Temples Made of Sand

It's funny when magazine articles and blog posts suggest that Christianity is collapsing.  Even funnier when they argue that it has run its course when they see a number of ordained ministers leaving their churches and heading to other churches that take a different view on marriage.  There are entire denominations running to the Shechemites, but that certainly doesn't mean it's the end of Christianity.   

We've been here before.

Inter-marriage was a serious and difficult problem in Nehemiah’s time.  God's people were marrying non-believers and the non-believers were drawing God's people to false gods.  It was how the people were pulled away from God, which led to the exile.  Solomon struggled in this (as Nehemiah points out in Nehemiah 13:26).  Ezra dealt with it (Ezra 9).  And we can find the same drama centered around inter-marriage in Nehemiah's day.   There's a loose string coming from the garment of a man named Sanballat.  Let's give it a tug and see what unravels. 

Looking at Nehemiah 13:28-29, there is a curious thing about the relationship between the the son of the High Priest, Eliashib to Sanballat.  It says the son was also the son-in-law of Sanballat, making this guy’s father (Eliashib) the High Priest and his father-in-law (Sanballat) the governor of Samaria.   This also suggests that Sanballat’s daughter was a Horonite like her father.  

But in Nehemiah 10 they had covenanted not to marry outsiders.  They agreed that they would stand on the truth of God's Word. But this son-in-law married a Horonite.  

Why is this a problem? 

The position of High Priest was handed down through family lines.  So there was a potential that this guy could become the High Priest, if not for Leviticus 21:14-15 (which says of the High Priest, "A widow, or a divorced woman, or a woman who has been defiled, or a prostitute, these he shall not marry. But he shall take as his wife a virgin of his own people, that he may not profane his offspring among his people, for I am the LORD who sanctifies him" (bold added for emphasis).  

Josephus gives us more.  In his writing, Antiquities of the Jews, (Book 11, Ch 8), Josephus states that the son of the High Priest, Manasseh was instructed to divorce his wife or he would be driven away from the altar of the Lord.  (This is still in violation of Levitical law, but it seems they were prepared to make some exceptions.) Josephus continues, 

“Whereupon Manasseh came to his father-in-law, Sanballat, and told him that although he loved his daughter Nicaso, yet he was not willing to be deprived sacerdotal dignity on her account, which was the principal dignity in their nation, and always continued in the same family.  And then Sanballat promised him not only to preserve to him the honour of his priesthood, but to procure for him the power and dignity of a high priest, and would make him governor of all the places he himself now ruled, if he would keep his daughter for his wife.  He also told him further, that he would build him a temple like that at Jerusalem, upon Mount Gerizim, which is the highest of all the mountains that are in Samaria; and he promised that he would do this with the approbation of Darius the king.  

“Manasseh was elevated with this promises, and stayed with Sanballat, upon a supposal that he would gain a high priesthood, as bestowed on him by Darius, for it happened Sanballat was then in years.  But there was now a great disturbance among the people of Jerusalem, because many of those priests and Levites were entangled in such matches; for they all revolted to Manasseh, and Sanballat afforded them money, and divided among them land for tillage, and habitations also; and all this in order every way to gratify his son-in-law.” 

So if Josephus is correct, Sanballat gave his son-in-law a high priesthood in an unholy temple and made him the governor of Samaria.  Then as other priests and Levites married foreign women, Sanballat gave them money and land in Samaria.  

Does this account not seem like some of the actions we're seeing today?  The concerning part is the lasting ramifications of building temples to the god of our own desires. 

Remember the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4?  In verse 20 she references a dispute regarding the most holy hill for a temple.  It’s possibly a reference to Judges 9:7 and it’s definitely a reference to the reality that Samaria had a temple of their own . . . on Mount Gerizim.   

Josephus also states, “Now, when Alexander was dead, the government was parted among his successors; but the temple upon Mount Gerizim remained; and if any one were accused by those of Jerusalem of having eaten things common, or having broken the Sabbath, or of any other crime of like nature, he fled away to the Shechemites, and said that he was accused unjustly” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 11, Ch 8). 

So it would seem that there was a liberal temple where one could go if he violated God’s Law but still wanted to feel holy and continue to worship the god of self.  It was this same temple that came about because a son-in-law of Sanballat wanted to be God’s high priest but not follow God’s Law.  And it seems nothing has changed today, has it?  

The Case for Antioch by Jeff Irog

Iorg, Jeff.  The Case for Antioch: A Biblical Model for a Transformational Church. Nashville, Tenn: B&H Publishing Group, 2011.

Books on church planting and building healthy churches are many.  Too many.  But The Case for Antioch is different.   Most the books on church planting are a story about a specific plant, in a specific time, by a specific planter.  After the church is planted, the planter thinks everybody should do the same thing he did.  The same is true of healthy, thriving churches.  Models and methods are promoted and then everybody tries to copy the book.  Jeff Irog did plant a church, but this book is about a plant that happened long before Iorg set out to plant a healthy church.  This book looks at a church plant called Antioch. Maybe you've heard of the Church in Antioch?  It's discussed in the book of Acts.

Dr. Jeff Iorg is the president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary and the author or many other books, including, Is God Calling Me? and Seasons of a Leader's Life.  In this book, Iorg examines clues from the book of Acts and extracts timeless lessons for planting churches and building healthy, transformational churches.

The book is laid out in three parts.  The first is a biblical case study.  It is helpful that in this case study, Iorg defines a transformational church.  Part 2, which is the bulk of the book, is where the lessons learned from Antioch are found.  And the book concludes with a single chapter that encourages the reader to look toward the future.

Iorg's writing style is easy and enjoyable to read.  The information is not watered down, but it is smooth.  If the reader is looking to learn about Antioch he or she will be pleased.  If however, a reader is looking for leadership lessons, he or she will find that too.

At times the book feels repetitive, as if Iorg was trying to fill a word count.  But this is minor and not too distracting.  That being said, I highly recommend The Case for Antioch: A Biblical Model for a Transformational Church

Purchase The Case for Antioch from Amazon here.

What is Courage?


What is courage?  Is it something demonstrated on the field of battle, where bullets cut through flesh and heroic acts dance a pasodoble with death?  Is it giving up a high-dollar promotion to be the father that makes it to his son's soccer games?  Might it be standing up to the bullies that tease your little brother?  Running into a burning building when everyone else is running out is courageous, right?

At a time when being part of the LGBT community is vogue and celebrated, our society (or at least the media) has deemed it courageous just joining the party.  Celebrities are hailed for their courage when they're photographed (for big money from magazines) without make up.  Rock stars are courageous for releasing books that tell the world all of the antics they did that the rest of us already assumed they did.  Politicians are courageous for admitting wrongdoing after having been caught.  One wealthy, politically savvy woman is courageous for running for president while another wealthy, politically savvy woman is courageous for being black and living in the White House.  CEOs are courageous when they go undercover and spend a weekend working an entry-level job in the companies they lead--and it's even more courageous if they do so on a TV show that will promote their company.  Having special dietary needs is courageous.  So is riding a bicycle.  Courage, is turning your cell phone off for an hour.

When everything is courageous, nothing is.

When I think of courage, I think about Polycarp.   Most of what we know about Polycarp comes from a letter he wrote to the Philippians and another letter someone else wrote and circulated to the Second Century churches. That second letter was on the topic of Polycarp's martyrdom.

Polycarp became a Christian as a child.  He studied under the Apostle John and eventually became the Bishop of Smyrna.  During his lifetime he argued against Gnosticism, to include Marcion, a heretic of great note.  But what makes Polycarp truly courageous came when he was 86 years old.

For whatever reason, Rome determined that Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna, was an enemy of the state.  When the Roman centurions came to arrest him, he fed the soldiers dinner.  He then proceeded to pray for two hours.  Eventually the guards took him to Quadratus and a screaming mob of fans that packed out an arena.

While the spectators demanded Polycarp's death, Quadratus demanded that Polycarp deny Christ.  Polycarp responded.  "Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?"

After some banter, Quadratus lost his temper and threatened to burn Polycarp on the stake.  This time Polycarp responded, "You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and after a little while is extinguished, but you are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly."  Quadratus, in his anger, demands that Polycarp be burned alive.  The letter says that the fire did not burn Polycarp so a guard stabbed him with a spear and killed him.

The Roman government felt that an 86 year-old Christian pastor was dangerous to their way of life so he tried to silence Polycarp.  Instead, Polycarp, firmly standing on his convictions, gave up his life for Jesus Christ and continues to speak today.  He would not recant.  He would not back down. And we still remember him for his faithful courage.

History probably holds records of more courageous acts.  But there is something about Polycarp that should inform about us what courage looks like.  Compare Polycarp's last day to many of the things called courageous today.   It's almost laughable, isn't it?  Maybe we should think twice before we call someone courageous, unless he or she really is indeed courageous.    

Pentecost and the Church Year



Last Sunday was Pentecost.   I've not spent much time in local churches celebrate the Church Year liturgy.  Every church has a liturgy, be it less formal or not, and most churches have some kind of typical calendar.  The Evangelical churches I've been a part of celebrate very few Christian holidays.  Sure, every local church I know celebrates Christmas and Easter, Christmas Eve and Good Friday; but what about Pentecost?

Before I get into Pentecost, I probably need to give a brief summary of the Church Year (also referred to as the Liturgical Calendar or Christian Calendar).  The Church Year is a visual representation of the historical narrative of gospel redemption and the life in the New Testament Church.

Different traditions break the year up differently; but for the most part, the 'seasons' look the same.  The first season, which, by they way, does not start on January 1st, is called Advent.  It typically begins about a month before Christmas and consists of four Sundays.  Advent is a season of anticipation of our coming Savior.

The second season is called Christmas.  It lasts 12 days, starting with Christmas Day.  (There's a song about the 12 days of Christmas.  If you didn't know why there was 12 days, now you know.) Because we celebrate Christmas on a fixed calendar date, the date the Christmas season is not dependent upon Easter (more on this below).

Next comes Epiphany.  Epiphany means a disclosure or unveiling and this season represents Christ's earthly ministry.  Various traditions mark special days within this season, but they are not all in agreement about which days to draw more attention too.  Epiphany begins January 6th and can last as much as nine weeks depending upon which Sunday Easter falls.  Epiphany ends when the season of Lent begins.

Lent begins 40 days before Easter.  It is intended to be a time of preparation.  According to T J. German, Lent started as a week long fast but was extended to 40 days in the 7th Century.  Depending on the tradition, every Friday of Lent is a day of abstinence.  Prayer and fasting are important.  People of some traditions abstain from a desired item as a way to anticipate and long for the coming of Easter.  In addition, Holy Week is the last week of Lent and refers to the last week of Christ's earthly life.  The First Day of Lent is typically called Ash Wednesday.

Easter is the name of the most holy day of the Christian Year and it's the name of the next season.  Easter is a movable feast, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus.  It is connected with Passover because Christ raised from the tomb on the Sunday following Passover.  Technically, Jewish Rabbis determine the day for passover. But to simplify when Christians celebrate Easter, it is set on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the Spring equinox.  The Easter season is 7 weeks long and includes The Day of Ascension.  (Some traditions include Pentecost as part of the Easter season too.)

The final season, which represents life in anticipation of the consummation of the Kingdom, is either called The Season After Pentecost or Ordinary Time.  On occasion, this season is all called Pentecost.  Some traditions place the Day of Pentecost in the Easter season, some have a one week break between seasons, and some open the season with the Day of Pentecost.  No matter how you break it up, last Sunday was the Day of Pentecost.

Pentecost is an interesting holy day.  In the Old Testament is was actually called the Feast of Weeks (Exodus 34:22 and Deuteronomy 16:10).  It was to be celebrated seven weeks after the Paschal Feast.  In other words, 50 days later, there would be another feast.  The Greek word, pentekostos, means fifty.  The celebration was originally designated to celebrate the first fruits of the harvest (Leviticus 23:17-20 and Deuteronomy 16:9-10).

Jesus was crucified on Passover.  He was the perfect sacrificial lamb and the perfect completion of the Exodus foreshadowing.  What a remarkable connection to the lamb in Exodus.  In that event, the lamb was sacrificed so its innocent blood could mark the homes of those the angel of death would passover.  It is fitting that Jesus would be crucified on the day of a celebration about sacrifice, just as it is fitting that the Holy Spirit would come on a day that traditionally celebrated the harvest.  

Before Jesus ascended to heaven, he instructed his disciples to wait in Jerusalem.  They waited and prayed.  They also replaced Judas, who had betrayed Jesus.  Then, Acts 2 opens by stating that the day was Pentecost.  It was on that day that the Holy Spirit came on the disciples and filled them.  It was also on that day that people witnessed the impact of the Spirit and questioned what was happening.  Peter, being filled with the Holy Spirit, stood and preached.  3,000 people became believers that day.  Talk about some first fruits of the harvest!

Some church traditions don't make a peep about Pentecost.  I come from such a tradition and I find that sad.  What a great day to celebrate.   What a great way to remember and learn.  Some traditions, however, celebrate baptisms on Pentecost.  That is a remarkable picture of the working of Christ.  I think this is one Church Year holy day that ought to be celebrated with a little more gusto.  And if that can be done with baptisms, all the better.  I don't know what the church I pastor will do next year, but I hope it's more than I've done in the past.

Welcome to Pentecost, The Time After Pentecost, or Ordinary Time. . . depending on your persuasion.    

John of the Cross: The Dark Night of the Soul

John of the Cross understood something of spiritual growth. “At a certain point in the spiritual journey,” writes John, “God will draw a person from the beginning stage to a more advanced stage. At this stage the person will begin to engage in religious exercises and grow deeper in the spiritual life” (1). The means, according to John, is the ‘dark night of the soul.’ This dark night is that time when, “those persons lose all the pleasure in that they once experienced in their devotional life” (2).

Seeing God as a mother caring for her little one, John compares the new believer to the babe suckling and feasting on its mother’s milk. “But there will come a time,” he writes, “when God will bid them to grow deeper” (3). As difficult as it may be, the dark night is the means of growth.

The Christian will experience a dry season in his or her devotion with God. Dry may even be an understatement for those who completely seem to lose any closeness with God. God withdraws himself for a season. However, the risk of living a life free of the dark night is grave. John identifies seven spiritual sins that manifest themselves in the devotion of the believer because of immaturity and a lack of the dark night season. Pride, greed, luxury, wrath, gluttony, envy, and sloth in devotion creep in and lead to death. A survey across Christendom confirms the very presence of these seven sins and may actually cause the Christian to welcome the dark night of the soul, the Christian who deeply desires to grow closer to Christ and mature in his or her journey. “No soul will grow deep in the spiritual life,” argues John, “unless God works passively in that soul by means of the dark night” (4).

1.  Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith, eds. Devotional Classics: Selected readings for individuals and Groups (New York: NY, HarperCollins, 2005), 33.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4.  Ibid., 37.

* This post comes from a paragraph of a paper written for the partial fulfillment of a DMin at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.  It has been redacted and modified for this website.
** Photo used in this post is in the public domain. 

Early Mark Manuscript Closer to Validation


On May 22, 2012 I published a post on this website about the potential of a First Century manuscript fragment of the Book of Mark.  (You can find that post here).  Now it seems that we are getting closer to validating that find.  These things take peer-review and that takes lots of time, but LiveScience.com posted an article with more details about this discovery.  (You can find that article here.)

It turns out that the manuscript pages of the book of Mark were used as something like a paper mache (or more appropriately a papyri mache) Egyptian mask.  The mask, like the one pictured in this post, was much like the more popular gold masks only for those of a lower income.  Even then, papyri was expensive so it made sense to use recycle papyri.  It's just going to be painted anyway, right?  Dr. Craig Evans has reported that he has found numerous documents contained in the recycled papyri in these masks, including business documents, classical greek works, and this very special manuscript of Mark.

Why is this a big deal?

Here's why.  It's a document of Mark that's much closer to the original.  Critical scholars will often argue that the Gospels were written hundreds of years after the event.  This manuscript disputes those claims.  It's also fascinating where it was found.  It would seem that in order for the document to turn up in Egypt, it had to have been copied from another source (or the original) sometime earlier.

This is a remarkable find and will likely shake up the academic world as this makes its way through peer review.  Keep your eyes open and on the lookout for more information to come.

*The mask pictured in this post is an Egyptian funerary mask located in a museum in Vienna, Austria. The photo is in the public domain.

A Look at End Times, AKA: "An Overview of Eschatology"

A part of the ministry of SaltyBeliever.com is a podcast called Salty Believer Unscripted.  You can find our podcasts on our Resources Page or subscribe to it on iTunes.  (A selection of them are also available at EntrustedWithTheGospel.com.)

If you've never listened to "Salty Believer Unscripted," it's basically an unscripted, unedited 20 to 30 minute conversation between pastors that's recorded so you can join in.  We typically select a series topic (but not always) and chat over coffee.  We just finished a series called "An Overview of Eschatology" which takes a look at what the Bible has to say about the end times.  (At the time of this post, we're recording a series of podcast with other church planters and pastors, getting a feel for what's happening in the ministry of church planting across the country.)

Eschatology is kind of a funny thing. Either people are excessively into it and it dictates how they think about everything or they really don't have an opinion or thought about it at all.  This, I think, is primarily because people are so influenced by how they've seen others behave rather than what the Bible says.  So Jared Jenkins, Benjamin Pierce, Brett Ricely, and I set out to introduce and discuss some of the ideas contained in the study of Eschatology.  And in case you're wondering, we start with "What does Eschatology mean?"

Through this discussion, we cover topics like how we should interpret prophecy, where to find end times stuff in the Bible, why is studying eschatology important, the millenium, the tribulation, and the state of both heaven and hell.  Hopefully this will help you on your journey to better understand eschatology.  Are you a premillennialist, amillennialist, or postmillennialist?  How do you understand books like Revelation, Matthew, Daniel, and Isaiah; and what are they saying about the end?  What's your view on the tribulation and rapture?  Are you a litterlisist, historicists, or something else?  What is the New Heavens and New Earth like?  What's going to happen to this earth?  Why should we care?  We hope to help you answer these and many other questions.  However, we only offer a brief overview.  We don't get too bogged down.

Whether you have an interest in the end times or if you've never thought about it, I hope you'll consider checking out our Salty Believer Unscripted series, "An Overview of Eschatology."

Subscribe to the Salty Believer Unscripted Podcasts:
iTunes  | Non iTunes

Or listen here:

An Overview of Eschatology
-- An Intro of the Terms audio
-- Prophecy: A Difficult Task audio
-- The Near-Far Views of Prophecy audio
-- Scripture, Not Man's Ideas audio
-- Definitions: How We See Prophecy audio
-- Understanding the Millennium audio
-- Why We Should Study for Ourselves audio
-- The Tribulation and Rapture audio
-- The The Glory and Wonder of Heaven audio
-- Hell is for Real audio

*Artwork by flickr.com user, "Rich" is registered under a creative commons license and used by permission. 

Overview of Eschatology

Salt Believer Unscripted has embarked into the future, that is, we've started a series that looks at eschatology.  This is not to say that we're going to start wearing sandwich boards that read, "The end is near."  We're not going to scream through a bullhorn.  And we don't need to identify The Anti-Christ because the Apostle John already has (in 1 John 2:22 he says he's anybody who denies the Father and the Son).  No, we're simply walking through an overview of eschatology.

If we're not going to get over-excited about end times symbolism and preach every sermon about our view of the end, why are we doing it?  Well, because we want to do our best to understand Scripture.  Avoiding specific Scriptural teaching just because people get crazy about it and it's kind of strange is not a sound practice for a student of the Bible.  Also, because Revelation 1:3 says, "Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near."  If people are blessed to read the book of Revelation, that is stands to reason that we probably ought to study it.  I suspect the same is true of Isaiah, Matthew, Daniel, the letters of the Paul, and all the other books of the Canon.  And finally, because a listener asked after seeing a trailer for a Hollywood's attempt to explain it.

If you'd like to join us for this series, subscribe to our podcast or find the series on the resource page of Saltybeliever.com.

Subscribe to the Salty Believer Unscripted Podcasts:
iTunes  | Non iTunes

*Artwork by Phillip Medhurst is registered under a Creative Commons Licence. 

What's in a Name?

"What's in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet"  -- William Shakespeare

Shakespeare's character, Juliet, asks a good question: "What's in a name?"  Would Romeo be any different to her if his name were Steve?  Would she love him less?  When we think about church names, we really ought to ask that question.  
Biblically churches were identified by a lose nomenclature.  For example, in Acts 13:1 the church meeting in Antioch is called the church in Antioch.  In Paul's letter to the Romans he mentions Phoebe who was a servant of the church at Cenchreae.  This is simple.  Many churches still name themselves by their general location.  Maybe the name of the church is the street their building is located on.  Or maybe it's a regional thing.

The Bible doesn't dictate that names have to be geographical, however.  In some cases, this would be really difficult.  So some churches take names from other significance.  Living Stones Church is an example that comes from 1 Peter 2:4-5.  A friend of mine named the church he planted Taproot Church because the taproot is the strong root that grows deep down and anchors the tree.  Some churches just select catchy words like Velocity or Amazing or some other buzzword.  Some churches go with Greek or Latin names.  Or maybe the church is named after a saint of the past. 

Theology often makes an appearance in church names.  Many churches attempt to draw distinctions by including theological words like grace or faith or free will.  Or if it's not a theological distinction, it may be a practical one.  To indicate something about a church they may add Bible or community or evangelical to their name.  And of course many churches at one time held the denominational distinction in their name.  First Baptist.  Some Church Presbyterian.

A lot goes into a name, but in the end, the church may actually be the same if it's called the Romeo Church or Steve Church.  The local church is a gathered group of disciples who have covenanted together to be a local church.  Who they are will say much more about the church than the name.  A bad name can be problematic, but a good name really will only be a good church if the people are good, Jesus loving people in strong unity.

Jared Jenkins and I discuss this in greater detail as well as give some examples, make jokes, and share personal naming stories on this episode of Salty Believer Unscripted

*Photo taken by Romana Klee is registered under a creative commons license.

Works and Grace at the Same Party?

"Christianity is about grace," so many believers rightly proclaim, "salvation is through grace alone!" This is a regular statement made in many confessions of faith and statements of belief as a reaction to those who argue that there is some task or tasks to earn salvation.  The Bible argues that there is not a single work that one can engage in to earn salvation. It's a free gift because the work was done and completed by Jesus Christ.  But how often does this 'no-works' thinking bleed into areas where it ought not to?  The Bible is full of instruction, guidance, and commands.  How many times do its readers dismiss the difficult passages simply because they look like 'work'?  And the bigger question is how Christians reconcile works and grace?

In some areas of the country the works vs grace argument is hot.  It may have been even more intense some 1600 years ago when Augustine and Pelagius were arguing about it.  Augustine's position (which claimed that salvation is by grace alone) prevailed and Pelagius was branded a heretic. That issue, however, didn't get at the reality that God still asks us to do things.  Why?  And what's the deal with this work?

I was recently asked to preach on what Proverbs has to say about the topic of work.  I chose Proverbs 6:6-11 as my primary text.  This question continued to nag at me as I was studying.  How can we explain that salvation is through grace alone but it is also by God's grace that we are given instruction, guidance, and commands once we become Kingdom citizens?  If doing or not doing these works has no baring on our salvation, why do them?  What are they for? 

In simple terms, it's like a castle with a large moat around it.  From outside, there's nothing a person can do to bring the drawbridge down. However, Jesus has done the work to lower the drawbridge and it was work only he could do.  He invites us to cross the bridge and enter the castle to live with the King. This is a free gift.  It's grace. But there is another gift of grace given to us and that's the Kingdom ethic. We've been given instructions, guidance, and commands to help us relate well with the King, other Kingdom citizens, and those who have yet to cross the drawbridge. While some see this Kingdom ethics as work, it's actually a gift too. The Kingdom ethic isn't something that could cause us to get kicked out once we've crossed the bridge; but rather, it is so something that teaches and conforms us to look more like the King. Yes, it's a gift, and that's grace too.

While I could explain this further here, I'd rather point you to the sermon.  If this question is nagging at you, or you are trying to reconcile how grace and works fit together, please consider listening to this sermon: Proverbs on Work. I pray that it's helpful in how you understand God and his Word.

*Photo by Sean Molin and is registered under a creative commons license.

A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards by George M. Marsden

Marsden, George M. A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub, 2008.

While on a road trip, I decided to listen to the audio book, A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards by George Marsden.   At only eight chapters, a preface, acknowledgments, and a conclusion, the book is relatively short and seemed about right for my return trip from San Fransico to Salt Lake (to include some breaks away from the book).

Marsden sets out to paint a picture of Edwards as a revolutionary, although one unlike those of Edwards' day.  To assist in drawing this comparison, the book opens with a lengthy discussion of Benjamin Franklin, and more specifically Silence Dogood, the fictitious editorial writer used by Franklin.  Into the second chapter, Edwards' family and Edward himself become the primary subject of the work.  Marsden journeys through Edwards' life at a rapid pace; yet at times slowing down to nearly a halt in order to discuss a finner detail or event here and there.  From Edwards' ministry ambitions to the early awaking and then the First Great Awakening a decade later, interesting details are offered.  From being voted out of the pulpit to venturing into a Native American mission to becoming the president of Yale, many speculations of Edwards' emotions supply much food for thought.  And finally Marsden concludes with a comparison of Edwards and other revolutionaries like Benjamin Franklin.

I found this book enjoyable although I nearly gave up on the work at the end of the first chapter.  The exploration of Franklin and Silence Dogood was an odd way to start and didn't leave me with a desire to hear more.  It was boring.  However, things changed quickly in the second chapter and then I found myself wanting to continue all they way to the end of Edwards's life.  At the conclusion however, Franklin comes back into the picture and a commentary is offered.  Marsden speculates what may have happened had Edwards lived into the Revolutionary War, as did Franklin.  Here, Masden offers many thoughts on materialism, deism, and the social order.  Marsden certainly seems to know Edwards but the conclusion assumed Edwards would not have changed.  Edwards was, from what I gather from this book, a consistent man, but wars and age often change people.  Personally, I could have started reading in chapter two and avoided the conclusion.  Had I done so, I believe I would have had an enjoyable, informative, and interesting biography of Edwards.  I could have done without the commentary.   None-the-less, I enjoyed A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards and would recommend it to anyone interested in this period of history, Jonathan Edwards, or serving in the pastorate.

*I have no material connection to this book, financial or otherwise.

The Church History ABCs

Nichols, Stephen J., and Ned Bustard.  The Church History ABCs: Augustine and twenty-five other heroes of the Faith. Crossway: Weaton, Ill, 2010.

Kids can learn a lot from the history of the Church.  Parents, for that matter could learn a lot, and most Christians today are completely unfamiliar with the history of our spiritual family.  Enter Dr. Stephen Nichols and Ned Bustard's The Church History ABCs: Augustine and twenty-five other heroes of the Faith.  This is a book that teaches both children and parents about 26 characters from Church history.

Nichols writes (and Bustard illustrates) short, fun blurbs about each character as if from that character's own perspective.  The pictures are full of icons and clues about the individuals as well.  For example, Augustine's page reads,
"When I was a young boy, I took some pears that did not belong to me.  I did not want the pears, I just enjoyed doing wrong.  But God loved me and Christ died to forgive all my sin.  Years later when I was serving as a bishop, I wrote two famous books.  And I worked hard to remind the church that God loves us before we love him" (5). 
The picture not only features a cartoon of Augustine, he's also holding a copy of Confessions and he's sitting on a pair.  (Augustine happens to be my four-year-old's favorite story in this book and he can recite this little historical story verbatim.)    In the back is a section with short articles about each person written for adults in a format more like something found in a typical history book.

My family reads one page a night around the dinner table.  We love it.  But in addition to the fun and the lesson in Church history, it has also been amazing to see the practical life lessons my children are picking up on.  We've read the stories of martyrs and missionaries.  The faith of these heroes has been an encouragement to our entire family.

The 26 heroes of the faith (27 technically, with the Wesley brothers) include:  Augustine, Anne Bradstreet, John Calvin, John Donne, Jonathan Edwards, John Foxe, Lady Jane Gray, Hippolytus, Ignatius, Absalom Jones, John Knox, Martin Luther, Monica, John Newton, John Owen, Patrick, Queen Jeanne of Navarre, Bishop Nicholas Ridley, Charles Spurgeon, Tertullian, Zacharias Ursinus, Antonio Vivaldi, John & Charles Wesley, Francis Xavier, Florence Young, and Ulrich Zwingli.    

This is a fun book and a great way to get an introduction to Church history.  I highly recommend it!

*I have no monetary connection to this book.

Lessons from Church History

In the forward to 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (Holman Reference), J.I. Packer says, Both the processes and characters of history have a vast amount to teach us; studying them matures our judgment and frees us from blind submission to present-day prejudices" (XI, 2000).  In short, history is important.  Christian history then, is even more important considering the depth, weight, and magnitude of the our relationship with God through the ages. 

The Bible is a written history, either of the individual's words or a narrative, or both.  Even the book of Revelation which is often thought only to be a book about the things to come is history.  Revelation 1:1-2 provides an introduction that something suggests something happened and John wrote it down.  Like the history of book of Revelation, Christian history (with includes John and his books) holds lessons and instruction for the present and future as well as a look into the past. This is precisely the point of Hebrews 11 and the fantastic picture and instruction provided in Hebrews 12. 

Truly believing that we can learn much and be greatly encouraged by the history of Jesus' Church, Jared Jenkins, Benjamin Pierce, and I recorded a series of podcasts about lessons we can learn from Church history.   In each podcast, we briefly examine a person or event from history and then discuss lessons or encouragements we've learned.   Our heroes of Church history come from the patristic age all the way forward to the mid-1900s and include both men and women.  We selected apologists, scholars, pastors, preachers, missionaries, martyrs, politicians, pioneers, and front runners in social justice. 

If you're interested, you can subscribe to "Salty Believer Unscripted" on iTunes or listen here:

Lessons from Church History
-- Athanasius and Lady Jane Gray (Part 1) audio 
-- Patrick and the Puritans (Part 2) audio
-- Jan Hus and Charles Spurgeon (Part 3) audio
-- Conrad Grabel, George Blourock, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Part 4) audio
-- Polycarp and John Chrysostom (Part 5) audio

*Photo of Natural History Museum of London, England was taken by Geof Wilson and is registered under a creative commons license.

Reformation Day!

On October 31, 1517 a German monk nailed a list of 95 grievances against the Roman Catholic Church on the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Saxony. The monk was Martin Luther, the grievances are technically called The Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, and October 31, 1517 (Reformation Day) often marks the opening bell of the Protestant Reformation.

Why was the monk so concerned? First, it should be said that he was also a professor and did a great deal of study.  He studied the Bible in a time when Scripture was often unavailable.  And second, he grew concerned about what he saw because he read his Bible. Studying God's Word, it became clear to Luther that Pope Leo X had steered the Catholic Church far from the doctrines taught in the Bible. For example, ideas of salvation and grace were dependent upon the mercy of Pope Leo X rather than Jesus Christ and his resurrection. We see the error of this false teaching in 1 Timothy 2:5-6, which reads,

“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.”

It should probably be said that at the university where Luther taught, it was actually a common practice to nail a thesis for discussion to the large door.  This was a way to signal an intellectual discussion or academic debate.  It is believed that Luther was not originally intending to fire such a bullet but instead start a conversation.  However, the thesis launched much more conversation than Luther intended, possibly because the printing press had recently been invented and allowed a publisher to remove the thesis from the door, print it, and distribute it to a wider audience than the university.   Regardless of the intention, The 95 Thesis launched a discussion that still lives today. 

On this, the 495th anniversary of the 1st Reformation Day, take a moment to ask yourself, first, is Jesus Christ your mediator before God or are you depending upon another (or maybe some specific works)?  Also ask yourself, are you studying God’s Word, reading the Bible like that German Monk who took a step of faith and changed the world?

Happy Reformation Day! 

*The famous 1529 oil painting by Lucus Cranch der Altere is in the public domain. 

The Para-Church Prosthetic

In 1 Corinthians Paul likened the Church to a physical body saying,
"For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, thought many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
"For the body does not consist of one member but of many.  If the foot should say, 'Because  I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, 'Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.  If all were a single member, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, yet one body"  (1 Corinthians 12:12-20, ESV). 
Paul's primary point is a demonstration of unity among Christians within the Body, that is, the Church.  Each member of the local church is not expected to be exactly like the other members.  We need one another and all of us serve in different functions but function together.  By extension, the same should be true of each local church.  Various local churches, while still mirroring the shadow of the Kingdom, will likely look different among the entire Body of the Church built and lead by Christ.

How then are we to understand the role of the para-church?

To get to the heart of this question, we must first attempt to define para-church.  The para-church is typically any organization or network that works alongside the Church.  Missionary organizations, campus ministries, learning centers, church-planting networks, Christian counseling facilities, orphanages, chaplain services, and seminaries are some of the most typical para-church organizations.  Some denominations, at times, function like a para-church.

Historically, the rise of various para-church organizations came in the wake of the failure or inability of the Church in one specific area or another.  As local churches stumbled to send and support missionaries, para-church organizations were formed and came to the aid of struggling local churches.  When theological education is not being adequately developed in the local church, Bible colleges, seminaries, learning centers, certificate programs, and publishers come alongside the local church to help.  Campus ministries abound where local churches struggle to reach the campuses with the gospel.

Para-church organizations are like a prosthetic limb for the Body.  Where the local church's reach is limited because it has no arm, the para-church can extend that reach.  But we must see this for what it really is if we are to understand how the Body of Christ best functions with the para-church.  

First, a prosthetic limb is useless apart from the body.  The prosthetic limb helps the disabled person, not the other way around.  Any para-church organization that does not work in conjunction with the Body of Christ, specifically with connections to local churches, is a prosthetic limb attached to nothing.  Para-church organizations should be seeking ways to help the Body.  Too often, para-church organizations demand that the Body financially help the prosthetic (in the name of advancing the Kingdom) without any intention serving alongside or connecting to the Body.

Second, the para-church is not the Church.   At times, para-church organizations function completely apart from the local church.  The claim is often something to the effect: "It's all about the Kingdom," but then no attention is given to the prosthetic connection point--the local church.  In addition, when para-church organizations function completely apart from the local-church, they become just an eye or ear and often assume that the entire Church is (or should be) only an eye or ear.  And many times the people involved in these kind of para-church organizations learn to depend too heavily on the para-church and can't seem to integrate into a local body.  Rather than becoming part of the bigger body and part of the family, they learn only to become a prosthetic limb.  While it is certainly not the case for all para-church organizations, some make little or no effort to encourage people to join and serve within a local church. Some outright discourage local church involvement.  In the bigger picture, this does little good for the Body.

Third, local churches should do more to encourage and equip para-church organizations that are serving in an area where the church is struggling.  A good relationship between the local church and a para-church organization is like the active person who lives very well with a prosthetic limb.  Local churches really aught to see the para-church (if it's functioning in conjunction with the mission of the local church) as an aid where the church is in need.  This can be a healthy relationship.  And this may be one way to better advance the mission of the Church.

Finally, churches can grow new limbs.  Through Christ, churches can regenerate failing and missing parts of the Body.  Where the human often depends on the prosthetic limb for life, the Church is really only on crutches while a new limb could be forming.  Local churches and para-churches should work together to grow limbs, training and equipping people in the area the para-church is covering.  In fact, the truest measure of the success of the para-church results in being replaced well by the local church.   If only more local churches and para-church would strive for such a goal!

* Photo of the prosthetic leg worn 1st Lt. Ryan McGuire  during track and field events was taken by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III and is registered under a creative commons license. 

My Morning Bible Book Club

I read the Bible cover to cover a couple times before heading the seminary. I would open the first page and read until I got to the last page and I’d usually do this in a year with a reading plan. When I entered seminary, I was required to read the Old Testament in chronological order rather than in canonical order. I had to do it in 8 weeks, which is hurricane speed. Then I had to read the Pentateuch (the first 5 books) for the next OT class. Then it was boiled down to just a single book in great depth. I had to do the same thing in my New Testament studies. First the entire New Testament, then the Gospels for a class, Paul’s Epistles for another, then just John, Hebrews, and others.

Where I used to be one who would read the entire Bible every year, I learned the great value of slowing down and residing in a single book for a long period of time.

Not too long ago, I picked the book of 1 John and read the entire book every day for a month. It was amazing how much I would still see even after 30 days! Then I decided I wanted to study it in even greater depth. I read a couple hefty introductions on the book itself for some background. Then, after watching this video, I had an idea.

I decided I’d start a morning book club centered around 1 John. I invited John Calvin, Thomas Johnson, Gary Burge, Marianne Thompson, Matthew Henry, Glenn Barker, any of the Church Fathers who had something to say, and a couple others based on the commentaries I owned on 1 John. The topic for the 1st morning was 1 John 1:1-4.

I quickly realized a few things. First, these four verses generated over 100 pages of discussion from these few scholars! Next, I saw where there were different ideas as well as those things that everybody agreed upon. And they raised so many ideas and questions I hadn’t thought of even after reading, praying on, and meditating on the same 4 verses every day for the previous 30 days. Their studies provided some extremely helpful background information too. I quickly grasped the reality of the Holy Spirit working in these people across all believers in all time and I was feeling very in touch with the Church through the same Holy Spirit working in me to illuminate Scripture. It was amazing!

The next thing I realized is that I didn’t have enough time in my morning to read all these pages. I quickly had to decide who to un-invite to this book club. Even though we were together for a single day, I felt such a loss not having all of them sitting at the table, enjoying a cup of joe and discussing Scripture. But, it had to be done. (I decided when I do this again with another book that'll have some of un-invited guys at the table next time if they have something to say on the selected book.)

As this went on for a few days, I realized that I was the dumbest person in the conversation and therefore had the most to gain. What a blessing for me that these guys where in my book club!

And finally, I became keenly aware of the isolation this placed me in. Sure, I was communing with God and that is good, but there was still something missing—live fellowship with others. While I was starting to feel as if I were in a conversation with these other brothers, all that was really before me were their books. It wasn’t really them; it wasn’t real people, just the product of their ideas on one topic edited by a team and then published. So the discussion was still lacking something. I decided then and there to always appreciate the fellowship God has placed me in. We need one another as God intended. (And I would love to have live people in my book club but it starts at 5:30am and I’m only wearing a bathrobe. So it’s just me and the Holy Spirit for now, and that’s good too.)

Non-the-less, my book club continues, slowly, a small amount of verses at a time. And as I move through my day, I find myself thinking about the verses. With this pace, I can nearly memorize them and hear them playing in my head throughout the day. And I hear and think on the “conversations” with the scholars and Church Fathers on those same verses.

It’s amazing how much this 'book club' has impacted my day, each day, and my walk with Christ! I highly encourage you give it a try and invite some theologians to join you.

* The photo used in this post is in the public domain. 
** Special thanks to Tim Kimberly and the Credo House for their dedicated work to teaching theology and study methods. 

Measuring Community Depth

Over the past few decades, it seems there is more and more "community" competing for the Christian's involvement.  Community (at least at some level) is available at nearly every turn.  Where it was once found primarily in the neighborhood, workplace, and the local church, opportunities for community are ever more abundant. Be it professional associations or groups centered around hobbies, gangs of all shapes and sizes, political caucuses, sports teams, outdoor groups, or on-line communities, when connection with others is sought after it can be easily found.  Or at least the group is found, community itself may be another matter. And even more complex is the Christian community.

As more people were seeking and finding community apart from the Church, the local churches responded.  Over the past century the small group Bible Study known as 'Sunday School' became popular.  It then transitioned to some other kind of community group, be it called the small group, community group, home group, gospel gathering, prayer group, home study, life group, missional community, accountability group, house church, power team, mid-week group, koinonia, redeemer family, connect group, spirit team, discipleship community, soma group, or any other variety of nomenclature.  These groups tend to consider them selves as "community" and draw their purpose from biblical reasoning.  The most common argument comes from Acts 2:42-47, which reads,
"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  And all who believed where together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.  And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (ESV).
Interestingly, this text appears to be explaining the entirety of the local church, not a single "community group" but by no means is there anything wrong with a smaller group seeking this kind of community.  But how do we know if we're reaching this level of community?  What's its depth?  Do we have a 1 inch blanket of snow or 35 feet?  It can be difficult to tell when we only examine the surface.

The first thing we need to come to grips with is how we define community.  What is the purpose for our community groups?  What makes Christian community different from all the other communities we find in the world?  This is a hot topic today as evidenced by all the how-to books filling the shelves with all kinds of different ideas. Articles are written arguing that community groups are about studying the Word while other articles say community groups are about being missional and reaching the lost while still other articles will say it's about taking care of one another.  (And they all most always cite portions of Acts 2:42-47.)  Local churches have also registered their ideas by implementing a cornucopia of different kinds of organized small groups.

Once we define our purpose we can better take measurements.  Once we understand why we gather, we can check the depth.  If the purpose for community groups is to reach the lost, then our measurements should reflect how many lost people are being reached.  If our groups are about study and growth, then when we plunge the measuring stick in, we should see how much the participants are growing.  Or maybe we should see if anyone is in need and examine how well we're meeting needs.  Or maybe we just count attendance and commitment level.  But as we examine one aspect of community, we seem to neglect other aspects. 

I would like to propose that Christian community--be it some kind of study, a group that meets in a home, an informal group of believing friends, a formal organized association, or the gathering that meets on Sunday mornings--should reflect gospel community which is much deeper than many of the single purposes proposed by so many articles.  The Christian community should be a shadow of heaven and offer the hope of salvation as well as the better things to come. Christian community should be viewed as the bride of Christ and those in the community should be in a growing, loving relationship with Christ.  We often call this Church, but Church, that is, the Body of Christ, aught to be synonymous with Christian or gospel-centered community. I believe this is what differentiates Christian community from all other forms of community the world offers.

And as we begin to measure depth in our community groups, it becomes a much more complicated matter.  Is there love among the brothers and sisters?  Is there joy and hope in Jesus?  Is there growth?  Is this a community centered around loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and then loving our neighbors as ourselves?  Are we about the Great Commandment and the Great Commission?  Is there grace for one another?  Does our community reflect Jesus and lift him up?  Is the Holy Spirit present among us?  Do we see the Fruit of the Spirit?  Is there real life transformation found within our community?  Is there this much depth or is our community only as shallow as the single issue we've built our community around?  Has Christ build the community or is it a product of our own design?  Is our community about God's kingdom or is our community about fulfilling our selfish, worldly needs?

* Photo of Theo Donk and Eric Kuovolo measuring the snow depth was taken by Washington State Department of Transpiration and is registered under a Creative Commons License.  

Review: Credo House Member's Area

I know. You may be asking, "You're reviewing a coffee shop?" No.  While I harbor hopes of someday road-tripping from Salt Lake City, Utah to Edmond, Oklahoma, podcasting for Salty Believer Unscripted along the entire excursion, I confess that I have never been to the Credo House.  I have no idea if their coffee is any good.  Luther Latte? Nope; no idea.  Calvin Cappuccino? No clue.  They sound nice, as does the atmosphere at the Credo House, but neither the drinks or Heretic's Corner are the subject of this review. 

Instead, I've examined Credo House Ministries, and more specifically the Credo House Members Area.  And it is the Credo House Members Area that will be the subject of this review. For obvious reasons, this review will be slightly different than the many book reviews offered on SaltyBeliever.com.

The Credo House Members Area is fairly new, but the Credo House is not.  Its history has roots as deep at 2001 when Michael Patton taught a class at Stonebriar Church in Frisco, Texas. Within a year, that single class was formalized into The Theology Program, a 6-class journey with each of the classes consisting of 10 hours of lecture, workbooks, and assigned reading.  (Of course, today, you can travel through this program online or on DVD at any level of commitment with which you're comfortable.)  Another year later Bible.org started posting these class on their website.   By 2006, Reclaiming the Mind Ministries was incorporated.  (This is when I was introduced to Reclaiming the Mind Ministries and trekked through the Theology Program online. I also started listening to Michael Patton's podcast, Theology Unplugged.)  The Credo House was built in 2009, but not before Patton started a popular blog called Pen and Parchment and Reclaiming the Mind Ministries started shifting from just the mind to reclaiming the heart, soul, and mind.  In 2010, Tim Kimberly was brought on to Credo House Ministries, which was a fantastic addition.  Together, these two men grew the podcast (which now also features Sam Storms and J. J. Sied), built up what I hear is a remarkable coffee house, and added the Discipleship Program and some Boot Camps to accompany the Theology Program on the shelf of training materials.  And only recently, they've created the Credo House Members Area where all of these resources are assembled and available online for an annual or monthly subscription. 

When you enter the Credo House Members Area, you will find a large collection of videos, organized by program and subject.  They have the Discipleship Program, which is a 10 video overview of what every believer should know and live as a Christian.  It's great for new believers.  You will also find the Boot Camps.  These are short, compressed classes to give the student a good crash course on a specific topic.  At the time of this review, these Boot Camps include Church History, Essentials of Faith, and How to Study the Bible. The Theology Program is also available in the Members Area.  There's weekly video of the Theology Unplugged podcast and many additional videos on various topics, sometimes including scholars or other guests.  

The Credo House Members Area also includes the ability to find other members and build groups or chat forums, although these features have yet to really take off.  It also seems that more features are being added regularly.  The most recent feature is a certificate system for the Discipleship Program, Boot Camps, and The Theology Program.  The certificate requires the videos be watched and there's a short test at the end of each session.  

At the time of this review, the Credo House Members Area is $25 per month for individuals (which includes a Credo House T-shirt) or $250 for an individual annual membership.  A church membership that includes up to 100 memberships and one T-shirt is $50 per month or $500 per year.  There are hundreds of hours of material and downloadable workbooks available in the Credo House Members Area.  For some perspective, just the Theology Program on DVD with workbooks is $459.

While the Credo House has been endorsed by the likes of Charles Swindoll, JP Moreland, Roger Olsen, and Dan Wallace, this is not an endorsement but a critical review specifically of the Credo House Members Area.

I signed up Risen Life Church under the annual church membership because we are blessed to have a good number of men and women with a desire to learn and grow beyond what we offer on Sunday morning or through our various other ministries.  Some of them appear to have a calling into the professional ministry.  We are in the process of developing additional training and hands-on opportunities, but in the meantime, the Credo House Members Area has been an excellent tool in the building up and equipping the saints for ministry.  And the people taking advantage of it are excited about it and seem to be consuming the material with joy and fervor.  As a pastor charged with equipping the saints and directly working with these individuals, I'm thrilled that the Credo House is a para-church organization that appears to actually operate accordingly (a rare thing to find these days).  The material in the Credo House Members Area is the training that wouldn't typically be preached from a pulpit or taught in a Bible study (although it does come out in small doses as necessary to teach God's Word from week to week).  The Credo House Members Area videos are truly that para information that is so necessary to know and so helpful in the work of the ministry--items like theological methodology, Church history, and study methods. 

I am also thrilled about the quality and style of the material being taught.  It is of a fairly high quality but not presented in a stiff or staunchy way.  It's fun and accessible, which makes it really good for the lay person just getting started in more formal training for ministry.  I remember how valuable The Theology Program was for me in 2006 when I was starting to think about full-time ministry and seminary.  After finishing the program, I was really excited about ministry and seminary, a result unlike what some training programs produce.  And the Credo House has come along way since the filming of The Theology Program, in both quality and accessibility.

All that being said, I do wonder if the cost is worth it once the videos have been watched?  What is to keep a person coming back?  I also find the cheeky language that this is, "Seminary for the Rest of Us" a bit misleading.  While this information and training is very good, it is nothing like my seminary experience.  I suspect that the same would be true of Dallas Theological Seminary which has a heavy influence upon the Credo House.  I am concerned that those going through the various training programs and boot camps may get a wrong impression of seminary and may develop an overly-inflated view of what they are learning. (Sadly, I know this was the case for me.)  While seminary has the ability to produce arrogant individuals, more often than not it tends to produce learned people who realize how large and vast a topic really is.  They learn how much they don't know and then function humbly inside this reality.  The Credo House Members Area on the other hand may leave students thinking they've got it all.  In his book, Love Your God With All Your Mind, J.P. Morland, makes and argument that on occasion the preacher should preach a sermon to the upper-third of the congregation to challenge them, but also to "motivate those in the lower two-thirds to work to catch up!" (194, NavPress 1997).  I think the Credo House could benefit from this approach because it would remind the student that the topic is so much larger than the 40 minute video.  (Theology Unplugged does a nice job of this from time to time, which is probably why Sam Storms in on the podcast!)

That being said, I still very much endorse the Credo House Members Area.  I believe it is a fantastic resource and hope more churches and individuals sign up.  (I regularly pray more members at my church contact me about signing up!) I believe it is doing much good as it is helping the Church equip the saints for the work of ministry. I personally own Michael Patton and Tim Kimberly my thanks.  Sam Storms too.  The Theology Program was what gave me that little nudge to seriously look at seminary.  Theology Unplugged is the format we follow for Salt Believer Unscripted (although we are very much less equipped with sound gear, but that's okay), and I have 'borrowed' many of the teaching illustrations from videos I've watched in the Credo House Members Area.  I highly recommend it!   

And if you were looking for a review of the coffee, or the atmosphere of the Credo House, or their library, or their staff, I'm sorry to disappoint.  I would indeed be happy to offer a review of such things if I had a sponsor to cover the cost of gas for me and my Salty Believer Unscripted co-hosts. And who knows, maybe we could have Michael Patton and Tim Kimberly on as our guests!

*While I coordinated Risen Life Church's Credo House Members Area membership, and have paid the fees to join, I have no other material connection to the Credo House.  I was not given any gift, financial or otherwise in exchange for this review. 
** All photos used in this review are property of the Credo House, are found on their website at www.reclaimingthemind.org, and are used here to for review purposes.

How Much Should I Pray?

How much should I pray?  Should my morning prayer time be 30 minutes or an hour?  How much is enough prayer?  There are books that try to answer this question as if there's a special formula, but the book that we should use as a guide is the Bible.  The funny thing however, is that these are not the questions the Bible answers because these are the wrong questions.

There is no formula.  It's not about time or quantity or fulfilling a requirement of length or brevity.  It's about a natural relationship and a longing to spend personal time with our Creator.

So as you examine your prayer life, it may be best to examine your relationship with God first. Then the rest of the questions will probably answer themselves.

More on Ordination

Some time ago, I wrote on ordination.  Recent events and additional study has afforded me more opportunity to think about the topic and add some additional comments.

Although the practice of commissioning, setting apart, or ordaining is found in both the Old and New Testaments, I believe that the best understanding for Church operation today is found in the New Testament. There is a long tradition of ordination within many Christian denominations, yet the Bible must be our authority above tradition.  And interestingly enough, I don't think many of our traditions hold closely to what we find in the Bible, which is why I can use commissioning, setting apart, and ordaining as interchangeable words, whereas many traditions cannot. 

In Mark 3:13-19, Jesus choose and appointed twelve servants to do a number of tasks including preaching and casting out demons. Acts chapter 6 shows that seven servants were chosen to minister to the Church as deacons. Once identified, they were presented to the Apostles. The Apostles then “prayed and laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:6, ESV). An event recorded in Acts 13 shows that after worshiping and fasting, the Apostles were instructed by the Holy Spirit to “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2, ESV). Here, God called and set apart two individuals for His appointed tasks. The Acts 13 passage continues, “Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:3, ESV). We see that prayer and fasting came after God’s call but before sending Barnabas and Saul off to do the work for which they were called. A picture of submission to God’s call for Barnabas and Saul, unity among the body, and communal support, prayer, and encouragement is presented as the leaders laid hands on those called to a specific God-appointed task.

Therefore, it seems that a commissioning, setting apart, or ordination of a team or individual is a public recognition of God’s choice and calling for a specific ministry purpose, varying in qualifications, scope, duration, and authority. As we find in the Bible, this purpose may be as diverse as going ahead of Jesus and proclaiming the gospel in every town, leading as an elder, distributing bread, or embarking upon a missionary-church planting journey. Each of these callings served the church in different ways, for differing periods of times, requiring different qualifications, with different levels of necessary authority. And each of these tasks, some being more specifically defined while others less so, held criteria and qualifications that were to be met within the individual, primarily dealing with character. However, in every case, it is clear that ordination is nothing more than acknowledging a calling already set by God.

We often seek a single qualification for the role of ordination.  We ask questions like, "Who can be ordained?"  Often conversation turns toward the question, "Does this church or that church ordain women?"  The difficulty with these single issue questions is how much broad-brush thinking they require.  We need to take a deeper look at our definitions and the qualifications set for the various callings.  And within the proper definitions and qualifications, understand the reasons necessary for ordination.

The ministry of a deacon, for example, greatly varies from that of the elder, as does the ministry of many other ministers within specific Church related service. By God’s design, the qualifications and responsibilities are as equally diverse as the various callings. It is my understanding that called men and women of godly character may serve as commissioned ministers within the Church, still working under the leadership of the elders. Godly men and women who meet the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3:8-13 may serve the Church as deacons. And called, godly men who meet the qualifications 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-16 may serve in the leadership office of elder. All of the Lord’s faithful servants are equal in value, regardless calling, although he or she may be called to different ministries for the benefit of the Church and glory of God.  And when we view ordination in this light, it helps us solidly answer many of the questions that seem so divisive lately.

* The photo of "Ordination of a Bishop" was taken by M. Bastien is registered under a creative commons license and is used by permission.