Saturday, May 18, 2019

The Apostles' Creed


I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; on the third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven and was seated at the right hand of God the Father, Almighty, from where he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy universal church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and eternal life.

Amen


[The creed is a poetic masterpiece constructed for use during worship but also properly used for theological instruction. Notice its explicitly Triune form. Notice, moreover, that the second part, which summarizes the apostolic kerygma of Jesus Christ, is the fullest of the three articles. Strikingly, Christ’s death and resurrection, the gospel in sum, thus stands at the very center of the creed.

Because the descensus ad infero clause, which may be translated as “descended to hell” or “descended to the dead,” was not found in the earliest manuscripts and currently remains a matter of dispute among evangelical Christians, it has not been included here. This is not to say the translator necessarily disagrees with that doctrine. However, its use in worship may distract the minds of some from the centrality of the cross and the resurrection.

This version of the Apostles’ Creed has been specifically designed for use in congregational worship, thus its style recalls a poetic cadence and a centralized emphasis upon the gospel. It was first used at Lakeside Baptist Church, Granbury, Texas, on Easter Sunday, 16 April 2019, where I am the Teaching Pastor. An earlier version of this translation appeared in a more traditional form in my God the Trinity: Biblical Portraits (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016).]

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Let Us Tremble in Light of Such Heavy Responsibility

Christians believe in human dignity. But we face significant challenges at this very time to human dignity in both the realms of the Church and the State.

We as Christians are compelled to contend against both abortionists without and abusers within. Article XV of our Baptist Faith and Message reminds those of us who are Southern Baptists to provide for and contend for both the abused and the infant: 
“We should work to provide for ... the abused ... 
We should ... contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception...”
Ezekiel 34:7-10 applied to “shepherds” in ancient Israel who held the various offices of kingship and priesthood. Consider how the words of the Prophet apply to the State and to the Church today.
Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.
Therefore, against the abortionist Democrats in the modern American Senate, we must remind them that God holds them accountable as “shepherds.” Also, therefore, against those ministers who would either abuse or neglect to properly protect the abused in the Church, we must remind them, too, that God holds them accountable as “shepherds.”

I mourn for the aborted and the abused, for the little ones who belong to Christ. As an American voter, God will hold me accountable for what shepherds I empower in the State. As a Christian church member, God will hold me accountable for what shepherds I empower in the Church.

As a Christian pastor, I tremble before the thought of the accounting I must give before God’s throne. May He find me a shepherd who did well faithfully. And may He also on that judgment day deem all of us as Christians today to have been faithful in both the realms of the Church and the State in providing for the abused and contending for the babies. Let us tremble in light of such heavy responsibility. 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

“Autonomy”? No, Evil Doesn’t Get a Pass

The Southern Baptist Convention cannot reform itself due to local church “autonomy”? No, my brothers and sisters, evil doesn’t get a pass.

“Autonomy” ought not be taken as an excuse to neglect the churches’ moral responsibility. The churches are equally responsible to Jesus as Lord. The churches must thus identify and rebuke any and all activities that harm any of his “little ones,” including in other churches.

It might be helpful if in the Baptist Faith and Message the term “autonomy” was replaced with the term “Christonomy.” This would help correct the idea that Baptists may rule themselves. Looking to Christ as our ever-present Governor would subvert inappropriate power claims.

As President of the Flat River Baptist Pastor’s Conference (in North Carolina) in the early 1990s, liberal pastors blasted me for wanting to remove one church that allowed a teacher to deny the resurrection. I reminded them that their churches are not alone in their autonomy. Orthodox churches are autonomous, too. Evil doesn’t get a pass.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

“God will call us to judgment”: A Warning to Theological Institutions

What is the source of problems in Southern Baptist theological education?

“The chief cause is to be found in our departure from the way which God has marked out for us, and our failure to make provision for the education of such a Ministry as He designs to send forth and honor.”

According to J.P. Boyce, the pioneer of Southern Baptist seminary education, and the founder of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, this was the chief cause in 1856. It is still the chief cause in 2018.

1. According to Boyce, a seminary must be oriented toward preparing ministers to preach the gospel clearly in and through their local churches. The seminary exists first and foremost to assist the churches. The seminary does not exist to please the academic. This truth has not changed.

“Who is the Minister here—the man of the schools, or the man of the Scriptures? Who bears the insignia of an ambassador for Christ? Whom does God own? Whom would the Church hear? In whose power would she put forth her strength?”

These questions still ring out the answer that we in the seminaries exist “for the church.” (Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary wisely chose this appropriate phrase as their motto, while Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary includes the Latin equivalent, “pro ecclesia,” on our academic seal.)

“The qualification God lays down is the only one He permits us to demand, and the instruction of our Theological schools must be based upon such a plan as shall afford this amount of education to those who actually constitute the mass of our Ministry, and who cannot obtain more.”

Our task in the seminaries is not to create credentialed scholars who will impress the world, though that will occur. Our task in the seminaries is to assist the churches in preparing those who have been called by God and recognized by the churches for preaching Bible doctrine.

Boyce distinguished between things of primary importance and secondary importance. There is a difference between the classical and the theological. One may excel in the classical and butcher the theological. While I myself love both the classical and the theological dimensions of education, only one of them is absolutely necessary—Christ, Bible, gospel.

“[W]e are so far from saying that education is unnecessary, [instead] we proclaim its absolute necessity. We undertake, however, to point out what education it is that is thus essential, and what that which is only valuable; and while we urge upon all useful knowledge as an aid to that work, we point out the knowledge of the word of God as that which is first in importance.”

The unique necessity of the Word of God and of our necessary submission to it and constant immersion in it has always been the case. This is still the case. This will always be the case.

2. Boyce’s second vision for the Southern Baptist seminaries was that they preserve and promote the Baptist witness. There must be an additional course of studies for our best and brightest students so as to prepare them to teach and write for the health of our churches.

Boyce argued that some students must be led beyond basic Biblical studies, theology, and rhetoric, and given expertise in the study of the Biblical Languages, a Biblical exegesis not distorted by Liberalism, and the conduct of the Missionary enterprise, as well as a thorough advocacy of Baptist principles.

The goal for offering advanced studies is to create “a band of scholars” from “every one of whom we might expect valuable contributions to our Theological literature.” The seminaries must develop students who will, in turn, teach personally and write literature for the churches.

3. The third issue that Southern Baptists must take into account is one that Boyce believed endangered not only the schools but, ultimately, the churches. With a prescience based upon historical precedent, Boyce opined that Baptists must be clearly confessional in their theology.

Southern Baptist educational institutions must embrace “the adoption of a declaration of doctrine to be required of those who assume the various professorships.” For his day, Boyce advocated the Charleston Confession, which is an historic, clear, and detailed Baptist standard of theology.

While Southern Baptists have continually developed our theological confessions historically in submission to Scripture and in response to cultural queries, Boyce’s basic point stands. Unless our schools require our professors to declare themselves to be of our faith, we will suffer.

Boyce’s third point requires our attention more than ever. For instance, Baptists have historically understood only one religious institution to be established by our Lord Jesus Christ. The only biblically-founded theological institution is the church of Jesus Christ.

While recognizing the wisdom of creating a seminary or divinity school, we should never define a seminary as a church. The seminary does not ordain elders or pastors, nor may it administer baptism or the Lord’s Supper. While the churches expect their theological institutions to be pastoral and ecclesial in their ethos and actions, our theological institutions must never adopt the enthusiastic position that they are established by God to be churches or that their leaders are pastors by fiat. The Bible doesn’t reveal seminaries. The churches created the seminaries and other theological institutions for their use.

This truth—that the seminaries are creatures and servants of the churches—is helpful to remember. It reminds administrators and professors that while we each remain personally responsible to God, we are, as institutions, dependent upon the churches for our existence. It calls those of us who are theological educators to humility and responsibility.

One final word from the first President of a Southern Baptist seminary, a word of warning:

“A crisis in Baptist doctrine is evidently approaching, and those of us who still cling to the doctrines which formerly distinguished us, have the important duty to perform of earnestly contending for the faith once delivered to the saints. Gentlemen, God will call us to judgment...”

We would do well to heed Boyce's warning.

(If you wish to read James Petigru Boyce's inaugural address regarding theological education in full, in an original transcription, you may consult a pdf published through Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary here.)

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Harmony of the Southern Baptist Seminaries

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!
The 133rd psalm expresses so well what I experienced recently with my colleagues at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. Indeed, that same sense of blessing, though for different reasons, has arisen during interaction with colleagues at all six of our Southern Baptist seminaries. The benefits from each seminary include influences both subtle and significant, of which more below.

Dr. Jason Duesing has twice invited me to co-teach a PhD seminar in Ecclesiology at Midwestern Seminary. This time 24 students were led by three professors: Dr. John Mark Yeats, Dr. Duesing, and me. The PhD students at Midwestern impressively demonstrated, on the one hand, a rootedness in the life and needs of the local churches and, on the other hand, a desire and a capability to pursue intellectual excellence for the purpose of assisting their churches. But let us here focus on the Southern Baptist professors and administrators.

I am a professor called to, and happily ensconced in, my beloved Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. But Southwestern has never been, is not now, and hopefully never will be the extent of my moral and intellectual milieu. The melody of my own seminary is both real and beneficial, but the harmony between the seminaries is also real and beneficial. The blessings of inter-seminary harmony for Southern Baptists and for the other Christians who choose to attend one of our denomination's six institutions are important. (Interactions with universities and other seminaries are also very important, but those are different essays.)

Please allow me a moment to reflect on specific harmonious influences between the Southern Baptist seminaries. These harmonies come about through direct intellectual exchange and through indirect personal exchange. What I have noticed with regard to my colleagues at these other institutions is that they profoundly shape my soul as well as my mind by what they say as well as by who they are.

Midwestern Seminary

Some recent intellectual and moral influences from Midwestern Seminary are greatly appreciated: The Provost there, Jason Duesing, encourages others to pursue excellence in their professional work and in their personal interactions. He has an academic appreciation for all things Baptist, and for all things evangelical and universal. Dr. Duesing is unusual--he is simultaneously a great teacher, an organizational genius, and a humble man. He is an asset in the Southern Baptist academy.

Also an administrator at Midwestern, John Mark Yeats has long been one to keep the life of the churches before the academy. He reminds his colleagues of the needs of people as people, especially the needs of minorities and of the younger generation. He also knows how to help his hapless elders. (For instance, he once patiently explained to me what "LOL" meant. Don't laugh. It was necessary.) John Mark is a champion for authentic Christianity.

There were other Midwestern professors who blessed me during this recent sojourn. Dr. Rustin Umstattd, formerly a Southwestern PhD supervisee, exemplifies how one may be concurrently a teaching theologian and a great pastor. Dr. Thorvald Madsen, a long-time friend and a sharp apologist and philosopher, regaled with me over my foibles from decades ago. Drs. Matthew Barrett and Owen Strachan are two rising writers within the evangelical academy whom Midwestern in particular and Southern Baptists in general are blessed to count among them. There are other Midwesterners worthy of mention, but these were the professors with whom I interacted during this last week.

Before moving on, a personal reflection regarding the President of Midwestern Seminary: Dr. Jason Allen has built a highly successful institution through his unrelenting focus upon the seminary existing "for the church." As seen above, he has excelled at gathering and retaining a quality faculty. Moreover, his studied attention to detail is evident in the attractive architecture and pristine fabric of Midwestern. Most importantly, years ago on a flight from Kansas City, I was moved to tears through prayer that Midwestern would reach toward the future with tremendous growth and expanding influence for God's glory. Providentially, Dr. Allen is actually fulfilling a vision I merely glimpsed. Southern Baptists should appreciate the lush theological garden Jason Allen has been tending in Kansas City.

The Other Southern Baptist Seminaries

We would be remiss not to mention the other four seminaries, each of whom played a supportive role this last week. For instance, while Southwestern Seminary has long emphasized the doctrine of the church, the students benefitted from the ecclesiological contributions of Gregg Allison and Thomas Schreiner at the first of our SBC seminaries, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Dr. Allison kindly agreed to join us through video for an hour of discussion regarding his extensive treatment of a most neglected topic, the nature of the church. And Dr. Schreiner's three co-edited works on baptismthe Lord's Supper, and church leadership continue to prove their ecclesiological value.

In order to prepare for that important hour with Dr. Allison, we summarily reviewed two lectures I previously delivered elsewhere. The first lecture, published last year by the journal of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, demonstrates how Baptists sadly exchanged a healthy Christological cornerstone for the church in favor of an anemic anthropological anchor. The second lecture, delivered earlier this year at a conference at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana, argues for a creative rediscovery of the theological foundation of the church as a congregation.

To round off the involvement of all six Southern Baptist seminaries, it should be noted that it was the innovative work of Dr. Rodrick Durst at Gateway Seminary in San Francisco, California that first encouraged me to think of piping Dr. Allison into the Midwestern conference room by video. Dr. Durst similarly invited me to address and interact with his own doctoral students a few years ago. Gateway's exemplary model of pedagogical cooperation is spreading.

The churches of the Southern Baptist Convention have both quality and diversity in the theological institutions that we sponsor. While we properly recognize the leadership of such gifted and committed ministers as R. Albert Mohler, Jr. and Daniel L. Akin, they are but the tip of the iceberg of talent in the SBC. For example, recognizing the importance of her professors, Southwestern Seminary recently began highlighting the faculty in its magazine.

Melodies and Harmony

The SBC seminaries should not be appreciated only for their individual faculties. The seminaries should be appreciated for the synergies created through the interaction of their diversities. To put it in terms taught by our music faculties, we should recognize the powerful diverse melodies being sung from our seminaries. We have Calvinists and we have Non-Calvinists; we have Preachers and we have Teachers; Evangelists and Writers; Academic Theologians and Practical Theologians; and we have some of us who want to know and teach everything.

But the beauty of theological education should not only be heard in the strength of its melodies, but in the richness of its harmony. I have recently learned from colleagues at Midwestern Seminary, just as I previously learned from colleagues when invited to address audiences at Southern Seminary, Southeastern Seminary, New Orleans Seminary, and Gateway Seminary. I have learned from their minds, and I have learned from their spirits. These other seminaries encourage me to be a better academic, and they encourage me to be a better Christian.

Southern Baptists really should be thankful for what is going on at each of our sponsored seminaries and for what is going on between them. Let us be thankful to God the Father for our six seminaries. Let us honor the seminaries for their individual melodies and let us honor them for their common harmony, a harmony rooted in a spiritual communion enabled by the Holy Spirit's gift of faith in Jesus Christ.