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Written by Dr. Larry Anderson Saturday, 21 July 2012 00:00

Pastors today are scratching their heads wondering why their congregations are not excited about going out into the community to reach the people. The frustration of motivating the membership to commit to outreach is significant. What is being discovered is that people are not comfortable doing outreach because being neighborly is no longer natural. Many church goers cannot give the first and last names of the neighbors whose homes are located directly next to theirs. As a pastor, I’m noticing the lack of community has also made its way into the church.

Of course, church growth does not allow everyone to know each other’s name, however, there is also an intentional barrier being put in place to keep people at a distance. The consumer mentality says "I’m here to receive something, whether it is a good word, some nice music, or the casual fellowship, but I am not interested in giving something." Whether it is time, tithes or testimony, these are not areas most postmoderns are ready to release to their neighbor.

Small groups have been heavily relied upon over the last two decades to bring back the community, accountability, and fellowship in the church, but the question is, does it work? While reading some of the latest Barna research information, it was discouraging to see the lack of accountability currently within the church. However, in the miniscule percentages of churches that do have some form of accountability, the number one method of doing so was with small groups. In a culture of no absolutes and universal tolerance, judging anothers’ behavior and holding them accountable is viewed as antiquated and ignorant, at best.

Concerning community and fellowship, it has been discovered that if there were no relationships among the participants prior to the forming of the small groups, the chances of a community forming to the point of genuine intimacy and lasting fellowships were minimal. However, if friends with common interests in similar stages of life formed groups, the chances of these becoming a viable source of community increase significantly.

I’m looking to start some small groups this fall, and I’m praying that these groups will organically form and become intimate community settings which will surrender to the 'love thy neighbor' principle and prepare us to continue reaching out to our broader community and inviting them to join us in a relationship with one another and Jesus Christ.

Your feedback, experience, and advice are welcomed.


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 Todd Mangum Friday, 13 July 2012 00:00

On Friday (August 10) I said that that was the last I was going to say about my fiftieth birthday.  But, because I do two blogs a shot for the faculty blog page, today is an “encore” on that theme.    

When I was in high school, I heard a sermon preached by Rev. Peter Hook (who now teaches preaching and pastoral leadership at Cairn University; he’s still one of my favorite preachers).  He ended the sermon with the poem below, by Edward Guest, entitled “The Painting.”

When my hair is thin and silver, and my time of toil is through,

When the years behind are many and ahead of me a few,

I shall want to sit, I reckon, sort of dreaming in the sun,

And recall the roads I've traveled, and the many things I've done.

I hope there'll be no picture that I'll hate to look upon,

When the time to paint it better, or to wipe it out, is gone.

 

I hope there'll be no vision of a hasty word I've said

That left a trail of sorrow, like a whip-welt sore and red.

And I hope my old age dreaming will bring back no bitter scene

of a time when I was selfish, or a time when I was mean.

When I'm getting old and feeble, and I'm far along life's way,

I don't want to be regretting any bygone yesterday.

 

I am painting now a picture I will have one day to see,

I am filling in a canvas that will soon come back to me.

Though nothing great is on it, and though nothing there is fine,

I shall want to look it over when I'm old and call it mine.

So I do not dare to leave it, while the paint is warm and wet,

With a single thing upon it I will later on regret. 

It’s a poem obviously written by a younger man; for one thing those whose hair is thin or silver tend not to write about it so romantically.  It contains some of Ecclesiastes 12’s pensive reflections, but clearly without the bitter pills of life swallowed and choked on as background. 

It was still a poem that gripped me at the time.  Year later, I had a chance to talk about it with Pastor Peter when we crossed paths again in a different context.  He was kind enough to write it out by hand and give it to me to keep.  To this day, I keep it in my desk drawer, and pull it out and read it once in a while — like I did today, reflecting on my 50 years of life so far.

At this point in life, I have to unfortunately recognize scratches and flaws in my painting of times when I was selfish, times when I was mean.  I’ve lived to regret some hasty words, words I’d like to take back, but I fear have left in some cases an indelible mark.

I’m glad that the whole of my life’s painting doesn’t consist of just such — my wife, as I mentioned yesterday, has helped remind me that the painting of my life so far is turning out pretty well, by God’s grace.  But I can’t read “The Painting” today without some of its points resonating in me with remorse (not just warning).

I don’t know if, as you read that poem, it strikes you as more profound or more corny. I know that God used it and has continued to use it to have a pretty significant impact on my thinking and my life just the same.

On Friday,  I alluded to the fact that there are often profound truths in the folksy wisdom, corny clichés, and even the three-points-and-a-poem of the standard sermons that some of us have grown up on now for nigh unto fifty years.  That’s still true today. 


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 David Lamb Wednesday, 11 July 2012 00:00

“Avoid the really old and the really young.”  I was going through airport security recently, and overheard this comment from a group of people behind me in the queue.  They looked like they were in their early forties.  They were talking about which line to avoid—basically, don’t get behind old folks or families with young children because they move slowly through security.  I turned and noticed that the woman directly ahead of me was probably in her seventies.  Apparently, I had chosen poorly

Sure enough, the women in front of me started having troubles.  She hadn’t removed her laptop from her bag, things were beeping and she forgot to put her large carry-on onto the conveyor belt.  She was getting flustered.  I asked, “Can I put your bag on the belt?”  “Yes, please” was her reply.  I’d like to say I did this out of the kindness of my heart, but it was more practical than that.  I knew it would speed things up

Shockingly, the group of 40-somethings behind me kept talking about how being behind the elderly was such a nightmare.  Unless the woman if front of me was totally deaf, she would have had no problem hearing them clearly.  Their comments were rude.  I felt bad for her, but as I was slipping my shoes back on, I felt worse that I hadn’t defended the woman to those young whippersnappers.  (I can call them whippersnappers now that I’m 50.)

Moving into my 50’s has caused me to reflect more on growing old.  One of the things I fear is being in the place of that woman in front of me in line—flustered and confused by some new security protocols and having the youngsters behind me in line laughing at me. 

As a society, we cater to the young and don’t do well valuing the old.  So, I wonder, how do we do as a church in welcoming and treating the elderly with respect? 

I was visiting a church recently and was surprised to see among the people leading worship on the stage, an 8 year-old girl.  She even sang a solo.  Later in the service, a 10 year-old boy prayed alongside the head pastor during the pastoral prayer.  They were honoring and affirming children as a part of the service.  I loved it.  While the worship team was highly diverse in terms of ethnicity and gender, in terms of age diversity there was the girl, but no one over 55, despite the fact that congregation included plenty of folks in their 60’s, 70’s and older. 

Why not?  While it’s cute to include children, we don’t think it’s as cute to include the elderly.  I realize that some churches do better at valuing the elderly than others, but I suspect that the church I visited is typical in this regard.  We don’t want to get stuck behind them in line.

Anyone in ministry knows that youth are the future of the church.  You need to focus on them.  If youth are the future, then I guess that makes the elderly the past.  We don’t perceive them as strategic.  We may not avoid the really young, but we avoid the really old. 

The church might not know how to value old folks, but God does.  He didn’t avoid them.  He frequently included them in his mission.  We’re not exactly sure how old he was when God told him to build an ark, but the text tells us Noah was 600 when the flood finally came (Gen. 7:6).  God called him to go to the land he would show him when Abram was 75 (Gen. 12:1-4).  Isaac wasn’t born until Abraham was 100 and Sarah 90 (Gen. 17:17).  God called him to lead his people out of Egypt when Moses was 80 (Exo. 7:7).  Shortly after Jesus’ birth, God revealed to two elderly folks, Simeon and Anna how Christ would be a light to the nations and a redeemer for Israel (Luke 2:25-38). 

God, help us welcome and include, honor and value the “really old” like you do. 

How does your church or ministry include the elderly in mission? 

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.

   

Written by Phil Monroe Monday, 02 July 2012 00:00

Can your body make you sin? If so, are you still responsible?

In my last post , I answered “Yes…and yes.” And then I gave a short and partial defense. Today I want to give a vignette for us to chew on as we consider the matter of culpability for involuntary sins. And then…I want to consider a better question.

A Vignette:

Your 2 year old missed his daily nap, is hungry, and tired as a result of an event you attended. He has a meltdown. He kicks, screams, cries, refuses his mother’s comfort all because he wants some object he cannot have. You, being the good parent you are, recognize the child’s distress, whisper in his ear to comfort him, say “no” firmly to his kicks, find something for him to eat and finally a place to take a nap.

Has the child sinned? He surely demanded something, acted aggressively, even disobeyed by grabbing the object after his mother said to stop.

Yes, he sinned.

But was it fully voluntary? No. We consider the circumstances (including the fact that we may have knowingly put the child into a situation like this because WE wanted to enjoy this event). We understand that his over-tired body is not helping matters. We forgive, we overlook, we understand, we help. We do so because we know his choices are not fully within his control.

Now, we may have another reaction altogether when we see our little boy (fully rested and fed) look us in the eye and try to bite his baby brother after we just told him to stop. We know he has better voluntary control here and is in a power struggle. And we respond with appropriate discipline.

But what about another vignette?

We could easily have considered a vignette of a brain-injured man or a panic-disordered woman. We respond to individuals based not only on whether something is sinful but also on how much voluntary control we think they have considering the circumstances in play (environment, biology, understanding, etc.).

So, our bodies can cause us to sin in that we have little capacity to choose otherwise. In the classic sense, we are guilty whether it is voluntary or not. And yet we, and God himself, varies responses to such sins based on a variety of factors (e.g., gentle exhortation for one to sin no more, curses to another). We do not ascribe innocence to those less culpable but do try to find merciful resources to help them beyond their limited capacities.

Thankfully, all of it is covered by the cross.

A better question!

If nothing we do is truly without sin in this life, do we gain much in trying to assess guilt/innocence and ultimate responsibility for behavior? Maybe we ought to consider a better question: What does the Lord offer as a way of escape from sinful and flawed behaviors…and will we use them (or offer them to others)? Consider the following merciful escapes:

Biological mercies. In God’s providence, he provides some with biological aids for body/soul struggles. Certain medications may help decrease addictive behavior, depression, or anxiety. These body/soul weaknesses are rarely cured by such compounds, but cure is not the only possibility of help. Sadly, I find many afraid to seek biological aids for what they determine to be primarily will problems. They worry that these aids will decrease their spiritual sensitivities. But if increasing positive mood enables a depressed man to say no to addictive behavior, should we criticize that way of escape?

Community mercies. I know a forty-year old brain injured man who is an emotional shell of his former self. While he looks fully recovered, he no longer has much self-awareness. He promises many things but lacks the ability to follow through. His church community includes other men who are patient with him and yet remind him frequently that he can best love his wife by doing simple chores each day. Rather than rebuke him over and over, they gently point him to better behaviors.

The point I am trying to make here is that much of our work as Christians should be that of compassionate rescue rather than impersonal assessment (AKA judgment). Yes, the wounds of a friend are sometimes necessary. Confrontation can be the best way to love someone. But we too often stop with our assessment of culpability and miss the fact that God is gracious in providing us a way of escape from our behavioral struggles.   


Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychology and Director of the MA in Counseling program at Biblical Seminary. He maintains a private practice with Diane Langberg & Associates. You can follow his personal and professional musings at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.comor read more about it at http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/phillip-monroe.

   

Written by Phil Monroe Friday, 29 June 2012 00:00

Can your body make you sin? If so, are you still responsible?

Yes, and yes. However, in answering these questions, we might be missing a better question than that of responsibility, but I’ll get to that later…

I suppose you might like some defense of my position. I will do so both in this post and in the one to follow. Obviously, I’m going to tackle this from a Christian perspective that cares about sin and wants to think carefully about ontology (what it means to be human).

Some background beliefs

1. In the Christian life sin matters. Sin is whatever we do or are that violates God’s definition of holiness. In this life, sin is inescapable. Sin is that which fallen creatures do all the time. Thankfully, God provides a way of escape from the logical consequences of sin via the cross. Despite (no, because of the power of) this gift from God, Christians still care about eradicating sin even though it is not possible. It stands to reason, then, that we should observe the sources of sin in our life in order to stop them.

2. The classic Christian view of human nature is that we are made of two substances: body and soul. We are not just our physical bodies but something intangible was imputed to us when God breathed life into Adam. Our soul allows us to worship God. The bible refers to our soul in various ways: will, heart, desires, etc. The soul is the driver of the will and therefore responsible for the moral direction of our actions. Early theologically oriented scientists (think Descartes) assumed the existence of the soul but looked to explain how the intangible soul connected to the tangible body. Now with the advances in neuroscience we have better explanatory power in describing the action of thoughts, feelings, and knowing. However, the will remains a mystery. While we can explain neural networks and what the brain does when desiring something, we cannot yet explain WHY we want or desire certain things.

Some philosophers and theologians have attempted to deal with classic dualism by suggesting that we are only one substance. I am not capable of succinctly defending this position so I point you to Nancey Murphy and a review of her book here. She does a masterful job defending non-reducible physicalism.

Key questions and a partial answer

Whether two substances or one, the question we raise in this post is whether our bodies, against our will, can cause us to sin. And maybe more importantly, is there anything gained or lost if it is true that our bodies (apart from will) can cause us to sin? Are we culpable for such sins? 

Let me take these two questions in succession:

Question One:

Is it possible that my body (against or apart from my will) might cause me to sin?

Partial Answer:

1. We do nothing apart from our cells. We mediate all worship, desire, etc. through our cells. When we do good or evil, body and will are always involved.

2. Sin is not merely an act, but a disposition. All of me is tainted and not functioning as it was originally intended, including my physical body (and don’t I feel the effects of being over 45!). The dualist position is more in danger of treating sin as only what we consciously choose.

3. I don’t have to know that I broke the law (biblical or federal) to be guilty of violating the law. I didn’t know I was speeding but I still got a ticket. In the OT, lack of intention or knowledge violating the law did not protect against impurity or guilt (e.g., Lev. 4:22; 5:3).

4. If the body is broken and under sin’s curse it stands to reason that our bodies function in ways that are out of accord with our will. If they can move without our control (e.g., Parkinsonian tremors, Tourette-based tics) can they not also move in such a way that violates God’s design for us. We have some scientific evidence of this. Stimulate a certain part of the brain, and you will experience rageful feelings. Stimulate another part and you may have sexual thoughts. Consider a person with Tourettes Syndrome. There is some evidence of temporary volitional control (a surgeon is able to stop a tic during an operation) but other evidence suggests that these same tics (including cursing) burst out of the person despite conscious effort to eliminate.

Saying yes to this question violates our Western sensibilities.

Question Two:

 If we accept that our bodies can act against or without the will, what do we gain or lose? I think the primary concern by many would be that somehow we will either be held culpable for sins we didn’t want to commit or claim innocence for sins we willfully committed. And this gets under our skin here in the West.

We want only to be held accountable for things we did do and not held accountable for things we either didn’t do or didn’t have any control over.

Partial Answer:

It strikes us as evil to be held accountable for that which we didn’t know was wrong. I once got a ticket for making a u-turn on a Chicago city street at 11 pm when no one (but the cop!) was around. There were no signs. I wasn’t familiar with Chicago rules, was lost in an unsavory neighborhood. And yet I still got the ticket. It didn’t seem right. But I did violate the law.

Our American judicial system isn’t the only system that holds us accountable for involuntary acts. Romans teaches us that because of Adam’s sin, all are sinners. I bear the culpability for his sin (and I make plenty of my own as well). I bear the impact of his choices in my entire being. Not only am I culpable, but I may need to confess my forefather’s sins. We see several OT prophets confessing the sins of the community—as if they were their own.

So, in short, I think we can answer yes to the question about whether our bodies can make us sin. They can because we (body and soul) are tainted by the Fall. It doesn’t make us more or less out of sorts with God whether our sin is chosen or involuntary. Happily, God doesn’t forgive only willful sin, he forgives sin period. And he makes it possible to not sin by imputing his righteousness to us.

Is there a better question?

Still thinking about culpability? If so, check back tomorrow for a little vignette to chew on along with a better question than just responsibility for behaviors.


Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychology and Director of the MA in Counseling program at Biblical Seminary. He maintains a private practice with Diane Langberg & Associates. You can follow his personal and professional musings at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.comor read more about it at http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/phillip-monroe.

 

   

Written by Todd Mangum Wednesday, 27 June 2012 00:00

We take an extended, larger family vacation every other year and this year is the “off year.”  So, our vacation this year consists of a number of romantic week-ends and family outings sprinkled throughout the summer. The first of these was supposed to be a “four-day weekend” with just Linda and me, but it got interrupted by a funeral — the spouse of a friend of my wife’s from work died after a long battle with diabetes. 

As you might guess, we felt both obliged to attend the funeral, and glad that we could attend — and gypped out of our planned time together.  We literally laughed and cried about all the above. 

Enough time has passed now that I can reflect more objectively on it all.  “Vacationing at a funeral” is not something we would plan, but, come to think of it, it did have many of the markings of what one does plan when one plots out a vacation schedule.  Think about it: 1) time together, check; 2) break from the normal routine, check; 3) time and place for deeper, substantive conversation, check; 4) fun time to laugh (and cry) with old friends and some new ones, check; and finally, 5) chance to recalibrate and re-gauge one’s deeper life commitments, walk with God, relationship with one another, and re-consider, “Are we living the well-lived life we desire and feel called of God to live?,” check. 

Ecclesiastes says,  It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes itto heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for when a face is sad a heart may be happy. The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, while the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2-4)

I have contemplated these lines before this “vacation experience.” But I don’t know that I really believed them, or lived the truth of these words before now; that is, before attending a funeral as part of our summer vacation.

I have also heard of some people (including my grandparents, as I recall from childhood) taking a Sunday afternoon picnic to the cemetery, spending the afternoon reading, contemplating, and talking about the inscriptions on the gravestones.  It’s a bit morbid, I know — but think Ecclesiastes.  Is there wisdom to be found in such a practice?

So, what do you think — good idea?  Should we plan to incorporate mourning and funerals into our vacation periods more regularly? . . .  


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, 25 June 2012 00:00

At the end of the spring semester when final projects, final exams, and end-of-year budgeting all come due, I sometimes fall behind in keeping up with the news.  So I just found out last week that artist Thomas Kinkade died Easter weekend — from an apparent overdose of valium (drunk down with alcohol). He was 54. 

Surprised?  Yeah — so was I.  Thomas Kinkade, who sometimes claimed to be “America’s most-collected living artist,” was the guy who painted the idyllic nature scenes, which sometimes appear as desktop computer screen wall paper, with luminescent glows permeating serenely throughout the picture.  One of every twenty American homes is said to have a Thomas Kinkade painting, so Wikipedia says.     

I’ve always thought his art to be populist and designed to be commonly appealing — yeah, art critics are always going to sniff at such lowbrow stuff, but so what?  I still sometimes enjoy a good Southern Gospel quartet or even a country music station, even though all my music teachers in college scoffed at such and claimed a classically trained musician would eventually, inevitably “outgrow” it; I never did. . . .   

But I didn’t think his artwork was any more controversial than that.  Turns out that there is a stream of Christian art critics who find Kinkade art not just trite, but dangerous. Dangerous?!  Yes, you read that right.  

Here’s a line from the Kinkade obituary written by Daniel Seidell: “Thomas Kinkade . . . produced paintings that are far more terrifying than Munch’s [painting of The Scream, 1893] or Holbein’s [painting of The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb, 1522], giving us a world deprived not only of Easter Sunday, but Holy Saturday, Good Friday, and Christ himself.” (Click here for the whole column.)

The objection to Kinkade’s pleasant paradisiacal visions put on canvas is that they offer a world 1) falsely depicted as unfallen; and 2) without need of redemption. In short, like pornography’s offer of the pleasures of sex without the encumbrances of love and relationship, Kinkade’s art is accused of offering a world free of distortion and unpleasantness without the inconvenience of needing to go through Christ, or Christ’s cross, to get it. 

The fear is that this idyllic vision will play and does play all too well and quickly to the already narcissistic and hedonistic sensibilities of affluent American consumers. All the more sinister is Kinkade’s art thought to be given the tortured life, alleged unscrupulous business practices, and then in a final, ironic coup de gras, the unsavory way into the afterlife taken by Thomas Kinkade, the man. 

I have to say that my first reaction when I read this line of criticism was that it was going too deep and being too critical with something that never claimed or aspired to be anything other than superficially pleasing. “Saccharine sweet” is not a compliment, but the occasional Diet Coke will not kill you either.

But the more I think about it — and the more I think about even my own response, my own soul’s visceral reactions to Thomas Kinkade’s paintings — the more I think there may be a valid point of concern here.  How about you?  What do you think?  


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.

   

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