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Archive for August, 2010

In continuing effort to recommend quality resources that are available for cheap, I’m letting you know about two great resources available online for free.  And free is, as you know, the cheapest of cheap.

Craig Keener and The Pneuma Foundation have made available Keener’s notes for a class on Biblical Interpretation (link for zip file which can open into a Word Document, link for a pdf).  I think it turns out to be 88 pages of notes.  According to his website, he wrote this as a beginner’s class for work in Africa, so there is no required technical knowledge needed to use it.  This would be perfect for a small group or a church class.  You can also find translations of this material in French, Spanish, Russian and Bulgarian at The Pneuma Foundation site!  You may recall Keener from my “5 Good Read Bible Scholars (for the non-academic)” post- you can add this helpful work to the list.

Biblical Training has posted I Howard Marshall’s A Pocket Guide to New Testament Theology for free at their site!  If printed out, this comes in at a mere 67 pages!  I own Marshall’s slightly larger (almost 800 pages) book, New Testament Theology, and have been very slowly reading portions of it.  At any rate, the Pocket Guide is a nice resource to have handy if you have basic questions on what the NT teaches. 

Happy reading!

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Since The Gospel Coalition first posted some thoughts from evangelical leaders on how to improve seminary education many bloggers and commentors have offered their own thoughts on the matter.  Some think the seminary education is completely broken and needs to be torn up, others see little need for change.  I’m probably somewhere in the middle.  I remain indebted to Gordon-Conwell for the education I received, the godliness modeled by its leaders and the relationships formed within the student body (including my co-blogger, Brian).  I will argue till I’m blue in the face that Gordon-Conwell is the finest evangelical seminary in America… in my unbiased opinion.

There are, however, things I’d like to see changed regarding seminaries in general.  None of these are peculiar to Gordon-Conwell; I’ve had enough friends in other schools and researched enough seminaries to know these are problems that are fairly widespread.  I could probably list more, but the few here will give you an idea of what I think.

Let me also state that I’m being somewhat idealistic.  Some of these will never be done.  But this is my blog and my blog post, and I can be idealistic if I want.  (Note: I just finished writing this and reread it.  Each point really should have its own post- but I don’t have a lifetime to do it.  Sorry.)

Better Integration

This was a common theme in the original TGC post linked to above (can I end a sentence with 2 prepositions?).  The concept of training pastors in a seminary is a little bit odd, if you ask me- or at least the way it plays out in reality.  Let me hyperbolize for a moment:

  • Christian Leader #1: How can we best train people to pastor churches?
  • Christian Leader #2: I know!  Let’s take them out of the church and stick them in a classroom for 3 years!

See the problem?  Now, most seminaries have means of solving this problem.  Gordon-Conwell has the Mentored Ministry program, where a student fulfills a certain number of hours a week to a church or ministry in order to complete their MDiv.  In reality, many students simply found a church or ministry that needed a warm body to fill some holes in their church.  I’m not saying all did it that way (I didn’t), nor am I saying the majority do.  But I knew enough people who fit that description to tell me that something wasn’t quite right.  Also, I do know that a number of students had trouble juggling the ministry and academic responsibilities, and the academic always won out because, well, you get a grade.  I’ll have more to say about that in a minute.

I would like to see a closer relationship between local churches and seminaries.  Could the seminary faculty help pastors learn to train leaders within the context of the local church?  Even within the seminary curriculum itself- could you require students in exegesis classes to develop a curriculum for use in the local church?  Could you do this for church history?  There’s a vast number of possibilities here.

Encourage Students to Study Part-time

There are only so many hours in a week.  Many students have to make difficult decisions regarding use of their time.  Do they spend the evening on their Systematic Theology paper?  Or do they spend it working on their Sunday School lesson?  And that doesn’t even take into account that many students are married with kids!  Or if they have a job, too, in order to help pay for school (more on that).

I know for most students, and sad to say myself included, school took precedence over ministry.  After all, no one is grading your Sunday School class.  Besides, will the class even notice the difference between 1 hour in preparation and 3 hours?

How sad it is when we give the body of Christ second best in exchange for an attempt at making some PhD (who may not even know your name) happy.  If I could redo my seminary education all over again, I would have gone to Gordon-Conwell part-time and spent more time in the church.  The lessons I’ve learned in church will last far longer than the ones in a classroom.

Make Seminary Cheaper

Okay, this is where I get really idealistic.  I’ll simply say this: you can come out of 3 years of full-time seminary with $40,000+ in debt.  To become a pastor.  I don’t know if you know this, but pastors, especially those right out of school, don’t make a ton of money. 

Even worse, what about those who leave seminary with dreams of hitting the mission field?  How will they pay loans off?  I’m thankful that Gordon-Conwell has a pretty substantial scholarship and grant program, otherwise I’d be paying loans back until my kids are old enough to go on the mission field in my place.

How do we make seminary cheaper?  No idea- someone else can answer that.  =)

Require an Age Limit

I started seminary at 22, having only taken 1 year off after my undergrad.  I had a number of classmates the same age or so as me.  I’ll tell you something, I was not ready at 25 to pastor a church.   In fact, most 25 year olds are not ready.

Beyond that, I would argue that most 22 year olds are incapable of knowing how to integrate their classroom learning with their ministry.  They simply do not have the life experience necessary.  They may have the IQ.  They may have the grades.  But they are generally ignorant about how the world works.  There is no substitute for life experience.  My suggestion: spend a few years working, serve your local church and wait until you’re (at least) 25 before you start.  Then go to school part-time.  It will take longer, but you will be a better minister to the Body for it.

I had a friend in seminary named John.  John was an associate pastor at a church in Scotland, going there after he finished a master’s in history at Cambridge.  After a few years of being an associate pastor, John realized he really needed a stronger theological and biblical foundation if he were going to continue pastoring.  Because of this previous experience, John was a more focused, and better, student than most of us.

Demand Greater Biblical Knowledge

I’m going to let you in on a dirty little secret- seminary students know surprisingly little about the Bible.  Seminary students, like many students (especially young ones) aren’t really trying to learn.  They’re trying to get a good grade.  Thus, they learn the necessary Greek terms, the orthodox theological points and the proper sermon writing method to make the teacher think they are learning.  In reality, if you press them, many (again, not all) don’t really know what they’re talking about.  Harsh?  Perhaps.  I would actually like to see a stricter grading process. 

This differs from professor to professor, of course.  I had some profs who gave out A’s like they were Halloween candy.  In other classes your paper practically had to be publishable to get an A.  I learned more from the latter.

Actually Train Ministers to Encounter the Realities of the Present World

I remember Tim Tennent, my former missions professor and now President at Asbury Seminary, lamenting that seminary students know more about dead liberal German theologians than they do Muslims.  He’s right.  If I didn’t go out of my way to learn about the various religions of the world, I probably would have a rudimentary knowledge at best.  After all, when I learned about Paul’s epistles, I learned about F C Bauer and the Tubingen Hypothesis (a name of a former fake band of mine).  When I took a class on the Pentateuch, I learned more than I ever wanted about The Documentary Hypothesis.  Spend time on how Paul’s principles of self-sacrifice and contextualization can help me minister cross-culturally?  Huh?

Yet, guys like Bauer and Wellhausen are dead.  As I’m ministering in Boston, I’ll probably never encounter someone who has read them or who even cares about their theories.  But I’ll meet a Muslim.  I’ll meet Hindus and Buddhists.  And if all I know about Muslims is going to come from blogs and the evening news, I’ll be an ineffective minister to them.  I’ll never know anything about their worldview or how to share the gospel with them.  I’ll never know how to use the Bible to speak to their hearts.  Why?  Because evangelicals love to fight battles with dead people and ignore the changing world around them.  The lack of foresight is astonishing and disheartening.

Our world- our country- is changing.  I’d hate to see seminary trained pastors fall behind because seminaries themselves have flaws.  Then again, I would argue that students have as much, if not more, responsibility for their own education than the seminary administration.  But that’s another post, soon to come.

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Christ on Campus Initiative

Every once in a while I add a new link to the sidebar, but rarely post anything about it.  But I thought today I’d recommend a good resource, particularly geared toward those involved in university ministries.  I have actually known about it for a while, but I was reminded of it yesterday. 

It’s called the Christ on Campus Initiative.  Here is what their “About” page states:

The Christ on Campus Initiative (CCI) is a ministry of the Henry Center created for the purpose of preparing and circulating literature for college and university students, addressing an array of important intellectual and practical issues from an evangelical Christian perspective. The editorial team, led by D.A. Carson, commissions top evangelical scholars to oversee the creation and distribution of a variety of resources for university students. The goal of these resources is that they be intellectually rigorous, culturally relevant, persuasive in argument and faithful to historic, evangelical Christianity.

As for individual articles currently posted (I assume they’ll add more over time), there are a handful that stand out to me.  This doesn’t mean the others aren’t as good (I haven’t read them all), but I’m not as interested in human sexuality as some might be.  Here are links to the HTML version of the articles, you can always download the pdf files.

Cornelius Plantinga Jr- Sin: Not the Way It’s Supposed To Be (I’ve read his book by this same name, it’s outstanding)

William Lane Craig- Five Arguments for God

Graham Cole- Do Christians Have a Worldview?

Harold Netland- One Lord and Savior Over All? Jesus Christ and Religious Diversity

Craig Blomberg- Jesus of Nazareth: How Historians Can Know Him and Why It Matters

Anyway, check it out when you get a chance and let me know what you think.  I’m grateful that more and more evangelical scholars are willing to make their work available for free for the use of the church.

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In yesterday’s review of D A Carson’s The God Who Is There I mentioned being struck by the echoes of Exodus 32-34 he found in the prologue to John’s Gospel, specifically John 1:14-18.  For those interested, I’m listing the 5 he discusses on pages 111-117.

1. Tabernacle & Temple: John 1:14 states, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”  “Made his dwelling” can also be literally translated as “tabernacled.”  In the next chapter of John (2:19-21) Jesus refers to Himself as the Temple.  The choice of wording in both places is not accidental, as the Tabernacle and Temple were where God’s presence dwelt.

2. Glory: John writes in v14, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son.”  This recalls Moses’ prayer, “Now show me your glory” (and Moses only sees the “backside of his glory,” to use a Caedmon’s Call lyric).

3. Grace and Truth (Love and Faithfulness): John, again in v14, describes Jesus as “full of grace and truth.”  When God passes by Moses, who is hiding in a cave, he is described as “abounding in [or full of] love and faithfulness,” (the bracketed portion is Carson’s insertion) which could also be translated “grace and truth.”

4. Grace and Law: In vv16-17, John writes, “Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”  This recalls the given of the law to Moses (which first happens in Exodus), which was a gracious gift, but surpassed by the grace that comes through Christ.

5. Seeing God: John writes in v18, “No one has ever seen God,” which recalls Exodus 33:20, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”  The implications for Jesus’ divinity are strong.  This shouldn’t be a surprise, of course, because John already said the “Word was God” (v1) and “the Word became flesh” (v14).  Jesus is God in the flesh.  This is why Jesus can later say, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9).

It would be a fun exercise to sit down and come up with all the echoes of the Old Testament in John’s Prologue (1:1-18) as there are many.  While his discussion was relatively brief, Carson encouraged me to think more deeply as I read through these familiar passages and look for ways the writer is pulling from the Old Testament.

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Special thanks to Adam of Baker Publishing Group for a review copy of this book.

By now readers of this site should not need an introduction to D. A. Carson.  He’s about as prolific an author as there is in the world of biblical studies, as well as a high-demand speaker.  In fact, this book, The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story, stems from a series of talks he gave at Bethlehem Baptist Church in February 2009 (The Gospel Coalition has generously posted the audio for free, as well as short video clips from each talk). 

I’m at a loss for how to categorize this book.  It is a work of theology, in that it’s subject is the God of the Bible.  It is a bit of a Bible introduction, for it is written with someone who has little-to-no knowledge of the Bible in mind.  It is evangelistic in nature, in that one of the target audiences of the book is the non-Christian (who ought to know, in Carson’s words, about the God in whom they disbelieve) and they are encouraged to find their place in God’s story (as the subtitle indicates).

The book itself is divided into 14 chapters weighing in at about 225 pages.  The chapter titles (e.g., The God Who Made Everything, The God Who Dies- And Lives Again) give the reader a clue about the content of each chapter.  Coming as no surprise to anyone who has read him, Carson handles each chapter with great care and clarity.  He anticipates questions and objections well and answers them, even if briefly.

This book is, as I said, a theology book, specifically theology proper (about God Himself).  But it is unlike many other theology books out there, or at least systematic theology.  First of all, Carson follows the basic story line of the Bible itself as his approach to teaching about the God of Scripture.  Thus, it is no surprise that his first chapter is on God as Creator and so on.  Carson does deal in terms of categories (Creator, Judge, etc) and characteristics (wrath, love, etc) like systematic theologies, but they rarely seek to follow the Bible metanarrative.  I, for one, much prefer Carson’s method.

Second, unlike most systematic theology, Carson’s work is text- and context-driven.  Each chapter focuses on a specific text, sometime multiple biblical chapters, and its context rather than prooftexting his way through a given topic.  That is not to say he never refers to other places in the Bible in a given chapter, but he only does so to make clear how it fits into the story of the Bible.

Overall, I think Carson does an admirable job explaining how God is portrayed in the Bible.  I appreciate that he did not shy away from the more difficult images of God used in the Bible, as many are prone to do, in order to make Him more palatable to our culture.  God is who He is, and Carson is content to let the Bible speak for itself.  He does attempt to answer some objections and common questions along the way, and occasionally suggests further reading (and more, I’m told, shows up in the Leader’s Guide- if I would have known there was one I would have asked for a review copy of that, too).

The God Who Is There is also, in some sense, an introduction to the Bible.  He explains very basic points (how many books are there, the original languages, etc) and when he refers, for instance, to Romans he explains it is the 6th book of the New Testament, coming after the Gospels and Acts.  I wouldn’t say this book should be used as an introduction to the Bible, as it is uneven.  For instance, it gives some quick guidance to reading certain books (such as the Wisdom books), but not most others.  This isn’t a knock on the book, since Carson’s goal was more to introduce the God of the Bible rather than the Bible.

Carson is a master expositor, and his skills shine throughout the book.  He seeks to explain the text, not just the original meaning but the implications for the reader.  He explains difficult concepts, draws out important points and shows how they fit in the Bible and what they reveal about God.  For a book written with a biblically illiterate audience in mind, Carson doesn’t mind digging to make his point.  I was humbled on more than one occasion by not noticing something in Scripture that I had read over many times before (like the echoes of Exodus 32-34 in John’s Prologue).

My only real complaint is that Carson is a bit weak on the prophets.  Given that Isaiah through Malachi makes up a dominant portion of Scripture, I would have liked to have seen more said about them.  I made this same critique of an otherwise wonderful OT introduction, so I’m starting to wonder if scholars just aren’t sure what to say about the prophetical books in their lay-level writings.

Like I said above, Carson’s book is partially evangelistic.  It is not, as you can probably guess by now, evangelistic in the same way the 4 Spiritual Laws are evangelistic, or even the “Romans Road.”  It is evangelistic in that it seeks to tell the reader, who may not be a Christian at all, about God.  Carson tries, as much as is humanly possible, to capture the essence of the God who created and sustained all things and who has revealed Himself throughout history, especially in the pages of the Bible.

But more importantly, Carson seeks to show how the revelation of God is most supremely seen in the person of Jesus.  It is Jesus, God incarnate, who died on a Roman cross and rose again 3 days later, who is the centerpiece of the faith.  The gospel is not a cool story for children’s book, or a doctrinal point to check off.  It is the message of Jesus- His life, His work and His return- that the reader is encouraged on these pages to meet. 

I should note that this is probably one of the more intellectually engaging attempts at evangelism out there (aside from the debate circuit).  Whoever gives this book to an interested friend, or leads a small group based on this book, ought to expect many questions along the way.  But if you have friends who are genuinely interested in knowing more about the Bible, and even more so about the God of the Bible, then Carson is probably the best pick around.  And the truth is, plenty of Christians desperately need to read this book as well, and learn more about the God we worship.

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