Written by Larry Anderson Wednesday, 30 January 2013 00:00

I just celebrated my 45th birthday, and by all the life expectancy statistics, I passed my mid-life mark ten years ago. According to various reports, the life expectancy of an African-American male is seventy years. However, at thirty five, mortality had not even crossed my mind, even though I knew Psalm 90 speaks about the length of life being seventy years and possibly eighty if we were blessed with the strength.

Mid-life crisis is said to occur between 40 and 60 years of age, where mortality is acknowledged and a thorough assessment of life is taken. Family, career, health, and personal goals are reevaluated and redefined based on your ‘guess-timated’ time remaining. Depression can set in knowing your parents are no longer living or slowly dying. Loneliness can consume you as your children become more independent and less available. Unhealthy results of this can manifest itself in addiction, adultery, and extreme self-inflicted stress, just to name a few perils. In a worldly sort of way this process can and normally is attempted to be overcome with a ‘bucket list’ of stuff to do or stuff to get. However, that’s not where I found myself.

I found myself on my 45th birthday praising God: praising Him for my wife, my children, and my salvation. I’m praising God for my education, my calling, and my career. When you are in the place God has called you to be, you do not need to wish you were somewhere else. Are there things I would like to accomplish prior to the Lord taking me away? Sure, but that does not depress me; it motivates me. Psalm 90 goes on to say in verse 12 "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." This verse reminds us to live on purpose.

I believe at 45 I’m not having a mid-life crisis, but I’m having something I have defined as a missional-life crisis. It is a discovery process designed to define and create a ministry legacy. In other words, I’m assessing how much of my life is centered on things that will last for Christ. Am I making my children disciples? Am I empowering the ministers under me to fulfill their calling? Am I training and teaching my students to think beyond themselves and their individual churches? Are there books I need to write, messages I need to preach, and lessons I need to learn to help me continue to vigorously pursue the mission of God? A missional-life crises does not need corvettes, trophy wives, or physical alterations to make you feel alive. Mid-life is about being half dead; missional life is about being fully alive. There is no greater feeling in the world than surrendering your life to the work of the Lord and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide you in those endeavors.

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 Tuesday, 29 January 2013 00:00

In my previous blog (published yesterday), I indicated that I would be making a few comments and asking a few questions about Nader Hashemi’s book,  Islam, Secularism, and Liberal Democracy.

I concluded that blog by asking that readers write out their answer to this question: “What is the exact definition of democracy?”

I ask this question in the context of my increasing belief that there may be (I did say MAY be) an inherent contradiction in any attempt to create a democratic,  religious state.  And Hashemi raises this issue himself.  Early in his book, he cites the famous comment of Alexis de Tocqueville from 1831: “The organization and the establishment of democracy in Christendom is the great political problem of our time.”  Hashemi goes on to extrapolate from Tocqueville’s comment:  “This observation, although 178 years old, reminds us that the problem of religion’s relationship with democracy is not an exclusively Muslim phenomenon but one that other traditions – Christianity in particular – have had to struggle with. “

Why is the relationship of ANY religion with democracy a “problem?” That brings me back to my original question – what do we mean by “democracy?”

Of course, definitions of democracy abound.  Some are simple – democracy describes political authority which rests on “the consent of the governed.”  Immediately, the problem is obvious.  A nation may be established as “Christian,” but if its identity genuinely is democratically determined and if the population turns away from Christian belief, then it will no longer be Christian.  Conflict arises when those who remain Christian find the Christian identity of the nation being changed.  But that seems to be an inherent possibility if the nation is originally established as a Christian democracy.     

The January 19, 2013, issue of “The New York Times” contained a fascinating article which captured this kind of tension quite well.  The article was entitled “New Northern Ireland Violence May Be About More Than the British Flag” and it dealt with recently resumed “troubles” in that part of Great Britain.  As before, the conflict pits Protestants against Catholics, especially in terms of whether the province of Northern Ireland will remain part of Great Britain (regarded as Protestant) or will seek union with the Republic of Ireland (regarded as Catholic).  Here is the telling paragraph:

The most recent census results, released last year, showed that 48 percent listed themselves as Protestant or brought up Protestant, down 5 percentage points from the 2001 census, while 45 percent of the population listed themselves as Catholic or brought up Catholic.  In Belfast, many say, Catholics are already a majority or nearly so and could form a majority across the province within a decade. 

This presents a challenge because the “Good Friday Agreement,” which brought the earlier troubles to an end specified that the province would remain part of Britain “as long as a majority of the province’s people and the population of the whole of Ireland wished it to be,” a solidly democratic proviso.  So long as the majority remained Protestant, all seemed well . . . for the Protestants in Northern Ireland.  But now, precisely because of that democratic proviso, the fundamental religious identify of the province seems to be shifting and that is not acceptable to many Northern Ireland Protestants.

How different is this from the perception by many evangelical Christians of the direction being taken by the United States?  

And the question is, should we be surprised that the religious identity of our nation is changing when our nation seeks to be a democracy and the religious commitments of a majority of our citizens are themselves changing?  Is there ANY way to be sure that religious commitments are upheld if the fundamental identify of a nation is its democratic character?

And, to get back to the real subject of the book I mentioned above, should we in the West be at all surprised when committed Muslims in places like Egypt don’t jump at the chance to see democracy installed in their countries?     

But all of this is based on the "simple" definition of democracy which I suggested above. Are there any other possibilities?  More on this in my next blog.

Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical. He also serves as the International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship (www.wrfnet.org). He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia)..  He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also  http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan    




Written by Sam Logan Monday, 28 January 2013 00:00

This blog, and I suspect several following blogs (at least the one tomorrow), will follow my reading of a specific book and will chart my reactions to this book.

The book is the recently updated and re-published Islam, Secularism, and Liberal Democracy: Toward a Democratic Theory for Muslim Societies by Nader Hashemi (Oxford University Press, 2009, 2012).  Further details about this volume can be found here:  http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/ReligionTheology/Islam/?view=usa&ci=9780195321241

The publisher describes this book as follows:

Islam's relationship to liberal-democratic politics has emerged as one of the most pressing and contentious issues in international affairs. In Islam, Secularism, and Liberal Democracy, Nader Hashemi challenges the widely held belief among social scientists that religious politics and liberal-democratic development are structurally incompatible. This book argues for a rethinking of democratic theory so that it incorporates the variable of religion in the development of liberal democracy. In the process, it proves that an indigenous theory of Muslim secularism is not only possible, but is a necessary requirement for the advancement of liberal democracy in Muslim societies.

But this book is about far more than Islam and democracy, as important as topic as that might be in a nation which is spending billions of dollars and thousands of lives to try to bring democracy to places like Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

This book is really about the very nature of democracy and whether democracy and religion can EVER be compatible. 

This means the book is not just about how Muslim societies treat women or whether shria law is possible in a democratic society.  It is also about the basis, in a place like the United States (which claims to be a democracy), for decisions about pornography or abortion or gay marriage or divorce or appropriate care for the poor.  On what grounds are decisions about matters like this to be decided? 

Nor are these questions relevant only to Muslim societies and the United States.  To a significant degree, these questions at the very heart of the conflict in Israel and the West Bank. Can there be a democratic JEWISH society? Or is that a contradiction in terms? 

What actually is the essence of a democratic society?  That is the first question that Hashemi explores and I will seek to explicate both what he says and what that might mean.  

I therefore, like Hashemi, start with this question:

What is the exact definition of “democracy?”  I would suggest that, if you are reading this blog, you stop and go no further until you have written out your answer to this question.  I will pick up this discussion in my next blog which will be published tomorrow.

To help you as you work with this question, I provide the following quotation, which appears in the “Introduction” to Hashemi’s book and which gets at one of the key issues involved.  Here is that quotation:

Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King - indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history - were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their “personal morality” into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  - Barack Obama

Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical. He also serves as the International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship (www.wrfnet.org). He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia)..  He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also  http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan  



Written by Dan LaValla Friday, 25 January 2013 00:00

With rumors and opinions about Manti Te’o dominating sports headlines for the past several weeks, people are finding it difficult to discern the truth about the hoax and the extent Te’o was victimized. Some have found it easier to believe that the likeable and popular Notre Dame all-star linebacker and runner up to this year’s Heisman Trophy was part of the hoax as a means to gain publicity to increase his chances of winning the Heisman rather than accept that he was a victim of deception. After reporting on September 12ththat his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, died of cancer, Te’o began to learn in December that something was awry about the story. While Te’o continues to deny any part in creating the hoax, in an interview with Katie Couric on January 23rd, he admitted that he initially went along with the hoax for a short period in December rather than admit that he was severely duped nor had never met Kekua in real life and yet publicly committed himself to her.

Many are calling him naïve and questioning his integrity. In a television interview earlier this month, one of his teammates in defending Te’o’s character argued that having a girlfriend whom Manti never met in real life makes perfect sense given the demands of football and his class schedule. The question many are now grappling with as a means to forgiving Te’o’s missteps as a victim is, how far a stable person can allow a virtual relationship to go.

Sherry Turkle author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other writes (page 1), “Technology proposes itself as the architect of our intimacies. These days, it suggests substitutions that put the real on the run. Technology is seductive when what it offers meets our human vulnerabilities. And as it turns out, we are vulnerable indeed. We are lonely, but fearful of intimacy. Digital connections and the sociable robot may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other. We’d rather text than talk.”

I know that you can develop online relationships, even in a text-only environment. As part of the first online cohort program at the University of Pittsburg (in the days before video and Skype), I developed personal connections online with students in my cohort. People with whom I would later remain connected in real life when we met on-campus a couple months later and one weekend per semester for the next couple years.  But the broader question is that with the absence of real-life contact, “How far can virtual relationships go with respect to authenticity?” Is attending an internet church weekly as fulfilling as attending a church in real life? Does God see people coming together in worship online equal to coming together in real life? Can the members of an online church actually hold one another accountable in a virtual-only environment or do the limitations of virtual relationships preclude this? Can training future pastors and counselors, where interpersonal and spiritual maturity is essential for success, be done as effectively in an online only program as an in-person or hybrid program?


Dan LaValla is Director of Library Services and Development Associate 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 Wednesday, 23 January 2013 00:00

Last summer Biblical Seminary offered a 2 day intensive course/seminar on the topic of abuse in Christian settings. We examined legal, biblical, and counseling perspectives on this difficult topic. Now, you can have access to the plenary presentations made by myself and Boz Tchividjian (a former child abuse prosecutor and now director of GRACE and professor of law at Liberty University Law School).

Click here to purchase the DVDs from Vision Video.

The four plenaries (over 5 hours of teaching) cover:

  • Theological and legal reasons to be proactive to abuse allegations
  • Common offender strategies (and how to prevent them)
  • Ministry and counseling responses to abuse victims and offenders
  • Strategies for abuse prevention and response policies so as to minimize risk

In previous posts on this topic, I have pointed out that the best policies fail if the congregation and her leaders do not have regular opportunities to discuss these topics. We cannot assume that we will stay alert over time. If I may be shamelessly self-promotional, I think these videos will provide an excellent conversation starter for small group leaders, elders, deacons or even Sunday School classes.

For previous blogs here on the topic of abuse in the church, see:

Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychologyand Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He also directs Biblical’s new trauma recovery project. You can find his personal blog at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com.


Written by Susan Disston Tuesday, 22 January 2013 00:00

Last year IVP released a series of short books designed to equip the church for effective missional ministry. The third book in the series, Partnering with the Global Church (2012), equips readers with seven ways to be a global partner in Christian mission. The authors, Nikki Toyama-Szeto and Femi Adeleye, apply their years of experience as partners in various Christian ministries in the Global South and Global North to their understanding of how to develop and sustain global partnerships. They address persistent problems in global partnership such as power, money, communication style, cultural differences, trust, and unexamined assumptions. They whole-heartedly believe that, in spite of the challenges, “global partnerships fills out and expands our picture of God” (p. 16).

Toyama-Szeto and Adeleye state that the starting point for partnerships is getting to know each other, appreciating what the other has to offer, and establishing interdependency characterized by equality and the humility of Jesus (Phil. 2). Partnering involves listening, identifying resources, learning about each others’ values, and practicing the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fellowship, and worship.

Toyama-Szeto and Adeleye point out seven ways to be a global partner. They call these ways “partnership practices.” The purpose of the practices is to cultivate the heart, mind, and behaviors that default at partnership, rather than self-sufficiency. They remind Christians that “we need to work as members of a whole body, rather than as individual specialized parts. ‘The eye cannot say to the hand, I don’t need you!’” (I Cor. 12:21). (p. 16)

Their seven partnership practices are:

  • Practice listening and learning.
  • Practice interdependency.
  • Practice assuming God is already at work.
  • Practice giving and receiving from others.
  • Practice identification with others in their world and realities.
  • Practice paying attention to the effects of power on communication, decision and resources.
  • Cultivate the practices of being a partner in yourself, your group, your organization before entering into a partnership. (p. 21)

Toyama-Szeto and Adeleye describe these practices through examples of what they look like in real life ministry situations. They compelling demonstrate how indispensible they are for authentic, transparent, and effective ministry in global ministry.

The book is written for Western Christians, who, unlike much of the rest of the world, consider partnership with others an option. In its pages readers are challenged with critically important insights that will help them to develop self-awareness and other awareness as they prepare for global ministry.  Their message is clear: we’re not prepared for global ministry unless we start practicing it with a teachable spirit every day.

You can get your own copy of Partnering with the Global Church is available at IVP in eBook and in print.


Susan Disston is assistant dean of curriculum and assessment at Biblical Seminary. http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/adjunct-faculty-theology


Written by Phil Monroe Monday, 21 January 2013 00:00

Maybe Christian counselors shouldn’t use the bible when they promote their counseling theory. Maybe they should just articulate their theory and leave the bible verses out.

Sound radical? An overreaction? Guilty as charged. But…consider with me that some of our most popular Christian models may be built on rather flimsy biblical data.

Some (simplistic) background thoughts

All Christian counselors recognize that the bible plays a unique role in counseling theory. Otherwise, they would just be “counselors.” But not all use the bible in the same way. Some view the bible as the primary (even sole) guide or resource for understanding human nature and recovery from every sort of relational and/or emotional struggle. These counselors would likely cite 2 Tim 3:15-16 as evidence that Scripture provides primary directives in our fight against sin and guide to suffering well. Others view the bible as a helpful foundation designed to remind us who God is, who we are, and a resource for comfort, encouragement, and rebuke. But, these counselors might also look to other resources as well—psychological research, physiology, medicine, communication theory, etc. They would not dismiss the value of the bible but would argue that God does not intend to make the bible the only answer guide for all the questions we might have. Thus, sources of human knowledge are important to the work of good Christian counseling. Now within this second camp, counselors vary widely as to how important either Scripture or human sources of knowledge function in their given practice. Some seem to emphasize (or neglect) one source more than the other.

The problem…

No matter where a counselor falls on the above continuum, it is far too easy to use the bible to baptize a particular viewpoint or theory. At one Christian counseling conference I heard a plenary speaker say something like this (not a quote but pretty near exact):

Men need respect. It is their airhose. Women need love. It is their airhose.

Along with this statement, the speaker bolstered points with personal stories and biblical passages indicating the women should be loved and men treated as having authority (submitted to). Here the speaker used bible passages to indicate that men are designed to operate optimally when respected and women designed to operate optimally when loved.

Is this true? It could be. I certainly think that this SEEMS to be true for most men and women. But, and this is the BIG BUT…does Scripture indeed teach this? Does Paul teach us that these are our basic needs in order to function well?

Close but way off

Love and respect cannot be our “airhose.” Habakkuk 3:16f would suggest that when everything has been taken away, it is possible to have joy in all things. Notice that Ephesians 5 is about what each are commanded to do…not about what each of us needs to receive. Christ is our “airhose” and nothing else. This speaker might be better served just teaching us about what actions tend to make for better marriages than to indicate that the Scriptures teach us we have these two needs.

So, the next time you pick up a cool book by a Christian counselor. Check out how they use the bible. As a support for a good theory (e.g., this verse teaches us…)? Or, as a source for understanding the problem of evil and the nature of our God who leads, guides, and saves us?

If you are interested in this topic, let me give you a couple of resources.

  • October 2011 print issue of Christianity Today covers the general misuse of the bible. It is not just counselors who do this. They list the example of a book with anti-aging techniques supposedly gleaned from the bible.
  • 2 chapters in Care for the Soul:Exploring the Intersection of Psychology & Theology (IVP, 2001). Chapters 12 and 13 both cover the issue of hermeneutics. Richard Schultz addresses how counselors misuse wisdom literature and chapter 13 (myself and my colleague Bryan Maier) give more general recommendations for good hermeneutic work.

[A version of this post was previously published at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.comin 2011.] Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling and Psychologyand directs both the Masters of Arts in Counseling program and the newly formed Global Trauma Recovery Institute


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