Recent articles showing the need for exegetical logic

I wanted to call attention to two recent articles that in different ways highlight one of this generation’s fundamental obstacles to ministry and mission. The first, “Let’s revive the lost art of Christian polemics” by Conrad Mbewe, says the church today is harmed by uncorrected error. He writes: We should respond to (theological error) by deliberately engaging in Christian polemics. What does the word “polemics” mean? Polemics means a strong verbal or written rebuttal of someone else’s belief. It is an argument that disputes another person’s opinion and shows that it is not true. Using the example of Christ, Mbewe argues for the recovery of Christian polemics that identify wrong teaching and correct it with strong language, logic, reasoning, and the clear statement of right teaching. The second, “The Art of Imperious Ignorance” by Michael J. Ovey in the recent Themelios, responds to the recent phenomena of dismissing passages of Scripture as “unclear”: Naturally (dismissing a passage as ‘unclear’) plays well with a

postmodern mood that tends to value scepticism, but more than that it can offer the attraction of not needing to have a reason for my position. At its worst, I can declare something unclear and then pursue my own line without needing to provide reasons for it—after all the issue is unclear. Declaring something unclear can maximise my freedom of action because it tends to remove an issue from the field of common debate. In its way, it is strongly individualist. More than that, some of the claims about unclarity or ignorance leave unspecified what counts as being clear enough for actions to proceed or decisions to be made. It is sometimes quite revealing to ask ‘how clear do things need to be?’ or ‘What would make things clearer for you?’ But without knowing what counts as ‘clear enough’ or what considerations would clarify, the task of discussing something with someone claiming ignorance or lack of clarity…

Eight theses about responding to the sin of a pastor

I’ve noticed a lot of Christians are confused about how to respond to the sin of pastors. Christians who love their pastor, as they ought, are hurt when the pastor faces consequences for his sinful behavior. Especially when there is no “smoking gun,” they hear charges and think “that doesn’t sound so bad.” Sometimes this impulse is turned against other members of the church leadership, “Aren’t you a sinner too? Then why are you making a big deal about his sin?!” Basically, they think their pastor never sins, at least in any way that calls for real consequences. On the other hand, some Christians hate authority of any kind, except their own. Any attempt to exhort or lead these Christians is met with accusations of “lording it over” and “pastoral abuse.” Basically, they think that all pastors only sin, unless they submit totally to the rule of the mob. While these situations are among the most

difficult and painful that any believer will face, they don’t have to be confusing. God’s word brings clarity into the mess. Here's eight theses on responding to the sin of a pastor; I commend the passages mentioned for your further study.   1. The pastor/elder is first and foremost a Christian, and in important ways his fight with sin is the same as that of other believers: He is a sinner who needs God’s grace through faith in Christ for salvation and forgiveness (John 3), and without this would be condemned (Rom 3:23). Though saved, he is not without sin in this life (1 John 1:5-10), and the battle with sin must be fought (Rom 6:12) and rages onward (Rom 7:7-25). Part of the battle with sin involves identifying patterns of sin, sometimes through self-examination (1 Cor 11:28; 2 Cor 13:5), or sometimes through the ministry of others (Mat 18:15; Heb 3:13) when self-deception has taken place (1 Cor 3:18; Heb 3:13; 1 John 1:8).…

Knowing what we celebrate on Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zechariah 9:9 In a time when hope was needed, the prophet had this to offer: the king is coming. A century earlier God’s wrath toward his people’s idolatry had driven them into exile, and the consequences endured long after the return. Twenty years later, it was clear: things would never be the same. Their kingdom, their culture, their relationship to God… all seemed unrecoverable. God told them to rebuild the temple, but they knew their meager resources could never replicate anything approaching their memory of Solomon’s Temple. So there was little energy for the task. In this context, Zechariah is sent by God to call the people to finish the temple. Why? Because the king is coming. Sin must be forsaken, God

must be obeyed, his word must be celebrated, the temple must be finished, because the king is coming. Many prophecies anticipate Messiah, the deliverer, the Savior, but none more clearly than Zechariah 9 reveal that this one who God would send would be king. And a certain kind of king, one who is righteous and humble, in contrast to the deprived rulers of Israel and Judah’s history. More importantly, the king is coming with salvation. This king is going to be a savior! A deliverer! He will fix what is broken. He will bring prosperity back. He will restore peace. The king is coming! What an encouragement to those who heard Zechariah’s words! The king is coming. In fact they did finish the temple. Then came 400 silent years, dark years, years of defeat and occupation. Many despaired. But others clung to that sliver of hope: the king is coming. Then, Jesus was born! Elizabeth and Mary hoped, Herod…

Or, "Is 'online education' an oxymoron"?

A few weeks back, I started a discussion of what kind of theological education model is best to train church planting pastors in cities of the 10/40 window, and raised questions about the suitability of the traditional brick-and-mortar seminary in this context. Let’s continue by discussing another training approach: the content-only model. 2. Content-Only Model We’re using “content-only” as a catch-all for educational approaches that focus on the delivery of information, through a variety of means. Back in the day there were correspondence courses, then audio or DVD materials, now: MOOCs and other online education. The quality has improved but the principle is the same: receive training wherever you are, according to your schedule. We’re in a golden age of content-only training. Most major seminaries, motivated to serve believers around the world (and help their own bottom lines) have developed online offerings. Beyond that, ministries like BiblicalTraining.org, Third Millennium, and BibleMesh are distributing a remarkable breadth and quality of content for free

or a nominal cost. I thank God for these ministries. Their quality is usually excellent, involving some of the best teachers in the world for each subject. Given their inherent flexibility, content-only programs fit complex modern lifestyles in a way other programs don’t. Many believers globally don’t have access to any other theological training, so praise the Lord for profitable materials being available to anyone with an internet connection. Is this the solution to the global theological education crisis? Should we double down on content-only programs and abandon other approaches that by comparison seem too limited and too costly? In 2016 is it anachronistic, and perhaps profligate, to be initiating live, in-person, instructional programs? No. While content-only programs have a useful role to play, they are not and cannot be sufficient to meet the needs of the global church, because of several limitations: Those who argue content-only training is sufficient assume a reductionistic understanding of education. What happens…

Following Jesus in his shame this Christmas season

“No room, we’re all sold out,” said the keeper of the Hampton Inn. It was 2 AM this past February 15. The borrowed Suburban was full of sleeping family, and snow was falling. Exhausted, we needed to crash for a few hours before continuing the roadshow west. Half an hour later, similar rejections had been offered by Holiday Inn Express, Holiday Inn (not Express), La Quinta, and a few suspicious mom-and-pops with "cornhusker" in the title. I had no choice but to get back on the interstate, shaking the dust off my feet, sipping Red Bull, and resolving that in the future I would 1) make reservations and 2) avoid college towns on Valentine’s. Perhaps my misfortune reminds you of Christmas pageants past, and if that’s the case I’m sorry to tell you that your pageant got it wrong. You're not alone. It’s a culture-wide problem that our misconception-ladled nativity portrayals obscure our vision of the Christmas story and thus addle our application of what God wants us to

see. -------------- We envision a Hollywood-style scene where Mary’s labor begins on the outskirts of Bethlehem, initiating a mad rush for a hotel room (in the absence of a hospital), but after being turned away by hostile innkeepers the couple finds a soft bed in the stable, just in the nick of time. But actually, there was no hurry. There was no innkeeper. In fact, there was no inn. And there probably wasn’t even a stable, as such. None of this is in the Bible. Only when we begin clearing these misunderstandings out of our Christmas picture can we see what is really there. And what we see is that Christmas isn't only an invitation to sovereignty, it's also an invitation to shame. Luke’s description of Christ’s birth is succinct: “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in…

Encouragement from God's sovereignty in the tyrants, gossipers, hopes, and fears of the Christmas story.

In the thick of this most wonderful time of the year as we are, it's easy to get overwhelmed with special foods, special music, special readings, special parties, special services, etc. But as we reflect on our theology of the nativity, all the accoutrements of Christmastime start pointing to God, and every bit of tinsel and tune begins to serve as an invitation to worship. An invitation that resonates throughout the Christmas story is an invitation to sovereignty; an invitation to see the mighty hand of God guiding the course of history and our lives too. Consider how Luke’s account begins: “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of

the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.” - Luke 2:1-5, ESV ----------- After 400 silent years, God suddenly is carrying out a new stage in his work. With angelic announcements to Zechariah and Mary, Luke 1 shows God preparing for a very special birth. Then, mentioning Caesar Augustus, Luke puts these events against the background of Roman history. In 44 BC, Julius Caesar is murdered and his nephew comes to power. Brilliant, prudent, and ruthlessly ambitious, Octavius uses his vast abilities to consolidate the power in himself, completing the dismantling of democracy begun by Julius. Under Octavius the Roman Republic becomes the Roman Empire. Octavius then becomes the first emperor of Rome, the ruler of all the known world, and is addressed as “Lord Caesar Augustus” – the emperor with the attributes of God. Emperor Augustus rules the entire known world, delegating to governors or client kings the management of individual territories.…

Training pastors for the 10/40 window - are seminaries the answer?

Recently I’ve talked to seminary administrators from the U.S., the U.K., Latin America, India, the Middle East, and Australia, who all agree: theological education is in crisis. Seminaries and Bible Colleges are unable to pay for their campuses, faculties, and administrations. Graduates are saddled with debt. Churches can't find anyone prepared for the ministry they need. Globally, the majority of pastors don't have any training at all. No one denies the vast need; the issue is finding the right model to meet it. The current ones increasingly aren’t working. Without claiming to have solved theological education’s global crisis, I have labored to develop strategy to impart specific goals in training a certain kind of pastor to spread the gospel through a certain kind of church. So, over a few posts, I want to reflect on current models for global theological education and to what extent they may or may not make sense for training church planting pastors in cities of the 10/40

window. 1. Traditional Seminary Model The most well-known strategy for theological education is the traditional seminary model. Think of DTS, SBTS, WTS, TEDS, etc. Top-notch scholarship. Bricks & mortar. Big libraries. A wide selection of programs. For generations, this model has been the default for those wanting to seriously prepare for ministry. Should we, in the 10/40 window, try to recreate one of these institutions? Should we be striving toward Westminster Karachi or Trinity Tehran? It’s tempting. One reason, of course, is that myself and several of my team members know this model from the inside out, having benefited from through the many years of our own studies. The depth and breadth of the traditional seminary program is hard to surpass. The burden of proof is on the guy who thinks he has a better curriculum than the exegesis, Bible, theology, and ministry courses that make up traditional seminary degrees. Beyond curriculum, seminaries add value as communities of learning,…

Learning objectives for theological education

Our focus where I teach is on training men to plant and pastor churches in the cities of the MENASA region (=Middle East, North Africa, South Asia). We’ve had to ponder specifically what we want the results of our program to be – what are we laboring to instill in students before they graduate? Well, we’ve got a few ideas. Indeed, here’s fourteen targets we’re using as we plan curriculum and mentor students. By graduation, we want to see students demonstrate: 1. Skill to faithfully exegete texts from any biblical genre and apply exegetical logic in all ministry contexts Students need understanding of how different texts/genres function, knowledge of history and background, awareness of how to handle problems and use external sources correctly, and proficiency in grammatical, lexical, and contextual analysis of the text itself. With this exegetical acumen comes the ability to use exegetical logic to carry out all kinds of ministry in all kinds of contexts in a way directly

tied to the accurate meaning of the biblical text. 2. Gospel clarity in his target context If pastors are being sent to the nations to preach salvation they need to know how to preach salvation. So we need students to understand the basic, unchanging, message of the gospel, and communicate that message in a way that the particular people they are going to be speaking can understand. 3. Ability to teach and preach the Bible with accuracy, clarity, passion, and fruitfulness All good preaching is faithful preaching, but not all faithful preaching is good. Effective urban pastors will need to be both, and getting there involves training in best practices for preparation and communication, but more than that practice and coaching that develops students from beginning preachers to able servants of the body of Christ. 4. Foundational knowledge of and convictional competence in the Bible, biblical theology, and systematic theology Christian pastors must know what they believe because the…

Applying the authority of God in exegetical ministry and theological training

Ministry begins with God himself, and the absolute authority belonging to him as creator of all things. Believing the Bible is the inerrant and authoritative word of this God, we must approach the Bible with the goal not of using it for our work, but submitting to it as God’s word. How can we practically submit to God’s word in various ministry contexts? And how can we train leaders for a ministry that is obedient to the authority of God? Imagine the various theological disciplines in a pyramid: Disciplinary Order The starting point is biblical exegesis, the task of carefully reading and discovering the intended meaning of biblical texts in their original language and contexts. Then we move to biblical theology, wherein we put together the results of our exegesis to understand the theological message of a given section of Scripture, or how a given theme is developed throughout Scripture. Then, and only then, we can develop a systematic theology,

based on our exegesis and biblical theology, that synthesizes logically the teaching of the entire Bible. Finally, we can apply our systematic theology, biblical theology, and exegesis by building a philosophy and practice of specific ministries, such as preaching or counseling. And by following all of these steps the result is a church life and mission that are thoroughly biblical, faithful, and operating in submission to God through his Word. To look at it from the other direction, we might ask - “why is expository preaching so important to the ministry of a church?” (level 5). The answer to that is found in our biblical philosophy of preaching (level 4), which is simply systematic theology (e.g. doctrines of Scripture, of man, of salvation) together with biblical imperatives about preaching (level 3), which is based on a biblical theology and story of a God who communicates and reveals himself through proclamation (level 2), which is based on the exegesis of individual…

Considering a five-stage schema for planning training in various disciplines

Building from the last post about conscious competence, a few words about another educational model. In 1980 brothers Stuart and Hubert Dreyfus were researching how to best train Air Force pilots. In the course of this study, they developed a “five-stage model of the mental activities involved in directed skill acquisition.” Thanks to the miracle of the internet, you can download their original report in all its typewritten glory. The Dreyfus brothers propose that as a student acquires a new skill through formal instruction and practice he must pass through five stages: 1. Novice Lacking experience, the student is taught to recognize certain features of an environment. He is then given rules for deciding how to act in response to those features. He doesn’t understand what is going on, per se, but he can follow the steps he’s been taught. The stage is characterized by rigidly adhering to the rules and not exercising discretionary judgment. 2. Competence One moves

from the novice stage to competence after considerable experience in real situations with an instructor pointing our recurring patterns. The student begins to understand better the context and meaning of the rules he’d previously been taught. Still, all aspects of the work are treated separately with equal importance. 3. Proficiency With increased practice, the student is now able to view the whole situation in connection to long-term goals, and various aspects of the situation become more or less important depending on their relevance to the goal. He is now in a position to judge which steps are more or less relevant to this particular situation, and deliberately plan based on the specific situation. 4. Expertise Up to this point, students have relied on rules to know how to connect what is generally true to their specific situation. But an expert, relying on a great deal of experience, is in a position where the response to each specific situation is customized and…