In Case You Missed It

At The Baptist Press, Tobin Perry shared the story of Allie Candler, a 107-year-old retired Southern Baptist missionary who is still a missions advocate.

She had committed her life to Jesus during a revival at First Baptist Church of Lockhart, S.C., two years earlier. But she still had matters to settle in her spiritual life. She remembers sitting in a revival meeting and listening to a preacher share about the “Stewardship of Life.” He then asked a question that would change her life forever. “You’ve been saved, but have you dedicated your life to Him?”
Candler, who was then sitting with the choir, came down to the altar and prayed, “I’m ready to be used if You can use me.”

 

At a Sunday service two weeks later, God specifically directed her toward missions. On the way home, she says Satan tried to dissuade her from telling anyone about her call.

 

“Devil,” she said, “I didn’t have anything to do with it. The Lord called me.”

 

That time may seem like just yesterday to Allie Candler, but in reality, it was more than 31,000 days ago. As America reeled from the Great Depression and Franklin Delano Roosevelt campaigned for the first time to be the nation’s president in 1932, God called a 22-year-old Candler into a lifetime of missions service.

 

Earlier this week, Chuck Lawless shared nine reasons why every church should adopt a North American church planter. Dr. Lawless writes:

I occasionally have opportunity to train church planters in North America. Based on my experiences with them, I believe every church ought to adopt and prayerfully support a church planter. Here’s why.

 

At The Gospel Coalition, S. Craig Sanders shared the story of how Andy Davis used expository preaching to revitalize First Baptist Church Durham, NC.

Before Andy Davis preached verse-by-verse through the book of Isaiah, he memorized all 1,292 of them. It’s a discipline he developed while working as a mechanical engineer in 1986, several years after becoming a Christian. To this day, fellow students from the doctoral program at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary recall seeing Davis walk the streets near the school as he committed entire books of the Bible to memory.

 

When Davis finished his PhD in church history in 1998, he accepted the call as pastor of the historic First Baptist Church Durham, North Carolina. Scripture memory and meditation sustained him as he withstood a powerful faction of deacons and committee chairs. In 2001, his opponents tried to drive him away after he led the church to change the bylaws to reflect biblical roles of gender and authority.

 

Now nearly 20 years later, the pastor and TGC Council member leads his thriving congregation the same way he did back when the cabal tried to oust him: verse-by-verse, expository preaching.

 

Marty Duren posted an article at the LifeWay Pastors blog which lists ten keys to being a better writer for an internet audience.

I approach the subject of writing as a writer with a lot of experience but no illusions of grandeur; hopefully no delusions either. My limitations are established as are my abilities. I know when I’ve turned a good phrase and crafted a good argument. I usually know when I should have hit “Trash” instead of “Publish.” My floor is littered with virtual paper-wads.

 

Many pastors and other church leaders have found another voice—as writers—by which they can expand their Kingdom influence online. Whether personal blogs, church websites, or articles for collaborative websites, many have experienced satisfaction through encouraging and teaching others through the written word.

 

An editor and writer by trade, this post has been on my mind for a while. This subject was included recent suggestion marathon on Facebook (or, a reasonable facsimile of the subject was).

 

If you are a pastor or church leader with a burden, passion, or passing interest in writing, I hope you will find these ten keys to being a better writer for an internet audience helpful.

 

At The Peoples Next Door, Meredith Cook shared how contextualization can be risky business. Meredith writes:

The opening scene of the movie, The African Queen, depicts a white missionary couple leading a worship service for residents of an African village. If you’ve seen the movie, you may or may not have noticed the oddities about this scene. This worship service takes place in a building, the music is being led by a conductor and a woman playing an organ, they are singing in English, congregants are sitting in rows, and some are using hymnals.

 

These details may not seem unusual but it’s likely because this is exactly how you worship every Sunday (perhaps without the hymnal, though). However, if you watch the scene from the movie again, notice how none of the congregants are fully participating in worship. Most of them look miserable. While this is a hypothetical situation, a typical worship service in their culture likely would not use an organ or hymnals.  They wouldn’t be singing in English and they may be more likely to sit in a circle than rows. This is a work of fiction, but this scene is a great example of contextualization done poorly. Instead of letting the African culture determine the forms used in the worship service, the missionaries simply applied their own cultural norms to the situation without considering the new culture around them.

 

As I mentioned in my last post, contextualization is not something we can choose to do or not. Contextualization can be as simple as translating the gospel into another language, but it is usually more involved than that. And it should be more involved, because culture is not just what language we speak. Culture includes a myriad of qualities: our worship style preferences, how we relate to our leaders, what music we like, the clothes we wear, the food we eat, etc. Contextualization touches many aspects of culture. It is unavoidable and essential. There are significant benefits to doing it well—affirming culture, helping people understand the gospel in a way that makes sense to them, and giving us a broader perspective of the faith—but there are also some serious risks to avoid. To be clear, we won’t get contextualization right the first time nor every time, and the Lord will give us grace when we make mistakes. However, these are three things to be cautious of when doing contextualization.

On Extended Scripture Memorization

memorization-davisFor Baptists and other evangelicals, a key spiritual practice has always been Scripture memorization. We picked this practice up from our Puritan and Pietist forebears. Both of those movements argued that Christian spirituality should always be closely tied to knowing and applying the Scriptures. I would argue the healthiest forms of contemporary evangelical spiritual theology are those that make Scripture memorization, meditation, and prayer its foundational personal spiritual disciplines.

In the past few days, I have read two blog posts and an article that address the importance of Scripture memorization. Each of them discusses Andy Davis, senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Durham and an adjunct professor of historical theology at Southeastern Seminary. Andy has developed a strategy for extended Scripture memorization that many have found to be helpful. For years, FBC Durham has privately printed Andy’s booklet on the topic. In recent weeks, however, Ambassador International has published an electronic version of An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture.

Many regular readers of Between the Times may know that I am a member of FBC Durham, where I serve on the elder team alongside Andy. I first became acquainted with Andy’s approach to Scripture memorization around 2005 or 2006. Prior to that time, like many believers, my memorization practices tended to be key verses on certain topics. In fact, the only time I had previously memorized a block of Scripture longer than three or four verses was for a class assignment in a Formation for Christian Ministry course during my M.Div. days at Southern Seminary. While I still believe there is great spiritual value in memorizing what John Piper calls “fighter verses” on key topics, in recent years I’ve become a convert to the value of extended Scripture memorization (though I often fail to cultivate the discipline as much as I should). Right now, for example, I am memorizing the Sermon on the Mount as part of daily quiet time. I would commend the practice to you as a helpful means in cultivating spiritual maturity.

If you want to learn more about Andy’s views on Scripture memorization, check out Joe Carter’s helpful interview with Andy for The Gospel Coalition. One highlight: “Scripture memorization is a rich form of meditation that feeds the soul throughout the day with God’s nourishing Word. Memorization also deeply enriches our prayer lives by giving us biblical patterns of speech and promises and commands that we can hold back up to God in prayer.”

If you want to hear more about Andy’s personal story and how his practices have helped shape the spiritual culture at FBC Durham, read this helpful article in the Biblical Recorder. One highlight: “There are always ‘dead spots’ in your day where you don’t have to do any verbal work,” Davis said. “In those ‘dead spots,’ I suggest memorizing a few verses a day for 15 minutes a day.”

If you want to consider ten reasons why it is a valuable spiritual practice to memorize larger chunks of Scripture, check out Jon Bloom’s recent blog post for Desiring God. One highlight: “It’s strange how having an abundance of something can result in our neglecting it. If the Bible’s always there on our tables, tablets, phones, computers, and on the web we can dip in, read sections, search for key words when needed, but feel no urgency to really internalize it. Memorizing is one way to fight that delusion.”

Most of all, if you want to cultivate the practice of extended Scripture memorization, check out Andy’s e-Booklet An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture. It is available for the Amazon Kindle for $0.99. You can read the booklet in half an hour and then get started memorizing lengthier portions of God’s Word.

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Guest Post (Andrew Spencer): Review of Andy Davis’ “An Infinite Journey”

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest blogger is Andrew Spencer. Andrew is a PhD Student in Christian Ethics at SEBTS.] 

As David Mathis and Jonathan Parnell note in their recent book, How to Stay Christian in Seminary (Crossway, 2014), one of the hardest things in seminary is being a good Christian during your seminary years. Even here at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where the doctrine is sound and the people on campus are zealous about seeing the Great Commission fulfilled, there is a real danger of seminary students forgetting their first love. In most cases this does not result in seminarians losing their faith, but it can result in them losing ground in their spiritual maturity even while they are building a robust theological framework.

Mathis and Parnell offer some helpful tips in their short book and on a series of blogs for Desiring God. However, another book published just this year by Andy Davis, pastor of First Baptist Church of Durham, is more important. I wish An Infinite Journey: Growing toward Christlikeness had been published and I had read it when I started my time in seminary over eight years ago. It would have been worth reading several times during these years.

Davis structures his ministry and his book around the premise that in the Christian life there are two infinite journeys. He notes, “These two journeys have one destination, one ultimate goal, and in the end will prove to have been one and the same journey after all.” (17) This is an infinite journey with a horizontal, not a vertical, asymptote. In other words, there is hope that we can begin to become more holy, though we will never fully get there this side of glory. Though we will never fully attain perfect maturity in this life, recognizing telos in the ongoing pursuit of holiness is important: it tells us we are going somewhere not just hunkering down to endure until the millennium dawns.

Sanctification is not just a personal issue; it is an issue that relates to the advance of the gospel to all nations. The world needs Christians who have and are growing toward Christlikeness. As Davis notes, “It is impossible for the Church to make progress externally to the ends of the earth if there are no Christians mature enough to pay the price to go as missionaries and martyrs.” (24) A sweeping passion to see Gospel advance throughout the world is Davis’ motivation for attempting “taxonomy of sanctification.” (29)

The premise of the book is simple: there is a pattern disciplines that, through the work of the Holy Spirit, will foster spiritual maturity and move the believer toward Christlikeness. The pattern, though, is not simplistic: Davis presents a map but not a recipe. An Infinite Journey does not offer a detailed set of steps that will lead to holiness. Rather, in this volume Davis explains, based on observation, experience, and study of Scripture, the regular order of steps that tend to lead to spiritual growth. As an analogy, instead of being a book that outlines a specific workout program, An Infinite Journey is the kinesiology textbook that explains the necessary elements for a successful workout program.

The order that Davis describes in sanctification is strikingly elegant. There are four stages in the sanctification cycle: knowledge, faith, character and action. Each one of these stages is necessary for the cycle to be sustained and for progress in sanctification to be made. Davis was a mechanical engineer, so a comparison to the four-stroke Otto cycle seems fair: if a diesel engine does not go through all four elements of its power cycle, it will not function and make your vehicle move or even continue to operate as an engine. Likewise, if the Spirit-filled Christian does not go through the pattern of increasing knowledge, growing faith, more Christlike character, and obedient action, then his or her sanctification will either slow or reverse.

Knowledge, as Davis describes it, is not merely the study of theology or Church history. Those things can be helpful, but Davis’ conception of knowledge is more complex and realistic. For Davis, there are two types of knowledge, the first is factual: the information gained from Scripture. This is obtained “only by consistent immersion in the word of God.” (95) The second type of knowledge is experiential: information gained from living in God’s world. Experiential knowledge is interpreted by Scripture, but is essential to understanding the Christian life.

Faith is the “eyesight of the human soul.” (130) According to Davis, “Faith is designed to perceive invisible realities, and press the certainty of them to the human soul.” (133) An Infinite Journey details five aspects of faith, with the key concept being that faith comes as factual and experiential knowledge are synthesized into spiritually understood realities that form anchors for personal spiritual growth. This is a faith grounded in revealed reality, which points to the unseen reality.

After knowledge and faith comes the development of character. For Davis, “Christian character is an internal nature conformed to Christ in five different areas, resulting in a variety of virtues.” (200) The five areas represented are: Affection, Desire, Will, Thought, and Emotion. Rightly ordering those areas toward God based on the foundation of knowledge and faith will lead to the development of Christlike virtues. Still, internal character is not the ultimate goal of sanctification.

If the internal nature of the Christian is rightly ordered, then the result will be action. Action “is such a true indicator of the actual state of our souls that Christ will be able to judge everyone on the face of the earth by his full record of all we said and did.” (272) This is not salvation by works, but a recognition that obedience after justification is important, and that our actions on earth will be scrutinized (cf. Rev 20:12–13; Rom 2:6–8). For this reason, we need to build on the knowledge, faith, and Christlike character by developing habitual patterns of action that reflect our justification.

Habitual, Christlike action will tend to produce experiential knowledge and well as factual knowledge that is, by God’s grace, increasingly better ordered to God’s truth in reality. Thus the cycle continues, fueled by the Holy Spirit. Just as in the Otto Cycle of a diesel engine, if one stroke in the cycle were not completed the engine would stop, so it is with the sanctification cycle. Similarly, without a regular supply of fuel an engine will stop. So is the continued grace of the Holy Spirit necessary in the cycle of progressive sanctification that Davis describes.

Davis’ book is a treasure for the Church but it is especially valuable for the seminary student. During years at seminary it is common to get too focused on two stages of the cycle: knowledge and action. We spend hours poring over books in study, and, because we love Jesus, we rush out to preach, teach, and serve in our churches. Subsequently, since we haven’t paid attention to growing in faith and developing our character, some of us begin to doubt our beliefs and even turn away from God, others slip into patterns of selfishness, anger, and pride that eventually work their way out in sinful actions. This isn’t a universal experience, but it is a common one, as Mathis and Parnell argue in their book.

An Infinite Journey is invaluable for the seminarian because it accurately represents the pattern of sanctification. Once the four simple stages are recognized it is possible to diagnose weaknesses and fix or prevent problems. This book doesn’t offer a cure-all for the busyness of the seminary years, but it does offer hope that years spent in theological study can be accompanied by real spiritual growth, so that we don’t graduate wondering why we came to seminary in the first place or having paid the high cost of losing unity in our families.

Whether you are a seminarian, a pastor, or just a Christian on your infinite journey toward Christlikeness, this book will benefit you. Buy it. Read it. Examine the patterns of your life in comparison to it. I promise you will find the book helpful, challenging and encouraging.

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