Author Archive

Theology Meets Life

November 28, 2008

Steven Marquardt, a “Timothy” and seminary student who just joined the “Timothy” blog roll, has started an excellent new blog that I urge you to read.  Theology Meets Life is the title of the new blog, and for any of you pursuing formal theological studies, I would go as far as saying, this first post is a must read. 

Steven includes a quote from Helmut Thielicke, who was a 20th century German theologian from the Neoorthodox tradition.  While Thielicke is a product of his theological tradition in many respects, Marquardt is not the only grounded evangelical who gives A Little Exercise for Young Theologians  (one of Thielicke’s over fifty books), a stellar review.  The Theilicke quote that Marquardt shares from this book is one that I wish I would have read daily as I first began to press deeper into theological studies.  However, I’m thankful to have it now, and I hope to bring you a full review of this little book after I finish reading it. 

The conclusion to Marquardt’s first post is:

when the truths we are learning about God and His word do not lead to an increased love for God and a greater desire to edify His people and reach the lost, we are running the risk of theological infatuation.

Lord, grant me true repentance for the times I have tried to use your Word for purposes other than you intend.  Forgive me for falling into theological infatuation which causes my learning to be motivated by something other than a genuine love for you.  Restore me to a place in which, every insight I have about you, brings me closer to you, grants me more faith and trust, and serves in being a conduit for sanctifying grace!

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Is formal theological education good or bad? PART 2

November 18, 2008

I have always had difficulty when academic institutions acknowledge that they are not a local church (no church polity, no church discipline, etc. ) yet claim to be accomplishing a task that only the church is given the authority to do; namely, the work of preparing the saints for the work of the ministry. As I understand it, the Church is the only institution that is given the authority to prepare the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). However, it is difficult to undergo the necessary theological studies in a local church context. As a result of this, there have been some attempts to integrate rigorous theological study done at a seminary, with practical apprenticeship done at a local church. Almost all of these experiments fail to properly integrate the two. These programs often end up lacking a genuine apprenticeship or fail to offer a theological education that is academically rigorous.  However, there are a few churches/schools/apprenticeships that have made significant contributions to the reform of ministerial training.  Here are three: 

1.  Bethlehem Seminary (www.thebethleheminstitute.org) is currently the only Seminary of its kind because both the apprenticeship and the theological study are governed by a local church, in which they can be properly integrated.  The new M.Div. program is a 4 year commitment and involves rigorous theological studies, including extensive Greek and Hebrew studies.  Bethlehem Seminary will only accept 12-14 M.Div “apprentices” every year into their program.  Each of these students is mentored by a Pastor and progressively becomes more involved in ministry at the local Church level throughout the 4 years of the program. 

2.  Sovereign Grace Pastor’s College (www.sovereigngraceministries.org/PC/Overview.aspx) is a one year program, ranges from 15-25 students at a time, and is restricted to those who are commited to ministering within the Sovereign Grace network of churches.  It is only one year, and because of this, it is not academically as rigorous as a typical seminary.  It does include a limited amount of Greek study and there is a special focus on the spiritual life of the potential pastor.  The goal of this Pastor’s college is not only to impart a general theological framework and practical study skills, but to give opportunity for hands on ministry within a local church context and to promote growth in Christ like character.  This is a great opportunity for those who can fit into the ministry ethos of Sovereign Grace, and are in a season of life where a 3 or 4 year seminary commitment is not reasonable. 

3.  Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church has an internship (www.capitolhillbaptist.org/we-provide/internships/description/) is 5 months long, and is for those who sense a call to the pastorate.  It is not intended to be a seminary replacement, but rather to compliment a seminary education with an internship experience.  Throughout the program, an intern writes about 100 papers and reads over 5000 pages of text.  The 6 interns attend elders meetings, are involved in ministry at the local church, and spend weekly time with one of the elders at Capitol Hill Baptist Church.  If you are currently are planning to attend a run-of-the-mill seminary, or have already attended one, I would highly recommend taking a look into this program as a supplement to those studies.


This might be a good time to pitch an interactive web forum we attempted to launch some time ago, and are hoping to resurrect.  It is our desire that it would be an effective tool for those seeking to be trained for the ministry.  www.bibleschooldiscussion.com  Write anything you know about a school, post questions about a school you are considering, add a school to the discussion.  Our goal is that it would be a place where potential students can see what is available for those looking to train for the ministry, and can have an idea of what is really being taught at various institutions.

 


PART 1


 

Is formal theological education good or bad? PART 1

November 1, 2008

Years ago, I would have never imagined that I would ever be pursuing a formal seminary education.  The Christian community/tradition I was in was pretty anti-institutional in many respects.  We called seminary “cemetery”, and it was only for stuffy, proud, rich young men who had turned Christianity into an intellectual pursuit, much like the other sciences.  Formal theological education was only for the “hireling” who was seeking to make merchandise of the saints by applying for the CEO (pastor) position at a local hymn singing country club (typical church) so he could hear himself give speeches (sermons) to as large crowd a crowd as he could muster (congregation), hoping to make his name great. 

And now, years later, after many paradigm shifts, here I am, with seminary applications in hand.  And I need to ask myself honestly, ‘have I sold out?  What has changed?’

Some things have indeed changed, and some have not.  I would still extend a critique to the way many of us in America (and around the world) ‘do church’, as many of our gatherings reflect the ways of the world rather than the pattern entrusted to us in the Scriptures.  I am still grieved by the way that many are making merchandise of God’s people, and the way we perpetuate this problem by handling church leadership like a corporate office over a business venture.

But now I look at many of these churches, and in them, I see many of God’s beloved people, struggling to see the Kingdom of God while keeping one foot in the world.  People gathering with other believers to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, worship God, and to be exhorted by means of His Word.  They are looking for encouragement, discipleship, and others to walk with on this calvary road, and all too often they come to the church only to hear, see, and be surrounded by the same things they are seeking refuge from.  They hear contradictory messages from different corners of the congregation, and being untrained in the scriptures, many of them choose to follow whoever is speaking the loudest.

I want God’s Word to be what is loudest in those churches.  I want them to hear things, that by the Holy Spirit, will fight back the flesh and encourage the Spirit.  I want them to be encouraged to trust a Holy and Perfect God, even when everything in their life seems amiss.  I want to grow with them in discipleship and discerning the will of God, cherishing the one who rescues us through His own shed blood on the cross.  I feel called to shepherd, and I want to learn, I want to study, I want to be mentored.  Certainly, not all the training (or even most of the training) needed for tomorrows elders takes place within the four walls of a Seminary.  However, I would argue that in our present day, Seminary is one of the best places to:

1. Study the heritage of the faith passed down and entrusted to us, and to learn from  the lives of Godly men and women who have gone before us.  

2.  Acknowledging the mistakes of the past so that we might avoid them as a church in the future.

3.  Consider the struggles of those who are in our churches today and considering how to care for them in light of God’s Word. 

4.  Develop and practice rhetorical skills to be used in defending right doctrine and proclaiming the truth in a winsome manner.

5.  Grow in critical thought as it relates to theology and the church.

6.  Study God’s word on a daily basis in a community that is thinking critically and pastorally.

7.  Learn to read the Bible in the languages it was originally written in.   This may help us grow to understand the underlying misconceptions in many modern day controversies, and walk in the awareness of any assumptions translators may have made while translating the texts into English.

8.  Spend time listening to older people who have spent dozens of years pouring over the Scriptures.

9.  Spend more time reading.  

10.  Spend time learning to communicate well through writing.

These are all important skills that are invaluable to our next generation of church leaders.  There are indeed many dangerous things that Seminary may bring before us.  Many Seminaries are steeped in bad doctrine and are unhelpful all together.  Many things about our current conceptions of Seminary itself are  just plain unbiblical.  However, God is still using many Seminaries as a key component in the training of tomorrow’s church leaders.  

All this to say, we should work towards reform in our Seminaries… more on this to come.  But just as a teaser, here is the way one Church/Seminary is reforming the way Seminary is done: The Bethlehem Institute.

thousands of researchers from 80 nations built a 17 mile tunnel in 20 years… because of unrighteousness

September 9, 2008

(Here is the link to the yahoo news story that this blog refers to.)

Is building a large particle accelerator a sin?  No.  Is working together to build a large tower a sin?  No.  Would it be a sin if we were doing one of these things to defy God?  Yes.   That’s what the Tower of Babel was all about!  In these cases, the question is not about the act, but about the motive.  What drives us? 

What drives men and women to spend 20 years of their lives and billions of dollars to build a 17 mile long tunnel for the sole reason of recreating “the big bang” (the atheistic/deistic alternative to the Creation Story)?    Unrighteousness.  It is indeed astounding how God has given humankind such creativity and ingenuity.  It is even more terrifying how we have often used that ingenuity to deny the One who gave it to us. 

Romans chapter 1:18-23 tells us that the reason people reject the truth that God is the eternally powerful Creator, is because of their unrighteousness.  Instead of acknowledging that we have someone to be thankful to and giving Him praise, we made ourselves the center of our own reality.  We became our own Gods.

We will do everything we can in our attempt to resist bowing our hearts to God.  We’ve been trying to do it since the tower of Babel.  Now, instead of building a high building, we are building 17 mile, multi-billion dollar atom smashers.  The only way out of this cycle of rebellion, is if God, through the shed blood of Christ, gives us a new heart! 

As preachers and future leaders in the Church, we need to not be shaken by the worlds attempts to disprove God, but rather look through the lense of the Word.  We might be tempted to say that it is science or the pursuit of knowledge that is the cause of this wild expirement.  However, God reminds us that it is none of these, but rather rebellion, sin, unrighteousness.

A False Dichotomy: Submitting To Eldership and Forging New Ground

September 8, 2008

I just read a fascinating blog that has a wonderful challenge to us younger preacher types.

Ben Pfahlert, on the Sola Panel Website, writes a piece called Mark Driscoll Rolls Grenade Down Aisle. In it, he describes Mark Driscoll’s recent message to 600 church leaders, mainly Anglicans, in Australia, entitled Eighteen obstacles to effective evangelism in Australia. Pfahlert enumerates how Driscoll, in typical Driscoll style, courageously adresses problems in the Evangelical Church in Australia. There is an emphasis on how Driscoll analysis is very accurate, theologically sound, and needs to be acted upon. All of this was well and good, but it was the last paragraph that really convicted me. Pfahlert writes:

The big challenge now is to do something about it. Despite the accuracy of the diagnosis—despite the difficulty of facing up to our evangelical foibles—I want us all to remember one thing: (actually, blokes under 40, I want us to remember one thing!) Driscoll’s diagnosis may be accurate and his critiques timely and poignant, but we must remember one thing! And that is to honour our elders as per 1 Timothy 5:1. It’s a lot easier being a Christian now than it was in the 60’s and 70’s. They fought some very tough battles. Our challenge is to kick forward from here on in, making the most of the ground our elders won.

I’ve been searching around on some blog posts, and there appear to be more than a few who agree with Driscoll’s assessment. It seems like, as ususal, he brought a much needed rebuke.

It is at these times, when we realize, that the Church has done wrong, when we need wisdom on how to honor our elders and still forge new ground. Pfahlert hits the nail on the head! He remembers the battles that the Evangelical Church has fought the past 50 years, especially in Australia, and respects the progress his elders have made for the Kingdom of God. He honors them, while not being ignorant to their errors. He wants to press forward on the foundation they laid, supporting them in their ministry, and exhorting them as fathers to continue to take ground for God’s Church and His Kingdom. Praise God for this reminder. There can be a temptation when we are being critical of the current status of the Church to rebel against the leaders rather than support them. Let us take the most God honoring route, and do everything we can in our pre-eldership days to help our elders be the best elders they can be! For God and His glory!

On John Piper’s Blog, “What if you like the preaching, but not the truth?”

September 6, 2008

One of John Piper’s most recent blog enteries on Desiring God, entitled What if you like the preaching, but not the truth?, really got my gears turning.

In it, John Piper illudes to the danger of being so eloquent in preaching, that someone could enjoy the masterful delivery without taking hold of the content. Because there is not open commenting on the Desiring God blog, I’m really hoping that we can begin discussing it here. Piper seems to be reserving his final verdict for the upcoming Pastor’s and National Conferences.

I wonder, is it even possible to preach “Unless you repent, You too will perish!” in such a ‘masterful way’ that people refusing to repent can enjoy the delivery? This seems dangerous. Should we be worried about avoiding this pitfall? How should we deal with this as preachers?

Passion for God Before Passion for Preaching

September 3, 2008

On the desiring God blog, there is a new post by Abraham Piper called Dear God, Keep Me Saved concerning a recent book project John Piper was involved in called, Stand: A Call for the Endurance of the Saints.

Abraham’s comments, and the subject of the book, reminded me of 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (ESV)

If this Scripture hits us as it should, it should evoke a healthy fear. There are indeed those that “after preaching to others” are “disqualified” themselves.

As we seek to care for, feed and protect the flock, let us not forget to guard our own souls… or rather, let us continually and purposefully entrust our souls to the master guardian and Shephard, Jesus Christ. One can so busy themselves with preaching to others, that they become in danger of losing their first love.

I was struck by a perpherial statement in C.J. Mahaney’s, Living the Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing. In talking about the passion we should have for the gospel of God that saved us, he says:

And I don’t mean passionate only about sharing it with others; I mean passionate in thinking about the gospel, reflecting up it, rejoicing in it, allowing it to color the way we look at the world and all of life.

Let us strive to cultivate this kind of passion for the gospel, in our lives. Not only a passion for preaching it to others, but a reveling in the beauty of it ourselves, lest we, after preaching to others, should be disqualified.

God saved me, a wicked, God hating, hell bound person. This is my meditation, this is my song, and I will sing it into eternity! May He keep us until that glorious day!

How does a man qualify for eldership?

August 13, 2008

 

What ultimately qualifies someone for eldership?  Is it an MDiv?  Sound position papers on hot theological topics?  The ability to preach?  The respect of the congregation?  A strong unction or calling from God?  Age and experience?  While all of these things are good, they are not ultimately what qualifies someone for eldership.  At the root, the question should be who, not what. 

 

“It is God who qualifies”

 

 It is God who qualifies an elder.  When a man aspires to, qualifies, and takes up the office of elder, it is not ultimately because of how holy or skilled he is.  Rather it is about how big His God is to use another sheep to shepherd the flock and to lead through a sinful clump of dust.  He takes a God-hating individual, who is fading and headed towards hell, and makes him an elder.  He puts a desire for eldership in his heart and gives him sound thinking about God, His Word, the Church, and the world.  He sparks an unquenchable passion for God and His people.  He opens up opportunities for experience and training and wins him the respect of the Church.  Eldership is the work of God through fallen flesh, just like any God glorifying work.  It is important for us to remember this and be humbled by it as we aspire to such an awesome and impossible task.