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).…

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…

The four levels of competence in theological education

Working on curricular design the last few months, I've been reading a lot of educational theory. Since it's a literature that's new to me, I find myself newly impressed by some old concepts. One of these is the “conscious competence” learning model. Developed in the 1970s by Noel Burch (though the roots are probably earlier), the model describes four stages on the way to competence in a new skill. There’s more to theological education than competencies – like intellect, heart, and character – but we're also teaching skills. And these four stages, developed in a secular context, prove helpful in thinking about the skills developed in theological education, especially understanding and communicating Scripture.  So for example, here are the four stages in relation to biblical exegesis: 1. Unconscious Incompetence The student doesn’t know how to do something, but doesn’t recognize that he doesn’t know it. Maybe he's never heard of biblical exegesis. Maybe he thinks exegesis is busywork and unnecessary for real life and ministry. Or maybe he wrongly believes he already knows how to do exegesis, when in fact he doesn't.

Before he can move to the next stage, he needs to recognize his incompetence and the value of the new skill. 2. Conscious Incompetence The student still doesn’t know how to do something, but he does recognize the deficit and the value of the new skill in addressing the deficit. So even though he doesn’t know how to do exegesis, he’s come to see it as an essential skill for ministry, a skill he currently lacks, so is motivated to advance his knowledge and make the kind of mistakes one needs to learn.  3. Conscious Competence The student understands or knows how to do something, but with concentration. To do exegesis, he has been taught a series of steps, and he is able to carefully follow them, often checking the list to make sure all the steps have been handled. Much of his thinking along the way is about the process he needs to…

What kind of leader do urban churches in the 10-40 Window need?

As we train pastors, we need to know what we're trying to do before we can do it very well. A couple weeks ago I shared some thoughts on the ideal church in our urban 10-40 Window context. The logical next question is "what kind of leader is needed for this kind of church?" Or, "what is an ideal pastor?" A Christian: An ideal pastor is first of all a Christian; he has himself believed and been transformed by the power of the gospel, and is continuing to grow in his Christian maturity and ongoing repentance. He displays the fruit of the spirit. He is a man of prayer. He is not a recent convert; he is among the most spiritually mature men of the congregation. He is passionate to know God and make him known. Committed to the Local Church: An ideal pastor loves the local church, serves the local church, and embraces the biblical priority of the local church in God’s mission.

He does not view ministry in the church as in any way inferior to other ministries one might do but is instead eager to invest his life as an under-shepherd of God’s people. Exemplary Character: An ideal pastor is holy and above reproach - he has a reputation that is a credit to the church, there is no valid accusation of wrongdoing that can be made against him. He is upright - he keeps his word; he can be counted on to make wise, fair, righteous judgments for the church. He is sober-minded and not arrogant - level-headed, restrained in his conduct, able to think clearly; humble, listens to others, accepts criticism and counsel, and is considerate. He is disciplined, self-controlled, and not a drunkard - keeping his physical desires in check by consistent self-restraint; does not engage in any activity to excess and is disciplined in his pursuit of spiritual things. He is not violent, but gentle…

How we lost exegetical logic and why we need it back.

Last week I mentioned "exegetical logic" as central to church ministry. Someone asked what I meant, so an explanatory word. When I say "exegetical logic," I'm talking about a way of using Scripture our fathers assumed but we have to explicate because of certain cultural trends: The abridgment of everything: We skim headlines and share 140-character snippets. Published books are the length newspaper articles used to be. Sprinting, we're not interested in the lines above the bottom one. Unwillingness to think: We are lazy. There is always a YouTube meme to distract. With a smartphone in every hand, thinking hard is passé. The exaltation of personality: Being lonely, we are attracted to personalities who seem cool to have a beer with. In a celebrity/social media culture, we follow leaders less for the quality of their ideas and more on the stickiness of their persona. The balancing impulse: Our beliefs in fairness and equality are so deeply ingrained that we find them

where we should not. The spirit of the age is, "you have some verses, he has some verses, let's agree to disagree." Ungodly humility: We are pressured to be uncertain, conditioned to believe that to claim a proposition as true and more reasonable than the alternative is an exercise of privilege or insensitive to someone's needs. These factors and more create a climate where we don't debate the reasons for ideas, to our great detriment. The solution is exegetical logic: an approach to talking about life, ministry, and ethics driven by interaction and debate about specific Biblical texts and their meaning. Exegetical logic means sharing not only the fruit of your exegetical process but how you reason your way from that text to get there. Some arguments are objectively better than others. The difference between Ruth's Chris and Sizzler is not in the eye of the beholder. Christians, we need exegetical logic. We need it in our sermons, in…

What would an ideal church look like in cities of the 10-40 window?

Woe to us if we are going to labor in global church planting, in training leaders for the church, and in ministering to the church, without asking the question "what would an ideal church be?" Of course there is no actual ideal church. But what are we aiming at? The impossibility of perfection must not stop the productivity of direction. The definition of an ideal church (IC) will vary from one place to another. But, thinking of the kind of urban, 10-40 Window, context in which I live, here's my best start. The ideal church (IC) in this region is: Explicitly Biblical: Based on the conviction that there is one God and he has spoken in his word, the IC submits to the authority of Scripture with explicit exegetical logic (NOT assumed validity, or proof-texting) driving every facet of the ministry philosophy, ministry vision, and ministry practice. Gospel-Centered: The exegetical logic of the IC effects a

focus on God’s plan of redemption culminating in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. The IC avoids the errors of legalism and license with gospel-centered teaching and discipleship. Purposefully Urban: The IC embraces the opportunities and limitations presented by its urban setting. The IC looks like the city; it is as multi-cultural as its community. The IC finds ways to serve a population that is culturally and socioeconomically diverse, busy with work and other activities, and geographically dispersed around an urban center. Internally Healthy: The IC has the characteristics of a healthy church. As summarized by Mark Dever: 1) Expositional Preaching, 2) Biblical Theology, 3) The Gospel, 4) A Biblical Understanding of Conversion, 5) A Biblical Understanding of Evangelism, 6) A Biblical Understanding of Church Membership, 7) Biblical Church Discipline, 8) A Concern for Discipleship and Growth, 9) Biblical Church Leadership. Externally Engaged: While diligent about church health, teaching, and discipleship (see above), the IC cannot be accused of being “internally-focused.” The IC faithfully…

Believing the gospel, obeying the Savior, discipling the world, for the glory of God.

What are the goals of a church (any church)? What’s the ministry of that church seeking to accomplish in the lives of people? Here’s my answer: believing the gospel, obeying the Savior, discipling the world, for the glory of God You can get here pretty easily from the Great Commission (Mat 28:18-20): “Disciples… baptizing” → requires believing the gospel. “Obey all I commanded” → obeying the Savior. “Make disciples of all nations… teaching” → discipling the world Baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” → in other words, ministry is in and through and for the glory of the triune God. Looking at the big picture of Scripture, Jesus doesn’t highlight these goals in an isolated way, but as a summary of what all Scripture calls God’s people to. So how does this look in a church? Believing the gospel Without Christ, all people, as sinners, are in the desperate

situation of facing God’s just wrath (Rom 5:12; 3:23). But the amazing truth of the gospel is that God has sent his Son Jesus to deliver sinners. Only Jesus can rescue us, and he does it by taking God’s wrath on himself, dying in our place, and rising from the dead. The sins that should have condemned us, God laid on Jesus. So, the amazing exchange: Jesus endured what we deserved so that we might enjoy what he deserved: eternal life. We access this life by believing the gospel, which involves understanding these truths, turning away from sin, and trusting in Jesus as the one way of salvation (John 6:47, Luke 8:12, 2 Cor 5:21). Guiding people to belief in the gospel is the goal of all a church is and does. A church calls non‐Christians to believe and be saved. But a church must also emphasize believing the gospel to Christians. Why? Because even after saving us, the gospel is…