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Written by Kyuboem Lee Friday, 04 January 2013 00:00


Recently, Richard Stearns, the President of World Vision, wrote “Goodbye, Christian America;  Hello, True Christianity” in The Huffington Post. He joins a growing number of evangelical voices calling on the North American church to wake up to the new reality of Post-Christendom and abandon the strategy of clinging to a world--the “Christian America”--that is passing away. Specifically, he advocates a shift in the church’s strategy, from trying to protect the symbols of Christendom (the Ten Commandments displayed at courthouses, public prayers in schools, etc.), to a missional engagement with the world and seeking shalom--the “love your neighbor” variety of Christianity. The story of a Tacoma, Wash., church that switched its focus from opposing the secularization of America to advocating for the hurting in Lesotho, in the process partnering with its neighbors, even with those who would have been its foes in the old paradigm (the gay community), provides a model to emulate.

Understandably, the prospect of such a direction is a cause of anxiety for many. It sounds too much like a surrender to the forces of secularization and liberalism. Ghosts of hard-fought old battles haunt the evangelical consciousness still. Dangers of apostasy seem to loom down this road.

However, are there positives in the new developments to be gained for the North American church that is committed to the exclusive claims of the gospel of Jesus Christ? I believe so. Here is a brief sketch:

One, the church has an opportunity to be purified from a Babylonian captivity to power and privilege. The effort to preserve the symbols of Christendom can betray a dependency on the tools of the kingdom of this world. But once the church renounces the pursuit of laws and powers that buttress its position in society, it is able to regain its proper role as a pilgrim and stranger in this world. It would be a transition from a triumphalist church to a suffering church. Such a role would better reflect the counter cultural nature of the kingdom of God.

Two, the church has an opportunity for a renewal of its mission. Evangelicalism has historically chosen the ministry of words over against the ministry of deeds as its focus. The general feeling has been to see social justice, for instance, as belonging in the domain of the liberals. Bible-believing churches focused on preaching the Word. This tendency to dichotomize word and deed has caused much damage to the cause of the gospel mission. But with the changing of the world, there can be a rediscovery of the holistic gospel mandate. I say this with the caveat that the pendulum can swing to the opposite extreme among many younger evangelicals, and the imperative of the preaching ministry can be the casualty. The new evangelical consciousness can too often embrace the adage, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.” Such sentiments are reactionary and will need nuanced balancing. However, a more fully orbed vision of the gospel is a welcome development.

Three, the North American church has the opportunity to deepen its communion with the worldwide church. For many years, the NA church has been the giver, not the receiver--of theology, material resources, technical know-how, leadership, and so on. The changed landscape more properly sees the NA church as having a seat among a plurality of peers, not at the head of the table in the communion of the global church. This development better resembles Paul’s vision of the one body of Christ made up of various members, and that is something to be celebrated.

I do not mean to suggest that the road ahead is not filled with tremendous challenges. The church will need to refocus its efforts on a robust theology of mission. Christians in Post-Christendom cannot rely on old answers to remain faithful in the new landscape, but pursuing Christ into uncharted territory has tremendous risks. Our most pressing theological agenda will be to navigate these waters.

The church must be faithful to its calling to proclaim in the new reality that "there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12) and do so with full recognition that the world it must love, and which the missionary God loves, is no longer a "Christian" one. However, one thing that the church cannot do: bury its head in the sand of the old Christendom. Instead, the church in exile will need to accept its calling to sing a new song in a strange land.


*The title doesn't reflect the current state of affairs; rather, it is a crude attempt at being "with it" through an obscure pop culture reference. Please accept the author's apologies.

Dr. Kyuboem Lee serves as a lecturer of Urban Mission at Biblical Seminary. He is the founding pastor of Germantown Hope Community Church in Philadelphia, and the General Editor for the Journal of Urban Mission (http://jofum.com).

 

Written by Bryan Maier Wednesday, 02 January 2013 00:00

As we begin a New Year, we have a chance to think about our hopes, dreams and goals for the future. For many this is just a superficial set of “resolutions” that last only for a couple of days. But for others, it is a serious attempt to make changes. For example, the folks at my local YMCA report that memberships usually spike during the first of the year.  For many Christians, it is an opportunity to make a renewed effort to read the Bible in its entirety by reading through the whole Bible in one calendar year. I have been doing this off and on for most of my Christian life and I believe it is a great discipline to practice.  My average as an adult is to read the Bible through at least once every three or four years. The last time I did it was in 2011 just after my wife had gone home to be with the Lord in 2010. I read her Bible cover to cover and it was a wonderful blessing for me at many levels. I am sensing the need to do it again in 2013. This time I plan to read The New English Version to get a different perspective than my standard Bible.  I would like to share with you at least five advantages to such a reading plan.

First, you get to read every verse in the Bible at least once. Sure, there is nothing magical in being able to claim that you have read every word in the book of Numbers, but on the other hand, if we claim to cherish the Bible as God’s Word, it seems that somewhere in our Christian development, we ought to at least read every word some time in our life.  In this age of Biblical illiteracy, our knowledge of God’s Word should go beyond just a few pet passages.

Related to this is the second benefit. When you read the whole Bible, you get a sense of God’s big story – the way he chose to record it for history. The Bible does tell one grand story and if we don’t read it, we risk missing what the story is all about. Reading the whole story can also protect us from extracting our own pet passages apart from where God purposely chose to put them in his story. In other words, I believe merely reading the bible cover to cover can help us interpret the details more accurately.

The third and fourth benefits are more practical.  The third benefit is that regular Bible reading can establish a good habit. If I read the Bible every day for a year, chances are I will get used to reading on a regular basis and then the following year, that space and time is already reserved for Bible reading. In other words I am developing good habits.

The fourth benefit is that it provides structure to my Bible reading. Having a plan of what I am going to read ahead of time takes away the stress of trying to figure out what to read each day. If we are not engaged in a book study (another great way to study the Bible), then we have to decide each day what to read.

The final benefit is related to all the others. In our day, there are all kinds of helps available to keep us on task, plan out our reading, and even remind us to read (for example having scripture sent to our email or cell phone). My favorite tool is the two-volume set For The Love of God by Don Carson which takes the reader through the Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice during the year.

Whatever tool you use or how you do it, what Bible reading resolutions do you have for 2013?

Bryan Maier, Psy. D.,  is an Associate Professor of Counseling & Psychology in the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates.

 
 

   

Written by David Dunbar Friday, 21 December 2012 00:00

I live in a small town in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, that is called Blooming Glen.  It seems appropriate that in such a town our only official organizations are the US postal service and the garden club.  The club is made up of friendly neighbors who take pride in making our quaint little town more beautiful. 

But just recently there was an incident that brought home to me the cultural shifts that even our small town with its many church going families cannot escape.  The garden club decided that it would be nice to decorate a tree for Christmas and have a little celebration for the whole neighborhood . . . you know, light the tree, sing some seasonal songs, and have some cookies and hot chocolate. 

But then the question:  what do we sing? Most people would have gone with the usual mix of sacred and secular Christmas songs especially in our generally Christian neighborhood.  But it didn’t happen.  Why? Because one quite opinionated person objected loudly:  no religious songs!

Now this raises the challenging question:  how does a Christian respond to situations like this? Do we argue that the Christian majority should prevail over (in this case) the non-Christian minority?  Should we organize a movement to push the objector out of the garden club?  But then what happens if Christians find themselves in the minority? Or perhaps Christians should just withdraw from seasonal celebrations that turn secular . . . and then organize our own gatherings that preserve “the true meaning of Christmas.”

Now this little problem is a microcosm of a much larger issue:  the collapse of Christendom in western culture. At first blush you might be inclined to say, “come on Dave, get over this theoretical, academic drivel about stuff that has no connection with the real world!”  Well, I hear you, but in this case you would be wrong.  This is not just an academic or theoretical question.  And one of the gigantic weaknesses of the western church is that we have not understood the deeply practical nature of this issue.

What is Christendom?  It is the cultural legacy of medieval European civilization where the church sat on the pinnacle of cultural power.  Christendom is a situation in which the Christian religion rules, where it has dominion.  To a large extent Christianity also had dominion in America, at least through the mid-twentieth century.  But now that has changed.  The church is no longer at the center.  Its cultural influence has declined and we may expect it to decline even more.  We all know this right? 

Unfortunately most churches are trying to ignore the critical questions raised by this collapse. We assume that we ought to have cultural power, and so we try to function as if we still do. Many of the Christian discussions about “taking back the culture” fall into this category.  On the other hand, we may be tempted simply to withdraw from participating in the wider society so that we may perpetuate a smaller world of uniformly Christian assumptions and practices.

So how do you respond if the garden club decides not to allow Christmas carols with distinctly Christian content?  Well here is how one woman (who happens to be a member of our church) handled the problem.  At first, she told me, she was offended by her outspoken neighbor and considered actually resigning from the garden club in protest.  But as she thought it over in light of Scripture she decided that God was calling her to love her neighbor in spite of what felt almost like a personal attack.  She said to me, “I imagine that Bonnie may have been severely hurt by Christians at some time in her past, and I need to show her a different kind of Christianity.” And so she went to the party.

I was proud of the way she is processing this incident.  In some respects this interaction might seem to us inconsequential or almost trivial.  But it really isn’t. It points to a principled approach to a much larger challenge faced by the church in a pluralist culture. It suggests that we may learn to stand for the truth without fighting for the truth.  Because it is possible to win the battle but lose the war.  And we need to understand the difference.


Dave Dunbar is president of Biblical Seminary.  He has been married to Sharon for 42 years.  They have four grown children and six and 1/3 grand children.

 

   

Written by David Lamb Wednesday, 19 December 2012 00:00

When you teach on the Psalms, you need to discuss the headings, but sometimes it gets a little sticky, even controversial.  Unlike the headings (also called titles or superscriptions) Bible translations sometimes add these headings are actually present in the Hebrew text.  The person mentioned most frequently in psalm headings is David, who appears in just less than half (73 headings, Psalms 3-41 and 34 other psalms).  

Now, I’m going to talk a little about Hebrew, but bear with me.  It will help you understand the Psalms better, particularly Psalm 23, and I’ll tell a personal story at the end. 

In the Hebrew, these headings read simply ledawid. The Hebrew preposition le is added to the beginning of a word (dawid is “David” transliterated) and often means “to” or “for”, but can mean other things as well.  So, ledawid could be translated as “to David,” “for David” “by David” or “of David.”      

Most contemporary translations go with “of David” (ESV, NIV, NIV, NRSV).  Eugene Peterson’s The Message has “A David psalm” which I like because it works well with the ambiguity of the Hebrew and still sounds fresh.

When I teach on the psalm headings, I tell people it is safe to assume that David wrote many of these “Davidic” psalms, but it is not necessary to conclude that he wrote all of them.  When it comes to Psalm 23, however the language of the psalm itself would suggest the author was very familiar with the occupation of shepherding.  As a shepherd, David seems a logical choice (1 Sam. 16:11; 17:34).  It is safe to say, Psalm 23 is a psalm “by David.”

Now you’re thinking, “Wow, it took you a long time to tell me something I already know.”  Yes, be patient.  Hopefully, my story that will tie some of this together. 

Recently I’ve been reading the psalms daily.  The psalmist gives voice to my prayers because of my health problems (reflux, vocal chord damage and stress).  This morning as I was praying through the psalms I asked God to speak to me.  I waited for awhile in silence.  Then I felt like God said to me, “I am your shepherd, David.”  Hearing it this way, the psalm connected with me deeply. 

Then it struck me—Psalm 23 is a psalm “by David” yes, but it was also a psalm “for David” since God was the shepherd for the shepherd-king.  The ambiguity of the heading fits perfectly for this dual meaning. 

But then I was struck again, God was speaking this psalm to me personally.  It was a psalm “for David” –that’s me (I was named after King David).  “I am your shepherd, David.”

Since the psalms were recorded in Israel’s book of corporate worship, we can be confident we are supposed to identify with the psalmist.  So Psalm 23 is for any of God’s people who need a shepherd.  God says, “I am your shepherd David, Cindy, Sansung, Linda, Noah, Jason and Xiaowei.”  The last six names represent nine students (3 have the same name) I’m currently teaching in my Reading the Old Testament Missionally course. 

In this course, students recently visited a marginalized community, interviewed people, then wrote a sermon based on an Old Testament passage that would speak to their needs.  Communities that were visited included AIDS patients, the disabled, immigrants, widows, prisoners, hospitalized soldiers and families of children with autism. 

As God sends us into the world to spread the gospel and care for the marginalized, we’ll need a shepherd to look after us.  And we’ll need to tell people the good news that, in the midst of their pain, need or loss, they also have a good shepherd in Jesus. 

Jesus says to each of us, “I am your shepherd (fill in your name here).” 

If you are interested, here is my previous post on Psalm 23 for Biblical's faculty blog.. My next blog post will continue to focus on Psalm 23.

During this Christmas season, how will you need a shepherd as you care for others?

Psalm 23  A Psalm of David.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.

3He restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

4Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil, for you are with me;

your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
 

David Lamb is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Biblical. He’s the husband of Shannon, father of Nathan and Noah, and the author of God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?  David blogs regularly at http://davidtlamb.com/. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/david-lamb

   

Written by Sam Logan Tuesday, 18 December 2012 00:00

In the aftermath of the recent tragedy in Connecticut, a friend who had himself experienced great grief pointed me to Nicholas Wolterstorff’s book, LAMENT FOR A SON (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1987).

Professor Wolterstorff lost his son Eric, who was killed in a mountain climbing accident when he (Eric) was 25 years old.

I have now read and re-read that book and have found that it expresses both a spiritual comfort and a missional longing.

I would like to share a couple of sections of the book under those two headings.

A Spiritual Comfort

For a long time, I knew that God is not the impassive, unresponsive, unchanging being portrayed by the classical theologians.  I knew of the pathos of God.  I knew of God’s response of delight and of his response of displeasure.  But strangely, his suffering I never saw before.

God is not only the God of the sufferers but the God who suffers.  The pain and fallenness of humanity have entered into his heart.  Through the prism of my tears I have seen a suffering God.

It is said of God that no one can behold his face and live.  I always thought this meant that no one could see his splendor and live.  A friend said perhaps it meant that no one could see his sorrow and live.  Or perhaps his sorrow is splendor. 

And great mystery: to redeem our brokenness and lovelessness, the God who suffers with us did not strike some might blow of power, but sent his beloved son to suffer like us, through his suffering to redeem us from suffering and evil.

Instead of explaining our suffering, God shares it.

Isaiah asks this question – “Who is like this God?” (40: 18).  And the answer, “There is none other!”  No other god even claims actually to have himself entered into the suffering of his creatures.

And this is really the impetus for Christmas. 

Why was Jesus born in Bethlehem?  Why was there an Incarnation?  Professor Wolterstorff said it, “To redeem us from suffering and evil.” To redeem us by taking that very evil and suffering upon Himself.  What amazing grace!

That’s why we invite all of creation to join us – “O, Come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.”

And this wonderful (and comforting) Christmas truth defines the missional longing of those who really DO adore Christ the Lord, a longing which motivates all of our Kingdom activity. 

A Missional Longing:

More from LAMENT FOR A SON:

Standing on a hill in Galilee, Jesus said to his disciples: 

Bless are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

 Blessed are those who mourn, cheers to those who weep, hail to those whose eyes are filled with tears, hats off to those who suffer, bottoms up to the grieving.  How strange, how incredibly strange.

“Blessed are those who mourn.” What can it mean?  One can understand why Jesus hails those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, why he hails the merciful, why he hails the pure in heart, why he hails the peacemakers, why he hails those who endure under persecution.  These are qualities of character which belong to the life of the kingdom.  But why does he hail the mourners of the world?  Why cheer tears?  It must be that mourning is also a quality of character  that belongs to the life of his realm.

Who then are the mourners?  The mourners are those who have caught a glimpse of God’s new day, who ache with all their being for that day’s coming, and who break out into tears when confronted with its absence.  They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm of peace, there is no one blind . . . and who ache whenever they see someone unseeing.  They are the ones who realize that, in God’s realm, there is no one hungry . . . and who ache whenever they see someone starving.  They are the ones who realize that, in God’s realm, there is no one falsely accused . . . and who ache whenever they see someone imprisoned unjustly.  They are the ones who realize that, in God’s realm, there is no one who fails to see God . . . and who ache whenever they see someone unbelieving.  They are the ones who realize that, in God’s realm, there is no one who suffers oppression . . . and who ache whenever they see someone beat down.   They are the ones who realize that, in God’s realm of peace, there is neither death nor tears  . . . and who ache whenever they see someone crying tears over death.  The mourners are aching visionaries.

Such people Jesus blesses; he hails them, he praises them, he salutes them.  And he gives them the promise that the new day for whose absence they ache will come.  They will be comforted.

And this, too, is expressed in a Christmas carol.

“Joy to the world; the Lord is come! . . . No more let sins and sorrows grow, or thorns infest the ground.  He comes to make His blessings flow – far as the curse is found.”

Whether it is the sudden death of a 25-year-old on a far-away mountain or the unspeakable murder of first graders and their teachers, death is horrible.  Death is not the way things should be.  I certainly have no explanation for either of these.  I can only rest in the assurance that something really did happen in Bethlehem that gives us a glimpse of just how much God cares.

And because He cares, because there is Christmas . . . and Good Friday . . . and Easter . . ., His blessing will flow as far as the curse is found and those who mourn will be comforted.

So, can there be Christmas in Connecticut this year?  In one sense, the answer is “Of course.”  Christmas IS, no matter how we respond to it.  But, if I were a parent whose child was killed last week, would I be celebrating Christmas this year?  I’m not sure.  Sometimes the tears are so fresh and heavy that it is hard to see anything else.  And no Christmas ever will be the same for those Connecticut parents.

But I do know this – from the distance and relative safety of my home in Pennsylvania, I will be singing extra loudly both “O, Come let us adore Him,” and “No more let sin and sorrows grow, or thorns infest the ground.  He comes to make His blessing flow – far as the curse is found.”


Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical.  He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and he is President Emeritus at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.  In addition to his work at Biblical, he serves as International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship ( http://www.wrfnet.org).  He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan  

   

Written by Derek Cooper Monday, 17 December 2012 00:00

The twentieth century in Latin America has been the century of the evangélicos, or evangelicals. From the small beginnings of this tradition in the late nineteenth century in Latin America to the beginning of the twenty-first, the number of evangélicos has risen dramatically. In Central America, in fact, several countries like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador boast Protestant populations of close to 40%.

Given the rapid change from a traditionally Roman Catholic society to a more Protestant one, especially in that cluster of Central American countries mentioned above, scholars have scrutinized the retention number of many Protestant churches. The results, at least from one conclusive study in Costa Rica several years ago, are abysmal: A very high percentage of those who have regularly attended a Protestant church no longer do so.

Why not?

There are two answers to this question. Aside from lack of sufficient pastoral care, the primary reason why so many Latinos are entering the revolving door of Protestantism is due to an inadequate model of discipleship. As one Latin American scholar states it, “The churches that have lost more members are those that have no clear plan of discipleship” (Introducing World Christianity, 182).

As we shift our conversation from Latin America to North America, the topography, language, and culture change but the results do not. Church attendees are defecting en masse. And they are not being discipled.

Many of the churches in the Northeast, where I live, use the term discipleship like they do a “classic” book that everyone has heard of but few have read. We need to think long and hard about why and how we use this word. Fortunately, I must add, I have sensed a change in wind during the past few years, where more and more pastors are aware of the leaking boat of discipleship and have prioritized repairing the leak. At the same time, all hands need to be on deck, and churches need to take upon themselves their primary role of existence: to make disciples.

When it comes to discipleship, there are many ways to define it, and there are also many images or metaphors that can be used to understand it better.

In our book Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus, Ed Cyzewski and I thought carefully about each of these things. In terms of a definition for the word discipleship, we were aware of the many ways other authors over the years have defined it. But instead of wading through a pool of definitions, we decided to keep things simple and not become focused on the definition over against its broader significance. When we did provide a short definition at times, we tended to do so from the perspective of the Bible, which offers different yet complementary understandings of the term.

The Gospel of Mark, for instance, defines discipleship as two things: (1) being with Jesus and (2) being sent out by Jesus (see Mark 3:14). And still other biblical passages view the term from a slightly different lens.

Settling on an appropriate metaphor for discipleship was more difficult, since the Bible allows readers to interpret discipleship in many different ways. After careful consideration, we decided that the notion of a hazard was one good way to talk about discipleship. According to one dictionary, the term hazardous implies great risk and potential peril. When coupled with another metaphor of discipleship – that of following Jesus – Ed and I agreed that the long journey of following Jesus is a risky one that is perilous, challenging, and extremely hard. True, there are great moments of joy and happiness, but nevertheless the path to following Jesus is not one marked by teddy bears with ice cream cones but rather orange safety cones with yellow tape that alert us to regular hazards, obstacles, and risks.

 Of course, there is another risk involved in discipleship. And that is the risk of not discipling. As was the case with the study on the defection of evangélicos in Costa Rican churches, so is the situation in North America: You can disciple those who attend your churches or you can expect mass defections. It’s your choice. But we hope and pray that you take the longer, more difficult, more risky, and exacting – yet always more rewarding – journey of discipleship. There will be hazards along the way, but in the end Christian believers will be better equipped to deal with all the complexities of life.


Derek Cooper is assistant professor of biblical studies and historical theology at Biblical, where he directs the LEAD MDiv program and co-directs the DMin program. His most recent book is Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus. His faculty page can be found here.

 

 

   

Written by Larry Anderson Friday, 14 December 2012 00:00

I had the pleasure and challenge of being the speaker for two churches that decided to do a weekend retreat together. The diversity was remarkable, and it added to the worship experience immeasurably.

There were African American, Caucasian, Asian and Latinos in the two congregations. There were men and women, young and mature alike. It was so impressive to see these two pastors whose humility allowed them to share a theme and a facility, and their congregations were just as hospitable. There were people in attendance that had been saved for just a few months from some of the most talked about sins imaginable, and yet there were others who had been saved for many years and raised in the church, however you would not be able to tell by the way they treated and related to each other. The love, fellowship and worship made me feel like it was designed to be this way. A Slice of Heaven.

The theme of the weekend was "I Won’t Go Back." Each person was challenged to examine their lives and to repent from those things that are not like our God, and to trust God to not go back to them. Using the lessons learned from the Israelites in the book of Exodus, we allowed their narrative to enlighten, encourage, and warn us. On Sunday after my final message there was time designated for reflection and testimony. During this time the tears continued to flow from men and women alike as one after another discussed how the Holy Spirit worked on their heart during the course of the weekend. It was nearly impossible to sit there and not be emotionally affected by the powerful heartfelt reflections. A Slice of Heaven.

It was the first time these churches did a retreat together, but I’m sure it will not be there last. If you’re wondering how these two churches got along so well, I must say it probably had something to do with both of these pastors being Biblical alumni.


Larry L. Anderson Jr. is Assistant Professor of Practical Theology and the Director of the Urban Programs at Biblical. He is also the pastor of Great Commission Church, previously located in the suburb of Roslyn, PA, but now situated in the West Oak Lane community of Philadelphia to provide a holistic ministry to an urban setting.



 

   

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