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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For several years, I traveled a lot for work. I flew all over the country meeting with various Bible colleges, Christian universities, and seminaries. As such, I spent a lot of time on airplanes. And any time you fly, you inevitably have that awkward conversation as they pack you into seats made for people smaller than the average American.
First you offer your name and they respond with their’s. Then the question of whether you’re traveling for work or for personal reasons comes. And then, the question that always provides the most interesting responses. “So what do you do?”
And every time I’ve answered that I am a pastor, I’ve received quizzical looks. Apparently, I don’t fit the general image in most people’s minds as to what a preacher is supposed to look like. I don’t know if it’s the shaved head, the beard (I had grown it out quite long for a while and looked like a bald cousin from Duck Dynasty), or that I don’t normally wear a coat and tie, but almost no one has ever heard me say, “I’m a pastor,” and said, “I can see that.”
Images of the Minister
Even as we think of the images associated with ministry, we generally approach the task with a particular image or images that guide us in our day-to-day actions. Those who view themselves as shepherds or prophets or teachers or evangelists or spiritual gurus or life coaches or servant leaders will all approach ministry in distinct ways. The one who sees himself as a shepherd is more likely to spend extended time with his people and view time locked away in a study preparing for a sermon as wasted time.
The one who envisions himself a teacher is almost the opposite. He would rather study and read and prepare his sermons, viewing the preaching ministry as the best manner through which to love his congregants.
The same is true as we approach the more specific task of preaching. How we view ourselves as we approach the pulpit determines a lot about what we will value and choose in the sacred task.
Images of the Preacher
Those who view the preaching task as primarily pastoral in nature concern themselves with the care and needs of their hearers. As they approach sermon preparation, they are acutely aware of the needs of those in the congregation and they aim their sermon carefully to meet those needs. Their preaching is targeted first and foremost at life-change.
So, they begin with the need and seek to bring God’s Word to bear upon it—What does the Bible say about this particular need or that particular need?
Before moving on, I think it is important to note that this is not a bad thing in itself. Many of us can learn something from this image and be reminded of the importance of the congregation in our preaching. I’ve met too many young preachers that handle the text well and preach a good sermon, but fail to connect it with their hearers—whether that be by speaking over the heads of their congregation by using too much technical jargon or quoting from their favorite lexicon or by using illustrations that were clearly intended for another kind of hearer.
Ultimately, though, I fear that the emphasis of the image of pastor opens us up to a host of potential downfalls, most notably that it lends to the authority of the sermon residing in the preacher himself. He is the one who discerns the needs of the congregation. He is the one who determines which passages speak to those needs. And, in order to avoid potential conflict and/or hurt feelings, he is the one who may decide to avoid difficult or controversial passages of Scripture.
So while the image of the pastor has some points to keep in mind, ultimately, it can lead to drift because the Word and the preacher can come to exist for the sake of the congregant.
In college, I thought the Lord had called me to music ministry. So I majored in music right up until I realized that I wasn’t being trained for the ministry—I was being trained to do music and ministry was merely the outlet for it. So, I flipped my major and minor and became a religion major with a minor in sacred music. I had a friend who wanted desperately to become a famous youth-evangelist. That was his heart. But it struck me as odd that he wasn’t a ministry or religion major. He was a speech communications major. As he informed me, he didn’t need the tools to rightly divide the Word—he felt he had those. He needed to be a better communicator.
My concern was that he might become a better communicator of the wrong thing!
There are some who are so excited about the preaching task that the sermon becomes the central component to their overall ministry. For them, the Word and the congregation exist for the sake of the sermon.
They love Rhetoric! They love books on crafting illustrations and coming up with just the right play on words for each point in the sermon. The Word is the tool he uses to craft the sermon and the congregation becomes little more than his audience.
You should study Rhetoric. You should learn to craft better illustrations and select just the right turn of phrase. But not for the sake of highlighting your own creativity. Instead, you should equip yourself to better communicate the word of the King.
I will make it easy for you—I am convinced this is the proper image we should view the preaching task. Before there were newspapers and headlines, the herald was the one sent into the kingdom with the message of the king. When he opened his mouth, he spoke with the king’s authority because he was sent by the king with the king’s words. But that authority was derivative. His words only had authority as they communicated the words of the king.
He was entrusted with the message and charged with keeping the integrity of that message. And those who failed to maintain the purity of the king’s words did not keep their place long. They were sent as the emissaries of the king.
That, my friend, is the image I want you to have in mind as you stand and deliver het Word of God. You have been sent into your particular congregation with a message from God. But you don’t have to devise that message, discern the thoughts of the king. You have his written Word. And your task is to re-present that Word.
As such, Dr. Steven Smith used to say, we don’t preach sermons. We preach texts. The Word is the central component of the preaching task. The preacher is merely the mouthpiece; the congregation is the recipient of the Word and their’s is the responsibility to live in response to that message.
Now, I am not saying that the herald’s words are God’s words ex operato. The herald’s words are God’s words only as long as he faithfully and accurately presents them. Our God is a God who speaks. And we have the responsibility to speak his words after him.
In Jonah, chapter 1, we read that the Word of the Lord comes to Jonah and he’s instructed to go to Ninevah and preach against it. We all know what happens next. He goes the wrong way, away from Ninevah, gets swallowed by a great fish, and three days later vomited out on shore.
And then, in chapter 3, we read that the Word of the Lord comes to Jonah a second time. And this time, he is instructed to “call out against the message that I tell you.” The language there is unique in the Hebrew. The same root is used for the verb and the object.
The Lord is being decisively clear on this point. He’s saying, “Jonah, go to Ninevah and preach the proclamation that I am proclaiming to you. Speak the speech that I am speaking to you. Talk the talk that I talk to you. What I say, Jonah, you say.”
That’s what it means to be a herald.
One of the benefits of the image of the herald is that it gives confidence to the reluctant. We all know that ministry does not necessarily mean preaching. Preaching is a component of ministry. Preaching is a specific responsibility given to some ministers, but not all ministers preach.
Which means that some of you don’t feel called to preach. Some of you dread the thought of standing before a group of any size, opening the Bible, and preaching. That’s okay. The key is to communicate God’s Word faithfully and accurately. As long as you do that—and that’s what we’re here to work on—you are standing not in your own authority, but with the authority of the Lord.
For others, however, the idea of standing on a stage is a bit too enticing. Our pride yearns for it to be about us. And to be given such a platform and the image of having the authority of God?!
The image of the herald emphasizes the holy responsibility of the preacher. Each week, the preacher stands before a congregation with the sacred task of bringing God’s Word to bear upon their lives; this is no small thing. There is no greater task, nor a greater responsibility. In that moment, the congregation’s ears are attuned to the voice of the herald in order to hear what the Lord says.
Many preachers, however, fail to grasp the magnitude of this moment and this responsibility. Striving to gain an audience and seeking to endear the congregation to themselves, rather than to God, they toy with foolish remarks and playful stories. They play tricks with words and spin phrases that diminish the gravity of the proclamation.
Each time the herald of God opens the sacred text and speaks, eternity hangs in the balance.
Only the herald who bears the Words and the authority of the king feels the weight of the responsibility that accompanies that task.
What is the purpose of masculinity? With so much talk concerning toxic masculinity, often we forget the positive sides of masculinity. News-media, TV shows, and all sorts of movies are now asking if masculinity is even necessary. Yet, within these same media sources, stories depicting fatherhood have tended to flourish (most recently seen in Aquaman‘s $1 billion intake). The time is ripe for a reexamination of Christian fatherhood. This series, Letters From Dad, focuses on letters which Christian fathers have written to their sons. These letters help reveal the heart of Christian fatherhood, as they seek to guide their sons through the Christian life. My hope is to encourage fathers and my fellow Christians and to provide a reminder of how important fatherhood is to the maturation of a young man.
Our first letter comes from Samuel Wesley to his son John Wesley (the founder of Methodism). John and Charles Wesley had written their father in 1732 seeking advice concerning The Holy Club. The Holy Club was a group of young Oxfordian students who were concerned with living life as pious Christians. At the time, John and Charles believed most Christians didn’t take their faith seriously. The Holy Club focused on waking up early, praying separately then together, reading the Scriptures, and reading the early church fathers, so that they “would not lean on their own understanding.” Nominal Christians at Oxford began to see John and Charles as extremists; they began to persecute John and Charles. While the persecution at Oxford was mild, it caused John and Charles some distress. John was concerned the Holy Club had gone too far and sought his father’s advice. The letter below is Samuel’s reply to John’s concerns over persecution.
In the letter Samuel seeks to strengthen John in three ways: 1. He encourages his son with scripture, 2. Samuel reminds John of how he is praying for him. Samuel does not want John to become proud of his accomplishments for God, 3. He offers John fatherly wisdom in handling worldly persecution.
Read Samuel’s letter below,
“This day I received both your [letters], and this evening, in the course of our reading, I found an answer that would be more proper than any I myself could dictate; though since it will not be easily translated, I send it in the original. “I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.”* (2 Cor. vii. 4.) What would you be? Would you be angels? I question whether a mortal can arrive to a greater degree of perfection, than steadily to do good, and for that reason patiently and meekly to suffer evil. For my part, on the present view of your actions and designs, my daily prayers are, that God would keep you humble; and then I am sure that if you continue ‘to suffer for righteousness’ sake, though it be but in a lower degree, ‘the spirit of glory and of God’ shall, in some good measure, ‘rest upon you.’ Be never weary of well-doing: never look back; for you know the prize and the crown are before you… Be not high-minded, but fear [God]. Preserve an equal temper of mind under whatever treatment you meet with from a not very just or well-natured world. Bear no more sail than is necessary, but steer steady.**
Samuel’s letter encouraged John and Charles to continue their pursuit of obeying God. The result of Samuel’s guidance produced the two of the finest men in Christian history. John and Charles strengthened The Holy Club and were eventually joined by George Whitefield. Between the revival preaching of George Whitefield and the influence of John Wesley’s Methodism, Samuel Wesley’s letter of encouragement impacted the history of the American Church deeply. Later, when John completed his multi volume compilation of all his works, he was sure to include his Father’s letter of encouragement within the introduction.
Fathers, let us take Samuel’s example. Let us strengthen the faith of our children with the encouragement that comes from the Word of God. Children need reminders we are praying for them (make sure prayer is happening). Only after we’ve allowed God to speak to our children, then out of that wisdom comes fatherly advice. Samuel saw his role as the spiritual leader of his children, even when John and Charles were adults. As Christian fathers, we need to keep our commitment to leading our children well.
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he shall not depart from it” Prov 22:6.
*Samuel Wesley quoted this verse from the Greek. This is what he means in writing, “I send it in the original.” I have supplied a translation from the NIV.
**The letter is printed in full in The Works of John Wesley, Vol. 1., 8–9.
On February 12, 2019 the United Methodist Church (UMC) released the findings of a theological research report conducted across the denomination. “The goal was to shed light on the present, in the interest of the church’s future” (Press Release here). While many people may consider the United Methodists to be split between conservative and liberal evenly, the survey revealed that 44% of United Methodists were conservative and only 20% viewed themselves as progressive/liberal.
The Theological Survey
While one may be surprised to discover that the majority of United Methodists (UMs) proclaim to be theologically conservative, the real shocker concerns the doctrine of the Word of God. Only 41% of UM conservatives surveyed believe the Bible is the most authoritative source of their faith—30% cite church tradition as most authoritative. Among the liberals (and this comes as little surprise) only 6% cite the Bible as the most authoritative source of Christian faith and practice. Only 29% of UMs surveyed held to an orthodox understanding of the sufficiency of Scripture. This means the Bible is not the primary source for faith and practice for the majority of UMs. Only 20% of UM members surveyed believe the Bible is the actual Word of God and ought to be taken literally. 36% of UMs agreed with the statement that the Bible contained errors.
Since the Bible is no longer the standard of faith and practice for the UMC, theological erosion has followed. The reason the Bible anchors a denomination’s theology is simple: everyone is subject to God’s authority. When questions on homosexuality, female pastors, or divorce inevitably arise, Scripture demands theologians answer exegetically. Liberal theologians must apologize for tough passages; Conservative theologians must defend them. Both sides answer to the same standard.
Whenever tradition replaces Scripture as the standard for faith and practice, theology stops answering to God and lends an ear to the court of public opinion. No church conference is going to vote certain passages be stricken from the Bible. Tradition is not nearly as resistant to change. Where Scripture is immune to popular vote, church tradition is not; while tradition may be slow to change, change is inevitable.
Voting to Change Tradition
Change is exactly the problem faced by the UMC’s self-identified Conservatives. Currently, the UMC is going to vote on changing the Methodist Book of Discipline. On February 23rd, 864 delegates from around the world will meet in St. Louis to vote on whether traditional doctrine concerning homosexuality ought to be changed. Currently three plans regarding change to the Methodist Book of Discipline have come forward:
The One Church Plan. The One Church Plan calls for the Book of Discipline to change its definition of marriage to include same sex couples. Due to the high percentage of those who self-identify tradition as the primary source of faith and practice, the One Church Plan seems least likely to be accepted by the wider UMC. If the One Church Plan should win, it will be because progressive/liberal hold a modest majority in the Council of Bishops. If the plan passes, conservatives will face a theological crisis; likely many conservatives would leave the UMC.
The Traditional Plan. The Traditional Plan will change the Methodist Book of Discipline to reinforce a traditional view of human sexuality and put forward stricter punishments on those who perform same-sex weddings. The Traditional Plan relies heavily upon engrained traditions; since 44% of the UMC identifying as conservative, the plan has a chance at being confirmed. The Traditional Plan is the only one which actually upholds all the current policies and traditions of the UMC. If the Traditional Plan is implemented, many liberal pro-LGBT ministers would be expelled or leave voluntarily.
The Connectional Conference Plan The Connectional Conference Plan (CCP) calls for removing the five geographical jurisdictions of the UMC in favor of three theological ones (conservative, moderate, and progressive); each connectional conference would decide its own stance on the issue of homosexuality. The CCP is by far the most complicated of the plans and, in my personal opinion, the most likely to be accepted. The plan officially ratifies what the theological survey already confirms—three theological branches of the UMC and a denial of Scripture providing cohesion to UMC standards of faith and practice. While the plan may keep the UMC united for the time, it is hard to see how the CCP doesn’t pragmatically create three separate UMCs.
The real theological issue facing the UMC is not homosexuality; it’s the downgrade of the status of the Word of God.
Yet, I would argue the real theological issue facing the UMC is not homosexuality; it’s the downgrade of the status of the Word of God. Church traditions are always subject to change. Only when the Word of God is recognized as infallible, inerrant, and sufficient, can any denomination resist the pull of the secular tide and keep itself from theological drift.
My prayer for the UMC conference is a revival and reliance on God’s Word. As a young Christian, John Wesley, the founder of Methodist, and his Holy Club questions had a deep impact on me spiritually. Wesley would often ask, “did the Bible live in me today? Which would be followed up by asking, “do I give the Bible time to speak to me every day?” I pray that each delegate will honestly ask these two questions before they vote on Saturday.
Tradition is a helpful map to keep the church from drifting off course. However, without Scripture as the rudder and captain at the helm, the church will find itself blown in any theological direction. Whichever way the wind blows on the 23rd, the United Methodist Church is heading toward a theological storm. When less than one-third of a denomination’s members can sing, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so” with any theological integrity, the denomination is heading for destruction.
At present, Dr. Greenway serves as the dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. He is a graduate of Samford University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv), and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (PhD). Additionally, he earned a masters degree in nonprofit administration from the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame in 2016.
His friends and colleagues speak very highly of his qualification and his character.
Dr. Paul Chitwood—the newly-installed president of the International Mission Board—said, “Both Adam and Carla love the Lord and walk in integrity before Him. Should the Lord call them there, the Great Commission and the local church will be front and center at Southwestern Seminary and I will be praying, ‘Thank you, Lord, for answering my prayers and the prayers of Southern Baptists by giving us one of your best to lead us!’”
Likewise, Dr. Albert Mohler—president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary—is quoted as saying, “I’ve had the joy and privilege of working with Adam Greenway for well over a decade now. He is a remarkable Christian with a demonstrated heart for ministry, a clear vision for theological education, and he represents all of the convictions and character that Southern Baptists look to in a national leader.”
And so, with an abiding appreciation for my alma mater and a desire to see her flourish into the future, I’d like to offer four things I think every Southern Baptist owes Dr. Adam Greenway should the trustees approve him as the ninth president of the seminary.
We owe him (and his family) our prayers.
Dr. Greenway will be taking on the responsibility of leading an institution that has faced various difficulties in recent days. Some will take that as an opportunity to cast blame upon the former president or the trustees—something I refuse to do, in part because I not find it neither warranted nor helpful. Rather than seeking to attach blame, it would be much more beneficial to offer our prayers on the new president’s behalf. Let us pray that the Lord will give him wisdom and discernment—that he will be empowered to make changes deemed necessary and prudent and that he will be strengthened to resist the throngs of those offering opinions and making demands without the requisite information.
Let us pray that the Lord will guard his heart and his family, There is not much greater responsibility than the oversight of thousands of men and women who will proclaim the gospel in churches across Texas, the United States, and the ends of the earth. And we know that those entrusted with the greatest responsibilities are the prime targets of the Enemy and enemies of that glorious gospel.
We owe him our encouragement and confidence.
As we should speak to our Father in heaven privately on Dr. Greenway’s behalf, we should also speak to Dr. Greenway (and of him) with words of encouragement. In the press release posted by the school of his candidacy, words of affirmation are offered by Mohler, Chitwood, O. S. Hawkins, and the chairman of the Presidential Search Committee, Danny Roberts. In coming days and weeks, may each of us offer our encouragement to Dr. Greenway as he takes the helm.
We owe him our availability.
It is one thing to offer encouragement. Doing so merely costs us words. But we owe the next president of Southwestern more than words. We owe him our availability—our readiness to step in and join him in the task of leading the school in whatever manner necessary. For some, that will entail an availability to send students. For others, that means helping encourage other Southern Baptists to fund the work of the seminary. For others still, it may mean special gifts or invitations to him to speak or anything else. That which is important is an availability and willingness to step into whatever gaps he identifies and needs us to fill.
We owe him our patience.
Southern Baptists have never been known to withhold our opinions. Yet, I’m reminded of James’s instruction, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger” (James 1:19, CSB). When a young pastor asks me what changes he should make during his first year at a church, I tell him to take the first 9–12 months as an opportunity to learn about the church and understand why they’re doing things the way they are. Any changes he chooses to make during that period are made without a good understanding. And yet, many new pastors feel the pressure to change something—to make an impression—during those first months. Often (not always, but often), that pressure comes from families in the church who have a pre-existing agenda and view the pastor’s first months as an opportunity to make their move. While a seminary is not a church, it is not unlike one in that manner.
Let us offer Dr. Greenway our patience as he settles into the President’s Office. Let us offer him the time necessary to discern the state of the seminary and to search the heart of God for the best way forward. That may very well take a different path than some of us (any of us?) believe it should. When it does, we owe him our patience.
We owe the next president of Southwestern our prayers, our encouragement and support, our availability, and our patience. The Presidential Search Committee of the trustees has made a unanimous selection. The trustees will vote next week. Should the Lord call Dr. Greenway to the office of the seminary president, may every Southern Baptist be willing to extend these four things to him.
Everything we know of God has been revealed to us by God. Humanity has not come to an understanding of who God is by its own efforts or study. Instead, everything we understand has come as the result of his own self-revelation. He is the God who speaks.
As we look at the world around us, we can see some evidences of God’s grandeur and majesty. How often have we stopped and marveled at the beauty of a sunset—whether that be over the ocean waves or the mountain-tops? How often have we shuddered to think of the terrific power of “natural disasters”—tornados, tsunamis, and hurricanes—which we categorize more properly as “acts of God?”
Each of us have an understanding of right and wrong, based on the power and conviction of our consciences. Intuitively, we know that hatred is wrong. We understand the value of human life. We have to be taught to ignore those instincts (and many of us are), but we are born with them nonetheless.
But it is important to recognize that we know nothing of the love and mercy of God apart from divine revelation. We may know that a god exists, but we do not understand his character nor do we know his name apart from his own self-revelation. We know nothing of the three-in-one, Triune Godhead apart from divine revelation. And we know nothing of the hope of our salvation apart from his own attestation. Eternity hangs in the balance of his voice and he is not silent.
In the Old Testament, he speaks into the empty void and brings something out of nothing. He calls out to Adam in the Garden and tells Noah how to survive the flood. He gives Abram his marching orders and calls Moses from the burning bush. He thunders from the mountain, shows his power in the whirlwind, and whispers in the silence.
In the New Testament, he sends his Son—the eternal second person of the Triune Godhead, the Living Word, and active agent of all creation—to clothe himself in humanity and live a sinless life. He preached the arrival of the Kingdom of God and died a sacrificial, penal substitutionary death, and rose on the third day defeating death, hell, and the grave granting eternal life to whosoever believes. His invitation lingers, “All you who labor and are heavy labor, and I will give you rest.”
Our God is a God who speaks.
And because our God is a God who speaks, his words—the form of his communication—the Living and Inscripturated Words—matter . . . and they move.
Notice that in Acts, as the church is born and begins to expand, the Word of God is seen as the active agent: “the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied . . .” (Acts 6:7), and, “the word of God increased and multiplied” (Acts 12:24). Yes the Word is preached by the Apostles, but it is no mere passive instrument in the establishment of the Christian church.
As we approach the task of preaching, then, we must understand the centrality of our convictions concerning the Word of God in our doing so. That which we believe about the Bible will determine the manner and method of our preaching. If it is nothing more than a book of pithy moral teachings or a collection of mythological tales, the manner in which we approach the pulpit will follow and the Bible is nothing more than another collection of the stories of Zeus or Apollos or Odin or any other mythological deity.
But if the Bible in our hands is what it claims to be—the very Word and words of God—then the pulpit becomes the Sacred Desk and our task becomes a sacred task.
The Bible is inspired.
In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul writes that all Scripture is θεόπνευστος (inspired, or literally, “God-breathed”). Of course this refers to the Old Testament writings that were read, studied, and taught by Jesus and the apostles during the New Testament, but it is extended to the New Testament as well. Peter wrote that in Scripture, “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21). And Peter himself placed the words of his contemporary, Paul, on par with those found in the Old Testament, writing, “There are some things in [Paul’s writings] that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Pet 3:16).
The Bible is not man’s words about God nor mere words about man’s interactions with God. The Bible’s source is the very breath of God. We have a God who speaks. And the Bible we hold in our hands is the very words and Word of God. And if it is God’s Word—breathed out by him, it must be inerrant.
The Bible is inerrant.
If the Bible is the actual words and Word of a holy and righteous God—himself the standard of perfection and glory—it cannot mislead, but rather must be “truth without any mixture of error.”
Lest there be any doubt in our minds, consider Jesus’s approach to the Old Testament. By all means, he considered the statements of the Old Testament as factual, chronological, and historical. Jesus compared his eventual death, burial, and resurrection to Jonah’s experience in the great fish (Matt 12:39–42). To cast the shadow of doubt upon the historicity of Jonah is to do the very same to the death and resurrection of Christ! Though he often corrected the interpretations of the religious leaders of his day, not once did he correct the words of the Hebrew Bible. Modern disputes as to the authenticity, dating, and authorship of the Old Testament were never hinted at in Jesus’s teachings.
If the Bible is God’s Word, it is inerrant. And if it is inerrant, it must also be authoritative.
The Bible is authoritative.
If the Bible in our hands contains the very words of God, it must therefore be true. God is not the author of confusion, but of order. Therefore, if God’s Word is inspired and inerrant, there is no other proper response apart from our submission to it. We are not called to correct or adapt the Word of God, but rather to conform our lives and doctrines to stand in accord with it.
For those who love theology—who love to read heavy, dusty books written by dead guys—that means that we dare not explain how this verse “fits” into our theological grid. But rather, we must show how our theological framework incorporates and adapts itself to the text of Scripture. We must be submitted to the text. The text is the authority because the text (and not our own interpretation) is without error.
The Bible is sufficient.
If the Bible is inspired by God and, as such, is absolutely true and trustworthy in all that it claims; and if the Bible is true in all that it claims and, as such, we must be submitted to all that is taught therein, then it must be sufficient for salvation and all that is necessary to live a life pleasing to God. The Scripture is all that has been given or needs to be given in order that we know the way of salvation and the path of obedience.
We do not need more special revelation. The canon is no longer open. Because while God still speaks, he does so through the preaching of his servants.
Martin Luther has written that “Every honest pastor’s and preacher’s mouth is Christ’s mouth, and his word and forgiveness is Christ’s word and forgiveness. . . . For the office is not the pastor’s or preacher’s but God’s; and the Word which he preacheth is likewise not the pastor’s and preacher’s but God’s.”
In like manner, John Calvin stated, “When a man has climbed up into the pulpit . . . it is [so] that God may speak to us by the mouth of a man.”
To be clear: the preacher’s words are not God’s words ex opere operato. Just because it is stated from the pulpit does not stamp the authority of God upon it. The preacher’s words are God’s words only as long as they are faithfully and accurately proclaimed.
Our God is a God who speaks, and preachers of the gospel—those tasked with the accurate and faithful proclamation of the Word of God—are the means by which we still hear his voice. Such a task—proclaiming God’s very words—should cause the preacher to tremble under the magnificent weight of his responsibility. Nevertheless, the preacher must stand confident that the Holy Spirit will overcome the failures and faults of such a brittle mouthpiece. The One who has given us this sure Word will ensure that it does not fail.