Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Reminder from Gandalf

I just started reading The Hobbit last night. It's great of course. What was great was how God used it to remind me of something last night.

"That's right," said Gandalf. "Let's have no more argument. I have chosen Mr. Baggins and that ought to be enough for all of you. If I say he is a Burglar, a Burglar he is, or will be when the time comes. There's a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself."

It reminds me of God's conversation with Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3), or of God's conversation with Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1). Moses wasn't a speaker. Jeremiah was too young. And God said, in essence, "you don't know what you're talking about. If I say your a deliverer or prophet, the a deliverer or prophet you are, or will be when the time comes. Theres more in you than you know - my power, my words, my very presence."

I reminds me of struggles I've had. God has called me a shepherd/pastor, and I doubt. He's called me an evangelist, and I doubt. He's called me to be a father and a husband, and I doubt. He calls me his child and I doubt. I argue with him. When I see myself, I can't see these things. But it is God who defines me, not me. I resist his vision for my life because I can't see those things in me, but it is there because he's put it there. His power, his truth, his Spirit.

I've spoken to many people who struggle with this - with allowing God to define them rather than the mirror or their parents or their failures or their past. At it's core, its a struggle of faith (I think all things are). I wonder if God frowns on us and sticks out his bushy eyebrows, wondering when we'll get it.

I don't know when I'll get it, but I'm more hopeful. The vision of what God has for me is burning in me - I long to be wholly submitted and free of inhibitions. I long to know deeply who I am in Christ and know it in my bones and soul, not just my head. I know the struggle will continue till I die, or Christ returns, but I feel like I'm coming out of a valley. I can't remember ever being so excited about my life in Christ (while at the same time so anxious about so many other things).

I can't wait to share the excitement.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

What defines what?

"What would it mean if, instead of trying to explain the gospel in terms of our modern scientific culture, we tried to explain our culture in terms of the gospel?"

- Leslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks, the Gospel and Western Culture

Monday, August 18, 2008

Getting the most out of seminary

I was so thankful that I met a man named John Erickson during my second semester. He became a mentor to me during the next five semester and into today. One piece of advice he gave me during the early weeks of our relationship changed how I approached seminary and I am grateful for it today.

In seminary, maybe more than any other graduate program (though I don't have much to compare it to), there is a ton of reading. I mean a ton. The average student will probably read 2000-3000 pages per class, not counting time reading Scripture (which is not suprisingly important in seminary - if you go to a good one). Again, that's per class. John's advice was in the form of a decision: either you'll plow through all the reading in a mechanical way or you'll read it devotionally, allowing it to sink in and transform. I chose the later, which wasn't an easy choice. In essence, it meant I didn't always get all the reading done. But I wouldn't trade the A- for A's if it meant I didn't get anything other than a grade from it.

I am not a fast reader. I plow through slowly, reading paragraphs twice, underlining, commenting. It took time, but I grew in an appreciation for God's word and in awe of God and all he has done for his people and his church.

This choice goes to the very heart of why someone goes to seminary. It's not just to get your ticket punched. It's to be prepared for ministry, whether in a church or parachurch or in an academic setting. This preparation is as much, or more, spiritual and heart focused as it is academic and intellectual.

Don't misunderstand. I didn't use my 'devotional' approach as an excuse to be lazy. I worked hard and got good grades. It was about a mindset, and it's a mindset I would adopt again.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Modern 'respect' for religion is really disrespecful

I don't keep up with too much TV, unless its sports. I've seen three or four episodes of Lost, only two episodes of the Office. I even missed the whole Seinfeld craze. Just wasn't into it. But Friends, I watched that religiously back in the day. I was reading a book about religious pluralism and a scene from Friends popped into my mind. Rachel's got a crush on a guy names Joey. Ross doesn't like it. Joey teaches him how to be insulting and dismissive without showing that he doesn't like the fact that Rachel is dating someone else.

Rachel laughs to herself
Phoebe: (About Rachel laughing) What? What?
Rachel: Well, it was just something Josh said about v-necks, but you had to be there.
Ross: Yeah, how does Jason look in a v-neck?
Rachel: It’s Joshua.
Ross: Oh, whatever.

Whatever. I doesn't matter. It's all the same. Dismissive and insulting.
Imagine a child being given directions from their parent.

Parent: gather up all your toys and put them in the toy box. its time for bed.
Child: whatever mom.
Parent: what did you say to me. Say it again and I'll rip your lips off.

Completely imaginary conversation, but 'whatever' isn't respectful, it's dismissive and insulting. And yet, that's exactly how the claims of the great religious leaders not only of our day but from the ages are treated.

Paul: Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God
Jewish Teacher of the Law: Jesus was a blaspheming heretic.
Muhammad: Jesus was the Messiah, a great prophet, but not the Son of God (Christians blaspheme in claiming God has progeny)
Postmodern Pluralist: Whatever. It's all the same.

Vedas: the soul is eternal
Siddhartha Gautama: no it's not, everything is in flux and nothing is eternal
Pomo Pluralist: whatever, its all the same.

I find the modern/postmodern understanding of religion, which aims to respect all religions, ends up disrespecting them all by taking none of their claims seriously.

I believe we should respect people of other religions and the traditions they represent. There is much to commend in them - and plenty to disagree about. But can't disagreement be a respectful. I'm not asking 'can't we disagree in a disrespectful way'. Yes we can, and we should (I should probably confess that I have often sunk into sarcasm and harsh criticism of other beliefs, even other Christian beliefs with which I disagree. I resolve to be more respectful, casting other's beliefs in the best possible light, engaging with them at that level, not constructing strawmen to blow down).

But that's not the point here. What I an asking is 'can't disagreement be a way of showing respect'. It says 'I take your claims very seriously. They are indeed different then mine. In fact, they are contradictory. I know you're a logical person who can't abide flagrant contradictions, so we disagree. I might be wrong, you might be wrong, we both might be wrong, but we can't both be right. Lets talk'.

That's dialogue, respectful, honest dialogue. When we dismiss our difference with a 'whatever, it's all the same', dialogue is impossible. All that can be done is patting each other on the tooshy and stroking each others egos. That's just not as fun as real dialogue - nor is it as honest or respectful. It is not all the same. The God of Islam is not the God of Christianity, neither is the God of Judaism. The worldview of Hinduism and Buddhism differ fundamentally with the worldviews of Christianity and Judaism. They are not the same. Lets stop pretending they are and talk.

Who should go to seminary, part 2?

Read the second part of Dr. Clark's response to the question 'who should go to seminary?'. May I suggest that you carefully pay attention to point two in his response - don't go if you're just doing it to jump through a hoop, get your ticket punched or if you're only interested in 'practical ministry' stuff. I completely echo Dr. Clarks comments about seminary being the beginning of the process of learning, not the terminus. I learned how to think biblically in seminary, not just what to think.

I think I'll post later this week on how to get the most out of your seminary experience. I think it will apply to your classes at IU as well.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Who should go to seminary?

Last week I posted my 'top ten list' of seminaries, which was actually twelve and turned into thirteen when it was pointed out that I completely neglected Westminster Seminary California. Dr. R. Scott Clark from Westminster pointed out my error (still not sure how he stumbled onto my blog - google search for 'top seminaries' is my guess). I took that insult as an opportunity to add injury and asked him if he would be willing to write on the question 'who should go to seminary' on his blog. He was gracious and willing. His response - "anyone, but not everyone". Read the whole thing...

Friday, August 08, 2008

Westminster Seminary California

Oops. I left off a very good and influential seminary from my list. Westminster Seminary in Escondido, CA is an excellent seminary with outstanding faculty and great reputation. Among their big guns are Michael Horton (White Horse Inn, Modern Reformation), Robert Godfrey and R. Scott Clark. The seminary also draws from a large pool of great visiting faculty, guys like DG Hart, Kim Riddlebarger, RC Sproul, and Philip Ryken. Sorry for the slight. In fact, the works of these guys has shaped my theology more than any of the other seminary faculties outside of TEDS.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Recommended Seminaries

I get asked quite frequently which seminaries I would recommend; in fact, someone asked me earlier today. It seemed like it might be helpful to post my list with some comment here. This isn't an official ranking and is almost exclusively evangelical seminaries (no Princetons or Dukes), though not all on the list would like that label. Here they are:

1. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Chicago area, Evangelical Free Church)
Ok, so this one is near and dear to my heart. Honestly, I'm not joking. The three years I spent there were incredible. I loved the friends, the classes, the environment and the faculty (though the campus leaves a lot to be desired). It is a very strong academic institution but has a very strong emphasis on practical ministry experience and personal spiritual development. Some of their big gun profs are DA Carson, Kevin Vanhoozer, Doug Sweeney, Grant Osborne, Herold Netland, and John Woodbridge. It's conservative but not fundi, it's largely reformed, but has a healthy dose or Arminian/Wesleyan profs and really does 'major on the major' stuff. There's a wealth of seminars and other talks from the Henry Center available for download.

2. Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia area, Orthodox Presbyterian)
Academically, this may be the strongest on the list, but its staunch Presbyterianism may not be for everyone. In addition, I think its reputation is for turning out great profs but for not being as strong on the practical ministry side of things. If I had my druthers, I'd do a PhD there. Their big guns are Vern Poythress, Peter Lillback, and Scott Oliphant. It's got a great history to add. There's lots of video and audio at the Media Center to help give you a feel for the institution.

3. Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary (Boston area, Non Denominational)
When I was choosing a seminary, it came down to Gordon Conwell and Trinity. I obviously chose Trinity but did so mostly based on location. I, meaning my wife, liked Chicago more than Boston. I've had friends graduate from Gordon and loved it. It's in a beautiful area, is strong academically and practically. They most well know profs include Robert Coleman, Scott Hafeman, Walter Kaiser, Richard Lints, Haddon Robinson, and David Wells.

4. Southern (Louisville, Southern Baptist)
Since it's turn around in the mid to late 90's, Southern has established itself as the conservative and reformed baptist seminary. Since I'm not really a Baptist I wouldn't agree with all of their theology, but wow, they've got some stud profs, including Bruce Ware, Thom Schreiner, Al Mohler, and Donald Whitney. Want more info, ask Joel Neise. There is a huge cache of great audio stuff here.

5. Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando, Jackson and Charlotte, Reformed)
There are at least three campuses to choose from: Jackson, Charlotte and Orlando. so if the south is where ya want to be, RTS is for you. Actually, they have an outstanding faculty, including Bruce Waltke, John Frame, and Reggie Kidd. Again, I have a friend who graduated from RTS in Charlotte and loved his time there. It is reformed and holds to the Westminster Standards, but isn't, as far as I know, tied to a specific reformed denomination. There is a fairly extensive catalog of chapel services, classes and seminars available on iTunes.

6. Covenant Theological Seminary (St. Louis, Presbyterian Church of America)
Again, this is one I have personal experience with as I'm currently working on a ThM through Covenant. I've only taken two classes on campus so far and am working on a third independent study. So far I've been very impressed with the faculty. It is the seminary of the Presbyterian Church of America - a very conservative and evangelical branch of the Presbyterian church. Some of the well known profs include: Michael Williams, Jerram Barrs, Bryan Chapell. The campus also hosts the Francis Schaeffer Institute and has a huge number of classes and other resources available for download at Covenant Worldwide.

7. Calvin Theological Seminary (Grand Rapids, Christian Reformed Church)
I've only been to the campus once for a conference, but was very impressed with the faculty who I was able to learn from. Cornelius Plantiga Jr. is definitely the best known prof.

8. Bethel (Minneapolis, Baptist General Conference)
This was another seminary I looked into for a time, though it doesn't have the same academic reputation as many of the others. David Howard is the only scholar on faculty I recognize. The school is Baptist and has Reformed and very Arminian faculty. In fact, one of the reasons I didn't pick this school is that is was struggling with one prof, Greg Boyd and his Open Theology. He was later let go because of his rather unorthodox understanding of God's foreknowledge.

9. Wheaton Graduate School (Chicago Area, Non Denom but doesn't offer MDiv)
Wheaton's Graduate School isn't technically a seminar as it doesn't offer the MDiv (I should note that most, if not all of the other schools have Graduate Schools in addition to there seminaries. Just look on the website). It is an academic rock with guys like Doug Moo (brilliant former Trinity prof who is quite the crumugin), Greg Beale, Daniel Block, and Hassel Bullock leading the way. It seems especially strong in Biblical Studies.

10. Regent (Vancouver, BC)
The only thing that puts this seminary on my list is JI Packer used to teach there. Other than that, I don't know much about it. John Stackhouse is a familiar name on their faculty, but I really don't know much about this one.

11. Biola/Talbot (Southern California, non denominational)
William Lane Craig, Douglas Geivett, and JP Moreland are all very well know philosophers and apologists. It seems very strong in this area, but those are the only three names I recognize on their faculty.

12. Fuller (California, non denominational)
This is a school with an excellent reputation for scholarship and for training pastors. It's only this low because of its questionable stance on Scripture. The senior pastor at Lynn's home church, a man I love and respect, did a DMin at Fuller and spoke highly of the experience. Among their faculty, Leslie Allen, James Bradley, Colin Brown, William Dyrness, John Goldingay, and Richard Mouw are names I know.

This is only a partial list and based only on my limited knowledge and experience. Then again, what else do I have to go on. I hope it's helpful. I'm open to additions if anyone thinks they are needed.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

The Greatest Commandment and Marriage

Matthew 22:34-40, But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." (ESV)

This week, in preparing for a wedding, I was reflecting on how these commands inform and challenge husbands and wives in marriage. The first command is an important reminder that while we must love our spouses, we must love them more than we love God. If our loves are not 'properly ordered' (CS Lewis), they cease to be truly loving. Only a when we love God first, do we love our spouses (or anyone) well. I remember reading a poem by John Piper, written for his son's wedding I believe, in which he called upon the newlywed couple to "go and love each other more by loving each other less (than God)".

Our spouses, or future spouses, are gifts from God. Genesis 2 describes the reasoning behind God giving this gift to mankind - it was not good for man to be alone. It is possible, and all to common, for people to love God's gifts more than the giftgiver. It happens with spouses, kids, and sadly enough, houses and cars too.

The second command is also a challenge in marriage (and in every other facet of life). I've heard people twist this commandment and urge people to learn how to love themselves. That's not the command - it's the assumption behind the command. Jesus assumes, rightly (obviously), that we all love ourselves. The command is to love others in the same way we love ourselves. Paul draws upon this same thought in Ephesians 5:28, "In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself (ESV)."

In the Ephesians passage there are two things interesting to note. First, Paul assumes the same thing Jesus does, we love ourselves. Note also, there isn't a word of condemnation about that. Second, Paul uses this love as a motivation to love your spouse - if you love her you will be loving yourself also. It makes senses given the one flesh dynamic.

The problem in so many marriages isn't that the husband or the wife are seeking their happiness. I think that's a given. However, the path to that happiness is to be in seeking the happiness, joy, and well being of your neighbor/spouse. We are to seek our joy in their joy, our pleasure in theirs. In this, we follow Jesus' example. He died for the church, that he might present them to himself as a spotless bride. How incredible is that. He died for the church. Selfless. But he did it to present to himself a spotless bride. Self love. Yet, he did it knowing that the churches greatest joy would be in being his bride. Doesn't it make your head spin a little.

Thinking through our relationship with our spouses, we are to love them selflessly. But this love will certainly be personal gain as well - it is the same as loving our own bodies.

One more all important point: as we seek our joy in the joy of another, our spouse, we must bear in mind always that the only true source of joy is Christ our Great Treasure. We will, therefore, always be pointing our hsubands, wives, sons, daughters, neighbors to Christ. After all, as the Psalmist wrote,

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
(Psalm 73:25-26, ESV)