In Case You Missed It

In a post at the International Mission Board, Dr. Bruce Ashford asks, “In Post-Christian America, Should Christians Retreat from Mission?”

Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option is the bestselling and most discussed religious book of the past year. In it Dreher argues that the past few decades in American life have revealed the extent to which Bible-believing Christians have been decentered socially, culturally, and politically. An increasing number of Americans—including those with cultural power—view historic Christianity as implausible, unimaginable, and even evil. The effect of this attitude on America’s social and cultural institutions has been devastating.

 

For this reason, Dreher exhorts us to strengthen the church while there is still time. He sees encouraging signs that Christians have begun to come to grips with the reality of a post-Christian America, but argues that we have yet to take the necessary steps to strengthen our churches, families, and local communities for the difficult years ahead.

 

At the Intersect Project, Erik Clary discusses disasters, divine retribution, and the danger of rushing to judgement.

In North America, many will remember 2017 as the year of calamity. Catastrophic storms, massive earthquakes, devastating fires and a horrific mass-shooting have wreaked death and destruction. Amid the public response to these large-scale tragedies, some commentators—typically professing Christians—declare that the hand of God is punishing people and nations.

 

Similar claims, one may recall, were advanced in attempts to make sense of 9/11 in 2001, the Indonesian tsunami of 2004, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Haitian earthquake of 2010, and West Africa’s Ebola outbreak in 2014. Collectively, they suggest a particular approach to explaining horrific evil that we might call the “calamity-must-be-punishment” thesis—the notion that wherever we find horrific suffering and mass tragedy, God is in the mix exercising judgment in response to specific sin (individual or collective). In response, then, we must ask, “Do large-scale calamities necessarily signal divine punishment being meted out against its victims?”

 

Yet a careful examination of Scripture not only fails to support the calamity-must-be-punishment thesis, but it also exposes such thinking as spiritually shallow and, at least in some cases, downright sinful. In particular, there are three concrete examples in Scripture where this interpretation of evil is offered and then met with divine correction.

 

Matt Smethurst interviewed Walter Strickland at The Gospel Coalition giving a behind the scenes look at Dr. Strickland’s life as a reader.

I asked Walter Strickland—assistant professor of systematic and contextual theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, co-author of Every Waking Hour, and contributor to Removing the Stain of Racism (B&H Academic, 2017) [review]—about what’s on his nightstand, books he re-reads, books that have shaped his understanding of racial justice, and more.

 

At The Gospel Coalition, Trevin Wax shared an article discussing how a satisfied church is not a holy congregation; it may just be a complacent one.

If you’ve been through a church conflict, you know the truth of Psalm 133:1How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony! (CSB)

 

When doctrinal disputes fracture a congregation, or when personal preferences lead to disunity, or when personality conflicts cause division, Christians naturally long for peace, a renewed sense of unity in the fellowship we have in Christ and the partnership we have in mission.

 

We crave unity. We want to experience contentment. We want to see the church united by what matters most–what God wants, not what we want. Or better said, we want to want what God wants for our church.

 

But it’s easy for Christians who have been through a season of conflict or discontentment to pursue peace and satisfaction as the goal. It’s easy for churches to imagine that it’s a sign of faithfulness when everyone is getting along and everyone is satisfied.

 

This is the mistake that robs many a congregation of missional effectiveness.

 

In a post at the Intersect Project, Alysha Clark reflected on how Reformation history came alive for her on a recent study tour with Southeastern Seminary.

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. All around the world churches and theological institutions are marking this momentous occasion with special conferences, lectures and events. Some (including Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) have even scheduled trips to Reformation sites.

 

In June 2017, 48 students, faculty, pastors and friends of Southeastern Seminary, led by esteemed Southeastern professors Drs. Daniel Akin, Stephen Eccher, Scott Hildreth, Marty Jacumin and Dwayne Milioni, embarked on an 11-day tour through Germany and Switzerland to visit some of the major sites of the multidimensional and tumultuous Protestant Reformation. I had the privilege of being a part of this journey. What I experienced was more than a vacation; the Reformation came alive for me.

 

This week, Southeastern Seminary had the honor of hosting Dr. Timothy George for the annual Page Lecture series. At The Gospel Coalition Justin Taylor put together a helpful post with videos of Dr. George’s talks at Southeastern as well as some additional resources from Dr. George on the Reformation.

Bruce Ashford, professor and provost at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, made the comment the other days that “It would be difficult to identify a scholar who can deliver a better public lecture than Timothy George.”

 

Dr. George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, delivered two of the Page Lectures at Southeastern this week on the Reformation:

  1. An Overview of the Reformation
  2. What Did the Reformers Think They Were Doing?

 

You can watch both lectures below, or go here to download the audio or video.

In Case You Missed It

Amber Bowen recently posted an article at the Intersect Project website discussing human value and the pro-life ethic. Amber writes:

What does it mean to be pro-life?

 

The term “pro-life” has a narrow meaning in our current context and political discourse. Typically, when we say someone is pro-life we mean that they stand up for the rights of the unborn and oppose abortion.

 

While being a voice for the unborn is a significant part, that issue alone does not encompass the whole of being pro-life. We must be careful not to mistake the whole for the part.

 

The scriptures open up our narrowly focused definition, reminding us that all life is precious and should be defended. This is true of the unborn child at the earliest stages of development, a child with special needs, a wayward teenager bent on ruining her life, orphans, the homeless, refugees, immigrants, minorities, the elderly.

 

What do all of these examples of life have in common? What is the common thread of value that runs between them? The theologically correct answer is that they are each made in the image of God and are the crowning work of his creation. Our society, however, has proposed other bases for the value of human life.

 

Even though Christians may cognitively believe that humans have life because of the imago dei, I believe if we dusted for the fingerprints of these alternative bases of value we would be shocked by how scattered they are throughout the Church and within our hearts.

 

Keelan Cook posted at The Peoples Next Door explaining how languages are more important than we think.

Languages are fascinating.

 

For all of you who endured through Spanish or French in high school, you may disagree with me, but there is a reason that we take foreign languages in school. Language is a fundamental part of being human. It is one of the irreducible components of every society. Every culture, every group of people, communicates through language. It may be English, it may be any one of thousands of foreign languages, or it may even be sign language. Everyone that can communicate does so with language.

 

That makes language very important, and we need to keep that in mind as we do ministry in the United States today. I am a firm believer that good ministry can happen across language barriers. Language can often be an excuse for not reaching out to our new, foreign-born neighbors. It should never be so, and even when we do not know their language, we can still begin to engage. However, we desperately need to realize how important language is to culture, because it has a huge impact on discipleship and missions.

 

Language does not merely express what we think it affects how we think.

 

Language is a means of expressing the content of culture, but it is so closely tied to culture that it is often hard to distinguish between the two. The two work in tandem, developing one another and shaping one another. Just like culture, language affects our worldview. It shapes the categories for our thinking, and it determines how we process information.

 

At his blog The Wardrobe Door, Aaron Earls writes: “Culture gives Christians a choice: hypocrite, bigot, or weirdo?”

As western culture becomes more post-Christian, those seeking to follow Christ will find themselves in increasingly difficult circumstances. We will essentially be in no-win situations. Do you want to be a hypocrite, a bigot, or a weirdo?

 

“Christians are a bunch of hypocrites.”

 

We’ve all heard that statement and we’ve heard it as an excuse for a whole host of things. Why don’t you come to church? Hypocrites. Why shouldn’t Christians have a part in the cultural discussion of marriage? Hypocrites.

 

Make no mistake, we’ve seen Christians act hypocritically. Just recently, we can point to Josh Duggar and other Christian leaders whose immoral lives have been exposed, all the while they preached the importance of biblical morality.

 

There are very real cases where self-professed followers of Jesus have failed to live up to the standards they championed for others. Many in culture have gleefully pointed to these instances and concluded, “If Christians refuse to live according to their own values, why should anyone listen to them?”

 

The hypocrisy of one Christian is used as a means to dismiss the positions held by other Christians. If that pastor cannot remain faithful to his wife, Christians should not speak on issues of marriage.

 

So hypocrisy is worthy of scorn, sure. But what about those trying to live out their ideals?

 

Southeastern Baptist Seminary provost, Dr. Bruce Ashford recently discussed some of his favorite books, as well as some books he is reading right now with Matt Smethurst at The Gospel Coalition. Matt writes:

On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scences glimpse into their lives as readers.

 

I corresponded with Bruce Ashford, provost and professor of theology and culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, about what’s on his nightstand, books that have shaped his thoughts on politics and culture, his favorite fiction, what he’s learning about life and faith, and more.

 

Tim Challies recently posted a list of helpful resources to kick-start your theological library.

It’s no secret that building a quality theological library is a very expensive proposition. Compared to popular-level books, theological works come at a premium cost. But I’ve got a secret to share with you that will help kick-start any theological library: You can build an electronic library of excellent theological journals and magazines without spending a dime. These journals are full of excellent articles by top writers, scholars, and reviewers. Some are targeted at academics while others are written with a general audience in mind. There is something for everyone!

 

In just a moment I will give you a long list of journals and magazines that are freely available to download. Before I do that, though, you need to make sure you have an information management system that can store and search Adobe Acrobat (PDF) files. I recommend Evernote as a system that will allow you to not only store and search the files, but also to read and annotate them, though annotation may require an Evernote Premium subscription. Once you download the files you can add them to your information management system which will, in turn, allow you to search them and use them for reading or research. Click them, download them, store them, use them. It’s that simple. (Alternatively, you can just download them as you do any other file and read them that way.)

In Case You Missed It

Recently at For the Church, Steve Bezner shared his struggle with jealousy: “On Being Matt Chandler’s Roommate.” Steve writes:

This is a story about two young men who were friends, roommates, and pastors.

In other words, this is a story about jealousy.

In the mid-90s, I was a student at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. I was a successful student with a successful grade point average. I was leading a large college ministry. I was, simply put, on the fast track to success in the field of my choice—pastoral ministry.

My sophomore year a student transferred in who captured the attention and imagination of much of the student body.

His name was Matt Chandler.

At The Gospel Coalition, Matt Smethurst recently shared 7 ways Christian history benefits you.

Christianity is a history-anchored faith. We don’t teach a set of abstract principles or philosophical ideas; we teach the truth of a historical event. As Francis Schaeffer liked to say, if you were there 2,000 years ago you could have run your hand down the cross and gotten a splinter. How silly would it be for us to conclude, “Well, I believe Jesus lived and died and rose in historical time, and that without those historical events I’d be lost forever, but I don’t really care about history.”

Further, if you’re a Christian, then church history is your family history. Think about that. Studying church history is like opening a photo album and exploring your family heritage.

But Christian history isn’t just meaningful; it’s intensely practical, too. Here are seven ways that studying it benefits us.

Joe McKeever shared a story on his personal blog about how some often perceive pastors to be different in that they get special treatment from God. They think “You’re a pastor; you’re not like us.” Dr. McKeever writes:

Why is it, we wonder, that some people think if a preacher or a nun or priest is on board, God is somehow going to take extra care of an endangered flight?  As though He loved them more than the others.  “God is no respect of persons,” Scripture says somewhere.

No one gets by with anything with the Heavenly Father just because they are His favorite children.

Matt Capps recently shared an article discussing the beauty of congregational worship.

I have the privilege of pastoring a singing church. Week after week, when we gather for worship the sounds of God’s precious saints wash over me as I stand on the front row and prepare to preach. There have been several occasions when I have stopped singing in order to listen. On almost all of those occasions, the sound of our church family singing brought me to tears. Not because they are great polished individual singers, but because we sing corporately to a great God.

Dr. Albert Mohler recently published an article discussing why Thanksgiving is inescapably Theological. Dr. Mohler writes:

Thanksgiving is a deeply theological act, rightly understood. As a matter of fact, thankfulness is a theology in microcosm — a key to understanding what we really believe about God, ourselves, and the world we experience.

A haunting question is this:  How do atheists observe Thanksgiving? I can easily understand what an atheist or agnostic would think of fellow human beings and feel led to express thankfulness and gratitude to all those who, both directly and indirectly, have contributed to their lives. But what about the blessings that cannot be ascribed to human agency? Those are both more numerous and more significant, ranging from the universe we experience to the gift of life itself.

Can one really be thankful without being thankful to someone?

Finally, earlier this week Dr. Russell Moore gave a video tour of his personal study. Be sure to check out the video!