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Written by Dr. Phil Monroe Monday, 20 February 2012 00:00

We often fail to thank those who have significant positive impact on our lives. It is not like we don’t recognize the impact. Rather, we (okay, I) allow the rush of the present life to get in the way of going back to significant others and thank them. Far too often I am like the 9 lepers who didn’t take the time to find Jesus and thank him for his impact. Well, on February 5, I lost the chance to tell one person of their impact.

For fifteen formative years Mr. Ballard—Arthur “Bud” Ballard—was as much a grandfather to me as I ever had. Both my biological grandfathers had passed away before I could know them. Mr. Ballard was not a famous person. He wasn’t a scholar. He did not obtain a high and lofty position in the community, in politics or the church. What he was to me was man of quiet conviction, a man with laughing eyes, a man who took pleasure in things like serving others, fixing broken things, tending his garden, telling stories, engaging the mind of a boy, and hunting. I’m sure he had many heartaches and frustrations but I never saw them. There was evenness to Mr. Ballard, constancy, which I observed in few others. As a youngster I have memories of being my typical impulsive self around Mr. Ballard while we worked on some project. Okay, he was working and I was “helping.” What I remember is how he smiled at my foolish ideas and then quietly suggested a better way or asked a question that helped me see the limits of my understanding.

This quiet constancy was no more on display than in our annual hunting excursions. When you live in Vermont, there is any number of places to hunt. Mr. Ballard owned a remote hunting camp (think shack with bunks attached to the wall, a stove, and a sink but no outhouse or running water—unless you count the nearby stream). It was a large forested mountain with lots of room for deer to roam. Without the benefit of many hunters, we could hunt for long stretches and see absolutely nothing but trees and snow. Mr. Ballard, along with my father, had a way of tolerating impatient boys, keeping them engaged, teaching them how to use a gun and the skill of starting a fire in the pouring rain to warm fingers and toast sandwiches. 

There’s one more thing Mr. and Mrs. Ballard did for our family. They treated us like family in a place where we had no extended family. My father was the pastor of a church in a small town. He was their pastor. While I didn’t hear all of the conversations between my parents and the Ballards, I never heard any conversation where church politics were being discussed. As a child, I had some inkling that we could be regular people with the Ballards.---

Grandfathers ought to be those who teach us about what it means to be Christlike men and women. I know that not everyone gets that training opportunity from their earthly grandfathers. I am grateful for the teaching I received from Mr. Ballard for those fifteen years. Today, I am writing to his wife of 69 years what I should have said to him a long time ago.  

Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychology and Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates. He blogs regularly at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/phillip-monroe

 

Written by Dr. Phil Monroe Thursday, 16 February 2012 00:00

Is Your Church Prepared to Handle an Abuse Allegation?

Someday, we may look back at 2011 and discover that we finally reached a tipping point in abuse reporting in the United States—when reporting abuses became the norm over cover-ups and silence. In any case, we are witnessing a tremendous surge in reporting of abuse. As difficult as it is to learn about sexual abuse of the most vulnerable in our society, it is doubly hard to hear that other leaders knew of the abuse and did not stop it or report to the right authorities. While hindsight always tells us that the right response to abuse allegations is to report, the repeated failure to report ought to suggest to us that maybe it is quite hard to make the right choices under pressure.

Why is it hard to report when allegations come our way?

When faced with an allegation, many of us freeze up. “No! It can’t be possible,” we think. This is something that happens in other settings. We think we know the alleged perpetrators and that they couldn’t have done it. We worry that the report might be false. We worry about the impact that the revelation of the allegation will have on the church community or the family of the one being accused. We worry that reporting to public officials will lead to further distrust of the church. In short, fear, denial, deception, and a desire to maintain our own sense of security encourages many to ignore reporting. For more reasons (e.g., groupthink, abuser winsomeness) why we fail to act when we hear of abuse, check out this post I wrote for Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment.

Is Your Church Prepared to Act?

Elementary schools run routine fire drills in order to cut down on unnecessary decision-making in a crisis. We do not want teachers contemplating what books to save or which direction to lead the children but to follow the previously practiced drills. So too, churches do not want to wait until an allegation arises to decide what course of action to take. Do your leaders know why they would report, to whom they would report, and how to minister to victims and perpetrators alike?

What can you do to get prepared?

  1. Start a discussion group about caring for victims and common deceptions by perpetrators
  2. Build a theological argument for why it is essential to report as part of pastoral care
  3. Train church leaders to know who to call when they learn of abuse allegations
  4. Take our July course , Preventing and Responding to Abuse in the Church! (watch our website for more info!)
  5. Learn about reporting laws in your jurisdiction
  6. Develop a policy for how the church will handle alleged victims and perpetrators, their families, and the church community
  7. Find another church who has experienced abuse and learn from their mistakes and successes
  8. Seek out ministries like www.netgrace.orgor local counselors who can provide consultation

Follow the advice of Rev. Al Mohler to report first and pastor second. In this way we practice true religion (James 1:27).

Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychology and Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates. He blogs regularly at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/phillip-monroe.

   

Written by Dr. Todd Mangum Wednesday, 15 February 2012 00:00

Pam Smith, our VP for student advancement, recently shared with me this picture, with the comment of what a great illustration this is as to why seminary training is so valuable and necessary today.

Biblical Seminary Faculty Blog

Now, just so you know, I do know the vested interest we both have in this observation.

I’ll still say it, though. God has indeed provided us many effectual resources: His Word, the wise and intelligent thought and testimony of saints and Christian thinkers and theologians before us, His Spirit-indwelt community, the Church; etc.  There is an “independent streak” running through our culture today, though, that disdains “tradition,” “institutionalism” or “formal training” even such as would actually help Christian leaders take better advantage and benefit from these vast resources God has given us.

And, there’s no question that God is capable of astonishing resourcefulness in contexts in which resources are scarce – where Christianity is illegal, for example. But I fear that, today, many well-meaning Christians look to the “primitive Christianity” of places like China or Africa and hold them up – not as examples of how the Spirit of God “still finds a way” in a context where resources are scarce – but as paragons of what we should aspire to, as though the training and assets we have in this country for fostering discipleship are somehow to blame for the church’s deficiencies. That seems to me like advising a person to gouge out their eyes to try to gain the heightened sense of hearing and smell that the blind “enjoy.”

I think that’s a mistake.  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 Dr. Todd Mangum Tuesday, 14 February 2012 00:00

In the last couple of months, the internet world has been host to a different, very contemporary kind of theological debate.  First, Youtube sensation, Jefferson Bethke, posted this clip, in which he asserts that embracing Jesus without religion makes for the best kind of Christ-follower:

 I’m guessing that ten years ago this would have been the end of it – with this “statement” sufficing to spark a thousand snarky blog posts agreeing with it, adding their own list of pet peeves against the church and offering their own complaints against organized institutional religion.

But today, even dyed-in-the-wool conservatives are catching up to the digital age. And so, none other than Father Pontifex, a Catholic priest, with the help of a group called, ‘spiritjuices,” posted this response:

Now, I’m an evangelical Protestant, and I’m told that the first video “really resonates with a lot of young people today” – and I understand that.  But, in the final analysis and on balance, I’d say the priest makes the better, more biblical case overall.

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

   

Written by Dr. David Dunbar Monday, 13 February 2012 00:00

In a previous blog I introduced the recent book by Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible (Brazos, 2011). The book is a thorough critique of “Biblicism” as the author finds it practiced in much of the Evangelical world. One of the ten qualities of Biblicism he describes is “Solo Scriptura.”

This is an obvious play on the term sola Scriptura which was used by the Protestant Reformers to reference their understanding of the authority of the Bible. For the Reformers the Bible had a unique status as the touchstone of truth superior in authority to philosophy, tradition, or the church’s magisterium. This did not mean, however, that Scripture was their only authority. In varying degrees in the different wings of the Reformation the theological traditions of the church, particularly the patristic writers and the early creeds, were valued and acknowledged.

But this historically informed approach to the Bible has been lost to much of the Evangelical (and Fundamentalist) wing of the church. Sola Scriptura has become Solo Scriptura—only the Bible.  Christian Smith defines it this way:  “The significance of any given biblical text can be understood without reliance on creeds, confessions, historical church traditions, or other forms of larger theological hermeneutical frameworks, such that theological formulations can be built up directly out of the Bible from scratch” (p. 4).  This outlook fits nicely with another element of popular interpretive wisdom that Smith calls “Democratic Perspicuity.” According to this wisdom, “any reasonably intelligent person can read the Bible in his or her own language and correctly understand the plain meaning of the text” (p. 4).

In a previous post I discussed Smith’s central concern:  pervasive interpretive pluralism.  Evangelicals have a history of divisiveness, in part because they can’t agree on what the Bible says over a wide range of topics. Solo Scriptura contributes directly to this problem because it reinforces in the arena of biblical interpretation the individualistic tendencies of the wider culture.

I believe Smith has laid his finger on a sore spot in the Evangelical church. When Biblical’s faculty revised its doctrine statement in 2006, this was a concern we chose to address.  One of our four major “convictions” is “The indispensable significance of the Christian Tradition.”  We find this tradition summarized particularly in the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed to which all of our faculty subscribe.  Here is our reasoning:  “We subscribe to these statements because we value the historical interpretive work of the church and wish to identify with the great cloud of witnesses upon whose work we are dependent. We believe that by embracing and functioning within these ancient guidelines we can create a safe place for faculty and students to explore the mission of God in relation to contemporary culture.”  Like the Reformers we want to practice a nuanced version of Sola Scriptura . . . not Solo Scriptura. 

If you wish to read our entire statement of Theological Convictions, look here:  http://biblical.edu/images/stories/admissions/convictions0808.pdf.


Dave Dunbar is president of Biblical Seminary.  He has been married to Sharon for 42 years.  They have four grown children and six grand children.

 

   

Written by Dr. David Dunbar Thursday, 09 February 2012 00:00

Good trees produce good fruit, and bad trees produce bad fruit. Jesus says this is true of human character (Matt. 12:33).  But is this principle applicable elsewhere?  Christian Smith has written a thoughtful and thought-provoking book [The Bible Made Impossible (Brazos, 2011)] to argue that this is precisely what we find with much of the Evangelical approach to interpreting Scripture—a bad theory of what the Bible is and how we should interpret it leads to deplorable results.

The bad theory Smith describes as “Biblicism” which actually turns out to be a complex of ten inter-related ideas about the nature of the Bible and the appropriate ways to discern its meaning. It is not my concern at this point to examine or even list those ten points although I will do a bit of this in some future posts. Suffice it to say that Smith has pretty accurately captured the shape of a broad swath of biblical interpretation as practiced by Evangelicals and Fundamentalists.

He is convinced that the Biblicism he describes is wrong because it doesn’t in reality produce the results that it claims for itself.  Not only does not, but cannot. According to Smith, “Biblicism does not live up to its own promises to produce an authoritative biblical teaching by which Christians can believe and live”(p. 173). What it produces instead is “pervasive interpretive pluralism.” In other words, a theory which says that the Bible is clear and easily understood by anyone who approaches it without preconceptions produces a myriad of competing and even contradictory exegetical positions. This in turn results in a sad history of sectarian division and denominational infighting, i.e., a bad tree produces bad fruit. Evangelicals are not particularly troubled by this, Smith believes, because they live in denial of the true state of affairs. I would add that we are not sufficiently troubled by this also because we value a certain understanding of “truth” above the teaching of Jesus that his followers need to be one in the unity of the Father and the Son (John 17:20-23)--which is another kind of truth!

For now just a couple quick observations:  First, good teachers sometimes over-state their case to make a point.  Smith is no exception, but that is not a reason to ignore what he says. There is much here that can help us.  Second, Smith should not be read as a liberal Bible-basher.  He clearly distances himself from liberalism and reading him otherwise would not be fair to what he writes.  I would rather describe his approach with the proverb:  “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”

 
Dave Dunbar is president of Biblical Seminary.  He has been married to Sharon for 42 years.  They have four grown children and six grandchildren

   

Written by Dr. Kyuboem Lee Wednesday, 08 February 2012 00:00

Ministry paradigm in the West is undergoing a massive shift today because of numerous forces at work in our global world. One of the paradigm shifts has to do with how ministry context has changed from a Christendom model (in which Christianity is the assumed predominant worldview) to a mission field model.

It's not just that the majority culture has changed--to be sure, younger generations of white Protestant descent (and the more privileged children of immigrants and minorities who go to colleges with them) now live in a thoroughly postmodern milieu, unlike most of their forebears. It is also that the Western urban world has become thoroughly pluralistic, largely through huge people movements that have swept across the globe. Our culture is no longer simply the product of a long history of "Western civilization"--it is also the product of African, Muslim, Indian, East Asian, South American, Eastern European...and other, civilizations. I am grossly generalizing here, of course--each of the categories mentioned hold multiple varieties that see themselves as quite distinct from other expressions. But you see my point. For today's pastor, the ministry context has transformed from one that could safely be assumed as fairly homogeneous (notable exception used to be the black-white divide, but not many crossed that) to one that is dizzying in its variety, and in which one cannot ever assume that Christianity is predominant or even understood. Indeed, the gospel has not reached many of the nooks and crannies cropping up in the Western world--and these nooks and crannies are growing rapidly.

This paradigm shift in our ministry context should signal a paradigm shift in how we train pastors. It is not enough to simply train the pastor for a postmodern audience. Our world is simply not that homogeneous. How will the church equip the next generation of leaders for the task of proclaiming the gospel in the global world that is even now upon us? A simple answer is: pastors in the West need to be trained more like missionaries.

In the Christendom paradigm, pastors have been trained mostly in systematic theology, biblical studies, (Western) church history, and homiletics. Other practical theology categories may have included church governance, prescribed by the seminary's denomination. However, foreign missionaries (even this is an outdated term in the new context, as is the term “home mission”) had more awareness of their need to understand different cultures and to communicate the gospel cross-culturally. They were trained to work outside Christendom and to be students of people who inhabit a world that is quite different from that of the missionaries', for the sake of the gospel mission.

Hence, there has been much attention paid to anthropology among missionaries. Pastors ministering in today's world will need to be diligent students of people groups and cultures. It is a dangerous thing to make assumptions about the people God has called ministers to--ministry can very easily backfire and ministers may find they have not been faithfully representing Christ to their people because of their misconceptions and unaddressed prejudices. Just as seeking to faithfully interpret Scriptures is a priority for pastoral ministry, faithfully interpreting people and their cultures is a priority--this has always been true, of course, but our new situation is forcing us to learn this lesson.

Missionaries have also been quite aware of their need to effectively engage in mercy ministry. Many missionaries have operated in contexts of physical need and simply sought to meet these needs in the name of Christ. Such proclamations of the kingdom in deed have brought credibility to the preached words of the gospel. As Christian developers have grown in understanding of their work, they have learned that indigenous leadership development was priority. More than simply addressing physical needs through relief efforts and giving money, they have come to recognize the importance of working with indigenous leaders, affirming their dignity, and developing local human resources for longterm development. As the old adage goes, "Give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man how to fish, feed him for life." (There is much to learn here for the work of discipleship--without minimizing the importance of preaching, a renewed emphasis must be placed on developing homegrown leadership who will take the ministry deeper into the culture and adapt it for the ever changing context.) The church in our global world needs to reclaim this calling to be ministers of mercy in a hurting world and become students in effective diaconal ministry.

Last example for this post--no doubt this is only a preliminary list we are making here: Missionaries have been students of contextual theology. Theology, many missionaries came to realize, is a human activity carried out within lived cultural contexts, not apart or above it, done within a purely theoretical realm. (You will notice the Platonic predominance over Western thought at work here.) Missionary history is replete with examples of missed opportunities and sometimes abject failures in communicating the gospel because of the missionaries' unexamined beliefs in their own received, Western, contextual theologies and faithfully seeking to reproduce these in non-Western, missionary contexts. Therefore, today’s minister must be a student in the art and science of contextualizing theology--faithful to the revelation of the gospel in the Word of God and faithful to human contexts this revelation comes to address. This has always been the case, but is especially so in our shifting and multifaceted cultural context.

In light of the current paradigm shift, there needs to be a corresponding paradigm shift in our training of pastors. Mission courses that have for long been treated as electives need to become required courses.

Many of you readers have no doubt come across situations that have needed the traditional roles of pastor and missionary to coexist. How have you seen this?

Dr. Kyuboem Lee serves as a lecturer of Urban Mission at Biblical Seminary. He is the founding pastor of Germantown Hope Community Church in Philadelphia, and the General Editor for the Journal of Urban Mission (http://jofum.com). 

   

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