Written by Todd Mangum Wednesday, 24 October 2012 00:00

Recently, a group of traditional, original-language-program students submitted to me four questions they said were questions they commonly had and heard among their student colleagues. I thought it might be good to share the questions — and my answers — with you.

 Q. How should a student rightly respond to “missional ideas” they find new, different, or challenging? 

A.  The Bible, of course, is the final authority here at Biblical Seminary. A student is correct to subject any ideas they hear to the authority of the Word of God. At Biblical, we ENCOURAGE the spirit of the Bereans, who “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to seewhether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

This is consistent with the best of missional thought, theology, and ministry worldwide. Consider the Cape Town Commitment, a statement of missional Christianity affirmed by the global members of the Lausanne Movement. Immediately after urging all seminaries to conduct regular “missional” audits of their curricula, that document makes the following statement: “We long that all church planters and theological educators should place the Bible at the center of their partnership, not just in doctrinal statements but in practice.”

Now, we do expect that students come to Biblical to learn, not to be argumentative, hostile, or obstinately oppositional. The kind of educational environment we seek to cultivate is a community of active learners, not one of either passive recipients or obnoxious debaters.

One energizing but potentially unnerving quality about a missional approach to theology and ministry is that we are all learning to a degree as we go. Because God is bigger than our theological boxes and because God is resourceful in how He goes about accomplishing His mission, we can expect to be surprised at how God is working sometimes, and to see God raise up unexpected people or work through surprising circumstances to get His will accomplished. Adaptability and flexibility are part and parcel of what it means to be missional — within the parameters of the character of God and the revealed will of God, of course.

We expect that students engaging missional ideas at Biblical will find themselves stretched, challenged, and sometimes perplexed. Not only do we suggest that this will happen, we encourage students — and regularly encourage ourselves — to get used to this discomfort.  This is the “new normal,” part of what it means to be engaged in mission with an “untamed God.”

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 Tuesday, 23 October 2012 00:00

Recently, a group of traditional, original-language-program students submitted to me four questions they said were questions they commonly had and heard among their student colleagues. I thought it might be good to share the questions — and my answers — with you. 

Q. Please explain what is Missional Theology and why this has become a new focus at Biblical Seminary.

A. “Missional theology” is the phrase used to describe the conversation and movement that began to take root around 50 years ago. Missional insights initially were prompted by Christian missiologists and missionaries who asserted that “the mission of God to reach and restore the world” is not just a part of theology or a part of the church’s ministry, but is the heart of theology and ministry.

Lesslie Newbigin was one such influential figure who typified the start of the missional movement. A missionary to India for 40 years, he found that when he returned to England, his once “Christian country” had become “post-Christian,” in need of the very missions work he’d been doing in India. While Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, the methods necessary to engage people afresh with Christ’s message and mission are ever changing, as varied as the contexts and cultures of the human world.

As theologians and biblical interpreters and scholars grappled with the insights being proposed by missiologists, a fresh and bigger view of God gradually began to emerge. Christian thinkers and leaders began to see more clearly that the God of the Bible is not just a passive God who basks in worship, but is an active God on a mission —  a mission that He has undertaken at great cost (giving His own Son to accomplish it). And part of what unfolds in tracing the mission of God through the progressive revelation of the Bible is a recognition that God considers establishment of justice, mercy, and kindness as central to His purposes and central to the “good news,” the Gospel, and not just by-products that emanate from something else that is central. This is true in both Old Testament (made clear especially by the prophets — see Micah 6:8) and New Testament (made clear especially by Jesus — see Matthew 23:23).

Biblical Seminary was in a way poised especially well to tap into the insights of “the missional turn.” Though we were founded originally as a Reformed fundamentalist school, the school’s founders consisted of Allan A. MacRae, an Old Testament scholar, and Dr. Jack Murray, an evangelist. Biblical was founded to merge in a unique and unusual way the depth and rigor of academic biblical scholarship with practical outreach and passion for the lost. These twin concerns have always been integral to Biblical’s “DNA.”

And yet, on the other hand, the focus of “missional theology” puts everything in fresh light. The gospel is found to be richer, deeper, and more far-reaching than the “ticket-out-of-hell” to which it’s commonly reduced in other evangelical approaches. Missional theology encourages ministers, Bible readers and theologians to interact with God and follow God as a Divine Person, rather than as a composite of finely nuanced philosophical concepts as He too often is conceived of in traditional systematic theologies.  And missional theology emboldens the minister and leader of God’s people to recognize that what we as God’s people do is more important to God than just what we profess to believe

Some of the adjustments of “missional theology” are slight and some aspects of missional theology have always been present to some degree in the best of evangelical theology. We recognize that. Even still, at Biblical, we believe the nuances of missional theology taken together make for a remarkable improvement in: 1) reading the Bible; 2) doing theology; and 3) engaging in ground level ministry and evangelism.

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 Charles Zimmerman Wednesday, 17 October 2012 00:00

Where have they gone & where are they now?  

For the past year, I have been issuing updates on the founding faculty members of Biblical Seminary to see where they are today and what they are doing.  I hope you have enjoyed catching up.  

Before I move on to other topics, I thought I would contact a few other long-term faculty members to see where they are and what they are doing these days.  This post updates us on James Pakala, Biblical’s first librarian. 

 Jim was the librarian when I arrived as a student.  The first time I walked into the library office, I saw a tall man and short woman both wearing surgical masks.  I wondered if I somehow made a wrong turn and entered an operating room rather than the library circulation room.  I soon discovered that the tall man was James Pakala, Biblical’s meticulous librarian and the short woman was his conscientious wife Denise.   

 I must admit that I was sad the day Jim informed me that he was leaving Biblical and headed to Covenant Seminary.  He’s still there, by the way, as you will see if you keep reading. 

1.  What years did you teach at Biblical? 

Arriving at Biblical early in 1973 to complete my S.T.M. begun at Faith, I was there through July 1991 when we moved to Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. Working at Biblical’s Library, I found both a wife and a career. When Bob Vannoy left for a year in The Netherlands, he recommended that I assume Library oversight and when he returned he did not want to resume that and, at the same time, the State wanted a full-time library director in place. Once state-accredited, we could use “Theological Seminary” as part of our name. Meanwhile, Biblical paid tuition at Drexel so I could get my library degree. Denise Marchand and I were married in 1975 and our son was born in 1979. He’s now married to the former Lacey Childs, who grew up in the St. Louis area where they also live. We loved the many years at Biblical and were active in the pursuit of Middle States accreditation as well as library development and collaboration. Biblical is active in SEPTLA (Southeastern PA Theological Library Assoc.) and during my time as president it was a privilege to lead their 25th anniversary celebration in 1986.

2.  What have you been doing since then? 

Arriving at Covenant in 1991 we had many challenges and opportunities. Here’s just one. The Library had two computers, one of which had never worked and the other usually worked but did nothing more than link to Concordia Seminary’s catalog, whose records we had to accept “as is” and tag our symbol onto, thereby receiving periodic microfiche that were not very good either for accurate data or user convenience. Thanks to Denise, within two years a project was done that had taken ten years to complete halfway (that project was one of our mandates in coming). We went live with an automated system by 1993, migrated to a new one a few years later, and then around 2000 and thanks to $12 million in State help and sixty universities etc. banding together we gained amazing 21st century systems/services. Meanwhile, God sent outstanding Staff to help with this and much more. All we can say is Deo gratias!

3.  Tell a favorite memory from your Biblical days. 

When a large tent was pitched on the front lawn for an invite-the-community service, I slept in the tent the night before to provide security. As I recall, someone joined me. Sleep was good as there were no incidents and the weather was great. Another special memory was performing a lakeside wedding for student/alumnus Rick Welsh and his lovely bride.

4.  Contact information: email, facebook, etc. 

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  and I’m on Facebook but lack time to look at it much. 

I’m sure that Jim would love to hear from you; why not contact him and catch up? 

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. See alsohttp://biblical.edu/index.php/charles-zimmerman 


Written by Bryan Maier Friday, 12 October 2012 00:00

This week one of my students presented a case of an 89 year old single woman who used to live alone but had recently fallen and was thus temporarily recovering in an assisted living facility. She had never married or had children and the majority of her life had been spent being the caretaker for other family members (who were now mostly deceased).

When my student came to visit her, she was withdrawn and resisted any attempts to engage in the activities of the facility.  For example, even though she liked to knit, she refused to join the small knitting circle that was available.  The doctors were considering giving her anti-depressants. The lady said that all she wanted to do was look out the window, watch the birds, and wait to go to heaven (she was a strong believer).

The question for our group was whether this lady needed to “perk up” or gain some kind of purpose for what remained of her life or whether she might need a psychiatric consult with the idea of administering medications. On the other hand, after a life of eight decades of service and anticipation of glory, I wondered if she had not earned the right to restrict her activity to bird watching and thinking of heaven. Of course, this woman may indeed be depressed. She may have years more to live and how will she spend it? Is she exempt from the mandate to love God and love others?

Listening to this case reminded me of Romans 8: 18-23 which speaks of the groaning that all creation endures. In this text, groaning is viewed as a sad but appropriate response to living in a hostile environment. And whether any one of us currently have much to groan about circumstantially or not, heaven still seems to be the preferred option at least to the Apostle Paul who, given the choice, would choose to be with the Lord (Phil. 1: 23). 

I wonder if many of us don’t give heaven much thought because we are so focused on this life.  Death of someone close or our own impending death can intrude and dislodge that thinking. Suddenly we are reminded that there is so much more to this life than this life. So what is a clinically healthy view of heaven, both for this lady and for me?

I don’t know all the answers but if I live to be 80 or 90 years old and my taste for heaven is sharpening, I may not want to knit either.  

Bryan N. Maier, Psy.D. is Associate Professor of Counseling at Biblical Seminary.


Written by Dan LaValla Wednesday, 10 October 2012 00:00

One of the main characteristics of living a missional lifestyle is discerning where the Holy Spirit is working and how He wants you to participate in His ministry. Paul teaches in Galatians (5:16ff) as Christians we are to let the Holy Spirit guide our lives and we are to follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. But this is often easier said than done. For Jesus explained to Nicodemus (John 3:8), “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

A case in point, last October (2011), our region experienced an early snowfall. Despite the inconvenient weather, my family woke up Sunday morning and attempted to go to church. Although the snow was rather light (only a couple inches) with a modest coating of ice on our vehicles, I experienced greater opposition than the conditions warranted for getting to church. For example, it was difficult to get our car doors open, I busted a heavy-duty ice scraper, and damaged the windshield wipers so that they would not move. By this point, I lost my temper, said a few choice words I wished I could take back, and made a deriding comment about this is what you get for trying to go to church despite the weather. Feeling convicted, I barked at my family saying, “We’re not going to church; I’m obviously not in the frame of mind for it.”

After calming down, I decided to call a mechanically gifted friend to see if he could give me some assistance repairing my wipers. Upon calling, the sound of his voice was filled with discouragement, something I had never seen or heard from him in the 20-plus years of our friendship. Although he is not a Christian, he rolls with the inconveniences of life better than anyone else I know. However, since the leaves were still on the trees, the weight of the snow brought down several large tree limbs (size of small trees) which were leaning against his garage, truck, and one was threatening his house. Despite the situation, he took the time to explain how to repair the wiper blade; it was rather easy once I knew what panel to remove under the hood and what to tighten.

After I repaired my wipers I felt I should drive the 30 minutes to help my friend. However, I was hesitant because he is a very independent person and while he is very generous in helping others, he doesn’t seem to be comfortable receiving help. I communicated this to my wife and after wrestling for a half-hour decided to go. When I arrived, I was greeted with, “What are you doing here?!” I replied, “In all the years I have known you, I have never seen or heard you as discouraged as you were on the phone this morning. I know you don’t understand this, but I really feel God interrupted me this morning so that I could be available to help you.” Four to five hours later, with chain saws and a Bobcat, we were able to eliminate the risk of severe damage to his garage, house, and truck and the relatively minor damage to his garage would be covered by insurance.

Upon leaving, my friend and his teenage son thanked me emphatically with great relief in their voices. In all the years of our friendship and numerous theological conversations, my friend has moved from being an atheist to an agnostic, but I don’t think any conversation expressed my faith to him as much as being there that day and sharing how God wanted me there for him. During the 30-minte drive home, I apologized to God for losing my temper that morning and said that I wished there was an easier way for me to hear Him. A little while later, I felt a conviction that my life is too busy to hear the more subtle means He uses to get my attention. At the dinner table, I apologized to my wife and sons for my behavior that morning and shared what I learned that day and during my drive home.

Dan LaValla is Director of Library Services and Development Associate for Institutional Advancement at Biblical. He is Chair of the Endowment Committee for the American Theological Library Association and is very active in his church and community, coaching youth baseball and football and has served on several community boards. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/daniel-lavalla. 


Written by David Lamb Monday, 08 October 2012 00:00

In the film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), “God” speaks as a floating head in the clouds to King Arthur and his entourage telling them to stop groveling because it reminds him of “those miserable psalms” that are “so depressing.”

Fortunately, the real God isn’t turned off by any psalms, not even the psalms of lament (their official title isn’t “those miserable psalms”).  Laments are actually the most common type of psalm (over 40%).  God inspired their inclusion into the canon, and their primary feature is complaint, so God must really like it when we complain

You may ask, didn’t Israel get in trouble for complaining in the wilderness?  Great question.  Israel’s complaints in the wilderness were completely different from a lament.  They were more like gossip.  The psalmist takes his complaints directly to God, which actually honors God by taking the relationship seriously.  While laments seem to come from a lack of faith, as we will see, they ironically lead to trust and praise.

This is my second in a series of blogs on the Psalms. You will find my first blog here).

One of my favorite laments is Psalm 13.  I will look at it in three parts. 

The Lament (verses 1-2)

1 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?

How longwill you hide your face from me?

2How long must I take counsel in my soul

and have sorrow in my heart all the day?

How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

The psalmist begins with a question, “How long?”  He repeats forms of the “how long” question four times, then asks another even more severe question, “Will you forget me forever?”  The Psalmist feels utterly abandoned by God.  If I felt abandoned by God, I would ask “Why is this happening to me?” but that’s not the psalmist’s question.  The psalmist isn’t interested in reasons, but in duration: “When will my abandonment end?”  It is similar to a child in the car repeatedly asking, “Are we there yet?”  When will the driving / abandonment cease?  When you’re in the midst of pain, it feels like it’s been going on forever. 

No answer to these questions is given in the psalm.  But even in these two verses that seem, in the words of Monty Python’s God, so miserably depressing, there is hope.  If God has forgotten, abandoned and isolated the psalmist so completely, why is he still talking to God?  The psalmist knows that even though it doesn’t feel like God is there, he is.  So, he should keep the conversation going with God. 

The Request(verses 3-4)

3Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;

light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,

4lest my enemy say, "I have prevailed over him,"

lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

The conversation continues and, although there is more complaining (death is coming, enemies are rejoicing), the tone shifts into a request.  The psalmist wants a response.  This isn’t a polite prayer with lots of “O, please, God” at the beginning and end of each request.  It is more intense, more desperate.  The psalmist makes demands (“consider and answer me”).  God still feels distant, but he is moving closer.  God is apparently taking requests now and the psalmist speaks of God as “my God.”

The Praise (verses 5-6)

5But I have trusted in your steadfast love;

my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

6I will sing to the LORD,

because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Is the psalmist bi-polar?  The author of verses 5-6 seems different from the author who wrote verses 1-4?  The psalmist was complaining, now he is singing.  The psalmist was hidden from God, now he trusts in God’s love.  Enemies were rejoicing because of the psalmist’s wretchedness, now the psalmist is rejoicing because of God’s bountifulness. 

I don’t actually think the psalmist is bi-polar.  Part of what allowed the psalmist to come to a point of singing, rejoicing and trusting is the questioning, complaining and lamenting that came earlier.  While feeling abandoned, the psalmist didn’t give up, but kept talking to God and asking questions.  The questions led to requests, which finally led to praise and trust.  When we are feeling like the psalmist here, it is tempting to think we are supposed to skip straight to praise, but that’s not the model of the psalms.  Often, praise comes after pain and petition.

How can we use lament psalms like this to further God’s mission?  As we missionally engage the people around us with the gospel we need to remember there are a lot of people in pain, who feel abandoned by God, just like the author of Psalm 13.  Personally, I’ve been complaining to God about my vocal cords that have been damaged for several months.  (I’m not supposed to talk unless absolutely necessary.)  I wonder, “How long will this go on?”  I’m not sure, but I know that it’s good news that God’s word includes people speaking honestly to God about serious pain.  God can handle our complaints.

How can we encourage people to lament like the psalmist in our churches and ministries? 

David Lamb is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Biblical. He’s the husband of Shannon, father of Nathan and Noah, and the author of God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?He blogs regularly at http://davidtlamb.com/. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/david-lamb.


Written by Derek Cooper Friday, 05 October 2012 00:00

The only thing more challenging than vacationing with children is taking a vacation with three children – all under the age of five. If it is not one thing, it is another. Someone is always cranky, tired, hungry, or needs to have a diaper changed. This summer my wife and I innocently decided to drive to Vermont with our children, a good eight-hour trip to the north. We wanted to hike along rustic trails. We wanted to eat good food. We wanted to swim in the endless watering holes and take in the mountain views.

What really happened was quite different from what we envisioned: frequent potty stops, hikes cut short by screaming toddlers, eating at less-than-desirable restaurants, and dodging flying food sent off by our son’s spoon. But amidst all the chaos, all the yelling and screaming, we did have moments – not quite long enough, but at least there were moments – where we enjoyed each other’s company, marveled at God’s creation, and even laughed at each other’s antics.

And that is when I thought, this is just like God.

Our own travel with God includes much that is unexpected – some things great, others difficult – and much that disrupts our plans along the way. It is a hazardous journey, where one should pack expectations in a far corner of the suitcase.

Appropriately enough, I had already been thinking about the concept of “hazards” in light of the publication of my latest book, Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus. As the title of this book indicates, co-author Ed Cyzewski and I suggest that being a follower of Jesus is fraught with all kinds of challenges. In contrast to what we often hear on the television and on the radio, we believe that being a disciple of Jesus is not easy. It is been my experience, in fact, that following Jesus means making regular sacrifices, taking financial and vocational risks, and being uncertain about the future. When I began to take my faith in Jesus seriously while in college, I was not prepared for the risky and faith-driven lifestyle to which Jesus was directing me. Not only did I have to learn how to act, speak, and look at life differently, I also had to give up many of my childhood dreams. Whereas I had always wanted to spend my professional days in the courtroom arguing cases like I was Perry Mason, God called me to sacrifice my vocational dream of being a lawyer on the altar of discipleship. Instead of becoming professionally successful and amassing an impressive income, I had to trust that God would provide for my family financially as I spent several years in seminary and in graduate school. And instead of knowing like an architect what the blueprint of my vocational destiny would be, I had to find peace in Jesus rather than in the certainty of a career.

As time has passed and I have grown in my relationship with Christ, the hazards of being a Jesus-follower have not diminished.

Yet, despite the hazards, I would not trade anything for what my family has learned in the discipleship process. Like our whirlwind vacation in New England, we have learned how little control we have over our daily events, and we have learned to surrender them to our all-knowing God. It is a life of faith rather than sight, but we have decided that committing to the cost of following Jesus is well worth the journey.

If you would like to recommit to the cost of following Jesus, I encourage you to read Hazardous. As you do so, it is my hope and prayer that you will be challenged to embrace the risks of following Jesus and to surrender your plans to the Master’s – with the result of maturing in your faith in and knowledge of God.

Dr. Derek Cooper is assistant professor of biblical studies and historical theology at Biblical, where he also serves as the associate director of the Doctor of Ministry program. Derek is the author of several books, including So You’re Thinking about Going to Seminaryand Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus. Hazardous was written for both individuals and churches, especially for small groups, youth groups, and Sunday school classes.



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