Written by Bryan Maier Monday, 11 February 2013 00:00

For those of you who are younger than 40, these words were worn as a lapel pin by prophecy-informed Evangelicals in the 1970’s. I found one such pin in my father’s drawer as I was helping my mother sort out his collection of sentimental possessions (my father went home to be with the Lord January 9, 2013). For my father, a 35 year victim of Parkinson’s disease, these words have been the longing of his heart for a long time.  For almost two decades he has been saying that he has his reservation in heaven and he is just waiting to be called.  A few days ago, the call finally came.

As I reflect on my father’s simple but solid faith, I cannot help but wonder how I have been impacted by watching his faith journey all these years.  Imagine being in your early 40’s and being informed that you have an incurable neurological disease that probably would not kill you but would greatly reduce your quality of life. My father responded by working full time for three more years. Then when he was forced into premature retirement, he went to work as a volunteer for the Christian school sponsored by our church. He stamped textbooks, kept time for soccer games, and served as chairman of the booster club for as long as he was able. During this time he began a pen pal relationship with over twenty different missionaries with whom he corresponded for years. He wrote to one family for so long that he eventually wrote to three different generations. I have had the wonderful experience of meeting some of these missionaries.  Although I have taught graduate school at two different seminaries, they greet me with “you must be Nelson’s son. I love his letters”.  My father was also quick to share his faith. All the neighbors knew we were Christians, not because of bumper stickers but because of my fathers’ loving attitude toward them.

What I treasure most from my father is that I have a role model for following Jesus even when life is tough. His simple answers to my complex theological questions were always along the lines of “it’s God’s will” and “God is good”. That was enough for him. He must have read his bible through over twenty times and while I would be parsing out the tense and mood of the Greek word for “run” my father was the type of disciple who would already be half way down the road.  As the years went by, I am sure my father got tired. I could see it in his face when he wanted to tell me something and the stiffness in his face just would not cooperate. I could see the tear in his eye as we sang old hymns to him.  I know many times he prayed that God would call him home. Just a few days ago, my father no longer had to wonder “perhaps today”. He heard the Lord that he loved call him home. Well done,  thou good and faithful servant.

Bryan Maier, Psy. D.  is an Associate Professor of Counseling & Psychology in the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates.



Written by Dave Lamb Monday, 04 February 2013 00:00

My son Nathan has a good memory.  Lately, he has delighted to display this ability by spouting a monologue from Hamlet at unsuspecting members of our family.  He recently decided to put this skill to use to memorize Scripture.  There was a prize being offered for students at church for Bible memory.  Nate chose Psalm 23.  I know I should be encouraged, but it seems like everyone has Psalm 23 already memorized. 

Why is this psalm so popular?  Because according to Psalm 23, God is our shepherd.  To illustrate what it means for us to be divinely shepherded, the psalmist uses language from the world of shepherding in the first four verses of Psalm 23: green pastures and still waters, paths and valleys, a rod and a staff. 

Psalm 23:1  A Psalm of David. 

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.

3 He restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil, for you are with me;

your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Many people speak about Psalm 23 as the shepherding psalm, as if that were the theme of all six verses.  But I’m not so sure.  Does the shepherd analogy continue into verse 5

5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Can you imagine sheep eating a table, surrounded by wolves, drinking from a cup?  Sheep out to eat?

While the picture is cute in a children’s book (by the same author/artist team of Sheep in a Jeep…on a hill that’s steep), it doesn’t really work in Psalm 23.  I think the sheep analogy ends after verse four. 

But the new metaphor the psalm shifts to is just as powerful as the previous one.  God the divine shepherd becomes God the divine host (of people, not sheep). 

God is now a friend hosting us for a meal, with abundant food and drink.  God is inviting us to not just stay for a few days, but to move into his house permanently.  (Ben Franklin said fish and visitors both stink after three days.  Fortunately, God does not share Franklin’s attitude toward hospitality.)

While the psalmist is abiding in YHWH’s house, not only does he receive abundant provision, but goodness (tov) and mercy (hesed) pursue him while he’s there.  The Hebrew word radap, usually translated as “follow” is an aggressive verb, used in contexts of chasing and hunting (Deut. 19:6; Judg. 4:16; 1 Sam. 23:28).  I love the oxymoronic image of God’s goodness and mercy hunting me down

The reality is that we don’t always welcome God’s shepherding, hosting and providing.  But that’s OK.  Even when I’m doing all in my power to avoid God’s grace, mercy, love and forgiveness, it’s comforting to know that he continues to aggressively pursue me.  As I struggled with reflux, voice problems and sleeplessness this past fall, God was relentless in his pursuit of me. 

What does it mean for God’s goodness and mercy to hunt us down? 

If you’re interested here are my previous posts on Psalm 23 for Biblical’s faculty blog:


David Lamb is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Biblical. He’s the husband of Shannon, father of Nathan and Noah, and the author of God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?He blogs regularly at http://davidtlamb.com/. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/david-lamb.


Image from: http://www.amazon.com/Sheep-Out-Eat-Sandpiper-paperbacks/dp/0395720273/


Written by Ed Cyzewski Friday, 01 February 2013 00:00

I’ve had the same conversation over and over again with my friends who come from evangelical churches. It ends with my friend saying something like this: “I love Jesus and Christianity, but I’m just not sure that God exists.”

Perhaps this happens in other Christian denominations, but speaking from my spot in the evangelical camp, I’m hard pressed to ask why it is that so many evangelicals, who deeply desire to believe in God and to live as followers of Jesus, just can’t figure out what to believe about God.

Is there something about their experiences as evangelicals, or at least what evangelicals emphasize, that makes it hard for them to connect with God?

While we can’t say with precision why some have a hard time finding God while others don’t, I did hit my own wall with evangelicalism about eight years ago. I knew a lot about God, but there was a time when God didn’t seem real to me. After looking back at my own experience, I’d like to share some of my own struggles with evangelicalism and what helped me find God in the end.

Where I Struggled…

Focus on Conversion

I knew what it looks like to be “saved,” but I didn’t have a clear picture of what it looks like to be in a “relationship” with an invisible God. In fact, the word “relationship” proved baffling to me at times when really the main focus was on accepting particular doctrines in order to be saved. Where did “meeting” God actually happen? I watched a video where John Wimber of the Vineyard movement asked, “Where is the stuff we read about in the Bible?” THAT was my question precisely.  

Focus on Victory Formulas

So much of the focus for evangelicals is how to live victoriously. Results are especially big for American evangelicals. We find formulas all over the place: “sing songs of praise and God will show up” or “believe these doctrines and your mind will be renewed with God’s presence.” Everything from books to prayers to worship songs is marketed as the solution that will really work this time.  

My question was: “What if that formula didn’t work for me?” I was surrounded by Christians who were struggling to live holy lives or doubting God. What hope did they have if God wasn’t showing up for them? 

Where I Found God… 

The Language for Experiencing God

The language about a “relationship with God” didn’t cut it for me. When I hit a low point with my faith, I struggled to understand why I felt so far from God. I was earnestly seeking him, and yet, he didn’t seem to show up. Finally, one day, a friend unexpectedly prayed for me and changed my life. God used him to heal me both mentally and physically. 

I didn’t have any language for a dark night of the soul or of a time when God simply seemed absent. The more I read the stories in the Bible, the clearer it is that God sometimes shows up and sometimes doesn’t. Sometimes people called out and God responded. Sometimes they called out, God did nothing, and they wrote Psalms of lament. 

In other words, I didn’t have a clear notion of what it meant to “fail” in the search for God without giving up—persevering in the midst of a dark night of the soul. God simply moves when he sees fit, and that was something I found hard to accept as an earnest seeker of him.

The Hard Places Where I Found God

The one pattern I’ve noticed in my own life and in the lives of others is that seeking God’s presence isn’t just about what I feel, but about receiving God’s direction. When people encountered God throughout the Bible, he gave them marching orders. From Abraham’s call to leave his home to Elijah’s experience on Mt. Sinai to Jesus’ call to his disciples, God meets his people and then sends them out. 

As Derek Cooper and I wrote our book Hazardous, one of the central points we wanted to make was that following Jesus often puts us in tough situations. We’ll have to depend on God to provide for us wherever he may lead us—which is not to be confused with taking risks on our own and asking God to bail us out.

However, as God leads us into ministry on the margins or into positions where we need to depend on him to provide financially, God’s presence will be there. God does not abandon his people if they are faithfully following his lead. As I served in prison ministry over the years, I regularly found God in our small prayer circles, praying for men who feared failing both God and their families after being released. Those drives home were some of my sweetest encounters with God.

A Matter of Emphasis

Evangelicalism has a lot of good things going for it. I feel at home with evangelical doctrine and its emphasis on conversion. As I look back, I think most of my struggles had to do more with what wasn’t discussed. 

I needed language to describe my season of longing and lament. I needed to know that the absence of God will one day give way to the presence of God, but it is something I can’t necessarily control—even if I can remain open to God showing up. I can obediently go where God sends me, and God will be present in those moments of obedient action. 

Everything listed in the above paragraph isn’t necessarily outside of evangelicalism. These are just things that many evangelicals fail to emphasize. If my experience is in any way common, I wonder if more evangelicals would have an easier time accepting the harder spiritual seasons in their lives and holding on until God breaks through.

Ed Cyzewski, a Biblical Seminary alumnus, shares imperfect and sometimes sarcastic thoughts about following Jesus at his blog www.inamirrordimly.com. He and Derek Cooper are co-authors of Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus. Ed is also the author of Coffeehouse Theology (NavPress 2008) and he has served as an Adjunct Faculty member at Biblical.



Written by Larry Anderson Wednesday, 30 January 2013 00:00

I just celebrated my 45th birthday, and by all the life expectancy statistics, I passed my mid-life mark ten years ago. According to various reports, the life expectancy of an African-American male is seventy years. However, at thirty five, mortality had not even crossed my mind, even though I knew Psalm 90 speaks about the length of life being seventy years and possibly eighty if we were blessed with the strength.

Mid-life crisis is said to occur between 40 and 60 years of age, where mortality is acknowledged and a thorough assessment of life is taken. Family, career, health, and personal goals are reevaluated and redefined based on your ‘guess-timated’ time remaining. Depression can set in knowing your parents are no longer living or slowly dying. Loneliness can consume you as your children become more independent and less available. Unhealthy results of this can manifest itself in addiction, adultery, and extreme self-inflicted stress, just to name a few perils. In a worldly sort of way this process can and normally is attempted to be overcome with a ‘bucket list’ of stuff to do or stuff to get. However, that’s not where I found myself.

I found myself on my 45th birthday praising God: praising Him for my wife, my children, and my salvation. I’m praising God for my education, my calling, and my career. When you are in the place God has called you to be, you do not need to wish you were somewhere else. Are there things I would like to accomplish prior to the Lord taking me away? Sure, but that does not depress me; it motivates me. Psalm 90 goes on to say in verse 12 "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." This verse reminds us to live on purpose.

I believe at 45 I’m not having a mid-life crisis, but I’m having something I have defined as a missional-life crisis. It is a discovery process designed to define and create a ministry legacy. In other words, I’m assessing how much of my life is centered on things that will last for Christ. Am I making my children disciples? Am I empowering the ministers under me to fulfill their calling? Am I training and teaching my students to think beyond themselves and their individual churches? Are there books I need to write, messages I need to preach, and lessons I need to learn to help me continue to vigorously pursue the mission of God? A missional-life crises does not need corvettes, trophy wives, or physical alterations to make you feel alive. Mid-life is about being half dead; missional life is about being fully alive. There is no greater feeling in the world than surrendering your life to the work of the Lord and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide you in those endeavors.

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 Sam Logan Tuesday, 29 January 2013 00:00

In my previous blog (published yesterday), I indicated that I would be making a few comments and asking a few questions about Nader Hashemi’s book,  Islam, Secularism, and Liberal Democracy.

I concluded that blog by asking that readers write out their answer to this question: “What is the exact definition of democracy?”

I ask this question in the context of my increasing belief that there may be (I did say MAY be) an inherent contradiction in any attempt to create a democratic,  religious state.  And Hashemi raises this issue himself.  Early in his book, he cites the famous comment of Alexis de Tocqueville from 1831: “The organization and the establishment of democracy in Christendom is the great political problem of our time.”  Hashemi goes on to extrapolate from Tocqueville’s comment:  “This observation, although 178 years old, reminds us that the problem of religion’s relationship with democracy is not an exclusively Muslim phenomenon but one that other traditions – Christianity in particular – have had to struggle with. “

Why is the relationship of ANY religion with democracy a “problem?” That brings me back to my original question – what do we mean by “democracy?”

Of course, definitions of democracy abound.  Some are simple – democracy describes political authority which rests on “the consent of the governed.”  Immediately, the problem is obvious.  A nation may be established as “Christian,” but if its identity genuinely is democratically determined and if the population turns away from Christian belief, then it will no longer be Christian.  Conflict arises when those who remain Christian find the Christian identity of the nation being changed.  But that seems to be an inherent possibility if the nation is originally established as a Christian democracy.     

The January 19, 2013, issue of “The New York Times” contained a fascinating article which captured this kind of tension quite well.  The article was entitled “New Northern Ireland Violence May Be About More Than the British Flag” and it dealt with recently resumed “troubles” in that part of Great Britain.  As before, the conflict pits Protestants against Catholics, especially in terms of whether the province of Northern Ireland will remain part of Great Britain (regarded as Protestant) or will seek union with the Republic of Ireland (regarded as Catholic).  Here is the telling paragraph:

The most recent census results, released last year, showed that 48 percent listed themselves as Protestant or brought up Protestant, down 5 percentage points from the 2001 census, while 45 percent of the population listed themselves as Catholic or brought up Catholic.  In Belfast, many say, Catholics are already a majority or nearly so and could form a majority across the province within a decade. 

This presents a challenge because the “Good Friday Agreement,” which brought the earlier troubles to an end specified that the province would remain part of Britain “as long as a majority of the province’s people and the population of the whole of Ireland wished it to be,” a solidly democratic proviso.  So long as the majority remained Protestant, all seemed well . . . for the Protestants in Northern Ireland.  But now, precisely because of that democratic proviso, the fundamental religious identify of the province seems to be shifting and that is not acceptable to many Northern Ireland Protestants.

How different is this from the perception by many evangelical Christians of the direction being taken by the United States?  

And the question is, should we be surprised that the religious identity of our nation is changing when our nation seeks to be a democracy and the religious commitments of a majority of our citizens are themselves changing?  Is there ANY way to be sure that religious commitments are upheld if the fundamental identify of a nation is its democratic character?

And, to get back to the real subject of the book I mentioned above, should we in the West be at all surprised when committed Muslims in places like Egypt don’t jump at the chance to see democracy installed in their countries?     

But all of this is based on the "simple" definition of democracy which I suggested above. Are there any other possibilities?  More on this in my next blog.

Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical. He also serves as the International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship (www.wrfnet.org). He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia)..  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 Monday, 28 January 2013 00:00

This blog, and I suspect several following blogs (at least the one tomorrow), will follow my reading of a specific book and will chart my reactions to this book.

The book is the recently updated and re-published Islam, Secularism, and Liberal Democracy: Toward a Democratic Theory for Muslim Societies by Nader Hashemi (Oxford University Press, 2009, 2012).  Further details about this volume can be found here:  http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/ReligionTheology/Islam/?view=usa&ci=9780195321241

The publisher describes this book as follows:

Islam's relationship to liberal-democratic politics has emerged as one of the most pressing and contentious issues in international affairs. In Islam, Secularism, and Liberal Democracy, Nader Hashemi challenges the widely held belief among social scientists that religious politics and liberal-democratic development are structurally incompatible. This book argues for a rethinking of democratic theory so that it incorporates the variable of religion in the development of liberal democracy. In the process, it proves that an indigenous theory of Muslim secularism is not only possible, but is a necessary requirement for the advancement of liberal democracy in Muslim societies.

But this book is about far more than Islam and democracy, as important as topic as that might be in a nation which is spending billions of dollars and thousands of lives to try to bring democracy to places like Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

This book is really about the very nature of democracy and whether democracy and religion can EVER be compatible. 

This means the book is not just about how Muslim societies treat women or whether shria law is possible in a democratic society.  It is also about the basis, in a place like the United States (which claims to be a democracy), for decisions about pornography or abortion or gay marriage or divorce or appropriate care for the poor.  On what grounds are decisions about matters like this to be decided? 

Nor are these questions relevant only to Muslim societies and the United States.  To a significant degree, these questions at the very heart of the conflict in Israel and the West Bank. Can there be a democratic JEWISH society? Or is that a contradiction in terms? 

What actually is the essence of a democratic society?  That is the first question that Hashemi explores and I will seek to explicate both what he says and what that might mean.  

I therefore, like Hashemi, start with this question:

What is the exact definition of “democracy?”  I would suggest that, if you are reading this blog, you stop and go no further until you have written out your answer to this question.  I will pick up this discussion in my next blog which will be published tomorrow.

To help you as you work with this question, I provide the following quotation, which appears in the “Introduction” to Hashemi’s book and which gets at one of the key issues involved.  Here is that quotation:

Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King - indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history - were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their “personal morality” into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  - Barack Obama

Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical. He also serves as the International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship (www.wrfnet.org). He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia)..  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 Dan LaValla Friday, 25 January 2013 00:00

With rumors and opinions about Manti Te’o dominating sports headlines for the past several weeks, people are finding it difficult to discern the truth about the hoax and the extent Te’o was victimized. Some have found it easier to believe that the likeable and popular Notre Dame all-star linebacker and runner up to this year’s Heisman Trophy was part of the hoax as a means to gain publicity to increase his chances of winning the Heisman rather than accept that he was a victim of deception. After reporting on September 12ththat his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, died of cancer, Te’o began to learn in December that something was awry about the story. While Te’o continues to deny any part in creating the hoax, in an interview with Katie Couric on January 23rd, he admitted that he initially went along with the hoax for a short period in December rather than admit that he was severely duped nor had never met Kekua in real life and yet publicly committed himself to her.

Many are calling him naïve and questioning his integrity. In a television interview earlier this month, one of his teammates in defending Te’o’s character argued that having a girlfriend whom Manti never met in real life makes perfect sense given the demands of football and his class schedule. The question many are now grappling with as a means to forgiving Te’o’s missteps as a victim is, how far a stable person can allow a virtual relationship to go.

Sherry Turkle author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other writes (page 1), “Technology proposes itself as the architect of our intimacies. These days, it suggests substitutions that put the real on the run. Technology is seductive when what it offers meets our human vulnerabilities. And as it turns out, we are vulnerable indeed. We are lonely, but fearful of intimacy. Digital connections and the sociable robot may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other. We’d rather text than talk.”

I know that you can develop online relationships, even in a text-only environment. As part of the first online cohort program at the University of Pittsburg (in the days before video and Skype), I developed personal connections online with students in my cohort. People with whom I would later remain connected in real life when we met on-campus a couple months later and one weekend per semester for the next couple years.  But the broader question is that with the absence of real-life contact, “How far can virtual relationships go with respect to authenticity?” Is attending an internet church weekly as fulfilling as attending a church in real life? Does God see people coming together in worship online equal to coming together in real life? Can the members of an online church actually hold one another accountable in a virtual-only environment or do the limitations of virtual relationships preclude this? Can training future pastors and counselors, where interpersonal and spiritual maturity is essential for success, be done as effectively in an online only program as an in-person or hybrid program?


Dan LaValla is Director of Library Services and Development Associate at Biblical. He is Chair of the Endowment Committee for the American Theological Library Association and is very active in his church and community, coaching youth baseball and football and has served on several community boards. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/daniel-lavalla


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