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Written by Dr. Todd Mangum Thursday, 26 April 2012 00:00

Recently, I was sent a provocative picture by someone who is an evangelical Christian who has been forming friendships and having some substantive conversations (including spiritual things) with gay and lesbian people in their neighborhood.  The picture (of a gay man, underwear clad, hugging some Christians along the street of the gay-pride parade route) appears under the headline, “A Christian group shows up to a Chicago Gay Pride parade holding apologetic signs including "I'm sorry for how the church treated you".

 This person had posted the picture and web-article on their Facebook page – and had received some positive response to it, especially from their gay/lesbian friends. And then, one of this person’s mentors from their church, wrote them a private email, telling them how shocked and puzzled they were that this appeared on their Facebook page. It was a thoughtful, non-hostile but clearly-concerned, communication of questions and apprehensions about it.

The person asked what I thought about all this.  Here is what I said:

First of all, kudos for being on the front lines in such matters; things are confusing and messy in the actual engagement of issues and with real people. 

I thought the note from [your mentor] was also good – thoughtful, respectful, and fair – and I agree with [them] that “the message” of the facebook posting (with picture) is confusing.  Because issues regarding gay and lesbian orientation have become so politicized, any statement on it requires nuance and explication. “Bumper sticker” statements are simply insufficient – and provoke, rather than proclaim. 

I’d affirm the following points – which are at some tension with one another: 

1.  “The church” has been right to identify same-sex sexual behavior as sinful.

2.  Nevertheless, in addition to rightly identifying same-sex sexual behavior as sinful, “the church” has delivered wounds to gays and lesbians by stigmatizing their penchants to sinfulness in a way not done to other sinful penchants, adding to the pain of their struggle, failing to recognize the pain, complexity, and difficulties inherently encountered by a person with same-sex attractions, etc.

3.  “The church” has been slow to recognize that same-sex attractions are not simply “choices” that one makes voluntarily.

4.  Many people with same-sex attractions have now formed an identity around same-sex attraction and behavior such that seeks to normalize and normativize them, and in the process heap scorn on churches still identifying same-sex sexual behavior as sinful. 

It is difficult to enter into this complex cauldron of tensions to make any statement that will not be subject to misunderstanding, mis-characterization or outright ridicule. 

You are also correct in your response to your friend that, when level-headed Christians are paralyzed by the intractable tensions in the current situation and say nothing, that leaves only the Fred Phelps of the world willing to rashly and pervertedly [!] proclaim what is then perceived as the ONLY message from “the church” on the issue.  Adamant statements to the contrary (even if they are not, on their own, “balanced”) can be appropriate in such a context.   

I am not sure it was a  mistake to post the picture.  I am ambivalent about that, to be honest.  Did it spark the conversations worth having, or did it spark conversations you think are a waste of time, a distraction, that you wish you weren’t having?  That is probably the diagnostic test. . . . ? 

Those are my thoughts.  Wish I could be more helpful. 

And those were my thoughts – and I really do wish I could have been more helpful.  What are your thoughts?  Can you be more helpful? 

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 Dr. Todd Mangum Wednesday, 25 April 2012 00:00

The church where I am a member and erstwhile elder is fundamentalist in background. About ten years ago, when Biblical Seminary took “the missional turn,” our church did, too.

As a church, we’ve been working at what it means to recognize, understand, and, perhaps most importantly, live out the missional character of God. One ministry we’ve taken up over the last five years is a ministry to the homeless; as part of this ministry, we have now joined “the Interfaith Hospitality Network” (see http://www.homelessfamilies.org/).

Now, this would have been impossible for our church 20 years ago. We were a “separatist” church, meaning we could not fellowship in any way, much less partner in ministry together, with another church that differed from us so significantly in doctrinal convictions. Four years ago, we started our homeless ministry by serving as a “buddy church” with a neighbor church less than a mile from us.

That church was a “United Church of Christ” church. One of their pastors is a woman (our church does not ordain women), and it’s part of a denomination that has a well-known reputation for “liberalism” – faulty doctrine and less-than-solid stances on social issues, too, from a conservative evangelical perspective.

Let me just clarify here: I still think our church’s doctrinal commitments are superior to this church’s. I would not, to this day, want to trade our church’s doctrinal convictions for theirs – and being missional does not require such a “trade,” either! “Missional ecumenism” is different (better) than the “old ecumenism” on this point, for which I am glad.

But here’s the thing: our church just got started on this ministry to the homeless four years ago. That “liberal” church, with which we were partnering as “junior learner church,” had by then already been doing this ministry for more than a decade. Speaking just for myself, I frankly did not know before participating in this ministry that there were enough homeless people in the Souderton-Telford area (where I live) to even justify such a ministry; much less that there were so many as to strain the resources of a dozen or more churches in our area joining together to try to meet the need!

I don’t have to think about that long before I’m forced to contemplate once again how our focuses, time and energy align with what is most important to God. I have searched in vain for anything that suggests that, on Judgment Day, the number one concern God will have is doctrinal correctness. I have yet to find even a single judgment described in Scripture that has a doctrinal test as the criterion.

Matthew 25:31-46 is very clear, though, in what will distinguish a sheep from a goat in the judgment described there. And, it has nothing to do with doctrinal adherence – in fact, the people involved, as described there, are not even cognizant of the significance of their action (or inaction). The criteria in that passage consist of things like, did you feed the hungry? did you take care of the stranger, did you house the homeless, shelter the indigent, give clothes to the poor? What about those in prison – did you ever even visit them? 

What if things like that turn out to be what is most important to God?  I can’t help but think that, if Matthew 25 criteria turn out to be the standard of judgment on judgment day, will “liberal Christians” (and I can say, “despite their liberalism,” rather than “because of their liberalism,” but still: will they) end up faring better than “fundamentalist Christians” on Judgment Day?  Merging Matthew 25 with Matthew 23, will Jesus end up saying to fundamentalists and recovering fundamentalists (like me), “Good that you tithed your doctrinal mint and cumin, but you really should have tended first and foremost to these weightier matters – and it’s not that you had to neglect the other, either, to do so”? . . .


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 Dr. David Dunbar Monday, 23 April 2012 00:00

Well, I suppose that’s an overstatement.  But something big is obviously afoot when the Lausanne Movement gives an unconditionally positive endorsement not only to the missional terminology—by my count the specific word “missional” shows up 26 times-- but also to many of the basic theological affirmations of the missional church.

The Lausanne Movement began with the World Congress on Evangelism in Berlin in 1966.  The First Lausanne Congress was held in July 1974 in Lausanne, Switzerland and was attended by 2700 representatives from over 150 countries.  A major result of this conference was the Lausanne Covenant authored largely by the Evangelical statesman John Stott. This was a ringing call “to pray, to plan and to work together for the evangelization of the whole world.”

Lausanne II met in Manila, Philippines, in 1989.  This gathering produced the Manila Manifesto which deepened and broadened the movement’s understanding of evangelism and the nature of the gospel. That document concludes with the statement that “the whole church is called to take the whole gospel to the whole world, proclaiming Christ until he comes, with all necessary urgency, unity and sacrifice.”

The Third Lausanne Congress met in Cape Town, South Africa, in October 2010.  It was attended by 4000 leaders from 198 countries.  Many more people connected to the conference through media links world-wide. Another major document was issued in connection with this Congress—The Cape Town Commitment.  The primary architect of this statement was Old Testament scholar Christopher Wright whose previous contributions to a biblical theology of mission [e.g., The Mission of God (2006) and The Mission of God’s People (2010)] are echoed throughout the document. 

The Cape Town Commitment seems to be off the radar screen for most evangelicals, but it should not be.  This is a carefully and winsomely written theological statement appropriately described by its subtitle: “A Confession of Faith and a Call to Action.” It overflows with pithy, thought-provoking expressions that communicate deep truths in attractive form.  For example:  “The gospel is not a concept that needs fresh ideas, but a story that needs fresh telling;”  “We confess that we easily claim to love the Bible without loving the life it teaches;” “The answer to leadership failure is not just more leadership training but better discipleship training;”and “A divided Church has no message for a divided world.”

Love is the Focus

There is a fresh, warm, evangelical wind that blows through the pages of the Commitment.  Part I, the confession of faith is entitled “For the Lord we love.” Then follow professions of love for the living God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--and love for God’s Word, God’s world, the gospel of God, the people of God, and the mission of God.

The emphasis on love is the driving theme.  It leads to what we could call “generous orthodoxy” or perhaps “generous Evangelicalism.” Doug Birdsall, Executive Chairman for Cape Town, speaks of Lausanne’s principle of “breadth within boundaries.”  This is perhaps the most significant “missional” emphasis coming from the Commitment: guided by a broad affirmation of Trinitarian orthodoxy, and focused on the redeeming action of God in Jesus, comprehensive love for God, one another, and the world, must bind us together. “Love for one another in the family of God is not merely a desirable option but an inescapable command. Such love is the first evidence of obedience to the gospel, the necessary expression of submission to Christ’s Lordship, and a potent engine of world mission.”

Is it possible that the lack of attention given to this document by American evangelicals stems from our preference for a harder, polemical edge in dealing with diversity among churches and believers?

As I mentioned above, the Commitment is pointedly missional. Here are a couple obvious examples:

1.  Word and Deed Gospel

The missional church movement realizes that the world is cynical about Christian witness divorced from incarnational expression. Cape Town speaks to this issue in advocating for “integral mission” linking social involvement with evangelistic proclamation:  “Our calling is to live and serve among people of other faiths in a way that is so saturated with the fragrance of God’s grace that they smell Christ, that they come to see that God is good.  By such embodied love, we are to make the gospel attractive in every cultural and religious setting.  When Christians love people of other faiths through lives of love and acts of service, they embody the transforming grace of God.”

Elsewhere the document calls on Evangelicals to “renew our commitment to go to those who have not yet heard the gospel, to engage deeply with their language and culture, to live the gospel among them with incarnational love and sacrificial service, to communicate the light and truth of the Lord Jesus Christ in word and deed . . . .”

I suspect that here we find another reason that Cape Town has not received wide discussion and support:  evangelicals are still nervous about any strong linkage between word and deed or faith and works.  What do you think?

 2.  A Cosmic Gospel

Scot McKnight and other NT scholars have been helping evangelicals to see that the gospel is the story of Jesus as the completion of the story of Israel and that means that it is a story about the coming of the kingdom of God in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  For too long, evangelicals have presented the gospel primarily as a private transaction between “me and Jesus.”  We need a bigger story!

The Cape Town Commitment recognizes this larger context:  “We urge church leaders, pastors and evangelists to preach and teach the fullness of the biblical gospel as Paul did, in all its cosmic scope and truth. We must present the gospel not merely as offering individual salvation, or a better solution to needs than other gods can provide, but as God’s plan for the whole universe in Christ.”

The document does not deny that individuals are saved through the gospel, but it does point out that a narrow focus on individual salvation is a distortion of the Bible’s message—a distortion which ultimately short-changes the mission of God. 

In light of the broader vision of God’s in-breaking kingdom, Cape Town advocates a commitment to biblical peace-making in ethnic conflicts; a better stewardship of “the rich abundance of God’s good creation;” care for the poor, the disabled, and the suffering;  the pursuit of justice for the oppressed; and a deeper expression of love for people of other faiths. 

This is all the stuff of a tough discipleship culture.  Are evangelical churches ready to embrace this rather than the privatized version of faith that currently rules the day?

Dave Dunbar is president of Biblical Seminary.  He has been married to Sharon for 42 years.  They have four grown children, six grand children, and no pets.

   

Written by Justin Gohl Thursday, 19 April 2012 00:00

In this season when we reflect on the Passion of our Lord, we are once again confronted with the symbol of the Cross and the many claims it makes on us and on the world.

At risk of sounding trite, I am wondering if we have a tendency to forget the scandal of the Cross, in the context of missional theology. Certainly it is trite for most—which most definitely includes myself—in 21stcentury North America to speak of “sharing in Christ’s sufferings” when compared with the experience of, say, Christians over the first few centuries of the Church’s life or in many times and places throughout the world up to the present day.

So, what are we to do with this paradox? Christians are sent on a mission to a world which is fundamentally opposed to the message, to the God, which Christians proclaim—a recognition we see throughout the NT, perhaps most poignantly in 1 Cor 1-2 and John 14-16.

If the way of God’s mission is redemptive, participatory suffering in the world, is that at least part of what we mean when we talk about “missional theology”? If so, how does this calling to suffer and to scandalize fit into the discourse and practice of missional theology?

Again, apart from theological artifice, I admit I don’t quite know. But what I think this pushes us to is the question of “wisdom” and “fittingness”—of knowing how and when to speak, to suffer, to scandalize, etc. Or, in short, we are pushed towards self-criticism, towards constant (though not paranoid) self-evaluation in light of the paradigm of the Cross.

Here are some possible avenues for such:

From whom do we seek affirmation?

A Cross-shaped missional theology must continually ask this question, beginning with its own practitioners (ideally, all Christians). Within the Church and within academia, is there not a tendency to create structures of “recognition” that can subordinate Christ and him crucified as the source of our glory and worth?

Are we as Christians more interested in being accepted by or found palatable by a particular subculture than we are in maintaining our accountability to Christ and his Church? Even more, are we encouraged to “sacrifice” our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ for this acceptance?

The various ways these questions can be heard within the contemporary Church itself once again pushes us towards the pursuit of wisdom and discernment, certainly part of which is humble listening.

Suffering is not an end unto itself.

St. Peter makes this point on no less than three occasions in his first letter (1 Pet 2.20; 3.17; 4.15-19). Christians can find themselves suffering for reasons that have nothing to do with the scandal of the Cross, indeed, for no laudatory purpose at all. And it takes wisdom to know the difference.

 If I can editorialize slightly, this is one reason I think it is important to guard against the tendency of turning the life of the Church into an “agenda” that requires “activism.” The Apostles of Christ’s Church have little room for such a model:

1 Peter 3:8-12   8Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.  9Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called-- that you might inherit a blessing.  10For "Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit;  11let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it.  12For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil" (Ps 34.12-16).

1 Timothy 2:1-4  First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone,  2for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.  3This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,  4who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

This emerges not out of a so-called “status quo conservatism” but from a robust understanding of the nature of the Church’s life and calling—a calling that is centered not in “social change,” whatever its potential necessity or merit, but in the fruit of the Spirit, embodied in both personal and corporate Christian life.

Nor, to be sure, does this rule out valuable and urgent causes which Christians might take up—such as combating the evils of human trafficking, or defending against gov’t intrusion into the life of the Church. Which is again why we must seek wisdom to discern the appropriate times, reasons, and ends for Christian activities that might lead to agitation, to scandal, and to suffering. Certainly a paramount consideration is whether our agitation brings endangerment (of whatever sort) to ourselves or to others.

Proclamation is Spirit-generated, not self-generated

As we seek to participate in God’s mission, living in the tension between the scandalous nature of the gospel message (that is, “Jesus is Lord”) and the responsibility of Christians to suffer for the right reasons, we must also crucify our speech. Jesus promises the Apostles that, when they are maliciously interrogated, the “Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say” (Lk 12.12).

Competence in God’s mission is not a function of our own erudition or persuasiveness—even as we seek to follow the apostolic injunction to “be prepared to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3.15). Our competence comes from the Spirit who infuses and empowers the Church, enabling us to combine wise gospel deeds and gospel words with fitting times and places.

But perhaps you can help me out? How do we reckon with the “scandal of the Cross” within a commitment to missional theology?


Justin Gohl is an adjunct professor of theology at Biblical. He is married to Kate, his wife of 7 years, and is a full-time stay-at-home dad with two kids, Caleb (2) and Phoebe (1). He is ABD at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia where he is in the latter stages of writing his dissertation on the early church’s use of the Book of Proverbs.

   

Written by Susan Disston Wednesday, 18 April 2012 00:00

In my series on the computer keyboard, we’re now at the Shift key and another way of thinking about missional ministry. In Ctrl-Alt-Delete, we looked at missional ministry initiatives as a way to “Reset-Restart-Rethink” what we’re doing as the people of God. In ESC, we found creation care implications to ashortcut that stops, quits, cancels, exits, or aborts the situation so that you can start over. Fresh.

The shift key gets used a lot. It is a key that alters the function of other keys, like making lower case keys upper case. The shift key is a metaphor for the paradigm shift that has to occur in a congregation that takes on missional priorities. Here’s a story of a church that made a powerful paradigm shift from traditional to missional, told by the senior pastor, Paul Dunbar, DMin (’07). I think it’s an inspirational story.

From Traditional toward Missional

By Pastor Paul Dunbar

                In 1995, I was called to serve a small, struggling congregation in Carlisle, PA.   Though I gave it my best shot, within five years our board voted to close the church.  Another pastor in our community contacted me about our building, and we both realized that we could accomplish more for the Kingdom together than separate.  Our two churches began worshipping together and within two months, both congregations voted to become one brand-new church, in spite of the fact that we were from different denominations.

                A suicide within our congregation in early 2010 jolted us into a realization that we were not doing more to care for at-risk teenagers, and we began meeting with youth leaders from another local congregation (again, theologically compatible though from different denominations).   Together we organized a BMX and Skateboarding outreach event that attracted 300 people, and the next night we began a follow-up ministry (The Refuge) at a youth/retreat center in our community.   Our congregation was able to purchase that facility in October 2010 and every Sunday afternoon and evening, we are reaching 40 to 80 young people.

                One high school student began attending because he liked riding BMX (see photo), and in fact, has competed nationally.  He initially resisted attending the Bible studies but over time the resistance broke down, he committed his life to Jesus, was baptized, and now is considering youth ministry.   He organized an outreach event in October 2011 as a high school graduation project, which was attended by over 140 people.

                The changes that have taken place within our congregation have not been universally accepted, and we have lost people and families through these transitions.  The work load on the youth pastor and me has increased exponentially, and we both often feel that we are in uncharted territory, but we would never want to go back to “church as usual.”  It is much more exciting to see God blessing and multiplying his Kingdom.

Pastor Dunbar serves as senior pastor of Bethany Evangelical Church in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of Paul Dunbar.

Susan Disston is the assistant dean of curriculum and assessment at Biblical Seminary. She teaches project courses in the doctor of ministry program and in ESLPLUS. http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/adjunct-faculty-theology

   

Written by Dr. Charles Zimmerman Tuesday, 17 April 2012 00:00

harding-former-faculty

Where have they gone and where are they now?

I have been contacting founding faculty members to see what they are up these days and then posting that information to keep all of you updated on their whereabouts and activities.      

Thus far, we have heard from “Doc” Newman, Gary Cohen, Bob Vannoy and George Clark.  If you missed those blog entries, scroll back and take a look.  I asked each to provide contact information, so feel free to drop them a note of encouragement and while you’re at it, attach a comment to the appropriate blog entry. 

This entry comes from Bill Harding.  Who can forget “aleph bits” in the morning, poets and homiletics in the afternoon?  How many of you old grads can still recite the 69 steps in a wedding?  Bill not only taught at Biblical but kept a full speaking schedule, preaching at area churches and conferences.  It was the rare weekend that Bill was not on the road preaching somewhere. 

1.  What years did you teach at Biblical?

 I taught at Biblical from 1971 - 1996. I'm now Professor Emeritus of Old Testament and Practical Theology.

2. What have you been doing since then? 

I directed the Ministry Internship Program until it was discontinued. I helped evaluate the faculty in the last self-study Biblical had for Middle States and The Association of Theological Schools.  

I've been to Singapore 15 times. I'm scheduled to go there again this year. When I go to Singapore, I'm there for four Sundays and three weeks. I speak in churches in Singapore, and for two Church Retreats in either Malaysia or Indonesia. Last year I spoke 17 times. 

I've been to Kiev, Ukraine 3 times (1997, 2001, 2002) When I went to Kiev, I taught a course at Kiev Christian University and I preached each time.

I preach in this country almost every Sunday in different churches. This year's schedule is almost filled, and I'm getting requests for 2013.

With regard to my family, I have two daughters, Cherry and Sharon. Cherry has three children and Sharon has five children. Four of my grandchildren are in College.

3.  Tell a favorite memory from your Biblical days.

When we started Biblical, we needed a Library in order to get accredited. We heard that Biblical Seminary in New York was going to sell their Library. We made a joint bid with Gordon Conwell Seminary for the Library for $112,000. We were to put up $70,000 and Gordon Conwell Seminary was to put up the rest. There were 45,000 volumes in the Library. We were to get 35,000 and Gordon Conwell Seminary was to get 10,000.  We kept hearing rumors about another School getting the Library, but in the providence of the Lord, our bid was accepted. When we went up to get the Library, there were seven thousand volumes missing. The Seminary offered to let us take the Card Catalog and the metal adjustable shelves in lieu of them. We accepted the offer. Gordon Conwell Seminary paid to have the cards for their books removed from the Card Catalog. We inserted the cards for our books in the Card Catalog, and we had our Library!  Hudson Taylor said that God's work done in God's way will never lack God's supply. How true that is!

 4.  Contact information: 

            Telephone: 215-721-0873
            E-mail: william.harding30@verizon.net


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 http://biblical.edu/index.php/charles-zimmerman

   

Written by Dr. Bryan Maier Thursday, 05 April 2012 00:00

I am reading the book of Judges to my boys during our nightly Bible time. Judges is not a very upbeat book. Sure there are the dramatic rescues by God of his people but following the deliverance there always comes a slipping and sometimes running back into idolatry as soon as the judge is dead (sometimes they don’t even wait that long!). I have often wondered if it is better to be barely mentioned in Judges (such as Shamgar, 3:31) because the more play a judge gets the more is recorded of his failures (Deborah is one notable exception). Recently we were reading the story of Gideon. It is a wonderful story of God’s deliverance orchestrated in such a way that there could be no other explanation for the victory than God’s supernatural power. Yet somehow Gideon got confused. When the people begged him to assume absolute power, he was smart enough to decline, yet he collected a large part of the spoils and formed it into some kind of idol which became “a snare to Gideon and his household” (8:27).

At this point my reading was interrupted by the exclamation, “What an idiot!” The remainder of the audience (my other two sons) agreed. I was encouraged that my sons could see the error so quickly but I also uttered a prayer that sin would always be so clear, and foolish to them.  But we know it is so easy to see the mistakes when they are presented matter-of-factly in a written narrative. It is much harder to recognize our own bent to idolize anything and everything besides God. I am reminded of the phrase from the old hymn, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love”. The next judge we are scheduled to read about is Sampson, who my boys have already diagnosed as an “epic fail”. So where is the hope? Maybe we have to look past the book of Judges to the advent of the one man on this Earth who did not fail. Soon we will be celebrating death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ which provided ultimate rescue from sin. Because of Christ, the discouraging cycle of the book of Judges will not be permanent.  Praise be to God!

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.

   

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