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Written by Dr. Phil Monroe Monday, 26 March 2012 00:00

Several years ago I heard a sermon preached on Hebrews 11:8-22 and Abraham's journey to the promised land. During the sermon I thought of this application to my own Seminary's quest to teach and train missional church leaders and counselors for the 21st century. A little background: not everyone has been happy with our move to reach the emerging leadership of the church—or at least with our tactics. The emerging church has been willing to criticize sharply the prior evangelical style of church. In their effort to try new things, some have tried on theological positions that run counter or at least perpendicular to conservative Christian doctrine. Because we at the Seminary haven't led with our criticisms of emerging church, some have criticized and attacked us. One criticism leveled is that the emerging church and Biblical Seminary don't know where they are going. We're on a journey that can only lead to heresy and rejection of the Gospel--or so it is thought by some.

Enter Hebrews 11.

Notice that Abraham travels with much uncertainty. He surely knew that God called him and so he left family and homeland at an elderly age. I wonder if he grew tired of saying, "Here, Lord? This looks like a good spot. No, you want me to keep going???.” My guess is that he probably second-guessed his calling a time or two along the way. However, the writer of Hebrews does tell us that Abraham did look expectantly to one thing: heaven (v. 11). Notice that the promise of heirs as numerous as of sand and land was never fully realized in his lifetime. As the preacher reminded us, he even had to buy some land to bury his cherished wife. At age 100, he had yet to receive the promise of Isaac. Then a few years later he is asked by God to sacrifice Isaac.

We who have the entire canon seem to forget that we too do not know where God is taking us. We have a clearer picture of heaven and clear calls to seek and serve God's kingdom. And yet we do not know exactly to what God is calling us. We, like Abraham, may try to bring about God's promises (these usually lead to bad consequence). God is faithful none-the-less.

So, in answer to those who ask whether Biblical Seminary knows where it is going, I say, No, not fully.” We do know that God is faithful, the land is foreign, we own nothing, but we trust in his goodness both now and in eternity. We seek to live faithfully in worshipful service to God and in loving our neighbors as ourselves. It would be more comforting to think we had it all figured out. It is tempting to do so since that would make our vision planning much easier. Certitude might attract more students and donors. But, we believe a more faithful response is to ask the Lord to send us into the harvest and use as He wills.

One last point. Our lack of knowing just where we are going is NOT to say we have NO idea, nor to say all viewpoints are valid and everyone's expression of faith is good. Those interested in knowing more what we do seek and believe are welcome to check out our President's Missional Journal.


Phil Monroe is professor of counseling & psychology and directs the Masters of Arts in Counseling program. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates. You can follow his counseling blog here or read his faculty bio here.

 

 

Written by Dr. Todd Mangum Wednesday, 21 March 2012 00:00

The morning after Linda and I spent the night with the homeless, our responsibility was to ensure that both families got off by 7:00 AM. That meant we carried car seats out – and I actually ended up carrying one pre-schooler out who was still sound asleep – at about 6:30 AM. It was cold that morning, too, so car windows had to be defrosted and scraped on top of everything else involved in the morning routine.

That all got Linda and me talking when we got home later that morning. We both remembered how difficult those days of diapers and diaper bags, car seats and crying kids were for us. That was years ago for us now, yet we still remember those days as “hard” – but we were a “stable, two-parent home,” we lived in our own house, and, though finances always feel tight, we’ve never been in danger of being evicted. We talked about all this over flavored coffee we’d brewed in our own coffee-maker in our kitchen, with our white picket fence literally forming the background to our conversation out our back window.

Jesus talks about the Kingdom being like a treasure or rare piece of jewelry that, once someone finds it, they’ll give up everything to get. But what if you’d inherited that rare piece of jewelry, and wore it every day.  After a while, wouldn’t you just sort of take it for granted, and forget about just how valuable it is?    

Linda and I were both raised in strong Christian homes. Likewise, our three boys grew up in a home where love and commitment to one another, and to God, has just never been in question.

I don’t want to paint an overly idyllic picture here. I like to tease friends and family way too much. Linda and I have had more than one spat over who gets the remote. And, I remember one whiffle ball game ending with one of the boys throwing the bat at his brother.  But that’s about the height of the conflict we’ve experienced in our home.

It would be, literally, unimaginable for our family to contemplate, much less face, the kind of instability, challenge and lack of resources experienced by the single-parent homeless families we spent that one night with.

In reflecting on that, part of what I realize is: the benefits and blessings that God often gives to His people are rich and deep, but can be kind of subtle, too – like the family heirloom a woman wears everyday of her life since high school but that turns out to be worth thousands of dollars, which no one suspected until the estate sale revealed its real worth after she died or something.

Linda and I are now in, well, late middle age. We have three boys, the youngest of which will soon be driving – the other two have grown and left the house already. But all three, and our daughter-in-law, too, clearly love us and love the Lord. Not only do we love one another, we enjoy one another.  And, for Linda and me, “happily married” is not just a cliché.

And, we realize, when we think about it – which we too often don’t – that this is precious and rare. And that so, so many people would give all that they have to enjoy what we simply take for granted. And that what is truly valuable is too often traded for something shinier, maybe, but counterfeit.

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 Dr. Todd Mangum Tuesday, 20 March 2012 00:00

Last week (by the time you read this, it will be “last month”), my wife, Linda, and I spent a night with the homeless. It was part of a ministry our church offers in cooperation with other churches – kind of a “divide and conquer” kind of strategy. Each church hosts some otherwise-homeless families for a month; people in the church provide the evening meal; and provide someone to come over later in the night to offer welcome, simple human warmth, conversation, help of  any miscellaneous variety -- and give some added security by staying the night in another room in the building. That’s what Linda and I did. 

It cost us a night. Truth is, we talked about not doing it – it’s never “convenient” and we keep up busy lives without this. But, in the end, we couldn’t come up with any reasons for not doing it as good as the reasons we knew for doing it, from what God says so clearly in His Word about how important it is to Him to take care of the poor, the vulnerable, the indigent.

You never know what you’ll actually do when you get there – other than the less-than-satisfying night’s sleep, which is the one “given.” Besides that, you could be confronted with nothing or a lot. Last year, my wife ended up serving as “moderator” between two mothers who got to fighting over how one of their kids was being treated by the other one’s kids. Except for that drama, though, the rest of the night was spent having casual conversation with the adults, while the kids (mostly teenagers) watched TV.

This year, the oldest child of the three there (between two families staying the month) was six – so two pre-schoolers and a first-grader. I’d actually brought a book along to read, in case the evening turned out to be a quiet one not involving us much. I never got to the book. The moment we walked in, the kids’ faces lit up as they came running to us – “Can we play?!”  “Sure!,” we said, “what do you want to play?”  “How about ‘tag’?!”  Me: “Um – you mean, like, . . . running?”  . . .

So that night we played “tag,” and “sharks and minnows,” and soccer, and hide ‘n’ seek, and ended the playtime with “chicken races” – where I had a four-year-old boy on my back, and Linda a six-year-old girl on hers.  We boys won.   

Turned out our night’s sleep wasn’t so bad after all. . . .

Now, from September through February, I’ve taught four Master’s level courses – in postmodern apologetics, in soteriology, in trinitarianism, in pneumatology; all important stuff, exploring with students headed to ministry some of the deep things of God, the missional character of God and how that character forms the goals of the Kingdom, and informs and impels our ground-level attitudes and practices, and forms communities of faith the serve His will, to endeavor to please Him, and, by His grace, to forward His Kingdom goals and missional objectives in the world.  All important stuff.

But here’s a question that’s sort of haunted me over the last month. That night with the homeless cost us a night. And, Linda and I almost didn’t do it – not because we’re apathetic or lazy, but because our lives are already heavily invested in important things. But I have to wonder: in God’s calculus of what is important, I wonder if that one night with the homeless wasn’t worth more than many days and nights of contemplation, reading, and talking about His will?

I once heard someone say that, if a good lumberjack is given five minutes to chop down a tree, a wise one will spend the first four minutes of the five sharpening his ax. Wisdom in that, for sure.  But, of course, if getting the tree chopped down is the goal, there better be at least a minute of actual chopping, right?    


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 Dr. David Dunbar Monday, 19 March 2012 00:00

These three nouns are used by Lesslie Newbigin to describe the church, particularly at the congregational level, in its relationship to its surrounding culture (The Gospel in a Pluralist Society [Eerdmans, 1989], p. 233). It is an inspiring and challenging vision.  

Think of it!  Local churches that so embody the grace of Jesus in word and deed that they are an effective sign-post pointing to the truth that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” Churches that are the instruments through which God answers our prayer for the kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven. And congregations where people actually get a taste of the new heavens and new earth.

 Yes, it is exciting, uplifting, and hopeful!  And then there is the reality.  This was brought home to me Sunday after teaching an adult class at church where we talked about this beautiful vision. I could sense that many folks were stimulated by our discussion.  This is something the hearts of many of us long for.  But then one of my more thoughtful students said, “Dave, I love studying this stuff, but then I ask myself if I am ready to make the changes in my life that kind of church requires.”

 Indeed!  That is the question that all of us must face honestly. Business as usual will not lead to congregations that are the sign, instrument, and foretaste of the coming kingdom.  Like my friend, I too find it easy to get excited about the idea of a vibrant church, but I am actually much less enthusiastic about how such a church would disturb my comfort zone.

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

   

Written by Dr. David Dunbar Thursday, 15 March 2012 00:00

In recent blogs I have been reflecting on Christian Smith’s The Bible Made Impossible (Brazos, 2011).  He believes that “pervasive interpretive pluralism” among Evangelicals proves the un-workability of our hermeneutic:  because we cannot agree on what Scripture teaches, we inevitably find ourselves in warring theological camps.  How should we address the problem?

Smith offers two proposals that taken together could provide a greater degree of unity within the church.  First, he argues that the Bible must be read Christocentrically:  Jesus Christ is the true subject matter of the whole of the Scripture.  “If  believers today want to rightly understand scripture, every narrative, every prayer, every proverb, every law, every Epistle  needs likewise to be read and understood always and only in light of Jesus Christ and God reconciling the world to himself through him” (p. 99). Few would deny what Smith affirms, but in practice Christ gets side-lined in our teaching and the resulting interpretations (particularly of the OT) are often little more than religious moralism.

Second, he argues that we must make value distinctions in our interpretation.  Not all truths are equally important.  We should avoid “flat” readings which value all biblical content equally.  Smith adopts the threefold distinction of dogma, doctrine, and opinion used by the Baptist theologian Roger Olson.

Dogma refers to those teachings which are nearly universally agreed upon by believers.  Doctrine refers to beliefs that are held not universally but by substantial groups of Christians and which may justly be considered important to the life and witness of the church.  Opinions are those beliefs which are less central and more idiosyncratic.

Smith is persuaded that Evangelical Biblicism makes this three-fold distinction difficult.  As a result much that is really just opinion gets moved up the ladder to the de facto status of Dogma.  The result is theological warfare and the loss of Evangelical catholicity.  The solution must be found in “. . . Christians actively agreeing on a short list of dogma, actively building bonds of Christian communion across their doctrinal differences, and deflating the importance of many of their own beliefs [opinions] to the levels at which they appropriately belong” (p. 138).

What I find particularly attractive in this book is the author’s repeated emphasis on the interpretive center (Christ) rather than the boundary markers (denominational distinctives).  Focus on the former more than the latter is critically necessary for the missional effectiveness of the church, as is the humility that must mark our interpretive efforts and our relationships within the body of Christ.


Dave Dunbar is President and Professor of Theology at Biblical Seminary.  He is married to Sharon, has four adult children and six grandchildren.  See also http://biblical.edu/index.php/david-dunbar.

   

Written by Dr. David Dunbar Wednesday, 14 March 2012 00:00

I’m still working on Christian Smith’s challenging book The Bible Made Impossible (Brazos, 2011).  Smith charges Evangelicalism with propounding an unworkable theory about the nature and function of the Bible which he calls “Biblicism.” One need not embrace all aspects of his critique (I don’t) to appreciate that some of his observations are spot on.

The particular issue I will address is what Smith calls the “Handbook Model.” Here is how he explains the position that he adamantly disagrees with:  “The Bible teaches doctrine and morals with every affirmation that it makes, so that together those affirmations comprise something like a handbook or textbook for Christian belief and living, a compendium of divine and therefore inerrant teachings on a full array of subjects—including science, economics, health, politics, and romance” (p. 5).

As evidence that this is a real problem, Smith provides a substantial list of book titles and web-sites from the Evangelical world.  Some of my favorites:  The World according to God:  A Biblical View of Culture, Work, Science, Sex, and Everything Else; Gardening with Biblical Plants; and Queen Esther’s Secrets of Womanhood:  A Biblical Rite of Passage for Your Daughter [!]

While there is an amusing side to this that we might just dismiss as the lunatic fringe in the Evangelical family, I don’t think we should.  The reality is that there is a large group of people in our churches that embraces this general approach to Scripture, and too frequently they are encouraged in this direction by leaders who employ the Bible in just this way.

The mistake is easily made in a culture where technology rules us and where handbooks tell us how to use and maintain the technology. If God wants to speak with us, doesn’t it make sense that he would give us a handbook? Give us clear instructions to repair the human machine and we can fix it!

But of course, he didn’t. He gave us a story . . . about Israel, and Jesus, and the disciples of Jesus. Not all the Bible is a story, but even the non-story parts fit in and around the story. And the problem with a story is that it is not a handbook and cannot be interpreted like a repair manual without violating the nature of the story. The simple fact is that Queen Esther’s story was not intended to yield a manual on the secrets of how to be a woman in the modern world. The story of Esther is important and needs to be taught, but its significance must be understood in a whole different way.  That however is a discussion for another time!

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

   

Written by Dr. Kyuboem Lee Tuesday, 13 March 2012 00:00

I was getting ready for the upcoming Biblical Seminary class on Anthropology, reading a course textbook, Charles H. Kraft’s Anthropology for Christian Witness (published by Orbis). This work, first published in 1994, is an indispensable work for understanding culture from a missional perspective, and therefore is essential reading for anyone who is committed to a thoughtful communication of the gospel and an effective kingdom mission. However, it does show its age. Our world has changed in some dramatic ways since he penned this work--in a word, globalization.

Kraft states a major purpose of anthropological studies as safeguarding our Christian witness from “the enemy within us--our own ethnocentrism” (xiii). A great benefit to understanding culture is that we begin to be self-critical in matters of cultural presuppositions--a vital skill in engaging cross-culturally. He goes on to explain, “One of our major aims in this approach to the study of anthropology is to learn to protect the people of other societies from our own inclination to make them like us” (2). The application for the missionary from the West is obvious, but Kraft also had this to say for international students from the Two-Thirds World: one, the study of anthropology can help you overcome the cultural inferiority complex that arises from being a student in a western education system; and two, it can give you the corrective needed against looking down on the traditional segments of your own home culture (3-4).

These are wonderful words from a major figure in contemporary missiology reflecting on the checkered history of modern mission that anyone who is involved in cross-cultural ministry needs to heed seriously. But in our globalizing world, where various cultures (outside the traditional Western hegemony) are ascendant, the applications need to be made even more broadly than to Western cultural chauvinism. For instance, should the same warning against ethnocentrism be sounded to missionaries from South Korea, who are now found in every corner of the globe? What about its application to the immigrant pastors from Western Africa ministering in Queens, New York, one of the most diverse places in the world? And what of the African-American and Hispanic Christians living and serving in North American urban neighborhoods which are now home to increasing numbers of new immigrants from places such as Cambodia, Middle East, and others? After all, Western white culture does not have a corner on ethnocentrism, just as it does not have a corner on biblical theology.

This is not to say that the legacy of the recent Western predominance in Christianity does not loom over the global church’s present-day missional endeavor--to deny its influence would be to deny reality. But there is much that anthropology can teach every one of us about our own brand of ethnocentrism, no matter what part of the world we come from or what culture nurtured us. And it is crucial that we struggle with our own ethnocentrism, especially now when we are confronted by a global world in which diversity is the norm, if we are to have a credible Christian witness. It is a tragedy that Christianity is too often being promoted and practiced as a tribal religion when in fact it is a uniquely global religion, with a unique appeal to our global world.

The good news is that Christianity is a global religion par excellence. Translation is built into its Scriptures (as Lamin Sanneh has pointed out so well, contra Islam which does not allow for translation and sees only one culture--the Arab culture--as sacred); Christianity’s redemptive history is marked by God’s covenant expanding, gathering and including all nations; and Acts as the history of the first Christian mission is a story of the gospel traversing cultural barriers, a trajectory that the church is to continue on until the consummation of history. This global nature of Christianity challenges our ethnocentric tendencies, which we all have within us, and turns us outward to embrace the other. It is a blessing of the gospel.

So, anyone want to sign up for future Anthropology classes?

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 

   

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