Missions and Seminary Education (2): Seminaries Must Cast a Missional Vision “Top Down”

Recently, I corresponded with a friend who is a theological educator. Our phone exchanges and letters centered on the topic of missions and seminary education. As I penned the latest letter in that exchange, I realized that some of the contents of that letter might be helpful for a broader public. I’ve modified the letter and broken it into sections, with each section representing a way in which we theological educators can foster a missionally healthy environment, one that produces students who are spiritually vibrant, theologically sound, and missiologically savvy.

Seminaries must continually find a way to cast a missional vision from the top down.

The first factor is leadership. A seminary and its students tend to take the shape of their leadership. Whatever is emphasized by the seminary president and deans likely will be emphasized by the students. Whatever is neglected, brushed to the side, or treated as inferior will likely be neglected, brushed aside, or treated as inferior by the majority of students. I know three seminary presidents personally, so I will offer each of them as examples.

My president, Danny Akin, has always been known as a theologian and a preaching professor. As a faculty member at Criswell College, Southeastern Seminary, and Southern Seminary, he taught theology and preaching. Since becoming the president of Southeastern, however, he has increasingly become best known as a missions catalyst. Over a period of seven years now, he has focused his energies on catalyzing young men and women to take the gospel to the nations (including this nation, the USA). He has demonstrated that theology leads inexorably to mission, and that mission is centrally about the proclamation of the gospel. His roles as theologian and preaching professor are inextricably mingled with his role as a Great Commission seminary president. Southeastern really and truly is a “Great Commission seminary.”

Second, I offer Al Mohler as exemplary. For the past thirty years, Dr. Mohler has focused his energies like a laser beam on the “truth” question. He has been a formidable opponent of postmodern infelicities and a proponent of biblical truth. Of recent, however, he has placed considerable emphasis on international missions, as evidenced by his some of his recent convention speeches, blogs, and sermons. Just as he has been a proponent of speaking God’s Word to our American cultural context, he is now catalyzing his students to speak God’s Word to the global context.

Finally, Paige Patterson stands out as exemplary. Having been the president of three different entities (Criswell College, Southeastern Seminary, Southwestern Seminary), he has always found a way to make missions central. Like Akin and Mohler, however, he was never a missionary and is not a missions professor. He has taught theology for decades now, and is perhaps best known for his role in the Conservative Resurgence, and yet his students have always known him as a proponent of world mission. For Patterson, any theology that is not evangelistic and mission-minded is fatally flawed.

In conclusion, seminaries take the shape of their presidents and deans. Whatever the seminary’s leadership emphasizes, the majority of students will likely soon emphasize. May our seminaries and other entities continually call presidents and deans who recognize the priority of taking the gospel to the nations.

Theology & Culture (12): My Favorite Colleges, Persons, Blogs, Journals, and Books

By way of conclusion, allow me to point out a few institutions, persons, and publications which seek to approach to theology and culture in a robustly Christian manner. Please keep in mind that I must be concise to the extreme; even in an attempt at concision, this last installment is more than twice as long as I intended.

Institutions of Higher Education

I am happy to mention The College at Southeastern (C@SE), where I serve as a dean and professor, as a unique evangelical and Baptist institution of higher learning which takes seriously the integration of faith and learning. One unique aspect of our college is our core curriculum which centers not only on biblical-theological studies but also on the great books and ideas of western civilization. Each student who enrolls to pursue their baccalaureate education at C@SE will take at least four seminars in History of Ideas. In these seminars, they read philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Locke, Kant, Hegel, and Nietzsche; they read theologians such as Augustine, Aquinas, Erasmus, Calvin, and Luther; they read literature by Homer, Virgil, Dante, Milton, Chaucer, Sartre, and DuBois. As they read these texts and many others, they trace the influence of ideas, they critique those ideas theologically and philosophically, and they develop their own rational and creative capacities. All of this is done with an eye toward bringing their core theological convictions into conversation with the arts, the sciences, the public square disciplines, etc.

Among universities, it would be difficult to find a more exemplary institution than Union University, led by David Dockery whose Renewing Minds (Nashville: B&H, 2008) sets forth a coherent and compelling vision for how Christian higher education can serve the church and society. Union’s faculty members are publishing serious academic research in their respective disciplines, and doing so precisely because they take seriously the integration of faith and learning. Houston Baptist University is a research institution with which to be reckoned, and which is serious about faith and learning, as is exemplified in the hiring of Robert Sloan and the subsequent launch of their new journal The City (a journal of intellectual, social, and cultural consequence, even after only two years of publication). There are quite a few other exemplary institutions, but for the purposes of this brief blogpost, I have focused on the aforementioned three, all of which are aligned with my network of churches, the Southern Baptist Convention.

Exemplary Persons

Over the course of the past 50 years, there have arisen some great men and women who exemplify Christian interaction in various dimensions of American culture. In the discipline of philosophy, I think of Alvin Plantinga, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Arthur Holmes, David Cook, and William Lane Craig. In the arts, I am reminded of Leland Ryken, Gene Veith, and Alan Jacobs. In the natural sciences, I think of Michael Behe, Stephen Barr, and Charles Thaxton. In public theology and the public square, I am reminded of Francis Schaeffer, Richard John Neuhaus, Lesslie Newbigin, and Al Mohler. And the list could go on, but this short list suffices to point out that younger evangelicals have some excellent (though imperfect) models of faithful cultural engagement and cultural work.

Informative Blogs

Al Mohler’s Blog. I began reading Al Mohler’s blog soon after I returned from my two year stint in Central Asia. Dr. Mohler blogs daily about a wide range of issues, and does so from a conservative evangelical perspective. If you would like to be acquainted (from an evangelical perspective) with the latest books being published, the most important issues surfacing in public discussion, and the most influential thinkers in contemporary life, this blog is perhaps the best place to start. For students who are interested in expanding their mind, I would say to you: Mohler’s blogposts can be read in 5 minutes or so, and are much more profitable than espn.go.com. (Although there’s nothing wrong with ESPN. Just sayin’.)

Justin Taylor’s Blog. This blog aggregate points its readers to the best books and blogs in the Christian world, many of which deal with theology and culture.

Arts & Letters Daily. I’ve just recently started browsing this website, whose niche is linking to significant blogs and essays daily. These blogs and essays are “here comes everybody.” They are written by men and women from across the ideological spectrum, and therefore are helpful for keeping the pulse of contemporary society and culture.

Substantive Journals

First Things. Richard John Neuhaus started this journal, which is published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life. First Things is founded on the premise that ideas matter, and that the ideas that matter most are those involving religion, culture, and politics. Its essays are written by world-class scholars and cover nearly any topic at the intersection of theology and culture. For eleven years, I have looked forward to the day that this invigorating monthly arrives in my mailbox.

Touchstone. This magazine is a journal of “Mere Christianity,” styled after the likes of C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesteron. Worth a read.

The City. This elegant journal, published by Houston Baptist University, is an evangelical counterpart to First Things, covering nearly any topic at the intersection of theology and culture.

Exemplary Books

In this section, I will note a few books, journals, and websites under various dimensions of theology and culture. My intention is to provide a few basic books for those readers who would like to begin reading and thinking in various areas of theology and culture. These lists are nowhere near being comprehensive, nor are they necessarily the best books to begin reading on any given topic. Instead, they are selections from my own shelves. They are books that I have found helpful in thinking through the task of living faithfully and thinking Christianly within my own (American) cultural context.

Christianity & Culture (General)

Crouch, Andy. Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling. An engaging and persuasive treatise on the Christian community’s calling to “make culture” rather than merely “engage the culture.”

Goheen, Mike and Craig Bartholomew. Living at the Crossroads: An Introduction to Christian Worldview. In my opinion this is the best one-stop introduction on how the biblical narrative fosters a worldview that in turn shapes the entirety of the Christian life, including especially culture work and cultural engagement.

Horton, Michael. Where in the World is the Church? A fine introduction to the role of the Christian in culture.

Hunter, James Davison. To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. A recent and influential argument that Christian strategies for “changing the world” are doomed from the start, because they fail to recognize the role of the cultural elite in fostering such change.

Kuyper, Abraham. Lectures on Calvinism. A classic text discussing Reformed theology as a life-system, fleshing out its implications in religion, politics, science, and art.

Moore, T.M. Culture Matters: A Call for Consensus on Christian Cultural Engagement. A brief little book arguing for Christian cultural engagement based upon the lessons learned from five historical case studies (Augustine, Celts, Calvin, Kuyper, Milosz).

Niebuhr, H. Richard. Christ and Culture. This text has become the modern benchmark for discussing Christianity and culture.

Schaeffer, Francis. How Then Shall We Live? The modern classic on the subject by the doyen of evangelical cultural analysis.

Veith, Gene E. God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life. An introduction to Martin Luther’s theology of vocation.

Christian Faith & Learning

Dockery, David. Renewing Minds: Serving Church and Society through Christian Higher Education. An excellent and accessible treatise on how to recover a robust and authentic view of faith and learning.

Holmes, Arthur. The Idea of a Christian College (rev. ed.) An evangelical classic. A slim little volume that packs a powerful punch as it sets forth the distinctive mission and contributions of a Christian college.

Marsden, George. The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship. A 20th century classic which provides a compelling argument that mainstream American higher ed needs to be open to explicit expressions of faith in an intellectual context.

Noll, Mark. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. A compelling argument that evangelicals should value the life of the mind.

Plantinga, Cornelius. Engaging God’s World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living. A deep and sustained interaction with the biblical narrative and its implications for faith, learning, and living. Very accessible.

Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Educating for Life: Reflections on Christian Teaching and Learning. A collection of essays in which Nicholas Wolterstoff applies his high-octane brain to the notion of faith and learning in Christian high school education.

________. Educating for Shalom: Essays on Christian Higher Education. An collection of essays in which Wolterstoff thinks publicly about faith and learning in higher education.

The Arts

Gallagher, Susan V. and Roger Lundin. Literature Through the Eyes of Faith. An excellent introduction that shows how the reading of literature helps us interpret life and experience.

Godawa, Brian. Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment. This is the single best guide to a theologically astute analysis of movie plots.

O’Connor, Flannery. “The Church and the Fiction Writer” in Mystery and Manners. This essay provides insight into the relationship of faith and writing from the consummate Christian author.

_________. “Novelist and Believer” in Mystery and Manners. This essay provides insight into the relationship of faith and writing from the consummate Christian author.

Rookmaaker, H.R. Modern Art and the Death of a Culture. A modern classic that offers penetrating insight into modern art and the intellectual context beneath it.

Ryken, Leland. Windows to the World: Literature in Christian Perspective. A primer on the subject of literature and truth that shows the importance of the imagination in reading.

Schaeffer, Francis A. Art and the Bible: Two Essays. Two brief essays on how to think about art from a biblical perspective from one of the patriarchs of evangelical cultural analysis.

Veith, Gene E. State of the Arts: From Bezalel to Mapplethorpe. A useful guide to understanding both the biblical foundations for art and the contemporary art world.

Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Art in Action: Toward a Christian Aesthetic. A fairly technical treatise on the reality that art does not exist merely for aesthetic contemplation but that it functions in everyday life.

The Sciences

Behe, Michael J. Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. A fetching read about a central problem with Darwinian theory by a working biochemist. The book is technical but accessible to the lay reader.

Carlson, Richard F., ed. Science and Christianity: Four Views. Not surprisingly, four views on the relationship of science and Christianity.

Davis, John Jefferson. The Frontiers of Science and Faith. A terrific exploration of ten current scientific issues and their intersection with Christian theology and life.

Hunter, Cornelius. Darwin’s God. A biophysicist examines the theological issues underlying the formulation of Darwin’s theory of origins.

Pearcy, Nancy R. and Charles B. Thaxton. The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy. An analysis of the way in which Judeo-Christian thought funds the scientific enterprise, including a look at mathematics and scientific “revolutions,” and the discipline called the “History of Science.”

The Public Square

Audi, Robert and Nicholas Wolterstorff. Religion in the Public Square: The Place of Religious Convictions in Public Debate. A somewhat technical discussion of Christian convictions and the way in which believers should dialogue in the public square. Audi argues that Christians should appear “naked” in the public square, while Wolterstorff (himself a political liberal), argues Christians should come “fully clothed.”

Budziszewski, J. What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide. A useful explication of the way in which natural law benefits discussions about morality in the public square written by a former nihilist turned Christian who teaches philosophy at the University of Texas.

Mouw, Richard J. and Sander Griffioen. Pluralisms and Horizons: An Essay inChristian Public Philosophy. An unpacking of the problem of political consensus in a pluralist environment, which includes a helpful comparison and contrast of major thinkers on the topic, including Rawls, Nozick, and Neuhaus.

Nash, Ronald. Social Justice and the Christian Church. Nash offers an impassioned plea for social justice founded upon biblical principles wedded with free-market ideals.

Neuhaus, Richard John. The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America. A very influential and well-argued text on the place of Christian conviction in public political discourse. (Fear not, there are no pictures.)

Newbigin, Lesslie: Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel & Western Culture. An enduringly influential work on confronting western culture with the gospel.

Novak, Michael. The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism. A vigorous examination of capitalism and democracy with a particularly good articulation of a “theology of democratic capitalism.”

American and Western Culture

Anderson, Walter Truett. Reality Isn’t What it Used to Be: Theatrical Politics, Ready-to-Wear Religion, Global Myths, Primitive Sheik, and Other Wonders of the Postmodern World. An entertaining little romp through contemporary Western culture.

Barzun, Jacques. From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life. A one-volume history of modern Western culture with particular attention to the intellectual underpinnings of cultural movements.

Bloom, Alan. The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students. Though this book is a bit dated, it is still an important treatise on the cataclysmic changes in Western civilization in recent years and the influence of higher education upon them.

Cantor, Norman F. The American Century: Varieties of Culture in Modern Times. An interesting tome about 20th century American cultural movements.

Himmelfarb, Gertrude. One Nation, Two Cultures: A Searching Examination of American Society in the Aftermath of Our Cultural Revolution. A fine little analysis of American society and culture with particular attention to the influence of the sexual revolution upon various spheres of culture.

Sorokin, Pitirim A. The Crisis of Our Age. An influential and unfortunately too much ignored monograph that shows the crisis of the materialistic nature of contemporary Western civilization.

Worldview

Goheen, Mike and Craig Bartholomew. Living at the Crossroads: An Introduction to Christian Worldview. In my opinion this is the best one-stop introduction to Christian worldview, ordered by the biblical narrative and applied to such issues as culture work and contextualization.

Nash, Ronald H. Worldviews in Conflict: Choosing Christianity in a World of Ideas. A good introduction to the subject that shows how to adjudicate between worldviews.

Naugle, David K. Worldview: The History of a Concept. The seminal work on the history of the concept of worldview.

Sire, James W. The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, 3d. ed. A readable presentation of major worldview options.

Wolters, Albert M. Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview. A concise theological reflection on worldview.online gamerpg online mobile game

Spend Your Weekend at SEBTS Feb 4-5: Come Hear Danny Akin, Al Mohler, Michael Green, J. Budziszewski, and Bruce Little

Conversing with the Culture (Feb 4-5, 2011)

We at Between the Times would like to invite you to this year’s 20/20 conference, “Conversing with the Culture,” on Southeastern’s campus Feb 4-5, 2011. This year’s conference centers on how to speak Christian truth to a culture that isn’t listening, and features plenary sessions by Danny Akin (SEBTS), Al Mohler (Southern Seminary), Michael Green (Oxford), J. Budziszewski (University of Texas-Austin), and Bruce Little (SEBTS), in addition to 24 breakout sessions. Matt Papa will be leading worship.

The annual 20/20 conference is designed for undergrad and grad students around the country, many of whom sit in classrooms where their professors are militantly opposed to the Christian faith and teach their courses in a manner reflective of that opposition. For many of these students, the brightest and most persuasive people they know are professors (literature, philosophy, biology, etc.) who are militantly opposed to the Christian faith and teach their courses in a manner reflective of that opposition. For this reason, the 20/20 conference seeks to expose university students (as well as exceptional high school students) to intelligent men and women who will speak about the important matters of life, and will do so from within an explicitly Christian framework.

This year’s 20/20 conference deals with a host of theological, ethical, cultural, and apologetic issues that arise for Christian students living in a 21st century American context. The breakout speakers who will address these issues include Bruce Ashford, Heath Thomas, John Hammett, Ken Keathley, Steve McKinion, Andy Davis, Nathan Finn, Micah Fries, Tim Brister, J. Budziszewski, Dennis Darville, Amber Lehman, Dan Heimbach, Scott Hildreth, Donnie McDaniel, Greg Welty, Ed Gravely, and Jeremy Evans.

The conference begins Friday evening and concludes late Saturday afternoon. In one 24-hour period, you will be exposed to hours of riveting discussion on important issues, coupled time to hang out with 1300 other students. The registration fee is a mere $35; please attend and bring a group! To register for the conference, click here.

Below is a sketch of the plenary and breakout sessions:

Plenary Speakers

Danny Akin (Fri night)

Al Mohler (Fri night)

J. Budziszewski (Sat morn)

Michael Green (Sat aft)

Bruce Little (Sat eve)

The Gospel: How to Understand, Speak, and Live the Gospel

What is the message of the whole Bible, in 45 minutes or less (Bruce Ashford)?

What is “the gospel” and how do I live a gospel-centered life (Heath Thomas)?

Why do I need to be immersed in the life off a gospel-centered church (John Hammett)?

What about those persons who have never heard the gospel (Ken Keathley)?

How do I read the Bible (OT and NT) in a Christ-centered and gospel-centered manner (Steve McKinion)?

How will Scripture memory transform my life, and how can I get started memorizing Scripture (Andy Davis)?

How do I discern God’s “calling” on my life (Nathan Finn)?

Conversing: How to Speak the Gospel into a Culture That Isn’t Listening

How can I answer skeptical questions in a way that is winsome and persuasive (Jamie Dew)?

How do I speak about reality and truth in a pluralistic society (Bruce Little)?

How do I tweet for Jesus? Using Twitter, Facebook, and blogs for the sake of the gospel (Micah Fries & Tim Brister)?

Culture: How to Understand and Speak to Important Issues in our Socio-Cultural Context

Q&A Session with J. Budziszewski

Does God care about human culture (arts, sciences, public square, etc.) (Dennis Darville)?

How can I use Scripture, science, and reason to speak to the issue of abortion (Amber Lehman)?

How do I answer questions about same sex marriage (Dan Heimbach)?

How should I think about modern warfare and torture (Dan Heimbach)?

Why follow Jesus rather than Muhammad (Scott Hildreth)?

Should Christians care about the environment (Donnie McDaniel)?

Reason: Using Sanctified Reason to Speak the Gospel

Why should I believe God exists and how can I demonstrate this to an unbeliever (Greg Welty)?

Why does God allow suffering in the world (Bruce Little)?

Why should I trust the Bible (Ed Gravely)?

What is the relationship of theology and science (Ken Keathley)?

Why should I believe that Christianity is true (or that anything at all is true) (Jeremy Evans)?