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Condemning the Specks

As the time for Christine Blasey Ford to speak before the judiciary committee concerning her allegations against Supreme Court nominee, Bret Kavanaugh draws near, all of social media is filled with opinions. Some Christian leaders have flocked to Kavanaugh’s aide, defending his character. Others pastors have embraced Ford in an effort to stand for and defend all abused women. Whatever the outcome, the lesson for Christians should be clear: be careful condemning from the darkness what will soon be revealed in the light.

Using equal measures

Jesus is often misquoted when it comes to judging others. “Don’t Judge Me” has morphed from clique into comedic memes. Yet, Jesus never asked human beings not to judge, rather to judge correctly.  I love how Jesus understood judging others,

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven. . . . For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:37–42).

When the accused stands before a judge, the judge is not to use an unequal measures. Would we want others to condemn us the way we condemn? Do we want God to judge us the way we judge others? The illustration of equal measure should give us pause, when it comes to posting an opinion concerning those who have been accused. Would we want to be deemed guilty before even having entered the courtroom? Would we want our testimony condemned before it had even been given?

Are Christians judging with unequal measures? Part of the #whyididntreport movement’s argument is based on unequal scales. They claim men are given the benefit of the doubt, while a woman’s testimony is questioned. What about political affiliations? Placing an donkey on the left or an elephant on the right of Lady Justice’s scales, would certainly cause her to peak from under the blindfold. Everyone’s measures are affected by implicit bias. Therefore, before Christians condemn publicly, we must be careful to look at God’s measures. Since God judges mankind impartially, we must also judge impartially.

Blind Leading the Blind

When Jesus continued his teaching on judging others, he gave an illustration. Does a blind guide guide well? “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” Jesus tells us that our own judgments come out of our own darkness. Darkness of facts impairs our verdicts. Darkness of sin imbalances our measures. Therefore, Christian leaders and pastors ought to withhold judgments against anyone who may have caught the public’s eye. Premature personal verdicts diminish our credibility.

Removing the Plank

So, we are left with one solution. Any time someone is dragged into the public spectacle and stands accused, Christians ought to take the opportunity to reflect rather than project. We can project our voices out onto social media. We can capitalize every word, gesticulate as much as emojis will allow, and add a legion of exclamation marks, to prove whether the accused is messiah or demon. None of these tools are useful for servants bent on washing feet and loving others.

An accused party ought to give us pause. Is the accusation against the accused lodged in my own eye? Do I abuse women? Am I truthful in all my words? Have I ever condemned someone falsely? Would my teenage years grant me access to sainthood? Am I in need of grace and mercy? Jesus marked the path for Christians succinctly: “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

Yes, we will have to judge on this earth. But let us be good judges with clear vision. Let us see that we are all sinners in need of grace. And thankfully grace doesn’t just balance the scales before God, it removes them from the equation.

Samuel Pearce’s Tract for the Lascars

Samuel Pearce participated alongside men such as Andrew Fuller, William Carey, and John Sutcliff in the inception of the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS), which launched the modern missions movement. Pearce’s passion for and commitment to missions established him as a gifted spokesman and fundraiser for the cause. Carey was the first to go, but Pearce’s desire was to join him in India. It was his giftedness at raising funds that prompted the BMS to restrain him from going. Andrew Fuller, the Secretary of the group, was suffering an illness that paralyzed a part of his face, and they feared that Pearce may be required to succeed Fuller in his role.

Pearce’s longing for the mission-field—to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who had never heard—never relented. So he poured himself into the effort to promote the cause at home while also searching out those in need of hearing the Gospel.

He became burdened for the Lascars—Indian sailors who had been employed on European ships since the sixteenth century who were treated little-better than slaves. His biographer writes, “to others they were nothings, but to Pearce they were brother-men for whom Christ died” (190). So Pearce wrote a tract in the hopes of “lead[ing] them out of the poor cold twilight of Mohammed into the sunshine of the face of Jesus Christ” (190). He wrote the tract in English, and his friend William Carey—the missionary to India and gifted linguist—translated it into the Lascar language.

The tract is quoted here as abridged in the book. In an upcoming post, I will offer several of my observations regarding Pearce’s tract. But first, read the tract and comment below.

What stands out to you?

Lascars!

You are far from home, and in a country of strangers! Most of the Europeans whom you have been wont to observe have perhaps exhibited a desire for nothing but gain or honour or personal indulgence; but you know not all; in this strange land there are many who think of you, weep over you, and pray to the great Allah for you. . . . Hear, then, the heavenly message. “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life.” This great Gift of God to us and for us is Jesus Christ. You, perhaps, have been taught that this Jesus was only a prophet, like Moses, and could do no more for you; but you have been misled. The Jewish prophets plainly foretold that He was to be a Divine Saviour. . . . This blessed Saviour, for the great love He bore to us from before the foundation of the world, at length clothed Himself in our nature, and became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. . . . When He grew up to manhood, because He preached so faithfully against men’s wicked practices, they continually watched him to find some evil, of which they might accuse Him; yet they could find none. Twice did the Holy Father give notice of His dignity by proclaiming from heaven, “This is my Beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased. Hear ye Him.” In His own omnipotent goodness He raised men to life from death and the grave, and daily employed Himself in healing all manner of sickness and disease among the people, without a single failure. . . . But the remission of our sins cost Him most grievous sufferings; for nothing less than His precious Blood was sufficient for our Redemption. Yet so much was His heart set upon our salvation, that he was content to undergo the severest torments, and to die the most shameful and cruel death, rather than we should be lost. This, Lascars, is the blessed News! These are the glad tidings of great joy which must be preached to all people, and which the God of Heaven now sends to you.

Jesus shed His blood for Jews, and there were thousands of the posterity of Abraham, who believed in His Name, and loved Him till they died. Jesus died for Gentiles also. He died for us, and since we knew His love, our hearts have been drawn to love Him in return. Jesus died for Lascars! Jesus suffered tortures for Lascars!

O Lascars, have you no love for Jesus? Long indeed you have been ignorant of our Saviour; but now God has made sailors of you, and sent you to England, that you might no longer be unacquainted with Jesus. Oh, how great the privilege that you hear His blessed Name, and are taught His great salvation! Lascars! receive into your hearts this Word of Life: give thanks to God that you are not suffered to perish for want of a Saviour. Put your trust in the Almighty Jesus, and yield yourselves to Him as living sacrifices: then shall you have the witness in yourselves that He is the Son of God; for you will find such peace, such joy, such delight in God, such desires after purity, such love to our Saviour, and to all who love Him too, of every country and of every colour, as will assure your hearts more strongly than all the force of argument that the religion of Jesus came from heaven, and that it leads thither every soul who sincerely embraces it.

When the Words Just Won’t Come

Have you ever had that terrifying moment? You sit down with the need to put pen to paper words on the screen and you draw a blank. The issue at hand isn’t that you have nothing to say. Not at all. The problem is you can’t focus your thoughts on just one.

Your head is teeming with thoughts, but nothing that will endure long enough to work through. Like a mirage of an oasis in the desert, one appears, but fades away as soon as you try to grasp it.

There are only a few occupations/professions/vocations that experience the pressure of that moment. Generally, people view artists as frustratingly-unwilling to be bound by time and space, working only when inspired. Authors are depicted in film as being almost painstakingly reticent to sit down at the typewriter or keyboard until that moment when everything makes sense in their heads and then the full-length manuscript appears overnight.

And while I would not ever argue that the work of the artist or of the author are meaningless, the weight of their responsibilities pales in comparison to that of the preacher.

He is charged with bringing forth the Word of God.

He is tasked with the responsibility of breaking open the Bread of Life and offering it to his congregation piece-by-piece. And each week, he sits down in his study, opens his Bible, and pulls up a blank page on his computer. And after a few minutes, while he knows that the blinking cursor on the blank page is nothing more than a decision a programmer made decades ago, it begins to feel as though it were mocking him—counting down the time until he stands before the people of God once more.

Perhaps he has good reason to be stuck. Perhaps this week’s text is a story that he knows that many in his congregation have heard since their time in the church nursery, such as the story of Noah, or David and Goliath, or Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Maybe, it’s a narrative passage of Scripture that he is resisting the urge to squeeze a moral lesson or allegory from. Or, the passage could pertain to a difficult subject that he knows will result in a few angry emails at the very least.

Maybe it’s something else, though. His church could be walking through a difficult period of time. The words don’t always flow to the page when the church sanctuary is used for a funeral during the week, or when a particular point of disputation arises at each congregational gathering.

In that moment—sitting in his study, staring at the mocking cursor—what do you do when you have nothing to say?

Before answering, let me first acknowledge that I don’t have the answers as to what you should do; no one does. Your experience is your experience, but I can offer you what I have found to be helpful for me.

Pray

Come on, preacher. Did you expect that not to top the list? Take your concern and your frustration to the Father and ask him to give you clarity of thought. Ask him to impress a message for his people—after all, they’re his people. Ask him to remove anything from your heart and from your thoughts that is blocking his Word from giving words to you.

Related to that, being stuck in sermon preparation is not necessarily due to sin, but it could be. Search your heart and confess any sins to the Father. Perhaps your heart was that which was blocking the words.

Read Scripture

Now, I know you’re thinking. “Read Scripture?! My Bible is open!” I know. But remember the first thing we were all told when we began preaching: Don’t confuse your sermon preparation and study with your personal devotions and quiet time? That’s what I’m talking about.

Read Scripture.

Read your passage one more time, but then turn the page to another passage that you’re not intending to preach. If you’re preaching through Galatians, turn to the Old Testament. If you’re preaching through one of the Gospels, turn to the Old Testament or to one of Paul’s epistles.

Get away from the passage that you’re breaking down semantically and read broadly—chapters, perhaps even books, at a time. Why? Because you need to step back from sermon preparation and fill your heart and mind with the Word of God. I can’t count the number of times that God has, in this process, impressed something upon me that I wasn’t expecting.

Read Fiction

After spending time in prayer and reading broadly in God’s Word, if the words still aren’t coming, it’s time to get extreme. It’s time to break away from the forced study. (Of course, I’m assuming you’re preparing your sermon long-before Saturday night. If I’m wrong, well, that’s an entirely different post.) Grab a work of fiction.

Those who know me well might accuse me of hypocrisy on this, because I’m notoriously impatient when it comes to fiction. I’m not the whimsical type. I prefer serious study on serious things. But, as my friends who are more inclined toward reading fantasy and fiction remind me, it’s important to let your imagination run—to give it room to breathe and explore. Perhaps your mind just needs to be stretched a little.

Get Out of the Study

One of the lessons that I’m trying to learn these days is that there’s no such thing as saving time. I don’t save time by skipping a meal or hurrying through a task. No matter how much time I try to save, the time ticks away. Despite my best efforts, the second hand on my watch never stops moving. And if you can’t save time, the best you can do is maximize it. Use it for something.

Sitting and staring at the cursor is not going to put words on the page. Getting anxious and worked up over it doesn’t actually accomplish anything. The time ticks away and you’re not drafting a sermon as it does. You’re not actually doing anything but getting angry. So get out of the study.

You’ve prayed and sought the face of the Lord. You’ve read broadly in Scripture. You’ve even picked up your favorite copy of Tolkien or Lewis (good, approved Christian fiction) and thumbed through a few pages. But the words still aren’t coming.

Go play with your kids.

Go drink coffee with your wife.

Go for a run or a workout.

Go watch a mindless movie with lots of explosions.

Get out of the study and let your mind relax.

Write Now; Edit Later

Now, this particular point doesn’t come in succession as the others had. And while it’s not a method I recommend for sermon preparation, it’s the exact method I’ve recommended to doctoral students working on a dissertation.

Put words on the page.

They don’t have to be good. They don’t have to be well-constructed. They don’t have to flow. But put words on the page. When your mind is working at a more efficient rate, you’ll be able to piece those thoughts together and edit them into a comprehensive whole, but for the time being, put something on the page. In actually sitting down and writing, you’ll begin to discover that the words begin to flow more freely the more you write.

Writing begets writing.

So write now right now. (I’ve just wanted an excuse to write that sentence.)

Don’t be afraid to write something that you don’t use. Just write it down and clean it up after the fact.

Maybe you’ve never experienced this terrifying moment. Maybe it’s just me (which would give credence to my greatest fear. Super). Or maybe it’s more common than any of us want to acknowledge.

What do you do when the words just won’t come?

Drop a comment below or hit me up on Twitter and let me know.

Look for the Yellow Hats

With more than one million man hours and three million meals given away per year, the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) agency plays an important role in disaster recovery. In 1968 the SBDR was formed to help meet needs of those affected by natural disasters. Since that time, SBDR has become the third largest disaster relief agency in the United States (behind only The Red Cross and Salvation Army).  Right now, over 95,000 volunteers have been trained by the SBDR in every arena from chainsaws crews to day care workers. Despite receiving zero federal funding, both the Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott and Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence expressed their appreciation to the SBDR at the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas. All funds and volunteers for the SBDR are supplied by local Southern Baptist Churches.

As these volunteers don their trademark yellow caps once again and respond to the aftermath of hurricane Florence, perhaps it is a good time for to remind ourselves why Southern Baptists formed an entire agency with emphasis on disaster relief.

The Image of God

Irenaeus, one of the first Christians to address the imago Dei, wrote that there is a distinction to be made between the ideas of image and likeness. He theorized that image formed a baseline for all humanity. However, likeness—the degree to which we are similar to God in character and action—has been affected by sin. To some, that may appear to be a distinction without a difference, but the manner in which Southern Baptists respond to crisis-after-crisis may help shed some light on the subject.

The Yellow Hats

When an act of God throws a hurricane on the American Coast, Southern Baptists respond by offering help for every man, woman, and child. In so doing, their commitment to the imago Dei is put into practice—the baseline of God’s image is respected. Think of it like this: Southern Baptists are pro-life for all of human life. While our belief concerning the imago Dei gets more media coverage in our opposition to abortion, every man, woman, and child from the womb to his or her eternal destiny bears the image of God. As such, SBDR reaches out and works to rescue every person possible—every image of God—in a disaster. Their reasoning for doing so is not to gain political power, increase revenue, or place the SBC in the spotlight. Instead, 95,000 volunteers, capped in yellow, get up, go out, and rescue others because “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him.”

Offering Help

When Irenaeus wrote on the difference between image and likeness, he recognized that despite mankind being created in the image of God, there was a discrepancy between mankind’s status and character. This gap can only be bridged by a change in man’s heart—a change only possible through the gospel. Offering help to others is not the finish line for practicing the imago Dei. SBDR will care for anyone regardless of their sins. Drunkards, abusers, the sexually immoral, etc.— all receive a baseline of care. Help is offered to all. But, SBDR is not only disaster relief and victim care; it proclaims the gospel and calls for response.

Offering Hope

In 2017 the SBDR recorded over 4200 gospel presentations. They also reported that more than 800 people responded to the gospel in faith and were connected with local churches. Earthly disasters are temporal but a spiritual disaster is eternal. As such, the goal of SBDR is not merely to save people from flooded communities, but also to redeem communities from the flood of sin. Some perils are overcome by bread, but eternal peril is only overcome by the Bread of Life.

So look for the Yellow Hats. Undoubtedly they’ll be living out Southern Baptist doctrine and fulfilling the words an old hymn:

Rescue the perishing
Care for the dying
Tell them of Jesus mighty to save.

Let’s Talk about Guarding the Purity of Church Membership

A 1993 study (holy cow! can that really be 25 years ago!) by the Home Mission Board (now termed, North American Mission Board) of the Southern Baptist Convention found that in that year, the majority (60%) of adult baptisms in Southern Baptist churches could be termed rebaptisms. While some were legitimately the baptism of those previously baptized as infants in other denominations, 36% of these adult baptisms were of people who had been previously baptized in Southern Baptist Churches! In fact, when asked why they sought rebaptism, many said that it was due to having not been regenerate believers when they were baptized the first time. (See Phillip B. Jones et al., A Study of Adults Baptized in Southern Baptist Churches, 1993 [Atlanta: Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1995], 5).

These numbers led theologian John Hammett to conclude, “Either these individuals were unusually deceptive or . . . some churches and pastors baptized these individuals without clear assurance that they were baptizing believers” (John Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches [Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2005], 112).

While no pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention would celebrate the discovery that he is unintentionally baptizing unregenerate people into the membership of the church, discerning the best manner in which to prevent such practices is difficult. Some pastors will opt to provide classes for those who respond to the gospel in their churches. This practice has historical precedent as far as the second century. Others see the narrative in Acts as determinative and regard it their responsibility to baptize as soon as possible after each profession of faith.

However a given pastor chooses to move forward, I offer these points to consider as they strive to protect the purity of church membership.

1. Offer a clear gospel presentation

We get excited to see someone respond to the gospel—we should! Scripture is clear that the angels in heaven rejoice with us. But sometimes even in my own ministry, I’ve seen people respond more to what they heard than to what I thought I said. So whenever someone responds to the gospel after a service, I ask them to explain the gospel to me. Do they understand Jesus’s Divinity? Do they understand his real death? Do they understand the reality of his bodily resurrection? Do they understand that they bring nothing to their salvation apart from the sin that makes it necessary? I want clear confidence in these things before moving forward.

*A note about children
Children of believers often demonstrate faith at early ages—this should not surprise us. Those raised in a home that opens the Word of God together, pray together, and go to church together should demonstrate faith early. But when they do, I look for a legitimate definition of sin. Do they understand sin? Even more importantly, are they convicted of their sin?

2. Provide a clear description of baptism

Baptism is the first step in obedience to the commands of Christ. Baptism is the means by which a person joins the local church. Baptism is dying to oneself and identifying completely with the Lord Jesus Christ. Baptism is not “sealing the deal” of salvation, nor is it the literal washing of sins. Counsel new believers to be baptized, but be especially sure that they understand exactly what it does and does not mean.

3. Explain church membership

Many pastors require premarital counseling before committing to officiate a wedding. (If you don’t, you should. We’ll have to talk about that another time.) It’s critical that expectations are laid out and that someone lead the prospective bride and groom to consider questions that may have been overlooked in the dating process. Whenever counseling someone before they join the local church, a similar process needs to take place.

Provide a safe place for them to ask questions about the church. Explain to them how joining a local church is different from joining a civic club or society. Explain how church membership is pledging one’s self to the health of the body. Explain what expectations exist for members of the local church. Explain the church covenant that lays out for them exactly what is expected of them.

4. Explain the church’s confession of faith

It is virtually impossible for a church to be healthy without a confession of faith. It does not need to be overly strict; in fact, many Southern Baptist churches simply opt for the Baptist Faith and Message. Without a confession of faith, however, there is no doctrinal line to discern who does and does not belong. There is no standard to which pastors and teachers are called to adhere. Anyone considering joining your fellowship needs to understand what the church believes.

5. Practice church discipline

For some, points 1–4 were sufficient. No one likes church discipline. And yet, unlike a new member’s class or catechumenism (the state of a person undergoing doctrinal instruction and testing before baptism), church discipline is clearly taught in Scripture. In Matthew 18, Jesus provides a means by which the church is to guard the purity of its membership.

If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he won’t listen, take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. If he doesn’t pay attention to them, tell the church. If he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.
Matthew 18:15–20 (CSB)

Notice that goal of church discipline is not the removal of a believer from fellowship. Rather, the goal is that he would receive correction, repent, and be restored to the fellowship. Church discipline is the recognition that when someone refuses to acknowledge his sin and repent, he has hardened his heart against God. By removing him from fellowship, he will either demonstrate repentance and return, or he will continue to harden his heart and distance himself from the gathering of believers.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, I don’t have all of the answers. If we’re being honest, none of us do. We’re all trying to live in light of our understanding of God’s Word. None of us, however, would be thrilled to learn that we have unwittingly been baptizing unbelievers and offering them an assurance of salvation.

So, if not these, what steps have you taken?

What is Church Revitalization?

In SBC life, the concept of church revitalization is gaining momentum among pastors and church practitioners. While the conversations regarding the best ways to return a church to health are needed, there has been a tendency to bring every aspect of church planting and church growth under the umbrella of church revitalization. Which brings us to the question . . .

What Church Revitalization Isn’t

Before we can provide an accurate definition of church revitalization, we must first understand what it is not.

Church Revitalization is Not Church Planting

Biblical church planting is evangelism that results in new churches. Another way to consider this concept is that it is evangelism that results in new disciples, who then gather together and self-identify as the local expression of the universal body of Christ.
JD Payne, Apostolic Church Planting

Traditionally churches have been planted when believers move intentionally to a community of non-believers, wherein they practice evangelism and discipleship, eventually forming a new congregation from the new converts. The gospel is seeded in a community resulting in the salvation of members of that community, the new believers are then discipled, and a church is planted.

Church revitalization differs from church planting in that church revitalization occurs within an existing church whereas church planting seeks to begin a new church. The church planter is called to start a new church and the church revitalizer is called to bring a dying church back to health.

Church Revitalization is Not Church Replanting

Church replanting is another term often confused with church revitalization. In church replanting, an original donor church donates their resources and personnel in an attempt to begin a new church with existing resources.

In the church replanting process, a new pastor comes in with the intentions of beginning a new church body from within the old church. Over the course of time, the expectation is that the older donor church will receive new leadership, new ministries, a new identity, and (in some cases) a new church polity.

Church revitalization differs from church replanting in that church revitalization does not seek to replace the existing church. Whereas the church replanter attempts to begin a new church with the resources gained from an older church, the church revitalizer seeks to restore the original church to health.

Church Revitalization is Not Church Growth

Church growth (or church vitalization) has also been grouped into church revitalization. Though sharing many of the concepts and methodologies, these two are not the same as church revitalization.

Church growth is the implementation of certain methodology in order to lead a church to grow. As such, church growth can apply to a church of any size in any stage of health. Church growth strategies can be applied to a new church plant with only a handful of members or to an established church on the cusp of crossing over into the megachurch category.

Church revitalization differs from church growth in that revitalization deals with churches in trouble. To be sure, church revitalization may incorporate similar strategies as church growth but the desired result is not growth, but survival. Church Revitalization intentionally works with churches that are dying and strives to restore to life.

So, What is Church Revitalization?

Church Revitalization is the process of leading a dying church back to a healthy state. Restoring the church’s purpose of glorifying God and mission to reach the lost in their community.

Closing

The terms surrounding Church planting, growth, and revitalization can be tricky. However, there needs to be clarity among Christians. Each of these approaches requires different actions which produce different outcomes.

Who Gets to Divine the Divine? A Response to Union Seminary’s Statement

On September 5th, 2018 Union Seminary released statements of belief on their twitter account. The release appears to be a reaction to the recent petition concerning Social Justice. This petition has garnered over 6000 signatures, including that of John MacArthur and Voddie Baucham. In addressing the statement on social justice, Union Seminary established their views as the polar opposite of those put forward in the petition. Below I’ll address two tenets put forward by Union Seminary.

1. On Scripture

“While divinely inspired, we deny the Bible is inerrant or infallible.”
-Union Seminary on Scripture.

When Union Seminary states, “divinely inspired,” it is qualified as an errant fallible inspiration. The justification for Union Seminary’s view derives from their doctrine of sin. Since the Bible was authored by men, Union Seminary argues, it must contain some form of sin—particularly bias and prejudice. The sinful prejudice of the Bible is evidenced by the demographics of the biblical authors. Since biblical authorship lacks diversity in race, gender, and sexuality, how could modern readers believe the Bible is free from prejudice? Modern biblical scholarship exists, Union Seminary claims, to help readers sift through the words of the Bible to discover that which is divinely inspired and that which is prejudice. Therefore, they must qualify divine inspiration by stating, “we affirm that biblical scholarship and critical theory help us discern which messages are God’s.”

Let’s consider the logic of Union Seminary’s statement for a moment—the Bible is divinely inspired, but human sin and prejudice have obscured God’s message. Therefore, human scholars—human sinful scholars—are needed to clarify that which was divinely inspired from that which was mere human prejudice. Infallibility and inerrancy are affirmed by Union Seminary’s statement, but not in the words of Scripture, but rather in the discernment of biblical scholars.

So I have to wonder, if authors divinely inspired by the sinless Holy Spirit could not overcome their own prejudices, how can we expect non-divinely inspired scholars to do better? Are biblical scholars qualified to sift the divine from the drivel by way of critical theory? If so, the scientific method of  scholarship trumps divine inspiration.

Does Union Seminary’s statement concerning scripture give critical theory powers of divination? When Union Seminary states, “while divinely inspired,” they make divine inspiration a conditional clause reliant on critical theory. For proof, lets observe their statement on the imago Dei.

2. The Image of God

We affirm that God created every person in God’s own image. Accordingly, we deny that vitriol directed towards people because of how God made them (i.e. sexual orientation or gender identity) is in any way faithful, biblical or godly.
-Union Seminary on Imago Dei.

In this statement, Union Seminary makes some very large claims. First, they affirm every person is created in the imago Dei. They deny binary gender as vitriolic and unbiblical. Consider the verse referenced by these statements:

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
Genesis 1:27

In order to reach Union Seminary’s understanding of the imago Dei, one must affirm the first clause of verse 27, “So God created man [meaning humanity] in his own image.” However, one must also accept that the author of Genesis revealed his prejudice by espousing gender in a binary fashion. So, when the divinely inspired author wrote, “male and female he created them,” he was unduly influenced by his sin and/or prejudice. But who decides which clauses are God’s message and which are man’s prejudice?

Who gets to divine the Divine? When Union Seminary denies the Word of God as infallible and inerrant, they ratify the infallibility and inerrancy of scholarship. Inerrancy and infallibility are not removed from their consideration; they are transferred to a new location.

Union Seminary leaves us with an unfortunate truth. In a postmodern, post-Christian culture, leaving inerrancy and infallibility in the hands of God is a liability. From a social aspect, it costs too many followers. From an economic standpoint, it costs too many patrons. In terms of politics, too many offices. So, inerrancy must be outsourced.  And where should we house it? The fickle slums of human wisdom has always been the cheapest option.

And so, the question of Genesis 3 becomes relevant once again, “did God actually say?” Either divine inspiration or the scholar’s method is infallible and inerrant. Who is inerrant: God? or humanity?

Before we answer too quickly, we must remember that dust with a PhD, is still dust.

Ministering through the Muck

A pastor’s job is not one that would generally make anyone’s list of most difficult professions (unless the person making the list were a pastor or a pastor’s wife). We’ve all heard the dismissive comments about how nice it must be to only have to work one hour each week. And, if we’re being frank, more pastors fit this sad perception than we’d like to admit.

It’s not that we only work one hour per week—me genoito! (there’s a super-nerdy Greek joke for you)—but if the ministry survival rate means anything, at the very least it means that there are many who understand the pastorate in such a way as to believe that anyone could do it, only to then discover the foolishness of such thinking. For too many, the pastorate is seen as a introvert’s dream career—a quiet, secluded, air-conditioned desk job that requires very little heavy lifting apart from old, dusty books in order to prepare a thirty-minute lecture each week about how everyone else is wrong.

But that make-believe world gets shattered into pieces once ministry begins. Ministry is messy. Even the best weeks require hard work and grit and discipline. Even the best weeks demand that we say “No” to certain opportunities in order to maximize our time and fulfill our vocation. But during those weeks, we get to see lives changed by the very gospel we preach, we get to hear stories of our church members leading others to Christ, we get to experience the Body of Christ caring for one another.

Other weeks—tough weeks—we experience the muck. That family that you thought was rock solid and you were planning to invite them to lead a small group? It turns out that they’re on the brink of divorce. That person that you’ve been counseling each week, patiently removing barrier after barrier between them and Christ, learns of the hatred of some other believers and decides that the way of Christ isn’t the path he desires. That new Christian stumbles . . . in a massive way. Your family needs more of your attention than usual. And to top it all off, you have no idea what to preach on Sunday and your prayers seem to bounce off of the ceiling.

What then?

How do you minister through the muck?

Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ.
Colossians 3:23–24


Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as you would Christ. Don’t work only while being watched, as people-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, do God’s will from your heart. Serve with a good attitude, as to the Lord and not to people, knowing that whatever good each one does, slave or free, he will receive this back from the Lord.
Ephesians 6:5–8

Whatever is happening down in the muddy trenches of ministry, it is imperative that we remember that we are not serving ourselves, nor are we merely serving our church members; we serve the Lord Jesus Christ. And every activity we undertake, every ounce of effort we apply, has a singular telos—the glory of God. And in my experience, when the muck seems the deepest and the work seems the hardest, it comes as the result of my believing that the results of my efforts—and not the efforts themselves—are that which bring him glory. I mistakenly believe that I have to get it done to honor Christ.

And that simply isn’t true.

The results of our efforts rest in his hands. Why else would we ask him to bless our efforts? Why else do we come to him in prayer, asking that he give us success? Is it not because we know that, ultimately, the results are his arena?

So how do we minister through the muck?

We work to the glory of God and trust him with the results.

Submission and Courage in the Pulpit

Billy Sunday Preaching by George Bellows, Metropolitan Magazine, 1915

Religious freedom is under assault in our culture.

Churches and preachers which have stood as the chapels and chaplains for a majority Christian America are finding themselves increasingly pushed to the fringes of political and public discussions in light of increasing secularization. Government and public opinion have determined that any speech which labels homosexuality as sin is hate speech and that decrying the legal murder of the unborn is refusing the woman’s right to choose. Merely holding the opinion that gender and sexual identity are fixed biological realities rather than the free-for-all, choose-your-own-story Wild West ensures treatment as a social pariah. And make no mistake, despite the best efforts and intentions of the First Amendment, churches and seminaries and religious schools will not be exempt from LGBTQ+ anti-discrimination policies. It’s just a matter of time.

And in response, some pastors will stand behind the sacred pulpit on Sunday morning and attempt to provide a softer, more genteel, more tolerant message of Christianity to their churches and communities. Some will simply tone down the rhetoric while still holding the same convictions, albeit quietly. Others still will re-evaluate the entirety of biblical teaching and judge it to be outdated and culturally-irrelevant.

Many, in fact, have already done this.

In Numbers 22, the king of Moab attempts to coerce the prophet of God to provide a message contrary to the will of God. He wants Balaam to curse those God has commanded him to bless. He wants to force the prophet to up-end God’s judgment—to reverse God’s order. And in so doing, the king of Moab places Balaam in much the same predicament many pastors find themselves every Sunday morning in churches around this nation and around the world. The king solicited a man of God to give validation and approval to something contrary to the will of God. (This was his purpose for calling Balaam, and the prophet’s acceptance of his invitation to do so is what prompted the popular story of Balaam’s conversation with his donkey.)

If Balaam would just bow the knee and kiss the ring of that which is acceptable and culturally preferable, all would go well. He would receive payment and acceptance. He would receive comfort and an extended audience with the king. And yet, Balaam’s response to the king demonstrates both the submission and the courage that should characterize the preacher.

Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak. (Num 22:38b)

This verse gives the reader insight into Balaam and his submission to the authority of Yahweh. Rather than allowing a desire for riches and honor to deter him from the will of God and curse that which God has blessed as Balak demanded (or, as our present circumstances demand, bless that which God has labeled sin), Balaam submitted to the command of Yahweh.

He was not angry or indignant. He was not hateful. He was, however, submitted to God. And that submission made him firm in his resolve and steeled his spine to stand before the king.

Will our submission to God give us courage before men?

As the angel of the Lord had commanded him, “speak only the word that I tell you,” Balaam obeyed (Num 22:35). In response to the pressures of Balak, Balaam answered, “Am I able to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth—that must I speak” (Num 22:38). When the stakes are high and our public opinion is low, will we kiss the ring and speak with the authority of kings and presidents and courts?

Or will we recognize a higher authority, strengthen our backs, and speak only that which has already been given to us in God’s Word with submission and courage?

Minding the College Gap: It’s about Priorities

In my previous post, I sought to explain that wise parents don’t assume that their son or daughter will participate in a local church during their collegiate years by default. Rather, as demonstrated by the example of George Scarborough and Benajah Carroll, instilling the importance of local church participation begins before a child heads off for college and requires that parents play a role in helping their children find a biblically-sound college church home.

My Story

I began college with all of the excitement of so many freshmen in the Fall of 1997 at a private Baptist college. I recall moving into my first dorm room, carrying my new bedding and dorm refrigerator up the stairs, meeting new people with each step. My roommate was an athlete that first semester, and his schedule was dramatically different that my own. We rarely saw one other, which didn’t bother me. I was on a mission. I was going to do what I wanted to do, study what I wanted to study, live how I wanted to live, and become who I wanted to be.

I had been reared in a small town and this was my first taste of freedom. There were no parents to rule over me. Looking back, my experience at that school was a mixed bag; I had both good and bad times. But I was on a mission of self. I wasn’t a Christian and most of those around me didn’t look or act like Christians. Being a private Baptist college, we were required to attend Bible classes, but the theology was loose and liberal; our New Testament Survey professor gave us more cause for doubt than faith. Eventually, I dropped out. I had only managed to make a mess of my life in my mission of self.

One year and two moves later, I gave college another shot, this time at a small liberal arts college. It was drastically different from the private Baptist university I had attended before. The president was a well-known and vocal atheist and anything the mindset both on and off of campus was “anything goes.” Each spring trimester, the cool fraternity would throw the “Bros and Hoes” party; it was like scenes from the old National Lampoon’s Animal House. And my life reflected this worldly mindset. It was from this environment that the LORD saved me. You see I had been on the mission of self, but that path was lonely, and headed for self-destruction. I too was worldly.

My Turning Point

At this second university, I met, carefully-watched, and listened to a group of college students who were Christians. Each of them prayed, witnessed, and loved me despite my sin, and they lived out a genuine faith in Christ that I had never seen before. The Gospel was on display and lived out before my eyes. They were like Christian Soldiers straight out of the sixth chapter of Ephesians. Their mission was different from mine. They had been called by Jesus Christ. They had been armed with a strong faith in God the Father, abided in the Son, and were empowered by the Holy Spirit! They heeded the words of the Apostle Paul who wrote to his young son in the faith,

Don’t let anyone despise your youth, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity (1 Timothy 4:12 CSB).

I owe a great debt of gratitude to the LORD God for his having surrounded me with this collegiate mission force. Their influence changed my life for Christ and they rejoiced greatly when I surrendered my life to him and joined God’s mission. I remain on that same mission even today.

None of them could have had any idea that one day I would one day marry and be called into the Gospel ministry as an evangelist. Nor could they have known that I would (Lord willing) one day complete a PhD in evangelism, while regularly sharing Christ with others and introducing precious souls to Jesus. They were participants in God’s plan to redeem my life from the pit of destruction and lead me into the bliss of forgiveness, mercy, and the grace of Jesus Christ.

It Comes Down to Priorities

Looking back, here’s the lesson learned: God had brought this group of individuals together for his eternal purposes even during their college years. Their first priority was serving God; education, for them, was only of secondary importance. They weren’t perfect, but they were obedient to Christ and deeply in love with him; they were involved in various local churches and the Baptist Student Ministries (BSM). They chose to live for God’s glory. They had a heart for the lost around them because they had been discipled and taught how to share their faith without fear. They were fearless soldiers of the cross.

Perhaps as a parent, you’ve heard others lament the spiritual conditions of our colleges and universities or you’ve taken your family to watch God’s Not Dead in theaters and you’ve wondered, “What can I do?” And God has answered that question in the person of your own college-aged student.

God can create in him or her the mind and heart of a soul-winner. He or she is the mission force of God on the campuses around the world. Revival can still break loose on campuses world-wide. Train up your children now to be personal evangelists. Teach them by example. Take them door-to-door evangelizing in your neighborhood and model what sharing your faith looks like. Go on international mission trips together and work in the harvest. Disciple your student and instill in their hearts a love for the lost, the Scripture, and the things that Jesus loves and then encourage them to live it out before their college classmates. Kingdom first; education second. No greater impact could be made on college campuses for Jesus Christ than the one your college student and their friends could make. Raise up a generation that will mind the college gap.