My PhD Journey at SWBTS

Entrance Exams

The Texas sky threatened an ice storm. My wife and the storm radar confirmed it. However, my entrance exam for the PhD program at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary was scheduled early in the morning. So I reasoned that I could leave early, stay ahead of the storm, and make it to Fort Worth from College Station before it got “too bad.”

Two semi-trucks flipped over in front of me. One tried to pass another going up an ice-covered hill and I was stuck in my car for a period of about 10 hours. Although freezing, I had to turn the car off to conserve gas. I missed my interview. I was so worried and anxious in the car. “What will they think of me?” My future supervisor and the interview committee were very understanding.

While stuck in the car, I decided to read my Greek Bible, attempt to memorize some Scripture in Greek, and translate (I had plenty of free time). When I was able to reschedule my interview and entrance exam for the following day, the essay question asked me to exegete the passages I memorized. God knew what he was doing; my anxiety did not.

Reading Phase

The reading seminars out gunned me immediately. Surrounded and overwhelmed by material, my first reading seminar asked me to summarize a portion of Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma for the class. I read this work while on a mission trip to South Africa with my students from FBC Bryan. Needless to say, I wasn’t very careful with my reading. I stumbled over my entire summary. The professor “requested” I read closer and come better-prepared next time. I thought, “I’m failing God in this task he gave me.”

Years later, I was asked by a person to help them better understand Catholicism and how to share Christ with their family member. I was able to walk them through Catholic theology and show them how to carefully share the need for a personal faith in Jesus Christ. God knew I needed a better mastery of the subject. He knew what he was doing; my feelings of failure did not.

The Latin Debacle

As a prerequisite to the PhD program, competency exams in German and Latin were required. German went well (I studied it previously in college); Latin did not. The Latin professor passed away the semester before we were to take the exam. Since Latin was a prerequisite, the school left us to learn it on our own. My friends and I taught ourselves ecclesiastical Latin.

I failed my Latin exam three times, once missing the mark by a single percentage point. I was so frustrated. So worried. “What will my supervisor think?” I lost a lot of sleep over the anxiety of failing. “I don’t fail tests,” was the mantra of pride.

Failing the Latin competency exam forced me develop a means of studying. I began by reading my Bible in Latin every day. I translated a large portion of Augustine’s Confessions for my own practice. As it turns out, my dissertation topic required an ability to read Latin well. As it turns out, my children are studying Latin in school, and I help teach them. God knew what he was doing; my pride did not.

Research Seminars

Research Seminars had their own speed bumps. My first attempt at reading a research paper ended in a fellow student—a “friend”—declaring me a heretic in class! There is a punch to the gut! I wasn’t very careful with some of my phrasing concerning the Trinity. I was so embarrassed. My supervisor (and professor of the seminar, yikes!!) was very kind and gracious. He walked me through the process of being clearer in my thought. He challenged me to start writing theology for myself to develop concise thought.

The tools he taught me and the personal project of writing my own theology culminated in a video project called Two Minute Doctrine. The work itself has been rewarding in our church in Summerville, Georgia. God knew what he was doing; my embarrassment did not.

Oral Exams

Oh! And the PhD comprehensive exams! What happened can only be told as a piece of theatre. Allow me to set the scene for you:

One oral exam slated after dawn,
in fair Fort Worth, Texas we lay our scene.
From forth the fatal mind of three examiners,
a young blissfully ignorant student speaks;
whose misadventured piteous overthrows
do with his incompetent answers
bury his schooling in obscurity.

Scene 1: Interior. Night. Student’s parent’s home in Denton. Only the student and the cat are present. The cat thinks the student is an intruder.

My Mom’s Cat
Do you study to offend me, sir?

No, sir, I do not study to offend you, sir.
But I do study, sir.

Mom’s Cat
Do you quarrel with me, sir?

*Cat knocks study materials onto the floor*

Quarrel, sir! No, sir.
But you’re keeping me from studying, sir!

Scene 2: Interior. Night. Bedroom of Parent’s House.

My Mom’s Cat
You closed this door!
I will bang on it until it opens.

*The door opens*

My Mom’s Cat
If you fall asleep,
I will jump on your head.

Our student awoke exhausted,
the cat triumphant.
Thus, he doubled up on coffee.
Better to be juiced and ready to go, right?
The exam went pretty well, at first.
Until the Dean of the School of Theology
started throwing softballs.

Scene 3. Interior. Morning. PhD oral exam room, second floor of Fleming Hall. Across the table from left to right of Student, the Major supervisor, The Dean, the Minor Supervisor sit.

The Dean
Define the aseity of God.

Our PhD hopeful just finished as an assistant
teachers for the Dean’s online Systematic Theology class.
He answered this question for the Dean’s own online students.
He knew the Dean would ask this question.
He prepared for this question.
He wrote down an answer with quotes.
He memorized his answer before the exam.

Slide reads: *footage of student’s definition of aseity not found*

Would you like to try again?

Ah, no?
I mean, that was the definition, right?

You tell us.

Our floundering PhD student’s minor
is in American Church History.
He loves studying American church history.

Minor Supervisor
Can you name one evangelical American theologian
in the twentieth century?

Ah, no.

Major Supervisor
Surely, you know one.

The Dean
How about Carl Henry?
Can you tell us about him?

Now, Carl Henry is one of most
famous American theologians
of the twentieth century.
Our student’s friend wrote
a dissertation on Henry.
Our student discussed several chapters
of said dissertation with his friend.
Our student recommends
Henry’s “Christian Personal Ethics” to you.

No… um… I mean… Who?
I don’t know that name.

No, if you are blissfully unaware,
is the wrong answer,
for someone trying to prove they are an expert.
To understand our student’s failure,
you may imagine the following
conversation with your own doctor

Can you tell me what a virus is?”

No… um… I mean… I don’t know any viruses?



At this point in the exam, I’ve proven either my incompetence or laziness. When incompetence is the better of two monikers, you’re not doing well.  A recommendation for you reader, don’t put your supervisor in the position of apologizing to his superior for your complete ineptitude, by blaming nerves and coffee.

The results of the comprehensive exam? The committee thought I might need a second opportunity. They assigned me to write a brief comprehensive systematic theology.

About a year after the exam, my own son was struggling with a test. He was learning math for the first time. He wanted to do perfectly. His exam didn’t go well. He was very upset. We sat together and talked about how dad likes to do well too, that it is frustrating to work hard and fail. He was shocked to hear how often his own dad failed. Together we decided that failure, whether it is our fault or not, is inevitable. That ultimately, we are fully reliant on the grace of God for our entire lives. The best we can do as his creatures is learn, adapt, and keep working hard. Whenever my son is frustrated, fails, or go through trials, he and I have a question and response time. It goes like this:

Who has failed the most in this house?


And who will keep working to the glory of God?

We will.

God thought my four sons needed an object lesson in humility and perseverance. Here I am Lord, send me.

Dissertation Phase

My first thesis was trash. My second thesis: rejected. My third thesis needed revision. The final thesis accepted. In 2019 I was ready, so ready, to hammer out my dissertation and finish. Then the pandemic hit. During the pandemic of 2020, I got a viral pneumonia; it completely wiped me out. For about a month, I couldn’t upkeep most of my spiritual disciplines. My ministry boiled down to bedridden praying for my flock.

What ought to have taken about a year took two.

But I found I was far less anxious and worried. God not only saw me through every phase of the PhD process, he also was faithful to use every experience to his glory.


What did I learn? At the beginning, I was very concerned with my own glory. Even if I verbally and mentally denied it, pride ran in the background of all my programing. Yes, my desire was to learn, know Christ better, glorify God. But I also wanted to prove myself to God, to my supervisor, to myself. I wanted to no longer feel imposter syndrome. To echo Eberhard Jüngel, I was ruled by the imperious ego.

Early on in the PhD program my supervisor wrote me an email. He concluded, “God can humble you too, boy.” His pastoral words were prophetic and, in a word, necessary.

Shouldn’t you desire to prove yourself? You’re created in the image of God! You have nothing to prove. God proved your worth by sending his Son. Often the male quest to test one’s own tenacity is little more than an idolatrous question, “Can I do this on my own?”

No, you cannot.

With my defense scheduled for some time February/March and (Lord willing) graduation in May, all I can say is that what began with an ice storm ended with a pandemic. And in it all, God was glorified.

Christ must become greater; I must become less.

Soli Deo Gloria.

The Critical Difference between Error and Heresy

Cold, clammy, and shaking, my hands revealed more about my nerves than my face let on.  Sitting in a small room at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, surrounded by bright young minds and the brilliant but piercing gaze of my PhD supervisor, I presented my first exegetical paper in a seminar on the Trinity.

Yes, we had to read our papers aloud.

In my paper, I sought to exegete 1 Corinthians 13:14, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” The task was to theologically reflect on the Trinity from our paper. I had the pleasure of flaunting my erudition second.

The student presenting first was brilliant. My supervisor, the leader of our discussion, praised him highly, calling the paper insightful and practically flawless. I remember his short phrase, “I find no error in it.”

So while I was anxious, I too craved ‘wow-ing’ our teacher. I read my paper confidently, sat down triumphantly, and waited for the approval, exultation, and adoration to follow.

It didn’t.

The student who presented his paper on the Trinity before me spoke first, exclaiming flatly, “that’s heresy.”

Silence hung in the air and the teacher did not speak.

I had expounded both the unity and the uniqueness of the three persons of the Trinity. One sentence became my noose. I had noted that each person of the Trinity had their own unique personality. Three persons means three personalities—this is a no-brainer folks (or so I thought)! Having a flare for poetry and illustration, I even likened my ‘three personalities’ conclusion to fashion designers on the runway. The question “who is she wearing” can be answered by seeing the hand of the artist on the dress. It was a perfectly lovely, albeit heretical, illustration (if I do say so myself).

The student who decried me for a heretic (my supposed ‘friend’ turned Judas) was asked to explain his denouncement.  He did so ably. I was then asked to respond to his objection, but I was still in a bit of shock. My best reply went something like, “nuh-uh.” I made some feeble attempt at explaining how my first paragraphs on unity permit me some leeway to conclude three personalities. The apology failed.

The teacher, after a long silence, spoke to my accuser, “He isn’t a heretic.”

HA! I knew my supervisor had my back. He will vindicate me, or so I thought. With his words, my victory was sure to be won!

“He is not a heretic, yet,” he added. The hush in the room nearly crushed my spirit.

He then explained the difference between error and heresy. Error, he explained, is when a brother in Christ speaks something contrary to the Word of God but is willing to receive correction. Heresy is persisting in that error, even when the church has lovingly corrected him. “So,” the professor looked at me and paused, “do you recant of your error?”

He didn’t let me answer. The lesson had been learned. Instead, he picked out some gracious elements in my work, encouraged me, then allowed me to change my conclusion. He spoke the truth in love.

This story came to my mind after attending the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) last week. A question was raised from the convention floor as to the president elect, Ed Litton’s theology. Particular reference was made to Litton’s church website, wherein the persons of the Trinity were described as “parts” of the Trinity. The term ‘parts’, like personalities, implies a separate and distinct entity within the Trinity; in brief, it destroys the simplicity, the oneness, of God. The term “parts” could be understood as the heresy of modalism or even tri-theism.

The implication was that President-elect Ed Litton was heretical. The question of Ed Litton’s heresy was addressed to Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, during his seminary report. If anyone in the SBC is Heresy-Finder General, it must be Dr. Mohler. Long-recognized as one of the best scholars in the SBC, surely he was able detect and root out the heretics in our convention!

This was Dr. Mohler’s chance to tear down a “political rival”—to declare Litton a modalist or tri-theist, win the room, get a recall on the election, and maybe just maybe even win the presidency!

Cry heresy and let slip the dogs of war, Dr. Mohler!

But Dr. Mohler’s response was gracious. Kind even!

Dare I say, Christlike.

He calmly assured the messengers of the SBC that Litton holds to an orthodox view of the Trinity. Noting that he could not speak for Litton directly, he emphasized Litton’s fidelity to Christ and the cross. Litton’s response at the microphone was just as gracious and humble, praising Mohler for his service and love of Christ.

Some saw this brotherly love as a sign of deflection. Why not answer the heresy witch-finders directly? Others noted that shortly after his election, the statement on Litton’s church was edited. Critics of Litton cried, “Cover up!”

Can a person be a heretic who, after receiving correction from his brothers and sisters, removes his error?

It shows a great integrity for a man who stands accused to love in return.

I learned from my time in the PhD program at Southwestern Baptist Theological  Seminary that reactionary cries of heresy often overlook the heart of the accused. Worse, when these slanderous cries come out of jealousy, envy, or love of discord, they slander the name of Christ.

Error is the more loving term.

Error is the word we use to lovingly-correct a brother, not heresy.

There are many hopeful things to be drawn from this year’s annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville. But one of the most concerning things about the SBC right now is that a lot of folks are looking for blood in the water. They want to see error as chum—sufficient justification to snarl, snatch, and swallow their brothers and sisters whole.

The highly-polemical and emotional outrage that is used by members of the SBC on Twitter and other social media channels is abhorrent. None are given the benefit of love. None are granted a generous interpretation.

Highly-critical eyes and toxic lips reveal a heart of bitterness.

Out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
Luke 6:45 (ESV)

If one discovers a brother or sister in error theologically, don’t ring the heresy bell. Perhaps, Chicken Little, heresy isn’t falling from the sky. Maybe another more loving explanation exists.

Error should be given a chance to correct itself.

The serpent of old speaks in truth or love, but never does he do both. In Genesis 3, Satan is not lying when he says “you will not surely die,” but he wasn’t speaking out of love for Eve either.

Rather than witch-hunting Ed Litton for every mistake and error he has ever made in his career, may I suggest that we rally behind him in prayer? That we see his heart for evangelism and missions and join behind him? Maybe then we can stop being Great Critical Baptists and catch the vision of the Great Commission Baptists set before us.

I appeal to you then, in this one way: let the measure that you use to speak about any brother or sister, be measured unto you.

Meditating on death: a memorial for 2020

I could come to terms with loss,
if good-bye only meant see you next summer;
if the cold sting of death’s winter was blunted by whispers of spring’s tiding.
But this past year heaps snow upon snow, loss upon loss;
I feel like it is always winter and never Christmas.

On April 11 we held a large memorial service for all of the members of Summerville First Baptist who lost a loved one this past year.

So, I find myself still musing over death: the impact, the loss, the sorrow of never seeing precious loved ones again.

What bothers me is the finality of it all: the final haircut, final meal, final Christmas together. Worse still, the final Easter. Drumming up a grateful chorus when death marches down the isle is difficult. The hope of an unseen resurrection feels paralyzed by death’s never ending refrains: never again a father’s good morning, never again grandmother’s how are you, never again a brother’s familiar smile, never again a mother’s loving voice.

I find each funeral makes me meditate on my own death as well. With over two dozen funerals, a year long convalescence from viral pneumonia, and the family dog getting hit by a car, thoughts of death creep through my house at night and wake me up early morning.

Here is how my 3am musings play out: Verus (9mo), my son, will likely be a grandfather one day, but I will never be around to see it. The future generations of my family, infants whom I would love so dearly, care for so powerfully, regard so highly, will not know me. The grave swallows up my love so entirely that my great grand children will only wonder, ‘who was he,’ if they care to ponder at all.

And my thoughts threaten to swamp me certain days of the year. I wake up every year on January 28th realizing I don’t share a birthday with my great grandfather any longer. Two and a half decades flew away without him; now only two or three people even remember the connection.

Only one of my grandparents knows I got married; only one knows and cares that I was born. My father’s father never saw the man I’d become, because he never even knew I was born; 40s-something is far too short a time to see saplings grow into fruit bearing trees.

Amidst these thoughts, I read a tweet from one of my highly regarded mentors that simply says, “love never ends.” Out of the wells of my grief, sarcasm threatens to reply, “what a beautiful sentiment for romantics.” I want to scream at him, of course love ends! Almost every week from April to December, I buried love in a box under six feet of dust and ashes.

Then another person tries to comfort me by saying, “they live on in your memory.” I ache for the hale stalwart strength of my grandfather’s hands embracing me, not the reanimated Frankenstein of my ever decaying memory. I yearn to hear voices at the door, not echoes in the dark! “They live on in your memory” offers so minuscule a comfort, I’d rather it not be said at all.

I know the comforting words the Bible gives us. And most days I can jump right to the page of Romans 8 and declare, “death cannot separate me from the love that is mine in Christ Jesus.” There are just some days that if I jump too quickly to this chapter, I find it lacks some potency.

There are days I just need to weep bitterly, days when triumphalism resounds on deaf ears.

Thankfully the book of Lamentations validates those days.

“How lonely sits the city that was full of people!” Lamentations 1:1.

Yes! That hits the nail on the head. I see children playing outside on my way back from burying someone’s father and say, “is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me, which the Lord inflicted on the day of his fierce anger.” Doesn’t anyone understand that today isn’t normal! Everyone goes about like its a normal day. It isn’t a normal day. Normal was when all the picnic tables at the family reunion were full.

I don’t always think about loss, death, and sorrow. But something always snaps me out of the haze of that dream. “Remember my affliction my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me,” I lament to God.

Lamentations teaches me that I cannot skip the lessons learned in the valley of the shadow of death. That “it is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

When I wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord, the keenness of cross of Jesus Christ cuts through my sorrow. Then the cross is not nice sentiment, not merely a symbol, a piece of artwork, a fabricated necklace. The cross of Jesus must mean the Son of God’s humiliation unto and sorrowful identification with death. Isaiah’s verse, “He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” speaks to me.

Then I read, “Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust– there may yet be hope; let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults. For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his stead fast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.”

Death hunts me like a bird of prey. Sorrow flings me alive into a pit. Despair like water closes in over my head. But God does not willingly afflict or grieve me without purpose. God did not wound the Son without purpose either. The cross, the cross of Christ, is where God answers the cries of human sorrow. He replies to me, “it is finished.”

Yes, the triumphant picture of Jesus the Lion of Judah help me avoid despair. But the slain lamb, the crucified God, the resurrected Jesus, I identify with these days. Him I hear say, “behold, I make all things new. Write this down for these words are trustworthy and true. It is done! To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”

When I read these words I realize just how thirsty my tears make me. Through anguish I realize something I didn’t before. I thought the desires of my heart longed for my loved ones to return back in this life. I was wrong. I do not want them to come home to suffering, decay, and a second death. No. I want the new earth. I want my tears stored in forgotten bottles, relics of an ancient past age. I want all things new! I want the resurrections, the love that never ends.

The cross of Christ crucified death. His resurrection promises new birth. Yes, that is what the miseries of my heart desire, all things new. Jesus alone suffices to give me hope.

In the bleak mid winter
frost wind made moan
earth stood hard as iron
water like a stone

Snow had fallen, snow on snow
Snow on snow
in the bleak mid winter
long, long ago

Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign

In the bleak mid winter
a stable place sufficed
the Lord, God, Almighty
Jesus Christ

Sinning in the Name of Christ: Ravi Zacharias, Paul Tillich, and the Skeletons under the Altar

Christian Apologist Ravi Zacharias (1946–2020) and Liberal Theologian Paul Tillich (1886–1965) share several things in common:

  • Both men were considered premier Christian apologists.
  • Both men rose to fame later in life.
  • And both men used a superior position to prey upon women.

Allegations against Zacharias first came to public attention in 2017, when Lori Anne Thompson claimed Zacharias pursued her for phone sex and sexuality explicit photos. RZIM (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries) countersued Thompson for defamation of character. Zacharias wrote to Christianity Today defending himself stating, “in my 45 years of marriage to Margie, I have never engaged in any inappropriate behavior of any kind. I love my wife with all my heart . . . and have exercised extreme caution in my daily life and travels, as everyone who knows me is aware.” Zacharias attempted to shame Thompson by noting her attack on a sick man battling cancer.

Evidence for Ravi Zacharias’s abuse came as a shock to many in the past year, when RZIM (once considered the largest apologetic ministry in the world) launched a full-scale investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct of its founder in February 2020. RZIM published a twelve-page report revealing that Ravi Zacharias had received sexual favors from over 200 massage therapists, that he kept several hundred nude photos of women on his phones, and that he had received sexual photos, texts of a sexual nature, and sexual favors up until a few months before his death.

Perhaps the most astounding part of this investigation is the extent to which RZIM and Zacharias went to coverup and rationalize his own sin. In 2018, one woman reported to Christianity Today that he “made her pray with him to thank God for the ‘opportunity’ they both received.” Multiple victims reported that he called them his “‘reward’ for living a life of service to God.”

As of February 2021, RZIM CEO Sarah Davis (Ravi Zacharias’s daughter) said that RZIM would be severing ties with Ravi Zacharias and his writings and would reconsider the abusive structures which led RZIM to cover up Zacharias’s sin. Davis notes that RZIM will no longer continue to be a ministry of apologetics, stating, “RZIM cannot and should not continue to operate as an organization in its present form. Nor do we believe we can only rename the organization and move forward with ‘business as usual.'”

Davis’s canceling Zacharias’s works is similar to Paul Tillich’s own existential dread; Paul Tillich feared that if the sexual exploits of his private life were ever uncovered, his works would no longer be read.

In order to preempt any future ‘discovery’ of his sin by the public, Tillich blessed Wilhelm and Marion Pauck to write his biography and to tell the truth of his life. Just prior to his own death, Tillich expressed to Pauck his gratitude, “I am in safe hands.”

Pauck’s Paul Tillich: His Life and Thought published much of the private life of Paul Tillich posthumously. The book reads like a ‘tell-all’ of Tillich’s personal sin: plagiarism, a love triangle, divorce, his second marriage (an open relationship), and preying on his female students. Speaking of Tillich’s ‘unconventional’ sexual ethic toward women, Pauck writes, “he openly admired women—all women. It made no difference whether it was a waitress in a French restaurant or a student in the classroom, the wife of a colleague, or a sophisticated worldling who conducted a salon.” Pauck concludes, “[Tillich] urged them to remain open, even as he was, to the infinite experiences of life.”

The details of Tillich’s second marriage are grim. Already engaged when they met, Tillich’s future second wife, Hannah Werner, was ten years his junior. Tillich attempted convinced Werner to leave her fiancé and become romantically involved with him. Since Tillich was still married (his divorce not yet finalized), Werner rejected Tillich’s advancements and married her then fiancé. She continued a secret romantic entanglement with Tillich into marriage. But Tillich wasn’t satisfied as Werner’s cuckold; he pursued Werner even after the birth of her first child. Tillich’s advances charmed her. After giving birth, Werner abandoned her husband and child for Tillich, leaving her infant in a nursing home. Pauck reports that the child died from neglect shortly after.

As Tillich’s close friend and confidant Pauck concludes, “Tillich entered each friendship with a special anxiety of which he was never altogether free. Those who knew of his fatal weakness [speaking of his serial adultery], accepted him as he was. . . . His overriding fear was that his story might one day be made public and bring ruin upon his work, if it were misrepresented and misunderstood. . . . He sought to assuage his feelings of guilt by a rule which he developed over the years: it did not matter so much what happened between two people so long as agape was not absent from the relationship.” Unlike Zacharias, Tillich didn’t want his leave his sin to be uncovered by an investigative report.

Since they both leveraged their fame and authority to exploit women, what are we to make of these premier Christian apologists? I offer two thoughts on the matter.

First, there is one seminal difference between Zacharias and Tillich. Zacharias openly condemned sexual exploitation as sinful. Paul Tillich never viewed preying on female students as wrong, just ‘unconventional.’ While Zacharias’s approach to his own sin is hypocritical, his message remains true: sin is wrong and salvation is found in Christ alone. RZIM recognizes this by setting up call centers for Zacharias’s victims.

The same cannot be said for Paul Tillich. Although one might find it admirable that Tillich sought transparency (albeit posthumously), their is no measure of repentance in his legacy. Tillich’s biographers, the keepers of his secret sins, conclude that he was a “genius of friendship” and a “premier theologian.” They dismiss Tillich’s plagiarism, predatory practices, and familial neglect as the burden of his genius. “He clung to his new way of life, for he had convinced himself that his work suffered when he was deprived of the experience of the erotic.” Paul Tillich’s approach to ethics undermined his own teaching—his ethic enslaved his conscience to the anxiety of exposure, but never moved him to repent or express such behavior as wrong.

Second, both men sinned in the name of Christ. Both men committed blasphemy. Blasphemy is a horrendous sin because of its vertical and horizontal impact on the kingdom of God. Vertically it ascribes sin to the Divine. When the life of a Christian leader blasphemes the name of God, they lie about the character of God. But the One God who is Father of all women does not offer his daughters as tribute to glorified predators. Horizontally it defames the name of God across the world. Blasphemy impedes men and women from coming to the cross as they view its power on the Christian renowned as ineffective at best and perverse at worst.

How ought we respond?

The common clay from which all men are formed unites us to Tillich and Zacharias. “So, let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man” (1 Cor 10:12–13a). The sins of Tillich and Zacharias are monstrous but not exceptional. Everyone who takes up the mantle of Christian apologist, theologian, pastor, or leader, must observe more carefully not only what they teach but how they live. The Bible expresses the call of every Christian to “be holy as God is holy” (1 Pet 1:16).

Do You Believe in Ghosts, Poem

From March of 2019 through October,  I officiated nearly twenty funerals for family, friends, and church members. Some of these dear brothers and sisters were expected passing, most were not. On top of these funerals, a mentor of mine (a spiritual giant to me) died as well. This period of mourning in my life and our church came to a head when my own Uncle passed. I was honored and thankful to take a small part in his funeral in February.

I wrote this poem reflecting on the memories of church members and family I sorely miss. I found memories of them come upon me like a flood, often at times I do not expect. These memories spring from a joy filled past, flow into a river of tears, and threaten to empty into an ocean of despair. Without the New Testament promise of the resurrection, I’d be swept out to sea. Praise God for the promise of new life in his Son!

I want to dedicate the poem to the members of Summerville First Baptist who have lost a loved one during my short tenure as their pastor. I love you and continue to remember you in my prayers. When we share those lonesome days, those days when the heart aches, the eyes tire, and strength wanes, love the Christ of the cross, gaze into the empty tomb, and anchor your hope to the resurrection.

Do You Believe in Ghosts?

Do you beleive in Ghosts?
I do.
Seeing familiar faces,

who haunt common places.
A house,
where my children once played,

a sound my son made,
an aroma,
a taste of past pleasantries,

these are my memories.
They come
Like a flood from the past.

E’er they haunt, ne’r they last.
They’re real,
but only in my mind.

Knowing not when I’ll find,
Crypt dreams.
For a short time I smile.

I beg them stay awhile.
I plead, come quicker.

Why do these shadows flicker?
No sound.
I am told, just because

I am lost in what was.


Do you believe in Ghosts?
I do.
Just not what you may find.

Mine are the holy kind,
to come.
The resurrection I will cherish.

Death’s sting, let it perish.
By faith,
I know what I’ll see,

When Christ reigns eternally.
He’s risen.
And to him I strive.

My old faces, joyful, alive,
brand new.
Memories formed made real

When the dead arise,
In Christ,
When their bones come alive,

to future memories I yearn.
I’ll wait
for glory and for joy.

When my ghosts, family,
who died,
In heaven I will see.

By faith, not by sight.
By faith.
Not by haunting dreams.

Foretold this noble scene.
I see.
Not the past but future,

the Holy Ghost will suture.
My tears?
All wiped away, their fate.

For though now’s too late,
There I,
will hug and kiss your face.

Come Holy Spirit embrace.
Come Son.
Father, permit no delay.

I count God’s stars in faith.
home promised children of Christ.

My Lord, in you I laud.


Five Noticeable Changes at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

As a student of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) since 2008, I’ve spent eight years living on campus. We moved away in 2017. Recently, I got to spend two weeks on campus. There are five big changes on campus worth noting:

  1. The Student Center
  2. From 2008 to present I’ve seen Naylor student center go from Victorian formalism to an African Safari. Now it feels, well, like a student center. The student lounge is no longer aiming for museum chic; instead, students spend hours enjoying one another’s company there. The café is a constant hub and even features Pac-man, ping-pong, and ski-ball for the students. In just two weeks, I saw more students mulling about, laughing, and enjoying the Naylor center than I’ve seen in years.

  3. Scarborough College
  4. I have always thought Scarborough college is great. It provides a top-notch education: students from my youth ministry have gone on to study in the college and have transformed into scholars. There is now a strong student life presence on campus. While my Michigan State University blood rejects blue and gold outright, anyone can see the students now sporting Scarborough College swag are enjoying being a part of the college. Although, if the rumors of forming official sports teams turn out to be true, I may have to retire my ‘undefeated since 1908’ t-shirt.

  5. Chapel Services
  6. The new format for chapel is impressive. The order is geared toward the reading of God’s Word. Each service begins with the public reading; music leaders, guest speakers, and even the President are slated to read God’s word to the student body. This speaks to the high prestige the school places on the inspired Word of God. This format alone is reason enough to be excited about the future of SWBTS. Everyone attending cannot help but notice the Word of God is on the lips of the faculty.

  7. Roberts Library
  8. I went to Seminary Hill to spend two weeks researching and writing my dissertation. The librarians and library staff were amazing. They compiled research, prepared a place for me to study, and continued to provide encouragement (and even extra research) for two weeks. If you want to spend time in a quality theological library staffed by godly disciples who work toward your success, study at SWBTS.

  9. The Amazing Faculty
  10. Always save the best for last; and the SWBTS faculty is one of the best. The heart of SWBTS faculty is for students and ministry. Prior to arriving on campus, I sent out a slew of emails to SWBTS faculty asking if we could get lunch. Every single email was answered in the affirmative. Despite the end of the semester, the rush for grading, and various projects, every professor took some measure of time to meet with me. Even SWBTS President Adam Greenway stopped me at chapel to ask how I was doing and to encourage my research. You cannot doubt the heart behind Dr. Greenway’s vision; SWBTS is for her students.

I’m aware that not all the changes feel positive to everyone. The vibrancy of life isn’t without its aches and growing pains. But that’s what I see at SWBTS—vibrant life. A fresh breeze of excitement, a campus which loves and mentors students, and a leadership team with God’s Word on its heart—who could ask for a better time to support SWBTS? Her future is bright. Her Savior is on the move. Now is the best time to support The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Nostalgia and Why We Can’t Even

Nostalgia has a powerful effect on the twenty-first century. Having loosened the moors of Western traditions which long held our culture from drifting, we now find ourselves looking back not to our forefathers but to our fore-child: we ask our childhood to answer the adult questions of our present.

Nostalgia cannot answer the hardest questions; it cannot answer the problem of suffering because it cannot remember when it last suffered. Nostalgia remembers the Saturday morning cartoons but forgets the absence of parents; remembers the flash of Hollywood’s lights, but forgets the dark and lonely nights. How could it remember a truth it represses? This world is broken. Innocence and magic don’t exist.

Since nostalgia is a child, it does not know when to forgive or when to throw a tantrum. It sees blogposts as subject to outrage and personal sin as a journey. Nostalgia extends grace to those it  loves already, but never loves to give grace. It takes from the past but never sacrifices for the future. The time has come to stop looking into childhood vices to produce adult virtues.

The Heart of Man

So we ought to reexamine the Bible’s interpretation of reality. God’s Word teaches that the mythos of a magical childhood, the perfect innocence, and the triumph of youth is an illusion. It shows us the nasty, gritty, and viciously evil heart of supposedly civilized humanity. It tells us that our ‘FOMO’ may be envy and discontentment in disguise.

The Bible once gripped our imaginations as nostalgia does, but the Bible is so very different from the Disney and/or Pixar of our childhoods. What heroes are we relating to? David slays the giant but lusts after women. Peter courageously charges out with the flash of his sword but shrinks back into the shadows of denial. Disney Princesses range from glamorous to adorkable, but never truly wrestle with the deep issues that expose a need to look to a higher power than a genie or a magical rock. What the myth of nostalgia fails to answer the Bible gets right. The Bible displays the grotesque heart of humanity like insects on a pin board. Having nailed humanity so well, it also presents a solution that rings true.

Letting Jesus Capture our Imagination

The Jesus of the Bible is not the Jesus of nostalgia. The Jesus of our childhood nostalgia demands very little. He smiles quite a lot, helps everyone to be a better person, and asks us to do a little better (when we are able, if we feel like it). The Jesus of the Bible, however, he suffers, bleeds, dies, and confronts our wickedness head on. He turns over the tables of oppression, strikes at the heart of our legalism, and does not give into injustice. The Jesus of the Bible bears sin and suffers the evil of the world.

Jesus, the true Jesus, ought to capture our imagination. He doesn’t grant grandiose wishes, doesn’t pretend that the magic of Christmas will heal all wounds. He bears the reality of life with supernatural love. He takes up the cause of the abused, while laying humanity’s horrors upon his shoulders. “He was despised and forsaken by men, a man of sorrows well acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). If we are to answer any of life’s hardest questions for ourselves and our posterity, we need to be allured by the astounding reality of Christ not the flat fantasy of nostalgia.

Pouring Ourselves into Reality

Nostalgia devours itself ultimately; it creates unrealistic expectations on mothers to recreate fantasy in a perfect birthday party, burdens children to be consumers of their parents’ past, and saddles the family budget with todays ‘must-haves.’

Meanwhile, real life problems persist unaddressed by fantasy. Christians need to take responsibility for the state of their towns. Revitalizing a community means not pouring the greater portions of our resources into luxury. Exchange a ‘loot-box’ for providing lunches for the poor. Trade in a lavish vacation for funding a community event.

We need to stop blending into secularism. The stale Lucky Charms of the 80s and 90s can’t compare to the wedding banquet of the Lamb. We need to stop scrounging for secular table scraps and start inviting them to our Father’s table. The Bible answers what nostalgia cannot; it speaks of an eternity of wonder free from the temporal myth of magic.

Instead of encouraging children to live out a fantasy, have them write a letter to a shut in; deliver it by hand. Help them learn the joy of following Jesus. Don’t make Christmas the fulfillment of our children’s wildest dreams (or our own); make it a chance to serve the poor and the widow. Our childhood isn’t ready to make the sacrifice, but our Savior is.

“For I consider that the suffering of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. . . . What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:18, 31–32.

The Bells of Notre Dame Will Be Silent This Easter

The bells of Notre Dame will be silent this Easter. The iconic gothic cathedral burned on Monday. The cathedral’s stone architecture trapped heat like an oven as the spires of Notre Dame collapsed on themselves.

This conflagration interrupted a recent effort to restore the eroding cathedral. Lacking major renovation for two centuries, nearly all areas were affected including, “the flying buttresses, the spire, the choir, the nave, the transept, the towers and the sacristy,” according to Michal Picaud. Picaud presides over ‘The Friends of Notre Dame,’ a society formed to seek out patrons of art and architecture willing to fund the restoration. Michal Picaud branded Notre Dame “the Cathedral of the French People,” appealing to French history and culture. In the end the restoration effort received only “bare minimum” funding.

Long before flames engulfed Notre Dame, the congregation inside the church and in greater France had succumbed to secularization. In 1905, the French passed a separation of church and state law, leading to the closure of most religious schools. In a recent survey, 41% of French nationals self-identified as Christian; of those, 80% described themselves as Catholic. Two years ago, most French people who described themselves as Catholic considered themselves to be Catholic-Atheists. Catholic-Atheism may enjoy the heritage, art, and architecture of a Christian past, but apparently remains unwilling to give substantially to Cathedral renovations. Catholic-Atheism not only struggles with renovation, it fails to capture the hearts of people.

It is a historical loss and people are grieving appropriately. But the Cathedral itself is not the loss that should grieve us most.

Secularism celebrates the West’s rapture from Christianity, lauding the new post-Christian culture. Yet, still it questions, “How can it be gone?”

The restoration France needs is not that which she craves; it needs a resurrection of the soul, not a gothic Cathedral. Like a cathedral in ruins, Catholic-atheism offers a fading glimpse into what was, but offers nothing of substance today. So let us not take pride in the heritage of our buildings or the beauty of our steeples. In the end New Jerusalem will have no need for Notre Dame, Westminster, the Washington National Cathedral, or any temple.

Christians know that the true temple of God is founded upon Christ and built up by the living stones of his people (1 Pet 2:5). “Behold,” God’s Word proclaims, “I am laying in Zion a stone a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (1 Pet 2:6). No conflagration can reduce God’s Church to smoldering ash.

So let us pray that this Easter, when the bells of Notre Dame are silent, the sweet melody of the Gospel rings all the more clear.

“The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God endures forever.”
Isaiah 40:8

Are You Consuming Food Porn?

One October at Oklahoma State University, proud I made it to class early, I walked up to the professor smiling and some students and asked what they were discussing.

Food porn.

Immediately, I knew I had walked into the wrong conversation. I awkwardly excused myself.

At the end of October the situation happened again. I overheard some of my fellow students discussing the Saw movie series as a new genera—torture porn. At this point, I no longer knew the proper use of the term porn.

I thought porn described “adult” content and movies only. I was wrong. A commercial for an enticing pizza, leisurely spinning around until its full reveal, with a hand grasping for a slice and disembodied baritone exclaiming, “oh, yeah!” That’s food porn (think every Reese’s commercial during Halloween).

The term porn no longer denotates or connotes anything sexuality explicit; porn now describes the superlative of enjoyment.This new definition of porn changes the connotation of porn from a deviant behavior to a norm. Originally, the term porn was transliterated from the Greek, pornéros. Pornéros means evil. The Greek term carries with it a connotation of malicious behavior.

Until recently, the connotation of porn has followed its literal meaning—deviant behavior. This is no longer the case. Even Christians are using the term with a positive meaning. The shift in definition rides upon the wings of the relatively new access to pornography. The old anecdote of sneaking into a (sinful) father’s sock drawer for a secretive glance at his Playboy magazine is now antiquated. What had once been spoken of in hushed tones is now played for laughs in family television programs.

The United States is currently debating the positives and negatives of porn and pornography. Some states (Utah, Virginia, South Dakota, Tennessee, Arkansas) have begun to treat the excessive viewing of pornography as an addiction. While modern psychology does not yet agree on whether porn is addictive, Zitzman and Butler (2009) concluded, “the detached, objectifying, exploitive sexuality of pornography directly impacts attachment trust, eroding any safe expectation of one’s partner being faithfully for the other.”

Zitzman and Butler help illuminate my point. Porn indulges in an imaginary world and brings harm to the real one. As we increasingly use porn to describe our food, movies, sports, and general pleasures, we are ultimately approving of overindulging in the realm of imagination—enjoying a detached, objectifying, self-indulgent, and exploitive fiction.

Porn as a superlative of pleasure replaces societies attention to true virtue with an addiction to the fictional. We no longer recognize the boundaries between the real and unreal. Once our minds have had their fill of sensuality, we are left with what we have in reality—nothing.

What porn promises is a superlative. It delivers nothing. At best, the only thing a porn-saturated culture can do is continue to push the boundaries of its own fiction, an attempt to find greater gratification. Food porn presses food beyond the necessity into gluttony. The boundaries press forward, but the fiction remains hollow. Christians, better than anyone, umderstand the fleeting nature of pleasure.

Consider Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. The Passion of the Christ was incredibly graphic, but few would describe it as torture porn. The allure of porn’s fiction and pleasure died at the cross. Jesus’s death was not imaginary. We receive no sensual gratification from it. The cross exposes the emptiness of earthly pleasure; it reveals man’s pleasures as grotesque. A porn-saturated culture counsels us to feed the hunger of our hearts with imaginary sustenance. Just as PlayMobile food feeds no one, so a porn saturated culture cannot satisfy. “For apart from [God] who can eat and who can find enjoyment?” (Ecc 2:25).

We need to mature beyond our porn culture—a moratorium on our fascination with imaginary and vain pleasures, realizing “mature content” is not mature. Our society must stop using the word porn with positive connotations (food porn, music porn, etc.). For the well-being of our relationships, we need to regard porn as one of the greatest evils to be shunned, not a superlative to be enjoyed. Instead of taking pleasure from the fictional dismemberment of people into the individual parts desired, we ought to enjoy dwelling together, loving holistically. If we would finally uncover our fascination with food porn, then only the hideous nature of gluttony would stand naked before us.

How To Start A Quiet Time

What is a quiet time?

When a friend of mine first became a Christian, his mentor asked him to start having a quiet time. He had no idea what it meant to have a quiet time. Wanting to be faithful, he went to his closet, closed the door, and sat in silence. Afterwards, he wondered, “what was the point of that?” A quiet time is ‘christianese’ for spending time reading God’s Word and listening to God. I wanted to offer some tips to those who may have never tried doing a quiet time.

Start small

Many people begin with grandiose ideas of being incredibly faithful. The problem with starting a quiet time, especially if you’ve never done so, is that it requires consistency. Consistency is always easy in theory. Until an established habit takes root, consistency is difficult. Therefore, it is much easier to be consistent when you start small. If you’ve never done a consistent quiet time,  my recommendation is to get a good devotion book.

My favorite devotion book is My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. Avoid devotion books which focus more on the author’s emotions than on Scripture. Devotion books which read like self-inspirational or motivational talks aren’t worth their time. The goal of a quiet time isn’t to build your self-esteem, but instead to listen to God.

While using a devotion book, get out your own Bible and read a slightly larger portion of Scripture than the devotion book lists. The goal of starting with a devotion book is to go deeper in the study of the scriptures.

Be consistent

As life changes, consistency is going to change. Some people like to do their quiet time pre-breakfast. Others, like myself, need to go through a morning routine before doing a quiet time. The people who mentored me were generally up around 4:00-5:00am and did their prayer and quiet time then. I tried that. I failed. When I was reading at 5:00am, I found I was trailing off; if I closed my eyes to pray, my prayers sounded like, “Dear God, I’d like to pray for . . . um . . . And . . . um . . . Amen.”

5am was not a great time for me to listen to God. Find a time and place which works best for you. You don’t have to be legalistic about certain times, but you do want to be consistent.

Nothing helps consistency like an accountability partner. Get someone you trust and ask each other what the Lord is teaching daily. On those days when one of you misses, don’t berate each other. The synonym for Christian accountability is encouragement not inquisition. Generally some sort of crisis has come up (lack of time, unforeseen event, etc.) or sin has crept in (laziness, disregard for God, unethical behavior); in both cases, encouragement and prayer for each other are necessary.

Don’t get stale

I’ve had many different quiet time plans. I’ve never found one to be THE ONE. Some years I have a plan to read through the whole Bible. Other times I spend much more time looking into one book. Sometimes I use a devotion book. I change my devotion time whenever it gets stale. The quiet time is your time with God. Reading God’s Word and praying ought not be like cramming two saltine crackers in your mouth to start the day. A quiet time ought to be refreshing and help keep your mind focused on God. Change the plan up, try something new, don’t let consistency become drudgery.

Bookend your quiet time with prayer

Start your quiet time with prayer. I like to read a written prayer to open up my quiet time. The Valley of Vision and Prayers for Meditation are my favorite pieces from which to draw. These written prayers help my quiet time focus on who God is and not on what I want him to do. After reading through the Bible, take some time to pray again. Start and close your quiet time with prayer. I try to keep my quiet time prayers from becoming laundry lists of requests. I do pray for other people, but for my quiet time I try to ask God to reveal sin in me and help me to keep his Word in my heart. My prayer time for others is generally later in the day. When I am praying for others, I try to remember to pray for my church, pastor/staff, and my spouse. Many other requests come and go, but those three are consistent.

Once you’ve established a consistent quiet time, you’ll begin to experience the benefits of it. I find that quiet times help me to keep the Word of God in my heart daily. I tend to think more about what God says and less about what I want. When I’m consistent in my time with God, arguments in the home, frustrations at work, and general anxieties lessen. Quiet times help cultivate the peace of the Lord in my life. More important than all these personal benefits, a consistent quiet time allows me to listen to the Lord and allow him to guide my life.