Tuesday, November 30, 2004

What are you good at?

For the five of you who read this and never respond, sorry for the delay.


Anyway, I was thinking about this question, "what are you good at?" and was pondering it as I applied it to pastoral ministry.
Unfortunately, and fortunately pastors are human beings, therefore, imperfect and unable to be the master of all disciplines. As someone who seems to be headed to the ministry in a few years, it made me wonder what am I good at and what will people know that I am not good at?

Face it, some pastors aren't great preachers. They bore and lull you to that near state of sleep and at the moment you're off to the land of Nod, the sermon is over. After you're awake you remember that the good Reverend is coming to lunch at your house today. Later that day, you remember why you love your pastor. He's a pastor. He knows how to meet you where you are and knows how to counsel and shepherd you.
Or how about this, some pastors are great preachers, but they just don't have great one on one skills, or they forget your name. They're dynamic, love the gospel, but still they're not quite as personal, or extroverted as we'd like. We make complaints or comments about him on the way to worship, then when we leave, we remember why we love him. Our lives our changed.

These are just two contrasts that come to my mind. If I have the time this week, I may expound on this in a more "theological" or "academic" way.


Book of the day, The Doctrine of God by Gerald Bray.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Performance Based Grace

I remember hearing the old acronym used to explain grace and thinking about how appropriate it was, and I'm one of those who really don't like acronyms because they come across as forced, or silly, but alas, this one works.
G- God's
R- Riches
A- At
C- Christ's
E- Expense

Now, here's the question, do most Christians really view grace this way?
I know some people are nodding their heads, "oh yes", it's those people who don't really believe in salvation by sovereign grace that don't view grace properly. Well, that's not what I mean. I mean this: as a Christian, do I really view my salvation as being based upon Christ? Let's break this down in real life. Have you ever said, heard or thought this, "well, I knew I was going to have a bad day because I didn't read my Bible this morning." What is that doing? It's basing your spiritual outlook on you, and not on God. You're making the grace that you need for the day, which is more than abundant in Christ, based upon your performance of a work. Granted, it is a good work and Christians should desire to study Scripture, but our day, or our status before God is not based upon what we do or don't do.
Now there could be someone thinking that I am getting at a notion of cheap grace, which leads to one being free to do whatever they want. Well, sorry to disappoint because that's not what I mean.

What I am getting at is that often times, good, conservative Christians, of all types of denominations and flavors, base their standing before God on what they do, so when they sin, or when they aren't "good enough" that day because they didn't perform a spiritual discipline, they believe that somehow God is looking at them differently; God isn't seeing them through the lens of Christ. Somehow the grace bestowed upon the sinner at salvation isn't good enough anymore. Well, this doesn't cut it. You cannot find this concept in scripture.
The Bible teaches over and over again that believers share a union with Christ, and because of this God ALWAYS views His children as His children. He does not view them based upon their sin, based upon their failure, but he views them based upon their union with Christ.
When a Christian fully understands this, that temptation to view themselves as a "lesser" Christian because of their performance is squelched because the Christian can confidently say, "I am in union with Christ, and based upon Christ's work, I am a child of God and that will never change!"

Book of the day Saved by Grace by Anothny Hoekema.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

One of my passions

I believe when I am finished with my Master of Divinity program at Covenant Seminary that I will move on to another institution to pursue a PhD in Church History.
Why? Two reasons for today.
1. The obvious, those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. I believe that it is a necessity to understand where we came from, what we dealt with, where we have failed, where we've done well and what we've rejected. That is a primary thrust of anyone who is fascinated by history, even Church history. For instance, most evangelicals know that Jehovah's Witnesses (JW) has been around since the late 1800's or so, and basically know various ways to combat their obvious heresy. But do most evangelicals relize that the heresy of the JW's is simply a recapitulation of Arianism which was dealt with in a Church counsel in 325 AD? If knows this information, then there is a huge resource to turn to, that is, how did our Church forefathers deal with this? A door is suddenly opened for the present day Christian, and suddenly the verse in Ecclesiastes bears itself out as a reminder that "there is nothing new under the sun."

2. My second reason is to answer the "why" of history. Why did certain things happen, why are things the way they are now? I am particularly intrigued by 19th century American Church History because it plays such a huge role in today's climate just by the simple turn of events which transpired. Think of a few key events from that century. You have the second Great Awakening beginning in 1803, the U.S. Civil War in 1861-1865 and the Reconstruction which followed, the rise of critical scholarship in the U.S. in the 1880s, and the list goes on and on. Those are just a few key events which most people would recognized, but what I am more concerned with are issued behind some of those events. For instance, did the Reconstruction period in the South lead to the rise of 20th century Southern Fundamentalism as a reaction from percieved Northern aggression, both socially and theologically? Is there something to that? Or what about this one, where did the Presbyterian Church (USA), when it was still theologically conservative, go wrong in the Westward expansion and go from the largest denomination with the most influence to having almost no presence in the "Old West" time period. Why?
I think that's what drives me, that old question which sticks in my mind as a read a date and fact, "why?", "why?", "why?"

Book of the day, which I highly reccomend is Reckoning With the Past: Historical Essays on American Evangelicalism from the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals, edited by D.G. Hart.

Monday, November 15, 2004

What's the point part 2

Continuing the motif of why seminary is a good idea.

6. Seminary teaches counseling, at least most seminaries do. Counseling is not something someone can "just figure out". Yes, there are Biblical examples for confrontation and dealing with situations, but there is more to counseling than just turning to a chapter or verse. Now, some people may cringe because I just said that, but there are legitimate areas in which the Bible does not address specific situations which someone we may counsel will encounter. Now, having said that, there are general Biblical principals to apply, but they are rather hard to deal with on our own. This is where training comes in. Most good, accredited seminaries have counseling professors who are licenced counsellors, or psychiatrists, etc, and those are the folks who are best able to teach you how to apply solid principals to a broken marriage, or someone struggling with homosexuality BEFORE you deal with that situation with no experience whatsoever. I can say more, but I will not.

7. Seminaries use specialists. A well staffed seminary will have professors who have expert knowledge in specific fields. For instance, at Covenant Seminary, we have specific professors who specialize in Church History, New Testament Studies, Old Testament Studies, Biblical Theology, Systematic Theology, Practical Theology, Counseling and so on. Why? Well, because one professor cannot be an expert in everything. This is one advantage to seminary. When you attend seminary you are surrounded by these people who can answer almost any question you could possibly ask because in each type of class you have someone who is an expert in what they are teaching you.

8. Seminary is not just academic. In a typical conservative evangelical seminary, you will not simply find stuffy academics. That is an urban legend. Now, that is not to say there are seminaries which employ professors with no practical ministry experience, but if one takes the time to look at a typical seminary like a Southern Seminary, Covenant Seminary, Westminster, or Reformed Theological Seminary, if you search the bios of the professors, more often than not, you see that a lot of the professors (all for Covenant) have pastoral experience and are not solely academics, even if they are Oxford or Cambridge educated.

9. Seminary builds networks and lifelong friends. Face it, if you're headed to the pastoral ministry, you will have a hard time cultivating "real" friendships with people in your congregation who really let you know who they are, or who really want to know you. Most people want their pastor to be perfect and most pastors don't get to see the imperfect goings on of someone's home because it would embarrass someone to think that their pastor knew "how they really were". This is one area seminary comes in. For me, I am making friendships with people who really know me and I really know them. We know each others thoughts and don't think less of one another. In five years, if I'm having a problem, I know I can pick up the phone and call them and talk to them about it. In ten years, if one of them is looking for a pastorate, they can call me and we can all call our friends and be able to network together. It goes on and on and on and on.

10. Seminary teaches you things you don't agree with, and things you may have never been exposed to. Do you know what Open Theism is? What about the Wellhausen Theory? What about the New Perspective on Paul? What if you've never heard of Wellhausen and you preach a sermon on Exodus and someone in your congregation walks up to you afterward and says, "I took an intro to religion class at OU and the professor said that the part of Exodus you preached on wasn't written until after 900AD" and then goes on to give you the citations from his textbook for why that opinion is valid to him. What do you do? Well, seminary exposes you to contraversies and heterodoxy, and gives you the tools and resources to be able to have a working knowledge of many of the ways culture and source critics attempt to undermine Christianity. If someone is faced with questions they cannot answer and yet they are looked at as the leader of a Church, what sort of credibility do you think that gives?

For now...those are my thoughts on the importance of seminary.

Here's a link to a paper by a professor on the need for seminary.

Book of the day is English Standard Version Translation of the Holy Bible.


Friday, November 12, 2004

What's the point?

I've been asked that question before with regards to seminary studies. Some people are firmly against the notion that seminary would be beneficial with regards to the pastoral ministry for a variety of reasons ranging from "you can't find it in the Bible" to "it's purely an intellectual exercise which doesn't truly help you minister".
How would I respond to this, especially as a seminarian?
I think the answer is complex and I will list some of my reasons for viewing formal training for the ministry as something which should be strongly encouraged, if not required.

1. Seminary teaches humility. When I stepped on campus, I truly thought I knew a lot of theology, could defend my positions well, and had a good grasp of Scripture. Well, the problem was that there were 150 or so guys just like me who enrolled that semester, of which we all found that our knowledge was barely the tip of the iceburg, thus driving this cold reality that what we thought we knew was just a drop in the bucket.

2. Seminary sharpens your tools. When one is required to read 100-300 pages a week, write two papers, work on a sermon, prepare for quizes, and be able to understand it all; it causes you to learn how to cover vast materials in a short manner, and to prioritize better.

3. Seminary teaches you more about God. You are surrounded by Godly people and you are so immersed in God's word that you begin to see it in a new light. It's just amazing to learn more of God's character, attributes, revelation, etc.

4. Seminary gives you the chance to be taught. Face it. If you're going into the pastoral ministry, seminary is the last "real" time in your life where you sit in the pew, so to speak, and have doctrine and truth presented to you, and people ministering to you, before you go out and spend your life in ministry.

5. Seminary teaches hermeneutics. What's that? How to interpret texts!!! So many pulpits are filled by men who lack the basic concept of interpretation of Scripture, that it leaves many Christians unfed spiritually because they either recieve fluff, or heavy handed things which are not truly based in a valid interpretation of the text.

More to come........

Book of the day is Exegetical Fallicies by D.A. Carson.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

A must have book

One day I will put out a list of must have books for anyone who wants to learn more about theology, preaching, cultural issues, hermeneutics, Church History, commentaries, et cetera. Right now, I think I do an okay job with my book of the day, which believe it or not, are made up of books I actually have read (maybe not all of that book in the case of B.B. Warfield's works) with only two exceptions that I am aware of at this point.

Anyway, there is one book that so far has been one of the most helpful books with regards to studying the New Testament. What is this book? It's An Introduction to the New Testament by D.A. Carson, Douglas Moo and Leon Morris and it has been such a huge help in understanding contextual issues surrounding the 27 books of the New Testament, as well as textual and authorship issues as well.

Each chapter is a concise breakdown of the context of the book of the New Testament, then it is broken down to various interpretations with regards to textual issues, or the reason for writing the book, then a decision is actually made for how the authors believe one should view a particular issue, for example, is 2 Corinthians one letter, two letters, or is it really three, and there are evidences and plenty of footnote work to get one started on really great research. It also gives the history of the text, as well as when and why the book was adopted into the Canon.

But what about for preaching? This book is great for that. With the brief look at context, overarching themes and other "difficult" issues which are addressed in this book, it is handy, in fact, it should be one of the first books looked to when preaching a New Testament passage, in my opinion. Another thing that is especially helpful with the social context highlights, is that this book can actually curtail some of the myths which are passed down due to poor research.
One huge example is this: how many times have you been told in a sermon something to the effect of "You see in Corinth, those people were a highly sexualized culture. There was even a temple to Diana with 1,000 temple prostitutes. So, what we see in Corinthians is Paul writing to this church in the middle of a city full of sex and prostitution." You get my point. But here's the deal, there was a temple to Diana with 1,000 prostitutes, which was destroyed about 100-200 years before Paul was writing to the Corinthians. The current temple in the context of Paul's life was barely larger than the average person's living room and kitchen, so there were not 1,000 prostitutes to worry about. Also, further archiological research into the writings and times of Corinth at the day lead one to the conclusion that sex wasn't the overarching theme of Corinth, but money, power, and getting ahead in life were.
This is just one example of the benefits of this great book. I could keep listing more, but I think you get my point.

Book of the day An Introduction To The New Testament by Carson, Moo and Morris.




Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Tough

It's tough being involved in interpersonal conflict when you really have no control over the situation.
There's a situation at work where a person is likely to lose their job today, and while I believe it is just to have this person terminated because of their poor work ethic and general bad attitude, there is a side of me that hurts because I know of the personal needs in this person's life and I wish there was a way I could help the situation.
I have tried to reach out as best I can with the Gospel, but have basically been met with a "that's good for you" attitude. I wish I could help more than I have been able to and more than I believe I will be able to help and it's tearing me up.
Mostly, because I like to be in control and be the person who discovers the perfect solution to the problem. And my other reasoning is that I see a life that is spiraling downward and out of control, and mine is not and I know why my life is not out of control and I know what can put this person's life back in control. Not keeping their job, but having a relationship with Christ. It's so tough to see firsthand the effects of wrong decisions based on an unChristian worldview and not be able to fix it.
I do know that this person thinks I have a good Christian testimony and I have been able to share a little with this person, and I question if I have done enough, but I know that I have done all that I have been able to do so I must trust God to send someone to water the tiny seed I have planted.

Book of the day How Long, O Lord; Reflections on Suffering and Evil by D.A. Carson.

Monday, November 08, 2004

10 years....

Ten years ago, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in Louisville, KY, and Covenant Theological Semiary (CTS) in Saint Louis, MO both hired new Presidents. SBTS hired a young man named Al Mohler, and CTS hired a young man named Bryan Chapell. Both men were younger than most would expect a seminary president to be and both were taking the helm of their seminaries during a time period of low enrollment and for SBTS, the turmoil of liberalism.

Throughout this time period, both seminaries grew rapidly. SBTS was at 700 students in 1994 and today the enrollment is 2,200, which makes it one of the top five largest seminaries in the United States. CTS was facing an enrollment of around 100 when Dr. Chapell took the helm and today the enrollment is 1,000, which makes CTS the twelfth largest seminary in the United States.

But what is the secret of these two men? What is the secret of Dr. Mohler and what is the secret of Dr. Chapell?
From what I have read of their own writings, I believe the biggest secret is their trust in the authority of Scripture. Both men bleed Bible and they love the Word of God and you can tell that it defines their life.
Another secret is their embracing their grounding in the historical roots of their traditions. Mohler is a Baptist and has a good grasp of his heritage, and though he is deemed contraversial for doing so, he has stayed true to historic Southern Baptist teachings.
Chapell is a Presbyterian (PCA) and he is faithful to the Presbyterian heritage he became a part of while a seminary student in the 1970s.
Lastly, both teach grace, grace and more grace. This is not to say they teach "cheap grace", but they both stand on the sovereign grace of God and believe that God is in control, guiding history for His purposes, and both men teach that grace is something which should be an emphasis of teaching, doctrine and life.

Anyway, enough rambling for the day and this really is an odd thing to talk about, but in reading lately, I just thought the resemblence between Drs. Mohler and Chapell to be striking.

Book of the day Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges.




Friday, November 05, 2004

Happy Birthday B.B. Warfield

Today would be B.B. Warfield's 153rd birthday, and if we were in Old Testament times, maybe he'd be around to celebrate this and eat some cake and ice cream. But he's not, he passed away in 1921, and left behind a great legacy of which the Church has been able to benefit from.
Warfield, along with A.A. Hodge, was one of the first to use the term "plenary" inspiration with regard to Scripture. During the time Warfield was teaching at Princeton, theological liberalism was coming to America, mostly from German schools of thought, but it was internal as well, and now the Bible was being deemed as not really authoritative and not really inspired by many in the academic field. With this being the challenge Christians faced, Warfield took source criticism head on and wrote many polemical articles, and most notably, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible.

B.B. Warfield was a man who committed his life to the authority of Scripture and the purity of the Church in doctrine and practice, and we all benefit from that today.

Book of the day The Works of B.B. Warfield.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

what a week

It's been really busy scholastically as well as nationally. Obviously, we all know what happened this week, but that's really not what I am completely concerned with at this moment.

I have a sermon for my homiletics class coming up next Tuesday. What is odd is the fact that this is the first time I have not had the sermon mostly finished the week before. Today, I will begin putting thought to paper since I am required to turn in a manuscript for the purposes of the class.

My text will be 2 Samuel 9, where David shows kindness to Mephibosheth, Saul's grandson, and it has been interesting studying the passage. But as with all scripture, what's the application? I have had a tough time in that area. The easy road to take in the sermon would be to moralize it and say, "David was kind to Mephibosheth, so you be like David and be kind to the Mephibosheth's in your life". That may sound good to some, but that's completely moralistic and doesn't provide the empowerment for a Christian to show compassion. The truer meaning is that the anointing of God was upon David's life and David's compassion was a result of a heart that was changed by God and was longing to do what was right, whether it was the cultural norm or not. And the danger of saying, "be like david" is that two chapters later, David has sex with his friend's wife and then kills his friend. I don't think we want to be like David.

Then there's a little bit of what some call type and shadow in this passage as well. I am leery of typology because a lot of time it seems to be a stretch to "find Christ" in the text. But in this passage we do see a king who reaches out to one who should be his enemy, and the king graciously takes this crippled person in and gives him the benefits of feasting at the table as a member of his royal court.
So the point of 2 Samuel 9?
It's not entirely that we need to be like David, it's that we need to realize that we're Mephibosheth, and if it weren't for the gracious King who reached out to us with grace and mercy, we would still be his enemy and would not be able to enjoy the benefits of the Kingdom.

Book of the day, Putting the Truth to Work The Theory And Practice of Biblical Application by Dr. Dan Doriani.

Monday, November 01, 2004

The Atonement as Satisfaction

Reading through some various views on the atonement, I have been particularly struck at the three major views which have been held or developed throughout Church History.

The "classic" view would be that of the atonement as triumph. I guess the easiest way of explaining this is that Christ proved himself to be victorious over sin, satan and evil through the atonement. The idea behind this view is that when God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself (1 Cor 5:16-20) it was a victorious battle over evil.

The "atonement as satisfaction" was a later development in church history and leading teacher of this idea was Anslem. The thrust of this view is that the atonement satisfied God's moral character. There was an ontologial need of satisfaction on the part of a holy God and only Christ's sacrifice on the cross could fulfill this because God's moral character is so perfect and sin is so profane to his character. This view is the typical view held by evangelical theologians, and more consistantly held by Reformed folks.

The last view is that of the "atonement as example" which was originally taught by Abelard. This view basically teaches that the atonement sets a good example of christian sacrifice. This view was not popular when Abelard began to teach it, and pretty much drifted into obscurity, that is, until the 20th century. In the 20th century, many liberal theologians took hold of this idea and embraced it as the essence of the atonement, meaning that the death of Christ, his atoning work, really set a good example for all to live by.

Which of these views is most correct? I would assume that most readers would not lean toward the third view, so I will not really address it. So out of the first two views, I believe the second view, the atonement as satisfaction is superior.
A few reasons why.
1. If the atonement was a triumph over evil, then that leads to an ontological argument that says God actually owes something to evil. The reason I can make that statement is that those who typically hold this view see the atonement as God purchasing salvation for his people from the devil. Some of you may laugh, but this view is prevelant in some of the Church Fathers and there are evangelicals who hold to this as well. Why isn't the atonement a divine transaction? Well, there is no scriptural evidence to support the notion that God owes evil anything but punishment.
2. The atonement as satisfaction. All through the pages of scripture, we are confronted with a Holy God and we get the sense that there is no way we can meet up to his standards. The Law does that to us, and rightly so, it condemns us and points us to our need for the satisfaction of God's moral character and holiness. But how do we get there? We can't, but Christ's sacrifice did. The sacrifice of Christ on the Cross was exactly the way God's moral character and holiness could be satisfied as an atonement for sin.

Book of the day, The Cross of Christ by John Stott.


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