On the Dangers of Seminary (Pt. 2): The Danger of Losing Your First Love for God (and Your Love for the Lost)

Revelation 2:4: “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen.”

Romans 10:15: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!

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In the summer of 2000, I returned home from having spent two years in a predominantly Muslim context in Central Asia, where I found opportunities to share the gospel nearly every day. It was my experience in Central Asia, just as it had been during my college years, that contact with lost people was good for my soul. My love for God poured out naturally into a love for the lost around me. But the reverse was true also: my encounters and relationships with the lost spurred on my love for God. There is something beautiful and indeed powerful about seeing a lost man cry out to God, be saved by God’s grace, and walk in newness of life. Our love for God and his gospel results in a love for man (one does not commend that which he does not cherish), but also our love for God’s image-bearers results in a yet deeper love for God and his gospel (the more we proclaim and embody God’s love, the more we love Him and recognize his unsurpassed worth).

Upon returning home from Central Asia, I threw myself into Ph. D. studies. I preached the gospel, especially during the summer breaks, but for the most part I studied. As the months and years passed, I found that I rarely had conversations with unbelievers. I lived on campus, taught on campus, and worshiped with believers on Sundays. Rare was the day that I had a meaningful conversation with someone who was not a believer. Even worse, I felt like I was slowly losing the impulse to share the gospel. As a result, not only was I was withholding life from men and women who are dead in their trespasses, without hope and without God in this world, but also I was losing one of the very things that inflamed my passion for God.

Ironically, I was attending a seminary that confessed absolute confidence in God and his gospel and encouraged evangelistic zeal at every turn. For over a decade now, under two different presidents, this has remained the same. And yet retaining my affection for God and a love for the lost remains a struggle for me. I suspect that I am not alone, and I offer some advice for those those who may find themselves in this situation-seminary students and employees, pastors, employees of SBC entities, etc.: Do whatever it takes to break out of the Christian bubble within which you live, and take the gospel of life to those who are dead. In an attempt to do this myself, I have designated a few days each month during which I do my work (research, writing, email, whatever) at a coffee shop or student center at UNC, Duke, or one of the other college campuses in our area. Here is another idea: Try coming home from work or from the library before 10:00 p.m., and in so doing you might actually meet some of your neighbors who are lost. A final idea: Instead of listening to that next Tim Keller sermon, put down the i-Pod and actually do what it is that Keller is talking about-share the gospel.

In conclusion, don’t resent your time “in the bubble.” Don’t reject the great opportunity God has given you to lay the foundation for a lifetime of ministry. Don’t feel guilty that you are here. Seminary is your calling at this time in your life. Take advantage of your classes, your professors, your fellow students. Make the most of your studies in church history, theology, or missions. But while you are at it, don’t allow yourself to lose your first love for God and your love for the lost.

Christianity May Be True for You, But . . .

N. T. Wright on relativism and religion:

Saying “It’s true for you” sounds fine and tolerant. But it only works because it’s twisting the word “true” to mean, not “a true revelation of the way things are in the real world,” but “something that is genuinely happening inside you.” In fact, saying “It’s true for you” in this sense is more or less equivalent to saying “It’s not true for you,” because the “it” in question–the spiritual sense or awareness or experience–is conveying, very powerfully, a message (that there is a loving God) which the challenger is reducing to something else (that you have strong feelings which you misinterpret in that sense). This goes with several other pressures which have combined to make the notion of “truth” itself highly problematic within our world.

From N. T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (New York: HarperOne, 2006), 26-27.

Wisdom from Mars Hill: Presenting the Unchanging Christ to an Ever-changing Culture

The 21st century presents certain challenges for those who want to present a clear and faithful witness for Jesus. Things are not what they used to be. Modernity was characterized by a belief that Truth existed and that we could discover it. Postmodernism on the other hand is convinced (at least tentatively!) that truths (small “t” with an “s”) are socially or personally constructed and therefore subjective, relative and changing. There is no great story, no grand meta-narrative that explains who we are, why we are here, and where we are going. However, there is no reason to be discouraged. The fact is while the 21st century is not a whole lot like the 20th century, it has a great deal in common with the pluralism of the 1st century and the world Paul effectively evangelized. In Acts 17:22-34 Paul ascended Mars Hill to engage the intellectuals of the day. In these verses we find a model for ministry to the skeptics and scoffers of our age, or for that matter, any age. Consider Paul’s strategy as he engaged the culture of his day.

1. Start where people are. (Vs. 22-23)
Paul initiated a point of contact by noting the fact they were religiously and spiritually minded. This is true today as well. Spiritual matters are inescapable because humans are incurably religious. We should begin where people are looking for a common point of contact.

2. Hit the creation question head on. (Vs. 24-26; cf. Romans 1)
Either God is eternal or matter is eternal. There really is no other option. Paul asserts that God made everything and that includes human beings. If He is our Creator and we are His creatures, it follows that we probably have a certain obligation to seek Him, know Him and worship Him. While He may be “THE UNKNOWN GOD” at present, He has not left Himself without a witness. Creation and conscience scream at us, “There is a God.”

3. Appeal to conscience and our sense of right and wrong. (Vs. 27-30; cf. Romans 2)
Paul affirms that God is actually quite near to each of us (v. 27) and points to our spiritual sensitivities as an evidence. Interjecting the idea of repentance, he wisely draws attention to our sense of morality, something unique to humans, which sets us apart from animal creation. We intuitively, as a properly basic belief, know that terrorist acts like 9-11-01 are wrong. But why? Where does that come from? In Romans 2:15 Paul expands his answer by telling us that God’s law is written on the human heart with our conscience bearing witness. Conscience shouts to our hearts there is a moral Creator.

4. Move to Christ, His cross, and His resurrection. (Vs. 31-34)
Ultimately it all comes down to Jesus. What will you do with Him? How will you respond to this man who lived a sinless life, died on a cross for sinners and rose from the dead as proof of His deity and victory? The offense to Christianity must never be in our methods and traditions. If people turn away, make sure what they are saying “no” to is a cross and an empty tomb. Some will say “no.” Paul was mocked the day he went to Mars Hill. But some will say “yes” as verse 34 wonderfully tells us. Somehow, some way, we must always get people to talk and think about Jesus: who He is and what He did.

A Concluding Story
Several years ago I was involved in a short-term mission trip to Thailand. While I was there a Buddhist man took us on a tour of Bangkok. While we were riding around the city I began to talk with him about spiritual matters telling him I was a Christian, a devoted follower of a 1st century Jew named Jesus. To my astonishment he was totally unfamiliar with Jesus. I quickly began with God and creation, moved to discuss conscience and sin, and then turned to talk about our Lord, His death and resurrection. When I told Him I believed this Jewish man named Jesus who lived 2000 years ago rose from the dead he literally stopped the car and turned around (I was in the back seat) to see if he had heard me correctly. When I explained to him he had, he sat silently for a few moments. Then he turned again and said words I have never forgotten, “If this Jesus truly came back to life from the dead and never died again, He would have the right to make a claim on my life and every life that no one else could.” He did not become a Christian that day, but he certainly grasped the significance of the issue and what was at stake. Paul said, “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Whether it is the 1st or 21st century our message remains the same. It is a message God will honor any time, any place and any where. This day is a great day of evangelistic and missional opportunity. It is our assignment to bear witness to the Truth and to pick up the pieces of broken lives, shattered dreams, and unkept promises. Jesus has always been the answer. He continues to be the answer today.