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Written by Todd Mangum Wednesday, 06 March 2013 00:00

My wife is a neonatal nurse, so this story about premature twins in critical condition caught our attention:  http://www.cnn.com/video/?hpt=hp_c4#/video/us/2013/02/22/ra-pkg-sylvester-power-of-touch.hln.   One of the twins was going into lung failure; on almost a whim, a nurse put the other twin in the incubator with her. The healthier twin (instinctively?) reached out and put her arm around her ailing sister, which somehow sparked a rebound. Both twins eventually recovered completely, and today are healthy, normal teenagers – to the extent any teenager can be described as “normal,” that is.

The premature twin putting her arm around her sister became an international sensation – the picture appeared in Life magazine.  But not only that, the incident made medical history. It prompted a whole movement in neonatal medicine called “Kangaroo Care,” in which the value of bonding (especially with the mother) and loving, human touch is employed as a deliberate aspect of good, holistic medical care.

It’s hard to miss some of the larger implications of this. “Have you hugged your kids today?” has been a national campaign to try to recapture and foster the formation of healthy families, good child rearing, and better parenting.  At one level, that can be simplistic and superficial.  At another level, though, the point is deep and profound.

It’s interesting how Jesus’ healing ministry often involved actual, physical touch.  Wouldn’t it have been much more efficient to just snap His fingers and just generally, indiscriminately heal “all those in the crowd with any kind of problem”?  But Jesus didn’t do it that way.  Some televangelists might.  But Jesus didn’t.

Is there a larger point here that we should heed?  Good ministry is not about efficiency and cost-effective calculations of how to capitalize on resources. At least it’s not just that.

I won’t speak for you, but I can tell you that I need regular reminders of the need to take the time and energy to invest in the “inefficient” ministries of individual conversations, individual care, individual touch. Jesus had three years of ministry to walk the earth and demonstrate “how to do it” as God incarnate in human flesh. A disproportionate amount of His time was spent talking with and touching the “nobodies” of the world.

I can’t even write that without feeling the pinch of conviction.  Can I get a witness? 


Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.

 

Written by Todd Mangum Tuesday, 05 March 2013 00:00

This video clip of Muhammad Ali from 1972 has recently surfaced on youtube – in this clip, he’s in his prime, 30 years old, talking about what he’s going to do when he’s “an old man, ready to retire” (i.e., age 65): http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_ embedded&v=HsDH9SXKZtI.  

It is eerie watching this, if you know or remember Muhammad Ali at all.  (I know I’m aging myself by acknowledging I remember him then.)  But it’s haunting anyway, just recognizing that these are the words of a cocky, robust young man imagining and musing about distant remote events that now are actual reality. Watching it is like unto entering the Capuchin Crypt, its walls mounted floor to ceiling with human skulls for whom the crypt serves as final resting place, with a memento mori plaque on one wall reading, “As you are, we once were; as we are, so you also will be.”

Muhammad Ali today is 71 years old. Twelve years after this youtube-recorded interview, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and has since lost his speech and much of his regular physical function.  If you are under 30, you may know Ali only as the frail, elderly figure who sometimes makes cameo appearances at sporting events or charity functions.

But he was once the greatest boxer who ever lived. That I can say that without qualifying adverbs – or really much argument from anyone who knows anything about the history of boxing – is testimony to just how great he was as a boxer. His quickness, punching power, and skill were accompanied with an acid tongue; he was the consummate trash talker, inside and outside the ring.

His tongue was one of his boxing weapons. But, as the youtube clip demonstrates, that’s not all he could use his tongue was for. He had important things to say.

In 1964, he converted to Islam and registered simultaneously as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War – for which he paid at the time a dear price, both in terms of his public image and his career. He was suspended from boxing for four years at the height of his career.   That he was able to regain all three boxing heavyweight titles despite being an “old boxer” four years later, was a feat that was received with both aggravation and adulation by the boxing world.

After he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, one of the things he said through debilitated lips and with his now nearly-unresponsive tongue was that God had afflicted him with this disease for his arrogance, in making his moniker “I am the greatest” when only God is greatest.  God humbled him, and he had it coming was his assessment – his self assessment! Even if you dare agree with him, that’s pretty remarkable that such a person could come to such lucid (self) awareness before God. 

Even before that, though, even the youtube clip shows a man who, even amidst all the hubris and swagger, is remarkably self-aware . . . theologically. His conscious of the reality of eternity, of the implications of there being a God, of there being eternal residencies of heaven or hell.

Now, I’m a recovering fundamentalist. It would be easy for me to gravitate towards the too-easy, tongue-clucking, pity-the-poor unbeliever kind of take from all this. And make no mistake: I really do wish Muhammad Ali displayed more cognizance of the central importance of Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection. But listen to what he says in that youtube clip – he’s changed his name (from Cassius Clay) to Muhammad Ali, but his Baptist upbringing isn’t too far from memory.  I’d love to have a conversation with him about all that.

That aside for a moment, though, if we can allow that: if “theology 101” is, “God opposes the proud and gives His grace to the humble,” there’s no question that God has done quite a bit to humble this man, once known as “the greatest.” Yes, there is definitely a cautionary tale here.  But that’s not all.

Even as a cocky thirty-year-old boxing champion, his words and warnings echo with Matthew 25:31-46.  Not knowing the details of his actual practice or beliefs or heart (which only God knows, right?), his words sound more like those of a sheep than a goat by the Matthew 25 demarcations. (Hard not to correlate this with Matt. 12:33-37 or Luke 6:44-45, too.)

In any case, let’s leave it here: this full-of-himself Muslim celebrity sports figure is wise enough to think about to what degree he is ready to meet God.  I hear more reflective insight in his comments than I do from many Christians.  He says he plans his life around the question, “Am I ready to meet God?”

How about you?  (Or me?)


Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum

   

Written by Todd Mangum Monday, 04 March 2013 00:00

Three things have happened to me in the last three days that have brought vividly to mind this question:

  1. My travel plans for chairing an accreditation visit to Dallas, TX came at the same time that the yearly inundation of “life insurance deals” came from AAA.  (I doubled my life insurance coverage for travel, by the way).
  2. I attended the funeral of the mother of one of my colleagues here at Biblical; a good Baptist worship service and celebration of her home-going, it ended with a poignant invitation to give one’s life to Christ then and there. “My mother is with her Lord right now!” said her son. “Are YOU ready to meet God?”
  3. In Saturday’s class, we went through a section of Jesus’ teaching that sends a chill up my spine every time I read it – Luke 12:1-7.  Take a look at it.  I always engage this passage in theology class when we talk about the “fear of God” and what it is – I’m telling you, if you read this passage thoughtfully, it will create more than just “reverential awe.” . . .  It’s downright scary. 

First of all, Luke clarifies that Jesus is speaking “first of all” to His DISCIPLES. The natural instinct of too many preachers and teachers is to write off this passage as directed to the “White Throne Judgment-bound” unbelievers – but it isn’t.  It is directed first and foremost to His DISCIPLES – would be followers of Christ (you and me?).

His warning is against hypocrisy – being something different when people are watching than you are when no one is watching; no one but God is watching, that is. . . .

And then He warns (again, His DISCIPLES): “There is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.  Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.”

What’s that do for you?  How do you feel about everything you do in private being open to full disclosure?  Does that make you nervous at all? 

And then, as if that weren’t enough, He goes on to say, “Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body, but after that have no more that they can do.  But I’ll show you whom to fear: fear the One who after He has killed your body can throw you into hell, too!  Yeah, that’s right – fear Him!!” 

How does your private life measure up to the scrutiny of God?  How will you feel about what you talk about behind closed doors being opened up and brought to full exposure? . . .

That’s just one of three sets of contemplations I’ve gone through in the last three days that’s raised afresh for me the question: “Are you ready to meet God?”   How are you doing with that question? . . .


Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum

   

Written by Susan Disston Friday, 01 March 2013 00:00

Professor Mike Kelly assigns a profound book to his students every year in his course, "Reading the Old Testament Missionally." It’s only 63 pages long, or 67 pages if you include the appendix. It’s in the appendix that you’ll find the 19 points on biblical justice.

This book is aptly titled, The Little Book of Biblical Justice: A Fresh Approach to the Bible’s Teachings on Justice by Chris Marshall (Good Books, 1989). But under its cover is more than a little insight on biblical justice. The author tackles topics such as the justice paradox, justice in the biblical worldview, elements of biblical justice in action, and Jesus and justice.

According to Marshall (who is a theological educator in New Zealand), the justice paradox is this:

We all know that justice is important, we all feel obligated towards the demands of justice, we all sense the primordial pull of justice. But we cannot say exactly what justice is, or how best to define it, or why standards of justice vary so much through the centuries and across different cultures. (p. 6)

The rest of the book is Marshall’s concise and cogent attempt to resolve the paradox for his readers. He presents nineteen points about biblical justice for the reader to consider, including these three from the appendix: (pp. 65-67)

  • Jesus defined his own historical mission in terms of bringing justice to the poor and oppressed. His message represented a threat to the existing powers, which is why they opposed him.
  • True knowledge of God entails understanding God’s own devotion to justice and striving to emulate God’s justice in one’s own manner of living in the world.
  • Biblical justice involves showing a definite partiality for the welfare of those groups in society who are most vulnerable to exploitation. God sides with the poor and weak in order to secure greater equity in society. 

And one more point: 

  • Without the commitment to seek justice, all other means of worshipping God are bankrupt. A lifestyle of justice is the essential mark of holiness.

 To get the other fifteen points, you’ll have to find them for yourself in Marshall’s book (it’s little and it has a little price, too. My copy was $4 at The Friendly Bookstore— This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ). 

This is an important book for Christians. I commend this book to readers of this blog, especially if the justice paradox is a reality in your life. This book will stimulate your thinking, give you sound insights, and maybe even change your life. 


Susan Disston is the assistant dean of curriculum and assessment at Biblical Seminary http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/adjunct-faculty-theology

 

 

   

Written by Phil Monroe Monday, 25 February 2013 00:00

At some point in our lives, we all experience a breach in a relationship. Division happens among friends, family, acquaintances, and members of the same faith. Sometimes the breach we experience is the result of a perceived wrong, sometimes a true injustice. Sometimes we are the ones withdrawing, other times we are the offending party.

Reconciliation a Bad Objective?

When a breach happens, and you want the relationship restored, it is common to seek reconciliation as the primary objective. I want to argue that reconciliation is a mis-guided objective. Even though we are called to be agents of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:16f), it is not a direct objective that any of us can accomplish. Recall from your strategic planning training that objectives ought to be tangible and obtainable. Objectives are designed to move toward an overarching goal or dream. Since reconciliation requires at least two parties to agree, it makes for a bad objective since we can’t guarantee that the other will be willing, able or ready to reconcile.

Not convinced? Consider this example. I grow tomato plants. I have the goal of eating tomatoes by early July. I set objectives such as when to plant seeds or purchase plants; when to water, fertilize, cage, etc. But, I cannot set an objective of producing tomatoes. It is not something I can make happen. I can only cultivate the plant in ways I understand will encourage tomato production.

Better Objectives?

If you desire to reconcile with someone after a breach in a relationship, there are some achievable objectives you might want to consider. If you are the offending party, you might consider objectives such as,

  • Offer to hear (live or through others) of the damage you have caused; or allowed due to complicity
  • Acknowledge the impact of your attitudes and actions, the harm done; make an apology
  • Provide ongoing evidence of repentance…without grumbling
  • Make sacrificial amends, seek to return what was wrongfully taken
  • Avoid pointing out the wrongs committed by the offended party; make no explicit or implicit demand for reconciliation

If you are the offended party, you might consider objectives such as

  • Speak the truth in love
  • Assert need for justice and grace
  • Avoid vengeance taking
  • Acknowledge evidence of repentance; point out evidence of deception
  • Clarify concepts of forgiveness, grace, restitution, reconciliation
  • Ask God for a heart prepared to forgive

When Reconciliation Isn’t Possible

Notice that the above objectives can be met even when the overarching goal of reconciliation fails. There are times when reconciliation is not possible or desirable. Attempts to force the outcome will do significant damage—not only to victims but also to those who foreclose on repentance. Just as forcing a diseased tomato plant to produce fruit may result in the destruction of nearby plants, so also forcing reconciliation when repentance is not present may result in more injustice and deception.

So, the next time you find yourself in a broken relationship, focus first on objectives within your grasp and give back to God the final goal. Be open for him to do miracles but stick to the thing he has placed in front of you. Like the woman who has just enough oil and flour, bake your cake. Let God take care of the bigger picture.


Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychology and Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He also directs Biblical’s new trauma recovery project. You can find his personal blog at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com.

   

Written by Steve Taylor Friday, 15 February 2013 00:00

The current issue of Christianity Today reveals that its editors have taken a bold stand. After devoting prime space within the issue to an interview with a leader of the “insider movement” and two position pieces, CT’s editors confess themselves to be “cautiously optimistic about this deep insider strategy” (Christianity Today [January/February, 2013], p. 69). They explain their optimism:

[W]e believe this is an effective way to introduce large numbers of Muslims or Hindus, for example, to Christ – especially when their cultural and religious setting makes it nearly impossible to hear the gospel as good news, rather than a foreign religion or an American import.

And even though CT editors go on to explain their “cautious” concern for the dangers of syncretism and to suggest a policy of interconnectedness to minimize the dangers, the reaction to this editorial is likely, sadly, to be immediate and negative in many quarters. If the experience of Wycliffe Bible Translators on the closely related topic of Muslim context translations is any guide, CT will lose readers and supporters because of their stand.

Fearful Worries of the Faithful

The initial worries of the faithful are at least understandable. Foundational truths of the Christian faith, some of them directly related to the gospel message itself, seem to be jeopardized. But when the cries of alarm persist — after patient explanations have been given — and even grow into charges of heresy and base motives, one has to suspect some deeper factors at work.

The cycle of rising fear in these controversies seems to be fed by an interplay between two different Christian communities: the American (or Western) evangelical community intent on insuring that the gospel be preached and embodied in precisely the same terms as it itself has experienced it; and the historic indigenous Christians communities in the Muslim world who have eked out a precarious coexistence in Muslim -dominated contexts by embracing clear — and sometimes impenetrable — theological and cultural boundary markers. The former group is alarmed that massive missionary dollars are not immediately producing duplicate fruit, and the latter is threatened by the all-too-real challenge of navigating a hostile world without familiar boundary markers and populated by hybrid creatures who worship and pray to Jesus but who still act and think like Muslims (or Hindus) in other areas of life. In our global village, these two groups talk, reinforcing fears.

These fears are not equal, however. Western evangelicals are frequently blind to how acculturated and syncretized our gospel really is. Whether that Western Christian be a Baptist minister who insists that every Christian have a certain conversion experience, or a Reformed theologian who insists that the mystery of the Three-in-One and the glories of the Five Points be an irreducible part of saving faith, or a Pentecostal preacher who insists on a certain experience of the Spirit, or simply the satisfied church member who sees no conflict between the gospel of salvation by grace through faith and American consumerist lifestyle, there is a tendency to forget God’s wonderful forbearance as he first calls us into fellowship with his dear Son and then brings us along to ever fuller and more faithful understandings of himself.

Christian communities in Muslim lands have weightier burdens: they have to contend with a long history that has divided Christians from their Muslim neighbors. The Muslim conquest, the Christian Crusades, centuries of strained relations capped by the mischief of (Christian) colonial powers, and Sharia Law have made direct evangelization impossible. For these Christians, Insider Movements present an unexpected and agonizing dilemma: embracing Jesus-believers who are still tainted by syncretism with the dominant culture means diluting a hard-won theological identity and risking the charge of subversive meddling in the religious-cultural identity of the dominant culture; yet denouncing these believers is to preemptively gag the mouths of those who, quite unexpectedly, are just beginning to lisp “Jesus is Lord!” The horns of this dilemma can only grow sharper; and Christians caught on them need our prayers, not our fearful warnings.

Creative Wisdom of the Faithful God

Perhaps we all need to be reminded of the fact that the Bible reveals a God who’s the ultimate Insider! Oh, yes, he is by nature on the Outside, “high and lifted up,” but he has chosen to become flesh and dwell among us—but not just as the universal “every-man” but rather born, quite particularly, “of a Jewish woman, under the law ” (Gal 4:4). And in that identification with us, he humbled himself further by becoming obedient to death, even to a law-cursed death on a cross. Once begun on the “Human Project,” God gives every indication of intending to see it through to the Inside, to its most desperate point (Rom 5:20). Though hinted at in the content and very shape of the Bible, the extent to which God was willing to go still caught every sentient being in the universe off guard. For had they been able to anticipate his creative wisdom, Paul reminds us, “they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory” (1 Cor 2:7-8).

This very pattern was played out in the arguments of the early church. Having already been surprised by the character and mission of God’s actual Messiah (in comparison to the expected one), they searched the scriptures in vain for clear, irrefragable indication that Gentiles could be saved as Gentiles (i.e., without conversion into the cultural-religious identity of Jews). Put another way, the question was “Can Gentiles be saved as Insiders, without leaving their cultures?” On the negative side, there were some apparently clear scriptures linking the Abrahamic promises and entrance into God’s eschatological sanctuary to circumcision (e.g., Gen 17:12-14, Ezek 44:6-9). When the church, almost twenty years after the resurrection of Jesus, finally took steps to officially welcome Gentiles as Gentiles in, they did so not on the basis of clear Old Testament teaching but on the basis of what God was surprisingly, but undeniably, doing in the ministries of Barnabas, Paul, and Peter (read Acts 15:1-21). James, the leader of the Jerusalem church did finally appeal to Scripture, but not for delimiting proof, but for corroboration (Acts 15:15 :“with this [i.e., God’s unanticipated work through Peter] the words of the prophets agree”; note further how James’ appeal is aided by the wording of the Septuagint [the Greek translation] over against the original Hebrew of Amos 9:11-12). But this official decision hardly settled the issue; the subsequent story in Acts and the Epistles reveals that the dangers of syncretism continued to be real—on both sides! Yet God seemed pleased to let his people struggle through this issue.

And perhaps he still is! Once again the unexpected is happening. In many parts of the world, Satan has constructed the almost perfect Maginot Line against the Outside: he has preemptively warned captive peoples about the errors of Christ-faith and anathematized language useful for description of that faith (such as “son of God”); he has promised safety to the Christian remnant only if they will repress their evangelistic impulses and he has drenched the entire history of relationship in tragedy and ambiguity. But Yahweh has dropped in behind the defenses, on the Inside, as if to say, “If my messengers can’t be heard, I will go and introduce myself personally.” And here is the beauty of it: God, once again, is not asking us to lead the charge; he is not even asking us to welcome these Christ-believers into the church (they do not even self-identify as Christians yet!); he’s just asking us to pray, remain connected, and to be ready to join his mission when appropriate.

Christianity Today has made the right choice, don't you think?


Stephen Taylor is Associate Professor of New Testament. He is a missionary kid fascinated with the question of the relationship between culture and understanding the Bible. Steve is married to Terri who is also intimately involved in global issues; and together they have five kids. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/stephen-taylor

   

Written by Charles Zimmerman Tuesday, 12 February 2013 00:00

Where have they gone & where are they now? 

For more than a year now, I have been issuing updates on the founding faculty members and then former faculty members of Biblical Seminary to see where they are today and what they are doing.  I hope you have enjoyed catching up with our former teachers. 

For the next few posts, I want to update you on a few alums.  I have been in contact with graduates from each of the decades of Biblical’s history, so you all should recognize some of the names if not the faces.  Even if you don’t recognize the names, get to know some of the Biblical graduates and learn what they have been doing since they left seminary. 

Out first alum update is actually a couple: Perry and Elaine Phillips! 

Perry and Elaine received their Master of Divinity degrees from Biblical Theological Seminary in 1976.  At the encouragement of Dr. Allan MacRae, they headed to Israel to study at the American Institute of Holy Land Studies, founded by Dr. G. Douglas Young who had also been a student of Dr. MacRae. Although Perry and Elaine intended to stay just one year, that year turned into three as they both earned Masters in Arts degrees in Hebrew. During that time, Perry taught countless students who came from around the world for a three week intensive study of the Physical Settings of the Bible. Elaine taught Biblical Hebrew and worked as program coordinator for the Physical Settings course.

Upon their return, they taught at Pinebrook Junior College, the denominational college of the Bible Fellowship Church, until it closed in 1992. During that time, Elaine earned her PhD in rabbinic literature from The Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning and also served for four years as Academic Dean at Pinebrook. Perry began working for Kutzner Manufacturing Company in Telford, PA, in 1991 as staff physicist.  The Pinebrook years were both challenging and invigorating as between them they taught Astronomy, Geology, Calculus, Christian Service, one semester of New Testament Greek (Perry);Old and New Testament Surveys (both); and Psychology, Music, and biblical studies electives (Elaine).

Both were active in the Bethany Bible Fellowship Church in Hatfield, PA.  Perry team-taught Sunday School with Bob Newman for a number of years and Elaine served as organist and choir director in addition to teaching Sunday School. 

When Pinebrook closed in May 1992, Elaine did some adjunct teaching at BTS the following year and then was hired to fill an Old Testament position at Gordon College in Wenham, MA.  They moved to the North Shore of the Boston area, and Perry began to work for Comverse Technology as a quality assurance engineer.  After the company downsized in 2002, Perry was available to serve as an adjunct instructor at Gordon College (various math classes, astronomy, biblical studies).  Elaine has taught in the Biblical Studies department at Gordon since 1993.  During that time, she has been granted the Distinguished Faculty award on two occasions.  

Elaine and Perry have continued regularly to take Gordon students back to Jerusalem University College (formerly the American Institute of Holy Land Studies), where they serve as adjunct faculty.  Elaine spent one sabbatical there (spring 1998) and has spent parts of two additional sabbaticals at Tyndale House in Cambridge, UK.  Elaine’s areas of interest and scholarly writing include the books of Exodus and Esther, biblical wisdom literature, and rabbinic midrash.  She also enjoys music and sang with Gordon’s symphonic chorale for the five seasons of its existence. 

Both serve as founding Board members of the Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute, and Perry is currently the director following the retirement of Dr. Robert Newman.  Perry’s interests range widely across scientific, theological, and political issues.  He has presented talks on various subjects in numerous venues. Lately he is concentrating on demonstrating that the current conversation on global warming is shaped more by politics than by good science.

Since the summer of 2010, Elaine’s mother has been living with Perry and Elaine.  She celebrated her 98thbirthday in June 2012.   It is indeed a privilege to “honor” her with daily care and it is a joy because her life is shaped by a continually thankful spirit.

Contact information: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ; This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


Charles Zimmerman is the Thomas V. Taylor Professor of Practical Theology.  He also serves as Teaching Pastor at Calvary Church in Souderton.  He is married to Kim and they have two daughters, Ashley and Megan.

   

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