December 09, 2016
Historic Gordon-Conwell ad used when J. Christy Wilson Jr. was on faculty.
By Ken Wilson, (GCTS MATS 1984)
This blog is adapted from the biography of Christy Wilson, Where No One Has Heard, published in 2016 by William Carey Library (www.missionbooks.org).
Many may know of J. Christy Wilson Jr. as a beloved professor of world evangelization at Gordon-Conwell during the latter decades of the twentieth century. When Christy’s former students share memories of their time with him, their stories all sound remarkably consistent: he would pray with you anytime and anyplace, he knew your name long before you knew his, he loved to tell stories of what God is doing throughout the world, he had a contagious smile and an infectious laugh, and he gave us a picture of what it looks like to be a lover of Christ.
However, as rich as Christy’s GCTS legacy may be, the life of this tender yet tenacious man of God included so much more.
He was born and raised in Tabriz, Persia (now known as Iran); ran cross country and was captain of varsity track at Princeton University; helped launch what became the triennial Urbana missions conference; pioneered Christian work in Afghanistan when others thought it impossible, entering the country as one of only a few Christians in a nation of approximately twelve million Muslims; taught private English lessons to the crown prince of Afghanistan; founded a mission that remains vibrant to this day; reintroduced the biblical idea of leveraging one’s profession for the kingdom of God with the term “tentmaking”; and faced danger on numerous occasions.
While in Afghanistan, he pastored the only Christian church permitted on neutral soil in the entire nation for two decades. It was constructed following a personal assist from President Eisenhower. The Afghan government permitted this place of worship only for use among the foreign community; it was never to be used by the Afghan people.
One Sunday morning, only three years after the sanctuary’s dedication, soldiers arrived and began to hack away at the wall between the street and the church building. One gentleman in the congregation went to Kabul’s mayor and prophetically warned, “If your government touches that house of God, God will overthrow your government!” The mayor responded by ordering the congregation to turn over their church for destruction.
“This building does not belong to us but to God,” the people of the church replied. “We can’t turn it over for destruction.” And they proceeded to serve tea and cookies to the soldiers who were destroying their place of worship.
Finally, on Tuesday, July 17, 1973, the Afghan soldiers completed their destruction of the church building. That very night, King Mohammed Zahir Shah, who had ruled for forty years, was overthrown in a coup, and the 227-year-old monarchy in Afghanistan came to an end forever.
When Christy heard the news, he fell to the floor and wept. He had recently been declared persona non grata by the Afghan government. Students were becoming followers of Christ, and certain Afghan officials were determined to rid themselves of the corrupting influence who was behind all of this. As Christy departed the land and people he loved so much, he wiped the dust from his feet.
Billy Graham said, “J. Christy Wilson will go down in history as one of the great and courageous missionaries for the gospel in the twentieth century.” Christy Wilson left an endearing and enduring legacy, and his life continues to grow God’s kingdom and to reveal the splendor of the God he loved so much and served so well.
December 05, 2016
By James R. Critchlow,
Ranked Adjunct Assistant Professor in Old Testament
There are many aspects of discipleship in the Old Testament. The LORD God mentored Adam in the Garden of Eden. Adam mentored Eve on their responsibilities. Noah trained his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, in their ark duties. Joshua acted as Moses’ understudy for 40 years. Deuteronomy 10:12-13 explains what the LORD required of all the people of Israel:
“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?” (ESV).
The five infinitive constructs (to fear, walk, love, serve and keep) specify what the LORD demanded of Israel. If the people were careful to do these, they would be successful. But what did the Law given at Mount Sinai by the LORD assert about the leadership of Israel after the period of the Judges and Priests? In Deuteronomy, the LORD gave provisions for the day when Israel would demand a king "like all the nations.” He anticipated the occupation of the land of Israel and the precipitous demand for a king that would occur in 1 Samuel 8. Deuteronomy 17:14-17 provides the template for this future king whom God would choose:
“When you come to the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ you may indeed set a king over you whom the LORD your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to
return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the LORD has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold” (ESV).
There are clear stipulations that prevent the king from seeking martial, personal or financial power in horses, marriage alliances or wealth. The passage continues in 17:18-20, instructing the future king of Israel to write a personal copy of the law under the supervision of the priests. This book was to remain in his personal possession, and its daily study was an essential aspect of his royal duties.
“And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel” (ESV).
Just as in Deut. 10:12-13 cited above, the majority of the verbs in this royal prescription are infinitive constructs, functioning as result clauses. These establish the LORD’s desired outcome, i.e., that the king would fear the LORD, keep His Law, do as He instructs and not exalt himself above his fellow citizens or turn away from the commandments and instructions. It was for these reasons that the use of the infinitive construct was especially revelatory. “In governing his own life by the same Torah that regulates the whole nation, the king reins in his exercise of power.” The priests would be there to ensure proper letter formation and spacing—which might delay the process—particularly if the royal writer made an uncorrectable mistake.
Not only must the king produce the copy (mishneh), he must have it with him and read from it daily. Under the over-watch of the priests, this was probably to be a scheduled activity. There should be no business that was to displace this practice in the king’s day. Even the time when the king marched out to war was to be preceded by the reading of the Word of God.
It has been my practice to aspire to this Old Testament discipleship pattern. Although I will never be a king, I am in training as a servant of the Great King. I struggle to read the whole counsel of God in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, and then record 7-15 verses in my Day-Timer™. Wherever
I go, this copy of the Bible is my companion. It is my daily study, rule, guide and reminder.
I have emphasized the value of daily study of God’s Word for all my students. Nothing should ever displace this practice. No exam, sermon, project or event should displace our time in the Word of God. For those who have gone well beyond their educational years, this principle is still in force. God desires us to know His Word. He wants to speak to us through His revelation. Whether we use the original or a modern language, this directive for leadership was appropriate for ancient Israelite kings. It is also good for King’s kids.
James R. Critchlow, Ph.D., Ranked Adjunct Assistant Professor in Old Testament, joined the seminary in 2008, and has also taught at Bethel Seminary of the East. Prior to his academic career, he served in leadership capacities with the U.S. Army for 20 years. His deployments included two years at the Pentagon, and took him to Germany, Iraq, Bosnia, Korea and many other countries. He holds M.Div. and M.A.B.L. degrees from Gordon-Conwell and a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh.
December 02, 2016
By J.I. Packer, D. Phil., and Gary E. Parrett, Ed.D.
Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from the authors’ book, "Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way" (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2010). The book explores the historic Christian practice of catechesis--which the authors define as “the church’s ministry of grounding and growing God’s people in the Gospel and its implications for doctrine, devotion, duty and delight.” Excerpt used by permission of Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group.
We agree with the widespread conviction that many evangelical churches are in need of deep change today. Indeed, the fact that we share this conviction will be very obvious throughout this book. Our premise, however, is that the surest way forward is to carefully contemplate the wisdom of our past. We are not, as it turns out, the first ones who have ever had to wrestle with the issue of how to grow Christian communities and Christian individuals in contrary cultures. We are not the first to wonder about how to nurture faith in the living God and foster obedience to his way. It is not only contemporary church leaders who can teach us how to be “relevant” and “effective” in ministry today. We urge concerned church leaders to, in the language of Jeremiah 6:16, “stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it.”
In the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments we find an abundance of wisdom for building believers who will live to the glory and honor of our God. There are models and mandates, principles and practices that are as relevant for ministry today as they ever were. Church history also provides us with numerous examples of vibrant, fruitful seasons in the lives of God’s people, when true disciples were truly being made, when whole communities were alive with and for God’s glory. We do not disdain the idea of looking around at contemporary models to find guidance for our own ministries of disciple making. But we do suggest that this not be our only source for wisdom, or even our primary source. Instead, we would counsel, let us look back before looking around. Our first gaze, of course, must be to the testimony of the Scriptures themselves. Whether we are considering historic practices or contemporary ones, as professed evangelical Christians all our thinking and efforts should be vetted by diligent study of, and contemplation upon, the Bible.
From this biblical basis, how shall we best proceed? Perhaps we could apply a version of C. S. Lewis’s familiar counsel. Lewis argued that for every book we read by an author who is still living, we should read one by an author who has died. Or, if that is too much for us, then for every three books we read by living authors, we should read one by a dead author. Our counsel here is that for every new method we meet that purports to promote
congregational health today we look back to the well-tried methods that promoted congregational health in the past. Such an approach will serve us well in many areas, but perhaps none so important as that of making disciples for Jesus Christ. There is so much wisdom for us in the practices of those who have gone before us if we will only humble ourselves to listen and learn.
Dr. J.I. Packer, Board of Governors’ Professor in Theology Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia, is regarded as one of the preeminent evangelical theologians today. He is the author of many books, serves as a Senior Editor and Visiting Scholar of Christianity Today and contributes to a variety of theological journals. He holds MA and D.Phil. degrees from Oxford University.
Dr. Gary A. Parrett is Professor of Educational Ministries and Worship, and Chair, Division of Ministry, at Gordon-Conwell. He has taught at Gordon College and served in pastoral ministry at churches in Boston, New York City, New Jersey, Seattle and Seoul, Korea. He earned an M.Div. degree from Regent College and an Ed.D. from Columbia University.
November 14, 2016
By Sean McDonough,
Professor of New Testament
It looks as though we may need to update the old Zen koan: “If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?” The new version might go, “If I eat a sandwich but don’t write about it on Twitter, will I still be hungry?”
Now at this point I feel compelled to insert the customary, “Technology has lots of wonderful uses…” and the contractually obligatory, “like allowing people to read our faculty forum, Every Thought Captive!” And technology does, in fact, have lots of wonderful uses. Encryption programs can allow dissidents to report on the atrocities committed by repressive governments with minimized fear of reprisal. On a less dramatic level, you can post photos of your recent trip to Ethiopia on Facebook without having to email a bunch of people directly (let alone make actual prints and mail them, as we used to do in the late Bronze Age).
But the Twitter-ization of communication in the last few years clearly represents the other side of technology’s two-edged sword. Life, I suppose, is always some mix of grandeur and triviality, but the difference now is that your trivia can reach a worldwide audience within seconds. Whether everyone is out there anxiously awaiting your news (“im typing a thing for evry thot cptiv right now, how cool is that, then im snacking, prb a sweet ‘n’ salty nut bar, ill keep you posted!”) is of course another question altogether. Maybe the whole world isn’t watching.
But there is always the chance that it might be, and that is the problem I want to focus on. One of the most powerful forces that shapes our behavior is simply who we think is watching us. We try to get good grades to please our parents. We tailor our jokes to please our peers. We cut our lawns to please our neighbors. This is all natural enough, but the world-wideness of the Web adds a new dimension to the problem. I can begin to derive significance for my humdrum little life from the assumption that the Global Community is clicking like crazy to read about my latest thoughts on politics, religion, and what color shoes I’m thinking of wearing tomorrow. We speak of “death by a thousand cuts.” We might tweak that to, “life by a thousand tweets.” I came, I blogged, I conquered. I am read, therefore I am.
Most human enterprises end up slogging towards the swamps of idolatry, and the new communication tools look like they’re taking that same sad path. The internet can serve as a surrogate sheltering sky, aglow with galaxies of fellow bloggers and tweeters; a Zodiac of sympathetic stars happy to guide our ways. But like all makeshift deities, it promises much more than it can deliver.
Because at the end of the day, we all live pretty ordinary lives, and continually blogging about them is not going to change that. What makes the difference is recognizing that your ordinary life is, in fact, lived out in the presence of a very extraordinary God, who knows every hair on your head and loves you with limitless concern. With his eyes on you, you don’t need to worry about who else is watching.
DR. SEAN M. MCDONOUGH, PROFESSOR OF NEW TESTAMENT, JOINED THE SEMINARY IN 2000 AFTER SERVING AS CHAIR OF THE BIBLICAL STUDIES DEPARTMENT AND LECTURER IN NEW TESTAMENT AT PACIFIC THEOLOGICAL COLLEGE IN SUVA, FIJI. HE IS ACTIVE IN MINISTRY AS A SUNDAY SCHOOL TEACHER AND OCCASIONAL PREACHER AT FIRST CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH IN HAMILTON, MA, AND AS A SPEAKER FOR MEDAIR, A CHRISTIAN RELIEF ORGANIZATION IN SWITZERLAND. HE HAS WRITTEN SEVERAL BOOKS AND A VARIETY OF ARTICLES FOR SCHOLARLY AND PROFESSIONAL JOURNALS.
November 07, 2016
By Richard Lints, Ph.D.
Vice President for Academic Affairs,
Dean of the Hamilton Campus; Andrew Mutch Professor of Theology
It is not an exaggeration to say that diversity is part of the air we breathe today. Every time we step out our front doors, we feel the winds of diversity blowing. We are conscious of it in the political realms, in the worlds of art and education, in our sports loyalties, in our social and economic structures and surely not least in our religious habits. The sheer complexity of technology compounds the diversity which surrounds us. Consider how many diverse individuals fill our email address books or how many “friends” one has on Facebook. Consider how many television
channels fill diverse niches of interest today. The emergence of these deep diversities in our lives has the inevitable consequence of privileging diversity over unity in our public life together.
These differences exert enormous pressures towards fragmentation in our society as well. It seems more and more difficult to speak of a “common good,” when only “my good” and the need to protect it from the intrusion of outside forces prevail. A great irony of modern life is the ever-growing disparity between the diversity of contemporary culture and the actual homogeneity of the communities in which we experience day-to-day life. We have all become partisans in one way or another—of political parties, different sports teams, educational establishments, musical styles, radio talking heads and just about anything else that one can imagine. How do we as Christians relate not only to the overwhelming diversity in the public square but also to its increasingly partisan nature?
Our experience of diversity sometimes lends itself to thinking of differences as always large and irreconcilable. We frame our differences as “core disagreements” about which it is only possible to be a “winner” or a “loser” in a conflict. Families go through this dynamic frequently in our modern democratic culture. Different opinions within a family are too often interpreted as expressing core disagreements. Whether the matter is child-rearing, family budgets or time management, family disagreements quickly get interpreted as requiring a “winner” and a “loser.” The stalemates which emerge are especially difficult since harmony appears possible only when one side loses. Wisdom, by contrast, understands that there are different kinds of differences and different differences which differences make.
Wisdom sees through the complexity of circumstances not by virtue of a universal law, but by the simple nature of complexity. An example may help illustrate the point. Is it right or wrong to answer a fool? The writer of Proverbs supposes that sometimes it is important to answer fools (Proverbs 26:5) and sometimes it is important not to answer fools (Proverbs 26:4). Knowing when to answer and when not to answer is a matter of wisdom. If we are tempted by the foolishness of the fool, then wisdom suggests we refrain from answering. If, on the other hand, we discern that fools may understand the folly of their ways, wisdom suggests we provide a genuine response to them.
The loss of wisdom as a theological category in the public square has too often meant that our differences are always interpreted as fundamental conflicts, rather than as tactical differences that might be sorted out, or a disagreement about which reconciliation is actually possible. Historically, the public square in western democracies was guided by a common morality about virtue and vice. It may have been as simple as the need for virtue in our public leaders and a concern for justice among the citizenry. That common morality is what the Bible often refers to as wisdom. Thinking theologically about the public square requires this very sort of wisdom.
Wisdom as a category eroded under the pressure of mass consumer culture in the 20th century. The highly commercialized public square now seems driven by individual greed, largely kept in check, if at all, only by the intrinsic conflicts of diverse desires. Greed is too often rewarded and integrity too often ignored. All goods have become private and personal. Differences must then be about getting or not getting what we want. You can see why differences become very partisan very quickly in this context.
The Christian conviction that God creates all humans with an “inalienable human dignity” compels Christians to enter the public square and urge a wider cultural conversation about the common good. How Christians bring this deeply theological conviction to bear in a pluralistic society is a matter for discernment and wisdom. Wisdom is required to address the breadth of public issues in such a fashion that we hold in tension our differences as well as our convictions about the common good, without sacrificing the very public discourse required to talk about the common good. In the last half century, we have surely erred in holding too tightly to our differences, and too superficially to our convictions about inalienable human dignity—especially as it pertains to our opponents in the public square.
Dealing with diversity requires humility and wisdom. It requires vigilance against resentment and cynicism. Dealing with diversity also requires faith, hope and charity. Christians must learn to engage the social world of diversity on its own God-given terms rather than on the terms being dictated by our cultural elites or by the partisan voices of our social media. The mission of God as manifest in Christ did not seek the subversion of the public square, but rather the opportunity to speak into the public square honestly, prophetically and humbly.
The Gospel asks us to embrace the radically counter-intuitive claim that showing hospitality to those with whom we have deep disagreements is the best option in dealing with entrenched differences. We engage our disagreements neither by seeking to dominate nor by being merely tolerant. We invite the outsider into the common wisdom of our tradition. We take their ideas seriously, not primarily to overthrow their ideas, but rather with the expectation that wisdom is found in the strangest of places—even among those who disagree with us.
In our time, many cultural elites look askance at evangelicals in the public square, because evangelicals actually believe that some differences do make a difference.But evangelicals have also too often been guilty of partisan abuses in the public square. Changing this ethos with respect to evangelism may well require that we think of evangelism in the public square less in terms of defeating an enemy and more in terms of showing hospitality to the stranger. It also requires thinking not only of ideological disagreements, but of the people whose inalienable dignity is not to be impugned simply because we disagree with them. Wise persons seek the well-being of others in the ordinary affairs of life. Their character is kind and gracious and honest. These are the sort of persons Christians are called to be as citizens of this world. It is a wisdom applied to the ordinary spaces and places of our lives. It is the recognition that life is to be marked by a deep and abiding meaningfulness, anchored in beliefs and habits that promote reconciliation as a reflection of the Gospel. And like the Gospel, this theological wisdom takes corruption seriously and, in fact, privileges the recognition of corruption in our own hearts before we see it in the hearts of our opponents.
Peculiar to the Gospel is the embrace of diverse tribes, races and cultures, all because Christ is our peace who has “broken down the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2). A distinctive dimension of the Gospel ought to be manifest in the reconciliation of those who are in conflict with each other. The Gospel is reflected not in the abolishing of diversity, but in the reconciliation of disagreements. Reconciliation is the goal because it reflects the work of God towards broken and sinful humanity. Christians in the public square engage in the work of reconciliation not as a substitute for the Gospel but as a reflection of it in all of life. This is to say, the Gospel itself contains a sacred wisdom in dealing with diversity. It is theological precisely in the sense that it arises from the reconciling work of God in the Gospel. By it, Christians express the conviction that human corruption is not as powerful as divine grace.
DR. RICHARD LINTS, ANDREW MUTCH DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR OF THEOLOGY, JOINED THE GORDON-CONWELL FACULTY IN 1986 AFTER SERVING AS LECTURER IN PHILOSOPHICAL THEOLOGY AT TRINITY COLLEGE, BRISTOL, UK. HE HAS ALSO TAUGHT AT SEVERAL OTHER COLLEGES AND THEOLOGICAL SCHOOLS, INCLUDING YALE DIVINITY SCHOOL, THE UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME AND WESTMINSTER AND REFORMED THEOLOGICAL SEMINARIES. AN ORDAINED MINISTER IN THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN AMERICA, DR. LINTS IS AN ACCOMPLISHED CHURCH PLANTER (REDEEMER PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, CONCORD, MA), HAS SERVED IN A VARIETY OF OTHER PASTORAL POSITIONS AND IS A FREQUENT PREACHER AND CONFERENCE SPEAKER. HE IS ON THE BOARD OF THE GOSPEL CULTURE CENTER AND IS ITS THEOLOGIAN IN RESIDENCE.
October 31, 2016
Dr. Edward M. Keazirian, Th.D.
Assistant Professor of Greek
and Director of the Greek Language Program
"After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, 'If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.'” (Matthew 4:2–3).
So, what’s wrong with making bread? Look, this isn’t exactly rocket science: You’re hungry and a guy’s gotta eat, right? No big deal. Go ahead. It’s just bread.
Well, apparently Jesus thought it was a big deal––a big enough deal that he confronts the tempter with an answer from Scripture, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4 quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3).
This is just the first of three temptations Jesus will face in his encounter with Satan, but it is the most important for anyone who aspires to follow Christ. In this first skirmish, Jesus defines by word and deed the essence, authority and role of Scripture for every disciple. When Jesus quotes the text from Deuteronomy, he is reminding himself––and affirming for his disciples––that the words of Scripture are in essence the very words of God. It is not that the Scripture contains the word of God or that in human experience it somehow becomes the word of God, but rather the words written in
Scripture actually are God’s own words. These words are, as is all of Scripture, God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16).
Similarly, Jesus affirms that Scripture, as the Word of God, is truth and is endowed with the full authority of God. Therefore, he and his disciples after him are to believe and obey the Scriptures. Even Satan understands that God’s Word is supremely true and authoritative, and so his first tactic is always to cast doubt on God’s Word: “Did God really say, . . .” (Genesis 3:1) or “If you are the Son of God, . . .” (Matthew 4:3). Thus, every temptation ultimately tests our allegiance to the word and authority of God.
Rather than question God’s Word, Jesus uses the Scripture to dispel doubt. Jesus relies upon the Scripture as the basis for his preaching and teaching (doctrine), for reprimanding Satan (rebuke), for reestablishing proper belief and behavior (correction), and for continuing education and maturation (training in righteousness). Jesus thus demonstrates in his own life the role that Scripture should play in the life of every disciple and every church (2 Timothy 3:16).
So, what’s wrong with making bread? Nothing, unless it leads you to betray your God, your identity, and your destiny. And that is exactly what was at stake for Jesus. Satan’s seemingly harmless suggestion that Jesus make himself some bread was just the first step in his strategy to dissuade Jesus from going to the cross and ultimately to eliminate the redemptive work of Christ. Satan is still out there seeking ways to destroy those who follow Christ. Therefore, as disciples and as those making disciples, we must by our words and deeds accord the same identity, authority and role to Scripture that Christ himself did. Our very survival depends upon it.
Dr. Edward M. Keazirian II, Assistant Professor of Greek and Director o the Greek Language Program, has a background in evangelism and discipleship through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and the Navigators. He has also served as a minister of evangelism and discipleship in a local church. Currently, he is involved in multiple ministries in his church; is a guest speaker or churches, conferences and campus ministries; and is a member o the U.S. support organization or InterVarsity in the Philippines. He received M.Div. and Th.M. degrees rom Gordon-Conwell and a Th.D. rom Boston University School of Theology
October 24, 2016
Eldin Villafane, Ph.D.
Senior Professor of Social Ethics
If there is one book in the Bible that speaks insightfully and relevantly to the issue of justice for our time, it is the book of Amos. At the heart of Amos’ message is the call to live in justice. Amos had a passion for justice. He was a prophet “par excellence” of social justice. The message of the book of Amos can be presented under three basic themes or theological motifs defined by justice, namely: (1) justice among the nations; (2) justice in the nation; and (3) justice and piety of a nation. We will look at each in turn.
1. Justice among the Nations
Amos begins by indicting various nations for their wickedness and injustice, beginning with the nation to the north of Israel (Syria), then moving on to the nations to the west (Philistia and Phoenicia), the south (Edom and Ammon), and the east (Moab), and finally indicting the sister nations, Judah and Israel.
In these early chapters and throughout the book of Amos, we are confronted by the fact that God calls all people, all nations to account for their behavior. God’s standards of justice are universal, for they are rooted in God’s righteousness, God’s holiness, yes, God’s character. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. puts it this way: “There was no monopoly held by any people, race or religion on righteousness; justice, goodness and truth were the standards for all mortals on planet earth or they would have to explain any deviations to Yahweh himself!"
It is important to note that the injustices committed by these nations are similar to the injustices that we tragically see today among the nations. Let me underline a few:
Lamentably, each one of these injustices can be seen in our day and contributes to the reason why we live in times of global crisis:
Sooner or later, what the nations sow, that they shall reap. God is still sovereign—over creation (5:8), over history (9:7),over the nations (1:3 – 2:6). God demands justice among the nations!
2. Justice in the Nation
As often happens in the history of nations, political stability and economic prosperity brought about self-sufficiency and indifference among
the Israelites. But God placed a “plumb line” in Israel, with equal implications for Judah and for the nations. The “plumb line” revealed a society inclined toward idolatry, oppression, exploitation and violence—indeed, to injustice. Judgment would come on Israel, for,
"They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed." (Amos 2:6-7)
It is critically important for us today to understand that the standard of justice placed before the king and the dominant class (the governor, landowners, business people, judges and military), as well as all the people, is that of
Justice toward the poor. We will all be judged by how we treat the weakest members—this is the heart of Amos’s message. Why is this so? I believe that the teaching of Scripture is clear (in Amos as in the other prophets) that beyond God’s intrinsic love and championing for the stranger, widow, poor and needy lies also the reality of idolatry. As the commandments teach us: “I am the Lord your God…You shall have no other gods before me… for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Exod. 20: 1-5).
While many of the Israelites may not have worshiped idols of wood or rock (as many may not today), yet they rendered “worship” to the god of wealth (Mammon). The desire and anxiety for riches (greed), an obsessive note in the lives of the dominant class, led to their oppression of the poor and needy and the corruption of the courts, the market, the religious system and the society at large. Washington Padilla reminds us that a central note of Amos was of “social injustice as the specific form that the sin of idolatry assumes in society. The lesson is clear: idolatry is at the heart of social injustice and the eventual downfall of a nation.
"But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never- falling stream." (Amos 5: 24)
A central concern in the book of Amos, and in all the biblical teaching about society, is that God has a passionate concern for justice for all—especially the poor, the weak and the oppressed members of society. God demands justice in
3. Justice and Piety of a Nation
The Israelites had forsaken the needy and oppressed. They pretended to worship the true God by the multitude of their offerings and gifts. They even excelled in the composing of music for temple worship (6: 5). There was a form of revival—yes, the temples were crowded yet it was an abomination to God. Listen to God’s words:
"I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream." (Amos 5:21-24)
Throughout Scripture we can find important truths
about worship that relate authentic worship to our behavior toward the poor and oppressed. The words of Amos are echoed by the prophet Isaiah when he says:
"Is such the fast that I choose a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice…to let the oppressed go free…? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; When you see the naked, to cover them and not to hide yourself from
your own kin?" (Isa. 58: 5-7)
The fast or worship that pleases our God is accompanied by acts of mercy and justice toward the poor, the broken and the oppressed. Furthermore, such true worship has the great promises of God’s blessings. The prophet Isaiah continues:
"Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer…The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail." (Isa. 58: 8-9, 11)
There is a seamless relationship between ethical behavior and true worship, between justice and piety. Who we are and how we behave are intimately related in our giving worth to our God. For true worship, whether expressed in our daily walk or in a building called a temple or church, must be “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23). In the New Testament, for example, we find these profound and disturbing words in Matthew 25:42-45:
For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.” They will also answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” He will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
There is a great mystery here, for as we serve with justice the poor and needy in our midst, we are in a deep yet spiritually profound sense doing it to the Lord. We are ascribing worth to our Lord. We are worshiping him. May our worship be in spirit and in truth. May we in our worship live in justice!
Eldin Villafañe, Ph.D.,Professor of Christian Social Ethics, was Founding Director of Gordon-Conwell’s Boston campus, the Center for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME) and also Associate Dean for Urban and Multicultural Affairs. He has served as a visiting professor at Harvard Divinity School, held leadership positions with his denomination and in Hispanic theological associations, and ministered in the urban setting as Minister of Education at the Iglesia Cristiano Juan3:16 in the Bronx in New York City, then the nation’s largest Hispanic church. He holds an M.A. from Wheaton Graduate School of Theology and a Ph.D. from Boston University
October 20, 2016
By Dennis Hollinger, Ph.D.
President & Colman M. Mockler
Distinguished Professor of Christian Ethics
The relationship of Christian faith to political life is part of a larger theological issue: namely, the relationship of God’s Kingdom to the kingdoms of this world. The kingdoms of this world include various social institutions (i.e. economics, education, entertainment), but clearly the political sphere is the one with the greatest power in society by virtue of its ability to enact and enforce laws, and to preserve order and peace.
Through the ages Christians have had varying views on how to relate the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world, particularly the political dimension. Some have seen the two spheres in such opposition that withdrawal or non-involvement is the only recourse. Others have believed that the kingdoms of this world, including the state, can be transformed towards the values and virtues of God’s Kingdom. And still others have held the two kingdoms in some kind of creative tension.
Wherever we land on that spectrum several observations can be made from a biblical perspective. First, the ultimate hope of Christians is not found in the state and the political process, but in the Triune God. Second, we do belong to both kingdoms, for Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mk. 12:17). Moreover, we are called by Christ to be light, salt and leaven in the world, and that includes the kingdoms of this world. There are various ways that Christians carry out that leavening process, but in a democracy voting in elections (national, state and local) is clearly one of them.
So the question naturally emerges for Christians, “How should I vote?” I would suggest three sets of criteria to guide believers as they go to the voting booth on election days.
The Character of the Candidates
Scripture clearly lays out specific criteria for Church leaders, and character is at the heart of those requirements (I Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9). But can we expect the same for political leaders operating in the sphere of the earthly kingdoms? History and experience certainly point towards the significance of character virtues for political leaders, such as: integrity, trustworthiness, personal morality, courage and kindness. These character traits are significant because leaders by nature are an example to others, and thus the tone of a whole society is set by the virtues or vices of its leaders. In addition, good governing requires trust among the various constituents of a society, and trust cannot be established without high character among those governing.
Aristotle, the ancient philosopher argued that character was one of the primary means of persuasion. In his classic work on Rhetoric he saw persuasion established by three elements: ethos (character of the speaker), pathos (emotional influence) and logos (logical arguments). If indeed the character of a person is essential to persuasion, then its applicability to political life is evident. Personal virtues inevitably manifest themselves in actions and are essential for all forms of leadership, including politics.
The Positions of the Candidates
When we explore the positions of political candidates we quickly recognize that as Christians we must often break with conventional politics. As believers we must hold together commitments that frequently are not held together by the major political parties. For example, Scripture is clear that followers of Christ must care for the poor and for the intrinsic dignity of human life from beginning to end. Similarly Christians must be committed to justice, including racial justice, and to freedom of religion. Christians believe that the family, as defined by Scripture, is a bedrock of society and also believe that personal freedom flows from being made in God’s image. These kinds of commitments are not frequent bedfellows in today’s political world.
In sorting through these issues we should recognize the difference between our ethical commitments and the strategies for attaining them. For example, Christians may agree on the importance of poverty alleviation, and yet may recommend differing strategies for attaining their goals.
All of this demonstrates that politics is complex in discerning our commitments, the best strategies to achieve those commitments, and in deciding on which candidate best reflects the positions we hold dear. Rarely will we get everything we want in a single candidate. This should not surprise Christians, for we believe that humans are finite and fallen, and our best efforts (even righteous and just ones) fall short of God’s designs. In politics we make not absolute moral judgments, but prudential judgments, discerning the best we can get, but frequently accompanied by positions we reject.
The competencies of the Candidates
A final set of criteria in how we vote is the competencies for the job. Here we explore skills, past experiences, knowledge, and temperament to carry out the vast, complicated requirements of political life. Christians care about competencies, because God desires that humans flourish in all dimensions of our existence, and political aptitude is essential for enabling the political process to function well for the common good. Competencies for public life are particularly essential in today’s world because foreign policy, domestic challenges, and the political process are highly complex, requiring vast understanding, astute leadership qualities and a temperament to work with varying and even opposing parties and positions.
One issue that arises in the competency criterion is whether Christians should favor fellow Christians in how they vote. This question was posed to the late Chuck Colson in a lecture he gave at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary on the eve of a national election several elections ago. Colson, I believe, responded wisely when he said, “You should never vote for someone simply because they are a Christian, because they may be totally incompetent to carry out the job. Being a Christian does not ensure political capabilities.” No one person will ever have all the capacities needed for the job, and thus part of their competency set should be the ability to draw on the wisdom, experiences, and knowledge of others.
From these sets of criteria it is clear that Christians will never get all they hope and pray for in any single candidate or political party. It is frequently noted that politics is the art of compromise, not necessarily of our most deeply held principles and virtues, but of the strategies for achieving those commitments, including sometimes the lesser of two evils in our voting. In politics there is frequently ambiguity and ambivalence in how we should vote. But that after all reminds us that politics is not the main thing in the Christian agenda. Our primary allegiance is to a Kingdom that far transcends the kingdoms of this world, but nonetheless gives us a framework and motivation for engaging the world--even the messy, embattled, yet noble world of politics.
Note: This essay was first presented in a forum on Christianity and Politics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary on September 29, 2016. Dennis Hollinger, Ph.D. is the President and Colman M. Mockler Distinguished Professor of Christian Ethics at Gordon-Conwell.
October 17, 2016
By Anne B. Doll,
Senior Communications Advisor
Approximately one in four women worldwide has suffered physical abuse by an intimate male partner, such as a husband or ex-husband. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the U.S., an estimated 1300 women die each year as a result of domestic violence, nearly 5.3 million incidents of interpersonal violence occur and approximately 2 million women are injured.
For churches, the statistics are equally sobering. Domestic violence “happens within and beyond communities of faith in approximately the same prevalence rates,” says Nancy Nason-Clark, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology at the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, Canada.
Dr. Nason-Clark is also creator of the RAVE Project, a web-based series of resources that provides information and training for families of faith impacted by abuse. She has studied contemporary Christianity and violence for 20 years. “The numbers tell us there’s a significant problem that
we need to be positioned in the churches to do something about,” she notes. “But if one woman in one church is having this problem, then we need to be a safe refuge for her…“…There continues to be a holy hush that permeates many churches, and it only takes a few people to shatter that silence.”
In October of 2008, Pastor Timothy P. Philabaum, awakened to the gravity of domestic violence when Nancy addressed his Gordon-Conwell D.Min. residency. Returning to Zoar Lutheran Church in Perrysburg, OH, a congregation of some 650 worshippers that he has served for 31 years, he resolved to shine the light on domestic violence and enlist his members to help address it.
“I know there are abuse problems in my church,” the senior pastor says. “I have met with families experiencing domestic abuse. But what really galvanized me was when Nancy Nason-Clark came to the residency. Her web page (theraveproject.org) has a wonderful collection of resources for clergy and for women who are abused. I thought, ‘Here’s one way to put my faith and care into action.’”
To counter the “holy hush” surrounding domestic abuse, he has addressed this issue in sermons and the Sunday School throughout the year, when appropriate. “I really try to verbalize the word ‘abuse’ because it is such a hidden word, an unwanted word,” he says. His intent is to raise the consciousness of church members about domestic violence, and about resources that are available locally.
Behind the scenes, Pastor Tim maintains connections with leaders of domestic violence shelters in the Greater Toledo area, and has invited representatives from several shelters to his church to “share their issues—their people with our people.” This year, his church hosted an Unveiling Ceremony, during which officials from a local abuse shelter displayed full-size plywood silhouettes of women in Wood County who had died from domestic abuse. “We had a worship service, unveiled the silhouettes and read the names and stories of each of these women with all their families there. We have also had people from the Cocoon Shelter come to our place on an annual basis. They bring…their silhouettes, tell their story, raise money and keep connection.”
Members of his congregation have also stepped up to the plate to help the local shelters with material support, including money, food and clothing. One member has served on a shelter board. “There are people in our church who know about problems of abused women, and people who have family members [with abuse issues],” Pastor Tim explains. “Some already knew about the shelters and had some contact with them. I think our church has made a very caring response to this ministry.”
In addition, Zoar Church has instituted a practical alert system for women suffering abuse. Behind the doors in each stall in the women’s restrooms are small pieces of paper designed to be unobtrusively inserted into a woman’s shoe. Entitled “Do You Feel Safe?” the papers contain the name and phone number of a shelter, phone numbers of Pastor Timand the church’s female pastor, the RAVE Project website and other resources.
“What my staff and I still find intriguing is that I always put six papers behind each stall, and they disappear. None show up in the trash cans or are thrown around… We’ve come to the conclusion that they’re being taken, which is valuable…what I hope for. They’re obviously meeting a need. I have no idea who takes them. They’re designed to be anonymous.”
Dr. Nason-Clark says that it’s wonderful when pastors “shatter the silence” about domestic violence, because this gives immediate credibility to DV as an important issue, and also gives women permission to come forward. Moreover, “It says to those who would be violent that this will not be tolerated. It gives incredible support to those who are helping other victims, and it really changes the world of survivors because it says the church is walking with you.”
She notes that many women and men are very frightened to talk about domestic violence “because it challenges the notion that families of faith have it together… Somehow, people can cope with the notion that cancer can eat away at the body of a believer, but they have a lot of trouble understanding mental health issues and…issues of abuse. I think there is a resistance, and when I say that in Christian seminars and conferences, it gives a challenge to religious leaders to speak clearly and unequivocally that God does not support this kind of behavior.”
Nancy’s research has shown that women of faith often stay much longer in abusive relationships than those who are not. She encourages pastors to address this issue with women, because often they will say, “Until he touches the children, until he hurts the children, I will not leave.”
“When women are enduring abuse themselves, it is hurting the children. You cannot be a victim of domestic violence living in a household with your children and not have it impact them… If women are encouraged to see that the children are already being impacted, they’re more likely to believe that they should seek safety for themselves and the kids.”
Regarding the practice of some church leaders who insist, on scriptural grounds, that a woman must remain with an abusive husband, Nancy quotes her colleague and Gordon-Conwell professor, the late Dr. Catherine Clark Kroeger, with whom she collaborated on several books. “I can tell you how Cathy would handle that. I have been with her many times when she would say, ‘What do you do with the body bags?’ That would be her response.”
According to Pastor Tim, “Women [who are abused] feel powerless and unable to make a change. Or they are fearful of what might happen… In counseling women, my biggest issue is to trust the woman who has been abused. I need to listen carefully to her story and provide mercy. Safety for the woman and the kids is paramount.
“A pastor also needs to know what kind of resources are in the community, to know who to call when someone calls you and says, ‘I’m having problems with my husband. Where are the contacts for the shelter or the YWCA or the safe houses?’” Dr. Nason-Clark says that “when pastors listen to women, they can respond to the questions that women are asking: ‘Why has God abandoned me?’ ‘I promised forever ‘til death do us part. Why is this taking place?’ ‘How can I be a better Christian?’ …Pastors need to be in a position to listen to what the heart cry is and respond with the toolkit that is available to them as a result of their training and knowledge of Scripture.
“Sometimes it’s as simple as praying with the victim without placing blame... Sometimes it’s giving them a selection of five or six passages to look over and think about… When pastors have an awareness of some of the dynamics of abuse, they are able to listen with ears that are attuned. And then they’re able to harness their repertoire of spiritual helps to offer a woman spiritual counsel. Some pastors do that. And when they do, it augments a survivor’s journey towards healing.”
Pastor Tim says that most of his counseling about domestic violence occurs with non-abusive, soon-to-be married couples during pre-marital conversations. And while he has experience in counseling congregants, the RAVE website gave him helpful resources on how he could better help a woman who is in trouble. He advises pastors to check out this website, and take some of its online training courses. “Of course, most pastors are not skilled in abuse counseling, so knowing what your referral possibilities are is vitally important.”
Can change and reconciliation occur when each individual in an abusive situation receives professional domestic violence counseling? “It takes a lot of work,” he contends, “but we’re gospel people. There’s always hope. “And, for me, I would say clearly to my people, ‘God never takes delight in abuse of women, of children, of anyone…God never takes delight in abuse.’”
For nearly 10 years, Anne was the director of communications at Gordon-Conwell. Before making the trek from Ohio to Massachusetts, she worked in senior leadership positions in the health care field. Anne also co-founded a public relations firm that worked with major companies and hospitals across the country. As senior communications advisor, Anne manages the production of Contact and the Annual Report.
October 11, 2016
By Anne B. Doll,
Senior Communications Advisor
When a Gordon-Conwell graduate returned to his native Ethiopia after completing his degree in New Testament, he knew full well he would face religious persecution. He had lived in its shadow for most of his life. “If you follow Christ, you should expect suffering,” he comments matter-of-factly. “We are all called to bear our cross. If our Lord was persecuted, who won’t be persecuted?”
Now the leader of a Christian school in Ethiopia, he accepted Christ in high school during Communism’s grip on Ethiopia. Throughout those perilous years, all churches were closed, and government-sponsored persecution prevailed.“ For 17 years, the persecution from the Communist regime was very, very difficult,” he recalls. “So many people were tortured, imprisoned and beaten. They were attacked because of their faith so that they would recant and say, ‘There is no God.’”
Those who refused to recant “paid a high price,” he adds. “So many people died during the Communist time.” As a university student, he and fellow Christians experienced intense persecution first-hand, especially from the Communist student association. “Because of the Communist ideology, we were not allowed to declare our faith, to worship God openly,” he explains. “We were not allowed to pray in the cafeteria or in our dormitories. We could not sing, or do anything that was religious, and we were highly followed by the student association.”
As a freshman, he faced a defining moment in his faith journey when he and several fellow Christians were called before the dean of students to face charges by the student association that they were “anti-Communism, unpatriotic and had been hired by imperialist America.” The purpose of the charges was to have the Christians dismissed from the university and even sent to prison. The night before their meeting with the dean, the students gathered to pray. Many were frightened, particularly because some of their friends, facing similar harassment, had abandoned their faith. The believers also knew that university expulsion would forestall any future opportunities for employment.
“That was scary personally for me,” he says. “At that time, I was a younger man. I trusted in the Lord. I believed in the Lord. I knew he was my Savior, and I did not believe in the Communist ideology. But now I was in a situation: to follow Jesus or deny my faith. The next day, when the group appeared before the dean, she looked at the list of accusations by the Communist student association and finally asked, “What are you going to say about this?” The students replied, “We will not deny your faith. We will not deny Christ. You can expel us from the university, but we will continue worshipping the Lord.”
Impressed by the students’ response, she commented, “I know that you are very faithful and honest students, and they are jealous of you—jealous of your performance. So the only thing I would advise you is: please be wise in your worship and don’t expose yourself to these dangers.”
The alumnus suffered yet another assault when he graduated from the university. Included in a standard reference letter affirming that he had met all requirements was an addendum: “But we want to mention that he is a follower of a cult.” Evangelicals were seen as cultists. Looking back, he says that growing up under Communism “was good, because it refined our faith. It purified us. At that time, we were worshipping underground. Many people lost their eyes. Their arms were amputated. Some paid their lives. We have experienced all of this.”
When Communism fell in 1991, millions of Ethiopians came to the Lord—approximately 14 percent of the population. But persecution did not end. Today in Ethiopia, two religious groups are recognized as official religions: the35 percent comprising the traditional Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and the 35 to 40 percent who are Muslims. Persecution is waged by both groups when their members convert to Christianity. As he says, “The two groups call it ‘sheep stealing.’”Converts from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church are ostracized, threatened, attacked and beaten, and their homes are burned, especially in rural areas. Converts from Islam face even harsher persecution.
“The Lord is bringing thousands of Muslim converts into his Kingdom,” he explains. “When these Muslims become Christians, they experience serious persecution from their family members and friends.” Persecution can include ostracism—a hardship in a country where identity is found in the community. Converts may also suffer loss of property such as cattle, destruction of their harvests and the burning of their homes. “If again they endure,” he says, “the radical Islamic fundamentalists tell the local authorities that the converts are anti-government so that they can be imprisoned. All this so that people will abandon their beliefs.
“New believers are cautioned not to expose their faith and immediately join a local evangelical church, and some continue to attend services in their mosques, becoming part of what he calls an “Insider’s Movement.” But if new believers are identified, they are warned by Christians not to stay in the area because some converts have been poisoned. Others have disappeared and are assumed dead.
“Islam is a very, very strong religion,” he comments. “People are like in iron bars. It’s very hard to penetrate. But what is happening in Ethiopia is that some people are coming to the Lord through dreams and visions. Sometimes the Lord himself appears and tells them this is the right way.” He says this happened recently to a young college student. “She was tied with a strong rope and somehow the Lord untied her in the night, and she escaped through a window. She took a bus and came to the city and asked the Christians for shelter.” Eventually, her new Christian friends may be able to send her back to college.
“Muslim converts in Ethiopia nowadays are paying a high, high price,” he says. “The most important thing is to help them endure through this persecution. It’s knowing the truth. Once they see the light, it is very hard for them to turn their backs. So when they come out of Islam, our graduates who are ministering to Muslims tell them that following Jesus has a cost. They warn them, ‘You will be persecuted.’ But compared to knowing Jesus and the price they pay, it is nothing.”
How do Ethiopian Christians like this Gordon-Conwell graduate hold firm under such persecution? “The Holy Spirit helps you to stand in those difficult circumstances,” he replies. “When you make that decision [to stand], you know that there is nothing above the Lord, that if they take your property, they kill you, absolutely your life is in the hands of the Lord. As the Apostle Paul says in Romans 8, ‘nothing will separate [you] from the love of Christ.’ “So it’s knowing God. It’s knowing His love and what He paid on the cross, the price He paid for us in redeeming us. It’s having a Heavenly mindset, knowing that you are in God’s Kingdom, that this earthly kingdom is temporary and that this persecution will pass.”
He urges fellow Christians to pray for their brothers and sisters in Eritrea, where severe persecution by the government is rampant, and 3,500 are imprisoned for their faith in Jesus. He also seeks prayer for his school. Many students come from poor churches that cannot support them, and occasionally go for several days without food. After graduation, they return to the same poor churches and serve without pay. Teachers at the school also suffer privation. But what sustains them, he says, is “the fruit we see. Our graduates go out, and they minister the Lord. And when we see the Kingdom of God stretched across Ethiopia and other countries because of the ministry of our graduates, it keeps us going. We need your prayers.”
For nearly 10 years, Anne was the director of communications at Gordon-Conwell. Before making the trek from Ohio to Massachusetts, she worked in senior leadership positions in the health care field. Anne also co-founded a public relations firm that worked with major companies and hospitals across the country. As senior communications advisor, Anne manages the production of Contact and the Annual Report.
October 04, 2016
By Raymond Pendleton, Ph.D.
Director of the Clinical Counseling Program & Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling
Recently, I had the privilege of reconnecting with an old friend and former student. As we sat at lunch, he told me what had taken place in his life during the past few months. He is a man in his early fifties, married with children, and a pastor for many years since he completed seminary. As I listened to his story, it became all too familiar.
In his most recent pastorate, he had served for several years with a good measure of success and satisfaction. He recounted that for most of his life he had experienced bouts of depression but had always been able to put his head down and charge forward. Eventually, the depression would lift, and he would be able to go on as before with the work of ministry. However, this time it was different. After a long holiday season that seemed to require more energy than usual, he experienced a return of the depression that was more serious and debilitating than any previous episode.
In conversation with the lay leadership of the congregation, they agreed together that he should take some time and get some professional help to work through the depression. He found a very helpful counselor who was able to help him identify a series of traumatic losses and disappointments throughout much of his early life. He described several “breakthrough experiences” that became the source of relief and healing. He was feeling free and able to move forward with ministry again. In fact, he felt that he was more ready than ever before to engage the tasks of the pastorate.
The bombshell came when he sat with the leadership of the congregation and they asked him to resign, feeling that they wanted a more energetic presence in the pulpit and as a leader of worship. He was stunned, to put it mildly, but he had no choice but to capitulate to the irrequest/demand. As a testament to his recent healing experience, he was able to deal with this body blow with a sense of balance and reasonable calm but without sinking into a depression.
It would be a wonderful thing if this pastoral experience was unique, but it is not unusual for untrained people to see depression as something to be avoided and to be judged as a malady that disqualifies a Christian from service. A mythology is often extant that Christians should not be depressed. These folks should not read the life of Haddon Spurgeon, the famous English preacher, or the lives of many biblical characters who suffered from this mood disorder.
As a teacher of Pastoral Counseling, I spend a significant portion of the introductory course talking about depression, its etiology and the various approaches to treatment. Students need to be prepared to deal with depression in their own lives as well as the experience of depression in the lives of the congregations to whom they minister, since it is clear that pastors are a primary source for caregiving. When a person comes to consult with a pastor, it is important that the pastor be able to recognize the issues with which this individual is struggling and be able to make appropriate intervention. At the same time, I tell my students that they are always responsible for the spiritual nurture of those in their care.
In their recent book, New Light on Depression, David Biebel and Harold Koenig describe four types of depression: (1) situational depression, (2) developmental depression, (3) biological depression and (4) spiritual depression. David Biebel is a teacher, speaker and seminary graduate with a Doctor of Ministry degree. Harold Koenig is a board certified psychiatrist. Their book is a very helpful treatment of the varieties of depression and the possibilities for help that are available. The reality, I tell my students, is that anyone can become depressed. The issue is to recognize that depression is not a statement of spiritual failure. Depression happens! Pastors, lay leaders and those who provide counsel to individuals and families must be well trained to recognize the symptoms of various levels of depression and have sufficient knowledge of the resources available to respond to the particular needs of the person.
Dr. Raymond Pendleton, Professor of Pastoral Psychology and Director of Mentored Ministry, is President of the Willowdale Center for Psychological Services in Hamilton, MA. He chairs the board of FOTOS (Fish On The Other Side), a ministry to people struggling with gender identity, and is a board member of Hagar’s Sisters, a ministry to families experiencing domestic abuse. He teaches on marriage and family life for conferences and congregations. He holds an M.A. from Auburn University and a Ph.D. from Boston University
September 28, 2016
By Dr. Patrick T. Smith,
Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy
A well-known and well-worn joke shared regularly when I was in grade school goes: "How do you clean Dracula's teeth?" The response: "Very carefully." When I think about the question, "How do we make ethical decisions in a complex world?" the response of the childhood joke somehow seems appropriate.
To be sure, there are many moral questions whose answers are very clear. For instance, we must not torture innocent people just for the fun of it. The immorality of this activity ought to be beyond dispute. Yet, we face many pressing ethical questions in our contemporary context that are difficult, and defy simple and unreflective responses. Unfortunately, we live in an age where many important ethical discussions are not thought through carefully and too often are reduced to clichés. When this happens in the Christian community, we are woefully unprepared to help ourselves and equip others to make good ethical decisions in a complex world.
Many orthodox Christians correctly affirm the Bible, first and foremost, as the inspired narrative of God’s loving plan of redemption for His creation. Does the Bible also help with ethical decision-making? Certainly. Divine revelation through Scripture has a primary role in Christian ethics. We must, however, take care not to misunderstand the nature of Scripture, nor to misuse the Bible in ethical decision-making. We must not think of the Bible as simply a book of moral precepts to be mined for making ethical decisions. If we do so, I think we miss its point.
Further, this approach increases the likelihood that we will err or misuse the Bible in ethics. The moral prescriptions of the Bible are authoritative for the Christian community when they are properly interpreted and appropriately applied in our contemporary setting.
Even with the high view of Scripture held by most evangelical Christians, many matters are not nearly so straightforward that one can find a verse or passage containing direct instruction on what to do in a given situation. Take, for example, the medical treatment of terminally ill or imminently dying patients. On one hand, Christian theology recognizes that human life is valuable and a tremendous good of which we are to be faithful stewards. On the other hand, it also recognizes that our human existence this side of the new heavens and new earth is not the highest good and that there is a time to die. Hence, it is often complicated to determine on purely biblical or theological grounds exactly when someone should forego various kinds of therapeutic treatment at the end of life.
Further, “there are no direct discussions about war, genetic engineering, environmental pollution” and a number of other contemporary issues. So there is a deliberative process that must take place to discern how prescriptive biblical principles may be applied in complex situations. This is why the discipline of hermeneutics is so important in all facets of Christian discipleship. Regardless, Scripture has a prime place in Christian ethical reflection.
Ethics is complex for several reasons. First, we are fallen creatures living in a fallen world (Gen. 3). As Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. notes, “sin distorts our character, a central feature of our very humanity. Sin corrupts powerful human capacities—thought, emotion, speech and act—so that they become centers of attack on others or of defection or neglect.” This certainly in no small way affects how we live and the ethical decisions we make.
A second factor is that “we sometimes encounter competing ethical claims” (more on this below). Third, our individual decisions are often affected by a “plurality of publics.” In other words, a number of people or groups have a legitimate stake in ethical decisions. To whom is one primarily responsible in making decisions? Last, the empirical facts may not be easy to discern or ascertain. It is widely recognized that in applied ethics many moral judgments hinge on non-moral facts.
To illustrate this last point, consider the ethics of organ transplantation. Of course, many take it to be morally unacceptable to harvest the vital organs of people who are not yet dead for the sake of saving others’ lives. Since, “successful transplantation requires that organs be removed from cadavers shortly after death to avoid organ damage due to loss of oxygen, there has been keen interest in knowing precisely when people are dead so that organs can be removed.” And determining this is an empirical matter once the theoretical criteria have been established. Therefore, the empirical facts are crucial in assessing the morality of organ donation in a particular case.
In the midst of such complexity, the real, perhaps inevitable, possibility exists that ethical dilemmas will arise. An ethical dilemma can be understood as “a conflict between two or more value- or virtue-driven interests.” In such circumstances, it is important to have some tools that can assist us in making sound ethical decisions. The following model represents just one such framework.
1. Gather the facts
In many cases, issues are resolved by becoming clear on the details of thecae. We need to ask, “What is the context of the ethical deliberation?” Given that we make ethical decisions in specific circumstances, if we don’t have the facts, moral assessment is not possible.
2. Determine the ethical issues
Sometimes we face situations that present personal and professional difficulty, but may not constitute an ethical dilemma. Here, it is important to identify as specifically as possible what are the competing moral interests that stand in need of resolution.
3. Determine what virtues and principles have a bearing on the case
If the conflict we are addressing actually is an ethical dilemma, then, of course, there are competing values or principles that underlie it. After identifying these principles, the task is to determine which ought to be afforded more weight in the context where unavoidable moral conflicts emerge. This approach, sometimes known as graded absolutism or ethical hierarchialism, sees moral rules and principles as prima facie. This simply means that at first glance or all things being equal, these rules carry moral obligations in most situations, but maybe overridden by other ethical considerations insinuations where there are genuine moral dilemmas. “Clearly,” for a Christian ethic “biblical principles are to be weighted more heavily.”
4. List the alternatives
A very important part of this model is to ask: “What are the courses of action that may be taken?” When this is done, we’ll see that some decisions eliminate themselves. We should always strive to be as creative as possible to get around a moral dilemma. The more alternatives that can be generated, the better likelihood we have of discovering an option that minimizes the potential negative consequences of our decisions.
5. Compare the alternatives with the virtues and principles employed
It may well be the case that most, if not all but one or two alternatives, can be ruled out when we apply the relevant principles and values to them. “In order to make a clear decision, [we] must weight one or more virtues/values more heavily than others.” One worry with the graded absolutist approach or ethical hierarchialism is that some may simply “use the notion of prima facie rules as a smokescreen for picking and choosing which rules [they] wish to adhere to in any situation.” In order to avoid this scenario, certain conditions must be met when overriding a prima facie rule: (1) Justifiable public reasons must be offered in favor of the overriding principle; (2) It should be done as a last resort; (3) “We should seek the action that least violates the principle being overridden;” and (4) The overridden principle should leave “moral traces,” which is an awareness of the moral weight concerning the decision being made.
6. Consider the consequences
If one has not been able to completely rule out possible alternatives when applying the rules, then the positive and negative consequences of the decision should be determined and assessed as well as can be done.
7. Make a decision consistent with a Christian ethic
We must avoid the “paralysis of analysis” and make a decision. Sometimes this means choosing the best available alternative even if not ideal. Whatever decision is to be made, it should be as consistent with a Christian ethic as humanly possible given the unique features of the scenario.
To consider how these steps can be applied in a concrete situation, take the example of a man hiding Jews during World War II. The facts are that soldiers are tracking down people of Jewish background and unjustifiably executing them. The man is asked in a very forthright manner if he knows their whereabouts. That individual has the opportunity to protect human lives by concealing the location of Jews on his property. The ethical issue here is that there is a moral conflict between telling the truth and saving a life when it is in one’s power and ability to do so.
In determining what virtues and principles bear on this case, it is important to reflect on the biblical teaching that God is a God of truth. He expects His people to be truthful and lying lips are an abomination to God (Proverbs 12:22).Also, God places a high value on human life and expects us to do the same (Matthew 22:37-39). When we have an opportunity to save the life of another or to prevent evil from coming upon others, we have a responsibility to do so.
What are the alternatives for a person in this situation? To tell the truth or deceive in order to protect human life, it would seem. (For the example employed here to illustrate how the criteria may be used, let’s assume no other alternatives are available.) When comparing the alternatives,
it seems that there is an unavoidable conflict. The question now becomes, “Which of the moral principles, both deeply ingrained in Christian ethics, ought to be afforded more weight?”
When one considers the consequences, it is almost certain that human life will be lost unjustifiably by revealing thelocation of the Jews. Some may decide that while lying is not ideal, the principle of saving a life through some form of deception is morally permissible, given the situation. However, these same individuals should also stress that it is morally imperative not to make this a common practice for the sake of mere convenience. Deception should only be chosen when there is an unavoidable conflict with grave consequences in the balance.
It is important to know that ethical decision-making cannot be reduced simply to identifying and applying rules and principles. A crucial part of Christian ethics is about determining what we ought to do in this way. Applying guidelines, while important, is only part of a proper Christian response. Just as important is reflection on, and development of, the kind of persons we are to be. Christians must strike a balance between what some have labeled decisionist ethics and virtue ethics. The former category provides answers to the question, “What ought I to do?” whereas the latter addresses the question, “What kind of person should I be?” Most certainly, character counts.
Moreover, ethics is a profoundly communal exercise. We are created as social beings. Certain shared moral responsibilities and moral bonds are moral requisites of genuine community. It is difficult, indeed, to overstate ourinterdependence with one another. Therefore, we most often do not make ethical decisions in isolation. Nor do we grow in character apart from the community that helps form and shape it. Kyle Fedler describes these points nicely when he writes:
“[T]he development of Christian character is absolutely central to the Christian life. To be a Christian is to be shaped by the values, commitments, and worldview of the community of faith to such a degree that one begins to internalize certain virtues and dispositions….While belief and action are vital to being a Christian, one must also allow oneself to be shaped and molded into a particular kind of person, to develop a set of virtues that reflect what we as Christians claim to believe about the world.”
This is why being a member of a local church body is so important for followers of Christ. In the context of the Christian community, we can see the transforming power of the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of God’s people. Making ethical decisions in a complex world is not merely a deliberative process, though it is certainly no less. We make ethical decisions in the midst of complexity in a holistic way that includes with our mental deliberation the appropriate kind of character that is developed by reflecting on God’s Word and His world amidst the community of believers (Romans 12:1-2).