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Written by Todd Mangum Monday, 03 December 2012 00:00

The national election is over and President Obama was re-elected. It’s hard to believe those ten words could create such consternation among some people; but it was a close race and was one of the most negative campaigns in the nation’s history. National Review, a newsmagazine of conservative opinion, ran a cover story entitled, “What now?,” saying “Conservatives suffered a terrible defeat on November 6, and there is no point pretending otherwise” (see http://www.nationalreview.com/nrd/issues/333449).

Conservative Christians (evangelicals) have responded similarly. I’ve been disappointed — frankly embarrassed — by the way many conservative Christians have responded to the voting results that reelected Barack Obama as our 44thpresident. Since the election, I’ve heard sermons, seen articles, and listened to much hand-wringing lament as to the ungodly direction the election allegedly portends. Ed Stetzer, the level-headed voice of the research and development wing of the Southern Baptist Convention, penned a post that echoes the National Review cover story; he titled it: “What Should Christians Do Now?” (http://www.bpnews.net/BPFirstPerson.asp?ID=39109); sounds like the title of a piece written the day after mandatory prayer was prohibited in public schools — and that’s the level-headed branch of the SBC. Many evangelicals have not been even that restrained. The day after the election, I received an email blast from one of the missionaries my church supports suggesting that the election demonstrates “a clear turn away from God by America.”

Some, though not all, of this lament is due to the approval of same sex marriage on a couple of state ballots and the announced endorsement of same by President Obama before the election.  (For the record, I oppose “same sex marriage.” I also wish the President were more pro-life.)  But Obama’s re-election boding a turn away from God by the country?  I want to say, “Get a grip, people!”

 Now, had Romney won, I could write a column listing five positive results of his election, too. I suppose it’s also possible one of my faculty colleagues could write a blog entitled, “Five Negative Results of the Presidential Election.”  That would be OK; the many issues facing our country are vast and complex, and leave room for legitimate differences of perspective and opinion. I have to believe that most thoughtful Christians recognize there are good things and bad things insofar as Christian concerns and principles on both sides of the aisle dividing Republicans and Democrats. Different aspects of Christian concerns certainly were embraced by both presidential candidates in this past election.  All that in mind, here are five points about which I am genuinely glad regarding President Obama’s re-election.

  1. A self-described Christian won over a self-described Mormon.
  2. I know this point may not be as straightforward as that sounds; and I know that Obama’s Christianity is of the more liberal variety (he’s a liberal Christian, not an evangelical Christian), but even still.  He is a practicing, devout Christian, not a nominal Christian — more regular (though more private) in his Christian disciplines than was Ronald Reagan, darling of evangelicals (myself included) in the 1980s. I am glad that we will not have four-to-eight more years of evangelicals defending Mormonism or suggesting that Mormonism is certainly not as bad as “black liberation Christianity.” I also hope the silly dirty tricks, such as suggesting that President Obama is a closet Muslim, will be over. That such false rumors have been gobbled up too by the gullible (including an embarrassingly high number of evangelicals) is a travesty that I hope we can now put behind us.

    One can be cynical or one can be heartened by the fact that candidates running for the highest office in our land still take great pains to present themselves as people of faith, within the bounds of acceptability by the Christian mainstream. Personally, I am glad about this. And I am glad that we elected a President who claims he seeks to advance policies that are consistent with biblical principles as he sees them appropriately applicable to public policy. I certainly don’t agree with all of his judgments and conclusions — perhaps most notably, I see same sex desires as an area of temptation not a manifestation of Christian love and virtue. Still, I am glad for the expressed desire of the President we elected to frame issues generally in consideration of biblical rationales. 

  3. The electing of an African-American President was not just a one-time token fluke.
  4. I cannot say it any better than socio-political commentator Touré (who titled his commentary on the significance of Obama’s re-election, see “The Magical Negro Falls to Earth”). I'm essentially just recapping his point here; viz., Senator Obama’s 2008 campaign made him out to be larger than life, an almost magical, mystical persona whose race added to his mystique. In this election, no one was under any delusions of President Obama’s grandeur — he ran, and was elected, as a very human being. Yet he was still re-elected; not just the first African-American President, but a two-term president. I can feel some uneasiness about so many red states conspicuously being former Confederate States; but even Virginia went Obama — meaning, among other things, the country has gotten past at least some of the worst aspects of its racist history.  And for that I am glad.  

  5. The message of fairness and compassion won over the message of suck-it-up self-sufficiency.
  6. This one’s more of a mixed bag for me, truthfully. I’m not an expert in economics, so it is difficult for me to evaluate with any confidence which candidate in the end really had the better economic plan; it’s possible that Romney-Ryan may have had a plan that would have created more jobs and thus have been more “compassionate” to more people in the end after all. I don’t know.  But I do know that the message of the two campaigns was very different.  Even if one is completely cynical and chalks it all up to rhetoric and “polling for messaging,” I would think that Christians can recognize that policies adopted out of concern for the poor and powerless — to ensure that such people are not just left on their own to make it in a country that still abounds with wealth and affluence — is not a bad thing, and has considerable biblical backing. I appreciate that the Democrats even quoted from Jesus and the prophets to make some of their points — and not out of context, either.

    “Obamacare” is a behemoth government program, but I do not regret that an additional 32 million people will have health insurance coverage who otherwise would have few options when they got sick or injured. I do not regret that insurance and pharmaceutical companies may earn a little less in profits to provide this. I think that the Republicans could have made the plan better had they worked to compromise on some of the specifics rather than just oppose it and try to defeat it. I still hope aspects of “the Affordable Health Care Act” that could threaten to violate Christian conscience or freedom of speech will yet be adjusted or repealed; but Republicans need to be willing to play ball on this and significant other issues in which their strategy before this election was simply to stonewall, roadblock, and obstruct. That this was their strategy and that we will end up with a less effective health plan because of it I do regret.  But that also leads to my next point.

  7. Political intransigence was punished.
  8. During the first month of President Obama’s election, we now know, Republicans adopted as their number one goal being to make him a one-term president; their strategy consisted in part of opposing whatever he proposed. Obama may have been naïve and even arrogant; and I’m not blind to the fact that he had and has a political agenda as well — he wanted to look good, and be the president who got big things done quickly. So, many of his early proposals deliberately included points that Republicans had advocated under Bush; but when he proposed them, they opposed them at times with the most extreme rhetoric. Gridlock ensued, with the partisan divide hardening (contributed to then by BOTH sides). 

    This most recent election left the House in Republican hands, but the most partisan candidates were defeated — even in “red states.” And exit polling listed the partisan political tactics of demonizing the opponent rather than working for the good of the country as a primary reason people voted the way they did.  One can argue with whether the American people made the right call in each case, but I am glad for this message being sent loud and clear to the politicians.  I hope working together for solutions — not working against the ones from the “other side” to forward one’s own political aspirations — becomes more the goal and assumption during President Obama’s second term. 

  9. Religious right triumphalism was rebuked.
  10. It’s not that I am against the positions of the “religious right,” or what was once called “the moral majority.”  However, as many Christian thinkers have observed (especially the Anabaptists), Christianity does not do so well as a political power imposed on others.

    I have been a member of the National Right to Life Committee for over thirty years. Still, sometimes I do wonder if making abortion illegal would lower the number of abortions or just make them more dangerous.  Did you know that the number of abortions performed in the U.S. has steadily gone down since 1994?  There are a variety of reasons for this, no doubt — but there have actually been fewer abortions under Presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton than under Reagan. What do we make of this?

I don’t like the bloody nose Christians sometimes get in the political rhetoric asserted by those who oppose legislative stances urged by evangelical Christians. I can wonder if some of the early “victories” of “the moral majority” have served as more a distraction for Christians than a help. Political victory is heady stuff for those at all inclined to power hungriness, and evangelicals are not immune to such temptations. Nor does coercive power wear to well on those claiming to forward “a more excellent way.” Are our time, effort, and resources better invested in nobler, more effectual endeavors?  I am glad that this election has forced Christians to revisit these questions anew, and perhaps re-gauge our priorities.

“There is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God: (Romans 13:1). As evangelicals have long noted, if that could be said under inspiration of the Spirit when Nero was ruler, it certainly remains true now.  I am glad that God is still on the throne; in the end, on the only throne that really matters. And that’s true after any election, regardless of how happy or sad we may be about the immediate results.

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

 

Written by Susan Disston Wednesday, 28 November 2012 00:00

One of the most significant developments in twentieth century Western theology was the conceptualization of the social Trinity. While there remains value in pondering the classical conception of God (see Ex. 33:32ff and Heb. 12:28-9), the conception of the triune God as social, relational, and purposeful invites students of theology to ponder the many ways that God has self-revealed God’s love—a love that resonates with humankind’s longing for a relationship with God: 

1. The triune God’s love for the world:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.” (Jn. 3:16-7)

2.  The triune God’s ongoing relationship with the world:  “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.”

3.  The triune God’s purposeful relationship with the world:  “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (Jn. 17:25-6)  As Van Gelder and Zscheile in their recent book, The Missional Church in Perspective, put it, the social Trinityprovides “a way of describing how the Bible narrates God’s involvement in the world.” (p. 10)

These passages (and the totality of God’s story of God’s involvement in the world in the Scriptures) show God to be emotional, relational, and purposeful. The social, relational, and purposeful God acts and that is how God intended for people to know God. The social, relational, and purposeful God also speaks so that humankind can know God. Hebrews 1:1-3 captures both the speaking (in the Scriptures) and acting (in Jesus Christ) of God’s self-revelation: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.”

Advent is a season where the church ponders the acting and speaking of God in the incarnation of the Son. Advent is an invitation to recall and dwell on this revelation of God’s commitment to love and redeem the world.


Susan Disston is assistant dean of curriculum and assessment at Biblical Seminary. http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/adjunct-faculty-theology

 

 

   

Written by Pam Smith Monday, 26 November 2012 00:00

“Well, her life is over…” 

I remember hearing these words from my mother after I told her that in youth group we learned about how a teenage girl had jumped into shallow water, had broken her neck, and was paralyzed from the neck down. In response to my mother’s reaction, the word ‘quadriplegic’ became the scariest word I’d ever heard and it stayed scary for a long time.

Anyone around my age and in Christian circles knew at least parts of the Joni Eareckson story.  I remember thinking deeply about her circumstances and it captured my thoughts.  I think it was both because Joni was the same age as my older sister and also because I couldn’t imagine my own life, ballerina/tap dancer that I was at the time, without the ability to dance.  It was mind-boggling to think about.

And after a few years as the story continued, I marveled at how a history teacher/football coach named Ken Tada would be smitten and would take on all that must have come in the way of physical lifting and serving as he asked Joni to marry him. They remain an inspirational couple to me to this day.

My mother was wrong. And now many years later as Joni Eareckson Tada’s story continues, I will have the privilege this March of meeting Joni – someone whose story has never left me – here, at Biblical Seminary. Now THAT’s mind boggling!


Pam Smith
VP for Student Advancement

   

Written by Charles Zimmerman Friday, 23 November 2012 00:00

Where have they gone & where are they now?  

In our Faculty Updates, we have moved from Biblical’s founding faculty to former faculty.  Since I was in the groove of contacting people that have taught at Biblical, I thought I would just keep going and see what some of the long-term faculty members are doing these days.  

This post updates us on Robert Peterson.  

Taking a class with Dr. Peterson was always an intense investigation into the Scripture, complete with original language analysis, theological reflection and practical outcomes and application.  

Robert took me under his wing when I started teaching at Biblical and helped me get acclimated to the strange world of seminary instruction.  He helped me prepare syllabi, organize lectures, create assignments; he also corrected my grammar and throttled me regularly at tennis and racquetball.  It is hard to believe that he left Biblical over 20 years ago.  

What years did you teach at Biblical? 

I taught at Biblical for ten wonderful years, from 1980-1990. I enjoyed so much becoming a colleague of my former professors and then working with younger profs too.

What have you been doing since then? 

Since then I have served as professor of systematic theology at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO. In the past fifteen years the Lord has blessed a ministry of writing and editing. To mention one book—Salvation Accomplished by the Son, the Work of Christ (Crossway) is my latest. I edit Explorations in Biblical Theology for P&R and co-edit Theology in Community for Crossway.

Tell a favorite memory from your Biblical days. 

My favorite memories revolve around the people—administration, faculty, and students. It is hard to choose but I remember laughing many times, both as a student and later as a prof at Tom Taylor’s antics.

Contact information:

 robert.peterson@covenantseminary.edu
 

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 Monday, 19 November 2012 00:00

Most of us in Christian service remember a time or several times of renewed dedication and offering of ourselves to the Lord for whatever he wants to do with us. For me, the first such event I remember was in middle school at church camp throwing my little stick in the fire and volunteering to be a missionary to some African nation I had never heard of. Another time was in seminary when I sat in on a class taught by a famous Christian counselor and changed my whole philosophy of ministry.  For those of us who believe in a missional God, there is constant desire to offer ourselves to cooperate with whatever God is doing in the world today. However, following God’s mission can quickly become difficult and when the cost of working for a missional God becomes high, we can wonder how long we have to keep going.

It is comforting to know that we are not the first to experience this struggle. Isaiah volunteered “in the year of Uzziah’s death” (Isaiah 6:1). For the last four decades, Uzziah’s reign had been relatively prosperous and safe. Isaiah had probably been born and raised during this time. The Scripture says that that although he struggled with following God’s law late in life, Uzziah, for the most part, was a ruler who “did right in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 15:3a) as did his son Jotham (2 Kings 15:34). Being a prophet in this regime would no doubt be a position of respect and Isaiah could look forward to a ministry with quite a visible impact. Maybe he even had visions of some of the miraculous acts of Elijah and Elisha. And so when God throws out the offer for someone to work with him on his mission, Isaiah seems to jump at the chance. “Look over here! Choose me!” he enthusiastically pleads (Isaiah 6:8).  

But this was the year of Uzziah’s death (6:1) and soon the nation would be subjected to the absolute disaster that would be the reign of Ahaz. In contrast to Uzziah and his son Jotham, the Bible says of Ahaz that he “walked in the way of the kings of Israel and even made his son pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had driven out before the sons of Israel” (2 Kings16: 3-4). Being a prophet in this environment would dangerous if not lethal. God warns Isaiah of what he has just signed up for. He says that the people will be blind and deaf to the message of God (Is. 6: 9). Furthermore Isaiah’s prophetic words would not lead to a great revival but would rather just harden their hearts even more (6:10).  

One can almost hear the deflation in Isaiah’s voice when he asks, “Ummm, just how long do I have to endure THAT?” (6:11) Notice the shift in Isaiah’s emphasis. He has gone from a posture of unconditional availability to one of almost negotiation. God’s answer is not very reassuring (11b-12). While it may be unclear exactly which events God is referring to in his answer, what is clear that that conditions (especially for prophets of God) were about to get a whole lot worse and they would stay bad for a very long time. The only hope is a veiled reference to a stump that can still re-grow (13).

When we first recognize that God is a missional God and that he invites us to join him in his mission for our day, it can be heady stuff. But when circumstances change and conditions get worse, God still calls us to work with and for him wherever He is. The stump will one day grow a new branch, the Branch of David. May we continue to be missional and faithful while we wait.   


Bryan N. Maier, Psy.D. is Associate professor of Counseling and Psychology at Biblical Seminary.

   

Written by Dan LaValla Friday, 16 November 2012 00:00

Hurricane Sandy just hit our region a few days ago and I have been unable to return to work because the entire Borough of Hatfield, PA where Biblical Seminary is located, has been without power since the storm hit three days ago. Much of our area has large pockets of homes and businesses without electrical power. My family was very fortunate because we did not lose power and only sustained minor damage (a tree was blown over by straight winds and we need to replace some trim on our garage).

While I have been living in the Philadelphia region for 25 years, I grew up in a small town northeast of Syracuse, New York. As a result, it was natural for me to call on friends and neighbors to see how they were managing either through the storm or after and whether or not they needed assistance. As a result, during the past few days, we hosted a couple of acquaintances: providing them with meals, a bed to sleep in, heat, shelter, etc. However, it was interesting how much reassurance it took to let people know they would not be an inconvenience if they took us up on the offer to shelter them in our home or to receive resources that we could share.

The responses from the people I called made me recall a book I read several years ago, The Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community and Small Groups © 2003 by Joseph R. Myers. One of the main premises of the book is how our culture is good at providing people with plenty of opportunities to develop relationships at public and intimate levels. However, in our culture, we are finding fewer opportunities to develop relationships between these two extremes, at levels he identifies as social and personal. Reasons for this include: modern architecture and community planning (homes are further from the road and rarely have a porch where neighbors gather socially), technologies that have made our lives busier, technologies that give us more things to do in our homes rather than venturing outside for social activities, affluence that has increased our sense of independence, etc.

With respect to the missional character of Christianity, these unconscious barriers to social and personal relationships pose a great challenge to the 21stcentury Church in the U.S. The missional call of God requires real-life social interaction. One of Jesus’ primary commands to Christians is, to “love your neighbor as yourself.” However, in order for love to be given, someone must be willing to receive it. If people tend to live in their comfort zones and avoid uncomfortable situations, then it is likely that our culture will increasingly create generations that have fewer and fewer social and personal relationships. Christians will need to overcome such personal discomfort as they reach out and find ways to help people around them feel comfortable with social and personal relationships.

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 Wednesday, 14 November 2012 00:00

I have a confession.  When someone quotes an overly familiar biblical passage, I groan, “Not again.”  

Last winter I posted three blogs about the overuse of Jeremiah 29:11 (see http://davidtlamb.com/category/old-testament/jeremiah/).  A few weeks ago I pleaded with my class to not use Num 6:24-26 (“The Lord bless you and keep you…”) every time they need a benediction. 

I love the Bible, but I just wish people didn’t always use the same, limited number of overly familiar texts.  The psalm that gives Jeremiah 29 a run for its money in the overuse category would have to be Psalm 23.  Many of us have it memorized.

I have another confession.  Over the past few months as I have felt miserable with stomach reflux, voice problems and anxiety, I have “overused” Psalm 23.  Why?  Because God has been speaking to me through the psalm.  I needed a shepherd.  So only read the rest of this blog if you need a shepherd. 

If you’re interested, here are my two previous Psalm posts for Biblical’s faculty blog:

The Rewards and Consequences of a Torah-Focused Life (Psalm 1)

God Likes It When We Complain (Psalm 13)

Psalm 23:1 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.

The image of a shepherd should be familiar to Israel.  Many biblical leaders were shepherds: Abraham (Gen. 12:16), Moses (Exo. 3:1), David (1 Sam. 16:11; 2 Sam. 7:8), Amos (7:14), and most significantly, Jesus (John 10:11).  In Ezekiel 34, God condemns Israel’s shepherd-leaders, and declares that he will shepherd his flock, Israel.  Scripture describes God’s intimate care for his people in language they can understand, with imagery from the familiar occupation of a shepherd.  As we communicate to people about God and his mission, we need to use language they understand and that engages with them and their specific context. 

With God as his shepherd, the psalmist/sheep doesn’t want.  Notice, the shepherd doesn’t actually give the food or the drink but simply leads the sheep to green pastures and still waters where he can feed and drink for himself.  Sheep need a lot of direction: “Eat here.  Drink here.”  I’m sheep-like, not simply because of my last name, but because I need help knowing how to care for myself.  I suspect I’m not unique in this regard.  Take God’s command to rest (“lie down”- v. 2) for example, that’s a tough one to obey, although it shouldn’t be because we all know we need rest.  People involved in God’s mission often felt like they are too important to rest. 

A dramatic shift occurs in verse 4.  In the first three verses, God is spoken about in 3rdperson language (he, his), but in 4 the text switches to 2ndperson (you, your).  Why?  While sheep need to be fed and watered (1-3) God is spoken about, but as sheep walk through Death-Shadow Valley, God is spoken to: “You are with me.”  As we go through the most difficult times sheep like us need to know God is present.  The promise of God’s presence is the essence of the incarnation, God-with-us.  That’s good news, particularly for people in pain. 

In my next post, I’ll look at the rest of Psalm 23. 

Since most of us aren’t shepherds, how can we use imagery from common, contemporary occupations to communicate biblical truths today?


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.

   

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