Written by Dr. Phil Monroe Wednesday, 18 January 2012 00:00

A recent blog on this site by Dan LaValla provides an excellent reminder that forgiveness should not be conflated with reconciliation (or that the first must necessarily lead to the second).  He reminds us true repentance requires fruit of change beyond words and tears. This got me thinking again about the complex issues when a released sex offender desires to rejoin a church community.  What should a church do if they have a member with a history of sexual violence towards others?

Two Common Responses

Most people answer the last question in one of two ways.  Either, “Yes, the church is for all sinners. This person paid their dues to society in prison and now we need to treat him as if it never happened,” or, “Over my dead body! Once an offender always an offender.”

Some Initial Steps

In order to avoid a church split, the church with the opportunity to minister to both victims and sex offenders ought to follow some simple (not easy!) steps:

  1. Start talking. The community needs to have time to consider several topics that will likely make them uncomfortable: the nature of abuse, impact on victims, protection of the vulnerable as central theme of the Gospel, the differences between forgiveness, restitution, restoration to the body, reconciliation, and true repentance, etc.
  2. Learn from others. Listen to those who work with sex offenders. Listen to other churches that have had the privilege of ministering to offenders. Listen to the concerns of victims of other abuses. Don’t assume you have all the knowledge you need to minister well.
  3. Write policies. While policies won’t eliminate all problems they can give leadership and laity guidance when addressing how to minister to sex offenders. What safety protocols will the church use when an offender is in the congregation? How will the church minister to victims of abuse, offenders, family of offenders?
  4. Assessment of repentance. Every church must undertake the difficult and ongoing task of assessing repentance in those offenders seeking to be restored to the church. Time, words, and tears will not, by themselves, prove repentance. In the absence of a sure-fire test, start by asking if the offender demands his/her rights to be a part of the church body. Demanding one’s rights does comport with acceptance of natural consequences for sexual sin. Demandingness often reveals a mindset of inordinate self trust rather than submission to the wisdom of others. Further, a demanding attitude rarely concerns itself with the needs of victims nor displays sacrificial efforts to restore.
  5. Bring the church to the offender. The first 4 points take much time. But, nothing stops a church from providing immediate ministry to sex offenders. Gather a group of willing church members who want to serve the offender and his/her family. The group can meet at church if empty or at someone’s house. Provide fellowship, worship, communion, baptism, etc. Voila, you have church. It may not function with the whole community, but all the ingredients of a community of believers would be present.

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/phillip-monroe


Written by Dr. Phil Monroe Tuesday, 17 January 2012 00:00

Mistakes were made.

I’m sorry if what I did hurt you.

I’m sorry but it wasn’t my fault.

Apologies, it seems, are hard to make. We all have had the experience of receiving an apology that didn’t satisfy. And if we are really honest, we’ve given apologies that didn’t cut it. Ever considered what it is that makes for a good apology? At minimum, a good apology requires:

  1. An attitude of ownership. Notice how hard it can be to own your actions without blaming someone or something else. It is especially hard to apologize when our actions seem insignificant in comparison to the actions of the person we offended. Even when we don’t lay the blame at someone’s feet we likely want to explain our actions so that we do not look so bad. Unfortunately, an explanation sounds too much like an excuse or denial. It is best to save the explanation for later…or even better, to give the offended party the freedom to decline.
  2. A willingness to sit with our wrong.We find it especially hard to tolerate someone bringing up our sins after making an apology. Ever thought or said, “I’ve apologized already. Why are you bringing this up?” Such thoughts, though common, reveal a belief that sins apologized for should not be remembered or discussed. When reminded of our sins soon after an apology, a defensive reaction may reveal our lack of ownership (see #1). When reminded of our sins at a much later date, a defensive reaction may reveal a belief that apologies should also eliminate the consequences of our sins. If you did something worthy of an apology, then be willing to own and accept the consequences, even if years later. Such ownership does not imply that you intended to harm the person for years but that your sin had longstanding consequences. And be grateful that God, who is rich in mercy, does not hold them against you because of the Cross.
  3. Action to make it right. The story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19 gives us a clear example of how to follow up an apology with action. Apologies that are words without repenting actions (either corrective or restorative) are considered empty. Zacchaeus does not merely stop cheating others. He now begins to give back, going beyond what was required by law so that he could be a blessing to others. Galatians 4:28 tells us that thieves must not just stop stealing but now should work—must do something useful (NIV).  

If you are interested in reading more on the art of apology (and the myriad ways we fail), you might consider Aaron Lazare’s On Apology (OUP, 2004). In his little book he points out a few important features of apology not already noted here, including:  “I’m sorry” may cause confusion since it doesn’t signal whether the speaker is remorseful or merely regretful; perfunctory apologies fail to reveal the motivations of the offender; culture influences features in apology; apologies are about restoring the dignity of the offended as well as promising safety from future harm.

What do you most look for in an apology? Reparations? Expressions of shame? A commitment to repent? An explanation for offense? Which expressions of apology most offend you?

For more of my thoughts on public apology failures, on the loss of dignity during apologies, or hoped for apologies, click the above hot links or go to my blog, http://www.wisecounsel.wordpress.comand search for “apology.”

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/phillip-monroe


Written by Dr. Todd Mangum Monday, 16 January 2012 00:00

I recognize that Paul’s original warning about “knowledge puffing up” (1 Cor. 8:1) was raised in a specific context in a controversy over meat being offered to idols. Still, 1 Corinthians 8:1 can be supplemented by enough similar admonitions and warnings elsewhere in Scripture to rightly be regarded as a general axiom (see Dt. 8:11-14; Ps. 131; Prov. 3:5; 16:19; 18:2; 21:4; 28:25-26; Hos. 13:6-7; Hab. 2:4; Rom. 12:16; 1 Pet. 5:5-6).  Knowledge brings with it a hazard: the potential for pride.  As much as Proverbs encourages the cultivation of knowledge and the pursuit of wisdom, we are still warned that most foolish of all is the one who deems himself wise in his own eyes (Prov. 26:12; cf. Prov. 3:7, 12:15; Rom. 12:3, 16).

This poses a special challenge for those training for ministry, for those cultivating their biblical and theological knowledge and honing their ministerial skills. It also poses a challenge for those doing the training!

How does one increase their knowledge and maintain a humility of mind?

There are basic, fundamental answers to this question offered traditionally: by maintaining one’s walk with God, by being regular in one’s audit of sinful penchants, maintaining a regular regimen of confession (to God and to others, particularly those whom we have sinned against), and constantly being reminded by God’s word as to how lowly we truly are when we look upward to God, rather than succumbing to the temptation to just compare ourselves with others. These are all good and helpful. I might add that being married, and having boys all too equipped and eager to remind you of your flaws, can also be “helpful” in maintaining humility!

Let me suggest one other avenue, which we have taken seriously in our curriculum at Biblical: engaging other Christian traditions that differ in perspective from one’s own, with a view to learning what they have to contribute (rather than just scouring them for flaws to critique). There is something about engaging other viewpoints – even if one limits oneself deliberately to other Bible-believing viewpoints – that has a way of reminding us that we never “see it all.” God is bigger, of course, than any box we can create.

Putting oneself in the place of learner – being a lifelong learner – may assist in establishing the “humility of mind” that God’s Word insists upon.

There is a challenge, a paradox, here. I’d like to hear your thoughts, recommendations, and experience on this.  It seems to me that learning is a good thing, commended by Scripture. It’s when one stops learning – especially, when one regards oneself as being in no further need of learning – that even the learning one has up to then accumulated becomes a problem.  How does it seem to you? . . . 

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 Thursday, 12 January 2012 00:00

Last month, I participated in an on-line symposium on “The Future of Seminary Education” hosted by Patheos – my article forwarded the thesis that professional training for soul is as necessary as the training of physicians for physical care (see http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Soul-Care-Requires-Professionals-R-Todd-Mangum-11-09-2011.html#).

Here, I’d like to elaborate and invite discussion on a couple of points raised in that article.

Part of what characterizes our current culture is suspicion of authority, aversion to institutionalism, and skepticism toward credentials. These attitudes are understandable to a degree, are they not? Consider how many authority figures have let their people down, how many institutions have been found rife with corruption, and how many credentials have turned out to be overblown or padded, or how many highly credentialed persons have turned out to be cranks, or just plain jerks when the crowds or cameras were not present?

I understand the reaction against authority, institutionalism, and credentials. There are definitely limitations surrounding all three, which warrant a degree of wariness. But, simple “reaction against” is not the answer, either. Unchecked individual autonomy is no better – and may be considerably worse – than hierarchical authoritarianism; good ideas without the infrastructure of organizational power to help forward them tend to die prematurely, and, without credentialing of any kind, there are few dependable means to screen out glib loudmouths willing to offer their opinion from those studied enough in a field to form opinions worth fuller consideration.

Jesus warns against leaders letting their authority go to their heads (Matthew 20:25-28), and He warns His disciples particularly about deriving prestige from credentials (Matthew 23:5-11). Look carefully, though, and we find that Jesus is not undermining all exercise of authority (in fact, He actually says authorities in heaven will back the legitimate exercise of church authority on earth, see Matthew 16:18-19; 18:15-20; John 20:22-23); He even recognizes the legitimate authority of the Pharisees to the extent they represented Moses’ teaching accurately (Matt. 23:1-3).  Other New Testament writers follow His lead (e.g., 1 Tim. 3; 1 Pet. 5:1-4; Heb. 13:7, 17).

What seems to have bothered Jesus was not bona fide leaders exercising authority, but poseurs seeking prestige and securing for themselves credentials and positions of authority to do so.  The current postmodern skepticism toward ecclesiastical authority, the institutional church, and ordination credentials may represent a prophetic opportunity to recover what is most important.

My hope is to establish credentialing that affirms credible training in the right things, and to produce leaders that can revive and refocus the church to make it more viable, so as to regain its voice in a culture that badly needs to hear from God.  Is that a pipedream?  Or a calling from God for our seminary?  What do you think?

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 Wednesday, 11 January 2012 00:00

Recently I have been thinking about the early kingship of Solomon.  He is at his best in the early days.  Particularly attractive is his request for wisdom:  “so give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.  For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (1 Kgs. 3:9).

Now if there was anyone who didn’t need to ask for wisdom, it would seem to be Solomon.  Genetics were clearly on his side.  Remember that his great-grandfather was Ahithophel one of King David’s greatest counselors.  Of Ahithophel it was said, “. . . the advice Ahithophel gave was like that of one who inquires of God”! (2 Sam. 16:23). I have no doubt that Solomon’s reputation for sagacity was part of a legacy derived from his mother’s grandpa.

But here is the fascinating point:  where Solomon might be expected to rely on his natural (inherited) ability, he asks for divine assistance.  Not the way we usually function right?  Normally we ask the Lord’s assistance only when we feel weak or vulnerable, when our feet are slipping, or we have already failed.  Grace is what we ask for when we finally decide we can’t do it in our own strength.

Solomon, however, seeks the Lord’s help for what is already a sharp tool in his personal tool box.  The result was God’s blessing on his leadership and the world-wide renown of his wisdom. Question: might the Lord choose to do through his people if we sought his gracious help for our strengths not merely our weaknesses?

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 Tuesday, 10 January 2012 00:00

EDITOR'S NOTE: For more on the subject of "incarnational ministry," see the blog of Dr. Kyuboem Lee yesterday {January 9}.

The mission statement of Biblical Seminary says that we exist to prepare “missional leaders who incarnate the story of Jesus with humility and authenticity and communicate the story with fidelity to Scripture . . . .” Of course technically and theologically we may only speak of one unique incarnation—that of second person of the Trinity who in the fullness of time was born a man for our salvation.  “The Word became flesh,” as John tells us (Jn. 1:14).

So when we speak of preparing leaders who incarnate the story of Jesus we are speaking metaphorically.  We are saying that as the invisible Word took visible human form and concretely demonstrated the power, truth, and goodness of the coming Kingdom, so today we need more Christians who are committed not merely totelling the gospel (as important as that is) but also to  embodying the gospel.  There are two obvious reasons for this.

First, we live in a very cynical age.  We are surrounded by hype; we are used to being over-sold. People are suspicious that the good news just sounds too good.  And if truth be told, Christians are sometimes guilty of unrealistically positive presentations of what is means to follow Jesus.  In other words, we are the source of some of the anti-Christian cynicism we deplore.

But the second reason we talk about incarnating the gospel is that Christians, particularly those of a more conservative stripe, have allowed a disconnect between word and deed. While paying lip service to the importance of obedience and discipleship, we have focused more of our attention on the correct form of word and doctrine. The tendency has been to value the message more highly than the messenger.

When we talk about preparing leaders who incarnate the gospel, we remind ourselves that in Jesus there was no separation of the message from the messenger, no disconnect of word and deed. We want to prepare leaders who look more like Jesus.

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


Written by Dr. Kyuboem Lee Monday, 09 January 2012 00:00

EDITOR'S NOTE:  For more on the subject of "incarnational ministry," see the blog of Biblical's President David Dunbar tomorrow {January 10}.

Among urban mission circles, there has been a history of utilizing the phrase “incarnational ministry” to speak of re-neighboring as a mission strategy. Christians who have sought to serve impoverished inner city neighborhoods would move into those communities to not only minister to those communities, but also to become a neighbor in every sense of the word, and minister with the community. Christian community developer Robert Lupton has termed this re-neighboring strategy: “return flight.”

The theological impetus was found in the Incarnation--the central Christian teaching that the eternal Word of God, the second Person of the Trinity, became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. God the Son took on the human condition fully by fully becoming human yet still remaining fully God. By the time you read this, Christians worldwide will have recently celebrated the Incarnation at Christmastime. And thus, as Christians, we follow Jesus, the eternal Word, who “became flesh and blood, and moved into our neighborhood” (as Eugene Peterson translates John 1:14 in The Message).

But is such language legitimate? After all, the Incarnation is a never-to-be-repeated event centered around the one and only God-man Jesus Christ. We declare that there is no other name under heaven by which we are saved. We believe in the utter uniqueness of the one Mediator between God and humanity. Who could be like him, and who could do what he has done? If we talk about “incarnational ministry,” doesn’t it take away from the once-and-for-all nature of Christ’s Incarnation and his utterly unique nature as God-man (his hypostatic union, in the language of the creeds)?

A very good question, and one that needs to be answered much more fully than a blog post is able. But let me offer just a couple of beginnings and sketches of ideas in response which deserve much further treatment.

One, the nature of the church is unique in a way that is analogous to the unique nature of Christ. New Testament at various places calls the church “the body of Christ.” This is more than a figure of speech--it speaks of the unique nature of the church as the bodily presence of Christ in the world now. Christ, the Head of the church, resides physically in heaven, but his body, the church, imbued with his Spirit, lives and acts as Christ in the world. That’s why Luke can say as he begins the Book of Acts,“In my former book [the Gospel of Luke], Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach.”

The implication, of course, is that the subject matter of Acts is what Jesus continued to do and teach. But Jesus doesn’t make a physical appearance in Acts save in a few short paragraphs here and there. What could Luke mean? He is referring to what Jesus continued to do and teach through the church and through his Spirit who descended on the church at Pentecost and continues to indwell his body of believers now. The creation of the church, it could be said, is the whole point of Jesus’ work of redemption--so much so that Paul in Eph 3:8-10 declares that the work God is doing in and through the church is the mystery which has been hidden in the ages past but is now being revealed.

The church is indeed a marvelous creation. It is a group of fallen and fallible sinners, marred image-bearers, that is nevertheless indwelt by the very Spirit of God. It could even be said that the church has these two natures in hypostatic union, in much the same way Jesus was both fully God and fully man. The church is, in other words, a mystery that elicits the same kind of wonder and awe that Paul demonstrated in the Scriptures.

Two, the church is commissioned and sent into the world in the same way that Christ was commissioned and sent into our world. In John 20:21, the resurrected Christ breathes the Holy Spirit on his disciples (the church) and declares, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” The mission of Christ continues in the ongoing mission of the church. And the way he was sent is to be Immanuel, God’s very presence with us--in other words, Incarnation. There is an analogy here for the church’s own sentness. As Jesus was the Word of God made flesh among us, so the church is Christ made flesh in the world.

To be sure, the church is not Christ himself... but we represent him; we are his ambassadors; we mediate the Lord and his revelation to those who need his redemptive work to be operational in their midst. So we cannot to carry out our mission in the ways that seem best to us. Rather, we are to carry out our mission in a way that is analogous to how Christ carried out his mission while he was bodily present on earth. In other words, we are to be incarnational. Thus we do not broadcast words only; in order to proclaim the gospel, we move in and get close to those we seek to serve and reach. We establish friendships and we participate in the life condition of those we have been sent to. We establish solidarity. We weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. We become all things to all men so that by all possible means we might save some (1 Cor 9:22). That’s incarnational language.

One of the implications is that the church is commissioned to practice contextual theology. Because the God of the Scriptures is not a God who dictated his revelation from his heavenly throne room but rather a God who revealed himself in the most intimate way, by becoming one of us and embodying his revelation in the person of Christ, we as Christ’s body must go to the world and seek to theologize from within the cultures and neighborhoods and social groups, not dictate what God is like from the outside.

Much more needs to be said--the implications are tremendous!--and hopefully I will have more opportunities to do so in the future. But for now I hope I have demonstrated grounds for the legitimacy of “incarnational ministry.” And more than that, I hope I have whet our appetites for the manifestations of such wonderful theological treasures becoming enfleshed in our own churches and in our own lives, so that the mission of God may be realized among us to his glory. 

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).



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