Written by Dr. David Dunbar Tuesday, 06 March 2012 00:00

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic study of Christian community provides the title for this post. Bonhoeffer makes it clear that true community is not an easy thing.  In fact, it is not a human possibility, for only the Holy Spirit can produce a community that actually functions as the body of Christ. 

One of the principal obstacles to embodying a biblical vision of life together in the American context is the prevailing culture of therapeutic individualism. Most of us see ourselves first as individuals rather than as members of family, church, nation, etc.  We have imbibed deeply at the river of self-care and self-fulfillment.  Indeed, we have difficulty imagining any approach other than “me first” even in the spiritual realm. 

I am struck by this repeatedly when I listen to much of the music we sing in our churches. How often the lyrics abound with first person singulars!  “I” and “me” appear with dreary monotony as we reinforce the idea that Christian faith is basically about me and Jesus.  Why don’t we sing about “we” and “us”?  Sometimes I purposely change the words to plural just to resist the tide of Christian Narcissism. 

In his recent book Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul? Daniel Kirk discusses how this same cultural filter leads to a misunderstanding of the apostle’s teaching regarding spiritual gifts: 

In one of the most profound ironies of my own experience, talk of such gifts has usually been part of a larger vision of self-discovery. We take inventories to see what gifts each one of us has. We sit down with a list of tasks wherein we might find ourselves well employed within our gifting. In the process, what for Paul was an inherent part of life in community is co-opted by our individualistic Christianity as a means to self-fulfillment (p. 67). 

In spite of all the communitarian talk we hear today, Bonhoeffer is right:  true community is not a human possibility. May the Spirit of God awaken his people to be the church!

Dave Dunbar is president of Biblical Seminary.  He has been married to Sharon for 42 years.  They have four grown children and six grand children.



Written by Dr. Bryan Maier Monday, 05 March 2012 00:00

I am writing this on President’s Day.

I admit that this is not one of the big holidays but in the Maier house it tends to get more recognition. You see, my boys and I really love American History. When I left for work today, they were watching the history channel about the various presidents who have served our country (“Dad, who was Millard Fillmore?”). 

I enjoy American history so much that ten years ago I started reading biographies of the Presidents. I am currently on Eisenhower but I keep getting side tracked. This year my boys and I had a unique way to celebrate, for this was the 100thanniversary of the Boy Scouts camping at Valley Forge on President’s Day weekend. My oldest spent two nights in a tent with over 4, 000 other Boy Scouts from all over the country, while I marched (and marched) around with my younger two on Saturday. In addition to all the explosions and re-enactments, it was a wonderful time reflecting again on the sacrifices of those early days of our nation.

One presentation was about George Washington and gave reminders on how, despite the nations desire to make him emperor for life, he refused to serve more than two terms as president. He actually relinquished power (how many of us would do that?).

One of the books I read about the presidents claimed that every single American president has been a power-hungry narcissist (even the “good” ones) – with one exception. You guessed it, the exception was George Washington. Power can be so addictive. How many of us are satisfied with the relatively little amount of power we have? Don’t we all want more? And what happens when we get it? We usually want even more.  Most of us will never be president of the United States but we will serve as pastors, teachers, counselors, church planters, and even seminary professors.

Before we end up too enamored with power, may we remember and reflect on the words of Peter in 1 Peter 5:1-4.

Bryan Maier, Psy. D.  is an Associate Professor of Counseling & Psychology in the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates.


Written by Mrs. Pam Smith Friday, 02 March 2012 14:13

Chris Drager earned his Master of Divinity from Biblical Seminary in 2004. On his LinkedIn account, he summarized his vocation as teaching Upper School World History from a Christian Worldview and with a Classical Methodology.  Doesn’t that sound like a great job?

Chris was also a husband, a father, and an artist. In fact we have one of his artistic creations in the hallway at Biblical. The path God had for him was not one that any of us would ask for. His cancer that started while he was a student here at Biblical returned five times, yet his love for his savior never left him.

In 2005 I had the privilege of hearing Chris talk about living a life when the path isn’t so great.  I saved a portion of his presentation and I share it in honor of his passing to glory on March 1, 2012.

But, if the Lord chooses a different path for us - one of great difficulty, He is still good. He promises that for those who love Him and are called by His grace, all things (even great suffering) are for an ultimate good. The Lord is too kind and loving to harm His children. Although He may allow difficulty and pain and suffering, He promises that it is for our growth and maturity and for our witness to the world around us.

He is not content to save us and let us be immature Christians. He wants to build our faith and trust in Him. He wants to make us strong in our reliance on His grace. So He calls us to take up the way of suffering as Christ did. We are to follow Christ's path. By His grace, we will, knowing that Christ's path ultimately leads to glory in the next life.

For now, we all, as true believers in Christ, walk down pathways of various sufferings. Though they are different, they all are designed by a sovereign and loving heavenly Father who is too wise to make a mistake and too kind to bring us harm.

Thank God for His unsearchable wisdom. His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. O, the depths of His love and mercy toward us in Christ. In the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, we have all the demonstration of God's goodness toward us that we need to trust Him in times of difficulty. If He has done the greater deed of sacrificing His only Son for the forgiveness of our sins, He will certainly do all the lesser things that will bring us to glory with Him. Thus we should continually praise the Lord for His many kindnesses to us in Christ.

Pam Smith is the Vice President for Student Advancement at Biblical Seminary and also instructs in our counseling program in the areas of career and coaching. Email Pam at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  


Written by Dan LaValla Thursday, 01 March 2012 00:00

Did you ever wonder why the Bible teaches that anger grieves the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian (Eph. 4:30-32)?

The answer lies at the root of anger in the human heart. Anger often arises from personal experiences during which one feels threatened or mistreated. In actual life-threatening situations, anger can initiate an adrenaline release that prompts the body to help a person react in self-defense and preservation. However, in situations where one’s life is not being threatened, anger comes from a prideful demand that life’s events should unfold according to one’s desired plans or that people should treat one in a desired manner or response. At its most basic level, this anger wells up when one does not get his or her own way; it is an egotistical demand to desire control where one does not actually have control, to be a god.

People typically do not desire to feel prolonged anger, but do so when they are not able to accept or adjust to undesirable circumstances or consequences.  Before joining the faculty and staff at Biblical Seminary, I had a 17-year career counseling trauma victims and their families. Anger resulting from a traumatic event is usually considered a normal response and is understandable in such situations. However, prolonged anger is destructive and even innocent victims of traumatic events want to move beyond the anger. Therefore, a recurrent theme in trauma counseling addresses how to help counselees deal with the anger that often accompanies the instability and vulnerability one experiences with a traumatic event.

When counselees desire to cease their angry outbursts, but continue to act out in anger, it is helpful to start with the old adage, “whatever or whoever angers you controls you.” By keeping a log of a counselee’s angry outbursts, written shortly after the anger subsides, patterns will emerge as to who or what caused the anger to well up. The root of anger that usually emerges from the patterns in the record often points to misdirected blame or a hypersensitivity to the realization that there is little in life that one can control and the fear that traumatic events can randomly occur at any moment (because something very bad happened to me once, it is more likely something very bad is going to happen to me again).

Therefore, if you are a person who struggles with anger, try keeping your own log of the people and events in your life that have evoked an angry outburst. Identify the false reasoning you are using to “justify” the cause of your unrighteous anger. Yield to God’s sovereignty and rest in the comfort that God does love and care for you even when unrighteous circumstances or events harm you in this life; as it is written in James 1:19-21 teaches that “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” Instead, “in humility we are to receive God’s word, which is able to save us.”

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 Dr. David Lamb Wednesday, 29 February 2012 00:00

"Do you believe God is omni-benevolent?”

 I was on the campus of Bucknell University speaking on my book (God Behaving Badly) at an event sponsored by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.  This was the first question for the Q&A time.  I had been informed beforehand that the Atheist and Agnostic club would be joining us. 

 I repeated the question back to the student, “Do you believe God is omni-benevolent?”  She responded, “No, I don’t believe in God.”  So, I guess we know where the atheists are sitting.  They took up an entire row. 

 I said, “I believe God is good, but I’m not sure I understand what you are asking.  What do you mean by ‘omni-benevolent’?” 

 I think she assumed I was just going to say, “Yes” and then she would spring her trap about a totally good God “creating” evil.  I didn’t want to do that.  My answer didn’t satisfy her, but I was trying a new tactic. 

 Jesus often responded to a question with a question, particularly when people were trying to trap him (Mark 2:7-8; 11:28-30; 12:23-26).  When the religious leaders asked about paying taxes to Caesar (Mark 12:13-17), he first asks, “Why do you put me to the test?”  Then after they obtain a denarius he asks, “Whose likeness is this?”  In response to their “Caesar’s”, he delivers one of the best lines in Scripture, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  (I wish I were as clever as Jesus.) 

 The Bucknell Q&A session was extremely engaging and after 45 minutes, the atheists still wanted to keep talking.  I had a great time talking to about 10 atheists over the course of the next hour before I had to leave.  At the end, several atheists came up and thanked me and one even apologized for the intensity of his “colleagues.”  While I know some of the atheists felt like my questions were evasive, I honestly wanted to listen to them before responding.  Too often these types of discussions involve no genuine listening. 

 Even when Jesus’ disciples asked him a question, he replied with question (Mark 4:38-41; 6:37-38; 7:17-18; 8:4-5).  I think we need to ask more questions. 

How do you respond to questions? 

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 Dr. Derek Cooper Tuesday, 28 February 2012 00:00

     “That’s too much to ask,” an older Christian said to me recently during our conversation about Jesus’ weighty call of discipleship upon the believer’s life.

     “That’s not what Christianity is about,” he continued. “I go to church every Sunday, I’m not involved in any great sin, and I try to do what’s best for my family. Jesus came to take away my sin, but he did not come to make me poor and homeless.”

     The conversation above represents one of many I have had over the years with Christians. In short, everyone loves talking about Jesus. But discipleship is another matter. Isn’t discipleship only for the really radical, committed Christians?

     The theme of discipleship as a calling for all Christians looms large in the New Testament, especially in the teachings of Jesus. It is a theme that is peppered heavily throughout his parables and stories from beginning to end.  One of the first places we see this theme materialize is during the calling of Jesus’ twelve disciples. What I have always appreciated about this passage is its unadorned description of what discipleship entails, which, in Mark’s version of the story of Jesus, is simply two things: (1) being with Jesus and (2) being sent out by Jesus. As Mark explains: 

Jesus now went up to the mountain and summoned those he wanted. So they came to him and he appointed twelve; they were to be with him and to be sent out to proclaim the message (Mark 3:13-14). 

     Though austere and artlessly simple, a casual reading of the Gospels demonstrates that this definition of discipleship expects more than it indicates. As is well known, Jesus commands his disciples to expect persecution, rejection from the world, and even death – spiritual death most certainly, but also potentially physical death.

     In fact, when all of the potential – yet ultimately failed – stories of discipleship in the Gospels are investigated, an obvious theme appears: When discipleship fails, it is either because (a) a person refuses to be with Jesus or because (b) a person refuses to be sent out by Jesus.

     By contrast, we can explain the meaning of discipleship in more positive terms. Discipleship occurs when (a) a person accepts Jesus’ call to be with him and when (b) a person accepts Jesus’ command to be sent out by him. It really is that simple.

     Discipleship is about being pastored by Jesus and about being sent by Jesus.

     Does this describe your relationship with Jesus?


Dr. Derek Cooper is assistant professor of biblical studies and historical theology at Biblical, where he directs the LEAD MDiv program and co-directs the DMin program. His most recent book is entitled Thomas Manton: A Guided Tour of the Life and Thought of a Puritan Pastor: http://www.amazon.com/Thomas-Manton-Thought-Puritan-History/dp/1596382139/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1319153564&sr=8-1#_. See his faculty page at: http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/derek-cooper.



Written by Mrs. Pam Smith Monday, 27 February 2012 00:00

My friend who served at another seminary is on her way home to Jesus.

I remember how years ago she sought me out to connect as two sisters doing kingdom business. We met over lunch. There was not a hint of competitive spirit between us.  We shared a heart to see God glorified by finding ways we could serve each other.

God provided an opportunity for me to serve her first. She asked me to come to her seminary to do a couple of presentations to students on how to do an effective résumé. What a joy it was to know that I might be used to help her ministry students get employment.

She served me next by connecting me to a group of women ministry leaders.  The connection led to ministry fruit that continues to grow to this day.  She and I coordinated our schedules so that we could travel a couple of times to Florida on the same plane and I still chuckle over our silliness at the airport.  

It was my turn again.  I coached her into a new work position where I knew she would thrive. I attended her ministry open house after she successful landed the job.  I then wanted her to serve beside me in a campus ministry initiative.  But the cancer beast had begun tearing down her body and she couldn’t commit.  I wanted to hire her part-time so that she didn’t have to work a full schedule. But by that time the cancer beast had grown in power and she had to say no.

As I reflect on our relationship, I count it a privilege to have observed her peace and strong faith through the awfulness of the disease. It is nothing short of inspirational.

Safe passage, friend.

Pam Smith is the Vice President for Student Advancement at Biblical Seminary and also instructs in our counseling program in the areas of career and coaching. Email Pam at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it



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