Tuesday, April 05, 2016

God the Trinity: Biblical Portraits (Book Excerpt)

Evangelicalism in America has amalgamated for scholars in the organization known as the Evangelical Theological Society. The two parts of its “doctrinal basis” concern the Bible’s truthfulness and God the Trinity. While some evangelicals have addressed the Trinity in terms of systematic theology and others have employed the Trinity in debates over gender relations, few monographs are dedicated to evaluating the biblical source material for the Trinity. This is an odd oversight for a people whose confession centers on only the Bible and the Trinity.

Anecdotal evidence, moreover, suggests such work should begin in earnest, for if a recent survey is correct, most evangelical Christians in the United States are not necessarily Trinitarian. One-fifth of American evangelicals claimed Jesus is the first creature created by God, and more than half claimed the Holy Spirit is a force and not a personal being. That survey gives some credence to Curtis Freeman’s controversial claim that “most Baptists are Unitarians that simply have not yet gotten around to denying the Trinity.” If evangelical scholars are Trinitarian, the people in the churches may not be.

In addition, there is some diversity among Christian scholars regarding whether the Trinity is a necessary doctrine. One well-known evangelical theologian, Roger E. Olson of Baylor University, says the doctrine of the Trinity is a true conclusion, but belief in the Trinity is neither necessary nor part of gospel proclamation. Another, R. Albert Mohler Jr. of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, to the contrary classifies the doctrine of the Trinity as “fundamental and essential to the Christian faith.” Leaving to the side the issue of “theological triage,” which both theologians affirm, an evangelical equivocation regarding the Trinity remains.

In writing this book, we set out to answer these two questions: Is the doctrine that God is Trinity a biblical doctrine? Is it, moreover, a doctrine that is necessary to believe? The eight chapters in this book contribute toward the answers.

In the midst of engaging in the close theological exegesis of eight important biblical texts, it became evident that a Trinitarian reading of Scripture also required an evaluation of Protestant hermeneutics. The method of Bible study many evangelicals are taught to use must be substantially revised if the Trinity and the Bible are to coalesce. As a result, there arose the need to wrestle with interpretive method as much as Trinitarian exegesis. Indeed, we almost adopted the subtitle, “The Trinitarian Revision of Biblical Hermeneutics.”

Karl Barth observed this difficulty and opted to diminish hermeneutics out of concern that any interpretive criterion beyond the text necessarily distorts exegesis. While there is much to learn from Barth, and his call to enter “the strange new world of the Bible” warms the heart of this free churchman in his own friendly remonstration toward Protestant evangelicalism, we have opted to revise rather than repress evangelical hermeneutical method.

In the following study, comparison is made with the art of painting as a helping metaphor. This was deemed helpful on several accounts. First, it allows for a focused consideration of the various texts, treating each according to its own authorship, genre, and context. From a modern critical perspective, this properly takes the history and grammar of any text as a distinct phenomenon with utmost solemnity. Second, the appeal to art helps construct a bridge from the rationalism endemic among the practitioners of my own discipline in theology to the more holistic approach of the biblical writers. The critique of any work of literature requires both reason and imagination, but the theological interpretation of Scripture especially requires the graces of both logos and pneuma.

Third, the art metaphor allows this author to function as an appreciative if critical commentator upon each text as a great work of theological literature. Avoiding the extremes of the Enlightenment and Romanticism, we sought to weave a middle way through the judicious employment of both modern and premodern methods. Finally, the meticulous treatment of each text on its own later permits the epilogue to pursue a distinct canonical approach, as when art is gathered thematically for review in contemporary art galleries.

Order God the Trinity at LifeWayAmazonBarnes & Noble, or Christianbook.com.

(This post originally appeared in a slightly different format at my publisher's website, B&H Academic.)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Textbooks for Spring 2016

During the past several years, the Lord has blessed me with many students to disciple in the theology of the kingdom of God. It is a great honor, immense joy, and spiritual burden for God and His people to entrust this servant with such a profound responsibility. However, in light of the large and growing classes--over 350 during this last semester alone--it has become necessary to streamline communication. Thus we will periodically resort to this blog to help. In answer to the many requests regarding the textbooks that we will be using next semester, please note the following.

If you are interested in one of the three Systematic Theology II courses, the books are projected to include:

1. Akin, A Theology for the Church, Revised Edition (2014)
2. Stott, The Cross of Christ
3. Duesing, White, and Yarnell, Upon This Rock

If you are interested in the Trinity course, while not finally determined as yet, we will most likely use 5 of these 6 books:

1. Augustine, The Trinity
2. Durst, Reordering the Trinity
3. Nazianzus, On God and Christ: The Five Theological Orations
4. Rahner, The Trinity
5. The Oxford Handbook on the Trinity
6. Yarnell, God the Trinity: Biblical Portraits

Thank you all for your prayers. And thank you, John Mann and Sean Wegener, for your invaluable assistance in shepherding these theologians.

Soli deo gloria

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Another Discovery: Martin Luther's "Enflamed Dialogue" in French

Several years ago, through the providence of library research in Oxford, I discovered a piece that could only be described as "the first evangelical 'Sinner's Prayer' published in English." It was striking that such a prayer could have been published by William Tyndale, yet it was not included in the various authoritative collections of his works. Tyndale, of course, was the famous translator of the English Bible, a commentator upon Scripture, an early English Reformation controversialist, and a martyr for evangelical Christianity.

The Southwestern Journal of Theology, at the time edited by Doug Blount, kindly allowed space in its pages to discuss the background of the prayer and to bring a transcription of Tyndale's prayer back into print after a nearly 500-year hiatus. (See Southwestern Journal of Theology, volume 47, number 1, pp. 27-44.)

More recently, Thomas P. Johnston, Professor of Evangelism at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a gentleman who I helped hire for the faculty when I was their Academic Dean, has made another interesting discovery. The most recent issue of the Midwestern Journal of Theology, an academic journal that Terry Wilder and I started, has an article by Johnston regarding his find.

Johnston discovered that Luther's conclusion of his Exposition on the Lord's Prayer, which Tyndale revised and published in English, had also been translated into French. The French translation, which precedes Tyndale's revision, was attached to Luther's 1519 L'Oraison Dominicale and was known as the Enflamed Dialogue. Johnston has provided an English translation of the French alongside my transcription of Tyndale's revision.

Moreover, Johnston argues that the French translation was given "both elegance and cultural prominence" in the Kingdom of France because it was put in verse form by Marguerite, the Duchesse of Angouleme and sister of the French monarch. Johnston believes this prayer was influential in the spread of evangelicalism in 16th-century France. French evangelicalism eventually swept up the leading second-generation Reformer, John Calvin, but was persecuted harshly during the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre and was finally dispersed after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

A native Francophone, Johnston's passionate evangelistic heart for God and for people to know God comes through his comments upon Luther's Enflamed Dialogue in its French and English versions. Johnston's article, along with articles by Midwestern's new president, Jason Allen, and other members of that fine Southern Baptist faculty, including Jared Wilson, Michael McMullen, and Radu Gheorghita, may be found in pdf format here.

Monday, November 24, 2014

"This Was Definitely an Example of That Love"

For the last several years, I have had the privilege of serving alongside two men who lead our weekly Men's Bible Study. Monty Briley is our administrator; Russ Deason is our prayer leader; and the men allow me to teach the Bible regularly. (Currently, we are in the Gospel of Mark.) Just a few moments ago, I received the following email from Monty. He kindly agreed to allow me to post it here (with a few minor changes intended to protect privacy).

There are so many ways that our men serve throughout the week (daily leading their families, weekly evangelism, prison ministry, ministry to addicts, other social ministries, seminary administration, etc.), as well as on Sundays (deacons, musicians, etc.). I am so amazed at what God does through these men of Birchman Baptist Church. The following is a tangible example of how, through spontaneous acts, these men have Christ in their hearts and the Holy Spirit leading their eyes to focus upon a lost world. 

Enjoy, and be encouraged to go, live, and share your faith likewise.

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24 November 2014

Men,

It is a tremendous blessing to be a part of such a responsive and caring group of men! Yes, I'm talking about you! Let me give you a glowing report on a huge group-effort to minister to a homeless man, Matt, who yesterday found himself looking to our church for help. You were God's quick hands and feet and it was a pleasure to watch it all unfold! I have always thought that the truest form of love is when a person helps another who has no means to ever return the favor. Let's see how you did yesterday.

Apparently, Matt had worked locally for a period of time, but had been swindled out of his wages and was now desperately needing to get home to North Dakota.


Next, Chris brought Matt to our class, where we welcomed him in and immediately were able to give him some of the coffee Danny had made and the food that Jeremy and Grady had brought. Many of you greeted him personally and made him feel welcome. Russ got him a Bible and opened it to the appropriate passage and, throughout the lesson, it was obvious that Matt was listening intently to Malcolm's message from Mark 7.

During all this time, Chris had been working to see how we could physically help Matt and was asking about assistance that might be available. Matt's great need was to get back to his home in North Dakota. Chris began checking bus schedules and costs. A one-way, two-day bus ride to Williston, North Dakota was $253. Our class and the church together were able to pay the fare, and provide some food money along the way. Chris's wife was also making plans to pack a bag of food for Matt.  

Our involvement started at a nearby restaurant when Matt asked if there was someone locally he might turn to for assistance. A worker at the restaurant remembered seeing our Christmas at Birchman cards on the front counter and said, "That's a good church", then suggested that Matt go to talk to someone at Birchman. So, after struggling to stay awake and warm through a cold night, on Sunday morning he came to us.  

One of the first folks he encountered here on the Birchman campus on Sunday morning was Chris. Chris listened to Matt's story then allowed Matt to use his cell phone to call a friend back home in North Dakota. Chris wisely spoke privately with the man back in North Dakota and verified Matt's story.

As class was almost over, I asked Matt if we could send more food with him and he gratefully accepted; Danny agreed to bag up an assortment.  Matt quickly informed me that what he really wanted was to talk to someone.  I asked Malcolm if he could stay behind and counsel Matt and he eagerly agreed. During their conversation, Malcolm confirmed that Matt had previously confessed his sin to God and had become a Christian. He also learned more about Matt's unfortunate recent circumstances.


Without money, Matt had been sleeping outside in the cold very recently, so several men decided to foot the bill for a nearby motel room for the evening. When Matt was told he would be staying in a warm, comfortable room with a bed, he almost collapsed into tears.

The only bad news was that the bus was scheduled to leave at 5:25 am this morning. How would we find volunteers to get up at that hour and go to a rather unsafe neighborhood to help Matt get to the bus station? I was not really surprised to learn that several of you stepped forward to do just that. The first two volunteers, Robert and David, met at the church at 4:25 am and went together to meet Matt at the motel. Matt was ready and was already coming out of his room when they got there. David and Robert said they had a good time of fellowship with Matt and between themselves.  

As is usually the case when we bless others, the blessing we receive in return, by following God's promptings, is even greater than the gift we give. Thank you all for being the generous, hilarious givers that you are and for caring for "unknown" people like Matt. I believe the truest form of love is when you help someone who you know can never return the favor. This was definitely an example of that love.

Monty Briley
Men’s Bible Study

"Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love." I Cor. 16:13-14

Men's Bible Study Meets Every Sunday Morning, 9:00 am, in Room C214, Birchman Baptist Church

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Mea Culpa: The Heart Confession of a Systematic Theologian

Norm Miller, the highly capable and effective editor of SBC Today, asked me to share with you the process by which I came to write the piece entitled, “The Evangelistic Seminary” (published here, herehere, and here; mentioned at the Southern Baptist Convention and in Baptist Press here) and some subsequent reflections. Perhaps a rehearsal of my own past, a confession of this particular systematic theologian's heart, will be helpful in delineating the logic behind that essay.
A Responsible Faith
            First, the distant past. I was led to salvation in Christ Jesus through the evangelistic preaching and teaching of a traditional Southern Baptist church in Louisiana. After being born again through faith in Jesus, and a short time in financial services as an adult, the Lord called me into full-time Christian service as a teacher and preacher. I have always understood that the calling to be a preacher of the Word of God was the greater privilege, while that of the teacher was to serve the task of preaching.
            Providentially, God gave me preachers like Wayne L. DuBose to shepherd me. Brother Wayne had and still retains a passion for God's Word and the application of that Word to the human soul. His desire to see the lost won to Christ and the saved grow deeper in commitment to the Lord is matched only by the incredible integrity with which Brother Wayne has always conducted his ministry. Next, God led me, providentially, to attend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where such teachers as James Leo Garrett, Jr., and Roy J. Fish also filled my heart and mind with God’s Word and a passion for lost souls.
            Part of the faith I received was that God freely gives salvation to sinners through faith in His Son. Another part of the faith I received was that this gift entails a responsibility for a surrendered life to God in Christ as led by the Spirit through His Word. Through the careful reading and preaching of the Bible, it continues to be my conviction that while salvation is a work of divine grace, it compels a human response. And this is what we must expect and encourage of ourselves and others as we preach the gospel.
            Part of our faith response is found in the immediate reception of salvation, but the Spirit also opens our minds to the lifelong vocation that God has placed upon each of our lives. We are called to respond in faith to the preaching of the divine writ, and we are called to respond in faithful living to the particular application of His will to our lives. I have taken the exemplary lives of my mentors and followed them therein to the best of my ability. One of the things I learned through these preachers and teachers is that while the movement of the Spirit through the biblical text is palpable in the instrumental work of biblical proclamation, there are also times when that proclamation may be written, so as to remind future generations of the Spirit's movement in the past and the hope of perhaps similar movements of grace in the future.
A Seminary's Legacy
            Second, the intermediate past. Over the past several years, I have watched and been amazed at the work that God has done and is doing in and through Southwestern Seminary. To join the faculty of my alma mater has been the career highlight of my Christian life. This has afforded opportunity to reflect upon the direction of our beloved seminary both historically and contemporaneously. The parallels that I have sensed between Southwestern past and Southwestern present began to coalesce around the time of our centennial celebrations. Those parallels have been subsequently reinforced in so many ways.
            Conversations with retired faculty such as James Leo Garrett, Jr., Roy J. Fish, Malcolm McDow, and Jack Terry, who retained their love for the seminary; collaborations with scholars such as Thomas White, Jason Duesing, and Madison Grace in researching the history of our fine institution; observations of fellow faculty members such as David Allen, Keith Eitel, and Matt Queen, who have embodied and exemplified the proclamatory, evangelistic, and missionary ethos of our school; and most importantly, the uncanny resemblances between the biblical, evangelistic, and Baptist passions of the first two presidents when placed alongside our current leader, Paige Patterson—these have fed into a growing sense that while the names had changed on the doors at Southwestern Seminary, the nature of the institution remains the same.
A Heresy of the Heart
            Third, our denomination's immediate past. Because of the necessary refocusing of our Southern Baptist seminaries on doctrinal orthodoxy during and after the Conservative Resurgence, we have become a convention concerned with doctrines. This is a good thing, and one that I began to advocate even back when I was a pastor active in local, state, and national Southern Baptist meetings. It is also a focus that I have personally benefitted from as a systematic theologian at one of our leading seminaries. In light of my role as a systematic theologian—a thinker who lives and breathes to engage with Scripture, historical exegesis, and contemporary concerns—what I will say next may seem counterintuitive. However, it must be said, and I hope it is well received.
            Our focus on doctrinal orthodoxy becomes unhealthy the moment it begins to detract from the primary task of actually proclaiming the gospel. While theology is important, even fundamental to the Christian task, it is, nevertheless, a third-order activity. The tertiary activity of theological reflection follows upon the primary Christian activities of worship and witness. Theology functions as a servant to worship and witness, providing a necessary critique of those activities according to the standard of Scripture. And when theology leaves its service role behind to demand primary attention, it has risen above its station and grasped for a glory that it may not possess.
            When Southwestern Seminary was recently queried regarding its overarching concern for evangelizing the lost, I really wanted to ignore it. I was and am very tired after years without a break, capped off with an especially grueling teaching year; the semester was ending and the grades were due; Masters-level students required last minute details and Doctoral-level students required guidance into the summer; preparations for the Oxford program demanded my administrative attention; and, personally, I just wanted to finish all of that and go home and sleep for a few days, then begin to write what I had long delayed. However, the approach of a beloved mentor on a different matter reminded me of the need to wait upon the Lord, submitting my every moment to Him, and so I did.
            But that mentor's request actually needed to be put on the back burner, because something more critical had arisen. The critical issue that came to my mind was not about the presence of one PhD student in our archaeology program, nor was it about the policies of the seminary. The critical issue that came to my mind, and stays there, is that we Southern Baptists have allowed ourselves to be subtly side-tracked from remembering what the main thing is regarding our theological institutions. The main thing for the churches is worship and witness, and the seminaries were founded to serve the churches in fulfilling their Christ-given commission.
            The seminaries' primary mission is not the teaching of archaeology, nor is it philosophy, history, languages, commentary, nor theology, music, educational theory. And yet, each of those things may be and often are helpful in meeting the primary mission. The Southern Baptist seminaries' primary mission is not the formation of academic teachers, nor is it the production of cultural commentators and book editors. And yet, each of those people may be helpful in fulfilling what is primary. Our primary mission is the formation of Christian ministers to serve the churches so that the churches may faithfully proclaim the saving gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world.
            Our primary mission, moreover, must be driven through our primary passion. When our passion becomes cultural commentary, political activism, or academic excellence, we seminarians have made a major mistake. When the subsidiary, the secondary, the tertiary replace the primary in the place where it really matters, in our hearts, we have a problem. When the cravings for doctrinal definition and cultural conflict supplant the passion for biblical proclamation through preaching, evangelism, and missions, then we have embraced a heresy of the heart.
            Do not misread me—remember, this is a systematic theologian writing this. I am not arguing for the acceptance of heresy or error. I despise heresy and lament error. Remember who this is—Malcolm Yarnell has been, and hopefully will remain throughout his life, a fervent advocate of a Christian orthodoxy that is evangelical and Baptist to the core. Rather, I am arguing about subtle and sometimes deceptive relations between the head and the heart. I am arguing that human doctrine must serve the proclamation of the Word of God and not rule over it. Dogmatics has a necessary role in reflecting upon our proclamation, with Scripture as the norm, in order to aid preachers, evangelists, and missionaries in their primary task of proclamation. But dogmatics is not what preachers, evangelists, and missionaries should be preaching. The gospel of Jesus Christ—the incarnate Son of God who became a man, died on the cross, and arose from the dead, so that whosoever will believe may be saved, and the heartfelt desire for all to hear and believe—yes, that gospel! That is what we should be preaching!
            When preachers, evangelists, and missionaries lose the imagination of the people and systematic theologians, philosophers, and culture warriors rise up to become their exemplars instead, we may have a heart problem. When a seminary president is questioned, even attacked, regarding his overarching passion to win people to Christ, we have a heart problem. And when a systematic theologian like this author, who knows better and whose entire life has been providentially guided to remind him that the ministry of the Word is primary—when that systematic theologian has allowed secondary reflection on proclamation to replace the primacy of proclamation through public sermon and private counsel, we have a heart problem. Southern Baptists, we have a heart problem.
            As a result of this concern for our mission and our passion about it, one evening I brought some essays by Southwestern’s heroes home and read them carefully. As I read their powerful thoughts, my heart was lifted up to remember who we are as teachers of preachers, and my heart was brought low by the realization that too many of us, including me, have been forgetting who we are. The next morning, I was led in conscience to the office very early, and I stayed incommunicado therein for eight hours without even the basics of life. The flesh cried out for sustenance, but there was a palpable sense of God-given direction that this cannot be delayed—here are the books you need and there is the idea that needs to be elucidated. By 3:00 that afternoon, the work was done. I daresay that I have never written anything that required so few self-corrections.
            What I rediscovered for myself that evening and day was that most of us theologians, especially among the academics but also among the pastoral theologians, have walked away from the older Southern Baptist view of the seminary's purpose. We have forgotten how our fathers treated and even spoke of the seminary as a military bunker for training soldiers to engage in spiritual warfare through biblical proclamation. We have forgotten our fathers' purpose for the seminaries and have convinced ourselves that the seminary is an ivory tower intended primarily to defend orthodox Christianity against the encroachment of a depraved culture.
            We have traded a view of the seminary as an offensive organization for a defensive view of the purpose of the seminary. In our hearts, we have made our educational institutions, both colleges and seminaries, an increasingly remote fortified tower on a hill rather than a light set on a hill that is constantly finding ways to help the churches shine light into the culture. We have transitioned the seminaries, in our attitudes regarding their purpose, from being exemplars of evangelistic outreach to being havens from the harrowing of heresy. Yes, the exposure of heresy and error in home, church, and culture is part of our role, but it is not the purpose of our existence.
            Again, theology serves proclamation. There is a reason that W.T. Conner, the systematic theologian, receives third place in any proper historiography of Southwestern Seminary. The systematic theologian rightly has a place of honor alongside the preacher and the evangelist, but problems arise when the philosophical commentator upon God and culture overtakes and supplants the place of the pastor and the missionary. The theologian Conner is third; the preacher Carroll and the evangelist Scarborough are first.
            It apparently takes the example of a president like Paige Patterson, who is as adept as any sophisticated systematic theologian yet who has the heart of a country evangelist and the legacy of a preaching pastor, to remind us that the Great Commission ought to remain our passion. Why are Patterson's moves in this regard controversial? Not because he is wrong in wanting the seminary to be a shining city set on a hill, but because most of the rest of us have forgotten what Patterson has, by divine grace, remembered.
A Confession
            Fourth, the present. When I was a pastor responsible to proclaim the divine writ, there were moments in the life of a church that prompted a real spiritual struggle. Those moments have continued into my ministry as a theologian in the employ of the churches through Southwestern Seminary. On the one hand, I am speaking of the spiritual struggles that occur within a preacher or teacher. These internal conflicts of the heart are very real and very necessary. I have been intimating to you my own struggles. On the other hand, the greater vocational purpose for the preacher concerns his utility as a divine instrument of spiritual growth, which ought to grow out of his own experience as the object of divine grace.
            I am speaking, latterly, of that sense that God has led you to see that this moment in the life of the congregation demands this sermon from His Word be directed gently but unfailingly to address that crisis. These are typically not immediate crises, but long-term communal crises that have reached a watershed and now demand the preacher to surrender His every thought, every word, every desire to the direction of the Holy Spirit as He illumines the Word through this preacher, who remains His unworthy instrument. Such events in my own experience include the peaceful understanding of being compelled by the Spirit, along with the knowledge that there is a God-given rebuke of the adversary, and the draining of every last vestige of strength from the preacher’s personal being. Like Jacob wrestling with the angel, there are times that the preacher or teacher must simply hold on to God and be thrown about like a rag doll, learning to surrender to the divine will, learning to respond faithfully to the God who is living, loving, guiding, and using the unworthy instrument before Him. And God provides a message from His Word through His servant. After such an event, there is elation (God has deigned to speak to me and through me!), awe (I have survived an encounter with the almighty and holy God!), and pain (What He has shown me demands change not only in our people but in me!). There is also the interesting phenomenon that such an encounter can lead me to be exhausted physically.
            But the greatest sense of exhaustion is not physical—it is spiritual. It is the knowledge that, while you know that this is the ideal for the preacher and teacher of God's Word, you have not always met that ideal. And this is where Norm's request is really bothersome to me, personally, for now I must confess. Mea culpa: this is my problem. Yes, I am a systematic theologian in my passion, which is not bad, but I ought to be even more passionate about going with the Lord Jesus Christ (and L. Rutland Scarborough and L. Paige Patterson) after the lost. Being a systematic theologian is a good and necessary thing, but being a preacher, evangelist, and missionary is the better part. Sitting at the feet of Jesus, repeating His words to the lost around me—this is the better part.

            Oh, Lord, forgive me! I am a systematic theologian with misdirected passion, and in this way an unclean heart, and I live amongst a group of seminaries with professors and administrators with unclean hearts. Send your messenger with your coal to cleanse our lips and make us worthy to speak your Word to the lost and dying sinners of this world. Grant us not the idea that proclamation is our secondary role but grant us an eager knowledge that proclamation is our primary role. Lord, help our seminaries and colleges not only to be intentionally biblical and Baptist, and evangelical, all of which we claim, but help us to be evangelistic, too. Perhaps, then, when our hearts are right, we theologians may help the churches and their beloved pastors, our beloved pastors, properly see that all of us need to be more committed to sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.

(Originally published at SBC Today, 12 June 2014)