When Theological Education Goes Wrong…

Hey friends, sorry for the silence.  I’ve been busy working, resting, etc.  I have also been thinking a bit about Theological Education.  And I wanted to share those things and hear your thoughts.  I’m sure that Theological Education can go wrong in more ways that what I’m about to share, but I have three that I’ve been reflecting on.   We could unpack these significantly, but I just want to draw some attention to them.

First, when Theological Education is disconnected from the HEART, it fails.  When the glorious truths of the Living God are spoken of with the same level of academic disinterest as a biologist speaking about spores, we’re lost.  I recently heard someone summarize Thomas Goodwin’s philosophy of preaching like this: “Communicating God’s Heart (that’s the content) to the Hearts of the congregation (that’s the target) from the Heart (that’s the preacher).”  I love that.  And if that’s true, then Theological Education is “Studying the Heart of God.”  This is often why we get the Seminary and Cemetery jokes.  Why many leave the faith when they leave seminary.  What if our graduates left class with their hearts aflame for God?  What difference would that make in the Church and on the mission field!?!?  So, theological educators must delight in God and raise up pastors and scholars who do likewise.  Theological institutions must be JOY FACTORIES!

Second, when Theological Education is disconnected from the CHURCH, it fails.  We know this when pastors come into the pulpit to argue some theological minutiae and his flock goes home starving.  This is NOT arguing pragmatism.  I’m NOT saying that only practical theology and ministry courses matter.  But I am saying that whatever our topic/class, if I’m not studying it with an eye towards the people of God, then I won’t know what to do with it afterwards.  I’m left writing monographs on 2nd Temple Judaism’s understanding of how to lay bricks OR the sexual practices of temple priests in the Roman world.  When our students say, “I don’t need to go to church because I’m in class all the time” or “I go to Chapel,” it shows how thin our Ecclesiology is, and we can begin lamenting now for the future of God’s people.

Some institutions are denominational, and this can help keep a connection with the local church, but being a part of the same denomination doesn’t necessarily mean your training pastors and scholars FOR that denomination.  You may simply be running programs that look like everyone else’s, with no reference to the local church.  Some institutions are interdenominational, and in that case, I think you need to work even harder to have some sort of commitment to and for the local church.  And professors can’t be free agents, independent academics, but must be churchmen.  The blood of Christ was poured out to purchase the Church; therefore, that MUST be the raison d’être of every theological institution.

Third, when Theological Education is disconnect from the MISSION of God, it fails.  My very first class in seminary was Greek I.  The first words out of the mouth of my professor, Dr. Ed Keazirian were these: You are here to learn Greek so that you can help fulfill the great commission and for no other reason.  He later said that knowing Greek was like wearing underwear…you should always have it on, but never have it showing!  The BEST theology in history flowed out of the missional intersection of the Gospel with false teachings.  Whether it’s the early church’s external struggles against Roman philosophy or internal struggles against Arianism, Gnosticism, etc. the great theological work of the early church was articulating God’s truth over and against the false gospels and gods of the world.  In the Reformation, we see the same; namely, the clarity of the Gospel proclaimed in opposition to false Catholic dogma.  The two richest theological seasons of Church history are that way BECAUSE the leaders of the church were missional theologians.

I heard Michael Reeves define theology from Judges 6 and the story of Gideon.  God told Gideon to destroy the altar of Baal and the Asherah and to replace them with an altar to the true God.  Reeves says that’s theology!  Destroying false belief and replacing it with true faith!  Instead of being seen as safely removed from society for the sake of leisurely study in quiet and isolation, perhaps theological institutions should see themselves more like a boxing gym…preparing fighters for the day when the Devil takes his gloves off and comes for their congregation.

How else does Theological Education go wrong?  What should look different if these things are true?  What institutions are doing a good job at these things, and how?

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Steven’s Study

Resources collected from my personal study, suggested for your personal study.

Every week I bring you a list of articles, podcasts, and sermons that I found helpful for my own edification. My hope is that you also will find these useful in your personal growth in the Christ.

It is Never Right to be Angry at God. Ever.

I know that this is a controversial statement, but it is actually pretty cut and clear. I also think it is very important to understand this before the going gets tough. Otherwise, it is exponentially harder to grasp.

Nine Parenting Lessons from the School of Hard Knocks

As a father of 4 young children I am always looking for parenting help. This was a straightforward article that I think has several pieces of gold for those who have children, or may have them in the future. I have personally found many of these things to be true.

Consider Church Membership

The title really says it all. Joe Thorn gives you some good reasons that Christians should be members of a local church.

Dating is an Issue for the Whole Church

The gospel should change the way Christians date. Therefore we should know how to think Biblically about dating. Our culture has been overly sexualized and most single people, ages 12-100, can’t imagine not dating the way the our culture presents it. Saying something like, “Don’t date until you are old enough to marry.” makes many in our culture bristle, and if you haven’t thought it through it will make it even harder to stand.

As ever, may the Lord bless you and keep you! – Steven

 

Steven’s Study

Resources collected from my personal study, suggested for your personal study.

Every week I bring you a list of articles, podcasts, and sermons that I found helpful for my own edification. My hope is that you also will find these useful in your personal growth in the Christ.

Today’s attack in Egypt is the latest strike in the war on Christians in the Middle East

I am consistently amazed at how few people know about the reality of Christian persecution in the world. The attacks in Egypt on Palm Sunday cause us to remember our brothers and sisters who endure this kind of animosity everyday, and to pray that our Lord might draw people to himself through the suffering. Come quickly Lord Jesus!

The Key to Happiness Is More Stuff . . . Right?

In my experience we all know that more stuff doesn’t lead to happiness, but our actions often betray what we profess to be truth. I’m not sure anyone would say, out loud, that more stuff will make them happy, but we sure live like it will.

Dads, Be Tender With Your Children

For a Dad that tends to be too loud, too opinionated, and too quick to bring correction into a discussion, this article hit me between the eyes. “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”

BreakPoint: Planet Earth II Missing the Maker in the Majesty

This article reminded me this week, that people can look at the most fantastic parts of God’s creation and miss him completely. Which then caused me to remember that I look at those same things and often live as though I also have missed him that day.

Church Planting Math: Addition Vs. Multiplication

It is all well and good to talk about being a church plant that plants churches, but the reality of that work can be scary. This is a great article by my friend Brian Bowman about why it is worth it.

Why I Believe the Bible

As the author states, this is a quick reference guide to help communicate to others, and reminder yourself, why you believe the Bible. I think it is an important issue to think through deeply.

As ever, may the Lord bless you and keep you! – Steven

Local Church – Global Impact 2: Where there is no vision

God’s people need Vision.  They need to be called, reminded, exhorted, and cajoled towards God’s view, ways, purposes, and plans.  As we think about providing Vision for a local church, I wanted to share 2 short thoughts:

  1. Your church, no matter how big, is too small to complete the Great Commission on their own.  BUT, they can choose a piece of it, and say, “Lord, in Your grace, would You allow us to see THIS piece of your mission completed?!  Oh Father, have mercy, and give us THIS People Group, or THAT Country, or THIS Tribe.”  Like Rachel, we cry, “give us children (spiritual offspring for us) or we die!”  So, your church needs a Vision for who you are reaching and why.  You can’t reach them all, but you can strategically direct your prayers, efforts, labors, and finances towards reaching part of the remaining unreached world.  Many churches struggle with this, and find themselves supporting a lot of work in a lot of places.  You end up not really sure, after a few years, who all those people are in the pictures on the mission bulletin board.  Folks talk about the Smiths and THEIR mission in country x, y, or z.  They don’t talk about OUR mission…our congregation’s call from God to reach the nations has been lost.  They’ve scattered their efforts, and the results are often confusion, diffusion, and apathy.  There’s actually a really simple process for helping bring a strategic and powerful focus to your church’s mission engagement, and we’ll get there in a couple more posts!
  2. Dear Pastor, it’s been said that if you want your people to bleed, you have to hemorrhage (Hendricks).  Another forgotten sage say it this way: “it won’t burn in them if it doesn’t burn in you!”  So, brothers, if you don’t lead your people to embrace God’s heart for the Unreached, who will?  I’m not saying you have to lead the mission committee, or even be on it, but I am saying that if you don’t champion God’s global purposes in front of your people, they aren’t going to get it.  You are the lead culture shaper of your church!  It’s amazing how a congregation grows to be more and more like their lead teacher.  So, John MacArthur’s congregation all carry study bibles around, digging deep into the word.  Why?  Because their under-shepherd showed them how.  David Platt’s former church was sending missionary after missionary…why?  Because their under-shepherd burned with a burden for those that have never heard the name of Jesus.  The pews become like the pulpit!  You don’t have to do everything yourself, but you do have to lead the way in passion for the nations.  Need help?  Read Let the Nations be Glad (free here!) by John Piper, take the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement Course, and begin praying through Operation World.

A friend pastored a church for several years.  He caught a heart for mission.  He preached God’s heart for mission.  He had folks leave his church from time to time saying, “you preach too much about mission.”  He said, as they left, “you can put that on my tombstone!”  After preaching about our beautiful, global God for a decade, he moved to the Muslim world as a missionary, to practice what he’d been preaching.  There is amazing, global fruit that has come out of that little church in rural Oklahoma all because the under-shepherd helped his flock catch the vision!  If you need help, do not hesitate to let us know.  We are passionate about local churches finding their role in the Great Commission.

Local Church – Global Impact : Culture

Hey all, I am starting a series called “Local Church – Global Impact,” in which I’ll tackle the issue of how a church can move from unengaged and on the sidelines to strategically and energetically on mission.  I’m in North America, so some of what I write will be most helpful in the Western context; however, I’ve seen these same principles play out around the world with wonderful fruit.

So, let me start with sharing something that I’ll reiterate again and again.  Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  That means that no matter how good your church’s mission plan may be, it will never be accomplished without your church embracing a missional culture.  We can plan to reach 5 Unreached People groups, but if we don’t delight in the sending God or care about the lost, then we will accomplish nothing.  Richard Sibbes, English Puritan pastor put it this way:

Does Christ come to us empty? Our duty is to accept of Christ’s inviting of us. What will we do for him, if we will not feast with him? We will not suffer with him, if we will not feast with him; if we will not joy with him, and in him…That which we should labour to bring with us is a taste of these dainties, and an appetite to them…The chief thing that Christ requires is a good stomach to these dainties…Let us open our mouth wide, since Christ is so ready to fill it.

Yes! We will talk more about motivations for mission, but this is the fountainhead; namely, delighting in the overflowing love of the Triune God!  Without that, we would be bad missionaries.  Without that, the church turns in on herself and atrophies.

Our hearts have to change before we can do anything.  We, also, have to be willing to let go of distractions and other pet projects if we want to move in new directions.  It’s hard for a ship to go anywhere when some of the rowers are rowing in the wrong direction.  We’ll find out that articulating a strategic mission focus is fairly simple.  But to see a church go from disinterested to passionate and engaged is a MIRACLE of God.  So, we start with prayer.  Who do you need to pray for daily in your church if you’re going to see mission gain traction there?

UP NEXT: Culture-Shapers at the Table