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Written by Dr. Phil Monroe Thursday, 08 December 2011 00:00

As I write this we have just welcomed the newest member of the Monroe family to our home—a five year old cocker spaniel. While we took on a new dog for the boys, it appears that Missy is most attached to my wife. It might have something to do with the amount of time Kim spends in the kitchen. At the sound of packaging, she is up and ready for any morsel coming her way.

At heart, Missy is full of hope. No matter how unlikely she is to get human food, her stub tail wiggles in anticipation. Something good just might come her way. As I watch her, a thought crosses my mind. Do I look for the good (creation) in others or expect the worst (fall)?

Expectations shape attitudes, pessimism breeds skepticism

Friends will hurt me if I give them a chance….I’m not sure what she meant but probably she was trying to hurt me.

Thinking the best will likely breed love.

My son forgot to do his chores….again! I know that it is hard for him to remember all that he has to do in the morning and he doesn’t forget just to get under my skin. I’ll remind him without being harsh.

What do you look for? The good (creation) or the bad (fall)? If you are like me, then you have to admit that it is far too easy to see only the fall in some of our friends and family. Their weaknesses, foibles, and sins grate on our nerves. We want to scream at them, “Can’t you see that you are such a jerk right now!?” While we may be accurate in our assessment of their flaws, it is likely that we have lost sight of how they reflect God’s image and represent God’s gifts to us.

Think of someone who frustrates you. Maybe it is a spouse, a child, a parent, or a sibling. Or, maybe it is a client or a parishioner. What would happen if you became more creation focused in your relating to this person? What would you see if you focused on God’s creative and re-creative work in their life? Would you spend less time reviewing their sin patterns (in your head and out loud) and more time pointing out God’s gifts in them?

But aren’t you advocating denial?

If you struggle with the sins of others, especially those in your inner circle, it can be hard to celebrate God’s gifts in them. It feels like we are excusing sin, turning a blind eye to significant problems and planning to be a doormat in the relationship. But, these feelings usually reveal a difficulty in us. We have a hard time accepting both beauty and ashes at the same time. We prefer others to fit in one category or the other. However, when we celebrate God’s creative work in the life of a difficult person we live in reality and avoid denial. We see God’s goodness in the midst of brokenness.

Truer vision

Ezekiel 47 details the prophet’s vision of the future Kingdom of God. Standing in the temple, he sees a trickle of water coming out the space where the brass cleansing bowl had once been (no need for that now that Jesus had cleansed once for all). Within a mile, the trickle becomes a raging river bringing life to the Dead Sea. The river washes out all the salt and death from the Dead Sea. Along the banks of the river, trees of healing bear fruit. This vision illustrates a truer reality than we see most days—the ever expanding mission of God moving out from the temple to his people.

This is the picture of the kingdom of God, already here and being made more true every day. Do you see it? Taste it? Let Ezekiel's vision encourage us to take longer looks at God's image shining in the lives of difficult people (you and I) and in those around us.

Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychology and Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates. He blogs regularly at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/philip-monroe

 

Written by Dr. Todd Mangum Wednesday, 07 December 2011 00:00

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul was appalled that the church tolerated a man known to be engaged in “immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles” (1 Cor. 5:1); he regards their “tolerance” in this instance as a manifestation of arrogance and indolence (1 Cor. 5:2). 

In 1 Corinthians 8-10, on the other hand, Paul rebukes the intolerance of each side engaged in a dispute over eating meat previously offered to idols. He says both sides have a point (cf. 1 Cor. 8:4-8 and 10:20, 26); the more important principle is how they treat one another in their difference.  

So, some things are so crucial and important that we should insist on everyone towing the line on it in a unified way – to the point of applying church discipline, or separating from dissenters; and on other matters, maturity is made manifest by how tolerant and accommodating we are in the diversity.

Christians have struggled since the first century with how to tell these two kinds of issues apart, how to tell what is a matter of central conviction on which the church needs to stand united, and what is a “meat sacrificed to idols” type issue, in which convictions and consciences can differ for good reason, and mature tolerance and respect for the differing position is what is called for.

At Biblical, we believe that in this postmodern, post-Christian world, one of the greatest challenges we face is finding a responsible way of telling the difference between these two types of issues. We also believe that teaching and showing Christian leaders how to respect, love, and learn from one another despite our differences is one of the greatest gifts we can give to the church in our day and age.

We at Biblical have come to a theological rationale for sorting mountains from molehills, one that distinguishes dogma (points central to the faith that enjoy affirmation by the vast majority of faithful Christians over time), doctrine (points of less central importance but that enjoy affirmation by a significant strand of the Christian tradition), and opinion (or matters of personal conviction, in which there has always been a difference of opinion represented by faithful Christians, even between those of the same denomination or church).

Our rationale is that the Spirit of God is active and real in and among His people. Not only has the Holy Spirit inspired God’s Word, the Holy Spirit also indwells His faithful people. Where the teaching of God’s Word is central and clear, it should be clear to the vast majority of Spirit-indwelt people over time. Likewise, theological viewpoints or church practices that have secured the affirmation of large segments of God’s people, even if not unanimously over time, are worthy of respect and understanding, too. Matters of personal conviction that have not garnered the support of whole segments of the Christian tradition over time may be asserted with passion and abided by individually as a matter of conscience, but should not be adopted with a level of confidence such as would separate from or disparage those who do not share the viewpoint.

Our interdenominational faculty and student body at Biblical is therefore not a frustration we live with, but a strength we cherish. The generous orthodoxy – or generous evangelicalism – we enjoy as a school we believe when done well can serve as a model for the church at large. We also believe this is pleasing to Jesus who prayed that the Father would make us one, so as to point people to the “oneness” that He and the Father have enjoyed since before time began. (See John 17:20-23).   


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, 06 December 2011 00:00

As academic dean, I often get questions from students, prospective students, alumni or sometimes faculty at other theological seminaries about some of the distinctives of our curriculum at Biblical. I thought I’d devote this set of blogs, today and tomorrow, to two of those distinctives: missional theology and generous orthodoxy (or generous evangelicalism).

We have occasionally had people look at our curriculum and wonder if “missional theology” is actually “theology of missions.” (And those who confuse that point then are also likely to wonder, “So where is there any theology in your curriculum?”) No, missional theology is not “theology of (foreign) missions”; it’s exploration of the character of God, who is a God on a mission.

At Biblical, all the traditional topics of theology are “covered”: creation, Trinitarianism, sin, redemption, anthropology, church, etc., but they are covered in the context of the “drama of Scripture” – the story that Scripture tells.

The truth is, Scripture does not present God as “a philosophical concept” to be analyzed. So, at Biblical, we ask, “so why should we teach theology as though it is a branch of philosophy?”

God is a Person – an eternal, infinite Person, but a Person. He is not concept to be mastered, a formula to be used, or a recipe to be constructed. To understand God is to learn to love and obey God – and we teach theology at Biblical as that being the case.

Why “missional theology”? Because God has communicated in His own Word that He created the universe and the people in it with a purpose.  God has existed in three Persons from eternity past in perfect harmony, with no need of anything or anyone more for Him to be “happy and satisfied.” Nevertheless, what is the character of this Being? He chose to create anyway, creating beings unlike Himself, so He could share –share the joy and love of the harmony the Three Person of the Trinity had already been enjoying from eternity.  And, even when that creation rebelled and corrupted itself, He did not crush it and start over (though He justly could have); nor did He simply sit back and demand the glory due Him. No, He reached out, and pursued – as on a mission. How far did that mission take Him? How much?  Even to brutal death at the hands of creatures He could have easily snuffed out even as they cursed Him and spit on Him. . . . 

Everything about God has to be understood within the context of that unfolding drama. And nothing about God can really be understood apart from that – as though He could be comprehended in a vacuum of philosophical abstraction. Students at not getting “less theology” by our emphasis on God’s being “a missional God,” but far, far more – we believe that the true character of God is thereby put more sharply into focus.

That’s why the theology we teach is always, only with the unfolding drama of Scripture’s story in mind, with the Personhood of God in view, with the purposes of His mission always in sight. We don’t believe theology that is truly biblical can be taught any other way. We don’t believe God can really be understood as He truly is any other way.  That’s why the only theology we teach is “missional theology.”   

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, 05 December 2011 00:00

My wife Sharon has for several years run the food pantry which is part of our church’s ministry to the community.  This is a new venture for her because we come from an ecclesiastic tradition that did little with this kind of neighborhood involvement.  Incarnating the gospel was not part of the agenda.  Her work on behalf of the needy from time to time gets me involved also . . . as it did last evening when we picked up five sacks of donated potatoes and delivered them to a pantry in a nearby town.

When we arrived at the location, we found it bustling with activity as a steady stream of people came in cars or on foot to claim bags of groceries. Now I believe deeply that incarnational ministries need to be high on the agenda for Christians who want to be faithful to the gospel.  But even last evening I found an ugly side of my own soul as I watched the folks who processed through the food pantry. I found myself judging them for being there, questioning whether they really needed the assistance, wondering whether they were sufficiently industrious in trying to navigate life on their own, etc.  And then, of course, I felt guilty about my attitudes and challenged by my wife’s willingness just to serve in this capacity week after week.

This morning I was encouraged by the wise words of Tim Keller in his recent book Generous Justice:  How God’s Grace Makes Us Just (Dutton, 2010). Tim observes that many apparently genuine Christians do not show much concern for the poor.  He believes that this is because Christian leaders try to encourage social conscience in the wrong way—through guilt.  Garrison Keeler has humorously said that guilt is the gift that keeps on giving. 

But Pastor Keller thinks that this is not the case. “Guilting” Christians into caring for the poor does not work he says because we have strong defense mechanisms that shield us from such appeals. We need a different approach:  “I believe, however, when justice for the poor is connected not to guilt but to grace and to the gospel, this ‘pushes the button’ down deep in believers’ souls, and they begin to wake up” (p. 107). 

This rings true for me.  I need to focus on that grace poured out on me by Jesus so I can be less miserly in sharing it with others.  “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).

  • 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, 01 December 2011 00:00

Many Evangelical Christians are missing the gospel says NT scholar Scot McKnight in his recent publication The King Jesus Gospel (Zondervan, 2011).  The problem he believes is that we have confused the gospel with “the plan of salvation.”

Many of us came to faith in response to a concise doctrinal summary like “The Four Spiritual Laws” or “The Romans Road.” Such summaries have their place but lead to problems if they become a substitute for the gospel itself.  If we ask how the Bible defines the gospel (McKnight begins with 1 Cor. 15:1-8), the answer is that gospel refers to the story of Jesus and how Jesus is the fulfillment and completion of the story of the Old Testament.  This results in an understanding of gospel that is broader and deeper than merely a plan of salvation.

This leads McKnight to contrast what he calls a “salvation culture” with a “gospel culture”:

  1.  The salvation culture tends toward an exclusively individualistic understanding of faith; the gospel culture includes the individual in the larger sweep of God’s purpose to redeem all things through the Messiah.
  2. The salvation culture emphasizes a “decision for Christ” which too often results in church membership without discipleship; the gospel culture calls people to respond to Jesus not merely with a “decision” but with a whole-life commitment to the kingdom of God.
  3. The salvation culture lacks the big story of the Bible and consequently Christians are more easily caught up in the stories of surrounding culture (narcissism, consumerism, naturalism, etc.); the gospel culture immerses itself in the powerful story of Jesus as the only antidote to cultural syncretism.

What do you think?  Does this ring true to your own experience in evangelical circles? Is it time to challenge the salvation culture in the name of a deeper understanding of the gospel?

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. Kyuboem Lee Wednesday, 30 November 2011 00:00

The bi-vocational pastorate is on my mind a lot lately. With the changing economy, we increasingly hear of the portfolio career—it’s “what’s trending now.” And relatedly, I am hearing more and more of a rise of the bi-vocational pastor—I hear anecdotes of them coming from all corners of the US. Of course, many inner city pastors and immigrant pastors have been carrying on bi-vocational ministries for many years, but now it seems bi-vocational ministries are cropping up in the middle-class neighborhoods as well. In the world of mission, there has been a well-established tradition of “tent-making” missionaries, following in the footsteps of the original Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul. Finally, bi-vocational ministry is on my mind a lot because I have become a bi-vocational pastor myself.

Having planted a church in an inner city neighborhood in Philadelphia with the generous financial support of our denomination, we graduated from the grants a few years into our church planting effort. However, our mission of reaching our economically challenged community has not led our church plant into affluence, and I’ve had to become more and more bi-vocational.

I should carry out more research and back this up with some hard data, but I suspect that I am not alone, and we will see a rise of the bi-vocational pastor in the future. Why?

  • We live in a post-Christendom world. The church’s influence on society isn’t what it used to be. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The church has an opportunity to rediscover its identity as a missionary body, if it no longer holds the position of landlord of this world. Instead, we are, and have always been, strangers and aliens here, witnessing to the city of God to come. But in a post-Christendom world, the necessity of the clergy is no longer assumed. It will be harder and harder to keep funding a large class of full-time pastorate.
  • We also live in a post-denominational world. We are seeing a decline of churches in matters of giving and availability of resources. The economy is bad, but denominations are seeing bad times too. Grants for church planting work are way down. We have to do more with less.
  • We live in a global world, where the global cities are teeming with immigrants. Christians are a significant part of this global migration movement, and many of them support themselves with other jobs and carry out their calling into ministry—this is how they are able to carry on sharing the good news of Jesus in their new homes.

Bi-vocational ministry is a hard road to take—there is the toll of carrying out double duty, the financial insecurity, the pressure on the family and the church, the potential to be divided. Many sermons won’t have polish. However, I also see that there are some surprising benefits to going bi-vocational.

  • It forces us to develop the other gifts in the church. Often, pastors haven’t developed the other gifts in the church because… well, they didn’t have to. They could carry out the work of the ministry by themselves. When pastors become bi-vocational, however, they are forced to depend on others to carry out the work of the ministry, and leadership development becomes a priority. One of the battle cries of the Reformation was “the priesthood of all believers.” Bi-vocational pastorate may more fully realize that vision.
  • It also forces us to be creative in our church models, and develop ministries that are much better suited to our contexts. In order to more effectively reach our world, we need church models that are more nimble, flexible, adaptable. We may need to adjust our expectations and visions, because our current ministry models may be better suited to a Christendom of the past than to our world now. For example, mega-churches are certainly effective in certain contexts, but they will prove to be a bad fit in many post-Christendom contexts—contexts that are becoming increasingly prevalent.
  • The bi-vocational pastor can potentially become much more incarnational. The pastor becomes one of the “working stiffs” who (really) shares in the joys and sorrows of those we are seeking to reach. 
  • It can mean great opportunities for evangelism. In the older model, pastors have been cloistered away among the churched. In the bi-vocational model, the gospel messenger is loosed into the world, for the pastor is now constantly interfacing with relational circles that used to lie outside the reach of the pastorate. Pastors are not just servants of the institution called the church; they are also missionaries of the kingdom who have the gospel to share with the world.  

For better or for worse, I see the rise of the bi-vocational pastorate in the future. This development entails great challenges, and the church will need to re-examine how we carry out theological education, models of ministry, allocation of resources, among other things, in the light of this shift. But it can also mean great opportunities for the kingdom. Church leadership and theological education institutions would do well to examine the implications of the bi-vocational pastorate, and those called into ministry would do well to consider it a path worth taking.

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 Justin Gohl Tuesday, 29 November 2011 00:00

A central tension in Scripture, and thus a tension that has existed in the Church’s theological reflection from the beginning, is the negotiation between God’s nearness to the world, God’s filling of the world, and yet God’s otherness, God’s above-and-beyond-ness with respect to the world. In short: God’s simultaneous immanence and transcendence.

When we think about it, this really is the central “problem” that our theological discourse must wrestle with: God is near, with, and in us, and yet God is totally other than us and beyond us. So on the one hand, we are compelled to speak about this God who reveals himself (through human speech no less!) and who we experience and see at work in every dimension of our lives and reality, yet on the other hand we realize that our speech (and living) simply points to the transcendent and irreducible reality of the personal God we worship, with no hope of “capturing” that reality.

While we can’t wade into the question in any depth, both modernity and postmodernity, at least in certain sectors, represent answers to this “problem” that unacceptably collapse this tension in one direction or the other. We end up with either a God who is so transcendent as to be nearly unrelational, or we end up with a God who is so collapsed into our human horizon that God becomes a function of our construction rather than his self-revelation. As evangelicals have grown increasingly aware of these problems, evangelicals have also begun to look behind the modern/postmodern discussion to the wealth of resources and wisdom that exist in the Church’s tradition, such as the Church Fathers.

What we find in the Church Fathers is a “sacramental worldview” that affirms the very (biblical) tension we have spoken of, but yet sets it within an understanding of God’s relationship to the world in which the tension functions redemptively. Because God, through his Son and Spirit, fills all things (Jer 23.23-24; Psalm 139.7-12; Acts 17.27-28; Eph 1.23; 4.9-10; Col 1.17), creation, humans, our experiences, our languages, our cultures are never just “things” or “objects.” All of reality can function, by God’s grace, as a pointer to God and as a means, a medium, by which the triune God makes himself present to us, in revelatory and transformative ways.

And knowing this is central to participating in God’s mission in and to the world. As we go out into the world (in which we ourselves live), we encounter people who, though broken and sinful just we ourselves were and still are in some measure, have inherent value and a capacity to know God as creatures living, moving, and existing in God, whether they know it or not. Our mission is to meet them where they’re at, to realign their desires, their experiences, and categories of understanding through the gospel such that they can now function as pointers to the truth of the God who fills all things, the God who is revealed concretely in Jesus and the Spirit-empowered life of Christ’s body, the Church.

Our missional work, then, must walk a fine line between negation and affirmation. On the one hand, the gospel as the disclosure of God and reality will destroy all false gods, all false gospels, and their claims on us. Yet, on the other hand, our missional vocation is medicinal, offering the cure of the gospel that begins to kill the disease of death and sin and thus liberates the patient—an image-bearing human—to participate more fully in the Divine Image himself (2 Cor 4.4; Col 1.15). Certainly, this vocation requires tremendous humility and wisdom which can only from God as well.

What do you think? How do we negotiate these tensions, of God’s nearness and God’s otherness, of the gospel as affirmation/cure and as the gospel as destructive agent? Where do we turn for wisdom in discerning these matters?


Justin Gohl is an adjunct professor of theology at Biblical. He is married to Kate, his wife of 7 years, and is a full-time stay-at-home dad with two kids, Caleb (2) and Phoebe (1). He is ABD at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia where he is in the latter stages of writing his dissertation on the early church’s use of the Book of Proverbs. 

   

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