October 25, 2012
If I’m honest, I didn’t really understand much of Meredith Kline’s Kingdom Prologue (which is by no means a criticism, possibly quite the opposite!) which was the first reason why one particular sentence, which I did comprehend, stood out.
Since then, the sentence keeps coming back to haunt me. Kline says…
“…in her missionary zeal for her new religion, the woman presented the evil-spell to her husband and made a convert of him (Gen 3:6c)”
It turns out that the first bit of evangelism we see in the Bible has nothing to do with spreading the Good News about Jesus Christ. Eve is evangelistic about sin.
Which got me thinking.
We are often encouraged in our churches, and rightly so, that as Christians we should be evangelists. We should all be involved in telling people the gospel. So we learn ways to explain what God has done for us through Jesus. We practice conversations so that we will be ready to give an explanation for the hope that we have. We organize evangelistic events where we can bring our friends to hear the gospel preached.
And I would be the first to say that all of those things are excellent and praiseworthy.
But the more I thought about Kline’s sentence the more it made me think. What if the real problem is not that we are not being evangelistic enough, but that we’re being evangelistic about the wrong things?
We are so often encouraged to be engaged in evangelism, to be more evangelistic; do we ever stop to think that perhaps we are involved in evangelism all the time, whether we realise it or not?
Eve gave the fruit to Adam. She was evangelistic about eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. With her life and her actions and her words (presumably), she promoted sin to her husband and he, like a sinful idiot, listened and believed.
Until I read that sentence in Kingdom Prologue, it had honestly never occurred to me that we could be evangelistic about anything other than the evangel, the gospel. But of course what Kline points out is that that is simply not true.
We can be evangelistic about anything: our sports team, our political party, our favorite restaurant. In fact, we’re evangelistic about those sorts of things all the time. We are constantly encouraging other people to watch this, or listen to this, or try this.
My point is we are all engaged in evangelism all day, every day. Every day we communicate to the people around us by words or with our actions, what we believe.
So the real issue for Christians is not that we need to be involved in evangelism more. No, the real issue is, are we being evangelistic about Christ, or something else?
You are an evangelist and so am I, whether we like it or not. The way I spend my time, the way I spend my money, the way I dress, live, play, laugh, study, speak, think…they all proclaim a message to the people around me.
You are an evangelist. So what is the evangel you are spreading? Are you preaching the gospel of hard work? Are you preaching the gospel of the American dream? Are you preaching the gospel of the Red Sox, or the Yankees, or the Patriots or some other sports team? Are you preaching the gospel of beauty?
Eve was an evangelist for sin. We are all evangelists for something. The question is, if it’s not Jesus, then what is it?
Dimitri (Dim for short) and his wife, Gayles, moved to the U.S. from England in 2011 to pursue a Master of Divinity degree from Gordon-Conwell. He grew up in a little town in England called Sevenoaks and completed his undergraduate degree in Automobile Design at the University of Coventry. Upon graduation, Dim spent some time as a ski instructor, a church intern and an assistant pastor. When he’s not pretending to study, he’s usually dreaming about skiing.
October 23, 2012
Ever wonder what people do after seminary? We look into the life of Mary Willson who currently leads Women in Ministry at her church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
October 16, 2012
“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” My mom absolutely drilled this into my head as a child. There is no point in being mean. In fact, being mean is bad. Don’t do it. If you have nothing nice to say, keep your mouth shut. Right? Maybe it’s not as black and white. Before I go on, let’s make one thing clear. Momma always has and always will be smarter than me. Period. First rule of happiness in the South is to develop an instinctive “Yes ma’am” response. The older I get, the smarter I realize my mom is. While I fully recognize my mom as smarter than me, she might’ve missed it on this particular parable.
I’m reading a book called Incarnate Leadership in my directed study with Dr. Singleton. (Sidenote: Dr. Singleton is a BALLER! I highly recommend his classes.) The book suggests that our model for leadership should derive from Kingdom principles as modeled by Jesus Christ in “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 NIV11)
What does this have to do with being nice or shutting up? Jesus came “full of grace and truth.” Unpacking that phrase makes me uncomfortable. Why? Because I believe Christians should model “full of grace and truth” and I’m terrible at it. I’m much better at saying nice things or saying nothing than I am at being full of both grace and truth. When I read “full of grace and truth,” I think to myself “FULL of grace and the truth…only when absolutely necessary.” Let me give you an example:
This summer I took two preaching classes. In each class, peer critiques follow each sermon presented. In the back of my mind, all I could think about was “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” So if my friend preached a poorly organized or confusing sermon, I complemented his “conversational tone” and left the rest up to the Holy Spirit. Is that helpful? It’s nice. It’s very nice. But is it what Jesus asked of us as fellow Christians? How am I showing love by not helping my friend improve? Why is it that I assume a critique is somehow less gracious or loving than a compliment? When did “nice” become the filter for truth?
As Christian leaders, we need to be able to speak the truth. If the person applying for worship leader cannot play guitar to save his life…he needs to know it. If a student fails an exam…she should receive an “F.” It’s not mean. It’s the truth. Jesus came full of truth. Not just partly true, sometimes true, true when it made people feel good. He was full of truth. I’m not good at that.
The flipside, of course, is that some people are really good at being truthful every moment of every day. “I’m just a blunt person,” some of them say. Rock on! I commend you for your honesty. But is your fullness of truth paired with a fullness of grace? When you communicate truth, is it presented in a gracious way? Do you tell the worship leader who can’t play the guitar well “Wow, dude you suck! I’m impressed with how bad you are. Seriously, get off the stage. There is no way I’m hiring you.” That may be true, but it’s graceless.
Finding that balance between fullness of grace and fullness of truth is difficult. I tend to mess up on leaving out the truth—others likely air on the side of gracelessness. Jesus modeled a life and leadership full of both grace and truth. I am challenged to find that balance. It’s hard, but oh man is it important.
Tim Norton is a born-and-raised, small-town Southerner with the sweet tea addiction to prove it. He comes to Gordon-Conwell as a Kern Pastor-Scholar and plans to pursue pastoral ministry in the U.S. after graduation. Tim is a big personality with a strange affinity for the color orange. Currently, he attends GENESIS Church, an Acts 29 church plant in Woburn, MA.
October 11, 2012
God of the world of unknown mysteries…
God of the realm tucked deeply behind that horizon...
God of the land yet untread on this journey...
God of our home still seen,
We seem not to know you well.
We call you by familiar names,
names of dominance and triumph and victory,
but we know little of Your fighting Self.
We call you Creator, Potter, Molder,
but we can name little of Your fashioning way within the corridors of our beings.
We have called on Your name,
and the words have grown stale on our tongues.
Our lips used to quiver to approach You,
but we find You rather familiar,
And buried beneath our self-protective layers of isolation
we may name yet another.
We remember desire. We recall the days marked by its presence.
We find it is not pressing, it is not growing. No, it is small and weak, withered from long misuse and neglect.
It’s small and unimpressive. It’s languid and just a bit ugly…
But it’s Yours if you’ll have it.
Please have it. Please.
till our lips quake again…
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.
October 09, 2012
Five prominent leaders at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary gathered September 27 to discuss the problems facing mainline denominations in America today. In particular they joined together to share a bit of their own journey and their decision to either stay or go in their mainline denomination. The room was filled wall to wall with people eager to hear leaders they admire speak on such a pressing subject. Each leader spoke for about 10 minutes on their own situation facing the dilemma, "should I stay or go?" I share with you their wisdom on the topic. (disclaimer: my intention is not to misquote, and if I did please hold that against me and not the panel members).
Professor Dean Borgman (Professor of Youth Ministries): Episcopalian. Dean shared his testimony, looking particularly at the many theological issues he wrestled with on his journey into, and in, the Episcopal church. Borgman shared that he is troubled and disturbed by the 40,000 denominations in this world and that the greatest denominational affiliation among students at Gordon-Conwell is non-denominational. Borgman believes both the Anglican and Episcopal church claim to be the true church (his heart is torn at these statements). The fracture of the universal church of Christ pains him. When discussing church splits Borgman had this to say, "I see schism as worse than heresy." With reference to our panel topic he said "I choose to remain in the episcopal church, to stand by the door, knowing I don't have all the answers, and catch those who are disappointed by the whole church venture."
Dr. Scott Gibson (Professor of Preaching/Th.M. Director in Preaching): American Baptist. "I'm the token Baptist here." Gibson grew up in a rural baptist church in Pennsylvania. Ordained in the American Baptist Church in the USA. Regarding his denomination: every church is on it's own, choosing to relate to each other as fellow congregations, Baptists do that through state and regional organizations. The issue of homosexual ordination has plagued the American Baptist Church since 1970. Out of this desire for fidelity to the Biblical roots, the American Baptist Evangelicals arose, a biblical and theological position within the ABC. For fifteen years, the ABE has been promoted as a call to adhere to a theological and biblical center for American Baptist Churches. It has since been dissolved because of various difficulties. He shared his sorrow for the theological lack of commitment in the ABC; this lack of a biblical center troubles him. With regards our topic, he has not left the denomination. He is still ordained in the ABC, he has remained faithful within, trying to reorient to the centrality of the Bible. "I'm a dissapointed person with the ABC, I'm a Bible person, I'm a theologically driven person, and this is what I long for the ABC to be."
Dr. John Jefferson Davis (Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics): Presbyterian. With regards our topic, Davis mentioned that this is a very complicated set of issues, there is no one size fits all answer. The church historically has valued unity and doctrinal purity. He urged students to take great care before you take pastoral leadership, be clear about your ecclesiology. Ordained in the PCUS originally. Then in 1982 joined the PCUSA after the merger and is still ordained in the denomination. Currently worshiping at an Episcopal church. He lamented over the ordination of homosexuals in our era as unbiblical. He shared a paper he wrote titled: "Could John Calvin remain in the Episcopal Church or PCUSA?" We need to be careful to talk about a heretical person and a heretical church.
John Huffman (Board Member/Minister): Presbyterian. Comes from Mennonite roots. He desired to go into politics but wanted some Biblical background. He attended Princeton Theological Seminary. God called him into pastoral ministry while studying there. It was here he felt a call to bring renewal to a mainline liberal denomination (PCUSA). His call was to the local parish as a Presbyterian pastor. As long as the confessions were orthodox, the denomination was orthodox. On our topic, he is in a dilemma with the hemmhorage of the PCUSA churches. Huffman still feels called into the mainline denomination to bring renewal. He does not pretend to tell us what to do. He agrees we need to choose carefully. Search your heart very very carefully, you have to love the people of that denomination. Our job is to lead people to Christ. Stay, serve, be faithful.
Rev. Dr. Jim Singleton, Jr. (Associate Professor of Pastoral Leadership and Evangelism): Presbyterian. Singleton believes our topic is a very complicated issue. Looking at where God is calling us as seminarians is an enormous issue. He is an ordained minister in the PCUSA. With all denominational decisions, what exactly are we leaving if we leave a denomination? Denominations are an expression of the body of Christ. All of us are part of a tradition that has already left once, if not twice. Many church splits cause people to leave each other, it doesn't have to be that way. It is a rich blessing to be at a multi-denominational seminary like Gordon-Conwell. If you are going to leave, how far do you leave? Do you stay and be a subset, or do you leave and then curse those who have stayed. It's the how we do it that makes a difference: are we self righteous, do we call them heretics, or can we have a bit of graciousness, in relationship at some level with one another. The way you walk out the back door determines whether you can come back in the front door to have a conversation. We need to learn how to disagree in a civil way. He led his former church out of the PCUSA into the new Presbyterian denomination, the ECO. He led them, he helped to form the denomination. It's obvious he has understandings of how leaving a denomination works. He also designed an organization to stay within the PCUSA, the Fellowship of Presbyterians. Some churches need to leave, because if they don't they would lose most of their members. He believes you can stay and leave and still be faithful to the call as a pastor. "Let's be mature Christians, making the best decisions we can without needing to resort to real divisive name-calling. Have a graciousness in your spirit, when that is present, all things are possible." Mainline denominations are dying, there is a virus all over the church. But other things are growing. Where is the Spirit moving and how can we join the Spirit there? Be pragmatic. "But we don't need to beat up on an already dying corpse."
The Panel Entertained Questions and Answered Them:
What is the future of denominationalism?
Huffman: Denominations, sociologically, are on a major decline. But this doesn't mean there won't be denominations or places where God will be at work. Independent churches by their very nature however have a lack of accountability.
Singleton: Associations (such as The Gospel Coalition) are as important and essential as denominations once were. In the West, independent churches outnumber denominational churches. Denominations have the blessing of procedure when things blow up, independents have to figure this out without help. It can be brutal in an independent church.
What are the criteria for deciding which denomination to join, what factors?
Gibson: It has everything to do with ecclesiology. One of the issues in evangelicalism is a weak ecclesiology. Independent circles are often where ecclesiology is the weakest. The issue for us as seminarians is doing a good job of discerning where God is calling us by talking to fellow students and professors.
Davis: Some theological issues that help you clarify your denominational distinctives: reformed or arminian, infant baptism or believer baptism, what is the role of women in ordained ministry, how does the Holy Spirit manifest in worship and the church today. You have to know yourself, both temperamentally and theologically. Need is important too, small denominations might not have opportunities to be employed, versus a larger denomination. Needs should not be downplayed.
Borgman: We need to look at the 5 functions of the church: 1) teaching the world, 2) evangelism, 3) fellowship, 4) diaconate, service, 5) breaking of the bread. These are theological distinctives that would help you figure out which denomination fits you. Some churches hold some of these as more central and others hold others as central. What has God called you to be and hold as central to your call as a minister.
JT Holderman is pursuing a Th.M. in Homiletics here at Gordon-Conwell. He earned his M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary in 2012. JT is currently in the ordination process of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church with hopes of taking a call as a pastor in the coming year. His journey to Gordon-Conwell began when he sensed a deeper need for clear Biblical teaching in preaching to prepare him for ministry. He hails from Seattle, WA by way of Idaho and New Jersey. JT blogs at Praise and is an avid Mountain Biker and Bodyboarder.
October 04, 2012
As some of us begin a new year at seminary I was struck by these words from Richard Baxter in The Reformed Pastor (the capitals are from the 17th century, not me!).
“… think this one speech better deserveth a twelve month study, than most things that young students spend their time on.
O brethren! Write it on your study doors – set it in capital letters as your copy, that it may be ever before your eyes. Could we but well learn two or three lines of it, what preachers [and, we might add, students or professors or counselors or Christians] we would be!
We may not all be pastors, but we’ve all been given the good news to pass on, and we have all been called to ministry. He goes on to say…
“Write these on your hearts, and it will do yourselves and your church more good than twenty years’ study of those lower things, which, though they may get you greater applause from the world, yet, if separated from these, they will make you but as ‘sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal’.”
I’m not sure I want to be a “tinkling cymbal.”
October 02, 2012
Ever wonder what people do after seminary? Alumnus Paul Hoffman (M.Div. '03) Senior Pastor of Evangelical Friends Church, Newport, RI shares his vision for the gospel taking hold in Newport county.