Written by Phil Monroe Monday, 01 April 2013 00:00

In recent days, there has been a flurry of writings about abuse that either happens within the Christian community or where Christian leaders provided sub-standard care (e.g., pressuring abuse victims to be quiet, to stay in the abusive relationship, or to forgive or face discipline). Some of the most heart rending stories can be found at www.rachelheldevans.comin the posts and comments made during the week of March 18, 2013. In reading these kinds of stories of violation of trust, of using children for one’s own pleasure, of sacrificing victim’s on the altar of someone else’s reputation, faithful Christians feel a mixture of righteous indignation and sadness. Somewhere in the mix may well be a growing dissatisfaction with human leadership, their systems and even a nagging sense that God is not the powerful protector we expected.

What else is there to do but lament?

I write this post after returning from a choral reading of the book of Lamentations. This short book (and the many other laments in Scripture) reminds us that there is a faithful way to complain to God and anyone who will give us the time of day. We see that God’s people have fallen into sin and idolatry. Jeremiah bemoans the sins of his people. He even confesses these as if they were his own. He complains about the raping and pillaging by pagan armies. He dares in the pinnacle (middle) chapter of the book to accuse God for all of his suffering because he knows God is sovereign over all.

“You have mauled me like a bear…you have made me eat gravel…you have pierced me with many arrows.”

Yes, what comes next (3:21) after these accusations may be one of the most beautiful devotion songs to God:

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope. Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail…The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him.”

Wait. What? Jeremiah, didn’t you just get done talking about remembering your suffering, your “gall” and that you are in deep despair?

Lament Protects Lived Faith and Demands Silence

As you read Jeremiah’s lament you see that this is no, “happily ever after” story. It’s bad. It’s going to get worse. What else can we do but trust God? Since we have breath, we assume he may still rescue. But note that this particular lament ends on a question, “…unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure?” (5:22).

Real life has moments of “I once was lost but now am found.” But just we are not able to see/feel the end and all we can do is cry out for God to hear. The act of crying out may not bring a satisfying answer or any comfort, but it does continue the conversation. And that is what lived faith is all about. It is continuing to trust God and say, “Where else will we turn?”

Lament also demands silence. Job’s counselors understood that the ONLY response to his lament was 7 days of silence, 7 days of miming, “You’re right Job, this is awful!” Lament demands a silence because there are no human words that take grief away.

The practice of lament reminds us that the world is broken and will remain that way until its remaking.

Maybe we might avoid some of the re-victimization of abuse survivors if we incorporated more lament practices into congregational worship. Might we be less likely to force acts of forgiveness and premature reconciliation?

Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychologyand Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He also directs Biblical’s new trauma recovery project. You can find his personal blog at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com.



Written by Todd Mangum Friday, 29 March 2013 00:00

“For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.”

— Hebrews 2:10

This is astonishing really. And perhaps the Orthodox are correct to admonish us to remain silent in wonder and awe at the mystery rather than puzzle over the explanation. Still, there is so much misunderstanding and opprobrium commonly heard over this point that some explanation is demanded.  

Here is one place where focus on the atonement as satisfaction (“propitiation”) of Divine wrath is completely misplaced — and provokes misunderstanding. The level of Christ’s suffering was not “necessary” insofar as that much being required to get the angry God over His temper tantrum. If the beating and spitting and ridicule — not to mention the sufferings endured at the hands of the Roman soldiers behind closed doors so unspeakable that even the gospel writers leave it purely to the imagination; if all these sufferings — are thought to be the manifestations of the wrath of God, that’s where the objections to penal substitution as “Divine child abuse” arise.

But no, that is not what Hebrews is saying — and it’s Hebrews that goes into the most explanation of why Christ suffered (not just died). He suffered such pain and abuse and mockery and was subjected to such gratuitous sadism not because that was what was required on God’s part to satisfy Him.  No, Hebrews says that was what was “fitting” to enable Christ to be a better, more suitable advocate for us humans.   

In what way did the “author of salvation” need to be “perfected”?  It certainly was not in the realm of informational knowledge; or correction of some deficiency of performance; or improvement in degree of pleasure taken in Him by the Father. No, the only thing that the Second Person of the Trinity would have “lacked” was the actual experience of being human.

And so, Hebrews tells us, not out of requirement but out of concern for “propriety” (do you hear the overtones of concern for “appearance” and “how it would be perceived”?!!!), God’s plan included the Son not only becoming human and enduring death, but enduring every awful aspect of being a human living in and under the corruption of sin. So He could advocate credibly for us — see Hebrews 4:14-16 — Christ endured unspeakable suffering, culminating in the most humiliating kind of public death every conceived from the heart of depraved humanity. Even the word “excruciating” has at its root, crux, crucis: the cross.   

This Good Friday, as we contemplate the sufferings of Christ’s Passion Week and the bearing of shameful death on the cross, let us marvel and worship. But let us do so aright. The proper thought is not: “this is the suffering Christ bore that we deserve because God hates us sinners so much”; but rather, “this is the suffering Christ bore and that God regarded as ‘only fitting’ for a perfect priest-advocate for humanity He would provide because He loves us so much.” 

Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.


Written by Todd Mangum Wednesday, 27 March 2013 00:00

This is Holy Week, Passion Week, the last week of Lent, the week of reflection on Christ’s suffering and death, the week before we begin the celebration – praise God! – of Christ’s resurrection, the conquering of Death, and the entry of His Kingdom. It’s only appropriate to reflect here then, theologically, on Christ’s suffering and death.

Christ’s death was necessary to provide atonement for sin, of course – the book of Romans (Romans 5, in particular) makes that clear. And the reasons are so familiar (partly because of Passion Week sermons!) that there’s no need to rehash them here. Yes, Christ’s death was necessary to provide a substitutionary, atoning sacrifice.   

But there’s nothing in the atonement that required the kind of death Jesus died. Any death, given Jesus’ total innocence, would have done it. Theoretically, he could have died in His sleep at a ripe old age and that would have done it insofar as an atoning sacrifice for sin; that still would have been enduring the “capital punishment” for sin when He was guilty of no sin.  

So why did He go through all that? And by “all that” I mean the tortures and humiliations so horrific that their very depiction and memory are feared to be to this day inflammatory of prejudicial backlash. Recall the controversies along this line with which Mel Gibson’s Passion of Christ was greeted.

The closest thing to an explanation we get in the entire New Testament is Hebrews 2:10:

“For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.”

Notice that the writer of Hebrews does not say “necessary.” It was necessary for there to be a sacrifice of death (Heb. 8:3); it was necessary for the “Heavenly Temple” to be “cleansed” with a blood sacrifice (Heb. 9:23) – so OK, “blood” sacrifice sounds inherently violent.  But the level of Christ’s suffering – the beating, the torture, the mockery . . . only “fitting.”

How so?

(I’m going to need another blog for that one. . . . Stay tuned Good Friday.) 


Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.


Written by Susan Disston Tuesday, 26 March 2013 00:00

A new Pope of the Roman Catholic Church was elected this month. Within two days, The Economist featured a cautionary subtitle to a front page article: “Pope Francis inherits a mess but has great opportunities. He will need to act quickly.” (March 16, 2013, print edition)

Indeed, Pope Francis is the new leader of a problem-besieged church. But the world senses that he will find opportunities that his predecessors overlooked. Perhaps that’s because we’re finding out that this Pope has prepared himself for transformational leadership. Pope Francis brings to his office a commitment and sensitivity for justice and for the poor; one that makes him stand out in a prophetic way from his peers and imitates the ministry of his namesake, Francis of Assisi. For example, the Pope-elect, “when he was archbishop of sprawling Buenos Aires, moved out of the palace of previous prelates and went abroad to literally wash the feet of AIDS sufferers in hospice.” (Barone, www.phillie.com, March 15, 2013).

Francesco di Pietro di Bernardone (St. Francis of Assisi) and Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis) entered into lifelong ministries of advocacy and giving to the poor. It is likely that that both studied the Gospels and let the words of Jesus propel them into ministry. The world observed the fruit of this study when Pope Francis asked for the prayers of the people from the balcony of the Sistine Chapel in the first hours after his election.

What can we expect when we study the Gospels?  Tom Wright—biblical scholar and pastor—suggested that the Gospels were written to transform, not just to inform the reader. He said people should seek out all four Gospels and “struggle with each book” and its unique portrait of Jesus. He explained,

  • John’s Gospel is designed to bring you to your knees in wonder, love, and praise.
  • Luke’s is meant to make you sit up and think hard about Jesus as Lord of the whole world.
  • Matthew’s is like a beautifully bound book which the Christian must study and ponder at leisure, steadily reordering one’s life in the process.
  • Mark’s is like a hastily printed revolutionary tract, stuffed into a back pocket, and frequently pulled out, read by torchlight, and whispered to one’s co-conspirators.” (from The Original Jesus: The Life and Vision of a Revolutionary.” Eerdmans, 144ff.)

In other words, we can expect to encounter Jesus in life transforming ways as each in our own way face the daily “mess” and the many opportunities that require us to “act quickly” and with wisdom. Our struggle to encounter Jesus can then lead us into prayer. Wright reminds us that the Gospels lead us to Jesus every time.

Susan Disston was the assistant dean of curriculum and assessment at Biblical Seminary.


Written by Kyuboem Lee Wednesday, 20 March 2013 00:00

The 2013 Justice Conference took place in Philadelphia's Pennsylvania Convention Center February 22-23. Several thousand justice-seekers from all around the country (and the world) gathered to sit at the feet of the likes of John M. Perkins, a Nicholas Wolterstorff, Ken Wytsma (the founder of the conference), Eugene Cho (One Day's Wages), Gary Haugen (International Justice Mission), and many others.

It was a great time for me to connect with friends old and new, and get a pulse on what was happening in the Church with regard to Justice. I was witnessing a movement. Most of the attendees were in their twenties. Nicholas Wolterstorff observed that there was a time when getting 25 people together to talk about justice would have been a success; now, he had a crowd of a few thousand before him.

The conference has stimulated me to write down takeaways and thoughts, and share them as tweets. Here they are, collected together:

  1. #justice2013 takeaway: Pastors, something is happening with young Xians re justice. Are you being equipped theologically to guide them?
  2. #justice2013 takeaway: Justice is an optional part of gospel ministry only if justice is an optional part of God's character.
  3. #justice2013 takeaway: Pastors, if your gospel lives only in the individual moral sphere, you will lose the new generation. And the world.
  4. #justice2013 takeaway: There is a profound & urgent need for theological education (specifically pastoral training) for shalom.
  5. #justice2013 thought: How will the Church keep "justice" from becoming merely a commodity the privileged can indulge in?
  6. #justice2013 thought: What transformations will theo ed institutions need to undergo so they can raise up leaders for communities of shalom? (This one got some interesting discussion over on Facebook take a look.)
  7. #justice2013 thought: If there is 2 b theo ed 4 shalom->churches of shalom, what must happen 2 overcome injustices in higher ed? Ordination?
  8. #justice2013 thought: Activists need pastors & churches who connect their work 2 gospel, else they r n danger of getting co-opted by world.
  9. #justice2013 thought: The Church must persistently draw the connection between justice and gospel, else we will be left w a secular justice.
  10. #justice2013 thought: The Church must persistently draw the connection between justice & gospel, else we will be left w sth less than gospel
  11. #justice2013 thought: If justice is to reign Xians must upend postcolonial relationships in institutions, churches & yes justice ministries.
  12. #justice2013 thought: To commit to justice means a lifelong journey of repentance from apathy, paternalism, privilege-seeking & triumphalism
  13. #justice2013 thought: 2 commit 2 justice = pursuing just partnerships across racial, cultural, socioec boundaries; 2 b more than urself.
  14. #justice2013 thought: 4 justice 2b true, main action has 2b @ the grassroots, not in the stratosphere of privilege; bottom-up, not top-down.
  15. #justice2013 thought: Justice must be firmly grounded in the gospel. It will save us from messiah complex, burnout, reliance on techniques.
  16. #justice2013 thought: Preaching w/o justice doing isn't good news; justice doing w/o gospel sharing isn't in the end loving.
  17. #justice2013 thought: Justice doers, beware of exploiting hurting 4 celebrity & feeding god complex. You too need 2 answer 2 a just King.
  18. #justice2013 thought: Don't be in love with the idea of yourself doing justice; be in love with the just King.
  19. More #justice2013 thought: Biblical theology of justice may keep word & deed, individual & social, godliness & justice together in Jesus.

More thoughts and discussions will come, surely -- I invite your conversation. But talking should also mean walking; here's to seeing more God-glorifying justice-doing in our world.

Dr. Kyuboem Lee serves as a lecturer of Urban Mission at Biblical Seminary. He is the founding pastor of Germantown Hope Community Church in Philadelphia, and the General Editor for the Journal of Urban Mission (http://jofum.com).


Written by Charles Zimmerman Monday, 18 March 2013 00:00

Where have they gone & where are they now? 

This month I continue with blog posts seeking to update you on some graduates of Biblical Seminary.  This month we visit with Ed Welch, a 1978 MDiv graduate. 

A chance to reflect on my time at Biblical. What fun! Thank you, faculty, for the opportunity.

I attended Biblical from 1975-1978. Dave Dunbar graduated the year before I came and he was always being cited as one of my illustrious predecessors - I always hoped there would be a little residual glory from his student days that would shine on me (one could always hope). I went through the M.Div. program, which was only program.

Dr. MacRae was President and all the original faculty were teaching in those days. Most people grow, in part, through amassing good biblical understanding and through observing the lives of those teaching it. What I remember from Biblical certainly includes lots of solid biblical material, but what really sticks is the influence of a faculty that showed grace to each other, grace to those who disagreed with them, and grace to students. Humility could sum it up. That day-in-and-day out humility – in class, in chapel, in the way they answered student questions – has left its mark on me.

I have lots of specific memories.

  • Tom Taylor starting a chapel with, “Ah yes, my devotional soul is stirred up this morning.” At that moment I hoped that I would be able to start every sermon I would ever give with the same sentiment.
  • Bob Vannoy and his careful scholarship
  • Bill Harding and our recitations of the Hebrew alphabet, in which we all tried to replicate his basso profundo, sometimes with a few chuckles.
  • Having my friend Mark Schmitz comment after my senior sermon, “Welch, you are the only person I know who, when he gets dressed up, still doesn’t look dressed up.” It is an observation that has stood the test of time.
  • Bob Dunzweiler starting a chapel with, “When I preach, I envision my arms going around everyone present.” I have tried to conceive of myself as rubber man with those stretchy arms ever since.
  • John Grauley, whose counseling class was the primary motivator behind what I am doing today.
  • Living my first semester in what is now part of the seminary library. It was  a small classroom with six other people, one who slept about three feet away. The good news was that I could wake up one minute before class and still be on time. The bad news was that I looked a bit rumpled, though only once did I wear a pajama top to class, and I probably didn’t smell too good.
  • Fellow students who were very patient with me. At the time I didn’t fit the profile for a seminary student in all kinds of ways, and everyone was gracious as they secretly hoped that I would one day grow up.

Since Biblical, I went off to graduate school, married Sheri, had two fine daughters who gave me two fine sons-in-law and four grandchildren that should expand to seven by the end of May 2013, started working at CCEF in 1981 and have been a stick in the mud (a pig in mud?) ever since. I am still at CCEF in PA where I teach, write and do biblical counseling, and I will probably stay there as long as they will have me. I am also an elder at Bridge Community Church, which has taken me to Swaziland a number of times.

I am in the dark ages with social media. My contact information at CCEF is though a secretary (Amy at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ), but I am, finally, considering going on Facebook (while Facebook people head off to Twitter and beyond). It is the only way I can get updated photos of my grandkids.

Charles Zimmerman is the Thomas V. Taylor Professor of Practical Theology.  He also serves as Teaching Pastor at Calvary Church in Souderton.  He is married to Kim and they have two daughters, Ashley and Megan.


Written by Dan LaValla Wednesday, 13 March 2013 00:00

"Black and White" written by David I. Arkin and Earl Robinson in 1954 became a number one hit for Three Dog Night in 1972. On February 10, 2013 one of the stanzas in this song, “A child is black, a child is white, together they grow to see the light, to see the light,” became real to me during a worship service. Our church, First Baptist Church of Lansdale, PA, joined our sister church, Zion Baptist Church of Ambler, PA, for a combined worship service. Although our congregation is multiracial, it is predominantly Anglo (as am I) and our worship style follows Anglo traditions; Zion Baptist is a predominantly African-American congregation and follows African-American worship traditions. In honor of Black History month, during the service, between the songs of worship and the reading of scripture/sermon, a young African-American man of Zion Baptist (probably still in high school) read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream…” speech.

I have been quite familiar with this speech for most of my life, having read it in high school (many years ago) and on several occasions, have heard excerpts of it on the radio and seen video clips of MLK, Jr.’s actual delivery of the speech. It is undeniably one of the most famous speeches in U.S. history. The words not only reflect the genius of MLK, Jr., but strike at the heart of the Constitution and the rights, freedom, and justice it is meant to grant and protect for all people in the United States. I hate to admit that prior to February 10thI listened to and read “I Have a Dream…” primarily as academic exercises and solely from an intellectual perspective. 

However, listening to this young man deliver the speech on February 10thand being in the midst of my African-American brothers and sisters in the Lord brought new meaning to the words. Also, hearing the speech in the midst of a worship service made me realize it is more than a political statement and for American Christians, it has as much to do with Biblical principles as it does political. In light of Galatians 3, especially verses 26-28, all believers are one in Christ. In God’s eyes there are no earthly distinctions that override this oneness in Christ. This oneness in God’s eyes disregards differences in our race, ethnicity, gender, or societal status. So too are the inalienable rights of citizenship in the U.S. granted by the Constitution irrespective of race, ethnicity, gender, or societal status. 

Finally, I would like to point out one more revelation I experienced that night. Back in November, I found myself with the medical diagnosis of a “significant herniated disc” in my lower back. For the first time in my life I am living with chronic, continuous pain. Thankfully, my long-term prognosis is good, but living with constant pain for months impacts your emotional, cognitive, and spiritual perspectives. So as I sat there on February 10th, I sensed God’s spirit communicating through the pain so that the words of “I have a Dream…” did not only convey the hope and progress of our society that I usually heard, but also the sorrows of our present reality. The sorrows associated with how alienated people are from one another because of race, ethnicity, gender, and other distinctions. In order for us to follow more effectively Christ’s top two commands, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Luke 10:27), it would behoove each of us to make an effort to not only respect one another’s differences in the Lord, but to also make a whole-hearted effort to embrace and experience our differences so that we can learn how to actually demonstrate Christ’s love to one another in our daily actions!

Dan LaValla is Director of Library Services and Development Associate at Biblical. He is Chair of the Endowment Committee for the American Theological Library Association; he serves on the Ministry Board and chairs the Missions Committee of First Baptist Church of Lansdale. He is very active in his community, coaching youth baseball and football and has served on several community boards. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/daniel-lavalla.



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