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Overthinking Christian

Our scope here is to rattle evangelical norms that threaten Biblical norms (as well as pretend we are smarter and more "spiritual" than we actually are).

Tim Keller and the Princeton Scuffle: Questions of Intolerance

t kellerSought-after speaker, author, and pastor Tim Keller was to be awarded the Abraham Kuyper Prize from Princeton Seminary this year when it was instead recinded. Reasons? No, it was not a sex-scandal. No, Keller didn’t “fall from grace.” Rather, Keller doesn’t align with what they at Princeton Seminary believe; namely their stance on ordination for women as well as the ordination of LGBTQ+ individuals. Below is a quote from  president of Princeton.

  “…it is not my practice to censor the invitations to campus from any of our theological centers or student organizations. [Yet] In talking with those who are deeply concerned about Reverend Keller’s visit to campus… many regard awarding the Kuyper Prize as an affirmation of Reverend Keller’s belief that women and LGBTQ+ persons should not be ordained.” Craig Barnes (see here for full statement)

The reason I think this may be a mistake (though I recognize the behind-the-curtain politics clearly at play) is that Keller is a hero to many from both sides of the conservative/liberal dichotomy due to his commitment to civility and general thoughtfulness in regards to hot topics. Though Keller is Reformed, he does not at all resemble the likeness of fellow ‘big shots’ in the Reformed circle (I’m thinking of Driscoll , MacArthur and, of course, Piper). Keller is known more for his conciliatory voice and attitude than for being dogmatic, as he seems to be much about promoting healthy conversation.

Keller’s church in New York City resembles this tone, as its congregants strive to remain in discussion rather than remain at odds when they disagree. I applaud their effort to avoid homogeneity, which is something many churches and institutions desperately need to learn from.

Many conservatives find Keller too “liberal,” especially in light of a recent interview for New York Times (see here). Keller also rocked the worlds of many conservatives when he opened up about his stance on evolution. But all Princeton can see, it seems, is Keller’s personal stance on ordination.

I agree with one David Limbaugh when he writes “Neither in Keller’s writings nor his sermons have I detected the slightest inclination toward the political” (click here for article). If Keller is anything, he is a potential bridge in the ugly fight between conservative and liberal Christians. Princeton has just burned a bridge. As one Christian leader tweeted in response, “If you can’t give an Abraham Kuyper award to Tim Keller, who can you give it to?”

The Babylon Bee, as expected, poked fun at the situation, writing satirically about the PCUSA: “the denomination had agreed to posthumously denounce and honorarily excommunicate several “backwards-minded” Reformed and Presbyterian thinkers, beginning with Abraham Kuyper.”

Does Seminary “Work?” George Guthrie Responds

Below is an interview I conducted with respected New Testament scholar George H. Guthrie  (Benjamin W. Perry Professor of Bible at Union University in Jackson, TN) who among other works has a very respected commentary on Hebrews. Enjoy!

george guthrie

 

What is your response to those who feel that Seminary is in fact the “cemetery” of Christian faith? Do you find there to be merit to such concerns? Is this simply a caricature? 

George: Consistently I have had students go on to seminary and thrive in the environment, both academically and spiritually. Yet, it certainly is a reality that many students find their time in seminary to be very challenging in terms of their spiritual lives. At least two dynamics contribute to this: 1) Students who are doing graduate studies and working a lot of hours per week and, perhaps, trying to give attention to the needs of a family are pressed and emotionally stressed in terms of time. This means that some relationships, including relationship with the Lord and his people (time in the Scriptures and prayer and church), can be neglected. 2) Biblical and theological studies can become mere disciplines to master, rather than a gateway to a deeper, richer relationship with Christ and others. A key here has to do with the posture of the faculty. Do they portray a life of integration in which a student is led to follow Christ into the study of these disciplines, to love God with the heart and mind? If not, such study can become a dry and even deadly enterprise feeding the ego, rather than a living adventure of the spirit.

When someone tells you that they feel called to Seminary what words of advice do you offer? Or are there questions you might proceed to ask them?
George: I normally will affirm the desire (education is a good thing) and ask about their motivation and ultimate ministry goals. If the person is married I ask if his or her spouse is supportive of the decision. I encourage the student to do several things: 1) take the professors with a reputation for being challenging (I was warned off of taking certain profs early in my seminary days and often found their classes to be the most rewarding!); 2) take as much language study as possible (languages are a gateway to knowing the Scriptures deeply) 3) get the know the professors personally (some of my richest conversations in seminary were across the breakfast table from a professor I had invited out for the meal); 4) get meaningfully involved in a local church and, if you are not on staff, contribute as a volunteer.

 

Realizing there are different types of Seminaries that respond to different needs, do you feel there still remain certain “non-negotiables” when it comes to the vision or commitment of a Seminary, or how a Seminary is run?

George: Assuming that we are talking about a seminary (rather than the study of religion in a secular university context), the purpose of which is to train people for ministry, I think there are at least 3 or 4 non-negotiables: 1) a high view of Scripture and doctrinal orthodoxy are mandatory, for a commitment to Scripture as the norma normans non normata, “the norm of norms, which cannot be normed,” and a commitment to theological orthodoxy, drive everything else in the theological enterprise; 2) integration of faith and learning, for a theological education that is not integrated (learning to personal life, life to the community of faith, church to ministry to the world) has missed a foundational principle of biblical faith; this also involves orthopraxy being woven into the curriculum; and 3) a profound sense of gospel mission—joining God in his Great Cause, training students to have a strong sense of the church’s mission and their part in that mission.

What advice do you have for that student in Seminary who is feeling that his or her faith is under assault or is being threatened? 

George: Ascertain the cause. Is your faith threatened because faithful, biblically-sound professors are challenging your unexamined presuppositions, or is your faith truly under assault, professors pushing unorthodox positions? If the latter, you can consider a different context for training. If the former, engage the process and dig deeply into the Scriptures, examining both your positions and those of your professors. It will be a rich growth experience.

Have you been able to find a balance between dry academic rigor and a more Spirit-ual Christianity? If so, do you have any tips for those who find themselves falling into one extreme over the other?

George: This is a false dichotomy. To me biblical studies is best done in pursuit of personal, spiritual growth and in service to the community of faith. The Bible grew out of commitment to Christ and the church and can thrive in a commitment to Christ and the church. Academic rigor can be an expression of spiritual discipline and love for God. We should love God with all our strength, including our academic strength. We do this in part by consistently integrating our studies with life, asking, “How should this thing I am studying shape my life?”

Thank you for your time and insight!

 

George Guthrie has written widely on Bible interpretation and application, and has has taught across North America and around the world in places like Hong Kong, London, and Israel. He has participated in the revision of The New Living Translation as well as having served as a consultant on the Holman Christian Standard Bible, the New Century Version, and the English Standard Version. In 2015 his 2 Corinthians commentary in the Baker Exegetical Commentary series was released. The photo above was obtained from Guthrie’s blog (see here).

 

 

 

 

 

‘Do All Lives Matter?’ Wayne Gordon and John M. Perkins (book review)

do allAuthored by pastor Wayne Gordon and civil rights activist John M. Perkins, Do All Lives Matter? The Issues We Can No Longer Ignore and the Solutions We All Long For (Baker, 2017) delves into the raging topic of racism towards black Americans as well as police brutality. A very short read, the authors note the need for action to be taken in communities in order to improve police-civilian relations, in order for officers and individuals in their community to understand one another better.

The authors throughout note that not all police-shootings of black men are race-related, and at a few points in the book police are honored, especially those killed as a reaction to police shootings of black men, making it clear that the authors do not stand for violence done to police. While the authors are outraged towards racism of today they remain resilient that though action is needed, it is to always be nonviolent.

A high point of the book for me was when the authors spoke against homogeneity, speaking into the need for us to emerge from our bubbles, cultural or otherwise, to experience life in different perspectives. I was overjoyed at them speaking into the need for democrat and republican individuals to seek out relationships with those in the other party so as to avoid only hearing one perspective. To cultivate friendships and regularly discuss their differences as well as accept each other, unrealistic (unfortunately for many) as this may seem.

A critique I have would be that the “solutions” offered towards the end of the book feel to inadequately respond to a complex issue. A big issue for me was also the size of the book; it’s so small that it really felt more like a pamphlet in my hands than an actual book. I just checked Amazon where the book is listed at $7.64. As cheap as that is for a new book, the word and page count is extremely low. I don’t think that’s the best idea for a subject as controversial and multi-faceted as this one.

If I were to recommend a book on this topic I would recommend John M. Perkin’s Dream With Me (Baker, 2017; see here for my review) which I feel bests ‘Do All Lives Matter’ in quality of style as well as in solutions proposed.

*I received my copy from Baker in exchange for an honest assessment.

“Was There a Literal Resurrection?” Gary Habermas Responds

Below is a very brief interaction with historian and New Testament scholar Gary Habermas (Distinguished Research Professor, Liberty University) concerning the historical reliability of Jesus Christ’s being raised from the dead. The is a topic which he has invested his professional career to through extensive research as well as public debates. Enjoy!

gary Hab

 

 Why do you believe in a literal Resurrection?

I believe in Jesus Christ’s literal resurrection because the supporting data/evidence is basically incontestable.

In interactions with people of various faiths and non-faiths, what do you find the biggest objection to belief in the literal resurrection of Christ to be?

Probably either that it involves the supernatural realm, or because they are simply not interested on going in that direction.

What is at stake in this conversation? What’s the big deal?

The argument for Jesus’ resurrection and then from the resurrection on to the truth of Jesus’ teachings are just incredibly strong.  So what’s at stake here is the truth of the Kingdom of God and eternal life, to which Jesus taught that He was the only path.  Why risk missing that path?

What is your initial reaction to Christians who are fine with not believing in the resurrection? Can you be a Christian and yet be unsure of if Jesus was raised?

Of course, all these matters are ultimately up to God, but I do not see from the New Testament how one can be a believer without believing in Jesus’ resurrection.  But simply having questions/doubts about it may be very normal and emotional, for example.

Thank you for your time!

Habermas apologizes for his brief responses due to time constraints. He is the author of many books, some of which are The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ, The Case for the Resurection of Jesus (co-authored with Michael Licona) as well as a book he is the co-contributor to, Did the Resurrection Happen? A Conversation with Gary Habermas and Anthony Flew which presents the debate between Habermas and Flew concerning Jesus’ resurrection.

The Prayer of Christ(ianity)

christ-898330_1920May we never forget the prayer of our Founder, gleaning from its wisdom, drawing up from its strength. May we daily quiet ourselves as we pray:

Our Father who art in heaven:

Hallowed by Thy Name 

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done 

on earth equally as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread,

and loosen us from our debt just as we loosen others.

And lead us not into trial but rather deliver us from Evil.

[For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory,

forever and ever.

Amen.]

Does Seminary “Work?” Mark Strauss Responds

strauss-2

Below you’ll find a brief interaction with Bible scholar Mark Strauss (Professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary, San Diego) who answers some of my questions concerning the pros and cons of Seminary. Enjoy!

What is your response to those who feel that Seminary is in fact the “cemetery” of Christian faith? Do you find there to be merit to such concerns? Is this simply a caricature?

Mark: It is certainly true that seminary can become an ivory tower disconnected from Christian ministry. But good seminary training provides the skills to read Scripture well and apply it appropriately, to engage contemporary issues from the perspective of sound biblical theology, and to interact in the world with a truly Christian worldview. These are essential and invaluable skills for ministry, and for the most part are not achieved in leadership development in our churches. I teach hermeneutics each semester and the comment I hear every year is, “I’ve been going to church my whole life and I’ve never learned this stuff.”

When someone tells you that they feel called to Seminary what words of advice do you offer? Or are there questions you might proceed to ask them?

Mark: I would certainly ask them to describe their call. Hearing the stories of my students helps me to understand them better and so to teach them better. As far as words of advice, I would ask whether their spouse is affirming of their call and supportive of it. I would ask about support from their church and their financial resources.

Realizing there are different types of Seminaries that respond to different needs, do you feel there still remain certain “non-negotiables” when it comes to the vision or commitment of a Seminary, or how a Seminary is run?

Mark: Every seminary’s essential purpose should be to equip the next generation of leaders to shepherd the church. This, I believe, means affirming the priority of love for God and for others, the authority of Scripture, and the necessity of the Holy Spirit’s empowerment and guidance. Every seminary, I believe, should be focused first and foremost on these goals.

What advice do you have for that student in Seminary who is feeling that his or her faith is under assault or is being threatened? 

Mark: I know each year that some of the things I’m going to teach will challenge certain students’ faith, particularly with issues like the imperfect process through which the biblical text has come down to us, the ambiguity of Scripture’s interpretation, and the limitations of our apprehension of truth (epistemology). The absolutist language related to Scripture used in many evangelical churches does not necessarily jive with the phenomenon of Scripture itself. My goal is to establish a safe environment where students can explore these issues without feeling their faith is threatened. I frequently say that my faith is stronger now than before I had engaged these issues. In certain circumstances, where their faith is truly under attack, I would question their choice of seminary and would encourage them to consider one that is more in line with their theology and their view of Scripture.

Have you been able to find a balance between dry academic rigor and a more Spirit-ual Christianity? If so, do you have any tips for those who find themselves falling into one extreme or the other?

Mark: I think the key is to stay in ministry and engaged with the church. Seminary must always view itself as the servant of the church.

Thanks for your time!

 

*Mark Strauss is the co-author of the well-known How to Choose a Translation for All it’s Worth (2007, coauthored with Gordon Fee) as well as Jesus Behaving Badly: the puzzling parables of the man from Galilee (2015).

Does Seminary “Work?” A.J. Swoboda Responds

swoboda

I had the honor of asking pastor and professor A.J. Swoboda (Adjunct Professor, Portland Seminary and Fuller Theological Seminary) four questions concerning the pros and cons of Seminary. My questions are in bold followed by Swoboda’s responses. Enjoy!

What is your response to those who feel that Seminary is in fact the “cemetery” of Christian faith? Do you find there to be merit to such concerns? Is this simply a caricature?

A.J. There is a positive side to seminary as long as it is serving the process of learning and growing and a deep love for God and the Church. But there is also a dark side to seminary life, which can be rampant and completely uncontrolled deconstruction, period. We’ve all seen somebody who went to seminary and lost their faith, and certainly those experiences really are painful to watch. But those don’t happen all the time; they’re pretty rare. When they do happen they’re painful. The hope would be that the seminary is a place where life is given a nurturing posture. In fact, it’s odd that the word seminary actually comes from the word semen which connects to the image of a place of life.

 

When someone tells you that they feel called to Seminary what words of advice do you offer? Or are there questions you might proceed to ask them?

A.J. I would say that one of the really important factors in one’s desire to be in the seminary is whether they’re doing it because they want power and control and authority or if they want to it out of service. I think it was Karl Barth who said that theology that is not in service of the church is the church’s highest form of idolatry. And so as long as one’s desire to go to seminary is ultimately to serve Christ and the church, then all power to them. But seminary can often be a place where people go to replace church and the hope would be that doesn’t become the case.

 

Realizing there are different types of Seminaries that respond to different needs, do you feel there still remain certain “non-negotiables” when it comes to the vision or commitment of a Seminary, or how a Seminary is run?

A.J. I really feel that one of the strengths in a seminary experience is, more important than the actual classes, are the breaks and the times that you develop in relationship with people who are very different from yourself. Which is an overwhelming experience when you’re sitting in a classroom as a Pentecostal, sitting in a class next to a Roman Catholic on one side, and an eco-feminist Baptist on the other. But that experience is a really important one. I’ve seen God’s kingdom in a much bigger light. I would say any seminary that offers you the fullness of the body of Christ is a really important strength. Don’t pick a seminary merely because it represents your ideological fetish; enter something that will challenge you.

 

What advice do you have for that student in Seminary who is feeling that his or her faith is under assault or is being threatened? 

A.J. I would say that seminary is not the best place in the world for that to be fixed. Your faith is going to be threatened in seminary and if we’re hoping that the seminary will become a place to fix our faith, then we’re probably going to be wildly disappointed. I would say to the person that is feeling like their faith is under assault or being threatened that they should take a week and go to a Catholic monastery and spend time with a spiritual director and be in the presence of God and be okay with just that.

Thank you for the time! We’re looking forward to reading your upcoming books!

A.J. Swoboda (PhD, University of Birmingham) is pastor of Theophilus (Portland, OR) and the author of numerous books including A Glorious Dark (2015) and The Dusty Ones: Why Wandering Deepens your Faith (2016). His doctoral research at the University of Birmingham (U.K.) explored the never-ending relationship between the Holy Spirit and ecology. He is a member of the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Pentecostal Studies.

Does Seminary “Work?” Darrell Bock Responds

darrel-bock

Below you will find an interview I conducted with well-known Bible scholar Darrell Bock (Senior Research Professor of NT Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary) concerning pros and cons of seminary. In bold are my questions followed by his responses. Enjoy!

 

What is your response to those who feel that Seminary is in fact the “cemetery” of Christian faith? Do you find there to be merit to such concerns? Is this simply a caricature?

Darrell: Anyone who thinks seminaries kill the faith fails to understand what they have provided in terms of church leadership and content resources to pastors and leaders in multi-national contexts. Going to Seminary can be a challenge at the level of maintaining your spiritual equilibrium when you are studying theology as a consumable subject. Anytime you reduce God and theology to an object and lose the personal dimension, there will be an impact of that move. That is not the fault of the Seminary, but is on the student and how they walk with God during their time there.

When someone tells you that they feel called to Seminary what words of advice do you offer? Or are there questions you might proceed to ask them?

Darrell: A reflection on calling yields nothing different than questions one might ask about God directing someone into any activity in life. Our core calling is the one we have in Christ, no matter where that takes us. But issues of giftedness and passion might lead us to understand a direction from God to teach and lead in the church. Others may take such gifts to the workplace and still desire what a Seminary offers in terms of developing teaching or leadership gifts. Many seminaries are able to deal with both kinds of students. Of course, there are character issues at the core of this direction a potential student also must recognize.

Realizing there are different types of Seminaries that respond to different needs, do you feel there still remain certain “non-negotiables” when it comes to the vision or commitment of a Seminary, or how a Seminary is run?

Darrell: Yes, a seminary needs to be biblical at its core. Relationship to God and scripture need to be primary foci in how the school does its business. It is not just what we believe but how it is modeled in interpersonal interactions and tone that are important in getting the balance right.

What advice do you have for that student in Seminary who is feeling that his or her faith is under assault or is being threatened?

Darrell: Go to seminary to learn and be open to the complexity of many of the things being discussed. Tension is not a bad thing. Really test what you have heard and what you hear but do so with a firm commitment to the Word and its integrity and character as an unequaled spiritual resource. Connect with others who have a vibrant walk. They can be of help.

Have you been able to find a balance between dry academic rigor and a more Spirit-ual Christianity? If so, do you have any tips for those who find themselves falling into one extreme over the other?

Darrell: I do not buy this contrast in many ways (and the contrast can set us up for failure here). If my goal is to know God and know him better than part of that entails a sense of discipline about study and reflection. Keep the ultimate goal in mind and the personal God in the equation. Pursue that personal dimension as rigorously as one’s study and the balance can exist (Proverbs 2:1-4).

Thank you very much for your time and thoughtful reflections!

Darrell Bock has earned recognition as a Humboldt Scholar (Tübingen University in Germany), is the author of over 40 books, including respected commentaries on Luke and Acts and studies of the historical Jesus.  He has done work in cultural engagement as host of Dallas Theological Seminary’s The Table Podcast. Having served as president of the Evangelical Theological Society for 2000–2001, he is a consulting editor for Christianity Today, and serves on the boards of Wheaton College and Chosen People Ministries. His articles appearing in leading publications, he has been a New York Times best-selling author in nonfiction.

‘Can Evolution and Christianity Coexist?’ Adam and the Genome (book review)

adamDealing heavily with the “set-in-stone” dichotomy between Science and Scripture (or more specifically evolution and Scripture), Scientist Dennis R. Venema and New Testament scholar Scot McKnight have created a book which very well may challenge previous assumptions Christians have concerning science, the Apostle Paul, and the Edenic story. While both agree with the theory of evolution, they are not afraid to critique the arrogance common in those who align with the “New Atheism” (Richard Dawkin’s guild) as well as those Christians who feel themselves superior to those who hold a creationist view.

Can Belief in Evolution and Belief in Christ Coexist?

The book is split in two, with Venema taking the reins in the opening chapters which deal extensively with science while McKnight closes with his chapters focused on theology and the Apostle Paul. In the first half, Venema observes that once upon a time there existed no dichotomy between following where Science leads and simultaneously being dedicated to what the Christian Scriptures say; that there was a time when “science was seen as praiseworthy activity for a Christian”, faith in God acting as a motivation for scientific pursuit rather than a stumbling block to it. “Regrettably, evangelical communities seem largely to have lost these convictions for some areas of science” says Venema (p. 8).

Challenging how quickly Christians disregard evolution as just a theory, Venema gets very technical (he is a scientist after all) which will make all those who love science very happy indeed (all you science nerds know who you are). Personally I was longing to get to the theological section since science was my worst subject in school. All of the science discussion was bringing me back to those days when my science teachers would speak to me in their foreign tongue while I pretended to listen and advanced in my drawing skills.

In McKnight’s chapters he firstly makes a defense for the reconciliation many have made between the sworn enemies of Christianity and evolution, noting his interactions with a large number of scientists who are devout followers of Jesus and who find there to be no dichotomy between evolution and faith in God. Many, McKnight informs the reader, remain closeted due to the general attitude towards evolution held by Christians.

“I found these Christian scientists to be faithful in their discipleship and humble in their knowledge of science, but clearheaded in believing that, while science didn’t offer all the answers, there was very good evidence to trust much of what was being claimed” (p. 95).

With this “humbleness” by many of these Christian scientists noted, it becomes ironic when Bible-thumping fundamentalists take on a superiority of their own while accusing scientists of intellectual pride. Of course this goes both ways as I have had my fair share of encounters with Christian evolutionists who view themselves superior to those petty creationists, those literalists.

Praise where Praise is due

McKnight utilizes stellar scholarship and presents his conclusions with great writing skill and wit. If his conclusions are in fact correct, there are great implications and ramifications for the church and the way we view the Edenic story. I certainly don’t have my mind made up with what is presented in Adam and the Genome as it has given me much to think about (as I said in passing to McKnight in an email, this book is equally intriguing as well as mind boggling).

While I’m currently not on the same page as McKnight concerning his leanings that the Edenic story doesn’t really have anything (or much?) to do with a sin transfer from Adam/Eve to the human race, I do understand the point he is pressing; that we’ve been taught (rather we’ve been programmed) to believe certain things concerning the creation narratives that are not always implicitly there. We may have more of a ‘Sunday school-inherited’ faith than we’d care to admit concerning the creation story.

IN CLOSING…

I recommend this book to any Christian who wants to honestly think about science in its relation to Christian faith. No matter where you stand on this issue, this book is still a great resource if you want to understand one side of this debate, giving a fair hearing to those who in fact find there to be no dichotomy.

*I received my copy from Brazos Press in exchange for an honest assessment

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