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Written by Susan Disston Thursday, 10 January 2013 00:00

January is often a time for new beginnings. If deepening your awareness of the need for justice in your community or around the globe is on your list of New Year’s resolutions, I recommend Bethany Hoang’s powerful booklet called Deepening the Soul for Justice (IVP, 2012). It’s published in a print edition and an e-book edition, the latter being particularly desirable if you want to ponder the message of this devotional text throughout the day.

The book starts with a gentle admonition to seek the God of justice first before taking on major tasks and projects to act against injustice. Bethany points her readers to Psalm 1. The psalm is a description of how to be rooted in God and drink deeply of God’s living water. The psalm shows how rooted lives are anchored in God’s purposes, and Bethany explains how spiritually grounded people are better able to discern their preparedness for difficult work. “For followers of Jesus, the difference between a pursuit of justice that brings transformation for real people suffering real violence and a pursuit of justice that amounts to little more than good intentions is simple—perhaps even simpler than we want it to be. The difference is found at our starting point, every single day.” (p. 7)

The purpose of Bethany’s devotional is to provide her readers with a prayer-bathed pathway that prepares the soul for fighting injustice or other kinds of difficult work. The pathway she proposes is a personal journey with God in prayer. The journey strikes me as being a loop, so that each point is revisited again and again as a rhythm of life. There are six points on the loop are:  Stop, See, Choose, Ask, Proclaim, and Remember.

Each point is a kind of Sabbath rest where seekers are invited to meet with God, to listen to God’s Word and listen for God’s Spirit, to be honest about the self before God, and to be reoriented to the truth. “As we open ourselves to understand justice as it originates in the character of God, and open ourselves to understand how God would call us to respond in faith each day of our lives, we will likely come across stories that will create an ideal in our minds as to what our justice action ‘should’ look like … But the Scripture teaches us that there is not one sole way to do justice or one unique role that is more important than the others.” (p. 24)

Bethany reminds her readers that the difficult work of fighting injustice is a daily choice toward hope, that it is asking God to act, and that it is praising God in all things.  It is also about telling the stories of what God has done. Combined, the six points provide the strength to continue around the loop again and again as justice is pursued. “Both the work of justice itself and the daily work of discerning our roles in God’s movement of justice require thoughtful rhythms that will serve to sustain us and form each of us individually and as a body into the very likeness of Christ.” (p. 9)

The booklet includes thoughtful study questions for individuals or groups. Bethany compelling demonstrates that Christians can find the strength of heart and depth of soul to do difficult work. Deepening the Soul for Justice is available from IVP.


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

 

Written by Kyuboem Lee Wednesday, 09 January 2013 00:00

On Friday, December 14, a gunman walked into an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, and shot and killed 26 people, 20 of them children ages 6-7. All day long, I heard the emerging details of horror over the news. Then, that night, our family attended our 6-year-old son’s school Christmas concert, and watched children, many of them ages 6-7, sing worship songs to God who was born to us as a little baby boy.

In one single day, I was confronted both with news of unspeakable horror, and with news of great joy and hope--both involving little children. Both news was true. This world is wonderful and beautiful, filled with amazing joy and grace, but this world is also terribly and horribly broken, filled with incredible suffering and sorrow. Perhaps none could tell us better than the children. The gospel message of Christ declares both sets of news are, indeed, true.

I was thankful for the Christmas concert, because it enabled me to see this atrocity and all the other atrocities that go on in our fallen world through the lens of the Advent. Our world and our hearts were so lost in darkness that God himself needed to come and save us into his light. All the great Christmas hymns say so:

  • No more let sins and sorrows grow
  • nor thorns infest the ground:
  • he comes to make his blessings flow
  • far as the curse is found...

There have been a few things I’ve been meditating on since the shooting. The conversation about gun control and right to bear arms that comes up in times like this is an important one to have for us as a society. But for this post’s purposes, I’ve focused on some other things.

One has to do with my own participation in the fallenness of this world, and the need for my own redemption. The first reaction I had to the news from Connecticut was one of revulsion: “What kind of a sick, demented person would do this?” But that is too easy. It is a way of depersonalizing this evil as something “out there,” apart from me.

But if we are truly honest, if we have been attentive to the signs that crop up again and again in our lives, we have to admit that the seeds of death and horror live within our hearts too. I’m thinking of the anger, the frustration, the feeling that you’re the victim, the self-centeredness. You may know that you are a sinner in theory, but from time to time the doctrine of depravity actually comes to life, in our angry words of retaliation, in the boasting, in the put-downs, in the complaints of “Why me?”, and in the unnecessarily angry yelling at the kids.

These dark forces don’t always come out full-blown, thank God, but we know they’re there, lurking in the shadows of our own hearts. So the gunman is in a way a reflection of our flesh. It’s terrifying to admit that, but it’s what the Bible teaches, and it accords with our own experience. We are wonderful and beautiful in many ways, but we’re also broken and capable of so much fallenness. We need a redemption that is much deeper than a tighter hug for our children. We are in need of confession and repentance for our own fallenness. As the saints of old have prayed, “Forgive us my sins and the sins of my people.” 

Two has to do with how this shooting is, tragically, not all that extraordinary. This particular mass shooting was especially a shocker because the victims were young children. But we forget that mass horrors against children occur everyday all around the world.

We think of the civil wars in Congo and Syria. We think of suicide bombings in Iraq. We think of casualties of war in Afghanistan. Closer to home, we think of young people’s lives, many of them small children, lost to violence in our inner city neighborhoods. Some have wondered why the loss of the lives in Connecticut have provoked more outpouring of emotion and support than the losses experienced in other places.

The Newtown shooting was an evil that should not have been, but so are the acts of violence committed against children everyday all around the world (or even close by in our own cities) that too often go unnoticed and unmarked by many of us. Evil should never become banal; tragically, it has, except for a few stories here and there that capture our attention for different reasons.

May the Newtown shooting awaken God’s people to the horrors of our world, break our hearts, and give us fuel for petitioning the Lord persistently for justice and shalom to finally reign, instead of going back to business as usual. The message of the Advent is one of God who came to war against the evil going on everyday in our world, not one of inoculating us with a sentimental message of peace, peace, when there is no peace.

Three, God is not immune from violence. More accurately, he willingly condescended to share in our suffering at the hands of violence. We remember the slaughter of the innocents at the hands of a power-hungry King Herod. We remember the torture of the Messiah at the hands of soldiers. We remember the cross where God experienced a violent death and the violent loss of a loved One.

But we also cannot forget the empty tomb and the Spirit that the risen Christ has given his Church so we may struggle against the kingdom of darkness. We cannot forget the new world coming where death will have died its final death.

The Advent reminds us of all this and much more. There is a deep mystery to the message that God became flesh and blood so that it can be broken and it can be shed for the sake of rescuing us from this world of violence.

So seeing those children sing songs of worship to the baby Savior, that night after a day of darkness, gave me reason to be thankful in the midst of our brokenness; to strengthen my resolve in the struggle against the darkness in the world and in my heart; and to worship the God who came down to a world such as this. We don’t need to turn away from the horrors that inhabit our world and our hearts. Instead, we go to the Star of the Advent, and receive healing, hope, and courage. We are sent back into our violent world to be his light until his return.

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.

   

Written by Charles Zimmerman Monday, 07 January 2013 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.  Thus far, in the former faculty category we heard from Jim Pakala and Robert Peterson and in this post we will hear from Gary Shogren. 

Gary taught at Biblical through most of the 1990’s.  What I remember most about Gary was that he was a NT scholar with a missionary’s heart and a fun loving spirit.  I can still picture Gary laughing in the hallway or in front of a class.  I am still impressed by the fact that Gary left the comfortable context of the US to teach theology in Costa Rica. 

1.  What years did you teach at Biblical? 

I taught at Biblical Seminary from 1990-1998. 

2.  What have you been doing since then? 

We moved the family to Costa Rica, spent a year in language school and have been teaching ever since at Seminario ESEPA, San Jose, Costa Rica. My wife Karen and I both teach in Spanish.

3.  Tell a favorite memory from your Biblical days. 

It’s not so much an anecdote as a wonderful memory: from my very first day teaching at Biblical, my former professors who were still there – Bob Newman, Bill Harding, Bob Vannoy, Tom Taylor – absolutely treated me as their equal, even though I had been their student just a few years earlier.

 4.  Contact information:

Email: gsshogren@gmail.com.

Facebook is Gary Shogren.

Blogs are http://openoureyeslord.com (theology in English), http://razondelaesperanza.com (theology in Spanish) and http://shogrens.com (missionary website).

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 his faculty profile

   

Written by Kyuboem Lee Friday, 04 January 2013 00:00


Recently, Richard Stearns, the President of World Vision, wrote “Goodbye, Christian America;  Hello, True Christianity” in The Huffington Post. He joins a growing number of evangelical voices calling on the North American church to wake up to the new reality of Post-Christendom and abandon the strategy of clinging to a world--the “Christian America”--that is passing away. Specifically, he advocates a shift in the church’s strategy, from trying to protect the symbols of Christendom (the Ten Commandments displayed at courthouses, public prayers in schools, etc.), to a missional engagement with the world and seeking shalom--the “love your neighbor” variety of Christianity. The story of a Tacoma, Wash., church that switched its focus from opposing the secularization of America to advocating for the hurting in Lesotho, in the process partnering with its neighbors, even with those who would have been its foes in the old paradigm (the gay community), provides a model to emulate.

Understandably, the prospect of such a direction is a cause of anxiety for many. It sounds too much like a surrender to the forces of secularization and liberalism. Ghosts of hard-fought old battles haunt the evangelical consciousness still. Dangers of apostasy seem to loom down this road.

However, are there positives in the new developments to be gained for the North American church that is committed to the exclusive claims of the gospel of Jesus Christ? I believe so. Here is a brief sketch:

One, the church has an opportunity to be purified from a Babylonian captivity to power and privilege. The effort to preserve the symbols of Christendom can betray a dependency on the tools of the kingdom of this world. But once the church renounces the pursuit of laws and powers that buttress its position in society, it is able to regain its proper role as a pilgrim and stranger in this world. It would be a transition from a triumphalist church to a suffering church. Such a role would better reflect the counter cultural nature of the kingdom of God.

Two, the church has an opportunity for a renewal of its mission. Evangelicalism has historically chosen the ministry of words over against the ministry of deeds as its focus. The general feeling has been to see social justice, for instance, as belonging in the domain of the liberals. Bible-believing churches focused on preaching the Word. This tendency to dichotomize word and deed has caused much damage to the cause of the gospel mission. But with the changing of the world, there can be a rediscovery of the holistic gospel mandate. I say this with the caveat that the pendulum can swing to the opposite extreme among many younger evangelicals, and the imperative of the preaching ministry can be the casualty. The new evangelical consciousness can too often embrace the adage, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.” Such sentiments are reactionary and will need nuanced balancing. However, a more fully orbed vision of the gospel is a welcome development.

Three, the North American church has the opportunity to deepen its communion with the worldwide church. For many years, the NA church has been the giver, not the receiver--of theology, material resources, technical know-how, leadership, and so on. The changed landscape more properly sees the NA church as having a seat among a plurality of peers, not at the head of the table in the communion of the global church. This development better resembles Paul’s vision of the one body of Christ made up of various members, and that is something to be celebrated.

I do not mean to suggest that the road ahead is not filled with tremendous challenges. The church will need to refocus its efforts on a robust theology of mission. Christians in Post-Christendom cannot rely on old answers to remain faithful in the new landscape, but pursuing Christ into uncharted territory has tremendous risks. Our most pressing theological agenda will be to navigate these waters.

The church must be faithful to its calling to proclaim in the new reality that "there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12) and do so with full recognition that the world it must love, and which the missionary God loves, is no longer a "Christian" one. However, one thing that the church cannot do: bury its head in the sand of the old Christendom. Instead, the church in exile will need to accept its calling to sing a new song in a strange land.


*The title doesn't reflect the current state of affairs; rather, it is a crude attempt at being "with it" through an obscure pop culture reference. Please accept the author's apologies.

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 Bryan Maier Wednesday, 02 January 2013 00:00

As we begin a New Year, we have a chance to think about our hopes, dreams and goals for the future. For many this is just a superficial set of “resolutions” that last only for a couple of days. But for others, it is a serious attempt to make changes. For example, the folks at my local YMCA report that memberships usually spike during the first of the year.  For many Christians, it is an opportunity to make a renewed effort to read the Bible in its entirety by reading through the whole Bible in one calendar year. I have been doing this off and on for most of my Christian life and I believe it is a great discipline to practice.  My average as an adult is to read the Bible through at least once every three or four years. The last time I did it was in 2011 just after my wife had gone home to be with the Lord in 2010. I read her Bible cover to cover and it was a wonderful blessing for me at many levels. I am sensing the need to do it again in 2013. This time I plan to read The New English Version to get a different perspective than my standard Bible.  I would like to share with you at least five advantages to such a reading plan.

First, you get to read every verse in the Bible at least once. Sure, there is nothing magical in being able to claim that you have read every word in the book of Numbers, but on the other hand, if we claim to cherish the Bible as God’s Word, it seems that somewhere in our Christian development, we ought to at least read every word some time in our life.  In this age of Biblical illiteracy, our knowledge of God’s Word should go beyond just a few pet passages.

Related to this is the second benefit. When you read the whole Bible, you get a sense of God’s big story – the way he chose to record it for history. The Bible does tell one grand story and if we don’t read it, we risk missing what the story is all about. Reading the whole story can also protect us from extracting our own pet passages apart from where God purposely chose to put them in his story. In other words, I believe merely reading the bible cover to cover can help us interpret the details more accurately.

The third and fourth benefits are more practical.  The third benefit is that regular Bible reading can establish a good habit. If I read the Bible every day for a year, chances are I will get used to reading on a regular basis and then the following year, that space and time is already reserved for Bible reading. In other words I am developing good habits.

The fourth benefit is that it provides structure to my Bible reading. Having a plan of what I am going to read ahead of time takes away the stress of trying to figure out what to read each day. If we are not engaged in a book study (another great way to study the Bible), then we have to decide each day what to read.

The final benefit is related to all the others. In our day, there are all kinds of helps available to keep us on task, plan out our reading, and even remind us to read (for example having scripture sent to our email or cell phone). My favorite tool is the two-volume set For The Love of God by Don Carson which takes the reader through the Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice during the year.

Whatever tool you use or how you do it, what Bible reading resolutions do you have for 2013?

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 David Dunbar Friday, 21 December 2012 00:00

I live in a small town in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, that is called Blooming Glen.  It seems appropriate that in such a town our only official organizations are the US postal service and the garden club.  The club is made up of friendly neighbors who take pride in making our quaint little town more beautiful. 

But just recently there was an incident that brought home to me the cultural shifts that even our small town with its many church going families cannot escape.  The garden club decided that it would be nice to decorate a tree for Christmas and have a little celebration for the whole neighborhood . . . you know, light the tree, sing some seasonal songs, and have some cookies and hot chocolate. 

But then the question:  what do we sing? Most people would have gone with the usual mix of sacred and secular Christmas songs especially in our generally Christian neighborhood.  But it didn’t happen.  Why? Because one quite opinionated person objected loudly:  no religious songs!

Now this raises the challenging question:  how does a Christian respond to situations like this? Do we argue that the Christian majority should prevail over (in this case) the non-Christian minority?  Should we organize a movement to push the objector out of the garden club?  But then what happens if Christians find themselves in the minority? Or perhaps Christians should just withdraw from seasonal celebrations that turn secular . . . and then organize our own gatherings that preserve “the true meaning of Christmas.”

Now this little problem is a microcosm of a much larger issue:  the collapse of Christendom in western culture. At first blush you might be inclined to say, “come on Dave, get over this theoretical, academic drivel about stuff that has no connection with the real world!”  Well, I hear you, but in this case you would be wrong.  This is not just an academic or theoretical question.  And one of the gigantic weaknesses of the western church is that we have not understood the deeply practical nature of this issue.

What is Christendom?  It is the cultural legacy of medieval European civilization where the church sat on the pinnacle of cultural power.  Christendom is a situation in which the Christian religion rules, where it has dominion.  To a large extent Christianity also had dominion in America, at least through the mid-twentieth century.  But now that has changed.  The church is no longer at the center.  Its cultural influence has declined and we may expect it to decline even more.  We all know this right? 

Unfortunately most churches are trying to ignore the critical questions raised by this collapse. We assume that we ought to have cultural power, and so we try to function as if we still do. Many of the Christian discussions about “taking back the culture” fall into this category.  On the other hand, we may be tempted simply to withdraw from participating in the wider society so that we may perpetuate a smaller world of uniformly Christian assumptions and practices.

So how do you respond if the garden club decides not to allow Christmas carols with distinctly Christian content?  Well here is how one woman (who happens to be a member of our church) handled the problem.  At first, she told me, she was offended by her outspoken neighbor and considered actually resigning from the garden club in protest.  But as she thought it over in light of Scripture she decided that God was calling her to love her neighbor in spite of what felt almost like a personal attack.  She said to me, “I imagine that Bonnie may have been severely hurt by Christians at some time in her past, and I need to show her a different kind of Christianity.” And so she went to the party.

I was proud of the way she is processing this incident.  In some respects this interaction might seem to us inconsequential or almost trivial.  But it really isn’t. It points to a principled approach to a much larger challenge faced by the church in a pluralist culture. It suggests that we may learn to stand for the truth without fighting for the truth.  Because it is possible to win the battle but lose the war.  And we need to understand the difference.


Dave Dunbar is president of Biblical Seminary.  He has been married to Sharon for 42 years.  They have four grown children and six and 1/3 grand children.

 

   

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

   

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