Written by Dr. Todd Mangum Monday, 11 June 2012 00:00

Rounding off what has actually been a four-part set of blogs on “Civil Pluralism vis-à-vis Theological Pluralism,” I want to conclude with a clarification. My previous three posts on the topic probably sound more progressive in tone and posture; here I want to deliberately provide a very conservative sounding note of clarification; viz., secularism is not the same as neutralism — and recognition of that nuances everything. 

Secularism, the absence or conscious elimination of religious fidelity or convictions, should be recognized itself as a religious view, sometimes bearing all the zeal and passion of the most fanatical religious advocate.  Therefore, conscientiously banning religious viewpoints from decision-and-policy-making deliberations should be considered every bit as much an establishment of religion as establishing Catholicism, Reconstructionist Theonomy, or Sharia Law.  

What I would propose is that evangelicals engage in political deliberation and the political process. I’d further propose that they not be banned from (nor should they voluntarily restrain themselves necessarily from) expressing their viewpoints out of their religious convictions.  Rather, they may sometimes appropriately cite their rationale for advocating a certain viewpoint as being self-consciously rooted in their religious or biblical convictions. (E.g., like Martin Luther King, Jr. did in his case for civil rights for African-Americans.)  

Yet, they should engage the public square with the understanding that other people with different, sometimes opposing, religious convictions will be doing the same and that advocacy in the public square is and must be advocacy for what is understood by all as seeking the common good.  This means that sometimes compromise will be necessary in public policy. It also meant that there will be times when a certain practice or prohibition is enforced by one’s religious community of faith and not by the government at large. 

What I am advocating is a civic or political pluralism — different from traditional Anabaptist thought (in which Christians withdraw or concede the realm of the public square in order to pursue exclusively more purist adherence to religious standards in more private, separated communities), and different from theonomy or reconstructionism or some religious right groups (in which specifically and exclusively Christian values are pursued and implemented over the objections or against the will of others). That is, I would seek to employ what James Davison Hunter calls “faithful presence” in the socio-political arena (as one of the “culture-shaping centers” of our society).

The issue is complicated enough and important enough to allow for a diversity of opinions on this.  Here I’ve laid out my thinking on it.  What’s yours? 

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 Dr. Todd Mangum Saturday, 09 June 2012 16:24

The terminology comes from Harvard Professor, Diana Eck (see http://scholar.harvard.edu/dianaeck/ publications/american-religious-pluralism-civic-and-theological-discourse-democracy-and-new); but I was introduced to this framing of concepts through the Doctor of Ministry dissertation I was advising by Biblical student/soon-to-be grad, Jason Poling. His fascinating dissertation project proposes that Jews and Evangelicals can engage one another and learn from one another through dialogue over shared sacred texts without offending one another, without proselytizing one another, and without either group leaving their most-cherished theological and religious convictions behind, either.   

It’s an idea that has captured my attention and stimulated my imagination and it has led to the present series of blogs, of which this is the third. Specifically, “Can those who do NOT affirm theological pluralism (the idea that all sincerely held religious views lead to salvation) nevertheless affirm civic pluralism (the idea that people of different perspective and conviction are equally entitled to a place at the table of civic discourse and equal opportunity to secure space and resources for pursuing their deeply held world and life views)?

Let’s say the answer is a definite “yes” — we can have deeply held, strongly cherished religious and theological convictions in which we believe eternity is at stake in them, but we nevertheless agree to certain “ground rules” by which we engage civilly, understanding that people with equally cherished theological convictions diametrically opposed to ours will be afforded the same rights we have to forward them. Even if we say “yes” to that deal, the devil is in the details. Achieving civil discourse will still be easier said than done. 

But if missional Christians can be the model citizens in this, it seems to me that that in itself could help rehabilitate the evangelical Christian reputation.  

Is that overly idealistic?  Naïve?  Or a much-needed idea whose time has truly come? What do you think?


 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 Dr. Todd Mangum Friday, 08 June 2012 00:00

It happened in Texas. The Dallas-Fort Worth Coalition of Reason purchased pre-film advertising space at the Angelika Film Center in Plano, Texas, to promote a positive image of families who embrace atheism. It seems that part of what motivated this was their desire to respond to other pre-film advertisements, purchased previously by Christian groups, promoting local churches and evangelistic efforts. But when the atheistic ad appeared, local papers reported on it and the Christian people of Texas responded in force, through letters, phone calls and emails demanding that the ad be withdrawn.  The Angelika Film Center pulled the ad.     

So . . . score one for the Christians in a rare victory for the good guys finally? . . .   Hmmm.  Not so fast.    

Here is an instance in which Christian ability to embrace “civic pluralism” is raised to question.  Never mind that the American Humanist Association’s legal counsel is threatening to file a lawsuit against the theatre for its double standard. And, never mind that at least one atheistic columnist on the Patheos website has cited the case as a clear instance of outright legal discrimination (see http://www.patheos.com/Atheist/Movie-Theater-Discriminates-Roy-Speckhardt-05-23-2012.html). And also never mind Texas’s well-known reputation regarding its “You’re not from around here, are you, son? We don’t do things that way” culture. 

What is the right mindset about such things?  The right strategy? The right goal?     

There’s a side of me that relishes the idea that, in at least one carefully guarded plot of American land, churches are free to advertise but atheists are not.  Does the whole country have to embrace the northeast’s broadminded liberalism after all; I mean what kind of idyllic utopia can the northeast boast about anyway?  Can’t narrow-minded righteousness and conservatism be embraced in at least a pocket of the redneck south?  Can’t we just let them be in their old-fashioned ways? 

But another side of me — probably the better, more intelligent side — thinks that if we want the right to penetrate the larger culture with our ideas (and if we really are called by God to evangelize at all, that is what we want, right?), then we have to allow a “free market” of ideas to flow in all directions. And that means we have to regard the “Christian victory” in getting that atheist ad pulled with some pause, at least. 

Right now, according to almost all polling data available, evangelical Christians are known for the passion with which they hold their views — alright, well and good. But they are also known for being narrow-minded bigots.  Probably unfair.  But then, how do we alter this perception and change this reputation?  

I’m thinking that this instance with the atheist ad probably doesn’t help much to that end of changing our reputation, or for establishing a fresh reputation of fair-mindedness and even-handedness in civil discourse.  You?

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 Dr. Todd Mangum Thursday, 07 June 2012 00:00

Yep, you heard that right. Famous atheist Richard Dawkins actually supports the distribution of King James Bibles in every public school in Great Britain.  (Find the full story here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18224114). 

Don’t get too excited, though; his motives are more subversive than supportive. Unlike the standard premises Christians might otherwise expect — “Even though I don’t believe it’s supernaturally inspired, it still inspires good moral ethics”; or even “it’s still classic literature” — Dawkins’ thinking is more cynical. He believes that if school kids and parents actually read the Bible, they will be turned off by its violence, misogyny, and bigotry.  

Besides recommending the book of my colleague, Dave Lamb, God Behaving Badly (http://www.amazon.com/God-Behaving-Badly-Testament-Sexist/dp/0830838260/) as a response to some of Dawkins barbed critiques, I see also a broader point here. It’s actually a point that Jesus observed a time or two, as well: “The sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8). Dawkins audaciously believes that if atheism and biblical Christianity are put on equal footing for consideration, atheism will “win” hands down.  Now, if a “son of this age” can have such foolhardy confidence in the defense of misguided falsehood, why can’t Christians have at least as much confidence in the truth?

What if we don’t have to secure for the Christian perspective an exclusive, privileged position in our society, but merely an equal opportunity for consideration?  By setting the bar lower politically, we may actually, counter-intuitively raise the level higher of positive consideration.

Truthfully, this is a strategy I adopt only by concession. Would that every American desire for Christian values to be upheld as the law of the land. But as long as that is not the case, and until such time as we no longer have to say each one to his neighbor, “Know the Lord” (Jer. 31:34), it is probably counterproductive to try to mandate uniquely Christian values upon Americans against their will.

I know: the consequences of allowing “diversity of values” to be implemented in the law could be devastating. But probably no more devastating than provoking a backlash against Christian values.

I confess to a sense of unease even as I write this, because this is a means of engagement of the culture that uncomfortably yields power willingly in the effort to achieve, instead, persuasion.  It’s a risky posture. But is it smarter?  And also more godly, more Christlike overall? What do you think? 

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 Dr. Kyuboem Lee Wednesday, 30 May 2012 00:00

"This was truly amazing to me,” said a student during the recently-concluded “Justice & Mercy” class. He was referring to a section in one of the readings, Timothy Keller’s Ministries of Mercy:

Under Rev. Thomas Chalmers... [the Church of Scotland’s parochial system of deacons assigned to parishes to take care of the poor within them] was restored in the church of St. John’s, Glasgow, during the early 1800s. His parish included 11,513 residents, of which 2,633 were members of his church. Four thousand of the residents were completely unchurched. The entire area was divided into “quarters,” each with a deacon over it. Each deacon’s job was to keep the Session (the elders) informed about the economic conditions in his quarter. He was to help the unemployed get work and help uneducated children get schooling. When a family was found in need, he was to seek out resources within the neighborhood. If there were no other options, the family was admitted to the poor roll. The statistics from one year show 97 families on the relief rolls of the church, from an approximate total of 3500 families in the parish. (Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road, 2nd edition. Phillipsburg, P&R: 1997, 88).

This was in the 1800s!” he exclaimed.

If we were to rely solely on what we see around us now as “the way it’s always been,” then we would be missing out on the rich treasury of ministry that the office of deacons has been for the Church throughout its history. Growing up in the church, I certainly didn’t know what the deacons did. Only later, through the study of Scripture and urban mission issues, did I discover what was lost to the past.

Acts 6 teaches us that the first deacons were ordained to administer the mercy ministry of the Church. Stephen, one of these first deacons, was no mean spiritual leader among the apostles and disciples--in other words, the office of deacons was not a secondary office in the ministry of the church. Calvin’s Geneva was a city whose poor and hurting were served by a well-organized team of deacons. (See The Constructive Revolutionary: John Calvin and His Socio-Economic Impact, by W. Fred Graham.) The example of the deacons in Chalmers’ church in Glasgow is recounted above. We can tell countless other stories from the annals of Church History. These paint a portrait of a Church vigorously engaging the hurting and broken world through robust and concrete acts of compassion.

So what happened?

In his endnotes, Keller offers one explanation--the churches in “The New World” faced a separation of Church and State and a plurality of denominations that didn’t make it easy to organize a systematic and comprehensive diaconal ministry in its cities--a state of affairs quite different from that back in Scotland, where the Church of Scotland was the Church. Nevertheless, the Presbyterian Church, for example, had always intended that the Church become, once again, “the friend of the workingman” (92).

The church, it seems, never quite got there, and forgot all about it. Instead, the Christian community in USA got embroiled in debates--ministries of word vs. ministries of deeds, Liberalism vs. Fundamentalism, political progressivism vs. political conservatism, and any number of combinations thereof. It seems that we’ve managed to lay asunder what the Lord has brought together. As a result, the office of the deacon has been devastated and left anemic.

As the new generation of Evangelicals--with a new sense of social justice as a vital component of Christian discipleship--rises to the fore, the church in USA is again in danger of debating diaconal ministry to death instead of leading the way and forging a healthy, holistic gospel witness of word and deed as the way of life for the Church (as opposed to outsourcing diaconal ministries to non-profit organizations--needed, yes, but not to be at the forefront of a comprehensive gospel witness as the Church is to be). Not welcomed by “biblically faithful” churches, they may turn to (indeed, already are turning to) other entities (some Christian, some not) to carry out what they see as a mandate from the Lord.

But the biblical witness and Church History provides us with a different picture. The cause of the kingdom would be well served if we learn from these neglected treasures, and endeavor to reinstate the office of the deacon to its rightful place in the mission and life of the Church. Then we would be in a better place to carry out the wishes of Jesus who said to his disciples, “...let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

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 Susan Disston Monday, 28 May 2012 00:00

Psalm 107:33-43

I love water imagery.  Like many hymns and spiritual songs written today, this psalm links water with God’s redemptive work. God’s love flows like a powerful river flows forth and runs downhill, over and around obstructions, carving its own path.  God as redeemer is like that river. The imagery in this psalm helps us understand the nature of God’s love: abundant, ceaseless, unilateral, and eternal.

God’s love is there to be received, enjoyed, imbibed, and found as all in-compassing. As believers (the “upright” of v. 40), we stand mid-stream, so to speak, observing and partaking in God’s renewal of the land, the harvest, and the people dwelling in the bounty of his love. God redeemed his people so that they could receive God’s love and to be conduits of it to others. This is the essential nature of God’s love and the beauty of his character.

All the preceding is a wonderful reminder of the truths I believe and of imagery that I have pondered and found strengthening. But the beauty of God’s true character is easily misshapen by imagery provided by our culture. As one theologian (Volf) wrote, “Yet the most powerful and seductive images of God are not the ones we craft in the privacy of our hearts. They are the ones that seep into our minds as we watch TV, read books, go shopping at the mall, or socialize with our neighbors. Slowly and imperceptibly, the one true God begins acquiring the features of the gods of this world.” [Free of Charge, 22] Even if we choose not to partake of TV, read books, or visit the mall, many other daily types of activities provide “refashioned” gods that fit our desires and reshape the beauty of God’s true character.

This psalm challenges me with my need for refreshment: for longs drink at the living God’s flowing river and for time of meditations on God’s beauty in the midst of this culture I’m [we’re] living in. Ministry and service can become stale and routine when we stay away from the flowing water. Volf warned: “Even when we look in the right places with a ready heart, we still might miss the one true God.”

The psalm ends with its own warning and an invitation to delight in God’s love: “Whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the great love of the Lord.” Indeed, let us rejoice in our great God and his love.

Susan Disston is the assistant dean of curriculum and assessment and a resident adjunct faculty member. http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/adjunct-faculty-theology


Written by Dr. Charles Zimmerman Saturday, 26 May 2012 00:00

Where have they gone & where are they now?

I have been contacting founding faculty members to see what they are up these days and then posting that information to keep all of you updated on their whereabouts and activities.     

This post updates us on John Grauley.  John was a master of the overhead projector and the mimeograph machine even though the transparencies were often out of order and the mimeographed pages were still wet as he handed them out.  But John’s love for people and great sense of humor made class enjoyable and practical. 

What years did you teach at Biblical?

I taught at Biblical from the founding in 1971 until 1982; it’s hard to believe that it has been almost 30 years since I taught there. 

I still treasure good memories from those years of seeing God's provision for the school, and the blessing of good fellowship with faculty and students. 

What have you been doing since then?

For 8 years I was the director of the Middle Georgia Pastoral Counseling Center in Macon, Georgia, and in 1986 was asked to be the interim pastor of the church sponsoring the Center, First Presbyterian Church.  That taste of the pastorate made it difficult to return to full time counseling.  Marjorie, my dear wife of 52+ years, and I began to pray about what the Lord would have us do in the years ahead.  Not long after we received a telephone call from a pulpit committee in Butler, PA, asking if we would consider being a candidate.  Since that time I have pastored three churches:  Westminster PCA in Butler, PA, Westminster PCA in Gainesville, GA and Grace PCA in Blairsville, GA.

I retired 2 years ago from fulltime ministry.  I should explain that this is a second retirement, the first was in 2001.  In 2003 I was the interim pastor of Westminster PCA in Elgin, IL, for a year before becoming the pastor of Grace PCA.  Over the last few years I spent a month teaching in Romania, two weeks in Kenya and 5 weeks in Singapore.  Lord willing, Marjorie and I will return to Singapore in June for another ministry visit.

What has been happening with your family? 

We have 9 grandchildren, the oldest, Aaron Matthews, is 21 and the youngest, James Grauley is 7.  We are thankful that our children and grandchildren are following the Lord.  What a wonderful blessing that is!  In short, the Lord has been very good to us and we enjoy growing older together with Him.

Contact information:   This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Thus far, we have heard from “Doc” Newman, Gary Cohen, Bob Vannoy, George Clark and Bill Harding.  If you missed those blog entries, scroll back and take a look.  I asked each to provide contact information, so feel free to drop them a note of encouragement and while you’re at it, attach a comment to the appropriate blog entry. 

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 also http://biblical.edu/index.php/charles-zimmerman



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