Friday, December 29, 2006

Reflections on the State of Academic Theology in the UK

I was pleased to come across the blog of John and Caroline Brand of Scotland, this afternoon. The Brands work with AIM International, John serving as the European Director. They are kindred spirits concerned with keeping intellectual rigor and edifying ministry together as opposed to the oft-encountered tendency to portray the two as necessarily being in conflict with each other.

John linked to an article by Dr. Oliver Barclay, former General Secretary of the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship, called "Where is Academic Theology Heading?" in which he inquires how adequately theology programs equip people for ministry in the church and concludes that it's not doing well. While written from the perspective of theological education in the UK, much of what he writes has application for the American context as well such as the following:
We have to ask if the debates that interest the world of academic theology are, in fact, the ones that many people outside the universities care about. Few university departments are able to help students to face the postmodern and relativistic fashions of today, the secular challenges to Christianity, or the real ethical problems that confront the local churches. You could ask someone what help his course has given him in talking to the sceptical thinkers of today, or in in ministering to the bereaved or dying. They come out of university in a situation a little like that of the medical student who complained that, while he had seen three coronary by-pass operations, which seemed largely irrelevant to being a GP, he had never been shown a patient with asthma.
By the way, the folks at UCCF are also responsible for, an excellent apologetic resource site. Good things are happening on the other side of the Atlantic!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Seminary Training for Your MP3 Player (Well, Actually, for You)

Bryan Chapell's class on preaching is the latest addition to's impressive (and free!) collection of evangelical teaching.

A few of the other courses available in their Leadership Education category :

John Piper - Pastoral Theology
Robert Stein - Biblical Hermeneutics
Gary Parrett - Educational Ministry of the Church
Bruce Ware - Systematic Theology
Timothy Tennent - Introduction to Islam
Ronald Nash - Christian Ethics, Advanced Worldview Analysis, History of Philosophy and Christian Thought

The old adage "You get what you pay for" certainly doesn't apply here.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Wonder of the Incarnation

He so loved us that, for our sake,
He was made man in time,
although through him all times were made.
He was made man, who made man.
He was created of a mother whom he created.
He was carried by hands that he formed.
He cried in the manger in wordless infancy, he the Word,
without whom all human eloquence is mute. -
Augustine, Sermon 188, 2

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Redeeming Conversation

Given the choice between a lectern (or even a really sturdy music stand) in a classroom and a pulpit in a sanctuary, I'll take the lectern every time. I'll also opt for the one-on-one ministry of the Word over sermonizing, too. I'm haunted by a comment made by one of my seminary professors years ago. "Consider," he counseled us, "where else during the week the people you're preaching to have had to sit for thirty minutes listening to someone talk." That was in the late '80's. Almost twenty years later, it's no more likely that those listening to sermons on Sunday morning are any more practiced to giving sustained attention to monologues throughout their week and attention spans certainly aren't any longer now than they were then.

For the last fourteen years I've served in an associate pastor role that has allowed me to concentrate on teaching in the contexts of adult education and one on one discipleship with minimal responsibilities in the area of preaching. I don't mean to disparage preaching at all. I recognize its importance and am grateful for those who devote themselves to it. In fact, I'm an auditory learner who enjoys listening to sermons and lectures. It's just that when I'm on the giving end, I prefer the dialogical nature of teaching. I like being able to stop and ask "Am I making sense?" or having someone stop me to ask a question. I realize that in part my reservations about preaching are due to my own shortcomings such as my prideful worry that I'm boring my hearers and my unbelief that the Holy Spirit will use the words he inspired (despite my inadequacies) to accomplish his gracious purposes through biblically-grounded preaching. Nevertheless, the fact remains that I still prefer speaking with people as opposed to merely speaking to them.

In his A Christian Directory, Richard Baxter includes a section on the importance of what he called "Christian conference, exhortation, and reproof." Essentially, it's about the necessity and benefit of believers conversing with each other about biblical truth. One of the advantages of such discourse, he says, is that it supplements the ministry of public preaching:
Your fruitful conference is a needful help to the ministerial work. When the preacher hath publicly delivered the word of God to the assembly, if you would so far second him, as in your daily converse to set it home on the hearts of those that you have opportunity to discourse with, how great an assistance would it be to his success! Though he must teach them publicly, and from house to house, Acts xx.20, yet it is not possible for him to be so frequent and familiar in daily conference with all the ignorant of the place, as those that are still with them may be. You are many, and he is but one, and can be but in one place at once. Your business bringeth you into their company, when he cannot be there. O happy is that minister who hath such a people, who will daily preach over the matter of his public sermons in their private conference with one another! (Part IV, Chapter XVI, Motive X).
Later, Baxter enumerates more advantages of spiritual conversation including the following which is the best articulation of why I prefer teaching that I've come across:
5. Interlocutory conference keepeth your auditors attentive, and carrieth them on along with you as you go. And it maketh the application much more easy, by their nearness and the familiarity of the discourse; when sermons are usually heard but as an insignificant sound, or words of course. 6. You may at your pleasure go back and repeat those things which the hearer doth not understand, or doth forget; which a preacher in the pulpit cannot do without the censure of the more curious auditors. 7. You may perceive by the answers of them whom you speak to, what particulars you need most to insist on, and what objections you should most carefully resolve; and when you have satisfied them, and may proceed. All which it is hard for a minister to do in public preaching; and is it not a great sin to neglect such an advantageous duty? (Part IV, Chapter XVI, Motive XII).
When I came across these thoughts from Baxter, I was reminded of an article by David Powlison called "What is Ministry of the Word?" (Journal of Biblical Counseling, Winter 2003, pp. 2-6) in which he distinguishes among three mutually supportive aspects of the communication of biblical truth. The first two, the public and private ministry of the Word, are those with which we are probably most familiar. The former refers to the proclamation, exposition, and application of Scripture that good sermons consist of. The latter refers to personal study of and meditation on Scripture in private devotions or "quiet times." While acknowledging the necessity of both for cultivating spiritual maturity, Powlison rejects the idea that they are sufficient:
Perhaps you've heard it said, "If people would only sit under good preaching and meet God regularly in private devotions, they wouldn't need counseling." That statement is well intended. It's even partly true. Lots of personal problems are transformed by public ministry of the Word and by private ministry of the Word. But the statement is completely untrue in its premises and its conclusions. A central purpose of good preaching and private devotions is to create mutual counseling and wise counselors! When any personal problem is in fact truly transformed, then a wise counselor of others has been produced. Fruitful interpersonal ministry of the Word is the main proof that sermons and devotions are worth the time and effort.
This calls to mind Paul's exhortation that we "Let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom..." (Col. 3:16). In today's church there is certainly a great deal of emphasis on preaching and devotions but are we neglecting the importance and necessity of believers learning how to skillfully bring biblical truth to bear on each other's lives?

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Marketing the Good Book

Joanne Kaufman of the Wall Street Journal writes about the measures to which Bible publishers go to connect with consumers. Fortunately, not all proposed versions, like the "alarmist Bible" pitched to Thomas Nelson, are approved:
The offering featured headlines that had been snipped from the front pages of USA Today, then pasted below select New Testament verses. Also included was some newspaper boldface about the collapse of the Jessica Simpson-Nick Lachey marriage accompanied by relevant text from Scripture, presumably not Genesis' 2:24 dictum: "a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife."
Some interesting excerpts:

Thomas Nelson produces 150 different editions of the Bible each year.

Christian bookstores had a 25% increase in sales of Scriptures from 2003 to 2005
...Bibles are becoming as much personal statements as fashion statements. "What people are saying is 'I want to find a Bible that is really me,'" noted Rodney Hatfield, a vice president of marketing at Thomas Nelson. "It's no different than with anything else in our culture."
Fortunately for Bible publishers, consumers seem to think that if one copy of the Good Book is good, two or more are even better. "Forty percent of my customers own three to 10 Bibles," said Mr. Hastings. "It's sort of like me and golf. I have Tiger Woods's book and Ernie Els's book. I want all those different approaches to how to play golf. It's the same with Bibles."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Books We Need Most

Stephen Seamands, professor of Christian doctrine at Asbury Theological Seminary, is the author of Ministry in the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service which I received in the mail today. In the opening chapter he states that his reason for writing the book was "to demonstrate the significance of the doctrine of the Trinity for the vocation of ministry."

Seamands says that while there has been a resurgence of interest in trinitarian doctrine on the part of theologians over the last century, many of their writings are so abstract, dense, and theoretical that they are regarded as irrelevant by those engaged in pastoral ministry. "As a result, when they reflect theologically on their ministerial practice, they do so with very little reference to the doctrine of the Trinity." Seamands goes on to tell of a luncheon he attended years ago at which Martin Marty was the guest speaker. When asked by a faculty member what kind of Christian books are needed today, Marty replied, "So many Christian books written today are either 'theologically theological' or 'practically practical.' What we need most are books that are 'theologically practical.'"

Monday, December 04, 2006

Wayne Grudem on Evangelical Feminism and Liberalism

Adrian Warnock has posted part one of his interview with Wayne Grudem about his new book Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism? You can also listen to Grudem talk about his book with Al Mohler here.

Friday, December 01, 2006

2007 Masters Series

Stand to Reason has posted the impressive lineup of speakers for their 2007 Masters Series in Christian Thought. (HT: Melinda Penner)

9 Marks Interview: The Gospel and Islam

Listen to pastor and author Thabiti Anyabwile discuss "the beliefs and history of Islam, his own experience as a Muslim, the contradictions in the Koran, as well as the way for churches to approach evangelism with Muslims, which he calls an amazing, God-given opportunity the church has today." (HT: Greg Linscott)