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.]]>
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)]]>
Interestingly, some Christians are arguing that the Bible (or Jesus Himself) is against spanking. But, these articles quote more from sociological studies than the words of Jesus or the Apostles. As Christians we need to ask the question, “Is the Bible against spanking?” While this question is not of interest to the wider culture, it should be of interest to Christians who seek to live under biblical authority. So, what does the Bible say?
Proverbs mentions the rod six times in reference to the discipline of children:
What do these verses mean? The rod was a tool used to discipline, and it was even used as a weapon by shepherds or warriors to strike their enemies (cf. Exo 21:20; Num 24:17; 2 Sam 7:14; 2 Sam 23:21; Psa 2:9; 23:4; Isa 10:15; 11:4; etc.). The rod can be used for literal, physical punishment or warfare, or it can be used figuratively to speak of physical punishment or warfare. For example, God wields the Assyrian empire to punish apostate Israel and refers to Assyria as “the rod of my anger” (Isa 10:5). While the rod is metaphorical here, the punishment inflicted is not.
Proverbs scholars divide into basically two camps on the rod verses in Proverbs. Some believe the rod is a metaphor for wise words that drive foolishness out of a child’s heart, but they are in the minority and their view is relatively recent. Even some of the scholars who argue for metaphor leave open the possibility that corporal punishment is in view.
For example, Goldsworthy in his commentary on Proverbs The Tree of Life writes, “It is not clear that this refers to corporal punishment, although the text could bear this meaning. The rod may be metaphorical…Discipline is the educational function of wisdom, thus, instruction in wisdom may be like a rod in driving out folly” (147).
Many Proverbs scholars like Murphy, Garrett, Longman, Waltke, Kidner, Bridges, Keil and Delitzsch, and more believe the rod refers to non-abusive corporal punishment such as spanking. Waltke argues that folly is bound up in the heart of a child and it will take more than just words to dislodge it (Waltke, Proverbs 1-15, 574).
Not only is the imagery of corporal punishment deeply rooted in the biblical canon, but it is also recommended in other Israelite wisdom literature like the Wisdom of Sirach (30:1-3). Other ANE wisdom texts that share a strong affinity with Proverbs argue for corporal punishment (cf. Ahiqar lines 81-81, ANET p. 428). Waltke cites several Egyptian wisdom texts that called for corporal punishment and make statements like “a boy’s ear is upon his back, he hearkens to his beater” (Waltke, Proverbs 1-15, 574) and “boys have ears on their back sides” (Waltke, Proverbs 15-31, 216).
The Bible is not only open to corporal punishment, but it sees it as necessary at times. Now, given that let’s make a few observations about biblical discipline:
There are two ways to really harm children. First, physical abuse is damaging to children. The pictures of what Adrian Peterson allegedly did to his son are sickening, and all of us should condemn that kind of behavior. Using a tool to bruise and cut your children is evil. If one cannot spank their children without losing their temper then they should not do it.
But, the second way to really harm children according to Proverbs is to fail to discipline them. That’s the society we unfortunately live in today. You are not doing right by your children if you don’t correct self-destructive behavior. We all know discipline is good, even discipline that is slightly painful in the moment (i.e. working out). Yes, it is abusive to hit your child with an object to the point that it brings blood, but it is also abusive to neglect discipline.
Yes, the teaching of Proverbs may seem foolish and out of step to contemporary culture, but we would do well to heed the words of renowned biblical scholar Bruce Waltke that spanking “should not be abandoned in the church as unfashionable or explained away as culturally conditioned…The failure of the apostate Western world to continue the biblical practice has left its civilization in moral chaos…” (Waltke, Proverbs 1-15, 574-575).
We want to employ gospel-centered discipline that teaches our children not only that they are sinners, but also there is a Savior! How do you accomplish this? You do it by having a calm conversation with your children in the midst of discipline. You ask your child to confess what they did wrong. You assure them that your love for them – and more importantly God’s love – is not dependent on their performance. You confess that you understand their sinful actions because you’ve done them before, and you tell them that you need to be forgiven by Jesus just as much as they do.]]>
Dear Fellow Pastor,
If you’re like me, you’ve given a lot of relationship advice over the years. Whether it’s someone who’s interested in dating but doesn’t know how to do that in a way that honors God, or an engaged couple who want to build their marriage on a firm foundation but haven’t had a good example of what that looks like, or a newly married couple struggling with conflict, or someone ready to quit and throw in the towel on their marriage. We’ve all sat across from someone struggling with these areas of their lives, and we’ve tried to teach them what God’s word says about these things, because we know that God knows best. He is the author and designer of love, sex and marriage. But sometimes it’s hard to connect people’s current issues with the ancient stories of Scripture.
That’s why I partnered with City on a Hill Studio to produce The Song– a modern-day adaptation of the life of Solomon that helps couples connect their story to God’s word. The Song is a feature film releasing nationwide in theatres September 26 and a full like on church resources — including a Small Group Study, Pastor’s Kit and Couple’s Devotional — that deal honestly with real-world relationship issues like dating, romance, intimacy, conflict, restoration and cultivating true commitment. You and I know these areas belong to God and our culture is desperate to rediscover what He had in mind when He created marriage and love between a man and a woman.
So I’m writing to you to ask you to view the movie and review the study resources. Pass them along to your leaders. Consider how you could use them to minister to and encourage both the couples and singles in your church and community and bring grace and hope to their relationships. Many pastors are buying out showtimes and are preaching sermon series around the topics. Others are encouraging their church members and small groups to use the movie and study to engage their neighbors and friends, not only on the subject of marriage but, more importantly, on the subject of their faith.
As ministers, it’s our desire to see couples thriving, to see love awakened and to see Christ glorified. It is my prayer that The Song materials will help accomplish these ends.
Teaching Pastor, Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, KY
To learn more about The Song movie and resources, you can visit www.thesongmovie.com for theater listings and www.thesongresources.com
What is work? Does it matter to God? How do these forty or more hours each week relate to our faith?
Our pews are filled with workers who ask these kinds of questions. Pastors, even the most attuned and sympathetic, often struggle to provide answers beyond “work hard, tell the truth, and share the Gospel when possible.” Hard work, truth telling, and evangelism are indeed critical for Christian workers, but could there be more to our work and its relationship to our faith?
What if God created us to be workers whose purpose and personhood somehow come together when we rightly engage with creation? How was work different before Genesis 3, and where do we see sin’s effects today? How might we redirect sin’s effects on our work toward proper ends? Further, how does our work today relate to the new heavens and earth?
The purpose of this post is simply to raise these questions, and offer a handful of resources I’ve found helpful on the topic. Below are books, lectures, videos, and websites worth perusing. An asterisk is placed beside those I recommend to start with.
As we continue in our work, may we, as our Lord said, “work for the food that endures to eternal life.” (Jn 6:27)
*Tim Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work. Boston: Dutton Adult, 2012.
Gene Veith, God at Work. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2011.
*Lester Dekoster, Work; The Meaning of Your Life. Grand Rapids: Christian’s Library Press, 2010.
Amy Sherman, Kingdom Calling. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2011.
Hugh Whelchel, How Then Should We Work? Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2012.
*Dorothy Sayers, Why Work? (an essay) http://www.faith-at-work.net/Docs/WhyWork.pdf
Tom Nelson, Work Matters. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2011.
Steven Garber, Visions of Vocation. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014.
J.D. Greear, “Work as Worship,” www.rightnow.org
Tim Keller, “Humanizing Work,” http://www.faithandwork.com/conference-audio/
Lois Kehlenbrink, “How the Gospel Prepares Your Heart for Work,” http://www.faithandwork.com/how-the-gospel-prepares-your-heart-for-work/
When I was with the IMB and on furlough in the States, I sometimes felt like people in churches were given the impression that most Cooperative Program funds went to the IMB. At that time in our state of Iowa, only about ten percent of Cooperative Program funds made it to the IMB. I later learned the percentage was only slightly better in other states. I’d like the Baptist Convention of Iowa to change from sending twenty percent to fifty percent to the Executive Committee as quickly as possible.
I’d answer this question like I would counsel someone who was learning to tithe. At times sacrifice is required for the greater good of the kingdom of God. I’d talk about ways to increase income and decrease expenses. Then I’d encourage him to give ten percent as quickly as possible, even if it means he has to decrease his own spending.
I think that giving half is a good target for state conventions to adequately contribute to international and domestic missions, seminaries, and state convention ministries. I don’t have chapter and verse on this, but like the tithe, I think percentage giving is a good discipline for anyone. If conventions don’t have a fifty percent anchor, there will likely be a budget shortfall, special project, or other temptation to justify increasing the amount that stays in the state. I hope that when Iowa churches discover that more of their funds are going to national and international mission efforts, they will be excited about giving even more generously to the Cooperative Program. When state conventions give more generously to the executive committee this will also give less incentive for churches go around the state conventions to send funds directly to the Executive Committee or to designate extra funds to special missions offerings. If we believe that the Cooperative Program is the best system, let’s use it.
I don’t think we need a new structure, just a streamlined and focused one. I’d like to move from a “one-stop shop” for any church need and focus on fewer strategic ministries of higher intensity and quality. With the internet, state conventions have less need to be an information hub for churches than they did twenty years ago. Lifeway and NAMB are more user friendly and state conventions need fewer staff to accomplish their core missions. Also churches connect more relationally and less geographically than they used to; this is transforming the mission and structure of associations.
I can’t speak for other conventions, but in Iowa the convention is needed to provide identity and connection for churches in the state. We learn in the New Testament that churches felt the need to connect to one another relationally and also to pool resources for cooperative ministry. In our context there are several key ministries that can be done best at the state convention level rather than the church, association, regional, or national level. These include partnering with churches to place and support church planters in priority cities, community center ministry in difficult neighborhoods, disaster relief, supporting and encouraging pastors, some types of training, and more. We are too big geographically to be an association and too small to financially support enough directors of missions without defunding our national missions agencies. More here.
State conventions are uniquely positioned to connect churches with one another. State conventions also have distinctive opportunity to pool resources to identify, prioritize, and resource strategic needs and population segments in a state for evangelism and church planting.
As for critiques of state conventions, I think it is essential for state convention leadership to constantly evaluate staff to make sure they have the right staff person in the right ministry. Sometimes organizations compromise their mission to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. This compromise tends to lower morale of other staff members and hurt the convention’s reputation for effective leadership.
If you get a chance, check out his book as it is meant to provide a tool for people to take spiritual responsibility for others in the church. It also provides a one-year plan that is ideal for one-on-one disciple-making. You can order your copy of Aspire today at Seed Publishing Group.
Paul’s command to the church in Corinth causes many to cringe.
“I urge you, then, be imitators of me.” (1 Cor. 4:16)
He doesn’t just say it once, but his letters are laced throughout with this theme. In fact, he seemingly dares people to analyze his life and model their lives after the pattern that he sets.
“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1)
“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who talk according to the example you have in us.” (Phil. 3:17)
“What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil. 4:9)
“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord.” (1 Thess. 1:6)
The call to imitate the life of another Christian seems downright arrogant to modern readers. The replies are predictable:
The result is a culture increasingly dependent on fewer and fewer people to do the heavy-lifting of disciple-making. The church, by and large, is filled with passive consumers who are unwilling to take spiritual responsibility for the lives of others.
We need to be reminded that the command to “follow me as I follow Christ” is not a statement of arrogance but the natural outworking of the Spirit of God in the life of all of his church. Notice the progression in 1 Thess. 1:6-8:
“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word with much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not saying anything.”
Paul and his team set an example for the church. The church imitated that example and become a model for other believers. The exemplary church provided a model for the watching world.
The basis for imitation rests not on some mythical threshold of spiritual maturity but rather on four critical factors:
Union with Christ. The call to imitation is predicated on the fact that Paul’s life was “in Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). He was worthy of imitation to the extent that Paul’s life reflected the work of Christ in his heart. Imitation is a gift of God’s grace and not another task on a person’s religious to-do list.
Missionary Living. Imitation requires relational proximity with those far from God. Everywhere he went Paul declared and demonstrated the gospel to those far from God. This model set the basis for imitation – “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:9). A cloistered spirituality, increasingly distant from those far from God, will not provide the relationships necessary for imitation.
A Transforming Heart. Paul avoided placing himself on a pedestal, but rather took on the form of a servant, claiming to be the chief of all sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). Perfection was not the basis for his call to imitation. A frail instrument being transformed by the grace of God is perfectly positioned to be a model for others to follow. This person’s strengths and weaknesses, gifts and faults, successes and sins should set a model for a life transformed by the gospel.
A Loving Relationship. Finally, imitation thrives in the context of long-term, loving relationships. Paul’s letters are filled with fatherly emotion for his churches. He writes, “So, being anxiously desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8). As a spiritual father he longed for Christ to be formed in the people whom he loved (Gal. 4:19). In the context of loving relationships imitation feels less like authoritarian arrogance and more like loving parenting.
Our day needs more spiritual role models like Paul. I met with another college student this week who had been a believer for nearly a decade and said, “I have never had an older man help me learn how to walk with Jesus.” Sadly, his statement is the norm rather than the exception. The only way this will change is if more and more people follow Paul’s model and say to others “follow me as I follow Christ.”
Wise leaders have told me repeatedly that our generation will have to fight for the Bible, and I’ve been reminded of those prophetic warnings in recent days by two key figures in the evangelical world.
First, Andy Stanley tweeted a link to an article where a young lady who has renounced Christianity talks about how much she misses being a Born-Again Christian. Along with the link, Stanley tweeted, “Why we must teach the next generation the FOUNDATION of our faith is an EVENT not a BOOK.”
Second, Christian singer Gungor is drifting from biblical orthodoxy. He doesn’t believe the early accounts in Genesis are historical, or that there was an Adam or an Eve or a global flood. Ken Ham pointed out that Jesus referenced Adam and Noah as historical people, to which Gungor replied that even if Jesus was wrong about the historicity of Adam and Noah that wouldn’t deny the divinity of Christ. Ken Ham responded again, and then he gives a screenshot of a Facebook comment where Gungor writes, “There is a trend in modern society, no more than a trend…a religion, an idolatry that elevates Scripture above Jesus.”
So, Stanley and Gungor seek to drive a wedge between the Bible and the person and work of Jesus. Stanley says the Bible is not the foundation of our faith, but rather an event. Gungor says that people elevate the Bible over Jesus and thereby worship it as an idol. The problem, though, is that we don’t know about the person or the saving event of the gospel except for the book! Any attempt to divorce Jesus’ person or work from the book is impossible because we wouldn’t know about these things without it! My dad tweeted Stanley after his tweet and said, “You do not know the event apart from The Book & the divinely inspired understanding of the event. You know this Andy.”
Honestly, none of this is new. Liberalism has sought to do that for hundreds of years. The impulse behind liberalism was never really to destroy Christianity; liberalism wanted to rescue Christianity from things that the modern mind couldn’t accept. It was in many ways well intentioned – as Stanley is well intentioned in his concern that this lady’s modern objections to the Bible caused her to walk away from Christianity and as Gungor is well intentioned to interpret the Bible through modern scientific analysis.
However, much would be gained if every “evangelical” Christian would sit down and read a book that was written nearly 100 years ago – J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism. Machen was battling for the Bible a long time ago and what he wrote was prophetic in his day and is still prophetic in ours. In his book, Machen destroys any notion that Christianity can survive if one divorces the Bible from the person or work of Jesus. His basic premise is that any belief system that would do that ceases to be Christian and is instead something else entirely. He writes, “For Christianity depends, not on a complex of ideas, but upon the narration of an event” (70), and that narration is found in the Bible.
Here are some things in Machen that are instructive for our modern debates:
Machen wrote that the trouble with liberalism, which sought to elevate Jesus over the Bible, was “that our Lord Himself seems to have held the high view of the Bible which is here being rejected” (75). So, Machen points out that “the modern liberal does not hold fast even to the authority of Jesus. Certainly he does not accept the words of Jesus as they are recorded in the Gospels. For among the recorded words of Jesus are to be found just those things which are most abhorrent to the modern liberal church…Evidently, therefore, those words of Jesus which are to be regarded as authoritative by modern liberalism must first be selected from the mass of the recorded words by a critical process. The critical process is certainly very difficult, and the suspicion often arises that the critic is retaining as genuine words of the historical Jesus only those words which conform to his own preconceived ideas” (77).
Machen wrote these words nearly a hundred years ago, but it is still the case that some modern Christians jettison or re-interpret things in the Bible that don’t conform to their preconceived ideas. This is exactly what Gungor is doing by jettisoning the early accounts of Genesis. Machen writes, “It is no wonder, then, that liberalism is totally different from Christianity, for the foundation is different. Christianity is founded upon the Bible. It bases upon the Bible both its thinking and its life. Liberalism on the other hand is founded upon the shifting emotions of sinful men” (79).
Machen was clear that the events of the gospel were not enough to save; the re-telling of the events and the interpretation of that narration were necessary for saving faith. He writes, “The world was to be redeemed through the proclamation of an event. And with the event went the meaning of the event; and the setting forth of the event with the meaning of the event was doctrine. These two elements are always combined in the Christian message. The narration of the facts is history; the narration of the facts with the meaning of the facts is doctrine. ‘Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried’ – that is history. ‘He loved me and gave Himself for me’ – that is doctrine. Such was the Christianity of the primitive Church” (emphasis mine; 29).
But, Machen anticipated the objection that we can free ourselves from this and appeal to Jesus Himself. Let’s go “Back to Christ” (29-30). In that day there were those who wanted to drive a wedge between Jesus and the Bible. He gives their objection, “Should not our trust be in a Person rather than in a message?” (39). But, he responds with the problem in that view, “The plain fact is that Jesus of Nazareth died these nineteen hundred years ago. It was possible for the men of Galilee in the first century to trust Him…But we are separated by nineteen centuries from the One who alone could give us aid. How can we bridge the gulf of time that separates us from Jesus?” His answer is the New Testament (39-45). He says that Jesus and the Bible are under attack, but we cannot know the Savior apart from the Bible!
Again, Machen writes, “From the beginning, the Christian gospel…consisted in an account of something that had happened. And from the beginning, the meaning of the happening was set forth; and when the meaning of the happening was set forth then there was Christian doctrine. ‘Christ died’ – that is history; ‘Christ died for our sins’ – that is doctrine. Without these two elements, joined in an absolutely indissoluble union, there is no Christianity” (27). If we divorce the person and work of Jesus from the book that tells us about who He is and what He did, then we no longer have Christianity.
Saying the foundation of our faith is an event – the cross and empty tomb – not a book can sound right, but we have to think a little more deeply and say to ourselves, “I wouldn’t know about that glorious cross and that empty grave without The Book!” Saying let’s elevate Jesus above our Bibles is true enough, but the only Jesus we know is the one to whom all the Scriptures point! So, don’t give up your Bibles because without them you don’t have Jesus, and if you don’t have Jesus, that’s Hell. Christianity is based on a book and Machen challenged us nearly 100 years ago, “Let it not be said that dependence upon a book is a dead or an artificial thing…Dependence upon a word of man would be slavish, but dependence upon God’s word is life” (78).]]>