I just left the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention’s inaugural national conference. Entitled “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage,” this conference was designed to equip churches, pastors, and Christians to minister in our 21st century context on the issue of the future of marriage and sexuality. It is safe to say that I am thoroughly encouraged, along with many others, by the work of this entity of our convention and the leadership of its president, Dr. Russell Moore. With the conclusion of such an informative and impactful conference, I would like to share 10 reflections:
Stay tuned in for parts 2 and 3, and if you missed all of the conference, check out all of sessions from the ERLC National Conference here.
The Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary served as a major sponsor for our luncheon and along with that sponsorship we give them the opportunity to share about what they do as they seek to equip students. Check out the letter from the Director of the new Spurgeon Center–an awesome resource to equip both students and pastors for effective, disciple-making ministry.
The best education is education in the best things, wrote Charles Spurgeon. Fortunately, we are not left to our own devices to determine the definition of best things. Though some might argue or seek to raise themselves up as prophetic “Websters,” God Himself provides the dictionary and illustration for us of best things in His Word. They bring Him glory and further His mission.
No, the challenge might be found more in the education part. How do we best equip ourselves and train others in the best things? As an educator in the local church and the academy, this is a question that occupies a great deal of my day. For many years I have had the privilege of leading and serving with people in both arenas who have developed effective and creative educational methodology. Though we are still learning, I do believe right now more than ever before, we are getting closer to, doing better at, and growing in our understanding of…best. For us to take these last steps we had to overcome an unnecessary barrier and reject a false dichotomy that some have raised between the seminary and the local church.
At Southeastern Seminary we truly believe that theological education is best when done in partnership with the local church and not somehow in competition with it. Leadership and ministry skills development should be an intentional part of every local church ministry. They are necessary niches of discipleship.
We have therefore created an intentional bridge between the local church and seminary called the C.H. Spurgeon Center for Pastoral Leadership and Preaching. It exists to equip and encourage pastors to lead healthy, disciple-making churches for the glory of God around the world. We offer assistance, resources and training to our students, as well as to pastors and churches, to further equip them to serve well in the crucible of real life ministry. We recognize our responsibility to equip Great Commission-minded local church pastors who preach the Word and lead biblically.
There are vital questions that demand a response such as: What is the role of a pastor? What does a pastor need to know? What does a pastor need to do? We believe the best way to educate leaders with biblical solutions to these questions is in conjunction with local churches and networks of churches. The center supports this network of cooperative relationship by providing:
The field-based training arm of the center, the EQUIP Network, allows church leaders and interns to earn significant academic credit to be earned while serving on the field through mentoring relationships with pastors and by further training through distance learning. EQUIP also provides a network of mutually edifying relationships in which participants from the various churches and ministries communicate, encourage, teach, and challenge one another. This sense of community is at the heart of the EQUIP Network.
When I played football and lacrosse, I had to work out all week together with the rest of the team in order to get ready for the game on the weekend. They call that “practice” for a reason. I would never have learned all I needed to know in the locker room or through the play and rule books. We all need to get out on the field and work it out together. Some learn best by doing. The Spurgeon Center with its EQUIP Network allows you to continue your education in the best things out on the field in the practice of ministry. Check us out today by clicking here!
Dr. John Ewart
Associate Vice President for Global Theological Initiatives
Director, C.H. Spurgeon Center for Pastoral Leadership and Preaching
When I first became a pastor, I thought the question I would be asked the most was, “Pastor, how should I think through this issue?”
I was wrong. I did have people asking me, quite often, about how to apply the gospel to current cultural questions. But more often than this was a deeper, more personal inquiry: “Pastor, I’m struggling with this. What should I do?”
Cultural Issues Come to Church
I still remember the shock I felt when a faithful, older member of my congregation confided in me his lifelong struggle with same-sex attraction. This was a man who, by all accounts, had his life together. He was doing well in his career, he was a beloved father, and (by all appearances) happily married. But inside, he wrestled with these desires. As a pastor, what gospel hope could I give him that would equip him in the daily struggle? One one side, if his secret got out, he’d be condemned for even facing this temptation. On the other side, there was a ready and waiting chorus pushing him to accept a sexual ethic the Bible forbids.
Pastors must be ready to answer these questions, the deep questions, the people in their congregations will have. Perhaps no question is more vexing or real than the question of homosexuality. In my experience talking to pastors and church leaders, I find two responses.
Some wish this issue would just go away so they can “preach the gospel.”
Some want to treat this issue as a lower-tier issue like baptism or views on the end times.
Called to This Culture
These responses are lacking. Pastors and church leaders can’t pretend this issue will go away. We are not called to live in the culture we want but in the culture to which we are called. Pastors need to be courageous and compassionate, ready to answer and shepherd their people toward Christ-likeness. Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Not Called to Compromise
The other response we are seeing, at least among a few evangelicals, is an attempt to reconcile the modern sexual ethic with the demands of the gospel. Some of this is fueled by a genuine desire to see unity in the church and break down barriers in order to see people experience grace. Yet, some are attempting to accommodate the church to the ambient culture. Church leaders need to be ready to answer these arguments and courageously speak to and lead their people to swim against the tide.
This is why the ERLC is hosting a conference on October 27-29th at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. The theme is: The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage. Our desire is to equip pastors and church leaders in addressing this issue in a gospel-centered, compassionate and clear way. We hope you will join us.
If you haven’t already, you should take a look at the College at Southeastern. It’s a great institution with solid, and expanding, degree options. What is more, it’s a place where you or someone you care about can be instructed by professors who are passionate about the church, the Great Commission, and training people to take the Gospel to the nations. From top to bottom the College at Southeastern is passionate about Jesus, his Church, and reaching the nations. What could be better said about an institution?
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary served as a major sponsor for our luncheon and along with that sponsorship we give them the opportunity to share about what they do as they seek to equip students. Check out the letter from the Dean below, and take you a look at the College of Southeastern.
Southeastern has always had a great college. But recent changes and additions have positioned the college to do much more than ever before. As always, we continue to be an institution focused on the church, Great Commission, and training people to take the Gospel to the nations. Yet, we have given fresh attention to our curriculum and found ways to make it better.
What Has Changed?
The college continues to offer all the programs that make it distinctive. For example, we continue to read the Great Books of the Western tradition, study Christian theology, and offer a variety of exciting degree programs like Theology, History, English, Pastoral Ministries, and Humanities. Overall, this well-rounded curriculum enables students to articulate and defend the Christian faith wherever God may place them. Within the past year, however, we have made some significant changes to our curriculum. For example, while we have kept the History of Ideas program, we have rebuilt it to give it greater clarity and focus. We have also given a major overhaul to our undergraduate missions curriculum. We began by creating all new courses for this program to draw from intercultural & cross-cultural studies, theology, apologetics, language, and missiology. Next, like our graduate programs, we built into this program a significant portion of the degree that must be earned on the field. In most cases, students serving overseas for six months in places like Taiwan, Germany, or the Sudan fulfill this part of the program. Finally, to better reflect the well-rounded nature of this program, we changed the name of this program from “Missions” to “Global Studies.”
What Has Been Added?
Finally, we’ve recently added four new undergraduate degree programs that will help us place students in churches, the mission field, or in some other vocational setting for kingdom influence. Our new undergraduate Philosophy degree (BACS and Philosophy) is designed for those who want to do apologetics, Theology, or anything else that requires intellectual rigor. The new Biblical Studies degree (BACS and Biblical Studies) provides 18 hours of biblical languages and an additional 18 hours in biblical theology and book study. This degree is ideal for those that want to pastor or teach the Bible. Our new Worship Ministry degree (BACS and Worship Ministry) is for those that want lead worship in the local church, but want something beyond basic training in music. This program’s primary focus is on theology, the Bible and ministry preparation. Lastly, our new History/Pre-Law degree (BACS and History/Pre-Law) is for those that want to serve Christ in the public square or possible in the legal profession.
In short, the College at Southeastern continues be the wonderful place it has always been. But recent changes have given it a greater ability to train students for Gospel ministry and send them to strategic places. These changes and additions open new doors for our students and make the College at Southeastern an exciting place to prepare for ministry.
James K. Dew, Jr., PhD
Dean of the College
Associate Professor of the History of Ideas and Philosophy
B21 is excited for the release of The Song in theaters tonight!
Pastor and best-selling author Kyle Idleman is a producer on The Song and has helped to write curriculum and a devotional for couples that will generate great discussions in your next small group. Check out Kyle’s guest post below, the resources available, and go to see The Song in theaters tonight!
Over Mother’s Day weekend I read an article titled “Your Mom Lied to You.” The article exposed a number of things our moms told us growing up that may have been well intentioned, but were not necessarily true. For example, my mother used to tell me, “You need to put some Hydrogen Peroxide on that.” But as it turns out, those “healing bubbles” didn’t do anything to heal my wounds and was, in reality, the hydrogen peroxide attacking me.
Another lie my mother told was, “Cracking your knuckles will give you arthritis.” In truth, according to the latest “knuckle cracking” research—and yes, there are medical professionals who study this—cracking my knuckles will not lead to arthritis.
And then there is the ever-popular lie all moms like to tell, “Don’t swallow your gum because it takes seven years to pass through your digestive system.” Yet, advances in colonoscopy-based research (gross, I know) refute this claim.
My point is that there are certain things we have just accepted over the years. They sound reasonable and are reinforced by others, so we spend our lives pouring hydrogen peroxide onto our wounds, abstaining from the pleasures of knuckle popping, and feeling unnecessarily worried about swallowing our gum.
When it comes to the areas of love, sex, and marriage, we have similarly been told things that sound reasonable and have been reinforced by numerous cultural influences. Instead of questioning these things, we often just accept them. After all, the movies we watch, the music we listen to, and the magazines we read all seem in agreement when it comes to how we should think about our love lives. And yet God is the one who created these things. He has made us to have feelings of love and passion. Sex was His idea. He owns the copyright on marriage. So the default question we should be asking is, “What does God have to say about it?”
Around ten years ago I started teaching through the Song of Solomon with different audiences and was amazed at the relevance of this Old Testament book of poetry. That is one of the reasons I produced a film about the Song of Solomon called The Song. The Song is a modern-day adaptation of Solomon’s life, inspired by the writings in both the Song of Solomon and the book of Ecclesiastes. It will be released nationwide on September 26th. My prayer is that this film—as well as the video curriculum and couples devotional that go along with it—would awaken love in our marriages and point to the truths of Scripture as the authority for our love lives.
Let me share a few truths from the Song of Solomon that challenge what many of us have been told and what has been culturally reinforced over the years:
Beauty is more than outward appearance.
Love is more than a feeling.
Sex is more than a physical act.
Marriage is more than a piece of paper.
These teaching principles are helpful, but there is nothing like a story to engage our hearts. That is why I’m excited for this film to engage people in a different way than simply teaching and applying text.
I was thinking about the time my wife and I were newly married. Heavily influenced by Hollywood, we had all kinds of ideas and expectations about what marriage should be and how we should feel. But very quickly we were given the opportunity to watch a story unfold that showed us just how important it was to have a Christ-centered marriage built on a spiritual foundation. We didn’t watch this story on the big screen, however. We saw it play out in real life.
I was preaching at small community church where we became friends with Jim and Mary, a couple in their fifties who had been married for a long time. They were going through a difficult time with Jim battling lung cancer. One night, when my wife and I stopped by their house to pray with them, we noticed that Jim had become very weak and feeble. The most aggressive chemotherapy was being used, along with radiation treatments, and it had taken its toll. It was obvious that the cancer was strong—but the faith of Jim and Mary was even stronger.
Mary led us into Jim’s room where I opened up my Bible to read a few Scriptures. That’s when the smell made it clear that Jim had lost bowel control. Mary said, “Excuse us for a minute,” and we waited outside while she cleaned up. My wife and I stood in silence, holding hands in the living room—I had never previously considered that kind of moment in marriage. When Mary came back to get us, there was a smile on her face that I’ll never forget. “In sickness and in health,” she said.
That was an education for my wife and me—young and healthy and in love. We were given a front row seat to the difference Jesus makes in a marriage.
As Christians we live in a time when many people are trying to agree on a definition of marriage—and even more people are trying to figure out how to be happily married. What an incredible opportunity we have to celebrate God’s way and to set an example of the intimate, passionate partnership that marriage can be.
“Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away. If one were to give all the wealth of one’s house for love, it would be utterly scorned.” -Song of Solomon 8:7(NIV)