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Written by David Lamb Wednesday, 19 December 2012 00:00

When you teach on the Psalms, you need to discuss the headings, but sometimes it gets a little sticky, even controversial.  Unlike the headings (also called titles or superscriptions) Bible translations sometimes add these headings are actually present in the Hebrew text.  The person mentioned most frequently in psalm headings is David, who appears in just less than half (73 headings, Psalms 3-41 and 34 other psalms).  

Now, I’m going to talk a little about Hebrew, but bear with me.  It will help you understand the Psalms better, particularly Psalm 23, and I’ll tell a personal story at the end. 

In the Hebrew, these headings read simply ledawid. The Hebrew preposition le is added to the beginning of a word (dawid is “David” transliterated) and often means “to” or “for”, but can mean other things as well.  So, ledawid could be translated as “to David,” “for David” “by David” or “of David.”      

Most contemporary translations go with “of David” (ESV, NIV, NIV, NRSV).  Eugene Peterson’s The Message has “A David psalm” which I like because it works well with the ambiguity of the Hebrew and still sounds fresh.

When I teach on the psalm headings, I tell people it is safe to assume that David wrote many of these “Davidic” psalms, but it is not necessary to conclude that he wrote all of them.  When it comes to Psalm 23, however the language of the psalm itself would suggest the author was very familiar with the occupation of shepherding.  As a shepherd, David seems a logical choice (1 Sam. 16:11; 17:34).  It is safe to say, Psalm 23 is a psalm “by David.”

Now you’re thinking, “Wow, it took you a long time to tell me something I already know.”  Yes, be patient.  Hopefully, my story that will tie some of this together. 

Recently I’ve been reading the psalms daily.  The psalmist gives voice to my prayers because of my health problems (reflux, vocal chord damage and stress).  This morning as I was praying through the psalms I asked God to speak to me.  I waited for awhile in silence.  Then I felt like God said to me, “I am your shepherd, David.”  Hearing it this way, the psalm connected with me deeply. 

Then it struck me—Psalm 23 is a psalm “by David” yes, but it was also a psalm “for David” since God was the shepherd for the shepherd-king.  The ambiguity of the heading fits perfectly for this dual meaning. 

But then I was struck again, God was speaking this psalm to me personally.  It was a psalm “for David” –that’s me (I was named after King David).  “I am your shepherd, David.”

Since the psalms were recorded in Israel’s book of corporate worship, we can be confident we are supposed to identify with the psalmist.  So Psalm 23 is for any of God’s people who need a shepherd.  God says, “I am your shepherd David, Cindy, Sansung, Linda, Noah, Jason and Xiaowei.”  The last six names represent nine students (3 have the same name) I’m currently teaching in my Reading the Old Testament Missionally course. 

In this course, students recently visited a marginalized community, interviewed people, then wrote a sermon based on an Old Testament passage that would speak to their needs.  Communities that were visited included AIDS patients, the disabled, immigrants, widows, prisoners, hospitalized soldiers and families of children with autism. 

As God sends us into the world to spread the gospel and care for the marginalized, we’ll need a shepherd to look after us.  And we’ll need to tell people the good news that, in the midst of their pain, need or loss, they also have a good shepherd in Jesus. 

Jesus says to each of us, “I am your shepherd (fill in your name here).” 

If you are interested, here is my previous post on Psalm 23 for Biblical's faculty blog.. My next blog post will continue to focus on Psalm 23.

During this Christmas season, how will you need a shepherd as you care for others?

Psalm 23  A Psalm of David.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.

3He restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

4Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil, for you are with me;

your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
 

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?  David blogs regularly at http://davidtlamb.com/. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/david-lamb

 

Written by Sam Logan Tuesday, 18 December 2012 00:00

In the aftermath of the recent tragedy in Connecticut, a friend who had himself experienced great grief pointed me to Nicholas Wolterstorff’s book, LAMENT FOR A SON (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1987).

Professor Wolterstorff lost his son Eric, who was killed in a mountain climbing accident when he (Eric) was 25 years old.

I have now read and re-read that book and have found that it expresses both a spiritual comfort and a missional longing.

I would like to share a couple of sections of the book under those two headings.

A Spiritual Comfort

For a long time, I knew that God is not the impassive, unresponsive, unchanging being portrayed by the classical theologians.  I knew of the pathos of God.  I knew of God’s response of delight and of his response of displeasure.  But strangely, his suffering I never saw before.

God is not only the God of the sufferers but the God who suffers.  The pain and fallenness of humanity have entered into his heart.  Through the prism of my tears I have seen a suffering God.

It is said of God that no one can behold his face and live.  I always thought this meant that no one could see his splendor and live.  A friend said perhaps it meant that no one could see his sorrow and live.  Or perhaps his sorrow is splendor. 

And great mystery: to redeem our brokenness and lovelessness, the God who suffers with us did not strike some might blow of power, but sent his beloved son to suffer like us, through his suffering to redeem us from suffering and evil.

Instead of explaining our suffering, God shares it.

Isaiah asks this question – “Who is like this God?” (40: 18).  And the answer, “There is none other!”  No other god even claims actually to have himself entered into the suffering of his creatures.

And this is really the impetus for Christmas. 

Why was Jesus born in Bethlehem?  Why was there an Incarnation?  Professor Wolterstorff said it, “To redeem us from suffering and evil.” To redeem us by taking that very evil and suffering upon Himself.  What amazing grace!

That’s why we invite all of creation to join us – “O, Come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.”

And this wonderful (and comforting) Christmas truth defines the missional longing of those who really DO adore Christ the Lord, a longing which motivates all of our Kingdom activity. 

A Missional Longing:

More from LAMENT FOR A SON:

Standing on a hill in Galilee, Jesus said to his disciples: 

Bless are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

 Blessed are those who mourn, cheers to those who weep, hail to those whose eyes are filled with tears, hats off to those who suffer, bottoms up to the grieving.  How strange, how incredibly strange.

“Blessed are those who mourn.” What can it mean?  One can understand why Jesus hails those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, why he hails the merciful, why he hails the pure in heart, why he hails the peacemakers, why he hails those who endure under persecution.  These are qualities of character which belong to the life of the kingdom.  But why does he hail the mourners of the world?  Why cheer tears?  It must be that mourning is also a quality of character  that belongs to the life of his realm.

Who then are the mourners?  The mourners are those who have caught a glimpse of God’s new day, who ache with all their being for that day’s coming, and who break out into tears when confronted with its absence.  They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm of peace, there is no one blind . . . and who ache whenever they see someone unseeing.  They are the ones who realize that, in God’s realm, there is no one hungry . . . and who ache whenever they see someone starving.  They are the ones who realize that, in God’s realm, there is no one falsely accused . . . and who ache whenever they see someone imprisoned unjustly.  They are the ones who realize that, in God’s realm, there is no one who fails to see God . . . and who ache whenever they see someone unbelieving.  They are the ones who realize that, in God’s realm, there is no one who suffers oppression . . . and who ache whenever they see someone beat down.   They are the ones who realize that, in God’s realm of peace, there is neither death nor tears  . . . and who ache whenever they see someone crying tears over death.  The mourners are aching visionaries.

Such people Jesus blesses; he hails them, he praises them, he salutes them.  And he gives them the promise that the new day for whose absence they ache will come.  They will be comforted.

And this, too, is expressed in a Christmas carol.

“Joy to the world; the Lord is come! . . . No more let sins and sorrows grow, or thorns infest the ground.  He comes to make His blessings flow – far as the curse is found.”

Whether it is the sudden death of a 25-year-old on a far-away mountain or the unspeakable murder of first graders and their teachers, death is horrible.  Death is not the way things should be.  I certainly have no explanation for either of these.  I can only rest in the assurance that something really did happen in Bethlehem that gives us a glimpse of just how much God cares.

And because He cares, because there is Christmas . . . and Good Friday . . . and Easter . . ., His blessing will flow as far as the curse is found and those who mourn will be comforted.

So, can there be Christmas in Connecticut this year?  In one sense, the answer is “Of course.”  Christmas IS, no matter how we respond to it.  But, if I were a parent whose child was killed last week, would I be celebrating Christmas this year?  I’m not sure.  Sometimes the tears are so fresh and heavy that it is hard to see anything else.  And no Christmas ever will be the same for those Connecticut parents.

But I do know this – from the distance and relative safety of my home in Pennsylvania, I will be singing extra loudly both “O, Come let us adore Him,” and “No more let sin and sorrows grow, or thorns infest the ground.  He comes to make His blessing flow – far as the curse is found.”


Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical.  He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and he is President Emeritus at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.  In addition to his work at Biblical, he serves as International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship ( http://www.wrfnet.org).  He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan  

   

Written by Derek Cooper Monday, 17 December 2012 00:00

The twentieth century in Latin America has been the century of the evangélicos, or evangelicals. From the small beginnings of this tradition in the late nineteenth century in Latin America to the beginning of the twenty-first, the number of evangélicos has risen dramatically. In Central America, in fact, several countries like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador boast Protestant populations of close to 40%.

Given the rapid change from a traditionally Roman Catholic society to a more Protestant one, especially in that cluster of Central American countries mentioned above, scholars have scrutinized the retention number of many Protestant churches. The results, at least from one conclusive study in Costa Rica several years ago, are abysmal: A very high percentage of those who have regularly attended a Protestant church no longer do so.

Why not?

There are two answers to this question. Aside from lack of sufficient pastoral care, the primary reason why so many Latinos are entering the revolving door of Protestantism is due to an inadequate model of discipleship. As one Latin American scholar states it, “The churches that have lost more members are those that have no clear plan of discipleship” (Introducing World Christianity, 182).

As we shift our conversation from Latin America to North America, the topography, language, and culture change but the results do not. Church attendees are defecting en masse. And they are not being discipled.

Many of the churches in the Northeast, where I live, use the term discipleship like they do a “classic” book that everyone has heard of but few have read. We need to think long and hard about why and how we use this word. Fortunately, I must add, I have sensed a change in wind during the past few years, where more and more pastors are aware of the leaking boat of discipleship and have prioritized repairing the leak. At the same time, all hands need to be on deck, and churches need to take upon themselves their primary role of existence: to make disciples.

When it comes to discipleship, there are many ways to define it, and there are also many images or metaphors that can be used to understand it better.

In our book Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus, Ed Cyzewski and I thought carefully about each of these things. In terms of a definition for the word discipleship, we were aware of the many ways other authors over the years have defined it. But instead of wading through a pool of definitions, we decided to keep things simple and not become focused on the definition over against its broader significance. When we did provide a short definition at times, we tended to do so from the perspective of the Bible, which offers different yet complementary understandings of the term.

The Gospel of Mark, for instance, defines discipleship as two things: (1) being with Jesus and (2) being sent out by Jesus (see Mark 3:14). And still other biblical passages view the term from a slightly different lens.

Settling on an appropriate metaphor for discipleship was more difficult, since the Bible allows readers to interpret discipleship in many different ways. After careful consideration, we decided that the notion of a hazard was one good way to talk about discipleship. According to one dictionary, the term hazardous implies great risk and potential peril. When coupled with another metaphor of discipleship – that of following Jesus – Ed and I agreed that the long journey of following Jesus is a risky one that is perilous, challenging, and extremely hard. True, there are great moments of joy and happiness, but nevertheless the path to following Jesus is not one marked by teddy bears with ice cream cones but rather orange safety cones with yellow tape that alert us to regular hazards, obstacles, and risks.

 Of course, there is another risk involved in discipleship. And that is the risk of not discipling. As was the case with the study on the defection of evangélicos in Costa Rican churches, so is the situation in North America: You can disciple those who attend your churches or you can expect mass defections. It’s your choice. But we hope and pray that you take the longer, more difficult, more risky, and exacting – yet always more rewarding – journey of discipleship. There will be hazards along the way, but in the end Christian believers will be better equipped to deal with all the complexities of life.


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 Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus. His faculty page can be found here.

 

 

   

Written by Larry Anderson Friday, 14 December 2012 00:00

I had the pleasure and challenge of being the speaker for two churches that decided to do a weekend retreat together. The diversity was remarkable, and it added to the worship experience immeasurably.

There were African American, Caucasian, Asian and Latinos in the two congregations. There were men and women, young and mature alike. It was so impressive to see these two pastors whose humility allowed them to share a theme and a facility, and their congregations were just as hospitable. There were people in attendance that had been saved for just a few months from some of the most talked about sins imaginable, and yet there were others who had been saved for many years and raised in the church, however you would not be able to tell by the way they treated and related to each other. The love, fellowship and worship made me feel like it was designed to be this way. A Slice of Heaven.

The theme of the weekend was "I Won’t Go Back." Each person was challenged to examine their lives and to repent from those things that are not like our God, and to trust God to not go back to them. Using the lessons learned from the Israelites in the book of Exodus, we allowed their narrative to enlighten, encourage, and warn us. On Sunday after my final message there was time designated for reflection and testimony. During this time the tears continued to flow from men and women alike as one after another discussed how the Holy Spirit worked on their heart during the course of the weekend. It was nearly impossible to sit there and not be emotionally affected by the powerful heartfelt reflections. A Slice of Heaven.

It was the first time these churches did a retreat together, but I’m sure it will not be there last. If you’re wondering how these two churches got along so well, I must say it probably had something to do with both of these pastors being Biblical alumni.


Larry L. Anderson Jr. is Assistant Professor of Practical Theology and the Director of the Urban Programs at Biblical. He is also the pastor of Great Commission Church, previously located in the suburb of Roslyn, PA, but now situated in the West Oak Lane community of Philadelphia to provide a holistic ministry to an urban setting.



 

   

Written by David Dunbar Wednesday, 12 December 2012 00:00

 

In his recent book The Road to Missional, Michael Frost bemoans the fact that missional terminology and ideas have gone main-stream, but in the process of doing so have been domesticated. What began over a decade ago as a radical challenge to western ideas of church, evangelism, discipleship, and mission, has become “safe.” Now increasing numbers of churches describe themselves as “missional.” I have even heard the statement: “our church has always been missional”! 

Does this mean that the missional conversation is over? Does widespread acceptance of the term indicate that we have successfully addressed the challenges faced by the church in the post-Christian West?  Has the call to a fresh understanding of the mission of God been heard by the American church?  Indeed, we may ask, has it even been understood?

Michael Frost suggests that “If the missional conversation is over, it occurs to me that it probably hasn’t really ever been had.” I think this is true for many, perhaps, most of the people who now use the terminology.  Missional has become the current way to talk about evangelistic outreach or church programs directed toward the surrounding community.  Being missional now involves little more than the possible addition of a program, or a tweak to the system, or perhaps only a change of terminology.

One reason for this too easy acceptance of the term may reside in its similarity to words like “mission” or “missions.” The early framers of the missional conversation wanted to build on that similarity while also emphasizing the distinction.  They wanted to create space for a fresh look at the relationship between Gospel, church, and contemporary culture. While valuing elements of the old missionary paradigm, they called for something more. In place of the “sending congregation” they wanted to talk about a “sent people.”  Perhaps the linguistic closeness of the terminology actually short-changed the discussion.  Maybe this allowed people to assume that they knew what the term meant or to think that there was no radical challenge lurking behind the label.

However, I suspect that there is a deeper issue at work in the domestication of missional.  Theologian Stanley Hauerwas has astutely observed that Christendom is a difficult habit to break.  Christendom is the way the western church has done business for centuries.  It is not only the way we function (church-centered; building-centered; clergy-centered); it is the way we think. People like Thomas Kuhn have argued convincingly that reigning intellectual paradigms are extremely resistant to change even in the face of strong evidence of their inadequacy.

I think something like this has prevented many Christians from understanding the missional discussion.  The assumptions of “a Christian nation,” the church in a position of cultural power, “if we build it, they will come,” etc.—all these have a powerful lock on Christian imagination, even though most of us recognize that these notions are less and less effective for guiding the church.

So maybe what we need is a new word to draw attention to a conversation that for many has been still-born. Or maybe, we need to challenge people more frequently to explain what they mean in adopting missional language.  But probably most of all we need to cultivate missional communities that incarnate the distinctive differences that we want our fellow believers to understand. Seeing “it” is often the best way to “get it.”


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 Phil Monroe Monday, 10 December 2012 00:00

At a recent conference, Diane Langberg submitted the following definition of Christian Psychology. I present it below, verbatim, for your consideration. In some ways she doesn't say anything new. However, it is quite different from our usual definitions.

Let me explain my seeming contradiction by first giving you C. Stephen Evans definition of Christian psychology,

 [It is] psychology which is done to further the kingdom of God, carried out by citizens of that kingdom whose character and convictions reflect their citizenship in that kingdom… (p. 132)

As you would expect, Dr. Evans offers a philosophically astute definition.

Or, consider Eric Johnson’s tome, Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal. In this book of 700 plus pages, he explicates a Christian psychology framework as doxological, semiodiscursive, dialogical, canonical, andpsychological approach to soul repair. If you are looking for a theologically and epistemologically rich entry point to Christian psychology, I can’t point you to a better place than this book.

Like these two examples, many of our current definitions focus on matters of epistemology, theology, and psychology. Many definitions also emphasize the work of critical evaluation of existing psychological theory and research.

Now turn to Dr. Langberg’s definition. Notice how she emphasizes the character, the preparation, and actions of the counselor. Notice further that the focus on outcomes is bi-directional--on counselee and counselor.

Christian psychology as practiced in the counseling relationship is a servant of God, steeped in the Word of God, loving and obeying God in public and in private, sitting across from a suffering sinner at a vulnerable crossroad in his/her life and bringing all of the knowledge and wisdom and truth and love available to that person while remaining dependent on the Spirit of God hour by hour. That work, no matter what you call it, will be used by God to change us into His likeness; that work will result in His redemptive work in the life sitting before us; that work will bring glory to His great Name.

What I take from Dr. Langberg’s definition is an emphasis on action, the Spirit’s work and the counselor’s work (in self and other). While the epistemological definitions are necessary if we are going to think critically about our work, so to is this action-oriented definition. It reminds us that for all our thinking and theorizing, it is God’s work in our private and public lives that is used to bring healing and hope to others.


Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychology and Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates. He blogs regularly at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/phillip-monroe.

 

   

Written by Phil Monroe Friday, 07 December 2012 00:00

Christian psychology exists to promote distinctly Christian study of the nature of persons, problems and solutions. Eric Johnson, founding director of Christianpsych.org, has done a masterful job outlining the nature and foundation of Christian soul care in his 2007 Foundations for Soul Care (IVP) book. Now, the next step is for us to develop detailed clinical applications to a variety of common human struggles.

But Christian psychology need not re-invent the wheel. Other psychologies (e.g., secular, Buddhist, humanist, etc.) have explored common human behavior patterns in significant depth and, at times, in very helpful ways. One such concept getting a fair amount of attention is that of “mindfulness.” I first read about mindfulness some years ago in the work of Marsha Linehan. Dr. Linehan is the main developer and researcher of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, a research supported treatment protocol for those suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder. Dr. Linehan has referred to herself as part behaviorist, part Buddhist, and part dialectical philosopher. Her treatment consists of 4 main components, one being mindfulness practice based on Buddhist principles. More recently, cognitive therapists have adopted mindfulness as an intervention in place of (or at least alongside of) the core work of challenging cognitive distortions and rewriting core beliefs. In addition, a number of careful studies employing mindfulness as an intervention seem to indicate that the technique works to reduce anxious and depressive symptoms—possibly even better than those techniques designed to challenge or distract from aforementioned problems.

While a few well-crafted research studies do not speak with ultimate authority, let’s assume for a moment that the data stands up over time—that mindfulness has a positive influence on human behavior and mental health. How might Christian psychologist think about mindfulness practice?

What is it?

Mindfulness is defined in several parallel ways. [I’ve blogged on mindfulness before. You can find these additional thoughts hereand here.] In short it is conceived of as a non-judgmental, present-tense, accepting awareness. In place of judging and categorizing, mindful persons seek to emphasize describing their environment, to maintain a focus on the present (vs. the past or future), and to foster an attitude of openness to experience.

 How should we respond to it?

Christian therapists might rightly have some concerns about mindfulness. Buddhist beliefs about the goal of eliminating desire do not comport with Christian theology. Further, Scripture calls Christians to judge between right and wrong. Clearly, relativism isn’t part of Christian doctrine.

However, are there facets of the practice that do comport with Christian foundations of soul care? Some integrative counseling models might include mindfulness from a purely utilitarian standpoint, stripping out Buddhist teachings but maintaining mindful activities because they work. However, a better process would be to develop a foundation for consciousness and awareness of one’s surroundings using Biblical principles and Christian tradition.

Building a Christian psychology of mindfulness?

A Christian psychology of mindfulness might start by

  • Identifying the problem of distorted thoughts, perceptions and judgments and their genesis in the mind and heart.

Second, this model of mindfulness might then

  • Articulate the proper cognitive and attitudinal engagement in an unpredictable and frightening world.

In addition, those wishing to explore the possibility of a Christian psychology of mindfulness would do well to investigate our own traditions for similar concepts. For example, one might consider those spiritual disciplines designed to center one’s mind in Christ or to be “watchful” of thoughts. For example, IVP has published a book entitled, Life in the Spirit: Spiritual Formation in Theological Perspective. In this book, James Wilhoit (Wheaton College) has a chapter on centering prayer. Building on the writings of Christian forbearers, he depicts a prayerful stance of observing the thoughts. The goal is not emptying the mind but maintaining conscious connection with the Spirit. Such activity opposes “what if” or “if only” kinds of hypervigilant thinking—thinking accompanying depression and anxiety and which hinders contentment.

In a phone conversation a few years ago Jim Wilhoit described another concept—watchfulness—an “intentional construal of the world” from God’s perspective. In my thinking, this form of mindfulness does not grasp after logical constructions (e.g., parsing doctrines) but instead observes (a) the world as God sees it, and (b) the common but distorted scripts used as substitutes (e.g., Psalm 131).

While I have only outlined a possible Christian psychology of mindfulness I hope that my ramblings may encourage someone to build a rich model of mindfulness from our Christian tradition that avoids conceiving of the mind as only a logical instrument to talk ourselves out of feelings and perceptions.


[A version of this post was previously published on www.christianpsych.orgin 2010.] Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling and Psychologyand directs both the Masters of Arts in Counseling program and the newly formed Global Trauma Recovery Institute. You can read more of his musings at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com.  

 

 

   

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