Gordon-Conwell Blog

Hamilton and Boston 2014 Baccalaureate and Commencement Addresses

May 14, 2014

On Friday, May 9 and Saturday, May 10, the Hamilton and Boston campuses honored our graduates during Baccalaureate and Commencement ceremonies. The speakers were graduating student Stephen White, Associate Professor of Pastoral Leadership and Evangelism Dr. Jim Singleton, graduating student Valerie Ting Osterbrock, and (Gordon-Conwell Trustee and alum) Rev. Dr. Claude Alexander.

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C.S. Lewis and Suffering, Part Four: Hope | Seminary Student Blogger

May 06, 2014

Josh Kluth

There are many aspect of Lewis’ understanding that we have observed in the past three posts (if you missed them, read the first here, the second here and the third here) in this series. Lewis wrote frequently about the issue of pain and suffering, recognizing that it is one of the biggest challenges to Christian faith. His helpful understanding of the role of experience and reason alongside his helpful imagery make Lewis one of the most quoted Christian thinkers on this subject. His dialectic of reason and experience provides a more comprehensive view of pain and suffering. I want to conclude this series with three particular ways Lewis offers help to pastor-theologians.

1. Pastoral care often requires signing up for the long haul.

Lewis helps remind pastor-theologians that being with people in grief is often a commitment for the long haul. Lewis says people who suffer may never truly “get over it” because suffering sometimes means nothing will ever the same again. Utilizing the amputee image, everything from bathing to dressing will always be different. This is particularly important as Lewis reminds us that “in grief nothing ‘stays put.’” One who is suffering may never truly get beyond the phases of suffering. He describes grief as a long winding valley that reveals new, difficult landscapes. Providing pastoral care means we are willing to be with people.

2. Pastoral care is often expressed in seeking to understand rather than seeking to be understood.

Lewis teaches pastor-theologians how to engage. Those who preach and teach often forget that communication is more than just talking. They use their mouth at the exclusion of their ears. They use their words at the exclusion of their tone. They want to be heard instead of to hear. Lewis teaches us what it is like to be the sufferer. He describes the feelings of grief as feeling mildly drunk or concussed. “There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says....It is so uninteresting.” This comes from a man who loved words. He wrote books on words and studied philology. He spoke and wrote for a living. And yet, he reminds us that words often fail to interest when one is in the trenches of suffering. Lewis writes, “Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I show suspect that you don't understand.” Lewis concludes that theology alone fails to deal with reality because it is often written from a disinterested point of view.

3. Pastoral care points others to Christ as our primary understanding of suffering.

Christ came to a sinful world to become sin on its behalf (2 Cor. 5:21). Lewis reminds us that “Christianity is not the conclusion of the philosophical debate on the origins of the universe: it is a catastrophic historical event.” Christianity is not just a philosophical defense or even a theological argument; it is an incarnate Messiah who tells us about the heart of God. Nothing less than Christ will do. Lewis tells us, “I need Christ, not something that resembles him.” In point of fact, Lewis reminds us that God’s commitment is for our ultimate redemption and will leave all false ideas of the Messiah in ruins. “God becomes a Man and lives as a creature among His own creatures in Palestine, the indeed His life is one of supreme self-sacrifice and leads to Calvary.” We may not be able to resolve the question completely to our satisfaction of why God allows suffering, but because of Christ, we know that it’s not because he doesn’t care.

It is obvious why Lewis continues to have an impact on Christians during times of need and suffering. I hope you will find comfort in Lewis as a friend and pastor, speaker and listener.

Josh and his wife, Tara, are from Washington State. Josh is pursuing an MAR and MATH while Tara works as a hairdresser in Manchester-by-the-Sea. Together, they are most captivated by the story in which God has placed them in this fascinatingly bizarre world that spins across this universe. In the midst of it all, they are stabilized by what Sally Lloyd-Jones describes as “God’s 'Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love' in Jesus" (Jesus Storybook Bible).

 

Tags: Author: Josh Kluth , student blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

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A Tale of Three Battles | Faculty Blogger

May 01, 2014

Donald Fairbairn

Dr. Fairbairn authors a series about why evangelicals should care about the early church. If you are just now joining us, you can read Part 1 here; Part 2 here; Part 3 here; Part 4 here; Part 5 here; Part 6 here; Part 7 here; Part 8 here; Part 9 here; Part 10 here; Part 11 here; Part 12 here; Part 13 here; Part 14 here; Part 15 here.

It is often said—correctly—that the Battle of Tours in 732 changed the course of history. It took place exactly a century after Muhammad’s death, during the great wave of Arab expansion that re-drew the political and religious map of the world. Arab Muslim forces crossed the Strait of Gibraltar into Spain and then over the Pyrenees into France. Had they been able to continue their advance, they would likely have overrun all of Europe, but they were defeated by Merovingian forces from northern Europe under the command of Charles Martel and forced back into Spain. Charles Martel’s grandson Charlemagne would go on to solidify his control over the region and start a great renaissance of learning in the ninth century, and Western Europe would begin its slow rise to world prominence.

As we tell that familiar story, we often forget that another, equally fateful battle took place at about the same time. In 717–18 in Constantinople, Byzantine Emperor Leo III and his forces narrowly defeated Arab invaders, forcing them back into what is today Turkey. The close call led to an enormous amount of social and theological soul-searching in Byzantium (among other things, the Iconoclastic Controversy arose out of the ideological battle with the Muslims), but it would be more than seven centuries before Muslims (Turks, not Arabs) would conquer Constantinople in 1453. The siege of Constantinople in 717–18 could easily lay claim to having “saved” Europe just as much as the Battle of Tours fifteen years later.

But not long after the Arabs failed to take Europe from either the West or the East, a third, far greater clash took place halfway around the known world. For we need to remember that the two great powers in the world in the eighth century were the Arabs and the Chinese, and the Arabs were much more interested in expanding eastward along the Silk Road than westward or northward. (In fact, it is likely that part of the reason they failed to take Europe was because they devoted much more energy to taking Asia.) After the resolution of an internal conflict brought unity to the Arab forces, they squared off with the Tang Chinese army in 751 at the Battle of Talas, in what is today Kirghizstan. The Arabs were victorious, and China began its slow decline from world power to isolationist kingdom. The Arabs solidified their hold on most of Central Asia, and the region became solidly Muslim.

These THREE almost contemporary battles—not just the one we Westerners are familiar with—changed the course of history. But what about CHURCH history? The picture is varied and complicated, but it may not be too much of an over-simplification to say that the churches in most parts of the world at that time were too closely tied to the local kingdoms. In Western Europe, the church rode the coattails of the victorious Merovingian kingdom to increase its stature and prominence. At the same time, it is surely fair to say that the church adopted too many of the traits of the worldly kingdom, leading to an increasingly militant form of Christianity that would ultimately produce the Crusades. In China (yes, there WAS a church in China then), the church was equally tied to the local kingdom and suffered greatly as the kingdom became more isolationist and xenophobic in the ninth and tenth centuries. By the year 1000, Christianity had disappeared from China.

In between Europe and China, though, something different began to happen. In the Middle East and Egypt, the churches learned to adapt to a lack of power, to a second-class status in society, and for the most part, those churches have endured and maintained their witness during the long centuries of Islamic governmental control. They suffered through the vicious Islamic backlash against Christians in response to the Crusades and the even more vicious Islamic purges of the 20th and 21st centuries. Those churches have accumulated many problems in their checkered history, and they are far from perfect. But they have also learned something about what it means to bear witness to the gospel through suffering. As Christians in the West face the reality of our declining influence on an increasingly post-Christian society, perhaps we will find that the churches that have stood their ground in hostile territory for over a millennium have something to teach us today. 

Dr. Donald Fairbairn is the Robert E. Cooley Professor of Early Christianity. His responsibilities include further developing the Robert C. Cooley Center for the Study of Early Christianity at the Charlotte campus, which explores the historical foundations of the Christian faith.

 

 

 

 

Tags: Author: Donald Fairbairn , current students , faculty blogger

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Finals Week Rest | Seminary Student Blogger

April 30, 2014

Amy Gannett

We’re in the middle of finals week, and I can’t help but take a little break to reflect. As things stand now, I have one final down, one to go and a serious exegesis paper to finish and turn in. This past week, I’ve had strep throat and a cold on top. Add to that some long days at work that don’t pause for finals like the Hamilton campus does and just enough stress to make sleep less refreshing, and life gets a little out of control.

I get sick every finals week. Seriously, every single semester, when this time of year comes around, my body crashes like it’s Y2K. And it doesn’t seem to matter how much EmergenC I take or how religiously I alternate between DayQuil and NyQuil, life slips just beyond the grasp of my control.

I’m starting to think my God’s up to something.

In an already trying season of more work and less play, or more thinking and less sleep, relationships become more strained, words come out more biting, and it seems as if all graciousness is gone. And no matter how much effort I put forth into holding my tongue, studying my Greek flashcards, balancing time between my relationships on campus and my relationship with the library, getting to bed at a promising time, finishing the reading due last week, and still getting all the little life-things done that make us human, too…I fail. I can’t. They don’t get done, relationships are strained, and the fill-in-the-blank answer escapes me.

Having things beyond my control is semi-unfamiliar territory, if I’m honest. I’ve put a lot of effort into keeping my schedule manageable and organizing my time. I like everything to be do-able. I like to be able to manage everything on my own, and I put a lot of pride in my ability to handle my world well.

And then the semester begins to spin towards an end…

And I wake up with a sore throat…

And I stay up too late…

And I snap at my husband…

And I get a cold…

And I’m too tired to study…

And I’m reminded that I never was in control all along. I’m reminded that there’s a pertinent way that our Lord is supposed to be needed in our dailyness.

One thing I’ve said repeatedly to those around me is that I don’t want to be needy. When I say it I mean that I don’t want to be overbearing or a burden. But I think there’s something that reeks of independent western culture: I don’t want to need. I don’t want to need someone or something. I want to do it on my own.

And I’ll try.
And try
And try
And try…

Until all the world seems to be slipping away from me. When all my best-laid plans crumble and fail, I’m reminded that I am inherently needy. That I was created to need, and when I come to think that I am not or I convince myself that I am self-sufficient, then I am not living into who I am to be as a child of God.

We are needy beings. We are people who are not in control, people who weren’t made to manage and organize and get by. We were created to trust and lean and depend on the God who gave us challenges and exams and relationships. We are to do what He has given us to do, but to do it from a posture of resting in the knowledge that He is in control.

At the end of the day, no amount of vitamin C is going to be my helper. Only He, the One who knows all my needs and savors my neediness, is my Helper.

“Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life.”
Psalm 54:4
 

Hi, friend. I'm Amy. Mostly, I’m just another twenty-something trying to figure out the stuff of life. I am a nerdy seminary student who loves the smell of old books and early mornings in the library. I am an artist wanabee, a liberal to the conservative and conservative to the liberal, guilty social justice groupie, and a recovering Bible know-it-all with the unreal ability to put my foot in my mouth an astonishing number of times each day. I am a sister to eight of the most hysterical creatures ever created. Good theology, used book stores, and autumn make me giddy. I preach passionately, think deeply, and ask too many questions. I write prayers, poetry and prose. I write about preaching bad and good, gender roles in the Church, the sacraments, stupid things we do on Sunday, politics, and almost everything else that you are not supposed to discuss in polite company. I also blog at oneyellowbird.blogspot.com. Welcome to the journey.

 

Tags: Author: Amy Gilbaugh , current students , student blogger

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Imagine | Seminary Student Blogger

April 29, 2014

Kate Hightower

No light have I alone
It’s darkness that I tread
No hope to ever change that
Now that my Christ is dead.

For everyone heard the stories

Isaiah was never wrong
He told us that he’d suffer
He didn’t say how long.

But death has overcome him
I watched him breathe his last
And down came a thunderous storm of sorts—
Earth’s grief that He had passed.


Imagine our tear-streaked faces
Imagine how we fell-the-floor
When we lifted our eyes to see
Him simply cross through the door

The holes were in his hands
The edges even scabbed!
He didn’t have long to stay
But He told us of His plans

It was after that heaven took Him
The mission was complete
His instructions to us were simple
Tell everyone you meet.

We couldn’t help but tell them
Of wonders did this story tell
Of the Death-Master, Messiah-Jesus
Who for Love through darkness fell. 

Kate Hightower is writing to you from the middle of her Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Christian Thought pursuit at Gordon-Conwell—Jacksonville, where she is also a Byington Scholar. She’s an avid Bob Dylan fan, and can always be counted upon for decadent French cooking. And she’s madly in love with her giant, brilliant golden retriever, Stella.

 

Tags: Author: Kate Hightower , current students , student blogger

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Silent Soul On Gordon-Conwell’s Campus | Seminary Guest Blogger

April 24, 2014

Michael Gonzalez

When I got to Gordon-Conwell’s campus, I thought to myself, “How could I survive being the only Deaf student living on this campus, where I want to express American Sign Language fluently? Being on campus, there is only one person I can talk with freely in ASL...God Himself!” I have been a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary since the fall of 2011. I used to live as a commuter student, where I did not have much opportunity to be part of the Gordon-Conwell community, until a turning point in my life where I lost everything. It caused me to relocate to live on Gordon-Conwell campus in January 2013. I had become an exilic person because I was truly detached from the Deaf communities I had called my home for 35 years. Living on campus was like living in the Babylonian Empire, where I began my new adventure and new experience learning to live inside the hearing community.

Seeing inside the hearing community gave me a new understanding about the hearing community’s ignorance concerning how to communicate with Deaf individuals. For years, I used to assume too much that I was being neglected or being left out. That caused me to think I was being oppressed because of being a Deaf person. Months have passed by and my understanding has dawned, helping me correct my false views of oppression when dealing with seminary students, professors, and staff. My rational thinking about being oppressed by hearing people has changed, and I had to unlearn old ways of thinking and change the new way of thinking about how hearing people are reacting toward Deaf people. Most hearing people have no experience with and have never even encountered any Deaf individuals in their lifetime. Therefore, it is not their fault if they do not understand. I was given an opportunity to interact with them on campus and even correct their assumptions and myths that Deaf individuals cannot do anything at all.

Why did I identify myself as “Deaf” instead of “deaf”? I identify myself as being part of the Deaf culture and community, where American Sign Language is considered the primary language. This differs from “deaf.” The word “deaf” is defined based on audiological loss only applying to general loss. People with audiological loss can lose their hearing ability as an adult. Some would prefer using the oral method instead of using sign language as their communication method.

I keep receiving comments from students saying I am considered as a joy to the community and I bring light to them. They also keep telling me, “I love your presence when you are smiling!” It has become an icon on this campus. However, it is nothing new to me because my family and close friends have told me the same thing. It is my only way to express the unconditional love I have received from God and I want to send the flow of love from God to them. 

Michael is a native of Southern California and Pennsylvania, and has been living in the Boston area for 11 years. During his social work residency near Boston, he worked with Deaf clients and empowered them with independent living skills. He has also worked as a mental health social worker for the Deaf. Michael is pursuing an MAEM at Gordon-Conwell. He sees his journey with God—since 1995—as the most beautiful story that brought him to truly understand God’s unconditional love and grace upon his life!

 

Tags: Author: Michael Gonzalez , guest post , student blogger

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C.S. Lewis and Suffering, Part Three: Severe Mercy | Seminary Student Blogger

April 17, 2014

Josh Kluth

Now that we have looked at Lewis’ use of reason and experience as it relates to suffering, I want to demonstrate how Lewis conceived of hope amidst suffering. In the next and final post of this series, I will explore ways in which Lewis helps pastor-theologians as they confront the problem of suffering in their congregations.

Lewis believed that correct belief devoid of experience could, in fact, be false belief. The belief itself might be genuine, but “Only a real risk tests the reality of your belief.” In describing the distinction, Lewis said, “The reason for the difference is only too plain. You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.” Lewis believed that our relationship with God is not simply made up of facts and argument. Knowledge is, in fact, incomplete without experience. One of the many things Lewis does well is provide helpful imagery. His illustrations capture the tension created by suffering. The examples below show how Lewis conceived of suffering in light of reason and experience of what he called the “severe mercy” of God.

  • Suffering often challenges the foundation of our faith. Lewis wrote that the experience of suffering often makes our untested faith look like a “house of cards.”
  • Suffering is often used by God to destroy false ideas about him. He describes God as the “great iconoclast.” God shows us that our ideas about him are not in themselves divine and must be “shattered time after time.”  
  • He describes the loss of a loved one as being similar to the experience of an amputee. “At present I am learning to get about on crutches. Perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg. But I show never be a biped again.” In a culture like ours that labels faith a crutch, Lewis finds the crutch to be God’s demonstration of care toward the wounded; a crutch is a necessity, not a fantasy.
  • He illustrates the silence of God in suffering. “When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.’”
  • Lewis describes some pain as being that which one undergoes at the hand of a good. “What you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more exorbitantly he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless.”

Lewis remarked that that the answers are ultimately found in God. This truth simultaneously preserves mystery and creates hope. The mystery of God’s omniscience is better than the thought of God’s indifference. His gaze is mysteriously compassionate towards our suffering. Lewis says that there is a strange comfort in mystery. “Heaven will solve our problems, but not, I think, by showing us subtle reconciliations between all our apparently contradictory notions. The notions will all be knocked from under our feet. We shall see that there never was any problem.” Philosophical and theological discussions seek to demystify that which is mysterious. But experience reminds us that there is more than just detached argumentation. Ultimately, God is not indifferent. He cares enough to pursue us in pain. He cares enough to undergo the pain of the crucifixion. Pain is the severe mercy of God.

Josh and his wife, Tara, are from Washington State. Josh is pursuing an MAR and MATH while Tara works as a hairdresser in Manchester-by-the-Sea. Together, they are most captivated by the story in which God has placed them in this fascinatingly bizarre world that spins across this universe. In the midst of it all, they are stabilized by what Sally Lloyd-Jones describes as “God’s 'Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love' in Jesus" (Jesus Storybook Bible).

 

Tags: Author: Josh Kluth , student blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

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New Old Lessons | Seminary Student Blogger

April 15, 2014

Amy Gannett

Finals week is quickly approaching, and with it there's much to say, think, feel, and yes, do.

Finals week is a peculiar beast for me, and I know I’m not alone. The nerdy side of me absolutely loves every single minute of it—seriously, long days in the library reading, reciting, reviewing. Sigh...heartthrob. But the free-spirit side of me is getting weary by the long days indoors while the trees are budding outside where sunshine replaces florescent lighting.

Though my mind and heart are strapped to the pendulum perpetually swinging between the two extremes, the Lord is reminding me of an old familiar truth I've long neglected.

He's here.

Elementary? Maybe. But it struck me afresh when...

I was reading a commentary for my exegesis paper and He stopped me and reminded me that the Book was written about Him, and me and Him.

I was sitting in the sunshine trying to read (and failing epically, I might add) and a spider on my quilt fascinated me—the way it moved with agility and grace and the meticulous way He must have designed it.

I was talking with a friend about Hebrew exegesis and we were reminded that soon it will all be over, and His Spirit pulled me aside and said, "Yes, one Day, it will all be over...all of it. And it will just be the beginning."

I was translating Psalm 51 and was actually starting to get a smooth translation and was filled with awe that we serve a God who articulates Himself to us so well and so intentionally.

I was talking to Him on a quiet morning and asking Him to remind me of His presence and instantly a flood of these memories came to mind...

He's here. And He wants us to know it. There's something about the busyness of this season that has made me forget that He wants to intrude every moment, and that inviting Him turns an intrusion into an intimate moment shared with Him. I've asked for open eyes and I'm beginning to see Him...

In the way the tulips relentlessly push back the winter earth and insist on newness.

In the constant way my husband forgives the rough edges in my spirit and, in doing so, preaches the gospel to me.

In the way my friends consistently show me grace when I still haven't figured out how to love them well, and even when I've given up trying.

In all this and more, He's here. He's pushing towards us, prompting us, calling to us in every crevice of the day. He's catching us unexpectedly, reminding us of His love, taking our breath away by the wonder of His constant love. And all we have to do is notice. 

Hi, friend. I'm Amy. Mostly, I’m just another twenty-something trying to figure out the stuff of life. I am a nerdy seminary student who loves the smell of old books and early mornings in the library. I am an artist wanabee, a liberal to the conservative and conservative to the liberal, guilty social justice groupie, and a recovering Bible know-it-all with the unreal ability to put my foot in my mouth an astonishing number of times each day. I am a sister to eight of the most hysterical creatures ever created. Good theology, used book stores, and autumn make me giddy. I preach passionately, think deeply, and ask too many questions. I write prayers, poetry and prose. I write about preaching bad and good, gender roles in the Church, the sacraments, stupid things we do on Sunday, politics, and almost everything else that you are not supposed to discuss in polite company. I also blog at oneyellowbird.blogspot.com. Welcome to the journey.

 

Tags: Author: Amy Gilbaugh , current students , student blogger

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Hopes of a Disillusioned Hopeless Romantic | Seminary Student Blogger

April 10, 2014

Joelinda Coichy

My friends call me the queen of corn and cheese. Pop music, corny chick flicks with predictable endings…mmmhmm. The sweet essence of life captured in a cheesy country song…yes, please! “Higher” forms of art like the ballet, the theater and good design…uh-huh.

Someone once said: “I crave beauty.”

I nearly fell out of my seat. #thatsmylife. I mean, yes, me too!

But in the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit that this hopeless romantic has been disillusioned lately. And it’s not because I have not seen a good romantic comedy recently.

It’s because life has a way of smacking the romance right out of you. Two days after college graduation and one day after I had moved into the same state as my Mr. Right, our two-year, long distance relationship came to an end…smack. Fourteen short months later, he married another…double smack. I quit my job and moved from sunny Georgia to this frozen, New England tundra…cold, hard smack. The nice orthodox, evangelical seminary respite from my previous secular, liberal education, it turns out, is full of broken humans who hurt each other in spite of themselves…smack, smack. Illness, failed Hebrew classes, insecurity…smack, smack, smack. The fact that “Frozen” was not nearly as good as everyone said it would be…SMACK.

Life is too difficult, unpredictable and full of disappointment for beauty.

But, on the days when I let go of the death grip that I have on my life and my way, I realize something: the antidote to disillusionment is perspective.

I don’t know about you, but my life so quickly becomes myopic and claustrophobic. And when in the world did beauty or romance ever come from myopic claustrophobia?

That is why Sabbath is essential.

In Sabbath, we let go of the vice grip we have on our agendas, our desires, our way and dial back into the fact that we don’t know it all, control it all, need it all or can do it all.

In Sabbath, we reconnect with the heart of God—the true fount of all that is eternally good, everlastingly true and expansively beautiful.

In Sabbath, there is space for romance [I don’t mean the lovey-dovey kind; I mean the mysterious, soul stirring kind] in the difficult, in the unpredictable, in the disappointment because we behold Beauty itself.

In Sabbath, God himself shatters our myopia and conquers our claustrophobia.

…I am preaching to myself on this one. And hoping that God will bring me to a place where I actually believe that He is big enough, even with all the bumps and bruises of life, to top my boldest, wildest, corniest, cheesiest dreams. 

Joelinda is a second year M.Div. candidate. She currently serves as the Student Ministries Director at Grace Chapel’s Watertown campus. She is a lover of all things beautiful including theater, fall days in New England, chick flicks and the mountains. She counts bargain-hunting her sport and enjoys singing loudly while driving. Above all, Joelinda’s passion is to build relationships that help others understand the transformative power of the gospel.

 

Tags: Author: Joelinda Coichy , student blogger , student life

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Learning from Our Church Fathers: Part 15

April 08, 2014

Donald Fairbairn

This is Part 11 in a series about why evangelicals should care about the early church. If you are just now joining us, you can read Part 1 here; Part 2 here; Part 3 here; Part 4 here; Part 5 here; Part 6 here; Part 7 here; Part 8 here; Part 9 here; Part 10 here; Part 11 here; Part 12 here; Part 13 here; Part 14 here.

It is often claimed that “history is written by the victors,” that those who won the battles (whether military, political, or theological) got to dictate the way those battles were described subsequently. And it is certainly true that the story of the great theological battles over Christian orthodoxy in the early centuries of the Church have—for most of Christian history—been described from the point of view of the belief that came to predominate.

Accordingly, more recent scholars have argued that we need to look at the same controversies without prejudice toward the “losers,” and over the last 200 years a new history of the great theological controversies has been written from perspectives sympathetic to the poor “heretics” who had been maligned by earlier historians. These heretics, the new history alleges, were not actually “wrong.” They were just on the wrong side of the political power plays that dominated the early church. Their only crime was that they lost the war, and they were painted falsely by the victors as malevolent souls intent on destroying the church.

In some ways, the new history does give us a more complete view of the past. It tends to focus on political and social issues more than theological ones, and as such it reminds us that there is always more than theology going on in theological controversies. The new history also reminds us that the victors—the “orthodox”—sometimes twisted the words of the “heretics” or took them out of context to make the losers seem worse than they were. Even more important, the new history reminds us correctly that the heretics did not SET OUT to destroy the faith. No serious Christian tries to ruin the church on purpose.

At the same time, the new history is beset with serious problems of its own, problems that are rarely acknowledged. First and most important, this new history is ALSO being written by the victors. If the traditional history was written by the ANCIENT victors, this new one is being written by TODAY’S victors—the scholars who represent the assumptions and perspectives that are in the ascendancy today. Those assumptions are generally naturalistic (discounting the action of God in history and understanding all events solely in terms of human actions) and relativistic (discounting the notion that there is such a thing as “truth,” and therefore discounting the church’s long-standing insistence that it MATTERED whether, for example, Jesus was fully divine as Athanasius said, or semi-divine as Arius implied).

Put simply, the view that is “winning” today has no place for theological truth at all, and so it sees “Christian orthodoxy” as an arbitrary construct developed for political reasons and imposed on the church by force. This view is scarcely able even to conceive of a world in which people’s salvation actually depends on whether Christ is like this instead of like that. Scholars who hold to this new relativistic view see nothing earth shattering about the great debates of the church, so they assume that Christian leaders were just being mean when they suppressed the writings of those who disagreed with them.

Another serious problem with this new view of history is that it purports to be objective. Scholars consistently give the impression that by treating the “heretics” sympathetically, they are removing the biases of the ancient victors who dictated the first writing of history. But rarely do those scholars acknowledge that in the process of doing that, they are also introducing biases equally great. To assume that it matters not at all whether Jesus is fully God or semi-divine is CERTAINLY NOT to be objective. Rather, it is to make an extreme value judgment, exactly the opposite of the value judgment the early church made when it declared that it makes all the difference to people’s eternal salvation whether Jesus is fully God or less than God. Indeed, NO ONE in the early church—least of all Arius himself—would have agreed with the judgment that it makes no difference whether Jesus was like this or like that. The new history calls itself objective, yet at the most basic level it carries an assumption with which no one at the time—and indeed no real Christian at any time period—could agree. It is a sad kind of logic indeed that enables one to operate from a fundamentally ANTI-Christian perspective while still claiming to be unbiased and objective.

“History is written by the victors.” True enough, but history is also RE-written by TODAY’S victors. And those of us who think the great truths of theology actually matter—indeed that the salvation of the world hinges on them—need to be very careful about the way we read and utilize the version of history that today’s scholars present to us. 

Dr. Donald Fairbairn is the Robert E. Cooley Professor of Early Christianity. His responsibilities include further developing the Robert C. Cooley Center for the Study of Early Christianity at the Charlotte campus, which explores the historical foundations of the Christian faith.

 

 

 

 

Tags: Author: Donald Fairbairn , current students , faculty blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

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Alleluia: A Sabbath Prayer | Seminary Student Blogger

April 06, 2014

Amy Gannett

We come readily enough to Your Sabbath rest.

We come with wearied hands, looking to Your ignition. We come with hungry souls, looking to Your body. We come with inclined lips, looking to Your Church to say

Alleluia.

In this season of wantonness, in our weeks of longing, we gather ourselves here and press our ears to the lips of the saints. And from their tongues we hear the whispered chorus

Alleluia!

When our hearts have forgotten, when our memories fail, we come to this meeting. Here, we are welcome. Here, we may stay and be reminded until the words sink in like ink to the skin, until the measure courses through our veins and raises off our own lips

Alleluia! Alleluia! 

Hi, friend. I'm Amy. Mostly, I’m just another twenty-something trying to figure out the stuff of life. I am a nerdy seminary student who loves the smell of old books and early mornings in the library. I am an artist wanabee, a liberal to the conservative and conservative to the liberal, guilty social justice groupie, and a recovering Bible know-it-all with the unreal ability to put my foot in my mouth an astonishing number of times each day. I am a sister to eight of the most hysterical creatures ever created. Good theology, used book stores, and autumn make me giddy. I preach passionately, think deeply, and ask too many questions. I write prayers, poetry and prose. I write about preaching bad and good, gender roles in the Church, the sacraments, stupid things we do on Sunday, politics, and almost everything else that you are not supposed to discuss in polite company. I also blog at oneyellowbird.blogspot.com. Welcome to the journey.

 

Tags: Author: Amy Gilbaugh , spiritually vital , student blogger

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Spring Morning | Seminary Student Blogger

April 03, 2014

Kate Hightower

Thy glory fills the morning
Awake with spring’s gentle glow
Thy handiwork stirs around me
The birds sounding their know

Thy hands art strong and skillful
What detail they define
How I forget my life among it
That fault is ever mine

Thou promised thine presence beside me
As thou went into the sky
How often I forget this
When everything goes awry

So this morning I reachest to thee
I surrender my day anew
I sound this know around me
Thine love stands ever-true

The world will knowest how thou rescued
Me from my own darkest pit
My life a breathing testament
To thou and thine priceless gift 

Kate Hightower is writing to you from the middle of her Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Christian Thought pursuit at Gordon-Conwell—Jacksonville, where she is also a Byington Scholar. She’s an avid Bob Dylan fan, and can always be counted upon for decadent French cooking. And she’s madly in love with her giant, brilliant golden retriever, Stella.

 

Tags: Author: Kate Hightower , current students , student blogger

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