Written by Justin Gohl Thursday, 19 April 2012 00:00

In this season when we reflect on the Passion of our Lord, we are once again confronted with the symbol of the Cross and the many claims it makes on us and on the world.

At risk of sounding trite, I am wondering if we have a tendency to forget the scandal of the Cross, in the context of missional theology. Certainly it is trite for most—which most definitely includes myself—in 21stcentury North America to speak of “sharing in Christ’s sufferings” when compared with the experience of, say, Christians over the first few centuries of the Church’s life or in many times and places throughout the world up to the present day.

So, what are we to do with this paradox? Christians are sent on a mission to a world which is fundamentally opposed to the message, to the God, which Christians proclaim—a recognition we see throughout the NT, perhaps most poignantly in 1 Cor 1-2 and John 14-16.

If the way of God’s mission is redemptive, participatory suffering in the world, is that at least part of what we mean when we talk about “missional theology”? If so, how does this calling to suffer and to scandalize fit into the discourse and practice of missional theology?

Again, apart from theological artifice, I admit I don’t quite know. But what I think this pushes us to is the question of “wisdom” and “fittingness”—of knowing how and when to speak, to suffer, to scandalize, etc. Or, in short, we are pushed towards self-criticism, towards constant (though not paranoid) self-evaluation in light of the paradigm of the Cross.

Here are some possible avenues for such:

From whom do we seek affirmation?

A Cross-shaped missional theology must continually ask this question, beginning with its own practitioners (ideally, all Christians). Within the Church and within academia, is there not a tendency to create structures of “recognition” that can subordinate Christ and him crucified as the source of our glory and worth?

Are we as Christians more interested in being accepted by or found palatable by a particular subculture than we are in maintaining our accountability to Christ and his Church? Even more, are we encouraged to “sacrifice” our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ for this acceptance?

The various ways these questions can be heard within the contemporary Church itself once again pushes us towards the pursuit of wisdom and discernment, certainly part of which is humble listening.

Suffering is not an end unto itself.

St. Peter makes this point on no less than three occasions in his first letter (1 Pet 2.20; 3.17; 4.15-19). Christians can find themselves suffering for reasons that have nothing to do with the scandal of the Cross, indeed, for no laudatory purpose at all. And it takes wisdom to know the difference.

 If I can editorialize slightly, this is one reason I think it is important to guard against the tendency of turning the life of the Church into an “agenda” that requires “activism.” The Apostles of Christ’s Church have little room for such a model:

1 Peter 3:8-12   8Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.  9Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called-- that you might inherit a blessing.  10For "Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit;  11let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it.  12For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil" (Ps 34.12-16).

1 Timothy 2:1-4  First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone,  2for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.  3This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,  4who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

This emerges not out of a so-called “status quo conservatism” but from a robust understanding of the nature of the Church’s life and calling—a calling that is centered not in “social change,” whatever its potential necessity or merit, but in the fruit of the Spirit, embodied in both personal and corporate Christian life.

Nor, to be sure, does this rule out valuable and urgent causes which Christians might take up—such as combating the evils of human trafficking, or defending against gov’t intrusion into the life of the Church. Which is again why we must seek wisdom to discern the appropriate times, reasons, and ends for Christian activities that might lead to agitation, to scandal, and to suffering. Certainly a paramount consideration is whether our agitation brings endangerment (of whatever sort) to ourselves or to others.

Proclamation is Spirit-generated, not self-generated

As we seek to participate in God’s mission, living in the tension between the scandalous nature of the gospel message (that is, “Jesus is Lord”) and the responsibility of Christians to suffer for the right reasons, we must also crucify our speech. Jesus promises the Apostles that, when they are maliciously interrogated, the “Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say” (Lk 12.12).

Competence in God’s mission is not a function of our own erudition or persuasiveness—even as we seek to follow the apostolic injunction to “be prepared to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3.15). Our competence comes from the Spirit who infuses and empowers the Church, enabling us to combine wise gospel deeds and gospel words with fitting times and places.

But perhaps you can help me out? How do we reckon with the “scandal of the Cross” within a commitment to missional theology?

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.


Written by Susan Disston Wednesday, 18 April 2012 00:00

In my series on the computer keyboard, we’re now at the Shift key and another way of thinking about missional ministry. In Ctrl-Alt-Delete, we looked at missional ministry initiatives as a way to “Reset-Restart-Rethink” what we’re doing as the people of God. In ESC, we found creation care implications to ashortcut that stops, quits, cancels, exits, or aborts the situation so that you can start over. Fresh.

The shift key gets used a lot. It is a key that alters the function of other keys, like making lower case keys upper case. The shift key is a metaphor for the paradigm shift that has to occur in a congregation that takes on missional priorities. Here’s a story of a church that made a powerful paradigm shift from traditional to missional, told by the senior pastor, Paul Dunbar, DMin (’07). I think it’s an inspirational story.

From Traditional toward Missional

By Pastor Paul Dunbar

                In 1995, I was called to serve a small, struggling congregation in Carlisle, PA.   Though I gave it my best shot, within five years our board voted to close the church.  Another pastor in our community contacted me about our building, and we both realized that we could accomplish more for the Kingdom together than separate.  Our two churches began worshipping together and within two months, both congregations voted to become one brand-new church, in spite of the fact that we were from different denominations.

                A suicide within our congregation in early 2010 jolted us into a realization that we were not doing more to care for at-risk teenagers, and we began meeting with youth leaders from another local congregation (again, theologically compatible though from different denominations).   Together we organized a BMX and Skateboarding outreach event that attracted 300 people, and the next night we began a follow-up ministry (The Refuge) at a youth/retreat center in our community.   Our congregation was able to purchase that facility in October 2010 and every Sunday afternoon and evening, we are reaching 40 to 80 young people.

                One high school student began attending because he liked riding BMX (see photo), and in fact, has competed nationally.  He initially resisted attending the Bible studies but over time the resistance broke down, he committed his life to Jesus, was baptized, and now is considering youth ministry.   He organized an outreach event in October 2011 as a high school graduation project, which was attended by over 140 people.

                The changes that have taken place within our congregation have not been universally accepted, and we have lost people and families through these transitions.  The work load on the youth pastor and me has increased exponentially, and we both often feel that we are in uncharted territory, but we would never want to go back to “church as usual.”  It is much more exciting to see God blessing and multiplying his Kingdom.

Pastor Dunbar serves as senior pastor of Bethany Evangelical Church in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of Paul Dunbar.

Susan Disston is the assistant dean of curriculum and assessment at Biblical Seminary. She teaches project courses in the doctor of ministry program and in ESLPLUS. http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/adjunct-faculty-theology


Written by Dr. Charles Zimmerman Tuesday, 17 April 2012 00:00


Where have they gone and where are they now?

I have been contacting founding faculty members to see what they are up these days and then posting that information to keep all of you updated on their whereabouts and activities.      

Thus far, we have heard from “Doc” Newman, Gary Cohen, Bob Vannoy and George Clark.  If you missed those blog entries, scroll back and take a look.  I asked each to provide contact information, so feel free to drop them a note of encouragement and while you’re at it, attach a comment to the appropriate blog entry. 

This entry comes from Bill Harding.  Who can forget “aleph bits” in the morning, poets and homiletics in the afternoon?  How many of you old grads can still recite the 69 steps in a wedding?  Bill not only taught at Biblical but kept a full speaking schedule, preaching at area churches and conferences.  It was the rare weekend that Bill was not on the road preaching somewhere. 

1.  What years did you teach at Biblical?

 I taught at Biblical from 1971 - 1996. I'm now Professor Emeritus of Old Testament and Practical Theology.

2. What have you been doing since then? 

I directed the Ministry Internship Program until it was discontinued. I helped evaluate the faculty in the last self-study Biblical had for Middle States and The Association of Theological Schools.  

I've been to Singapore 15 times. I'm scheduled to go there again this year. When I go to Singapore, I'm there for four Sundays and three weeks. I speak in churches in Singapore, and for two Church Retreats in either Malaysia or Indonesia. Last year I spoke 17 times. 

I've been to Kiev, Ukraine 3 times (1997, 2001, 2002) When I went to Kiev, I taught a course at Kiev Christian University and I preached each time.

I preach in this country almost every Sunday in different churches. This year's schedule is almost filled, and I'm getting requests for 2013.

With regard to my family, I have two daughters, Cherry and Sharon. Cherry has three children and Sharon has five children. Four of my grandchildren are in College.

3.  Tell a favorite memory from your Biblical days.

When we started Biblical, we needed a Library in order to get accredited. We heard that Biblical Seminary in New York was going to sell their Library. We made a joint bid with Gordon Conwell Seminary for the Library for $112,000. We were to put up $70,000 and Gordon Conwell Seminary was to put up the rest. There were 45,000 volumes in the Library. We were to get 35,000 and Gordon Conwell Seminary was to get 10,000.  We kept hearing rumors about another School getting the Library, but in the providence of the Lord, our bid was accepted. When we went up to get the Library, there were seven thousand volumes missing. The Seminary offered to let us take the Card Catalog and the metal adjustable shelves in lieu of them. We accepted the offer. Gordon Conwell Seminary paid to have the cards for their books removed from the Card Catalog. We inserted the cards for our books in the Card Catalog, and we had our Library!  Hudson Taylor said that God's work done in God's way will never lack God's supply. How true that is!

 4.  Contact information: 

            Telephone: 215-721-0873
            E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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 also http://biblical.edu/index.php/charles-zimmerman


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.


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