Book Notice: “The People of God” by Trevor Joy and Spence Shelton

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people-of-god-coverTrevor Joy and Spence Shelton are two of the brightest young stars in the evangelical firmament, and their recently released The People of God: Empowering the Church to Make Disciples (B&H, 2014) is case-in-point.

The authors begin the book by quoting Mahatma Ghandi: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.” (p. 1) Joy and Shelton recognize that Ghandi’s statement has the ring of truth to it and that the right response is not to defend our churches, but rather to honestly examine ourselves in order to better represent Christ and fulfill his command to make disciples.

Joy and Shelton, both pastors, wrote the book to show from Scripture what a healthy church looks like (p. 4). They do so clearly and persuasively. Their book presents and builds upon a fundamental argument: that there is a “ . . . normative flow of the gospel among the people of God. Throughout the New Testament, the Holy Spirit comes upon a people and the gospel takes root in such a way that it transforms that community and begins to flow beyond that group to the world around them (Acts 2:42–47; 2 Cor. 5:16–21). All of us who today claim faith in Jesus Christ are a part of this gospel flow. . . . The mission of God pushes forward through the people of God.” (p. 10) There is a “gospel flow,” as they call it, which is essential to the life and practice of the church.

Joy and Shelton point to the loving community on display within the Triune Godhead to argue that the people of God should be a community of love. Who God is, and humans are, has great implications for how the people of God do community, or church. This chart (on p. 51) illustrates the relationship:

Truth

Implication

We are created by God for community. Community is not a church program.
The Trinity is three interdependent persons in community. The power of God is displayed through community.
Sin distorts the image of God in our community. Building community is hard work.
Biblical community is the final apologetic. Community must be accessible.

Joy and Shelton write clearly, carefully, and thoughtfully about the key elements of making disciples within and for gospel community. Each chapter addresses one of these elements, specifically as they relate to the significance of small groups in the life of the church. Here is the outline:

Chapter 1: The Shepherd Leader

Chapter 2: Community Corrupted

Chapter 3: The Distinctives of Gospel Community

Chapter 4: Asking the Right Questions

Chapter 5: The Missing Link of Alignment

Chapter 6: Gospeling One Another

Chapter 7: Gospel Flow

The chapters relate logically and persuasively. Who leads the church and its people? See chapter 1. Why is leadership in the church necessary and difficult? See chapter 2. What exactly are the realities that make a healthy church? See chapter 3. How do church leaders (chapters 1–2) go about making a healthy church (chapter 3)? See chapters 4 and 5. What does it actually look like to practice gospel community as a healthy church? See chapter 6. For what reason(s) should leaders and churches undertake this good but hard work? See chapter 7.

Joy and Shelton make their point (well) for gospel community in the midst of a church culture that is often antithetical to community. “Gospel-centered community is a radical call amid a culture of mere attendance and casual involvement.” (p. 149) Do you or does your church fall into this culture? If so, you will be appropriately challenged by this book.

The mission of God that flows, by and for the gospel, through the people of God necessitates community. They rightly state, “The only thing strong enough to build and sustain Christian community is the gospel and the refuge found therein.” (p. 56) Joy and Shelton explicate the implications of this theology in a very helpful and clear how-to and why-to book for the church. If you are a pastor, small group leader, student or layperson in the church you will benefit greatly from closely reading, and responding to, this book.

 

Book Notice: “Nobodies for Jesus: 14 Days Toward a Great Commission Lifestyle”

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Lawless-NobodiesforJesusNobodies for Jesus is an act of tomb-raiding into the necropolis that is the human heart. In the book—whose full title is Nobodies for Jesus: 14 Days Toward a Great Commission Lifestyle—author Chuck Lawless writes to awake Christians from a lukewarm Christianity that ignores the Great Commission.

Lawless, who is a professor of evangelism and missions at SEBTS, writes with a simple premise in mind: “Lukewarm believers who fail to see people as lost will not be Great Commission believers. We will not be God’s force set apart to make a dent in the darkness of the world” (p. 2). Toward that end, he writes 14 short devotional studies to encourage Christians to become otherwise, to become Great Commission believers.

The book’s 14 studies are divided into three main parts: Be Amazed (Days 1–6), Be a Nobody (Days 7–12), Do Something (Days 13–14). The first section reflects on God’s glory in Christ, and our appropriate response: amazement. The second section describes the sort of humility that stems from genuine, biblical, Great Commission Christianity. The third section provides two days’ worth of application regarding prayer and Christian testimony.

Each devotional is based upon a specific biblical text and contains Lawless’s reflections on the text, but also includes a few reflection questions and concludes with a “Great Commission Action Step.” For instance, on Day Five, the reader is directed to read Psalm 51 and 1 John 1:9 in order to learn about God’s amazing grace. Lawless reflects on the passage by saying, for example, “If you are a Christian, God has taken the darkness of your sin, somehow cleansed it through his blood, and made you as pure as white snow” (p. 38). After reflecting on the passage, he provides questions for further reflection and an action step.

Nobodies for Jesus is a book for (1) any Christian who wishes to avoid a tendency toward lukewarm Christianity, and (2) particular Christians who sense a personal deficiency in their desire or ability to share the gospel. It is a quick read and very accessible, serving perfectly as study material for a church or Christian study group. Highly recommended.

A Letter From the President: Reflections On Ten Wonderful Years

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On January 15th of this year I celebrated my 10th year at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.  For Charlotte and me, this is almost impossible to believe!  And yet at the same time, we have experienced so many things.  As I pen this letter from Istanbul, Turkey, where we have the joy of being with students that God has called to the nations, I am aware that during these 10 years we have buried three parents, welcomed three daughters-in-law, added 10 grandchildren, and celebrated 35 years of marriage and ministry together.  On a personal level, God has blessed us with a full and joyful life.  With the psalmist I delight to sing, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” (Psalm 103:1).

I can also sing that same verse as I think about all the ways our Lord has blessed the school I have the honor and privilege of serving.  An exhaustive list would require a book!  However, let me highlight a few of the good things our great God has done in the past decade.

1)   The Lord led us to a very clear “mission statement” that says who we are.  The shorthand version is “Southeastern is a Great Commission Seminary.”  Ask anyone on our campus who we are, and that is the answer you will receive.  The longer version simply says, “Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary seeks to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission.”  This statement guides us in all that we do.  I believe it has helped a really good seminary to become an even better seminary.  It keeps us focused on the final marching orders of King Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20).

2)   The Lord has grown our school from just over 2400 to over 3100 students, and the future looks even brighter.  What a blessing!

3)   We have gone from having one endowed faculty chair to seven!  This is a double blessing in that it honors wonderful servants of God and helps the seminary financially.  I would love to see this number double in the next 10 years.

4)   The Lord has graced us with as fine of a faculty as you will find anywhere in the world.  Our students have the joy of studying under godly men and women who are churchmen, brilliant scholars, and followers of King Jesus who have a deep love for the church and a passion for the nations.  Three of my own sons and a daughter-in-law have studied or are studying here.  As a dad, I could not ask for a better place of training for my children.

5)   We built the Prince Facilities building and Patterson Hall.  Both buildings have been a tremendous asset to Southeastern in terms of how we care for the campus and teach our students.

6)   The Lord has blessed me with an incredible leadership team that has taken Southeastern to the next level.  Bruce Ashford, Jamie Dew, Ryan Hutchinson, Mark Liederbach, Chuck Lawless and Art Rainer excel in their areas of responsibility.  They make me look better than I am!  And, they are my brothers and friends who challenge me to be more like Jesus.

7)   Under the leadership of John Ewart, we launched EQUIP which allows the seminary and local churches to partner in doing theological education.  The brilliant New Testament Scholar Don Carson said this model was a utopian dream.  By God’s grace, we are making it a reality.

8)   Shortly before his death, we instituted the L. Rush Bush Center for Faith and Culture.  Initially directed by Bruce Little, it is now led by Ken Keathley.  This Center is simply stellar in engaging the cultural issues that the church must face and address with biblical truth and conviction.  I know Dr. Bush is smiling from heaven in all the Center is accomplishing.

9)   We were able to receive and house the letters and papers of Francis Schaeffer, one of evangelicalism’s leading apologists in the 20th century.  Words are not adequate to express what a gift this is.  Bruce Little rightly deserves a huge “thank you” for making this happen.

10)  Finally, and I could continue for a long time, the Lord Jesus has blessed our campus with a spirit of love, joy and gratitude.  My friend Mark Dever calls us “the happy campus.”  I think he is right.  Visitors often comment about the happy, joyful servant spirit they find on this campus.  It bears much fruit.  We know that over 90% of prospective students who visit our campus will choose Southeastern as their seminary or college.  Why?  Because students, staff, faculty and administration are happy to be here and we just can’t hide it.  And, we don’t want to!

On a number of occasions I have been asked if I aspired to be a seminary president.  The fact is when God called me into ministry in 1977 on the Papago Indian Reservation in Sells, Arizona, this boy from Georgia did not know what a seminary was.  I did not know they even existed.  No, all I have ever wanted to do since that day is please the Lord Jesus, preach the Bible, serve the church, and share the gospel.  I am the most surprised of all that I get to do what I do.  I am a blessed man far beyond what I could ever hope, imagine or deserve.  Thank you King Jesus for these wonderful years.  If it is your will, I look forward to many more.