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Written by Sam Logan Friday, 28 September 2012 00:00

This is how I started my blog two days ago, on Wednesday, September 26: 

          What is – and what should be – the relationship between civil law and Biblical precept?

          That’s far too broad a question for a blog, so let’s narrow it a bit.

          What is – and what should be - the relationship between civil law and Biblical precept with respect to marriage?

I then suggested three principles to consider with respect to what kind of legislation evangelical Christians should consider supporting in relation to biblical precept.  I won’t repeat those principles here.  One of the hottest debates in the public arenas of many Western nations at the present time has to do with the application of biblical precept to the realm of civil law with respect to gay marriage.  Building on my previous blog, I would like now to suggest four things to keep in mind when we seek to apply the previously identified principles to the subject of gay marriage.

1) All of us – Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, atheist, or whatever – need to be clear on just what it is that we believe and just why we believe it.  It is completely fair for evangelical Christians to be challenged to identify and defend the grounds for their conviction that gay marriage should not be legalized (in those remaining places where it has not already been legalized).  Likewise, it is perfectly legitimate for evangelical Christians to seek from those who support gay marriage the grounds on which they make their claims.

2) Implementation by evangelical Christians of item #1 above may legitimately include questions such as these:

*  If the argument is that there should be no civil constraints on the marriage of competent, consenting adults, why should we not revoke any legislation that denies marriage to such individuals who wish to have more than one husband or one wife?  On this subject, see The New York Times - http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/subjects/p/polygamy/index.html   And, as with gay marriage, this is not just an American issue; see the description of a polygamist defying a court ruling just a few days ago - http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-09-16/zimbabwe-pm-marries-under-polygamy-custom/4263736

* If the argument is that there should be no civil constraints on the marriage of competent, consenting adults, why should we not revoke any legislation that denies marriage to such individuals who may wish to marry close blood relatives?  The connection between gay marriage legality and incest legality was made by many (on both sides of both issues) in connection with Lawrence v. Texas case, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in June of 2003.  One of the most thorough considerations of the likely ramifications of Lawrence v. Texas was an article in Time Magazine in 2007, entitled, appropriately enough, “Should Incest Be Legal?”  See http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1607322,00.html

You gay rights advocates seem to be selective in your application of the idea that there should be no civil constraints on the marriage of competent consenting adults of the same gender.  But you don’t seem to be equally concerned about similar constraints being placed on others.  Please help us to understand what seems to be an inconsistency.

3) However, what’s sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander.  Implementation of item#1 above allows supporters of gay marriage appropriately to challenge evangelical Christians with such questions as these:

* If you believe that the Bible prohibits gay marriage and that civil law should do the same, why are you not working just as hard to repeal laws which permit “no fault divorce” as you are to prevent the legalization of gay marriage?  After all, while Jesus seems Himself to have said very little about gay marriage, He was very clear and very specific about divorce. 

In Matthew, He says this: 

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’  But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the grounds of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery.  And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” [Matthew 5: 31, 32] 

In Mark, Jesus is recorded as saying this: 

“From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.  Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and shall hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” [Mark 10: 6 – 9] 

It seems that Jesus’s disciples really understood the radical nature of the requirement Jesus was setting, and the passage continues: 

And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter.  And He said to them, ”Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”  [Mark 10: 10 – 12] 

You evangelical Christians seem to be selective in the application of what you understand biblical precept to be.  Many of you oppose the election of President Obama because he supports gay marriage which you think the Bible prohibits but at least some of you also supported the candidacy of Newt Gingrich who has been married - how many times?  Please help us to understand what seems to us to be an inconsistency. 

3) But perceived inconsistency regarding divorce and gay marriage is not, in my judgment, the greatest challenge to evangelical Christians in the “marriage debates.”

The greatest challenge of all comes if we genuinely believe that every biblical prohibition is, by what the Westminster Confession calls “good and necessary consequence,” a clear requirement of the opposite behavior from that which is being prohibited.

In my previous blog, I said this,

Here are just some of the positive actions which the Westminster Larger Catechism says are required by the Fifth Commandment: 

All careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others: 1)  by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any; 2) by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild and courteous speeches and behavior; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succoring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent. 

And I concluded with these two questions: 

What would laws look like which sought to require the above positive actions?  What would they say about such presently debated issues as health care, poverty, and immigration policy?

My question now is this: if we believe that the Bible prohibits gay marriage, what do we think the Bible REQUIRES of us who are married?  And how, if at all, should civil marriage legislation reflect those requirements?  Tune in next week!
 

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

 

 

 

Written by Sam Logan Wednesday, 26 September 2012 00:00

What is – and what should be – the relationship between civil law and Biblical precept?

That’s far too broad a question for a blog, so let’s narrow it a bit.

What is – and what should be - the relationship between civil law and Biblical precept with respect to marriage?

Many evangelical Christians, among whom I am one, believe that the civil law, at least in the arena of marriage, should be consistent with Biblical teaching.  This does not necessarily mean that everything that Scripture requires in a Christian marriage must be mandated by the civil law.  But it does mean that, in my judgment, basic structures of civil matrimonial statute should not violate the principles regarding those basic structures as they are taught in Scripture. 

In some ways, this is, of course, a subjective perspective.  Most people in the United States and in similar Western democracies do not profess and do not desire to live by Biblical precept.  The most we evangelical Christians can expect of them is that they understand and seek to act consistently according to SOME set of moral standards and that they be able and willing to describe those standards to those who ask for such explanations. 

The requirements for Christians are at least as stringent as those for non-Christians – that we understand and seek to act consistently with the principles we profess.  And it is to explore a few possible aspects of those principles that I am writing this blog.

I would suggest that the following are among the most important of those principles:

1) Biblical precepts are often stated in terms of prohibitions but that does not mean that the truths being communicated are necessarily negative, as some would claim.  “You shall not murder” is a negative statement, but its essential rationale and force is positive – the preservation and protection of life.  The same with “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” and “You shall not commit adultery;” all of these prohibitions really affirm the positive values which the actions being prohibited would deny. 

2) As evangelical Christians, therefore, we must never be satisfied with merely avoiding what is prohibited.  For example, consistent obedience to the Seventh Commandment means much more than simply refraining from adultery (though it surely does mean that).  Consistent obedience also requires, in the language of the Westminster Larger Catechism, “Chastity in body, mind, affections, words, and behavior; and the preservation of it in ourselves and others; watchfulness over the eyes and all the senses; temperance, keeping of chaste company, modesty in apparel , . . . “    We must be as diligent in insisting that we ourselves embody the positive virtues as we are that others refrain from violating the actions prohibited.

3)  In the arena of civil legislation, it seems to be easier for us to enact biblical prohibitions directly into law and that is, therefore, what we do.  What would happen if we sought to be as consistent in legislating the positive requirements of those same laws?  I gave one interpretation above of the positive requirements of the Seventh Commandment (as summarized by the Westminster Shorter Catechism).  Let’s try another example.  Here are just some of the positive actions which the Westminster Larger Catechism says are required by the Fifth Commandment:

All careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others: 1)  by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any; 2) by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild and courteous speeches and behavior; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succoring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent.

What would laws look like which sought to require the above positive actions?  What would they say about such presently debated issues as health care, poverty, and immigration policy? 

But I said above that my real topic in these particular series of blogs is civil legislation with specific respect to marriage.  My point today is simply that, when we consider that narrower topic, we need to keep our eyes clearly fixed on the total teaching of any of the relevant biblical passages.  We evangelical Christians need to be thoughtful and consistent with regard to the “what” and the “why” of the civil legislation which we support.

I will suggest some possible practical implications of this approach with respect to the issue of marriage legislation in my next blog (which will appear on Friday, September 28). 


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

 

 

 

   

Written by Phil Monroe Monday, 24 September 2012 00:00

Every church ought to have an abuse prevention and response policy. Not having a policy sets a church up for mis-steps should an abuse allegation come to light…not to mention increasing risk for legal liability. If your church has an insurance policy, it likely has some semblance of an abuse prevention policy.

But, how do you know if what your church has is adequate? If you are tasked to update your policy, consider these review questions:

1.  Does your policy begin with biblical and theological reasons for protection against child abuse and for the care of victims, offenders and their families?

Policies that focus solely on limiting liability miss an opportunity for a much more powerful reason to protect children and vulnerable people. If Christianity is true, then protection of the most vulnerable is our first priority. James 1:27 doesn’t tell us that true Christianity is getting our doctrines right. Rather, protection of the vulnerable along with personal and corporate righteousness are marks of true Christianity. Take a moment and review your policy. Do you make it clear that we do this for the honor of Christ’s name and not just to avoid a lawsuit?  

2.  Does your policy detail prevention strategies beyond background checks, windows in doors, and two child care workers in every room?

Most churches I know do some form of background check on all childcare workers. However, I do know some who only do abuse/criminal checks on new workers and thus, older “trusted” staff and volunteers may not get evaluated. But even if you complete annual background checks on EVERY member of the congregation (and nobody should do this!), you will only catch those who have already been caught. As necessary as background checks and windows in church room doors are, your policy can do more. Do you follow-up on every “hit” on a background check, even if it doesn’t seem related to abuse? Do you require references and check them thoroughly? Do you interview all volunteers? Do you ensure that all child activities have enough non-related adult supervision? Do you limit private contact between child/youth workers and their charges? Should workers drive home an individual youth after an event? Do you educate parents and youth about the common behaviors of predators (who may be family) and warning signs of boundary violations?    

3.  Does your policy deal with the challenge of 21stcentury electronic communications?

Youth leaders and youth are likely more connected than ever before. Facebook status updates, private messaging, email, texting are some of the many ways our leaders can contact and interact with youth in our churches. Contacts like these do have positive implications. A teenager might reach out about something important via email or text that he or she wouldn’t say face-to-face. But, these private interchanges can also hide boundary violations. Does your policy address social media contact (e.g., require youth workers to cc parents when they email teens; clarify who reviews text messages sent by staff members, etc.)?

On a similar note, does your church policy deal with the matter of Internet access on church electronic equipment (filters, reports, scans, etc.)?

4.  Does your policy provide a clear plan for how it will handle an abuse allegation?

Prevention is probably the easiest part of your church policy. What does your policy say about how an allegation of abuse will be handled? Who in the church body are identified as prepared to take an allegation (in much the way an organization handles sexual harassment complaints)? What happens if the person in charge of abuse prevention is the one who is alleged to abuse? What will happen to this information? How will leaders cooperate with outside investigators? Who will ensure that all reports are made to the proper child protection authorities? Who will have access to this information? Note that these questions of “who” should never be just one person but rather a small committee populated with both genders. What procedures are in place to deal with the typical space between allegation and findings by child protection authorities? Will there be any restrictions on the alleged offender? How will the congregation be notified?

Don’t forget to include information on the kinds of ministries in place for victims, offenders, and their families. Let the congregation know of the ways you plan to care for them should they be caught in the unfortunate position of being victim, offender or family member. Too often churches do the right thing in reporting abuse but fail to provide ongoing pastoral care. (For more on this, see some of my writing and presentations about spiritual care teams at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com.)    

5.  Does your policy address the special problem of leader abuse of power allegations?

While much of this post is about child sexual abuse, it is evident that churches need to be prepared to address allegations of abuse of power (coercion, quid pro quo) by paid and volunteer church leaders. Does your policy address how you will handle such a complaint? Who will investigate? How will the leader be treated during the time? The victim?

6.  Does your policy stipulate ongoing training requirements and church education plans?

If your church has a great policy but neglects educating the entire church about the policy, it probably will not function well in a crisis. Place in your policy the required ways the church will be trained and educated. Most churches hold an annual child abuse prevention seminar. But, sadly, these are poorly attended. Stipulate that these seminars are held during “high traffic” times such as teen and adult Sunday school hours or even during Sunday sermons.

7.  Does your policy address the problem of known offenders in the church?

More and more churches face the prospect of having a known sex offender among their congregants. Some of these offenders may be returning after incarceration (whether for crimes committed in the church body or those committed outside the body) while others may be coming to get a “clean” start in a new community. Is your church prepared to handle the high emotions and strong opinions from the offender, victims, victims of other offenses, etc.? Will offenders be automatically “shadowed”? Will they be limited in access to church functions? If the victim attends the church, what special consideration will their comfort be given in making attendance decisions? Will the offender be offered church in a different location (e.g., small group in a home)? If a current member is an offender and wishes to leave for another church, what communications will be made to the new church?

I am sure these seven questions do not cover all that a policy should contain. Be sure to run your policy by your denomination officials and/or experts in the field of child protection. Be prepared that you will have some who will accuse you of being paranoid or overly restrictive. Accept that you might be but still be willing to err on the side of protection versus naive assumptions.


Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychologyand 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.

   

Written by Phil Monroe Friday, 21 September 2012 00:00

Whether you are new to Biblical or a long-time supporter, you might be wondering why Biblical Seminary is launching the Global Trauma Recover Institute (see our homepage; more information to come soon!). Just how is it part of a seminary’s mission to talk about psycho-social trauma intervention? Aren’t we supposed to be training pastors and church leaders to do churchy stuff?

We do train pastors…and missionaries, youth leaders, lay leaders, future academicians, and counselors—to serve whatever corner of God’s kingdom he plants them. One such “corner” in nearly every part of the world today is the problem of trauma. Look around you and you are likely to find individuals struggling with the effects of natural disasters, sexual abuse, ethnic conflicts, war, accidents, domestic violence and other abuses of power.

Look closer at those who are hurting and what you see are individuals who appear to be the living dead. They move, they speak, they may even work, but they appear dead inside as one going through the motions of life. Depending on the moment you catch them, you may observe passivity or impulsivity, self-hatred or outright terror. Most trauma victims feel haunted by their past and hopeless about the future. Nearly all question whatever faith they had prior to their traumatic experiences.

As Dr. Diane Langberg (recently added as clinical faculty here at Biblical) reminds us, trauma is the mission field of our time. It is where mercy ministry and evangelism meet (may it be that they NEVER separate!). Biblical Seminary, in keeping with her mission to train men and women to incarnate and communicate the story of Jesus, regards the doorway of trauma intervention as a place to follow Jesus into the world. And, as someone who has been blessed to work with trauma victims and caregivers from Rwanda, the DRC and from the US, I can attest that this doorway is WIDE OPEN.

So, why do we care about global trauma recovery at Biblical? Need we look any further than James summation of the Christian life: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (1:27)


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 Thursday, 20 September 2012 00:00

One’s walk with God is challenged over the course of one’s life by “dragons and nits,” observe Brent Curtis and John Eldridge (The Sacred Romance, 150-52). “Dragons” are the crises that shake one to the core: a death or family tragedy, an accident or illness, loss of a job or dashed dream, a devastation of fire or disaster. “Nits” are the small but regular irritations of life, the aggravations of common circumstances, inevitable disappointments in people or  frustrations of plans. 

Dragons are fire-breathing and can burn one to a crisp in an instant. Nits — a euphemism for lice actually — are the irritating itches that are not life-threatening in themselves but can drive you nuts over time.

The call of faith — the call of God the Father; the call of Jesus; the summoning of the Spirit — is a call to endure, to bear both crises and common irritations with patience and hope, dignity and grace, to persevere to the end without wavering.

It’s harder than it sounds, isn’t it? (In fact, I’d argue the only way to actually do it is by supernatural means.)  It’s certainly easier said than done.

After recounting the “heroes of faith” in Hebrews 11, here’s the punch-line application at the beginning of Hebrews 12:

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.”

What’s the biggest challenge to your faith — the dragons or the nits?  A cross that seems just too heavy to bear, too torturous to endure? The fear of ridicule?  Embarrassment?  Hostility of unbelievers? Or just plain weariness?  Disappointments and frustrations that just wear you down over time?  Are you in danger of losing heart?

I need the Hebrews 11 and 12 reminder often — not least because sometimes the Christian life can just feel lonely.  Am I the only one who feels this?  Am I the only one who gets this anguish of soul, who seems naturally to recoil at either the greatness of the cost or the length of the race? 

Hebrews 11 and 12 both comfort me and kick me in the pants.  In part because I appreciate that these Scriptures pull no punches as to just how great the challenge is or how wearying the road of faith is to travel.  How about you?


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 Wednesday, 19 September 2012 00:00

25 year ago, John MacArthur published a book entitled, The Gospel according to Jesus. It had at the time a profound impact on my thinking of what exactly faith is and, as the book’s title indicates, what “the gospel” is. Its thesis and approach is actually pretty simple: what does the gospel look like according to the gospels?  And, what if we take Jesus’ message as the prototype for what “the gospel” is?

It’s amazing what a difference such an approach makes. It was shocking to me 25 years ago, and the shockwaves have reverberated through my theological thinking ever since. In the gospel according to Jesus, the invitation is not to add God to your microwave and high definition TV to make your life better, give you some added gratification “at no cost to you,” and a steal of a deal in this life and the next.  No, the gospel according to Jesus is one in which great cost is demanded, but the investment in the coming Kingdom — an investment of faith not sight — is worth it.  It will cost you everything like a “pearl of great price,” or like a tract of land that you really can’t afford, that will force you to sell everything you have to secure it, but which “you know” has a hidden treasure in it that will make the investment more than pay off.

For Jesus, Gospel 101 is: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me” (the one-verse summary of Jesus’ “gospel message” in all three synoptic gospels: Matt. 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). And it’s not just a hypothetical “willingness,” either — He lets the rich, young ruler walk away when he recoils at the cost; and Zaccheus who offers the material “cost” willingly and actually unsolicitedly [!], Jesus allows and commends, as one who thus demonstrates his faith.  It is in acknowledging this investment of faith that Jesus says, “For the son of man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:5; it is no coincidence that Luke 18 and 19 provide the stark contrast, virtually back to back, of one who recoils at the cost of faith and one who embraces the cost eagerly).

That, in a nutshell, is “the gospel according to Jesus.”  And if we then approach the epistles as letters that assume the gospel of Jesus, rather than as theological tractates that “present the gospel for the first time now that Jesus has paved the way for it,” a very different understanding of the whole New Testament really is gained.  (Hint: the best insights of “the new perspective on Paul” are contained in this relatively simple move — moving the “center of gravity” of the New Testament “gospel” to Jesus, imagine that!). 

And, while we’re in the neighborhood of what difference this all makes to reading the Bible, think of this: if the New Testament epistles are built not only on Jesus’ work but on Jesus’ teaching, and if Jesus’ message is rooted in the prophets, and if the prophets’ message is rooted in the character of God as revealed in the Law, then . . . lo and behold, one ends up with a fully unified Bible with a single consistent message that unfolds coherently from beginning to end!  Now, imagine that!

As an epilogue to my recommendation of The Gospel according to Jesus by John MacArthur — and I would still recommend it, let me also say that, in my judgment, the thesis of that book still embraces too much the revivalist assumption that “faith” consists of a single, point-in-time “decision” (see my last blog on “Is Faith a Decision?”); and, though the insights of that book I see as paving the way for a fuller understanding of how the New Testament epistles relate to the gospels, I have to observe with some sadness that Dr. MacArthur himself has since resisted some of these connections, and seen “the new perspective on Paul” as more of “a threat” than a help.  Too bad. But it’s also not too late for him to change his mind on some of these things, too.  And regardless, I’m still grateful for the positive influence his work has had on my theological thinking.

For all of us, this is a journey and we learn as we go.  And our decisions — our “taking up our cross daily” (as per the Lucan nuance) — is informed by the level of understanding and level of faith we have at the time. And the faith we have, by God’s grace, is there but it sometimes falters, sometimes is weak, sometimes is misinformed, sometimes is just less than it should be.  And yet, God prorates His judgment, and rewards excessively the faith the size of a mustard seed.

If this is God’s response to our faltering faith, then how can we be any less generous?  Reminders of that — and I need to be reminded often — help me be more charitable in my assessment of others’ faith walks.

For all of us, the walk of faith nonetheless is one that always demands courage and cost. This is the gospel according to Jesus.


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, 17 September 2012 00:00

In my last blog, I suggested that “faith” consists of no less than four components (aligned with “the greatest commandment” to love God with one’s mind, soul, heart and strength): 

            Cognition (or “mind”) = what one understands

            Volition (or “will”)       = to what one commits/submits

            Affection (or “heart”) = what one desires

            Action (or “strength” or “hands & feet”) = what one does

From here, I’d like to explore what I think is a common reductionism in evangelical Protestantism: reducing “saving faith” to a single point-in-time “decision.”

I recognize that sometimes conversion can indeed be a dramatic, point-in-time occurrence. I know that “gospel calls” in the New Testament are calls to decision. I realize that, at the end of Acts 2, three thousand souls were added to the Kingdom in a single day.

I mean, hey, y’all, I’m Baptist, ordained Southern Baptist; I’ve been a Baptist all my life.  I know the power of the altar call. … and some of its problems, too. . . . 

Here is what gives me pause.

The emphasis on cognition was already high in the Protestant conflict with Catholicism in the 16thcentury. With Catholicism perceived at the time as touting a mindless submission to the authority of the Church for salvation (emphasis for them on “proper volition”), the Reformers insisted that one must understand what the cross work of Christ entailed and from what this costly benefit secured salvation. “Salvation from the wrath of God by understanding and accepting penal substitutionary atonement” resulted as a common by-product of this debate in Protestantism. To this day, “the gospel” for Protestants is too often thought to be “understand the doctrine of penal substitution/forensic justification.”

By the way, I would not want to deny this doctrinal point. I just don’t want to reduce “the gospel” to such. As Timothy George of Beeson Divinity School (a fellow Southern Baptist, by the way) has put it, that comes too close to making justification by doctrinal erudition.

Secondly, the era of Revivalism took this emphasis on doctrinal cognition a yet farther step. Again, much good was done, many people brought to Christ and brought into fellowship with healthy communities of faith by the revivals and revivalists of the 18th, 19th, and 20thcenturies. But there was a nasty downside, too, in terms of how “the gospel” tended to be framed. That is, because “the gospel” was framed as “a decision” to be made that night at the end of a service in which “a gospel presentation” was made and “an invitation to accept Christ” extended, “the gospel” tended to be thought of and framed as something of a “sales pitch.”

You and I know what happens when “a product” is being sold; costs are minimized, benefits accentuated. “How little is demanded of the poor sinner” to be saved became a common theme, the benefit of “you can know tonight that you will spend eternity in heaven with God, no matter how gross your sins” likewise became a common theme. 

Now, just for starters, recognize that not a single “gospel presentation” in the Bible sounds quite like that. Why not?


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  

   

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