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.

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

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.

Gospel Motivations for Gospel Ministry

It is good to regularly check your motivations for the ministry(s) you lead or support. We are prone to wander if we don’t check in regularly.

The Eternal Glory of the Daily Grind

This quote is a great example of what you will find in this article: “Rather than being hell, such Christ-enabled labor makes visible a bit of the divine glory that is normally seen only in heaven. Instead of being futile and fleeting, in Christ’s hands, everyone’s daily job actually produces everlasting results.”

Hobbies to the Glory of God

This older article from Tim Challies takes a look at the role of hobbies in our lives, and why they can be done for the glory of God. I think it is a subject that should be discussed more often, and practiced with regularity.

What Christianity in China is Really Like

Often the perception and reality of missions or church in another part of the world are two different things. I have often been confused by different accounts of Christianity in China. I found this article helpful.

Unbelievable

This week I wanted to highlight another podcast that is a regular part of my week. Unbelievable is a debate podcast where Christians and Non-Christians engage in health debate. I love hearing both sides of each debate. It is a great way to learn about other cultures and worldviews. I highly recommend it!

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

Local Church – Global Impact 3: Church Mission Strategy Overview

Well, in part 1, we saw that your church’s culture will determine whether your church’s mission strategy will be accomplished.  We’ll talk more about shaping culture along the way.  We also have seen (part 2) that the key culture-shapers, those who get pulpit time essentially, are indispensable to seeing any church catch God’s heart for the nations and to engage it strategically in a sustained way.  That brings us to the question of Strategy.  Let’s pretend for a minute that our church is already passionate about seeing Jesus made know and cherished among every people group on the planet.  Let’s pretend that we have not only a missional culture, but missional behavior that is just waiting to be pointed in the best direction.  What then?

The process is quite simple.  That doesn’t mean it’s easy, just that it’s simple.  It looks like this: Biblical Convictions shape Biblical Priorities which dictate Biblically informed Policies.  I’ll unpack these in greater detail anon, but for now, let be gift a brief introduction.

BIBLICAL CONVICTIONS – Mission is God’s.  It belongs to the Father, Son, and Spirit.  It’s the Lord’s idea.  He is the only one with the right to define it and to dictate it’s practices and aims.  So, if we miss that, everything else we do is failure.  I don’t remember who said it (maybe Covey), but if you lean your ladder against the wrong building, every step you climb leads you further from your goal.  When’s the last time you wrestled over what a Biblical Missiology looks like?  There is a lot of confusion among Christians about what Mission actually is.  You need clarity, because this must shape all that you do.

BIBLICAL PRIORITIES – Once you understand God’s plan for the world, that is, His Mission, then you’ll be able to have Biblical Priorities as you start to plan for engaging strategically in global mission.  We don’t form priorities by asking what other churches are doing, or what sounds fun or interesting, or even what a missionary we currently support is already doing.  NO!  Our priorities must flow out of our Biblical Convictions.

BIBLICALLY INFORMED POLICIES – most churches start here with their mission program.  They ask “who will we support,” “how much will we give,” “what short-term mission trip will we take,” all before actually understanding God’s Word on Mission.  And of course this leads to catastrophe.  That’s not an overstatement.  It leads to millions of kingdom dollars, hours, and prayers spent on things that are not what God is asking of His Church.  It means the Gospel isn’t getting to the people who most need it.  The Center for the Study of Global Christianity has shown that “Current strategy makes Christians 100 times more effective in splitting existing denominations where Christians already exist than in planting new churches where there are no Christians.”  That’s a catastrophe!

These must all happen.  And they must happen in this order.  Good news: It can be done.  We’ll see how in upcoming posts!

Resources to Help Understand the State of the World

One of the things I’m often called upon to do is to help Christians understand the “State of the World.”  Sometimes this includes talking about trends related to urbanization, globalization, technology, etc.  Always it includes helping people understand where the Gospel is available in the world and where it has never been made available.  I wanted to share some of my favorite resources to help people and churches be well educated on this.  If you know of great resources for this that I haven’t mentioned, please add them in the comments section (this is just a shortlist, but I hope to gather a more complete list).

  1. Operation World – This book (and the website based on it & the soon to be launched app) highlights every country on the planet, provides basic demographics of the country, and attempts to help you understand the progress of the Gospel in that country.  It does this so that you can begin to pray strategic prayers.  Such a great resource!
  2. State of the World – The current editors of Operation World, Jason Mandryk and Molly Wall, gave a wonderful presentation on the global trends that are affecting/will affect global mission in the years ahead at Lausanne’s Third Younger Leaders Gathering this year.  Prepare to be challenged, sobered, and encouraged!
  3. Justin Long’s Fine Print Friday Roundup (that’s a mouthful!) – No one does a better job than Justin at curating global news that could strategically inform our mission.  He does so much awesome heavy lifting for the global church, helping us understand the context in which we minister.  Subscribe to the Friday Roundup!
  4. The Future of the Global Church (book) by Patrick Johnstone, former editor of Operation World, is a beautiful book, unpacking the history, trends, and possibilities of global mission.  I just got mine in the mail and can’t wait to dig in deeper.
  5. Center for the Study of Global Christianity is perhaps the world’s leading research organization on religious demography, especially Christian demography.  They are regularly interviewed/consulted by diverse media groups like Christianity Today, World Economic Forum, Washington Times, NPR, BBC, the Guardian…you get the idea.

Well, this is not an exhaustive list, by any means, but it will get you going!  And remember why this is so important.  If the task given to us is to make disciples of all people groups, that means we need to know who they are, which ones have the Gospel and which ones don’t, what forces are shaping them, what barriers exist to reach them, etc.  This is crucial work!