Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Foreword to Michael Nelson, "The Seven Signs"

I thought my friends might enjoy this foreword for a theological commentary on the Gospel of John that a former student has written.

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It is somewhat startling to hear an orthodox Christian preacher, who affirms that the entire Word of God is thoroughly inspired by the Holy Spirit, proclaim that the Gospel according to John is “the most important book in the Bible” or that the third chapter of John is “the most important chapter in the Bible.” However, from the perspective of an evangelistic pastor concerned for the eternal state of every human soul, Michael Nelson’s emphatic claims carry a certain relevant validity. In a day when so many Christians frantically seek ways to justify the avoidance of sharing their faith, whether through some wine-and-cheese theology or through a non-proclaiming social ministry, Nelson bucks the prevailing trends and prophetically demands Christian fidelity to the message and means specifically given by our Lord. Believers must not only recognize but also embrace and live out this truth: that a personal encounter with Jesus Christ is “the most important meeting in the history of mankind.” In other words, Nelson argues from Scripture and with compelling illustrations and application that it is our responsibility as Christ’s followers to present Jesus, from the Bible, to every lost man, woman, and child on the planet.

I first met Mike when he was an entering graduate student in theology at the seminary, and I knew from that point on that he would never accept anything I taught as truth unless it could be demonstrated according to the Word of God. Mike, in this book, has sought to hold himself to that same standard, and has fundamentally succeeded in doing so. Another thing I learned about Nelson during those exciting years of pleasantly boisterous give and take with an unpretentious yet precocious theologue, and have since rediscovered in these pages, is that Nelson possesses a genuine love for people. There is a pastoral sensitivity here, coupled with a rare ministerial gravitas, that accompanies God’s Word as it reaches down through the webs of personal deception that too many of us have erected in our own lives and that touches the soul where that defiled image of God is at its most crucial point in its precarious existence. Mike allows the biblical text to speak and then proceeds to explain the meaning of the text with logical clarity. With dependence upon the Holy Spirit, Nelson then illuminates the text with illustrations from Scripture, from the critical events and commonplaces of his own interesting life, and from many other places.

As you will soon see, there is much here that the reader should appreciate, but we must speak a word to the unduly squeamish: Nelson recognizes that his idiosyncracies may not be your “cup of tea,” to employ a common British idiom. However, for the most part this is not germaine, for Nelson’s overarching goal is to make sure that you meet and appreciate the Lord who created you and who will judge you instead. His immediate desire is to see the body of Jesus Christ incarnated before the world, so that, as a result, lost people everywhere may have opportunity to hear that Jesus Christ should be their cup of tea and, more profoundly, their Lord and Savior. And everything written here is filtered through the sieve of that principal concern. We rejoice in the fact that Nelson cares more about presenting the compelling attractiveness and inviting openness of his Savior than he cares about making a short-lived and dubious name for himself. That loving and selfless boldness—some wimpish worldly-wise ministers would dismiss it as heedless recklessness, but the wise in the ways of the God of Scripture would laud it as a holy temperament—is one of the virtues that sets Nelson apart as a minister of the Gospel and as an upcoming popular theological writer. May his tribe increase!

From a more academic methodological perspective, Michael Nelson serves as the preaching bridge between scholarly biblical exegesis and engaging Christian application. With regard to biblical exegesis, Nelson utilizes currently well-respected and quite often long-established evangelical scholars to aid him in the process of interpreting the Gospel of John. With regard to ministerial application, he provides a superb example of how theological interpretation is best done by the pastor who lives among his people, prompting them orally and demonstrating to them visually how they may and must reach out to the world with the life-giving Word of God. Though I personally might have phrased some things alternatively or presented a distinctive theological nuance or come to a slightly different conclusion, there is no doubt whatsoever that this book comes from a like heart desiring entire submission to Jesus and a keen mind dedicated to the utter reliability of Scripture. You will be blessed, as I have been, when you read what this minister of the good news has to say and you will be challenged to believe, in the full sense of the word, the truths of God’s Word without any reservation whatsoever.

In Christ,
Malcolm B. Yarnell III
Director, Center for Theological Research
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Fort Worth, Texas
Christmas 2009

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