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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).

“When Affliction and Faith Collide:” ‘Struck’ by Russ Ramsey (book review)

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Russ Ramsey, a pastor I had never heard of before, was diagnosed with cancer years ago. His journey he documents in the new release Struck: One Christian’s Reflections On Encountering Death (InterVarsity Press, 2017) in which he recounts ways in which God helped him through this time as well as ways in which God was silent and far off. The author tracks his depression and doubt during this time as well as triumphs in God. As Ramsey writes, “This is a book about what happens when affliction and faith collide” (p. 18)

Struck provides rugged hope for all, not a “hallmark” card or chicken soup for the soul type of hope, but rather the type which may admit defeat, a hope in which the sufferer may be crushed. (This is not a Joel Osteen type of hope.) A hope in which the victim may be dismayed by what’s happening and yet in the midst of this darkness and doubt maintains a stubborn trust in God. This type of hope is not triumphalistic and is not superficial; it’s rugged, it’s messy, it’s biblical.

Throughout the book various authors are alluded to, from classics like C.S. Lewis to G.K. Chesterton all the way to Annie Dillard who Ramsey quotes as saying, “I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck” (p. 20, bold mine).

Besides providing hope for those suffering through terminal illness, this book also counters our anti-suffering culture which views all suffering as having absolutely no benefits. Of course such a notion is contra Christ and what he was all about (us carrying our cross daily is not about us being stuff in traffic). I applaud the balance maintained through this book as it doesn’t scream at those suffering “just have faith!” and nor does it communicate that God is outside the picture of our suffering, passively looking upon us in our torment. Struck stresses to sufferers that their suffering is indeed real, and yet (at the same time) God is there with the sufferer. In this way Ramsey does not downplay the realness of suffering and yet does not let that realness overshadow the reality that God does not leave his suffering children.

These types of books need to be written more as they counter a Western anti-suffering attitude that is indeed at odds with the cruciform message and call of Jesus. While Christ tells us that in order to follow him we must carry a cross (=a shame-filled symbol reserved for the lowest of the low) daily, we live in a culture which goes out of its way to prevent any type of inconvenience (any discomfort seems to be regarded as anathema).

Personally this book awoke me to those important things in my life that I overlook and take for granted, mainly to live each day enjoying the presence of my wife and son rather than let life put me under the spell of consumerism and busyness. That said, the biggest factor for me was that I couldn’t “connect” with the book simply due to the style. Though this is true of me, perhaps it won’t be for other readers.

*I was provided with a free copy from InterVarsity Press in exchange for an honest assessment

 

 

 

 

What’s an ‘F-Uterus’ Pin? Teen Vogue’s Article on Teen Abortion & a Teenager’s Response (Video)

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Vogue recently wrote an article (slideshow? I can’t tell) directed toward teens titled “What To Get A Friend Post-Abortion.” Even more than the bubble-gum language used (it’s a sad day when this is what our teens read) I was appalled by what was insinuated and assumed in that article, so much so that I really felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. In case you feel I’m being dramatic, see here for the article/slideshow/whatever-it-is. Allow me to very briefly outline a few of Vogue’s recommendations for you (the teen) to gift a teenager who gets an abortion.

Gift # 1=a funny movie (hmmm?), #2= “underwear that you can rock after your abortion” that are made for women on their period (which allows you to “rock them for your post-abortion woes because there will be blood“, bold mine), #4= an angry uterus heating pad (I trust this doesn’t need an explanation; if it does, just type ‘angry uterus pad’ into Google images), #5=a girl power hat, and as if to top it all off #6=an “F-Uterus” pin. Though I remain a committed non-republican, I also remain pro-life since to me abortion cannot be bottled down and dismissed as simply a “political” issue; to me it is in fact a “Christian” issue. What this “article” demonstrates most is an insensitivity to this topic; women who have gone through abortions can attest that a funny movie won’t take away the feelings and depression naturally attached to having your child aborted.

Here’s what a Washington Post contributor had to say in response to Vogue:

Regardless of whether you are pro-life or pro-choice, it is clear that Teen Vogue should be ashamed of its decision to run an article that practically equates a teenage abortion with a day off of school for a cold. As a magazine read by millions, wouldn’t it be great for Teen Vogue to encourage truth and sensitivity instead of minimizing teenage girls to materialistic machines, incapable of their own thoughts and feelings? (See here for article)

 

As the article was written towards teens, 16-year old Autumn Lindsey posted a video in response that is gaining attention (see video below).

Does Seminary “Work?” Paul Louis Metzger Responds

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Below you will find an interview conducted with Paul Louis Metzger, PhD (professor of Christian Theology and Theology of Culture, Multnomah Seminary, Portland, Oregon), who answers my questions concerning 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?

Metzger: While I do not consider seminary in and of itself to be a cemetery, it can be in this or that situation based on how the various stakeholders operate. Often this concern is bound up with fears of arid intellectualism. However, spiritual pride and the accompanying deadness can result from boasting in one’s spiritual experiences or one’s commitment to spiritual disciplines. So, while the charge is too sweeping, the danger is real, and the problem can occur. One of the grave dangers we face in the church and seminary today is compartmentalized spirituality: one leaves one’s faith in the pulpit or sanctuary pew, or at the lectern or in the classroom chair. Professors and students alike need to make sure that their faith is not simply an exercise or profession or game, but one’s very existence. This is easier said than done. Remaining honest before God and others is certainly key, though there are no easy answers.

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?

Metzger: I would express my appreciation for their interest, as well as ask them their reason(s) for wishing to attend seminary. There are many good reasons, such as a desire to prepare for the pastorate, the mission field, chaplaincy work, biblical/theological and spiritual grounding, etc. I might ask the prospective student what their long-term goals are, and what their families and churches make of their interest/decision. I would also be asking myself how might the seminary and I assist, even adapt, to best serve the prospective student fulfill God’s purposes for their time with us.

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?

Metzger: Seminaries should aim to serve the church and its various ministries. There is a difference between a seminary and a graduate school. Theology’s aim in the seminary context is to serve the church, as with biblical exegesis. While the seminary professor should engage philosophical, historical and scientific issues with keen thoughtfulness, the aim is always to be practical: to build up Jesus’ body for service in the world.

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?

Metzger: Hopefully, I would offer to live their questions with them. Doubts often intensify in isolation. I would also ask the student what is going on in his or her life, beyond simply engaging questions of intellectual confusion or doubt. Often, the issues with which we wrestle that lead to doubt result from many factors, not simply intellectual ones. I might also encourage the student to consider how doubt can serve a greater purpose of refining one’s faith. The Bible does not hide from difficult questions involving faith. Consider the struggles of the psalmists, Job, Elijah, and even Abraham, the man of faith. Their struggles with faith led to spiritual refinement.

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?

Metzger: Spiritual knowledge is never abstract and distant in that the knowledge of God is experiential. To know God and Jesus Christ is itself eternal life (John 17:3). Of course, there is rigorous content, as the subject matter of Christian faith is God revealed in Jesus Christ through the Spirit in our world. Personally, I try to use the barometer that the more one grows in knowledge, the more humble and obedient one should become. If one wishes to be humble and obedient, one should seek to know God more; if one wishes to know God more, one had better become more humble and obedient. God elevates the humble (James 4:10). The obedient come to know God better (John 14:21). Moreover, knowledge rightly framed is always loving; otherwise, it puffs up (See 1 Corinthians 13). For the Apostle Paul in his epistles, the knowledge of God revealed in Jesus is the ultimate mystery. There is no place for dryness on this account. Thus, the more one grows in understanding, the more mysterious the faith becomes. To return to the point on humility, the more one knows, the more one will realize how little one truly comprehends, and how great our need for the Spirit of Jesus Christ—the Spirit of enlightenment—really is.

Thank you for your time and insight!

 

The founder and director of Multnomah University and Seminary’s Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins, Paul Louis Metzger has authored numerous books including Evangelical Zen (Patheos Press, 2015) Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World Of Diverse Paths (Thomas Nelson, 2012), and Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church (Eerdmans, 2007). Besides also having written various scholarly articles, Metzger blogs regularly at Uncommon God, Common Good.

 

Kingship and Worship: A Lesson This Palm Sunday

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If your churches are anything like the churches I grew up in, there will be a whole lot of palm leaves this Sunday being waved by (loud) singing children. There will be a tone of celebration and jubilee as worship services try to replicate what is recorded in the gospels. But I wonder if we’re moving too fast over the “uncomfortable” in the story of Jesus’ triumphant entry and thus missing out on a very important (albeit ‘uncomfortable’) lesson about kingship and worship.

Luke’s account of this story informs the reader of emotions running high from the crowds of joyous Jews while Jesus remains a sad and sorrowful killjoy. Why the contrast? It seems that what is going on (this “worship” of Jesus) will ultimately be short-lived, that them pledging their lives to Jesus in allegiance is really a superficial bowing of the knee. Any “worship” will be short lived as (many of?) these same folks will cry out for Jesus’ slave’s (or terrorist’s) death on a cross. Perhaps Jesus can see right through them. Perhaps he knows that they don’t want his agenda of turn the other cheek but rather an agenda of crush the dogs ruling over us! (In total fairness, if I were in their position I would also not want someone telling me to just “take” it; I would prefer a macho “Mark Driscoll” type Jesus who punches first and asks questions never.)

While it seems that the crowds are worshiping Jesus, they really just want something out of him (liberation from Rome). While it seems that they are pledging their lives in service to Jesus as Messiah-king, they have their own list of demands, i.e. they’re not really giving up power to Jesus as subjects of kings/rulers are expected to do.

This story reveals an ugly uncomfortable truth; that on Sundays we can be lifting our hands and bending our knee to Jesus as our king, and yet the Jesus we are worshiping could be one made in our own image. That we may express jubilant and pious expressions and yet really (subconsciously) hold onto our own list of demands for our so-called “king” and “Lord.” Last I checked kings and lords call the shots, not those under them. Kingship and worship both require the dethroning of our wills and the giving up of power to an other. This requires the giving up of rights, something that can be foreign to our American DNA.

Takeaway # 1: Do We Mold Jesus Into Our Own Image? (Does Jesus look more like you he does the Jesus of the gospels? Does he align with your agenda, whatever it may be?)

Takeaway # 2: Is our Worship of Jesus Short Lived? Our Bowing of the Knee Simply a Ploy to Get What we Want? (Do we maintain our own “list of demands?”)

Biblical Illiteracy: What’s The Big Deal? Kevin Vanhoozer Responds

 

Wheaton College Bible Department Professors- Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer

I had the honor of conducting an interview with well-known and respected Theologian Kevin J Vanhoozer (Research Professor of Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical, Illinois) regarding if Biblical Illiteracy is indeed a problem in our churches. As his work has a large amount to do with systematic theology, hermeneutics, and postmodernism, Vanhoozer has much to bring to the table in this discussion.

Enjoy!

To the average hard-working American who may be juggling things like school, a job, church commitment, and family, how would you answer the question of “why study the Bible?” Isn’t it a waste of time when you have so many important things vying for your attention and time?

Kevin: You’re right: “Time is money.” Or is it? This is one of those metaphors we live by (to cite the title of the famous book by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson). We all live by words of wisdom that we use to guide the choices we make in daily life. Where do these words come from, and how do we know they are reliable? There are so many unreliable social scripts that people unquestioningly accept just because other people do: monkey see, monkey do. Here’s my point: the Bible gives us God’s words to live by. The Bible challenges the social scripts we often take for granted. The Bible exposes our many ways of foolishness – the diverse ways we chase after wind, and windfalls – with the light of eternal truth. What we find in the Bible is wisdom, which is more precious than gold, or 401(k)s. The Bible presents Jesus Christ: the one through whom all things were made and in whom all things hold together. In sum: we should study the Bible to learn about God’s plan for human flourishing revealed in Jesus Christ. What better use of time is there than to come to grips with the only real life and death issue there is: how to get right with God, the giver of life?

Looking back to all your experience leading up to this point, what would you say a leading cause (if you can pinpoint one) of Biblical Illiteracy is? Or do you find there are simply too many to name?

Kevin: I can think of two. The first is a certain anti-intellectual mood that has often infected the church. Why bother learning how to read and write when all you need is faith in Jesus? The problem with this faith/reason dualism is that you have to know how to read the Bible in order to grow in understanding Jesus and his saving work. The Protestant Reformers knew this, which is why they insisted on translating the Bible into the language of the people. It is also why they put such a value on literacy! The church has nothing to gain when its membership is biblically illiterate.

The second factor may be a misunderstanding of what it means to be biblical. “The Bible says it, I believe it” may sound pious, but truly to be biblical involves knowing how to read the various kinds of literature that make up the Old and New Testaments. Yes, it’s all God’s word, but the Bible is actually a whole library of different kinds of books, and readers need to know the difference between reading parables, histories, laws, and Gospels – and don’t even get me started on apocalyptic literature (e.g., the book of Revelation).

 

Say the church all of a sudden becomes biblically literate and starts reading Scripture well, not taking verses out of context. Then what? Is this the end goal? Will this change the direction of the church at all?

Kevin: The end goal is not literacy but understanding and obedience. Think of literacy as the ability to follow the way the biblical words go, and think of discipleship as the ability to follow biblical instructions, for example, by obeying what is commanded or trusting what is promised. If Holy Scripture becomes the church’s authoritative script in practice, and not simply in theory, then I think biblical literacy will change the direction of the church. It will mean that the church will be able to see the cultural scripts it is following for what they really are: idolatries. It will mean that the church may again be able to worship in Spirit and in truth.

 

How has studying Scripture impacted your life personally?

Kevin: There’s a reason to begin the day with Bible reading. It reminds me that I too am a character in God’s ongoing historical drama, with lines to say and things to do. As James 1:22-25 says, those who peer into Scripture see themselves as they truly are. Reading the Bible on a regular basis helps me stay in tune with the real world, which is not death and taxes, but what the Father is doing in the Son through the Spirit to renew creation, and me, so that I can live each day in a way that images God and embodies the mind of Christ.

Thank you for your time!

Vanhoozer’s most recent books are Pictures at a Theological Exhibition: Scenes of the Church’s Worship, Witness, and Wisdom and Biblical Authority after Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity. He is currently working on a book for Zondervan titled Mere Hermeneutics. As a speaker, Vanhoozer has shared the stage with the likes of N.T. Wright, John Piper, Randy Alcorn, and many more. He has also written for The Gospel Coalition (see here for posts) as well as contributed to Desiring God (see here).

How Should We Approach Revelation? Kenneth Gentry Responds

I recently had the honor of conducting an interview with Reformed Theologian and respected Revelation expositor Kenneth Gentry who answers my questions concerning problematic issues related to this book and its interpretation. Enjoy!

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What’s your response to Bible-reading Christians who for various reasons avoid Revelation at all costs? What advice do you have for Christians who do not have the slightest clue on how to approach this text?

Kenneth: I would remind those who avoid Revelation that: (1) it is a part of God’s word and therefore deserves consideration; (2) it has a special blessing attached to reading it (Rev. 1:3; 22:7); and (3) it is the subject of much discussion (and abuse) today which should lead the concerned Christian to a deeper awareness of it.

For those Christians who have no clue about approaching Revelation, I would encourage them to avoid the temptation to leap into the dramatic portions of the book (the four horsemen, beast, harlot, etc.). Rather I would urge them to carefully consider the first four verses as crucial to getting oriented to the book: (1) Rev. 1:1 and 3 both relate John’s statement that he expects the events to occur soon, obviously within his lifetime. (2) Rev. 1:1 states that the book was “sent and SIGNIFIED [sign-ified, symbolize]” (NKJV), which requires that we understand it as symbolic and discourages our taking its dramatic images literally. (3) Rev. 1:3-4 shows that it was expressly sent to seven first-century churches and that John expected THEM to “hear [understand]” and “keep [obey]” the things within because it was written directly to them. We should never remove the book from its own stated setting.

Why do you think many believers are afraid of this book? On the opposite end of the spectrum, why do you think so many seem to obsess over Revelation?

Kenneth: Many believers fear Revelation because it involves so much difficult, strange symbolism, which is especially confusing to modern, Western Christians. We must understand that even John had difficulties understanding some of its visions (Rev. 7:13-14; 17:6-7).

Many Christians obsess over Revelation because they (wrongly) believe the events apply to our own day and are therefore dangerously relevant to our times in a special way.

Why is it that even in scholarship the views on interpreting the bizarre imagery are so widespread? Why is Revelation such a divisive book?

Kenneth: Even scholars hold a widely differing views on Revelation. Again this is because of its fundamentally symbolic nature. Symbols are open to various alternative interpretations.

Revelation becomes divisive when Christians pridefully become “know-it-alls” regarding its prophecies. Pride leads to arrogance which causes division.

Do you think that the unreceptiveness of Revelation in the West has something to do with the fact that we live in comfort in comparison to the two-thirds world?

Kenneth: I believe Revelation is especially disrespected in the West because of the dominance of humanism. Humanists write-off religious convictions and deny the possibility of divine truth. Also this book has been so dangerously abused by cranks in history that many people do not want to even consider it.

Have you always loved Revelation? If so, why? If not, when did you first start to become drawn to this letter and what attracted you?

Kenneth: I first became especially interested in Revelation when I took a course on it in seminary. The professor dug deeply into its grammar and historical setting, removing the book from the field of “prophecy experts” and cranks. If the book is approached carefully, it becomes much more appealing.

Thank you for your time and insight, both of which are greatly appreciated!

Having written or contributed to over thirty books, Kenneth Gentry is a retired Presbyterian minister. Though having written on a wide array of topics, he is best known for his work on eschatology and has worked extensively on Revelation. His two volume 1700 page commentary on Revelation is set to be released this year (undertaken by Tolle Lege Press). Other works of his on Revelation include Before Jerusalem FellThe Beast Of Revelation as well as He Shall Have Dominion. He is also the author of the 2016 release As It Is Written: The Genesis Account: Literal or Literary? and blogs here.

What is the Fruit of the Spirit Anyway? Christopher J. H. Wright (book review)

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Books on the fruit of the Spirit (or even lone chapters dedicated to this topic) tend to be very general, leaving the reader with more fog than clarity. I have found the same problem with the sermons I’ve heard over the years on this topic. Thus I think it’s a good idea to bring an actual Bible expert into the discussion to write a book. The problem normally would be that the book would end up being too dry and “unapproachable” by non-academic (everyday) folk’s standards. But this proves to not be the case in New Testament scholar Christopher J. H. Wright‘s newest release, Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit: Growing in Christlikeness (InterVarsity Press, 2017). Fusing scholarly rigor with simplicity, Wright gives us a book that is suitable for pastor and lay person alike.

Containing nine chapters, every chapter tackles one of the “fruits” named by Paul in Galatians. What I also really liked was how Wright would also deal with application in a careful way. (A common complaint of many is that they are “preached” what the fruit is and will proceed to go away wondering what the heck to do.) As much as I love reading theological reflections after the hard labor of exegesis is done, it’s all too common to leave such readings without knowing (or caring) about the application, but Wright’s reading won’t allow that. In this sense Wright doesn’t just give us good exegesis to “wow” us (as much as I love good exegesis) but rather he lets simple application follow. Below are two reason why I recommend the latest from Wright:

Sheer Practicality

Wright, though being a renown scholar, doesn’t give us a book that will go over our heads but rather every page is marked by simplicity. Not only that, but this book stresses that the fruit is not some vague and foggy concept that we will obtain the “secret” to later in our walk with God, but Wright brings the fruit of the Spirit down to earth (which leads me to my second reason for recommending this book).

Anti-Gnosticism

One thing that stood out to me and I appreciated was the way that Gnosticism (the concept that the material and the earth is un-important) was combated. an anti-earth philosophy far too common in Christian circles.Though this anti-earth philosphy is common in many Christian circles, many (myself included) have become convinced that this way of thinking stands in stark contrast to what Scripture actually teaches. Wright does a good job at relentlessly yet gently making clear that our Christianity should part ways with Gnosticism, embracing a holistic and robustly Biblical understanding of the earth.

In the chapter on Joy Wright writes that “the means by which we are saved…is the means by which also creation will be restored” (pp. 52-53, bold mine) and that “the Bible ends, not with us going up and away to some other destination, but with God coming down to dwell with redeemed humanity in the new creation” (p. 53, bold mine).

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A Few Last Words…

A commitment to Scripture is evident throughout the book. Of course this should be expected from an evangelical Bible scholar. The book proves to be refreshingly clear and concise. Since the book isn’t dry (there are almost zero footnotes), I think it will do as a great guide for both laypersons interested in deepening their walk with the Triune God as well as the pastor preparing messages on this topic. If you want to better understand the concept of the fruit of the Spirit and are tired of this being an entirely vague concept, I would highly recommend this new release.

*Thank you InterVarsity Press for a complimentary copy!

Photo of Wright obtained from Wright’s blog (see here)

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!

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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).

 

 

 

 

 

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