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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.  

 

 

   

Written by Todd Mangum Wednesday, 05 December 2012 00:00

It’s true. 19-year-old actor Angus Jones has recently converted to Christianity (as a Seventh Day Adventist) and, having joined a church in Hollywood, came on the internet video production ministry of Pastor Christopher Hudson and urged people who watch “filth” like “Two and a Half Men” to “please stop watching . . . I’m on Two and a Half Men. . . . I don’t want to be on it. . . .  Don’t fill your mind with such filth. . . .”  It’s a show that Jones has been on for ten years as the “half man” of “Two and a Half Men”; his character, Jake Harper, is the son of one of the two immature, narcissistic, sex-crazed men (originally, two brothers) who share a Malibu beach house, around whom the comedy plot revolves. For a fair summary of this story, see ABC news’ coverage: http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/charlie-sheen-stands-angus-jones/story?id=17827159#.ULfQl2c8rAw, which includes an interview with outspoken evangelical Christian, Stephen Baldwin, also an actor (and youngest of the Baldwin brothers).

It is interesting news for many reasons. Jones had no idea the media firestorm his remarks would create. The video went viral internationally. His comments were dubbed a “religious rant” and became the punch line of late night comedic routines; many celebrities “piled on” mocking him.  Charlie Sheen, on the other hand, with his own beefs against the producers and personnel of the show under critique, applauded Jones’ courageous conviction and said he would be welcome anytime onto “Anger Management” (the show he started after leaving “Two and a Half Men”). Jones’ mother meanwhile told some reporters she feared her son was being “brainwashed” or at least “exploited” if not “manipulated” by the religious leaders of the Seventh Day Adventist church.  Then, the day after the video caused such a furor, Jones apologized to his fellow cast members and crew and producers of the show, and said that his being cast on the show for the last ten years “has been a great blessing” and that he intended “no disrespect” to anyone involved with the show by his remarks.

It really is a fascinating story.  But what to make of all this from an evangelical, missional Christian perspective? Here are a couple of thoughts, in no particular order.

  1. Jones’ testimony of faith seems genuine, and should be applauded. Some evangelicals have had misgivings about the Seventh Day Adventists — are they a cult? (Some evangelical texts on cults have actually included Seventh Day Adventists among them — much to the outrage and protest of Seventh Day Adventists; and in most cases they have successfully gotten themselves removed from such a classification. They are a minority, but are members in good standing, of the Evangelical Theological Society.) By all appearances, Jones has experienced a genuine conversion; and as part of that conversion feels regret about the raunchiness of the show that he’s participated in, albeit that has also made him rich. 

Most any evangelical Christian can appreciate the euphoria of his initial conversion; and the remorse and repentance he’s undergoing — as well as the awkwardness and difficulty of sorting through what’s been good and what’s been bad about his childhood and his life up to this point. He should be given our understanding and support for his testimony, no less so because he expressed himself admittedly clumsily.

2.  He’s still a 19-year-old young man.  Being a new Christian and a celebrity is a hard enough burden to bear; being under the glare of media attention while maintaining one’s Christian testimony is difficult enough as it is. Add to that his being a very young man; he should be given some slack and much grace in handling all this.

3. He is being exploited some by his church leaders — and that is regrettable.  It’s understandable and not all the motives for it are sinister, I would assume. But it is reasonable to also assume that the church was hoping to cash in some on Jones’ celebrity, and thus rushed him into a spotlight unfairly and too early. Jones, unfortunately, is bearing the heaviest price for this misstep, but his “mentors,” if they are truly mentors, should have known better than to put him in such a position. Had they really had his best interests at heart, they would not have put him in such a position, or aired a video that could easily have been foreseen as ill-advised for such media attention.

4.  He is right about “Two and a Half Men” being “filth.”  Yes, I have seen episodes of the show but am not a regular watcher.  The opening tune and premise drew me in a time or two, but then . . . well, it’s just too much. Sex (including frequent casual references to masturbation), drugs, promiscuity, bathroom jokes are clearly all regular fare for a show that — shockingly and depressingly from a Christian perspective — is consistently among the highest watched sitcoms on TV for ten solid years. That such a banal, raunchy show is so popular is truly unfortunate and disturbing — and Jones is not wrong to say so.

These are interesting times to be sure.  I do not know if Jones will come back onto the show (in six weeks or so when he was originally scheduled to reappear); I hope he does not — but I know that’s easy for me to say in that I’m not the one sacrificing $300,000 an episode (you’re reading that number right) to play a relatively minor character on a show that is going to go on whether he agrees to play his character or not.

This sort of instance also demonstrates that we are in new territory, very different from the “culture wars” of a couple of decades ago.  People are regularly “coming out” — some as gay or lesbian . . . and some as Christians; and though at different ends of the spectrum of the culture, typically, some of the dynamics are remarkably similar. It takes courage to speak out. On the other hand, these “coming outs” are received as off-putting, obnoxious, presumptuous, or arrogant by those not excited about such outspoken controversial positions being taken (at either end of the cultural spectrum) so publicly and in such an “in your face” way. Interestingly, we all can understand that in a way, too.

Perhaps we are at a point where we can recognize that “mass evangelism” tactics and publicity stunts may be a thing of the past — not to disparage at all the personal testimonies of those who happen to be public figures. More personal, more difficult, more intimate sorts of conversations shared in the context of deeper relationships already formed for other reasons may be what’s most needed now.  And this gets to the heart of what a missional approach to cultural engagement and ministry is all about.


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 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

 

 

   

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