2009 Photo by Lambert Wolterbeek Muller, flickr

Written by Dr. Bryan Maier Thursday, 05 April 2012 00:00

I am reading the book of Judges to my boys during our nightly Bible time. Judges is not a very upbeat book. Sure there are the dramatic rescues by God of his people but following the deliverance there always comes a slipping and sometimes running back into idolatry as soon as the judge is dead (sometimes they don’t even wait that long!). I have often wondered if it is better to be barely mentioned in Judges (such as Shamgar, 3:31) because the more play a judge gets the more is recorded of his failures (Deborah is one notable exception). Recently we were reading the story of Gideon. It is a wonderful story of God’s deliverance orchestrated in such a way that there could be no other explanation for the victory than God’s supernatural power. Yet somehow Gideon got confused. When the people begged him to assume absolute power, he was smart enough to decline, yet he collected a large part of the spoils and formed it into some kind of idol which became “a snare to Gideon and his household” (8:27).

At this point my reading was interrupted by the exclamation, “What an idiot!” The remainder of the audience (my other two sons) agreed. I was encouraged that my sons could see the error so quickly but I also uttered a prayer that sin would always be so clear, and foolish to them.  But we know it is so easy to see the mistakes when they are presented matter-of-factly in a written narrative. It is much harder to recognize our own bent to idolize anything and everything besides God. I am reminded of the phrase from the old hymn, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love”. The next judge we are scheduled to read about is Sampson, who my boys have already diagnosed as an “epic fail”. So where is the hope? Maybe we have to look past the book of Judges to the advent of the one man on this Earth who did not fail. Soon we will be celebrating death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ which provided ultimate rescue from sin. Because of Christ, the discouraging cycle of the book of Judges will not be permanent.  Praise be to God!

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 Dan LaValla Wednesday, 04 April 2012 00:00

While faith and presumption take into account a level of trust that goes beyond reason and physical evidence, they are distinct. To exercise one’s faith is to trust in God’s word, works, and promises. Jesus commended the centurion (Matt. 8:5-13) for his faith because for the centurion, Jesus’ word that his servant would be healed was enough for him. His trust in Jesus’ word did not require Jesus to physically go to his servant for the healing to be effectual. Throughout the book of Ephesians, Paul emphasizes that our salvation comes through faith by trusting in Christ’s death and resurrection.

Presumption, on the other hand, is when one takes something for granted or proceeds with unwarranted boldness. In Matthew 20:20-22 and Mark 10:36—38 James and John and their mother are presumptuous to think they have the right to ask Jesus for the highest placement in the Kingdom of heaven. Further, in Luke 22:23-27, the apostles were presumptuous to think they could determine who Jesus would regard as the greatest amongst them.

Therefore in life, one needs to be careful not to mistake presumption for faith. This is especially true when interpreting circumstances in one’s own life or the lives of others. In a middle and upper middle class American context, one should be aware of the influences of prosperity and variations of the “health and wealth gospel.” One must avoid the temptation to simply equate success of one’s own or other’s endeavors as a sign of God’s approval. The opposite is also true, one must be careful not to see one’s own trials and tribulations or the trials and tribulations of others as evidence of God’s chastisement or disapproval. As Ecclesiastes 7:13-14 teaches, God creates both times of prosperity and adversity; therefore, no one can discover anything about their own or another’s future.


Dan LaValla is Director of Library Services and Development Associate for Institutional Advancement at Biblical. He is Chair of the Endowment Committee for the American Theological Library Association and is very active in his church and community, coaching youth baseball and football and has served on several community boards. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/daniel-lavalla.

   

Written by Phil Monroe Tuesday, 03 April 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. Derek Cooper Monday, 02 April 2012 00:00

I was recently at a conference called Fresh Expressions in Alexandria, Virginia. The conference was a gathering of more than twenty denominations, which were united in their desire to cultivate new expressions of Christianity within established and newer churches. As I was attending the conference, I was reminded of a section in the book of Revelation. Specifically, my mind was taken to the message Jesus gave to Ephesus – the first of the seven churches in Asia Minor.

This is the message from the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven golden lampstands: ‘I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting. But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches. (Revelation 2:1-5, NLT)

As we talked about fresh expressions of Christianity at the gathering, I was reminded that all churches were initially fresh expressions. Every church began with a spark of hope. But over time the fire died out in many churches. This led to two thoughts.  

First, the message the church is to share with the world has not changed. In fact, it’s a very simple message: We are to love God and love others. I like how the New Living Translation makes verse four explicit: It’s not just love in general that the church in Ephesus is on the verge of losing, it was love for God and love for others.

Second, we must always remember that it is Jesus and his Spirit that holds each church in his hand. It’s tempting to think that we are the ones in control. But we aren’t. And because Jesus and his Spirit are the ones who hold the authority of the church, they are able to blow out the flame of the church when that church has lost its mission. And if you don’t think Jesus was serious when he warned the church at Ephesus about blowing out their flame, you should know that all the churches mentioned in the book of Revelation – and not just the one in Ephesus – ceased existing centuries ago.

As we are led to think about fresh expressions Christianity, it is important to keep in mind that these fresh expressions exist first and foremost to advance the love of God and of others. It’s a simple message, but time has shown how difficult it is to put into practice and maintain over the long haul. Let us always hold up one another with the prayer to make the love of God and of others the central aspect of our lives – and of our churches.

 
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 entitled Thomas Manton: A Guided Tour of the Life and Thought of a Puritan Pastor: http://www.amazon.com/Thomas-Manton-Thought-Puritan-History/dp/1596382139/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1319153564&sr=8-1#_. See his faculty page at: http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/derek-cooper.

   

Written by Dr. David Lamb Sunday, 01 April 2012 00:00

In the spring of my freshman year, I remember the Stanford Daily declaring in a headline that Stanford’s president, Donald Kennedy, was going to run for the U.S. Senate.  I was shocked.  It didn’t make any since—his background was science, not law.  As I glanced over the headlines on rest of the front page, I was struck by how interesting all the news stories were that day…until I noticed the date on the top of the page, April 1.  The headlines that day were all fiction.  I was fooled. 

Foolishness is understood generally, and particularly on April 1, as naiveté.  (“Did you know ‘gullible’ is not in the dictionary?”)

Scripture has a lot to say about foolishness.  While Proverbs may address the topic more than any other book, several psalms also focus on foolishness.  Last week in my Psalms class we were looking at Wisdom Psalms and we examined Psalm 14, which begins,

Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”

Interestingly, Psalm 53 repeats Psalm 14 verbatim.  (Paul also quotes most of Psalm 14/53:1-3 in Romans 3:10-12.)  The biblical authors apparently thought that the message of this psalm needed to be emphasized. 

I have had the opportunity to interact recently with many atheists, or non-theists, as some prefer (see http://davidtlamb.com/2012/02/18/behaving-badly-at-bucknell-2/).  I was careful to not quote Psalm 14:1 at them.  Somehow I don’t think that would have made them more open to Jesus.  But I don’t think this psalm is targeting the people we think it is. 

Notice how the psalmist expresses it, “Fools say in their hearts…”  These aren’t people who state their atheism with words, but they have somehow internalized their lack of faith, and as the psalmist elaborates in the following verses, this “atheism” is expressed in behavior.  Sound familiar?  Christians aren’t going to say, “There is no God” publically, but often our actions communicate exactly that.  When we act as if God doesn’t exist, we have become practical atheists.  Christians behaving badly. 

I’m not just talking about not having a morning quiet time (although that is a problem).  The things God calls people to in Scripture required real faith.  To Abraham: Leave everything.  To Moses: Deliver my people.  To Hosea: Marry a prostitute.  To Peter: Leave your nets.  To Saul/Paul: Go to the Gentiles.  When these individuals responded obediently, they were saying in their hearts, “There is a God.”

God’s invitation to get involved in his mission will involve more than attending church on Sunday.  Our acceptance of his invitation will constitute a bold declaration that there is a God. 

Even though our reckless acts of faith may appear naïve to the world around us, we will be able to join Paul in declaring that we are “fools for the sake of Christ” (1 Cor. 4:10). 

How can the actions of Christians today communicate that there is a God? 


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? He blogs regularly at http://davidtlamb.com/. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/david-lamb.

   

Written by Dr. Larry Anderson Thursday, 29 March 2012 00:00

Although Jesus' method to reach the world was primarily done through His discipleship of the apostles, discipleship of leaders seems to be non-existent in much of church culture today. Let me first clarify what I am speaking of when I use the term discipleship. New member's classes and other specialty classes where there is a teacher/student dynamic scheduled for one hour on Sunday is very much a form of discipleship and is alive and well in many places. However, I'm speaking of the quality time of discipleship through fellowship and the outpouring of leaders into future leaders for the perpetuation of the Gospel.

Although Jesus preached in the synagogues, this would have never been considered His primary means of discipleship. Jesus was able to use cultural, contextual, and controversial events as they arrived during the course of the day to teach, because He spent time with His future leaders. Jesus freely gave His disciples the authority to preach the message, heal the sick, raise the dead, and drive out demons because He knew this would bring glory to God. He was not concerned about the popularity or the notoriety His disciples may have received because of the wonderful acts they were performing, in fact, He anticipated it.

To contrast this wonderful picture of discipleship, we have 1 Samuel 18, where under the authority of Saul, David was enjoying much success. In fact, his success led women to begin singing and comparing David's success to Saul's in a more favorable way. The success of David angered Saul and caused him to keep a jealous eye on David from that day forward. The inability of Saul to handle the success of his disciple divided their relationship and ultimately his kingdom.

I encounter numerous church leaders on a daily basis who have not or are not being discipled. As I inquire about the reasons behind this lack of discipleship, besides the response of busyness, the consistent response has been leadership's insecurity of their success. In other words, jealousy has and is stunting the growth of many leaders in the church today. This raises a very sad question - How can one be jealous of the godliness they see in others? We are not here to promote our personal kingdoms, and increase our fan base we have been called to spread the Good News and make disciples. The more successful a disciple becomes the greater the impact for the kingdom.

God calls Himself a jealous God because He has a problem with a false god getting the love from His people that only He deserves. Unfortunately, we have some men and women mentally assuming this posture as if the applause someone under them receives is taking away from the praise they so crave which only the Lord ultimately deserves.


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. 

   

Written by Sam Logan Wednesday, 28 March 2012 00:00

Here is the lingering question from yesterday’s blog –

Where – and how – do we draw the lines of “moral responsibility” when discussing behaviors which may or may not be caused by internal conditions over which we may or may not have complete control?

I promised yesterday that I would try to see how America’s greatest theologian, Jonathan Edwards, would deal with this issue.

At first glance, this might seem anachronistically impossible.  After all, Edwards never wrote anything about the March 19, 2012, issue of Time magazine or about the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (which were part of the discussion yesterday).  Recognition of the potential anachronism involved here is appropriate; all too often, we try to make historical figures answer questions which never occurred in their worlds and we sometimes thereby twist the ideas of those figures inappropriately.

In this case, however, what we are proposing is not impossible because Edwards did wrestle with the issue of moral accountability and he did so specifically in the context of forces which some did regard as “controlling” the individual in question.  Edwards codified the results of this wrestling in his treatise on The Freedom of the Will which some Edwards scholars (John Gerstner among them) regard as his finest written document.  

Here are two simplified (but I really believe NOT simplistic) themes of Freedom

  1. Unless we are physically constrained to act or not to act in a given way, we are “free” to do what we want and are, therefore, responsible. [Alan Heimert {Religion and the Anmerican Mind} identified this insight as the key to the American Revolution.]
  2. In every situation where we are not physically constrained, we always do what we MOST WANT to do.  That is, in every single action when we are not constrained/restrained by external, physical forces, we are giving expression to that which we MOST WANT in the moment when we take that action. 

Further, Edwards argues that the ultimate measure of the “rightness” or “wrongness” of any given action rests in the very character of God Himself.  The moral law, as given in Scripture, is not arbitrary . . . it is nothing more or less than the objectification of the nature of God.  Therefore, anything that does not conform to the moral law is, by definition, a denial of or an attack on the character of God.  WHY we desire what we do when we take a specific action is irrelevant, at least in terms of determining whether the action is itself “right” or “wrong.”  Yes, there IS black and white in the moral world.

But how do we handle actions which deny or attack the character of God?  Now, the gray appears.

And it is not just gray with respect to actions which, in and of themselves, deny or attack the character of God.  Actions which by their nature conform to the character of God but which emerge from any desire other than the desire to “seek first the Kingdom of God” are themselves “not fully gracious,” to use the language of Edwards’s Treatise on Religious Affections  (which I regard as Edwards’s finest written document).

To push this point home, Edwards argues that there can be (and often are) ways of urging ourselves and others to “trust in Christ” which themselves  are “not fully gracious.”  If, for example, our entire motive for exercising faith in Christ is to get the blessedness of heaven, we are, in effect, making Christ a means to the end of our own benefit.  We are seeking our own “kingdom” (even though it is a “spiritual kingdom) instead of HIS Kingdom.  We should exercise faith in Christ most fundamentally (Edwards argues in Section 2 of Part III of the Affections ) because He deserves our faith, because He is worthy of the worship and honor which true faith entails.  Yes, God can be our greatest joy, but sinfully selfishly human beings (like the one writing this blog) far too often make joy our greatest god.

Therefore, to return to where we started yesterday, “sin”  always occurs when anything (yes, anything) other than the Kingdom and glory of God is “sought first.”  That sin may emerge in “normal” or “abnormal” individuals and it may emerge in either “healthy” or “sick” individuals.  

Further, Edwards argues in his Treatise on Original Sin that, when we consider the nature of sin, we must take account not only of the sins of commission but also of the sins of omission.  Here is just one of his statements on this subject:

It therefore appears . . . that whosoever withholds more of that love or respect of heart from God, which his law requires, than he affords, has more sin than righteousness.  But what considerate person is there, even among the more virtuous part of mankind, but would be ashamed to say, and profess before God or men, that he loves God half so much as he ought to do; or that he exercises one half of that esteem, honor, and gratitude towards God, which would be altogether becoming him; considering what God is, and what great manifestations he has made of his transcendent excellency and goodness, and what benefits he receives from him?

Anyone who wished for black and white (as I did at the beginning of yesterday’s blog) surely gets it here.  But this is a perfect case of “Be careful what you wish for because you might get it!” 

And this leads us again to what might be called “appropriate missional grayness.”

The standards are clear and they are white as the driven snow.  But since none of us achieves or could achieve this kind of moral whiteness, we are called upon to take account of all kinds of situational circumstances as we bring grace, in the person of Jesus, to sinners, ourselves included.  The child with Tourette’s Syndrome (mentioned in yesterday’s blog) is surely violating the Third Commandment when he takes the Lord’s name in vain.  We do neither the child nor (much more importantly) the Lord justice if we deny that such speech is wrong.

But how do we treat the child?  With the same patient grace that we bring to the severely depressed person or to the homosexual or to the binge eater or to the Internet addict or to the sex addict.  We seek to understand as much as we can about the person and her situation, including any relevant medical and psychological information.  We do not “excuse” behavior that is wrong no matter what the cause.  But we respond to such sins as those just mentioned in the way we hope our colleagues and spouses will respond when we fail (as we ALL do) to give God every bit of the glory that He deserves.

There really is a lesson to be learned from the Book of Jonah – and that lesson is NOT that the Ninevites did not deserve judgment.  They DID deserve judgment, just as I do every single time I take an action which seeks my own kingdom rather than His.  The Ninevites were great sinners and yet, of those great sinners, didn’t the Lord Himself say, “Should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

“Should I not pity Nineveh?” is an essentially missional question.  It does not downplay the extreme seriousness of any sins which rob God of His glory.  But it does affirm that what Jonah should have desired most of all was not that judgment be visited upon the Ninevites but that the Ninevites should repent and believe and appropriately worship and honor God and, as a result, receive the blessing which is intimated at the end of Jonah 3 and which Jonah expressly repudiates in the first four verses of Chapter 4.

Yes, of course, maintain black and white where God gives clear indication in Scripture that they exist.  But nuance our response to all of those who sin toward the goal that they repent and be saved.  And nuance is essentially a “gray” word.  It is also and consequently and “missional” word.

It is a word that describes our journey as we “follow Jesus into the world.”  Do you agree?

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. He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan 
  

   

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