Chuck Quarles: The Value of Christian Education to Churches

Pin It

[Editor's Note: Dr. Charles Quarles is Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Southeastern, author of numerous scholarly and popular level books on the NT, and a member of the Studiorum Novi Testamenti SocietasHe is also an experienced pastor, missionary, and theological educator, and so an able guide on the topic of Christian education. The following is part 2 of two parts on the true value of Christian education.]

In a previous post, I discussed the value of Christian education for students and parents. Churches often invest in Christian education, too. Southern Baptists contribute through the Cooperative Program to support Baptist colleges and seminaries. Increasingly churches are asking whether this is a wise investment. How much does Christian education really contribute to the mission of the church? Should churches consider decreasing or even dropping contributions to educational institutions in order to have more for local ministries or international missions?

I would argue that Christian education is a very wise investment for local churches. Christian education is of enormous value for the kingdom of God and the mission of the church. Students who attend public universities are four times more likely to stop attending church than those who attend authentic Christian colleges. Students who attend public universities are seven times more likely to stop praying consistently than students who attend authentic Christian colleges. Churches that do not encourage their youth to attend Christian colleges will likely suffer the heartbreak of seeing a sharp decline in the numbers of educated young adults that participate in church ministries.

Even if such young adults remain in the church, they may ultimately have a negative impact on the church’s health. A March 29, 2005 Washington Post article revealed that 72% of college professors view themselves as “liberal,” 84% support abortion, and 67% view homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle. (Consider how much these numbers may have increased in nine years.) One rarely sits at the feet of such instructors for four years or more without being influenced by their ideologies in overt or subtle ways. Unless the church strongly promotes Christian education, the young adults who receive this dangerous tutelage will form the primary pool of future spiritual leaders for our churches. These young adults will carry the intellectual and philosophical influences of their educational background into their Sunday school classrooms, the deacons’ meeting, and committee discussions and potentially infect others with non-Christian views.

Students who attend authentic Christian colleges typically grow in their Christian commitment at five times the rate of students who attend other schools. They have a Christian worldview and a good foundation of biblical knowledge that equips them to serve Christ through their churches as well as through their professions. One can hardly estimate the sweeping impact that a Christian physician, attorney, public school teacher, journalist, or businessman may have on the kingdom of God in a local community when these influential believers view their profession as a divine calling and mission.

One of the great concerns related to the future of several of our Southern states is the notorious “brain drain” on our population. Bright educated young professionals are abandoning struggling states in unprecedented numbers as they seek higher salaries and greater potential for advancement in other states. However, the feared brain drain can also have a devastating effect on local churches. If Christian parents and churches entrust our best and brightest students to secular universities and they are schooled in unbiblical ideologies, the church risks losing its rich intellectual tradition. The church will be poorly equipped to offer a rational defense of the Christian faith to a culture that is increasingly hostile toward our deeply cherished Christian convictions.

It may surprise many to discover that education is such a vital part of our Baptist heritage that one entire article of the Baptist Faith and Message is actually devoted to discussing the importance of this endeavor. Article XII. Education states:

Christianity is the faith of enlightenment and intelligence. In Jesus Christ abide all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. All sound learning is, therefore, a part of our Christian heritage. . . . [T]he cause of education in the Kingdom of Christ is co-ordinate with the causes of missions and general benevolence.

Christian schools prepare outstanding Christian leaders for a variety of professions in which they have unique opportunities to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Who better to share the gospel with a teacher or attorney than a respected colleague who views his vocation as his calling and seeks to use it to glorify Christ at every opportunity? Christian education is thus a helpful strategy for assisting the church in fulfilling the Great Commission. That’s why our confession insists that just as the church supports the causes of local and international missions, education “should receive along with these the liberal support of the churches.”

When our churches affirm this historic Baptist confession, we are also acknowledging the value of Christian education and pledging our commitment to support this cause with generous gifts and fervent prayers. The need has never been greater and the ministry more strategic than now.

The College at Southeastern seeks to provide the sort of high-quality Christian education about which Dr. Quarles writes. For more info on the programs, faculty, and tuition costs for The College, check out the website and/or contact admissions

 

On Russell Moore and Convictional Kindness in the Public Square

Pin It

The wickedly keen theologian and ethicist Russell D. Moore will arrive on SEBTS’ campus December 3 in order to preach in chapel, speak to the faculty, and serve on a panel for the general public that evening. In preparation for his visit, I’ve had opportunity to re-read his inaugural address and reflect upon the way he is leading the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and the SBC in his new role as President of the ERLC.

There are many reasons to admire Moore and follow his leadership: he is a top-shelf theologian, a bona fide Southern Baptist, an excellent preacher, and a visionary leader. As much or more than any of those reasons, however, I am motivated to follow his leadership because of the way he combines gospel conviction and Christian kindness. Regretfully, this sort of convictional kindness has not always been a trademark of conservative evangelical interaction in the public square. I recognize my own failure in this area over the years.

In his inaugural address on September 10th of this year, Moore said, “As we march forward into the days that are before us, the worst thing we can possibly do in changing times is to come with a sour and dour and gloomy pessimism about the culture around us. We cannot stand and speak, ‘You kids get off my lawn.’ The word that Jesus has given to His church is a word that is filled with optimism and joy.”

The time has come for the church to proclaim the kingdom of God not merely in terms of how the culture falls short of that ideal, but rather in terms of what that ideal actually looks like. Speaking of the ministry of Jesus, Moore continued, “The crowd would have loved to have heard Jesus rail against the culture of the Roman Empire. . . . But instead, what Jesus does is to turn and to show His hearers how they had themselves been conformed to the pattern of the age around them.”

This calls for a transformation of the church so that the church genuinely serves as a preview of Christ’s kingdom. “In order for God to bless us,” Moore said, “we must recognize and know that God is forming first and foremost colonies of the kingdom that are accountable to the word that says, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’” So the church must conform to Christ by submitting to his word and in so doing the church serves as a sort of window through which the world can see Christ and imagine his kingdom.

Moore addressed what “success” will look like in upcoming years, when he said, “The way we will see success is in congregations first and foremost, that start to look freakishly strange.” He went on to describe believers who, for example, respect human life even when the broader public does not and who go beyond advocating for social causes in order to embody those causes.

Our churches must go beyond moral engagement in order to facilitate gospel engagement. Moore continued, “We are ministers of reconciliation, which means that we will speak hard words, and we will speak truthful words, and we will address the conscience, even when that costs us everything. But we will never end there. We will always end with the word that our Lord Jesus has given to us, the invitation if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation.”

In other words, God’s people must engage our society and culture with gospel witness that leads to moral reformation. The order must never be reversed or the church will have lost its message. “We will stand as good American citizens, and we will fight for justice, and we will fight . . . for all of those things that have been given to us, guaranteed by our Constitution as Americans. . . . But we will also remember that we are not Americans first. We belong to another kingdom. And we will stand and speak for that kingdom, recognizing that between now and then there are little congregations raising up little boys and girls to recognize what is permanent, what stands, what remains: a kingdom, a culture, a mission.”

Alongside of Dr. Moore’s comments, and in agreement with them, I wish to affirm that the Christian mission centers on God and the gospel and, as such, is comprehensive and multidirectional. As we worship God instead of idols (upward), we declare to our nation that God alone is worthy of worship. As we proclaim and promote the gospel through the church’s inner life (inward), we provoke our neighbors to jealousy so that they also will embrace the Savior. As we seek to live every aspect of our social and cultural life in accordance with God’s creational design (backward), we give our nation a glimpse of God’s original intentions for his world to be marked by universal peace, order, justice, and delight. As we proclaim and promote the gospel as a sign of his not-yet kingdom (forward), we give the nations a foretaste of the future banquet and a preview of the new heavens and earth.

As God’s people, we are a contrast community whose multi-directional gospel mission should give our nation a preview of Christ’s kingdom (positively) rather than merely declaring to our nation how far short it falls of that kingdom (negatively). Moore’s call for gospel witness and convictional kindness is one which we can and should heed.

Come here Dr. Russell Moore speak in chapel on December 3 at 10 a.m. Or, you may listen live at: http://www.sebts.edu/news-resources/livestream.aspx

The full text of Dr. Moore’s inaugural address can be found at: http://erlc.com/article/a-prophetic-minority-kingdom-culture-and-mission-in-a-new-era

 

 

Guest Post (Chuck Quarles): What Do Southern Baptists Believe about Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility in Salvation?

Pin It

What Do Southern Baptists Believe about Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility in Salvation?

Charles L. Quarles

Over the last several years, discussions about divine sovereignty and human responsibility in salvation have intensified in our Southern Baptist context. Labels like “Calvinist,” “Arminian,” and “semi-Pelagian” have been tossed around, often too freely, and this has brought more confusion than clarity to important doctrinal discussions in which we cannot afford to leave room for misunderstanding. I have always resisted these labels. My experience is that people define them in very different ways. My refusal to accept any of the above labels is not prompted by any desire to deceive others or to hide my views. I refuse to accept the labels simply because the issues are too important to leave room for being misunderstood by someone who is using a different “dictionary.”

I do proudly claim a few other monikers. Among them is the name “Baptist.” I am a Baptist both by heritage and by conviction. The label “Baptist” does not risk the misunderstanding generated by other labels because the label has been clearly defined in our great Baptist confessions. These great confessions directly address the thorny issues of divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

I will discuss two of these confessions below. Before I do, I ask three things of every reader. First, do not read this brief essay as a reaction to any recent statements offered by others in the current debate. I actually wrote this document several years ago, but did not publish it because I did not want to be responsible in any way for stirring controversy. Now that the controversy is upon us in full force, I offer this statement with a hope that it may promote unity within the Southern Baptist brotherhood. Second, please forget any label you may have heard applied to me by others that I have not personally affirmed. Otherwise, you may assume that I mean something other than what I actually say. Third, read every statement that I make in this document in light of the document as a whole. Please resist any temptation to pull a statement out of context and interpret it a way that contradicts my other clear statements.

Will you honor these requests? Promise? Are you absolutely sure? O.K., then . . . .

For the last one hundred and seventy-five years, Baptists in the South have primarily relied on two written confessions to express their beliefs about the complicated subject of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. These confessions are the New Hampshire Baptist Confession of 1833 (slightly revised in 1853 and hereafter referred to as NHBC) and the Baptist Faith and Message that was adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in 1925 and revised in 1963 and again in 2000 (hereafter the BFM; quotations are from the 2000 revision). The NHBC is the mother of the BFM. The 1925 statement recommended that “the New Hampshire Confession of Faith, revised at certain points, and with some additional articles growing out of certain needs” be adopted by the Convention.  Much of the wording of the NHBC was copied directly into the BFM. In cases in which questions about the meaning of the BFM arise, the NHBC may serve as a helpful guide to the correct interpretation. Consequently, when the intent of the BFM is unclear, appeal will be made to the NHBC.

What do these important confessions reveal about the Baptist view of divine sovereignty and human responsibility?

First, Baptists believe that the lost sinner is responsible for his condemnation and that only he deserves the blame for it.

In the beginning man was innocent of sin and was endowed by his Creator with freedom of choice. By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race. Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation. Only the grace of God can bring man into His holy fellowship and enable man to fulfill the creative purpose of God. (BFM Art. III)

The BFM reiterated its affirmation of man’s free choice in article V by insisting that election is consistent “with the free agency of man.” The NHBC was even more explicit on this point. It insisted “that nothing prevents the salvation of the greatest sinner on earth except his own voluntary refusal to submit to the Lord Jesus Christ, which refusal will subject him to an aggravated condemnation” (Emphasis added). A view that portrays God as preventing those who want to repent and believe from doing so is clearly beyond the parameters of the BFM and NHBC. Although these confessions affirm divine sovereignty in salvation, they just as strongly affirm human freedom and responsibility.

The BFM and NHBC show that Southern Baptists over the last two centuries have affirmed that in some mysterious way God is completely sovereign and humans are fully responsible creatures. We affirm both divine sovereignty and human responsibility because the Bible clearly teaches both. We may not be able to reconcile logically these two affirmations, but we seek to hold them in a proper biblical balance.

Second, Baptists believe that God is the cause of our salvation from beginning to end and that only He deserves glory for it.

The BFM affirms three important truths about divine election. Let’s begin to unpack these.

A. The BFM insists that divine election is “gracious.” This means that election is an undeserved gift. We did nothing to earn it or to qualify for it.

Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility. (BFM Art. V)

God chose us for salvation, not because of any good in us, but solely because of His great mercy and grace. This is implied both by the description of election as “gracious” and by the description of election as “unchangeable.” If election were dependent on human actions, a person would become elect after he met certain qualifications. The unchangeable nature of election demonstrates that it is grounded in the unchanging will of God rather than the actions of fickle human beings.

The BFM also portrays election as effective and unfailing. Notice that God actually regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners “according to” his gracious purpose in election. The grammar of the confession implies that the purpose of God in election will come to fulfillment. The statement that election “comprehends all the means in connection with the end” shows that God graciously grants to the sinner all that is necessary to fulfill His gracious purpose in election.

B. God granted us repentance from sin and faith in Christ as gracious gifts.

Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace. (BFM Art. IV)

Baptists regard repentance and faith as requirements for saving grace. This is clear from the earlier statements in Article IV of the BFM that salvation “is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour” and “There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.” God requires sinners to repent and believe in order to receive His gracious forgiveness. But Baptists also regard repentance and faith as “experiences of God’s grace.” By describing repentance and faith as “experiences of grace,” the BFM clearly teaches that we did not repent and believe because we were better than someone else or smarter than someone else. Repentance and faith were gifts that God graciously granted to us. God expressed his grace by opening our blind eyes, unstopping our deaf ears, softening our hard hearts, and enlightening our darkened minds. The BFM affirmed this earlier in the statement “Through illumination, he [the Holy Spirit] enables men to understand truth” (II.C.). This divine enabling is necessary in order for the sinner to understand and believe the gospel.

The BFM emphasizes that obedience to the gospel is voluntary by defining regeneration as “a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” Thus repentance and faith are legitimately described as experiences of God’s grace to the sinner and the sinner’s response to God’s gracious work. According to His eternal gracious purpose, God imparts repentance and faith to the sinner, but He does so in a way that is “consistent with the free agency of man” (BFM Art. V). The NHBC asserts that God grants “a holy disposition to the mind. . . . by the power of the Holy Spirit, so as to secure our voluntary obedience to the gospel.” God secures our obedience to the gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit and yet the sinner’s obedience to the gospel remains “voluntary.” Man’s freedom of choice remains intact even as God fulfills His unchangeable purpose.

How God accomplishes this remains “above our comprehension or calculation” (NHBC Art. VII). The confession teaches that God’s activity is a mystery and we do not have the capacity to figure it all out. The sooner that we admit that, the better.

C. Because salvation is God’s work for us and in us, we cannot pat ourselves on the back or congratulate ourselves for being saved.

Salvation is to the praise of the glory of His grace.

The BFM insists that election is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility. (BFM Art. V) Divine election humbles us by reminding us that God is the author of our salvation. He accomplished it. We are unworthy and undeserving recipients of God’s goodness that is on glorious display in election.

Third, Baptists believe that this understanding of divine sovereignty and human responsibility encourages rather than thwarts missions and evangelism.

 It is the duty and privilege of every follower of Christ and of every church of the Lord Jesus Christ to endeavor to make disciples of all nations. The new birth of man’s spirit by God’s Holy Spirit means the birth of love for others. Missionary effort on the part of all rests thus upon a spiritual necessity of the regenerate life, and is expressly and repeatedly commanded in the teachings of Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ has commanded the preaching of the gospel to all nations. It is the duty of every child of God to seek constantly to win the lost to Christ by verbal witness undergirded by a Christian lifestyle, and by other methods in harmony with the gospel of Christ. (BFM Art. XI)

Twice the confession describes evangelism as a duty demanded by Christ’s command to his disciples. However, it insists that evangelism is also a privilege, for it is the believer’s honor and joy to speak of the Savior. One should not overlook a third motivation for evangelism—Christian love. The confession teaches that the new birth imparts to the believer deep, sincere love for others. Since there is no hope for salvation apart from the gospel, nothing could be more unloving than hiding and hoarding the gospel from the lost. And there can be no greater display of compassion for others than expressing concern for an eternal soul by boldly sharing the gospel.

The NHBC said that a proper understanding of election “encourages the use of means in the highest degree.” Although the elect will be regenerated, justified, sanctified, and glorified, these ends will not be achieved apart from the preaching of the gospel. A view of election that sees missions and evangelism as unnecessary or that dampens missionary passion and evangelistic fervor is inconsistent with the Baptist view of election. Baptist history gives many examples of the consistency of a strong view of election with an equally strong commitment to proclaim the gospel. Our greatest Baptist missionaries and preachers, figures like William Carey, Charles H. Spurgeon, Lottie Moon, and Joseph Willis affirmed the doctrine of election and devoted their lives to proclaiming the glories of God’s grace. Would to God that every Baptist joined their ranks!

The views expressed in the Baptist Faith and Message have a strong biblical basis. Unfortunately, the limitations of this article do not permit discussion of this rich biblical foundation. Every reader would profit by getting a copy of the document and looking up the many Bible passages that support each article. The confession is a very accurate expression of many of the important truths of the God-breathed word.

The Baptist Faith and Message provides helpful parameters on this issue for Baptist institutions. However, we should honor and seek to protect the right of those in the Baptist family to hold differences of opinion that may coexist within these parameters. I pray that the same love imparted to the believer through the new birth that compels us to show compassion to the lost would likewise move us to show compassion to those brothers and sisters who differ from us on the intricacies of these mysterious and glorious doctrines.