Written by Todd Mangum Wednesday, 19 September 2012 00:00

25 year ago, John MacArthur published a book entitled, The Gospel according to Jesus. It had at the time a profound impact on my thinking of what exactly faith is and, as the book’s title indicates, what “the gospel” is. Its thesis and approach is actually pretty simple: what does the gospel look like according to the gospels?  And, what if we take Jesus’ message as the prototype for what “the gospel” is?

It’s amazing what a difference such an approach makes. It was shocking to me 25 years ago, and the shockwaves have reverberated through my theological thinking ever since. In the gospel according to Jesus, the invitation is not to add God to your microwave and high definition TV to make your life better, give you some added gratification “at no cost to you,” and a steal of a deal in this life and the next.  No, the gospel according to Jesus is one in which great cost is demanded, but the investment in the coming Kingdom — an investment of faith not sight — is worth it.  It will cost you everything like a “pearl of great price,” or like a tract of land that you really can’t afford, that will force you to sell everything you have to secure it, but which “you know” has a hidden treasure in it that will make the investment more than pay off.

For Jesus, Gospel 101 is: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me” (the one-verse summary of Jesus’ “gospel message” in all three synoptic gospels: Matt. 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). And it’s not just a hypothetical “willingness,” either — He lets the rich, young ruler walk away when he recoils at the cost; and Zaccheus who offers the material “cost” willingly and actually unsolicitedly [!], Jesus allows and commends, as one who thus demonstrates his faith.  It is in acknowledging this investment of faith that Jesus says, “For the son of man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:5; it is no coincidence that Luke 18 and 19 provide the stark contrast, virtually back to back, of one who recoils at the cost of faith and one who embraces the cost eagerly).

That, in a nutshell, is “the gospel according to Jesus.”  And if we then approach the epistles as letters that assume the gospel of Jesus, rather than as theological tractates that “present the gospel for the first time now that Jesus has paved the way for it,” a very different understanding of the whole New Testament really is gained.  (Hint: the best insights of “the new perspective on Paul” are contained in this relatively simple move — moving the “center of gravity” of the New Testament “gospel” to Jesus, imagine that!). 

And, while we’re in the neighborhood of what difference this all makes to reading the Bible, think of this: if the New Testament epistles are built not only on Jesus’ work but on Jesus’ teaching, and if Jesus’ message is rooted in the prophets, and if the prophets’ message is rooted in the character of God as revealed in the Law, then . . . lo and behold, one ends up with a fully unified Bible with a single consistent message that unfolds coherently from beginning to end!  Now, imagine that!

As an epilogue to my recommendation of The Gospel according to Jesus by John MacArthur — and I would still recommend it, let me also say that, in my judgment, the thesis of that book still embraces too much the revivalist assumption that “faith” consists of a single, point-in-time “decision” (see my last blog on “Is Faith a Decision?”); and, though the insights of that book I see as paving the way for a fuller understanding of how the New Testament epistles relate to the gospels, I have to observe with some sadness that Dr. MacArthur himself has since resisted some of these connections, and seen “the new perspective on Paul” as more of “a threat” than a help.  Too bad. But it’s also not too late for him to change his mind on some of these things, too.  And regardless, I’m still grateful for the positive influence his work has had on my theological thinking.

For all of us, this is a journey and we learn as we go.  And our decisions — our “taking up our cross daily” (as per the Lucan nuance) — is informed by the level of understanding and level of faith we have at the time. And the faith we have, by God’s grace, is there but it sometimes falters, sometimes is weak, sometimes is misinformed, sometimes is just less than it should be.  And yet, God prorates His judgment, and rewards excessively the faith the size of a mustard seed.

If this is God’s response to our faltering faith, then how can we be any less generous?  Reminders of that — and I need to be reminded often — help me be more charitable in my assessment of others’ faith walks.

For all of us, the walk of faith nonetheless is one that always demands courage and cost. This is the gospel according to Jesus.

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, 17 September 2012 00:00

In my last blog, I suggested that “faith” consists of no less than four components (aligned with “the greatest commandment” to love God with one’s mind, soul, heart and strength): 

            Cognition (or “mind”) = what one understands

            Volition (or “will”)       = to what one commits/submits

            Affection (or “heart”) = what one desires

            Action (or “strength” or “hands & feet”) = what one does

From here, I’d like to explore what I think is a common reductionism in evangelical Protestantism: reducing “saving faith” to a single point-in-time “decision.”

I recognize that sometimes conversion can indeed be a dramatic, point-in-time occurrence. I know that “gospel calls” in the New Testament are calls to decision. I realize that, at the end of Acts 2, three thousand souls were added to the Kingdom in a single day.

I mean, hey, y’all, I’m Baptist, ordained Southern Baptist; I’ve been a Baptist all my life.  I know the power of the altar call. … and some of its problems, too. . . . 

Here is what gives me pause.

The emphasis on cognition was already high in the Protestant conflict with Catholicism in the 16thcentury. With Catholicism perceived at the time as touting a mindless submission to the authority of the Church for salvation (emphasis for them on “proper volition”), the Reformers insisted that one must understand what the cross work of Christ entailed and from what this costly benefit secured salvation. “Salvation from the wrath of God by understanding and accepting penal substitutionary atonement” resulted as a common by-product of this debate in Protestantism. To this day, “the gospel” for Protestants is too often thought to be “understand the doctrine of penal substitution/forensic justification.”

By the way, I would not want to deny this doctrinal point. I just don’t want to reduce “the gospel” to such. As Timothy George of Beeson Divinity School (a fellow Southern Baptist, by the way) has put it, that comes too close to making justification by doctrinal erudition.

Secondly, the era of Revivalism took this emphasis on doctrinal cognition a yet farther step. Again, much good was done, many people brought to Christ and brought into fellowship with healthy communities of faith by the revivals and revivalists of the 18th, 19th, and 20thcenturies. But there was a nasty downside, too, in terms of how “the gospel” tended to be framed. That is, because “the gospel” was framed as “a decision” to be made that night at the end of a service in which “a gospel presentation” was made and “an invitation to accept Christ” extended, “the gospel” tended to be thought of and framed as something of a “sales pitch.”

You and I know what happens when “a product” is being sold; costs are minimized, benefits accentuated. “How little is demanded of the poor sinner” to be saved became a common theme, the benefit of “you can know tonight that you will spend eternity in heaven with God, no matter how gross your sins” likewise became a common theme. 

Now, just for starters, recognize that not a single “gospel presentation” in the Bible sounds quite like that. Why not?

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  


Written by Todd Mangum Friday, 14 September 2012 00:00

So what is “faith” and how do we overcome reductionism? 

(By the way, one of the best treatments of “salvation and mission reductionism” is Darrell Guder’s, The Continuing Conversion of the Church — see http://www.amazon.com/Continuing-Conversion-Church-Gospel-Culture/dp/080284703X/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid= 1345901494&sr=1-2&keywords=darrell+guder).

Broadly and generally speaking — and permit me to overgeneralize a bit for sake of the point — the church historically has recognized four components that constitute what faith is (or, what “saving faith” is).  Responding to various challenges through history, at any given time or era it seems one of these gets accentuated over the others.  But, at root, four characteristics of “faith” can be identified:

            Cognition (or “mind”) = what one understands

            Volition (or “will”)       = to what one commits/submits

            Affection (or “heart”) = what one desires

            Action (or “strength” or “hands & feet”) = what one does

I’d correlate “faith” with the greatest commandment — to love God with all one’s mind, with all one’s soul, with all one’s heart, and all one’s strength; see Deut. 6:5, synthesized with Matt. 22:37. “Saving faith” is doing that, or at least committing oneself to doing that, over the course of one’s lifetime.

I think a “constellation of components” conceptualization of faith such as this does a lot to overcome biblical tensions, and to foster a more holistic view of what the goal of the gospel message is, and what the point of conversion is. Such a conceptualization also helps overcome false dichotomies and helps fuse the gospel themes of Kingdom with the gospel themes of personal justification.

There are lots of directions the discussion could take from here (some of which I’ll try to take up in future blog posts), with lots of clarifications and qualifications needed, I’m sure.  But there’s the basic framework of what I’d propose “faith” is.  As a starting point, what do you think so far?

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 Wednesday, 12 September 2012 00:00

I often tell theology classes at Biblical that Greek and Hebrew are helpful tools, but rarely make a definitive difference in how major biblical concepts are understood. Somewhat like the difference between watching a television program in color vs. black-and-white, helpful nuances are added by the original languages, but rarely is the overall plotline changed.

One exception to this, though, and one point on which I do think the original language makes a potentially very significant difference, concerns a very core evangelical doctrine — justification through faith; most poignantly, understanding what is faith.

Consider a couple of nouns or adjectives that are easily made into verbs in English: 

            “Height” becomes “heighten.”

            “Glory” becomes “glorify.”

            “Light” becomes “enlighten.”

But there are a couple of words that English does not convert well into verbs.  One such word is the word “faith.”  The most elaborate biblical explanation of what exactly “faith” is in found in Hebrews 11 — the “hall of fame of faith.”  Notice that the explanation of “faith” found there makes it seem that faith is more easily illustrated than defined. “By faith” the Red Sea was crossed, patriarchs left hearth and home for a land they did not know but to which God called them; “by faith” powerful armies were routed and mothers received back their children from the dead and on and on.

Try your hand at listing what characterizes “faith” in Hebrews 11. Most any list would almost have to include characteristics like “courage,” “patience,” “perseverance,” “trust,” “commitment.”

Now, here’s the thing: “faith” (pistiz; “pistis”) is easily made into a verb in Greek: “pisteuo” (pisteuw).  An original reader seeing that verb would read it as something like “faithify”; or “exercise faith in”; even “align one’s life commitments in accordance with” — that is, the whole, full-orbed range of connotations associated with “faith.”  But in English, we get just one small aspect of the semantic range of the word; viz., “believe” — something that’s certainly included within the broad range of the word, but hardly captures the full import.

Just imagine how our understanding of the gospel message of John 3:16, for instance, would be adjusted — and improved! — if we heard the word at its original volume, and read it as, “For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, that whosoever should align their life commitments in accordance with Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

I’m convinced that some of our reductionist understanding of the full-orbed Kingdom gospel message of Jesus and the New Testament is rooted in a truncated understanding of just what “exercising faith”  (or pisteuw, “pisteuo”) is. I’d like to try to change that.

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, 10 September 2012 00:00

When my 15-year-old son’s travel soccer team had a week-end tournament earlier this summer, we privately clucked our tongues when one of the games was scheduled on Sunday morning. A rare exception, we skipped church so he could play in the tournament. And then it happened: the season schedule for practices and games just came out . . . with practices and games scheduled on every Sunday morning September to February.

For some Christians, this might pose a trivial dilemma — go to a Saturday night service somewhere (our home church does not have such); or, with a sigh, just set aside church for this. For us, though, we’re not open to prioritizing soccer over church; so the dilemma is very real. We’re wrestling with whether our son should quit the team or step up our protest to the coaches and administrators of the league for their scheduling of soccer so inconsiderately over the time traditionally recognized as the time of Christian worship services.

Fortunately (in a way), we are not alone. About half the team’s families have raised a protest to this “anti-Christian” soccer schedule. Of course, I know that our claim to “conviction” on it must ring a bit hollow to secular ears, given that we all let our sons play in the tournament a couple of months back. With much of the “protest” being voiced by email (catch that oxymoron?), everyone can see the qualifying caveat, “The occasional tournament is OK, but every week is unacceptable”. . .  a plaintive compromise. . . .   a “compromise” I, for one, wish I’d never made in the first place.

Trying to be missional adds a further complication.  In this case, the parental instinct to protect and want what’s best for our son — parental demand for justice for our son even (“Why should my child be unfairly discriminated against because of his/our Christian religious values?!”) — threatens to conflict with our aspiration to be winsome toward the coaches and parents who have different or no such religious concerns at all. 

For us, eliminating church attendance to play soccer is not an option.  (So don’t bother making the case that doing so could be “missional.”  It’s not that I haven’t thought of that rationalization, but, sorry, our conscience just won’t buy that one.)  Barring that, here are our options:

Option A: graciously withdraw our son from the team

Option B: band together with other Christian parents to voice a gracious but firm protest to the schedule

Option C: torque up a campaign against this injustice, pointing out that the religious discrimination of this policy essentially penalizes Christian kids for their Christian religious convictions

Option D: bring in the lawyers if need be to make the point

We’ve heard each of these options discussed by the Christian families genuinely concerned for our sons.  Organized sports is a big thing in our culture anyway; too big I know. Throw in the possibility of college scholarships being secured or squandered depending on how this matter is handled and the issue becomes downright volatile. And . . . before you propose too quickly “option A,” above, just think a little about what effect the message of “you can’t play on the team because we’re Christians” could have on a teenage boy, too.

Anyway, there’s the situation.  I’m wide open to counsel on it.  Anybody want to weigh in?

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 Charles Zimmerman Friday, 07 September 2012 00:00

This post brings us to the end of the updates of Biblical’s founding faculty.  Thus far we have heard from “Doc” Newman, Gary Cohen, Bob Vannoy, George Clark, Bill Harding, John Grauley and Tom Taylor.  This post is in remembrance of Robert J. Dunzweiler. 

Mr. Dunzweiler taught at Biblical from its founding in September 1971 through the spring of 1996.  He died later that year, December 17, 1996. 

I remember Bob as being meticulous – about the Bible and theology, his desk, his books, the top of his lectern (which he built because the others were all too small), even his ice tea glass complete with paper towel securely fastened with a rubber band to keep it from leaving water spots on the furniture.  One of my jobs as a new faculty member was taking minutes for faculty meetings.  Bob would edit my notes with lots of red ink before I typed the final draft.  Thankfully, he was patient – with new faculty members as well as students and staff. 

I asked our two resident theologians, Dave Dunbar and Todd Mangum to share a few brief comments on how Bob shaped their study, teaching and life. 

Comments by Dave Dunbar

I was deeply impacted by Bob Dunzweiler’s teaching from several perspectives:

I loved his focus on the Bible.  Even though he was committed to a Calvinistic “system” of interpretation, he made it clear that theology was an attempt to articulate the truth of Scripture, not the truth of a particular system.

I thought he was particularly skillful in generating and leading class discussions built around specific texts of the Bible.  Many of us probably remember spending days working through the text of Romans 6-8. Bob didn’t just tell us what the text meant.  He asked questions and solicited our ideas about the meaning of what we read. And if you proposed a good idea (which he had probably thought about many times), he would look surprised and interested as if the light of understanding was just beginning to dawn and the student speaking was a new Luther, or perhaps Jonathan Edwards redivivus. Now that was fun!

Comments by Todd Mangum

For those of us who studied under the founding faculty, Robert J. Dunzweiler is etched in our memory as “the consummate theologian” the way Johnny Bench is remembered as the consummate baseball catcher, Walter Cronkite the consummate news anchor, or Andy Griffith the consummate small town southern sheriff.  For most people training for ministry, “theologian” was not a personality commonly encountered anyway, but if you imagined what one was like, you’d think of someone like Bob Dunzweiler.  Methodical, thoughtful — deep in thought about the deep things of God, careful, in awe of the subject matter, reverent, humble.  What most of us didn’t know in those days is how rare such a combination of qualities actually is in the field of theology; or at least how rare they’d become.  As Biblical’s original theology professor, Bob Dunzweiler embodied the humility and awe of God that Biblical Seminary became known for in general from its early days.  

I once heard an old preacher say at a funeral that when a person dies, people don’t remember what the person knew but how they made you feel. Bob Dunzweiler’s great contribution as a theologian was not in his published insights or cutting edge breakthroughs, but in how he led his students to think and feel about God. He was reverent toward the Person who constituted the “subject matter” of theology, submissive to the Word that gave us our knowledge of Him, and keenly interested in the kinds of insights that would accurately reflect God’s character, prompt greater worship, and inspire a higher level of obedience to and love for God.  It is hard to describe a better set of goals or aspirations for a Christian theologian. 

Mr. Dunzweiler also sacrificed for his Lord — and for Biblical.  He taught at Biblical in “the days of austerity” when even getting one’s paycheck was not a sure thing. He also taught at a time when coats and ties were the expected decorum. Many of us students noticed that he did wear a coat and tie to every class — but that he owned only one sport coat to teach in.  

To this day, the memory of what Mr. Dunzweiler embodied impacts what we are as a seminary, and what I am as a theologian. Every time I used the word “unpack” to look at a biblical text for theological implications, or pause uncomfortably long before answering a student’s serious theological question, or insist on running my own copies of class notes for distribution, the legacy of Robert Dunzweiler lives on.  He was even the one who first set the expectation to incorporate audiovisuals — complete with cartoon characters, charts and graphs! — into the teaching of theology.  Yes, yes; there is no question that his legacy lives on.

Ruth Dunzweiler continues to live in their home doing pretty much what she had always been doing – caring for the property, teaching Bible Clubs, playing piano at church and nursery homes.  Please pray for Ruth who has many physical challenges.  Bob and Ruth have three daughters: Debbie, Patty and Kathy.

If you are a former student of Biblical Seminary and studied with any of the founding faculty, scroll back through the blog entries, take a stroll down memory lane and thank God for the experiences and education you received.

If you have only heard mention of the founding faculty or if you know nothing of them, scroll back through the faculty updates and learn about the DNA of Biblical as you learn about the men that got it started.

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.  See alsohttp://biblical.edu/index.php/charles-zimmerman


Written by Bryan Maier Monday, 03 September 2012 00:00

NOTE:  This blog addresses a subject similar to the one addressed in the blog written by Sam Logan and posted on August 22.  Comments about either or both blogs are welcome!

Here in America, we are beginning the silly season, or as we know it, the Presidential election.   Now I am not going to get into a political debate or give my position on any particular issue.  I am also not going to discuss whether Christians should vote (I think they should) nor whether they should be involved in politics (again, I think they should). What I want to think through is how does being missional impact how a Christian behaves during a political campaign? Or put another way, how does a Christian weather the silly season from a missional perspective?

I don’t have the time or space to address all that I am thinking so I will restrict myself to one practical example. In all my years of voting, I have never put a political bumper sticker on my car nor have I put a political endorsement sign up in my yard. This does not mean I have not wanted to and I want to again this year.  If I am planning to vote for one candidate and probably support several candidates financially, why can’t I merely identify which candidate I am voting for and supporting with a sign in my yard? Well, here are a few questions that come to mind when I think about this decision missionally.

1).  What I am saying vs. what is being heard.   I know what I would mean by posting a sign in my yard. I would be saying that I am voting for that particular candidate and hope that those seeing my sign would consider that also. However, I cannot ignore that someone may make many more assumptions about me just based on that sign. If they believe certain things about ALL who support that candidate (or party) then I would be subjected to that stereotype without even a chance to defend myself. This is not fair but I have to face that it happens all the time (I am also guilty). None of this would really matter except that their reaction to my sign might bias them towards ever hearing from me a far more important message (the gospel).  Of course if we agreed politically, it might favorably dispose them to hear the more important message.

2). How about down ticket? What if my friend is running for dogcatcher in my town? Can I put his sign in my yard? What about my son’s Sunday School teacher who is running for town treasurer? Can I put her sign in my yard? In both cases very few people would even know who these people are, so it should not cause such an emotional reaction for them to know who I am supporting.  In fact it may leave a favorable impression that I know enough about local politics to advocate for people I actually know. On the other hand, they may not like my friend’s ideas for managing the canine population and are they therefore more or less willing to hear the more important message?  (disclaimer: I have no idea who is running for dog catcher in my town, this is merely hypothetical)

3). Do I stand out?  What if everyone in my neighborhood has a sign in their yard and they are all for the same candidate and I support the same candidate? Now if I add my signs to theirs, my specific sign probably makes no difference. What if I don’t add my sign and I am the only one on the block without a sign? That says something too (whether it is accurate or not) and we are back to point #1. Of course, if my sign is different than everyone else’s I am sending a strong message too. If I am willing to be counter- cultural politically, am I willing to be counter cultural for the sake of God’s mission?

Any other issues you can think of whether putting a sign in your yard is consistent with being missional ? By the time I figure this out the election will probably be over.

Related exit question: Is it consistent with being missional to drive through Philadelphia with a Dallas Cowboys's bumper sticker on my car?

Bryan Maier, Psy.D. is Associate Professor of Counseling at Biblical Seminary.


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