truths of God's word are never out of date, but as the societies in which Christians live change, they raise new issues which must be addressed by believers. In recent days, more Christians have seen the need to address environmental concerns. While this is an appropriate move, it should be grounded in a biblical understanding of God's standard and purpose in creation.

      The detailed account of the seven days in which God made heaven and earth begins with land that is t?hû w?b?hû, "uninhabitable wilderness," (Gen 1:2) and ends with creation that is "very good" (Gen 1:31). God's work over these six days is devoted to the task of bringing about this transformation. God's standard for a good creation should guide the Christian's environmental concern.

      The goodness which God sees in his creation is often understood to be generic or moral. However, the details of the creation account point to a rather specific standard which God has for his creation. On day one, the light specifically is deemed good, but not the darkness. On day two, in which sky and sea are divided, God deems nothing good. On day three, the appearance of dry land when the seas are gathered is deemed good. Other specific elements which God dubs good are vegetation; the sun, moon, and stars in the sky for "signs, seasons, days, and years" (1:14); birds, sea creatures, and land animals; and gold. Most notably absent from the list of "good" things in creation is mankind, even Adam in his condition before the fall.

     What criteria runs through God's judgment of his creation? The answer is something like, "That which is hospitable to human habitation." Neither the sky nor sea are home to humans, so nothing on day two is good. While I am something of a "night owl," I must admit that the darkness of night is truly home to beasts, not mankind. Thus God dubs light, not darkness, "good." Man himself, as the standard to which creation is held, cannot be deemed good. And who does Moses believe, as he writes, will use the sun, moon, and stars for signs, seasons, day, and years? For whom is the gold of Havilah good? It is humans who will make use of these elements of creation, by God's intent and design, and it is their fitness for this use which makes them good. God's final appraisal of his creation is that he has made it "very good," very fit as a whole for the humans he has made and no longer a wasteland of water and darkness.

       This corresponds with God's later appraisal of land. When he brings forth the children of Israel from Egypt, he does so to bring them into a good land, good in that it flows with milk and honey, that is, good in that it offers bountiful provision for the Israelites (Exod 3:8). Likewise, the spies who search the land to see if it is good see its goodness in the same feature (Num 14:7-8). Time and again, it is dubbed a "good land" throughout Deuteronomy, and is described as "a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley and vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of oil olive, and honey, a land wherein you shall eat bread without scarceness. You shall not lack any thing in it, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you may dig brass" (Deut 8:7-9). Note that God's vision of their prosperity is not primitive. He conceives of the Israelites farming, mining, and working metal. God's measure of a good land, in creation, exodus, and conquest, is one in which humans have what they need to prosper and thrive in civilization.

      Some may question this understanding of the goodness of creation, for it is decidedly anthropocentric. One can see a parallel to it, however, in Paul's reading of the Pentateuch. In 1 Corinthians 9, he is discussing the propriety of ministers earning a living through the gospel ministry. To support his point, he quotes Deut 25:4, "Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn," and continues, "Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written." Note that this goes beyond what is necessary to apply the text to ministers of the gospel. He could easily argue from lesser to greater, that if oxen should eat from their labors so should men. But he does not read the text this way. He understands his first question to have an absolute "No" as answer. God has written this "wholly" for humanity. This is a bold assertion; a command to treat animals well presumably has their well-being at least somewhat in mind. Yet Paul rejects any such reading. The only proper way to read the commands of the Pentateuch is anthropocentrically. Both God's speech in creation and his words in the account thereof should be read likewise. All that is spoken by God is spoken for the good of humanity.

      The Christian should always seek to give voice to God's view of things. And in His view, the goodness of his creation is its fitness for use by and prosperity of humanity. None of this is to suggest that evangelicals should not have a voice in environmental matters. Much of what is done to the earth, including some of what is done in the name of the environment, is not conducive to human wellbeing. But the evangelical voice should be clear that this goal is above all others in God's eye, and thus in theirs.

 

Michael Chiavone, PhD
Assistant Professor of Theology

Postedby Tiago Souza at 11:26 AM | Permalink

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Sacro-Egoism in Pacific Northwest Blogs

I wonder what Apostle Paul would think of the modern Christian world.  In 1 Corinthians 9, the great evangelical innovator states, “I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.”  For Paul, nothing mattered more than reaching people for Christ, and he did not let social conventions get in the way.

Still, the advancements of the past decade have brought technological innovations never before dreamt of by the ancient Christian saints.  What used to take months to share across the globe now can be transmitted in milliseconds.  The limitation of paper and pen has been swept away with the availability of electronic media in all its amazing, creative formats. More and more, the “People of the Book” have become the people of the E-book and the Internet.

Blogging, which was once the solitary voice of youthful hipster dudes and dudettes, is now accepted by most pastors and Christian laypeople as a viable and effective way to discuss religious thought. In fact, blogging is a hallmark of Pacific Northwest culture, and these online authors embrace the medium with enthusiasm and purpose that in many ways echoes the sociological voice of modernity.

In my PhD study of religiosity in the West (U. of Birmingham, 2009), I discovered that most believers in Oregon (at least) approach faith and religion as radical individualists—what I termed, “Sacro-Egoism” (Implicit Religion, 2008).  There definitely are other methods to religion countering this extreme individualism--Institutional (Sacro-Clericalism), Communal (Sacro-Communalism), and Mystical (Sacro-Theism)—but the Sacro-Egoistical voice is evidentially the most prevalent in blogs from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia. Reading through many blogs from the Pacific Northwest reveals not only an enhanced religious authority of the individual, but also a personal embrace of spirituality and mystery, a negative approach to the institution of church, and a radical look at communal structure of religion.

Regarding other blogging types, a Sacro-Clerical blog would take a traditional approach to religion and give the ultimate authority to the church institution, a Sacro-Communal blog would suggest that ultimate authority of thought and interpretation rests within the local group of believers, and a Sacro-Theistic blog would focus on mystical encounters and direct divine communication in religious matters. For sure, blogs of these types exist, but they are more the exception than the norm, currently.

Perusing through popular blogging sites such as christandcascadia.com, patheos.com, and relevantmagazine.com, one can easily and repeatedly find examples of Sacro-Egoism within the various blogs.  In these online communities, both language and topics demonstrate a radical, personalized approach to faith and interpretation.  Bloggers consistently utilize words such as “I,” me,” etc. to present their own authoritative take on matters of doctrine, scripture, and praxis.   Moreover, the authors are unabashedly willing to share their unique voices and understandings on religiosity, and they invite discussion on such matters, creating a milieu of accessibility and theological conversation.

For example, one blogger from relevantmagazine.com writes, “If God gave you a dream, you should pursue it. You should fight for it. Don’t ignore a dream God has given you. Your dream matters.”  Another states, “I want to be a part of finding a way to live together with deep differences in a pluralistic society. And I want to do it in ways that allow me to reflect into the world the deep sense of divine love and grace I’ve experienced and on which I am entirely dependent.”

Still, the blogs can be edgy and provocative, and easily demonstrate the key characteristics of Sacro-Egoism: “Believers” pick and choose their avenues of faith rationally in line with their personal vision for an inclusive society; they are more open to religious options, but more closed to religious institutionalism; and they uphold their personal authority and rights of religious expression and belief above all else.

From patheos.com, one blogger writes, “Every time I see some smiley TV preacher talk about God’s plan for me or hear Sara Palin say something irretrievably mean and stupid about poor people, every time I pass an embarrassing billboard featuring Jesus and a fetus, I totally get why reasonable people steer clear.” Still another proclaims, “But the church is changing. Because I AM the church. And I know many, many, many parents just like me. The church is shifting. I’m beyond grateful that God is ushering in a new day and age. Legalism, fundamentalism, literalism – all of it – is on its way out. The next generation will not tolerate it. God is refreshing the truth of unconditional love to all people.”

Regarding the future, Anastasia Karaflogka’s essay, “Religion on – Religion in Cyberspace” (Predicting Religion, 2003), suggests that the evolution and nature of spiritual quests and religious knowledge will only increase in this technological age, and that it could have both a corrosive and a creative effect on society. She states that religion on the Internet will continue to cultivate arenas “. . . where people can ‘meet’ to interact; to exchange ideas, knowledge, information and experience; to give substance to creative, imaginative and innovative new concepts and ideas; and to relocate, re-evaluate and deconstruct old concepts and ideas in a new setting.”   Blogs are an effective medium to accomplish this notion.

Still, there are some dangers to blogging. In 1 Corinthians 9, the Apostle Paul spoke of the freedoms and rights of the Christian; however, he also spoke of the dangers of self-reliance and self-delusion. As he explained,  Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. . . but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”

As technology continues to provide a worldwide platform for all people of faith to voice their personal opinions, the power of cyberspace and blogging will continue to grow and influence religious thought, church philosophy, and accepted doctrine.  Blogs can be a wonderfully innovative way to open up discussions of God, but they can also be vain and vacuous soapboxes of empty value without proper humility and purposefulness. 

The Apostle Paul admonished readers to “run in such a way, as not without aim;” blog authors and readers alike should heed his advice regarding this powerful and personal avenue of evangelism in the twenty-first century.

John S. Knox, PhD
Adjunct Professor of Apologetics

and Heather Harney (Student, GFU)

Postedby Tiago Souza at 9:45 AM | Permalink

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

Postedby Tiago Souza 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

Postedby Tiago Souza 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

Postedby Tiago Souza 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
 

Postedby Tiago Souza at 9:25 AM | Permalink


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