Living Your Strengths by Winseman, Clifton, and Liesveld

            In the introduction of their book Living Your Strengths: Discover your God-given talents and inspire your Community, Dr. Albert Winseman, Dr. Donald Clifton, and Curt Liesveld argue that a spiritual leader will be more fruitful if he or she focuses on his or her existing natural strengths rather than on present weaknesses or even a potential God-given future strength(1). The implication is that an essential quality of a leader is the ability to keep his or her focus on, and lead out of, his or her strengths. “You will be most successful in whatever you do,” they write, “by building your life around your greatest natural abilities rather than your weaknesses”(2).  Winseman, Clifton, and Liesveld’s concept from this Gallup Press project and others like it(3) have found their way into Christian leadership books and articles; but are they right?  This is an important question for the faithful minister seeking a fruitful ministry.  Is there a time or an event that necessitates that the minister need be more than merely aware of a personal weakness and instead expend energy shoring it up?  Is there a possibility that one could, through various means, develop a ministry strength that is not presently manifested within the minister?  Or might God call a minister to a task in which the minister will receive the talent, skills, knowledge, and ability to fulfill this calling at a later time?  If Winseman, Clifton, and Leisveld are correct, the answer is clearly no.

            This review will examine Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s thesis.  In doing so, differing contemporary works on this leadership concept will be surveyed.  The Bible will also be consulted to examine the texts Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld appeal to for support. Furthermore, this review will conclude that while there are convincing reasons to avoid expending too much energy on one’s weaknesses, there are indeed times to address weakness.  In addition, it is possible that present natural abilities will not necessarily determine the path to the greatest success and present natural strengths may not be the best tools to fulfill God’s call upon one’s life. While focusing on one’s strengths is a leadership quality, understanding the right focus is essential of any leader.

Understanding Winseman, Clifton, and Liesveld
            To open their case, Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld go on the offensive against what they call the ‘weakness prevention’ model.  This model, according to Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, dictates, “to become strong, successful, or truly serve God and the world, you must ‘fix’ your weaknesses” (4).  They go on to explain that the weakness prevention model demands that one is not ready to serve God until he or she has better developed his or her areas of personal non-talent.  Their conclusion: “That thinking is just plain wrong” (5).  Instead, 30 years of Gallup’s research is consulted.  Drawing from the interviews of more than two million people, they resolve, as previously stated above, “Your will be most successful in whatever you do by building your life around your greatest natural abilities rather than your weaknesses.  Your talents should be your primary focus!”(6).  This echoes a similar line of thinking from a book Clifton wrote with Marcus Buckingham titled, Now, Discover Your Strengths, which states, “Each person’s greatest room from growth is in the area of his or her greatest strength”(7).
            Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld define strength as, “the ability to provide consistent, near-perfect performance in a given activity. This ability is a powerful, productive combination of talent, skill, and knowledge”(8).  In addition, they have developed 34 themes of talent and offer the Gallop Clifton StrengthFinder test to help individuals identify which themes best represent their personal, natural talents.  These 34 themes are the various strengths they argue one should remained focused upon and an inability in any of these talent themes is the implied definition of weaknesses.   “The key to building strength,” Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld argue, “is first to identify your dominant themes of talent, then delve into those themes to discover your greatest talents, and finally produce a strength by complementing those talents with knowledge and skill related to the task” (9).  Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld define talent as, “naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied.  Unlike skills and knowledge, talents naturally exist within you and cannot be acquired.  They are your inborn predispositions” (10).
“Your talents are a precious gift from God,” write Winseman, Clifton, and Leisveld, “They influence how you see, experience, and make your contribution to the world” (11).  Preaching, teaching, apologetics, musical or artistic ability, athletic tendencies, or showing hospitality with joy for example, are not the kind of talents or strengths Winseman, Clifton, and Leisveld are getting at.  Instead, the StrenghtFinder test identifies the talent or strength themes as achiever, activator, adaptability, analytical, arranger, belief, command, communication, competition, connectedness, consistency, context, deliberative, developer, discipline, empathy, focus, futuristic, harmony, ideation, includer, individualization, input, intellection, learner, maximizer, positivity, relator, responsibility, restorative, self-assurance, significance, strategic, and woo (12).
            It is clear from Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s definitions, that talents are fixed throughout life and are not subject to change.  If one were to develop a talent later in life, it might actually be suggested that he or she merely discovered a talent held from birth that had not previously been explored. “From a spiritual viewpoint,” Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld write, “when we deny our talents and instead focus on our weaknesses, on some level, we are telling God that we know best and that God somehow made a mistake in gracing us with our unique mix of talents” (13).  It is unclear how Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld might explain those talents (or personality traits) that are developed or lost through a dramatic life event, such as a disability instigated by a physical accident or illness, or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ.  It is clear however, how Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld feel about engaging in areas that do not reside in one’s list of greatest talents.  They coach, “Whenever possible, avoid using your areas of lesser talent.  A lesser talent becomes a weakness only when you try to use it” (14).  Instead of attempting to use any lesser talents, one should find ways to manage these weaknesses through support systems, much like a person might depend upon eyeglasses for sight, or through complementary partnerships with others (15).
A final method Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld offer to deal with weaknesses is to leverage talents over weaknesses.  They provide a case study taken from a man named Robert.  Robert volunteered as a counselor although he was not talented in the theme area of Empathy.  “But his talents in the Restorative and Strategic themes make up for this and enable him to be involved in a ministry he is really is passionate about,” write Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld (16).  This case study is troubling, however.  They express that Robert was not a touchy-feely type of guy.  It seemed that counseling would not be a good fit but Robert jumped in and really enjoyed it.  He received positive feedback and is passionate about it.  The implication presented here is that Robert is counseling from other talents and that Robert can develop a counseling skill but cannot ever hold or demonstrate a talent in the theme of Empathy if he was not naturally born with Empathy.  According to Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, it is impossible to learn how to or become naturally talented in the theme of Empathy, regardless of time or outside circumstances.

An Examination of Other Work in the Field
            Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld are not the only ones to argue that the minister should focus on his or her strengths rather than weaknesses. It may be helpful to examine of those who have differing views of this essential leadership quality.  Dr. Peter Drucker, a managing consultant and writer for example, developed a system for feedback analysis.  Based on the results, he suggests the most valuable thing a person can do is to, “concentrate on your strengths.  Put yourself where your strengths can produce results” (17).  He further encourages his readers to, “work on improving your strengths” (18).  Drucker, unlike Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld however, does not suggest that zero effort of any kind should be invested into weaker areas.  Instead, he suggests that a person identify those areas where there is little to no chance of even becoming mediocre.  In these circumstances he encourages that, “One should waste as little effort as possible improving areas of low competence.  It takes far more energy and work to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence. […] Energy, resources, and time should go instead to making a competent person into a star performer” (19).  While Drucker appears to be in agreement with Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld about focusing on strengths, he is not as ridged on the ability to grow and improve.  Drucker simply argues that energy should be used effectively to produce the greatest results, which is not the case when energy is invested into serious weakness.  In addition, Drucker provides room for adjustment when one’s greatest strengths or talents are not inline with his or her values.  In this case, one should seek to develop and improve strengths that work in tandem with held values (20).  And finally, Drucker does not identify a ridged list of strengths or talents but seems to leave that determination up to the individual.   
            John Maxwell, a respected leader in the area of leadership development is in close agreement with Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, even citing the work of Buckingham and Clifton.  In his book, The 360̊ Leader, Maxwell argues, “Every job required a particular set of skills that employees must possess in order to be really successful.  Even someone with great personal strengths and a great ‘fit’ will not truly be working in his strength zone if he doesn’t have all these skills.  As a leader, it is your job to make sure your people acquire what they need to win” (21).  This argument centers on a leader’s role in best positioning the strengths of a person within an organization, but when assisting the leader to find his or her focus, Maxwell looks at some specific questions that differ from Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s approach.   Maxwell first asks, “What is required of me?” (22).  The answer to this question should help the leader identify what only he or she can do in the organization.  This does not necessary come out of the leader’s strengths or even a list of 34 talent themes.  It may simply have to do with the requirements of the leader’s role within the organization.  The second question Maxwell asks is, “What gives me the greatest return?” (23).  Here the end, not the means is the focus.  One may be extremely talented or skilled in a particular area or talent theme but if it is not producing the most fruit, than focus should be placed elsewhere, even if it is not the leader’s strongest ability, skill, or talent.  And Maxwell’s third question is, “What is the most rewarding?” (24).  While it is reasonable to think most people gain the most reward by doing something they are good at, this may not necessarily always be the case.  Maxwell believes, “Our best work takes place when we enjoy it” (25).
            Some Christian authors on leadership take a slightly different approach.  They see the ministry calling from God as the source of strength rather than solely on natural gifting or personality traits.  Dr. Reggie McNeal writes, “Spiritual leaders cannot be understood apart from their call because it tells them what game they are playing and keeps them in the game, even when they are discouraged” (26).  He goes on to say, “Unlike many people and leaders who are naïve about their talent, self-aware leaders know what they are good at.  They know what they bring to the table (and what they don’t).  This gives them permission to be intentional with their energies and time, always playing toward their talent” (27).  McNeal’s statement is within a broader conversation regarding God-given talent and gifting above mere talent traits.  While McNeal seems to agree with Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, he offers far more credit to God for the leader’s source of strength and talent than they do and he appears open to a wider range of talents.  
Dr. J. Oswald Sanders also greatly credits God in regard to spiritual leadership, stating, “Spiritual leadership requires superior spiritual power, which can never be generated by the self.  There is no such thing as a self-made spiritual leader.  A true leader influences others spiritually only because the Spirit works in and through him to a greater degree than in those he leads” (28).  Sanders, unlike Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld suggest that the Christian minister’s strengths are not his or her own, but instead made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit.  There is a tremendous difference between the strengths of the secular leader and the pastor serving the Lord as an ambassador. According to Sanders, “[S]piritual leadership transcends the power of the personality and all other natural gifts.  The personality of the spiritual leader influences others because it is penetrated, saturated, and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  As the leader gives control of his life to the Spirit, the Spirit’s power flows through him to others” (29).  
Dr. Dave Earley likewise sees calling as the indicator of where a pastoral leader should place his or her primary focus.  Regardless of natural strength, talent, or even personality, Earley argues that the majority of the pastor’s energy and effort should be put into the three things a pastor must do: pray, teach the Word, and equip and mentor leaders (30).  Obviously, Earley would draw a clear distinction between the pastor as a leader and the secular leader and his argument suggests that if a pastor is called to ministry as a leader, these three things must either be his or her strengths or become his or her strengths.
            Some secular thinkers in the field of leadership disagree with part or all of Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s premise.  For example, Jim Clemmer argues for improving leadership ability by taking the talents one is good at and becoming great in that talent area.  “And it doesn’t matter which competencies we choose;” writes Clemmer, “So we can pick those that are natural strengths, are most relevant to our job, and we’re most energized about developing further” (31).  Crammer’s argument stands in sharp contrast to Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld suggestion that by focusing on weaknesses, even if trying to improve upon it, one is telling God that He made a mistake. He also suggests that one can pick a talent area based on the requirements of the job or personal interest.  This stands in sharp contrast to Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s example of Robert, the man who served as a counselor but would never learn how to be more empathetic.
Dr. Robert Kaplan and Robert Kaiser stand in disagreement with Buckingham and Clifton, saying, “This approach is associated with the book Now, Discover Your Strengths and its self-diagnostic tool, the StrengthsFinder.  Like any successful movement however, the strengths movement drove a single issue and inevitably left out a lot” (32).  Kaplan and Kaiser do concede however, that Buckingham and Clifton’s idea, the same one championed by Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld is reasonable in light of the “unhealthy fixation on weakness when it came to performance reviews;” but they further argue that “it turns out you can take strengths too far” (33).  Kaplan and Kaiser developed the Leadership Versatility Index and used it in a great deal of research that measured vitality, in which they include team morale, engagement, and cohesion, and they measured productivity in areas of both quality and quantity.  “We found that taking a strength to an extreme,” writes Kaplan and Kaiser, “is always detrimental to performance, but even a mild tendency to over do it can be harmful.  Be a little too forceful, for instance, and your team’s output may improve some – but vitality will take a hit, and weakened morale will eventually undercut productivity. Be a little too enabling, and you may shore up vitality – but productivity will suffer over time, which will in turn erode moral”(34).  According to Kaplan and Kaiser, it appears that building ones life entirely around strengths and functioning too much from these strengths may be detrimental to working with, or building strong teams.  Kaplan and Kaiser further conclude, “There is power in focusing on your strengths, but it derives from acknowledging them in their totality, from having a keen, finely-tuned awareness of both the good and the harm they can do.  Becoming a better leader, then, is not a matter of indiscriminately playing to your strengths, but of continually adjusting their volume to just the right setting for every situation” (35). 
            Finally, Dr. Jack Zenger examined 6,000 leaders’ strengths and weaknesses and developed a scheme for when a leader should or should not work on a weakness.  If the leader’s weakness is a “fatal flaw” Zenger says, “This leader should not spend time working on developing strengths at this time but first correct the obvious flaw.  Only then is it useful for this person to work on developing a strength” (36).  Zenger conducted an experiment at a packaged food company and found that those who were instructed to focus on their weaknesses made a 12 percent improvement; however, those instructed to further develop their strengths improved by 36 percent.  This clearly demonstrates the value of focusing on strengths, but Zenger also found that, “In general, fixing weaknesses is harder than building strengths; but motivated people with low scores need only do a few new things to begin to change those perceptions into positive territory” (37).   The key to this may be found in the level of fun to be had in improving strengths rather than correcting weaknesses.  Zenger did not engage further into this specific detail but he did notice “people smile when they think about [working on strengths] and frown when they think about working on weakness” (38).

An Examination of the Bible
            Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s intended readers are Christians.  The subtitle of their book is “Discover Your God-Given Talents and Inspire Your Community” (39).   Their thesis seeks to apply to Christian leadership; therefore, the contemporary writers in the field are not enough—the Bible must be consulted.  If Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld are correct, one should hope to find various examples of strength-focused leadership in God’s Word.  In addition, Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld argue that a person’s strengths and talents are found within the 34 talent themes and those strengths and talents are God-given.  If this is true, it is reasonable to seek biblical support for the 34 talent themes as well as biblical support that one cannot acquire strengths from additional themes outside of those granted at birth.  
Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld offer Moses’s discussion with God about his inability to speak well to Pharaoh as an example of strength-focused leadership.  The Apostles’ solution to a disparity in the distribution of bread serves as a case study for strength-focused leadership.  And Paul’s discussion on both the Spiritual gifts and his teaching on the diversity among the Body are intended to serve as support for strength-focused leadership as well.  To better understand Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s position, these texts and how they are used in support of the leadership quality of strength-focus will be examined.  Unfortunately, Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld offer no biblical support for the list of 34 talent themes and one would be hard pressed to find much biblical support that these specific talents or personality traits are fixed for life.

Moses and Aaron (Exodus 4)
            Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld look to Moses as an example of a leader who built a team in order to cover his weaknesses.  They cite Exodus 4:10, which reads, “But Moses said to the Lord, ‘Oh my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue’” (Exod. 4:10, English Standard Version).  On its own, this verse may support Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s assessment of Moses. “So,” they argue, “God found Moses a partner—Moses’ brother Aaron” (40).  This fact is correct, but their appraisal of the Moses’ motivation and God’s intention seems slightly off when taken into the appropriate context.  They conclude, “Moses had the talent for leading and for devising strategy, but he couldn’t wow a crowd with his oratory or stand before kings and summon the appropriate words.  Aaron could.  And together, Moses and Aaron made a great team” (41).  Had Moses taken the StrengthsFinder, he would most likely not score high in Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s theme of Communication.
Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld fail to continue reading the narrative.  In verse 11, the Lord responds to Moses, rhetorically asking, “‘Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind?  Is it not I, the LORD’ Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak’” (Exod. 4:11-12).  God’s response seems to suggest that God will provide the words and the skill to Moses.  Moses, however, continues to plead with God saying, “‘Oh, My Lord, please send someone else’” (Exod. 4:13).  God’s response should not leave the reader thinking that Moses was wisely focusing on his strengths and getting someone else to fill in for his weaknesses.  Had this been wisdom on the part of Moses, it is unlikely that God’s ager would have been kindled against Moses (Exod. 4:14).  Cyprian points out, “It is not difficult for God to open the mouth of a man devoted to him and to inspire constancy and confidence to in speaking in one who confesses him, who in the book of Numbers made even a female ass speak against Balaam the prophet” (42).  Not only does this text fail to support Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s thesis, it also suggests that God can give a man a skill or talent that he previously does not possess.

The Twelve Apostles and the Deacons (Acts 6)
            Another biblical situation Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld appeal to comes from Acts 6:1-7.  A complaint is raised claiming that the daily bread given to the widows was being unfairly distributed.  The twelve apostles opted to raise up seven wise, Spirit-filled men of good repute to distribute the bread fairly.  In doing so, the apostles said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. […] But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2, 4).  This seems to suggest that the apostles remained true to their task as Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld propose, but it does not clearly insinuate that the apostles’ greatest natural strengths were prayer or the ministry of the word.  But prayer and ministry of the word were not what Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld see as talents, but rather their leadership and administration.  “At first, the apostles tried to lead andmanage,” argue Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, “which is how they found themselves in this predicament in the first place” (43).  However, there is little in this text to suggest that the apostles had anything to do with the distribution of bread or its administration prior to this event. In addition, the apostles were fishermen and tax collectors.  Their natural strengths and talents were not likely prayer or the ministry of the word.  A survey of the Gospels leaves one thinking the twelve apostles did not understand the Word well and Jesus even pointed out the natural inability of Peter, James, and John to stay awake to remain devoted to prayer (44).  Some of the apostles might have been rather skilled at accounting, especially those who where previously tax collectors.  Twice the twelve took part in serving bread to large numbers of people, even accounting for the collected bread afterward (45).  In addition, if the apostles were acting out of a talent theme of Connectedness, Empathy, Maximer, Restorative, or Strategic all along, there is no picture of forgoing a weakness and focusing on a strength as Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld suggest is the case. 
            It seems more likely that those in the office of apostle were expected to fulfill their calling by remaining devoted to prayer and the ministry of the Word.  In this case, it is much more about their calling than their natural strengths and talents.  In addition, these strengths and talents, that is, prayer and the ministry of the Word, may have been God-given when the apostles received their calling.  In the first chapter of Acts, Jesus said to the apostles, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  It may be that the power mentioned has something to do with ability, skill, talent, and strength but at a future time as Jesus said, “you will.”  When Jesus gave this instruction they might not have had what they would eventually receive. 

Paul, the Spiritual Gifts, and the Body (1 Corinthians 12)
            Perhaps the strongest biblical support for Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s thesis comes from Paul’s analogy of the diverse body (46).  Here Paul reasons that the Church, like a physical human body, needs many parts to function well.  The various parts do not function in the same way and it would be wrong for a foot to say it does not belong because it does not function like a hand.  The foot however, should be a productive foot and function well within the body. However, Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld do not use this text to demonstrate the need for strength-based functioning in leadership. Nor do they use this text to provide support that the 34 talent themes are God-given. Instead they use the text, to press on the need for a strengths-based congregation where each member works from his or her talent themes among a unified but diverse body.
            Paul’s body analogy is sandwiched between a discussion of the bestowing of gifts from the Holy Spirit and the giving of offices for the Church.  Strangely, Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld ignore the end caps and instead draw a distinction between one’s Spiritual gifts and his or her strengths and talents.  “Identifying your talents isn’t intended to take the place of identifying your Spiritual Gifts,” write Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, “but rather, it can be a powerful way to enhance your Gifts and calling.  Spiritual Gifts help you find what the ministry is that God wants to see you accomplish; your talents are God’s way of showing you how you will accomplish it” (47).  It seems however, that their statement may be more appropriate for the Church offices rather than the Spiritual gifts.  For example, how is the Spiritual gift of wisdom intended to help a minister determine to which ministry he or she is called?  Spiritual gifts seem to serve the church as well as to assist the individuals who are fulfilling the offices.  On the other hand, Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s 34 talent themes seem to be more like personality traits that may be used righteously or sinfully, and for nearly any purpose, to include benefiting the Church, or not.
In drawing this distinction between the Holy Spirit’s bestowing of gifts upon the believer and the 34 talent themes, Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld seem to weaken their claim that God provides his creation one or more of 34 talent themes. They attempt to argue that the concept of talents and strengths is correct because it just “feels right.”  They claim that this truth resonates deep within the individual.  “It is as if our spirits react to this discovery,” Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld argue, “with a resounding, ‘Yes! This is the way it is supposed to be – this is who I was created to be’” (48).  Unfortunately, this argument greatly breaks down within our society when men and women use the same argument for such things as selfishness, arrogance, violence, sexual lust, or homosexuality. Paul, who penned the same text Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld appeal to, likely believed that it felt right that he was an aggressive, violent, Pharisee.  Jesus, however, greatly changed Paul, from his attitudes and desires to his personality and talents.  Paul still kept some personal traits, skills, and knowledge, but he was given additional traits, skills, and power from the Holy Spirit and other traits seem to have been taken from him.

            Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld ‘s claim, “You will be most successful in whatever you do by building your life around your greatest natural abilities rather than your weaknesses” is both true and false (49).  Actually, true and false do not accurately describe what is going on here any better than right and wrong or correct and incorrect.  After examining the work of contemporary thinkers as well as the biblical claims, Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s thesis appears simply to be mis-qualified.  The drive to focus on, and lead from strengths in ministry has great support and is a very reasonable idea; however, Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld have incorrectly defined strengths and talents. Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s biblical arguments do not offer enough support to conclude that the list of 34 talent themes is a sufficient understanding of God-given strength.  And they have provided no biblical support to suggest that one cannot change or grow in weaker talents.  However, with an adjustment to these definitions, and a shifting of the focus, their premise serves to articulate an essential leadership quality.
The various contemporary thinkers agree, but not to the extent that one should build his or her entire life around a strength or talent, and not to the point that one cannot learn or grow in lesser strength or talent areas.  Zenger’s research is convincing.  Growth is more efficient when energy is expended in our areas of strength rather than weakness.  However, it is clear that Clemmer is right in that a minister must deal with fetal flaws first if he or she is to have any chance of ministry success and growth.  There is indeed a time when weakness needs to be addressed. Maxwell and Earley are convincing in their respective positions that there are indeed times when the God-given task will dictate the necessary God-given strengths needed to achieve such a task.  Likewise, Jesus statement in Acts 1:8 suggests this to be true.  
            Finding the correct focus is the essential key.  Had Moses trusted that God would provide him with the necessary skill and instead kept his focus on trusting God and faithfully following his calling, he would certainly have been successful, regardless of his weaknesses. The apostles kept the right focus when they installed seven men to serve bread so they could remain true to their calling of prayer and the ministry of the Word.  And Paul’s teaching on the various Spiritual gifts keeps the focus on the One who empowers the worker for the work rather than on the gift (or strength, talent, or skill) itself.  Although Paul does encourage his readers to further develop their gifts, his primary argument is to keep the focus right. 
            When we remove Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s strict definition of strengths and talents and simply allow them to be identified as the gifts God has granted to his people for the work of the ministry, statements like Dr. Jeff Irog’s become more helpful.  Iorg writes to the future minister: “You can also have confidence in God’s call because your abilities are suitable for the job he assigns.  Most leaders are aware of their inadequacies.  […] Instead of focusing on your shortcoming, focus on your strengths and the contribution you can make by answering God’s call” (50).  
            The essential leadership quality that leaders need to demonstrate is the ability to identify and live by the right focus.  Rather than building one’s life around his or her greatest natural abilities, one will have the most ministry success if he or she centers his or her life around the right focus: God’s calling and the God-given gifts given to achieve that call.

End Notes
[1] Winseman, Clifton, and Leisveld draw a distinction between the Spiritual gifts and 34 natural temperaments or talents that they identify as God-given strengths.
[2] Albert L. Winseman, Donald O. Clifton, and Curt Liesveld, Living Your Strengths: Discover your God-given talents and inspire your Community (New York, NY: Gallup Press, 2008), 2.    
[3] A similar idea is often quoted in leadership books comes from the companion book, Now, Discover Your Strengths (Free Press, 2001) by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton.
[4] Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, 1.
[5] Ibid., 2.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, Now, Discover Your Strengths (New York, NY, Free Press), 2001, 8.
[8] Ibid., 7.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid., 152.
[12] Ibid., 153-220.
[13] Ibid., 12.
[14]Ibid., 25.
[15] Ibid., 28.
[16] Ibid., 28-29.
[17] Peter F. Drucker, “Managing Oneself,” Harvard Business Review 77, no. 2 (March 1999): 64-74, accessed August 26, 2014, Business Source Elite, EBSCOhost, 66
[18] Ibid.
[19] Ibid., 66.
[20] Ibid., 69-70.
[21] John Maxwell, The 360̊ Leader: Developing your influence from anywhere in the Organization (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson), 2011, 240.
[22] John Maxwell, Developing the Leader Within You (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson), 1993, 25.
[23] Ibid., 26
[24] Ibid., 27.
[25] Ibid.
[26] Reggie McNeal, Practicing Greatness: 7 disciplines of extraordinary spiritual Leaders (San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass), 2006, 26.
[27] Ibid., 26-27.
[28] J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership: Principles of excellence for every Believer (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers), 2007, 28.
[29] Ibid.
[30] Dave Earley, Pastoral Leadership Is. . . : How to shepherd God’s people with passion and Confidence (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing), 2012, 9-10.
[31] Jim Clemmer, “Leadership Competency Models: Why many fall short and how to make them Flourish,” Leadership Excellence 31, no. 2 (February 2014): 28-29, accessed August 26, 2014, Business Source Elite, EBSCOhost, 28.  
[32] Robert E. Kaplan and Robert B. Kaiser, “Fear Your Strengths: Strength can become Weakness,” Leadership Excellence 30, no 5 (May 2013): 17-18, accessed August 26, 2014, Business Source Elite, EBSOhost, 17.
[33] Robert E. Kaplan and Robert B. Kaiser, “Stop Overdoing Your Strengths,” Harvard Business Review 87, no. 2 (February 2009): 100-103, August 26, 2014, Business Source Elite, EBSOhost, 100.
[34] Ibid.,” 101.
[35] Kaplan and Kaiser, “Fear Your Strengths,” 18.
[36] Jack Zenger, “Strengths or Weaknesses: Resisting the lure of the wrong Choice,” Leadership Excellence 26, no. 5 (May 2009): 14-15, accessed August 26, 2014, Business Source Elite, EBSCOhost, 14.
[37] Ibid., 14.
[38] Ibid., 15
[39] Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, dust jacket cover.
[40] Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, 26.
[41] Ibid., 26-27.
[42] Joseph T. Lienhard, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament vol. 3, ed. Thomas C. Oden, (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press), 2001, 27.
[43] Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, 42.
[44] See Matt. 26:36-45. 
[45] See Matt. 14, and 15.
[46] See 1 Cor. 12.
[47] Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, 30.
[48] Ibid., 10-11.
[49] Ibid., 2.
[50] Jeff Iorg, Is God Calling Me?: Answering the question every believer Asks (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing), 2009, 73.

* This post comes from portions 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. ** Purchases from this website help support this ministry. 

Summary Verses of the Gospel

While all of the Bible provides us with an expression and explanation of the Gospel, there are some verses that serve as summary verses.  These verses, when understood within the big picture and proper context fire up believers.  They serve as succinct reminders of the Gospel.

Taken out of context and simply quoted to nonbelievers often doesn't produce the results we hope for because these are summaries and reminders.  (Of course this is not to say we shouldn't share these verses with nonbelievers.  We should and we should seek to provide the big picture and context.)

Allow me to use the movie, "The Empire Strikes Back" as an illustration.  Imagine you've never seen the movie or the one that came before it.  All you have is a 2 minute clip from the film.  You see a young man walk into a strange industrial area.  Suddenly a large, black, robotic looking warrior in a cape enters the scene.  They fire up their light sabers and engage in battle.  The young man eventually gets his hand hacked off and his weapon plummets far below.  He's defeated yet still manages to crawl out onto a catwalk far above an endless pit.  The darker character says something about the two of them ruling the galaxy together and something else about the power of the dark side. (Whatever that is?)

Then the dark character speaks with a deep voice and says, "Obi Wan never told you what happened to your father."

The younger man says, "He told me enough. He told me you killed him!"

Then the other character says, "No, I am your father!"

If we had see the entire movie, we'd gasp in shock and horror.  Having seen the the previous movie as well as this one up to this point, we can easily understand this absolute plot-twisting shocker.  If you've seen this movie, emotions and thoughts may already be welling up from this single summary clip. (I mean really, what voice did you use when you read that last line?)  Cultural references have been made from this scene for years, to include a scene where the character, "Tommy Boy" is speaking the words "Luke, I am your father" into an oscillating fan, just as many of us have likely done in our own lives.  But without understanding the movie, the clip is not as valuable.  So it is the case with the summary gospel verses of the Bible.

Those who don't know the Bible should ask many questions about these verses.  Who is this Jesus?  Who is the 'he' being referred here?  Why is this sin so series that we need rescued from it?  What is so significant about the death of this one man?  What is so amazing about the grace being referenced in this verse?  Salvation from what?  What do I do with this summary verse?  These are important questions, which is why believers should strive to understand these verses in their proper context, know the bigger story, and strive to explain these verses in greater detail to those who don't know the Bible.

But the gospel is for Christians.  We should be reminded of it often.  We should be spurred on by it, driven and motived by the gospel.  So the summary verses serve a great purpose.  They remind us of the bigger picture.  In one or two lines, these highly loaded statements fuel us.  They are very significant.

Listed below are a sample of the many summary verses that remind us of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  (They are quoted in the ESV.)

Isaiah 53:5 - But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

Mark 10:45 - For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

John 3:16 - For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (Jared Jenkins and I discuss John 3:16 on Salty Believer Unscripted. Listen here.)

Acts 10:43 - To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.

Acts 13:38-39 - Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.

Romans 4:24-5:1  It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:7-8 - For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

1 Corinthians 15:3-6 - For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,  and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.

2 Corinthians 5:18-19 - All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5:21 - For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Titus 2:11-14 - For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Hebrews 9:27-28 - And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

1 Peter 2:24 - He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

1 Peter 3:18 - For Christ also suffered nonce for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,

1 John 4:10 - In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

*Photo by user, Ihar, is registered under a creative commons license.

Follow Me as I Follow Christ?

How many times have you heard a pastor give instructions or guidance that you're really not sure he follows himself?  "Here's what you should do," he says, although he may not have any experience to back it up?  I wonder how often I do this. Or how about those time when a pastor gives some kind of instruction followed by a slightly out of context passage, attempting to use the Scripture as a convincing hammer? 

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul offers a block of instruction on the topic of food.   Christians in Corinth were eating food that the Law suggested was not good to eat.  Other believers were invited into homes and their hosts were serving food that was sacrificed to idols.  The issue however, was not the food or the Law, but the attitude of the believers toward one another.  They had disagreements as to how others in the Church should behave regarding the Law, these hosts, and the various ideas surrounding food.  Paul deals with the attitudes and at the conclusion of his instruction, Paul says, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1, ESV).  

"Follow me," Paul says, "as I follow Christ."  That's a bold statement!  The first question we probably ask when we hear Paul's words might be, "Why wouldn't Paul just say follow Christ?"  Some might even claim that Paul is being arrogant here.  "He's making much of himself rather than Jesus" they may argue.  How can Paul make such a statement?

Galatians 2:20 provides us some insight into Paul's thinking.  He writes, "I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I life by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20, ESV).  

When Paul is saying follow me, he is really saying follow Jesus.  Only as Paul is filled with the Spirit and sanctified more and more, he is able to demonstrate how Christ lived and instructed us to live. 

"But why wouldn't Paul have simply instructed people to follow Jesus," we may still ask. "Why wouldn't Paul have encouraged them to ask, 'What would Jesus do?'"  Well, at the time Paul didn't have the Gospels or the New Testament to turn to.  As an Apostle, one of his responsibilities was to model the gospel and write God's revleation under the authority and guidance of the Holy Spirit for future generations.  However, I believe he would have said the exact same thing even if he had the 27 books of the New Testament we have today.  Paul served as an under-shepherd of Christ and was filled by Jesus himself.  The more Paul was full of Jesus the less room he had for himself.  As Paul was crucified, daily, he was becoming less.  And the more he could be a living example of Christ (even if he could have handed someone God's written Word), the more people could see and experience the Living God through Paul.

People can and should read God's Word for themselves, but how much better would it be if they could meet Jesus in conjunction with their reading and studying?  How much better would it be if God's people could follow Jesus, literally.  One way to do so is to come in contact with God's people who are filled with Jesus.  And God's appointed leaders, being filled with Christ, should be able to look at the people they are called to care for and say, "Follow me as I follow Christ."  When the flock sees a shepherd, they really should see Jesus. When a lost person meets a missionary, he should see Christ. When a child looks to her dad, she should see God living in him.  

It is in this way that a pastor can lead even when he may not have the personal experience or worldly qualifications.  If he is dead to himself and filled with Christ, then it should be Christ guiding the leader so the leader can guide the flock.  The key however, is that the leader is following Christ and being filled with the Spirit of God.  And in this way, the leader can say "I'm following Jesus, journeying toward God; follow me if you'd like to get there too." 

*The photo used in this post is in the public domain and is made available from the National Archives.

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. 

Throwing in the Towel: Dying Daily

"Throwing in the towel" is an idiom or figure of speech commonly used to express that one is quitting.  It comes from the sport of boxing when a boxer's trainer throws a towel into the ring to stop the fight because his fighter is getting pummeled beyond recovery.

We should throw in the towel every day.  Yes, you should quit.   You probably don't like reading this, let alone doing it.  Neither do I.  That's probably because by the very nature of our western idea of success, this sounds really bad.  But it's true.  Throw in the towel.

If you're a Christian, that is, if you're a follower of Jesus who has surrendered your life to Christ, then at some point you've thrown in the towel.  You've said, "I can't keep up this fight.  I'm going to quit doing it my way.  I'm going to quit battling on my own.  I don't have any more strength.  I'm pummeled beyond recovery.  I give up." But when you gave up, you cried out to Jesus.  You may have said something like, "I can't do it, Jesus.  Help me!"  And if you're living the Christian life, this should be a regular occurrence.  You should quit often.  "Jesus, I can't keep doing this on my own.  Help me!"   Some people think of this like a tag-team with Jesus, but that's not how Paul saw it.  

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul made the comment that he dies every day (1 Corinthians 15:31).  He throws in the towel daily.  He doesn't tag Jesus and then Jesus steps in for a while--he dies.  He's got no more fight in him.  It's likely that Paul's comment is in reference to something Jesus said in Luke.  He said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever loses his life for my sake will save it" (Luke 9:23-24, ESV).  Going to the cross means to die, to be killed.  Game over.  But in losing your life, you will save it! 

In ministry, I often find myself working hard, striving to accomplish things.  I plan and execute.  I think about problems and solutions.  But it seems that more often than not, I find myself pushed to the edge.  It gets hard.  Things happen that are way beyond my control.  My plans just can't account for reality.  My solutions fall grossly short.  So I throw in the towel.  I cry out, "That's it; I can't do it Jesus.  Help me!"  And the strangest thing happens.  God seems to bring solutions.  Plans come together.  The ministry goes forward; not without me, but in spite of me!  I find that when I quit, when I die to myself, things get amazing.  And you'd think I'd figure this out and throw in the towel first thing in the morning every day.  I'm learning, but my prideful self needs to take a few punches first before I realize that apart from Christ I'm beyond recovery.

* Photo take by user, MrBragaosian is registered under a creative commons license and used with permission.

Team Ministry and the Shared Pulpit

In his book, Love Your God With All Your Mind, J.P. Moreland argues, "No one person has enough gifts, perspective, and maturity to be given the opportunity disproportionately to shape the personality and texture of the local church.  If Christ is actually the head of the church, our church structures ought to reflect that fact, and a group of undershepherds, not a senior pastor, should collectively seek His guidance in leading the congregation" (Moreland, 191).  Yet in many churches today, we have a very strong senior pastor model with very little vision, preaching, or leadership coming from anywhere else.    

The Bible however, seems to suggest that the local church should be lead from a plurality of elders with a leader among leaders.  In Paul's letter to Titus, Paul instructs Titus to appoint elders in every town and then proceeds to instruct Titus in the method of selecting men of character to fulfill this role.  Only a couple verses later, Paul refers to these elders as overseers or bishops, translated from the word ἐπίσκοπον.  In Acts 20:18, Paul assembles all the elders (plural) in the Church of Ephesus, where Timothy pastors and later (verse 28) calls them overseers or bishops taken from the plural Greek word, ἐπίσκοπους. This, however, is not to say that every pastor is an elder and every elder is a pastor, nor is it so say that all the elders and overseers are gifted in the same way, if we understand Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 correctly. It does seem likely that Timothy was a leader among a leaders in the Church in Ephesus.  It was probably the same for Titus.  We see this model of a leader among leaders with the Apostles so it does stand to reason the same should hold true for elders.  While Moreland disagrees that there should be a leader among the leaders, the Bible does appear to present this picture.  It does not however suggest that the leader among leaders is the only one to provide vision, preaching, teaching, or leadership for the local church.  This should come from a team.

Furthermore, the biblical picture of ministry is in teams.  Moses was teamed with Aaron (Exodus 4), Jesus sent the 70 (or 72) out in teams of two, or ministry pairs (Luke 10), Peter and John appear to be a strong ministry team in the Book of Acts, as do Barnabas and Paul.  And think about the differences in giftings, skills, and personalities that each man brought to the team!  For example, think about that first mission trip and church planting excursion by Barnabas the encourager and Paul, the hard hitting theologian. I discuss the biblical picture of team ministry in the following video that I recorded some time ago as part of a community group leader's training process:

 So it stands to reason that the ministry of the pulpit, that is, the preaching should be shared among a team of gifted preachers.  Moreland argues for this as well, saying, "[F]or two reasons I do not think a single individual ought to preach more than half (twenty-six) of the Sundays during the year" (Moreland, 194).  His first support is that "no one person ought to have a disproportionate influence through the pulpit because, inevitably, the church will take on that person's strengths, weaknesses, and emphases" (ibid).  How easy it is to find churches that demonstrate his point!  He continues: "By rotating speakers, the body gets exposure to God's truth being poured through a number of different personalities, that is more healthy" (ibid).  One objection that may come up is that the ability to preach among those preaching is not of comparable skill, but Moreland argues that this presents an opportunity for the one of higher quality to train the one of lower quality which will actually produce a spirit of training up preachers and teachers. But this is not to say that every preacher must preach the same way and in the same style, for that would attempt to trump the calling and gifting of God upon each individual preacher.

Moreland's second argument for a shared pulpit has to do with capability.  He says, "no one who preaches week after week can do adequate study for a message or deeply process and internalize the sermon topic spiritually.  What inevitably happens is that a pastor will rely on his speaking ability and skills at putting together a message" Moreland, 194).  The sermon will actually be stronger, sturdier, and more sound because the preacher will have more time.  The result for the congregation is a well prepared sermon every week of the year that doesn't fall into the trap made in Moreland's first support.  Additionally, each preaching pastor will have ample time to minister to the flock through visitation, counseling, teaching, prayer, and personal devotion because he will not be responsible for preparing every sermon.  And the preacher can take time off to rest, rather than burn out from being in the pulpit 52 weeks of the year along with all of his other responsibilities.

I am blessed to have personal experience with a shared pulpit.  I serve on the pastoral staff at Risen Life Church where we highly value team ministry.   We have a shared pulpit between two preaching elders.  On occasion, two other pastors--myself and Jared Jenkins--have been afforded the opportunity to preach.  This summer, we are actually engaging in a four-preacher rotation as an experiment to see how we work together and how it is received by the congregation.  (At the time of this writing, I have already preached the opening sermon in the series.)  Not only has this arrangement been instrumental in the post-seminary training of Jared and I, it has allowed us to learn and grow well under two other gifted preachers.  The sermons are indeed well prepared and the variety of a two-preacher rotation lends itself as a support of Moreland's argument.  I suspect a four-preacher rotation will have a similar effect.  I can see firsthand how much a shared pulpit has allowed the primary preachers to have time to minister throughout the week as well as train up future leaders, teachers, and ministers.  Rest and time off is often not too challenging as we work in teams.  Support for one another may also be stronger.  Additionally, for the most part Risen Life Church is not built around a single pastor. If any one of us left, it would not be a serious blow to the local church, and really, that is how it should be.      

1. Moreland, J.P. Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. Colorado Springs, Colo: NavPress. 1997.

* Photo of the USA Lightweight 2003 World Champions is in the public domain.

Tough Texts on Salty Believer Unscripted

January 1, 2013

Jared Jenkins and I are working through a series on Salty Believer Unscripted called "Tough Texts."  Inspired somewhat by the guys at Credo House as well as our desire to diligently keep our exegetical work sharp, we identified some biblical texts that are difficult to interpret, confusing, shocking, or greatly misunderstood without a little labor.  On the whole, the Bible is written in simple language and is easy to understand, but that does not mean that we don't at times find its words difficult.  Our listeners helped us out by e-mailing us some passages they've struggled with over the years and we selected some of our own to add to the list.

Examples include Paul's words in 1 Timothy 2:13-15 where he talks about women being saved through childbearing.  Genesis 6:1-5 has this strange thing with the Nephilim.  Can people be baptized on behalf of the dead or does 1 Corinthians 15:29 get at something different?  Does Paul suggest that parts of his Epistle are not inspired by the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 7:12?   1 Samuel 28 contains a shocking story of Saul consulting a witch-like medium and raising Samuel to talk with him.  Uzzah is struck dead for touching the ark in 2 Samuel 6:5-7. How in the world can the psalmist write about smashing babies on the rocks in Psalms 137:9?  Romans 1:26-27 discusses unnatural relations and something about God giving these people up to their own desires.  Is total genocide to include even the animals what 1 Samuel 5:13 is getting at?  Peter is the rock has many meanings in the Church today based on how people understand Matthew 16:18.  1 Corinthians 11:27-30 seems to suggest that some believers have died for taking the Lord's Supper incorrectly.  And 1 Peter 3:21 has at times been taken to mean that baptism is an act that actually brings about salvation; how can this be?  We're dealing with all of these and we're still open to add some to the list if we get more tough texts before the end of the series. (You can contact us with a difficult passage you'd like us to address by using this contact form.) 

Jared and I believe that if it's in the Bible, we need to be able to deal with it, understand it, and allow it to change us no matter how difficult or shocking.  It absolutely cannot be that students of the Bible simply skip over parts of God's Word because it's tough, and it is for this reason that we want to discuss the tough texts and help those who truly seek the whole counsel of God.

You can find these podcasts as well as many other resources on the Resources pages of and or you can subscribe to the Salty Believer Unscripted podcast.

Subscribe to the Salty Believer iTunes Podcasts: Video | Audio
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* While there may be some overlap, the content of the Video and Audio Podcasts are not the same.  

*The picture use in this post is in the public domain. 

Kick-Starting Your Prayers

Prayer is a necessary part of the joyous and full Christian life.  Jesus taught his disciples how to pray (Matthew 6:5-13) and we see Jesus praying often--maybe most intensely in the Garden of Gethsemane.  It is the act of talking with God and the Bible records many men and women praying.  (Some of those prayers are even written down.)

God wants us to talk with him often, always in fact (Luke 18:1, Acts 10:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, and 1 Timothy 2:8 for example). Yet, many Christians find themselves in seasons where it is difficult to pray.  As surprising as that may sound, it might be a result of unresolved spiritual conviction but it could also be due to a lack to a strong understanding of prayer or a lifestyle of habitual prayer.  The best way to work through spiritual conviction, especially that of unconfessed or hidden sin, is to pray!  And the best way to develop a better understanding of prayer comes through studying the Bible and engaging in a regular routine of prayer.  Regular prayer is about a submissive attitude, faith, and habit and there are seasons where these things don't come easy. 

One tool I've found to help me in my prayer time is a prayer book.  No, this is not a journal, nor is it a Puritan book of pre-written prayers, although both of these things are good.  (When it comes to journaling,  I've often struggled to write my down prayers, and I would almost never look back to review my prayers at a later date.  This is not to say that journaling is bad, it's just not something I personally do well or find as useful.)    

Instead, I have a prayer book that serves as a kick-starter for my prayers.  It's a reminder and makes it easy to pray in dry seasons (and when I haven't yet fully woken up with a good cup of coffee).  Here's how I've organized my prayer book, but if you're going to use a prayer book, your book really aught to be customized to your needs and preferences.  You really need to make it your own.

On the opening page of my book, I've written 2 Corinthians 10:4, as a personal reminder of the importance of prayer.  There are many passages that could serve as a reminder, but this one was on my mind when I made my most recent prayer book.

The first section of my prayer book is a list of lost people who I pray for often.  My list has grown ever sense reading Concentric Circles of Concern by Dr. Oscar Thompson so I typically pray for 10 to 15 people by name each day.  The list however, helps me remember lost people to pray for and keeps them in front of me and on my heart.  It is also a place where I can add the names of new people I meet who are in desperate need of Christ.  (At it's thrilling when I can cross a person's name off on this list because they become found!)  I've also written some scriptures in this section that serve as an encouragement to me.  They remind me that God cares more than I do and they help shape my thinking about the importance of praying for the lost, which is why they are penned in the first section of my book.

The next section is pages of scriptural passages that I like and often pray through.  Many of them serve as an encouragement but some are the prayers of others written in the Bible that I have found  particular significant in my own life.  Many are from the Psalms, but not all.

The next section opens with some Scripture that moves me, followed by some simple one-line prayers that I could (and should) pray for the rest of my life.  They are prayers of thanksgiving, praise, worship, and life-long petitions such as a request for wisdom as outlined in James 1:5.

The final section in my prayer book is a list of all the praises, thanksgiving, and petitions that are more timely.  These include the many intersessions for my family, church, and many others.  I have the names of our church's community group leaders, lists of friends, other pastors laboring all around the world for the gospel, special projects, and the specific requests made by others.  I also have many of my own prayer needs and praises written in this section.  I put a date by all the listings.  When I cross them off, I date them again and write a brief explanation of why I'm crossing the item off.  For example, I'm praying regularly for a young woman who has embarked on a year-long mission trip around the world.  When she returns safely, I'll cross off that prayer item and praise God for his provisions.

My book has pages and pages of people, praises, petitions, Scriptures, thoughts, and other things I can be talking with God about.  It also has lots of blank pages for more to be added.  I don't have to pray for everything in the book but it's nice to have the tool to prime the pump when I feel like I'm praying on empty.  It's interesting just how quickly my prayers start flowing without the book only a short time after I get started by using the book.  It's also worth noting that this book has greatly helped me form a more regular habit of personal prayer.

Here's a short video with a little more info about my little prayer book and how one may help you in your prayer life:

If you'd like to start a prayer book, it's easy.  All you need to get started is some kind of notebook and a pen. Then start praying!

*'Child at Prayer' by Eastman Johnson, circa 1873 is in the public domain. 

No Sex Outside of Marriage, Really?

In our society, especially in the West, sex is a really big deal.  It seems to define many relationships, although it is usually the act of sex that is important rather than the relationship itself.  But the Bible says the relationship comes first and places an extremely high view of marriage. Some however, have a difficult time seeing marriage for what it is; and others  even say that as long as the couple is monogamous, it doesn't matter if they are married.

Genesis 2:23-25 shows us a picture of the ideal and it looks fairly different than the arguments of society.  God provides the ideal and principle for marriage, even calling the woman the man’s “wife.”  This first marriage is a union far superior than simply a sex act.

As we read further in the Old Testament, we find many positive instances of man and women being joined in marriage and then they have sex.  Sex comes as a result of marriage, not a precursor to it. We also see many negative instances of men having sex with women whom they are not married to. The former is written about positively and the latter is viewed negatively and sinful.

However, it is the New Testament epistles that provide the clearest instruction on this matter for Christians today.

1 Corinthians 7:1-5 demonstrates that sex apart from one in a covenant relationship with his or her spouse is wrong. The idea is that because people cannot control themselves outside of marriage (and it would likely prove too difficult to abstain entirely as it seems the Corinthians may have inquired of Paul), a man should have a wife and a woman a husband so they can fulfill their passions in a moral way rather than in a way that is sexually immoral.  If a husband or wife is required to have moral sex, than a marriage must be required to have husband or wife.  A monogamous sex partner is simply not enough.  The wedding, not sex, that is the process of making the covenant. Sex is the consummation of the covenant as seen repeatedly in the Old Testament.

Hebrews 13:4 says that the marriage bed should not be defiled but honored. God judges the sexually immoral and adulterers. Adultery is not only defined by cheating on someone, but sex outside of marriage. And given the picture of the great love between a man and wife in the Song of Solomon, it would seem that sexual immorality would be more about those having sex outside of the loving, caring, consensual, beautiful, God honoring marriage.  The act of sex is not the thing that honors God, but the marital relationship itself. And within this marital relationship, sex can honor God as well.  Outside of a marriage bed, sex is a defiling act.

It must also be noted that God repeatedly condemns sexual immorality and both Hebrews 13:4 and 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 define any sex outside of a marriage covenant as sexually immoral. (Examples of God commanding his people to remain free from sexual immorality include: Acts 15:20, 1 Corinthians 5:1, 1 Corinthians 6:13, 1 Corinthians 6:18, 1 Corinthians 10:8, 2 Corinthians 12:21, Galatians 5:19, Ephesians 5:3, Colossians 3:5, 1 Thessalonians 4:3, and Jude 7.) Therefore, sex is only acceptable to God inside the marriage covenant.

*Photo of rings taken by user, FotoRita and is licensed under  a creative commons license.

Hebrews Relationship with the Old Testament


It is difficult for a student of the New Testament to miss the significance of the Old Testament. These two sections of the Canon are like two acts of a play that depend upon each other for the proper presentation of the plot, conflict, and resolution. Character development—a necessary tool for any successful play—usually spans from the first raised curtain to the final curtain call. To properly understand the conclusion, one must understand the beginning. Like the two-act play, the New Testament depends upon the foundations set in the first act, which is typically called the Old Testament. Hebrews, probably more so than any other New Testament book is a second-act book that is highly dependent upon the first act. Its author demands that the reader know the Old Testament in order to fully understand the claims made by the book.

Hebrews, written to an audience with an old covenant background, makes heavy use of the Old Testament. George Guthrie writes of the book, “Thirty-five quotations from the Greek translation of the Old Testament and thirty-four allusions work to support the development of Hebrew’s argument. In addition, the writer offers nineteen summaries of Old Testament material, and thirteen times he mentions an Old Testament name or topic, often without reference to specific context.”[1] Carson and Moo write, “[T]he author cites the Greek Old Testament as if he assumes his readers will recognize its authority.”[2] Clements believes that the original readers are “men and woman who are assumed to be fully familiar with the scriptures of the Old Testament, although they themselves are Christian.”[3] Regardless of the exact identity of the original readers (which will be discussed below), George Guthrie argues, “The author assumes his audience has an extensive knowledge of the Old Testament. Of all the writings of the New Testament, none is more saturated with overt references to the Old Testament. The author so filled his discourse with Old Testament thoughts and passages that they permeate every chapter.”[4]

The Hebrews author exhorts that the new is better than the old. “His line of approach,” according to Donald Guthrie, “was that everything in fact was better – a better sanctuary, a better priesthood, a better sacrifice, a better covenant. Indeed, he aims to show that there is a theological reason for the absence of the old ritual, glorious as it may have seemed to the Jews.”[5] And Scott contends, “The Epistle to the Hebrews clearly affirms that because the final age (‘these last days,’ Hebrews 1:2) is present, the new covenant has made the former obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear; (Hebrews 8:13).”[6] Thus, to understand the thing that is better, it seems that the reader must have some familiarity with the former.

In an effort to understand the exhortation of author of Hebrews, this post will examine the author’s of use of the Old Testament. First, a brief discussion of the potential identity of the author and the most likely original audience should serve to provide an appropriated backdrop for the author’s Old Testament usage. Once the background is set, specific passages will be explored; however, for the scope of this post, not every reference to the Old Testament will be mined for additional understanding. In concluding this post, attempts will be made to understand how dependent the book of Hebrews is upon the Old Testament. Can the key points of Hebrews be understood by a reader with no previous knowledge of the Old Testament passages cited or alluded to in Hebrews? Does Hebrews require further study of the old covenant or does the author provide enough background information that right new covenant understanding can come from the book of Hebrews alone? How should a present-day teacher or preacher approach Hebrews in light of the examination of this post?

The author of Hebrews is a mystery. Most introductions contain convincing arguments on why the author was not likely Paul, who wrote Romans and many other Epistles, despite that P46 places Hebrews behind Romans in the Pauline corpus.[7] And it may have been an Eastern Church belief that Hebrews was associated with Paul that allowed it its inclusion in the Canon. Even with the support of Jerome and Augustine, after the forth and early fifth centuries the idea of a Pauline authorship was drawing fire.[8] Today, Carson and Moo write, “The Greek of Hebrews is more polished than that of Paul, and the consistent quality of the rhetoric is quite remarkable.”[9] Hagner points to Hebrews 2:3 as proof that Hebrews was not written by Paul because the author claims to have only second-hand knowledge of the gospel but in passages like Galatians 1:12 and 1 Corinthians 9:1, Paul claims to have learned directly from God.[10] And Davies contents, “It would be very unusual to find a modern scholar holding this view, for there are no positive reasons for it, and strong reasons against it.”[11] But if Paul is not that author, who might the author be?

Luther first proposed that Apollos might be the author. Hagner provides a case for this authorship pointing to Acts 18:24, which states that Apollos was a “learned man” and held a “thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.” And Apollos would know Timothy enough to reference his release from prison (Hebrews 13:23).[12] Tertullian supported Barnabas as the author. Hagner lists that Barnabas was a Levite and would be interested in the livitical system, he was from Cyprus, and was likely influenced by Hellenistic culture.[13] Other suggested authors include Clement of Rome, Priscilla, Jude, Philip, and Silvanus.[14] Presently however, only aspects of the author can be gleaned from the text but there is still no clear evidence—internal or external—that leaves scholars with any solid suspects.

The audience on the other hand is shrouded in slightly less mystery. From Hebrews 10:23, it is fair to assume that the author had some specific people in mind when writing his Epistle.[15] There is silence on the temple, and the Old Testament is quoted from polished Greek, leaving one to conclude that either author or the audience did not know Hebrew. The audience was either not in Jerusalem or if in Jerusalem, they were most likely Greek-speaking expatriates.[16] And while there is no clear identification of who the original audience was, Hagner argues, “the early church was very probably correct in understanding the first readers to have been Jewish Christians. The vast majority of modern scholars have agreed with this conclusion from analysis of the content of the book.”[17]


As one tries to understand how the Hebrews author uses the Old Testament, one must first ask how the author viewed the Old Testament. Yisa believes that the author was not arguing against the Old Testament, but rather building upon his position with a strong trust and understanding of the Old Testament. He writes, “At surface level, it may seem that the author of Hebrews uses the Old Testament in an allegorical and fanciful way. However, that is far from the truth. A closer examination of the book proves that the author shared the Jewish and early Christian presuppositions and exegetical principles of the literal and natural sense of the text, a high view of Scripture, and the divine inspiration of the Old Testament as the Word of God.”[18] Like Yisak who essentially argues that the author of Hebrews holds to a Christocentric hermeneutic, Hagner writes, “Christ is seen to be the key to the real meaning of the OT as it can now be understood in this era of fulfillment. From this point of view, all of the OT points directly or indirectly to Christ, who is by definition the telos (goal) of God’s saving purpose.”[19] And Yisak rightly points out, “[The author] intended to teach that Jesus is the unifying factor of Scriptures.”[20]

Also worth noting is the source (or sources) from where the author drew his information. “In quotations,” writes Hanger, “the author regularly follows the Greek (LXX) rather than the Hebrew (or Masoretic) text that has come down to us.”[21] Bruce identifies two Greek texts that are in agreement with the author’s quotations (Alexandrinus and Vaticanus), but twice as many quotes are in agreement with Alexandrinus than Vaticanus. Interestingly, some of the quotations agree with neither.[22] Bruce explains, “[The author] may have selected his variants (where he knew more readings than one) for interpretational suitability. These variants were sometimes borrowed from the other parts of the Greek Bible or from Philo, but appear for the most part to have been introduced on his own responsibility. It has been argued on the basis of his use of certain Old Testament quotations that he was familiar with the interpretations of Philo and used some quotations in such a way as to counter these interpretations.”[23] And it may even be argued (as Bruce does) that the author of Hebrews actually influenced other Greek texts.[24]

From the broad background, this post will now adjust the attention to some specific Old Testament passages found in Hebrews. One way to outline Hebrews by major themes is to look at Chapters 1-10 as an argument that Christ is superior. In nearly every case, the inferior items are something argued from the Old Testament. Christ is superior to angels, Moses, the previous priesthood, the previous sacrifices, and even the entire old covenant. The remaining three chapters are centered upon the necessity and superiority of faith. To understand the thing that is better there is a necessity to understand the previous thing, and the author often reminds his readers of the Old Testament to make his case. Examining the book of Hebrews in this fashion will not give equal treatment to every Old Testament quote and allusion found in Hebrews, and in fact, some quotations will be neglected all together; however, this approach should provide enough examples to support the thesis of this post.

Christ is superior to the angels. The book of Hebrews wastes no time with an introductory opening and is quickly arguing that Jesus is superior to the angels. To make this argument, the author appeals to Deuteronomy 32:43, 2 Samuel 7:14, Psalm 2:7, Psalm 45:6-7, Psalm 102:25-27, and Psalm 110:1. Most of the entire first chapter is actually comprised of Old Testament quotes. Davies points out that all the Scripture appealed to in this specific argument is ascribed to God as the speaker, showing the author’s belief of divine authorship of the quoted passages.[25] Also worth noting is how short many of the quotations are. Most of them are one sentence, and of those, the first four quotes are rather short sentences. It is as if they are to serve as merely a reminder rather that a first-time presentation of the material. And the reader must already trust these statements as God’s Word, that is, divine Scripture, or there is no value in using the passages to support the argument for Christ.

Christ is superior to Moses. In Chapter 3, the author compares Jesus to Moses, saying, “For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses […].”[26] And while the author provides a little glimpse of who Moses was in verse 5 when he says, “Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant,” he provides very little about Moses the character. It is as if the reader must already be aware of Moses or the author wants to the reader to do some research. In providing commentary on this passage, Bruce discusses aspects of the golden calf, the relationship with Aaron, and even the unfavorable report from spies.[27] None of this is mentioned in the Hebrews passage, but Bruce seems to feel the need to express it to explain the comparison. Guthrie feels that he must do the same thing in order to explain the rebellion in verse 8.[28] In order to see a complete picture of Moses, one must read the Old Testament, and it seems the author understood this and expected it of his readers, just as Bruce, Guthrie and many others have done.

Christ is superior to the Old Testament priesthood. Much like the author’s argument about Jesus’ superiority to Moses, he also argues that Jesus is superior to any present priesthood system. This argument spans from the tail end of Chapter 4 through Chapter 7 with some minor breaks. For this argument, the author specifically only quotes Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 110:4, but he alludes to the order of the Melchizedek priesthood and even of the high priest system that his readers would likely be familiar with. But unlike the Moses argument, the author provides some background on the mysterious person called Melchizedek. It is as if he expects the readers to be slightly less informed of Melchizedek—maybe aware of the person but not the magnitude of meaning wrapped up in him— because Hebrews 7:1-10 offers an explanation of who Melchizedek was before the author compares Melchizedek and Jesus. One might point out that the author of Hebrews provides enough information that the reader may not need to do additional research to understand the comparison, and this is a valid observation. This demonstrates the author’s awareness of his original audience and his awareness of the common understanding of Moses compared to that of Melchizedek. When likened to the author’s treatment of Moses, there is an indication the author must teach where necessary but depend upon the audience’s knowledge of the Old Testament where he can afford to do so.

Christ is superior to the old covenant. In making the argument that Christ as the new covenant is better than the old covenant, the author appeals briefly to Exodus 25:40 and extensively to Jeremiah 31:31-34. In appealing to Jeremiah, the author cites what might be the largest quotation from the Old Testament found in Hebrews. Hagner suggests that this citation is “of major importance to the epistle,” and “the explicit reference to the new covenant in this text makes it ideal for his purpose.”[29] This Old Testament passage is so useful in the argument in fact, that is quoted again in Hebrews 10. And just as with the previous uses of the Old Testament, little is outlined or summarized of the old covenant. It seems that the original readers must already hold some understanding of the old covenant, or at least the author assumed they did. And there must be some foundational information the author is assuming because the author is making an appeal that Jesus is better than the thing the reader already knows. What is different here compared to previous passages is that the author is using the Old Testament to demonstrate that the new covenant is actually spoken of in the Old Testament. The new covenant is actually inline with previous writings and the author wants his readers to see what they may have missed.

Christ is superior than the old sacrifices. In Chapter 10, the author argues that Christ is the ultimate sacrifice and writes, “Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.”[30] Like the argument about the better covenant the author is using the Old Testament to demonstrate that his point has already been made in the Old Testament. The readers should have seen the perfect and final sacrifice in Jesus. In this section, the author turns to Psalm 40:6-8 and again to Jeremiah 31:33-34. Here, the Old Testament supports the displeasure of the old sacrifices and then commentary is offered by the author. He states, “[E]very priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.”[31] The author finds not only support in the Old Testament, which is treated as if spoken by God, but also boldness from within God’s Word.

So great a cloud of witnesses. The latter portion of the book of Hebrews argues for the superiority of faith. While many Old Testament allusions and quotations may be examined here, the cloud of witnesses proves most interesting. In a single chapter, the author uses 16 characters from the Old Testament as examples of 14 faithful men and two faithful women. This “great cloud of witnesses” includes Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel.[32] Some background is provided for some of these figures, but hardly more than a sentence. And Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel are lumped together in the explanation. Clearly, the author believes his readers know who these individuals were and need only a simple reminder. But to get a better understanding, the reader could consult Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Chronicles, and Ruth, where the accounts and writings of these individuals are found within the Old Testament. The author also includes many unnamed people who have suffered and then he said of them, “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”[33] With the exception of the unnamed and more recent faithful witnesses, it is almost a requirement for one to know at least some of the names listed if one is to truly understand the better thing that God has in store. After all, how can one understand the thing that is better without first seeing the thing it is compared to?


John Patrick’s stage play, “The Hasty Heart” (1945), takes place in a World War II allied field hospital. In Act I, the hospital patients learn that a Scotsman named Corporal Lachlan "Lachie" MacLachlan is being transferred to the spare bed in their recovery area. Lachie sustained a wound to his kidney and had to have it removed; however, his other kidney is not functioning properly and within about four weeks, Lachie will die of the toxins in his own unfiltered blood. He has no family and he is a bitter, angry man. The commander in charge of the hospital felt that it would be best if Lachie did not know of his condition. While he informed the other patients in the hospital, he asked them to keep it a secret. He also asked the patients and floor nurse to befriend this lonely transfer patient in an effort to improve the quality of his short remaining life. The drama that unfolds shares a remarkable story of the condition of the heart. However, if a theatergoer were to enter and find her seat at intermission between the first and second acts, there is almost no way she would understand the activities playing out before her. In many ways, the play would make no sense. While many things could be learned about Lachie, Yank, and Sister Parker, the overarching plot and conflict would be rather hazy at best. The development of the characters would be only half the story. The same is true of many New Testament books, most especially the book of Hebrews.

As much as the author of Hebrews depends on the specific Old Testament passages, he depends even more upon the reader’s understanding of the scrolls from where those quotes were drawn. Like a playwright, the author is expressing the second act of a two-act play. This is where the conflict is resolved, the plot is concluded, and the character’s development is show to its full capacity.

Hebrews teaches the world much about Jesus; but if the student of the book is to gain the understanding the author intended, it is almost demanded of the student to turn back a few pages and examine the Old Testament. The student must see to what the author is alluding. He or she must observe what was before so there is a solid understand of what is better. In most cases, the author does not provide enough of a summary. The original readers were most likely Jewish Christians and it is assumed that they had the background knowledge of the material. This may not always be the case for modern-day readers; which is why pastors and teachers should be prepared to provide the summary that most students need in order to gain the two-act understanding.

Reading Hebrews a number of times and even studying the Old Testament verses will not fully plum the depths of this rich book. In its pages there is much to be learned, applied, and lived. There is an amazing Savior to be loved. Many commentaries provide additional insight into the author’s use of the Old Testament and these may serve as additional material for further study. However, it is the recommendation of this author that further study consist of starting with Hebrews 1:1 and reading line by line. At any point a quote or allusion to the Old Testament is presented, place a bookmark in Hebrews and explore the passage from where the quote came. Once the Old Testament passage has been read and studied to the point that a good understanding is achieved, turn back to Hebrews and continue where the reading left off. When the end of the book is reached, try it again and see what was not seen the first time. Chances are, this will take years and the journey will move the reader through much of the Old Testament. But the reward will be well worth the journey. It is the prayer of this author that this post is not where the investigation ends, but rather, this post has only served as an appetizer to such a rich reading of the book of Hebrews and even of the Old Testament upon which Hebrews depends.


Bruce, F. F. The Epistle to the Hebrews (Revised). The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans Publishing, 1990.

Carson, D. A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2005.

Clements, Ronald E. "The use of the Old Testament in Hebrews." Southwestern Journal of Theology 28, no. 1 (September 1, 1985): 36-45. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 23, 2011).

Davies, J. H. A Letter to Hebrews. The Cambridge Bible Commentary. London, Engl: Cambridge University Press, 1976.

Guthrie, Donald. Hebrews. The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, Illi: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983.

Guthrie, George. Hebrews. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zonderan, 1998.

Hanger, Donald A. Hebrews. New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 1990.

Scott, Julius, J., Jr. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 1995

Yisak, Suru. “The use of the Old Testament in Hebrews: Understanding the interpretive method of the writer of Hebrews.” Th.M. diss., (2007) Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dissertations & Theses: Full Text [database on-line]. (publication number AAT 1450952; accessed April 24, 2011).


1 George Guthrie, Hebrews, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1998), 19.

2 D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2005), 610.

3 Ronald E. Clements, "The use of the Old Testament in Hebrews" (Southwestern Journal of Theology 28, no. 1, September 1, 1985: 36-45, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost) [accessed April 23, 2011], 36.

4 Donald Guthrie, Hebrews, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, Illi: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983), 19.

5 Guthrie, Hebrews, 1998, 32-33.

6 J. Julius Scott Jr. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament (Grand Rapid, Mich: Baker Academic, 1995), 327.

7 Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2005, 600.

8 Donald A. Hanger, Hebrews, New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody, Mass: Henderickson Publishers, 1990), 8-9.

9 Carson, An introduction to the New Testament, 2005, 601.

10 Hagner, Hebrews, 1990, 9.

11 J. H. Davies, A Letter to Hebrews, The Cambridge Bible Commentary (London, Engl: Cambridge University Press, 1967), 10.

12 Hagner, Hebrews, 1990, 10.

13 Ibid.

14 Guthrie, Hebrews, 1998, 23.

15 Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2005, 608.

16 Ibid.

17 Hagner, Hebrews, 1990, 2.

18 Suru Yisak, “The use of the Old Testament in Hebrews: Understanding the interpretive method of the writer of Hebrews,” Th.M. diss., 2007 (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dissertations & Theses: Full Text [database on-line., publication number AAT 1450952; accessed April 24, 2011), 83.

19 Hagner, Hebrews, 1990, 15.

20 Yisak, 2007, 62.

21 Hanger, Hebrews, 1990, 15.

22 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Revised), The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans Publishing, 1990), 26.

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid., 27

25 Davies, A Letter to Hebrews, 1967, 22.

26 Hebrews 3:3a.

27 F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 1990, 91-92.

28 Guthrie, Hebrews, 1983, 102-104.

29 Hanger, Hebrews, 1990, 122.

30 Hebrews 10:18.

31 Hebrews 10:11.

32 Hebrews 12:1.

33 Hebrews 11:39-40.

*This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.

His Needs, Her Needs by Willard Harley

Many a bride and groom have listened to passages of Scripture at the marriage ceremony—Christian or not. Often the passage will come from 1 Corinthians 13; but if not from there, it may be something from 1 John, Colossians, Ephesians, Ecclesiastes, or even Genesis. This Scripture reading is good, of course, but how many young men and women really understand their own relational needs, let alone the needs of their spouse? And as the wedding day fades into history, the realities of the relationship eventually settle in. His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage is Willard F. Harley, Jr.’s bold attempt to address these needs.

Harley addresses ten needs—five belong primarily at the top of the man’s list and five entirely different needs at the top of the list belonging to the woman—which are often found starving in relationships soon to be or already marred by an adulterous affair. Chapter by chapter he boldly shines a spotlight into areas that often are felt but not regularly examined or discussed. His approach at times seems controversial in the modern western society; however, his book is well read and any married reader will likely sense some truth in Harley’s observations. “The Purpose of this book,” writes Harley, “is to teach you how to discover, and then learn to meet, each other’s most important emotional needs.”[1]

Harley untimely opens his work with a hard-hitting question. He asks his reader to examine how affair-proof his or her own marriage presently might be. The reader in a healthy marriage might jump to the idea that she is in a strong marriage free from the threat of an affair, and the reader in a marriage taking blows from the effects of cheating will most likely resent the question. But even the strongest-willed men and women can and will face the threat and temptation of an affair. “Some men never give in;” argues Harley, “they manage to make the best of it over the years. But many do succumb to the temptation of an affair.”[2] An affair may happen to anybody if the needs of one spouse or the other are not being met. When the Love Bank Account is low or empty and the future of deposits from the spouse is dim, the ability to have needs fulfilled from another almost seems to slip in unnoticed. At the conclusion of one example that started with harmless chitchat and a polite hug, Harley says, “Jolene simple felt so starved for affection that she was literally hugged into have an affair!”[3]

While not every person or every relationship is the same, through many years of counseling, Harley has discovered ten common needs among men and women. When ranked, men and women seem to prioritize these completely opposite of their spouse’s list.[4] The difficulty then is found in the reality that in thinking they are doing good each spouse attempts to fulfill the needs that actually reside at the bottom of their mate’s list rather than those most important to their spouse.

The woman’s needs are generally affection, conversation, honestly and openness, financial support, and family commitment. According to Harley, “A husband can make himself irresistible to his wife by learning to meet her five most important emotional needs.”[5] Interestingly, the man on hot pursuit of a wife will typically demonstrate these well in the courting phase of the relationship, only to shift modes in an attempt to meet five other needs. Thinking he and his wife have the same needs, he will begin trying to fulfill the same top five on his list. His wife will then be left feeling used or unloved. And when this happens, she will attempt to resolve the problem by striving to provide her husband with the things that are at the top of her list, not his. What is on his top five? Sexual fulfillment, recreational companionship, physical attractiveness, domestic support and admiration.

In a simple back-and-forth format, Harley addresses the man and the woman’s top five needs. He starts with affection, the woman’s top need. Then he goes to the man and explains sexual fulfillment. This continues onward until he has spent a chapter dealing with all ten needs typically found in the martial relationship. Each of these chapters almost appears to be written to the opposite spouse. It is as if when he is dealing with affection, he is explaining to the man what the woman needs because the man is clueless while the woman has felt her husband should have known this all along. But with a new chapter comes a change and the explanation is provided to the woman. This book has been written not to the husband or wife, but to the couple. “I encourage you and your spouse to read these books together,” urges Harley, “complete the questionnaires, and answer the questions at the end of each chapter.”[6] In addition, Harley knows that affair-proofing is not just as simple as reading this book and discussing the content as many chapters encourage, it is a process. He writes, “Keep these books in a place where you can refer to them regularly, because you should be reminded of the lessons they will teach you.”[7]

His Needs, Her Needs should hit close to home for most couples because Harley addresses the needs of a man and woman in ways many marriage books do not. In fact, many people may find the content of Harley’s work offensive. His worldview clearly does not align with the modern western idea that men and women are exactly the same. He presents a portrait of men and women as equal in value but very different in their needs. However, his supporting arguments for these differences are compelling. His examples are convincing. And his observations seem reasonable, although not cited or supported with anything other than his personal twenty years counseling with couples. It is difficult to know if his observations are universal or if there are cultural, religious, geographical, or socioeconomic factors that may influence relationships in ways he may not have observed. In this way, Harley does not appear objective, but this is not to say that his observations are wrong, simply that he wrote more for the masses rather than for an academic audience.

Another difficulty with His Needs, Her Needs, is found in how much the blame for an extra-marital affair almost seems to be placed on the spouse not meeting the needs rather than the person having the actual affair. The idea that the spouse should communicate his or her needs with his or her partner is hinted at in nearly every chapter and the discussion questions that conclude each chapter demand this; however, the argument still stands: when the needs are not met, affairs may happen. But one cannot meet his or her own needs. It is the job of the partner to meet the needs. Therefore, the finger seems too eager to point in the wrong direction. It may not be the feeling or intention of Harley, but the feeling exists nonetheless.

Despite some of the negative aspects of His Needs, Her Needs or maybe the oversight, this book is still fantastic in addressing feelings and needs that may simply rest just below the surface of most marital relationships. Harley does not shy away from difficult realities. And this is what makes His Needs, Her Needs a necessary and valuable book for couples hoping to marry, those who counsel couples, and anybody who is married—regardless if for only six months or for forty years.

1. WillardF Harley, Jr., His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage(Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2011), 15.

2. Ibid., 17-19.

3. Ibid., 37

4. Ibid., 18.

5. Ibid., 200.

6. Ibid., 16.

7. Ibid.

* I have no material connection to this book and am receiving no monetary compensation for this review.
** The original review was used to meet the partial requirement in the completion of an M.Div. This review has been redacted for this post.

God's Glory in Conflict

“Christ is the reason many enter the pastorate;” writes Poirier, “Conflict is the reason many leave.”1 Conflict in ministry is not uncommon and it is certainly not new. While not the first conflict in the Bible, the clash between two friends and evangelists, Paul and Barnabas is one in which most people can easily relate. Acts 15:39 records that there was a “sharp disagreement” between these two men concerning John Mark.2 It was so serious in fact, that the two men parted ways. How could such a conflict arise between these prominent and respected church-planting believers? What happened? And how did God use this conflict for his purpose and glory? If we can find answers to these questions, we can also find application to apply in ministry conflict today.

This story starts after a man named Saul—who was greatly persecuting the Church—encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus.3 Having had a total life transformation in Christ, Saul wanted to meet the disciples in Jerusalem, but these men were afraid of him. They did not believe Saul was a disciple; however, a man named Barnabas vouched for Saul and a relationship was born. Eventually, the Church leaders sent Saul to Tarsus because of a conflict between him and the Hellenists.

Some time later, persecution and conflict scattered the church “as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch.”4 In Antioch, some Hellenists started preaching the gospel and the leaders in Jerusalem wanted to investigate. So the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch. Determining that he needed to stay and teach in Antioch, Barnabas went to get Saul from Tarsus. Together, they remained in Antioch and taught for a year.5 In addition, the Church leaders also used Barnabas and Saul to deliver important relief to other disciples during a severe famine. Finally, the Holy Spirit set apart Barnabas and Saul to venture on a massive church planting effort.6 It was on this journey that Saul changed his name to Paul and a companion named John left them and returned to Jerusalem.7

The first expedition was a great success. Clearly, these two men had established a good working relationship and likely, a friendship. They became even more skilled and experienced in their ministry. So it is understandable that some time afterward Paul would say to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.”8 Barnabas agreed and as plans were being made Barnabas suggested that they bring along John Mark. Paul sharply disagreed because John Mark was the same man who deserted them on the first journey. This disagreement was so serious, the conflict so tense, that these two men parted ways. Barnabas took John Mark and Paul selected Silas for his travels.

Some will read the account of Paul and Barnabas and fail to see God’s glory. They will agree with Poirier who writes, “Conflict is everywhere. It erupts unexpectedly, catching us off guard and leaving us perplexed by the anger, unreasonableness, and even belligerence of another,” but they will forget that God ordains conflict.9 “[Conflict] certainly does not surprise or confuse God;” writes Poirier, “Since all things, including conflict, are from God and through God and to God (Rom. 11:36), then conflict itself has a place in God’s great plans and purpose.”10 In the skirmish in between Paul and Barnabas, we can see God’s glory. First, two strong leaders within the early Church went different directions with the gospel rather than back to where they had already been together. Barnabas sailed to Cyprus and Paul headed for Syria and Cilicia. God was shaping the timing, speed, and geography of the missions of Paul and Barnabas.

Second, by separating, each man needed other companions—Barnabas took with him John Mark and Paul chose Silas. Because of the conflict, two more men had the opportunity to train and grow under a strong leader and through the experience of the journey. But it did not end with just John Mark and Silas, we can see throughout the book of Acts and from Paul’s epistles that Paul had many others with him on his journey. It may have been the case that Barnabas did as well.

And third, Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark were afforded a great opportunity to learn forgiveness and reconciliation. While there is some debate centered on timing, 1 Corinthians 9:6 suggests that Paul and Barnabas may have reconciled. While it is unclear if Paul and Barnabas were ever together again, it can be seen that Paul and John Mark were together at a later time.11 At one point, Paul would not even travel with John Mark and yet is seems that they may have been persecuted together. It seems that Paul and John Mark reconciled, and forgiveness and reconciliation are functions that bring great glory to God. Conflict should always be viewed as a way to see God’s glory in and through reconciliation. Poirier rightly argues, “Since God reconciled all things in heaven and on earth to himself through the death of his Son on the Cross (Col. 1:19-20, then we who are the children of God are redeemed to be reconcilers.”12 Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark seem to have been reconcilers.

In ministry, as in life, conflict will arise. Paul and Barnabas had different views of how to deal with John Mark. Barnabas wanted to be the forgiving and graceful encourager while Paul appears more concerned with the task at hand and with loyalty when the work gets difficult. Both views are important and neither of these men were right or wrong—they just had different views on this matter. Seeing the conflict that arose due to the different approaches, we should come to understand that different methodologies will bring differences to the surface. When conflict comes, what should we do?

Regardless of how we seek to resolve the conflict, we must first commit ourselves to seeing it as ordained by God. It was not a surprise to God. The conflict, just as it was for Paul and Barnabas, is an opportunity for ministry, not a distraction from it. There is opportunity for reconciliation and forgiveness. And in some unforeseen way, the conflict might be God’s way of altering the plans of man for the greater plan that is within his will. Seeing God’s glory in conflict starts with the correct outlook and attitude. Therefore, as we enter conflict it become imperative that we investigate the situation and ask God if he might be working in ways we do not see or understand. We must also remain aware that God could be working for his purpose and our efforts may actually be working against God rather than in conjunction with him. Even conflict can be a ministry opportunity.

In today’s society, it seems as if there are some just waiting for a conflict. They have every desire to point a finger and draw attention to the pastor or minister in conflict. There are also those within the Church looking for the excitement of conflict, or maybe they thrive on the drama of a good internal battle. Or maybe there is a person in the congregation who is critical of the leadership and hoping to spur on a conflict. And then there are those outside the Church that see the many conflicts within the Church as a reason to stay away from Christ. How often is the reality of so many different denominations—a direct result of conflict—given as a reason not to hear or accept the gospel? How many times to people simply check out of an issue because there is some level of conflict involved? Add the Internet and rapid communication and the pastor or minister now has to walk through conflict extremely well or his or her witness may be in jeopardy.

How a pastor or minister deals with conflict will absolutely shape how people view his or her ministry. Does the pastor continue to demonstrate God’s glory when the going is difficult, or does he simply preach a good sermon when everything is peaceful? As with Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark, disciples must find God’s glory in all things, even conflict, if they desire to successfully preach and teach the gospel. The gospel is full of conflict. In fact, conflict is at the very heart of the Good News. Therefore, today’s pastors and ministers must not only be able to handle conflict in biblical way, they must be expecting it. If not, they really do not grasp what the gospel is all about.

Poirer, Alfred Poirier. The Peace Making Pastor: A Biblical guide to resolving church Conflict. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2006.

1 Alfred Poirier, The Peace Making Pastor: A Biblical guide to resolving church Conflict (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2006), 9.

2 English Standard Version (ESV). Unless otherwise noted, all following Biblical references will be taken from the ESV.

3 Acts 9:1-25.

4 Acts 11:19.

5 Acts 11:19-26.

6 Acts 13:2.

7 Acts 13: 9 and Acts 13:13b.

8 Acts 15:36.

9 Poirier, 75.

10 Ibid.

11 See Colossians 4:10 for example.

12 Poirier, 13.

* Photo by user, "webmink." It is registered under a creative license and used with permission.
** This blog was originally written in partial fulfillment toward an M.Div. It has been redacted for this blog.

Staying on Track With a Purpose Stament

Preventing Ministry Failure: A ShepherdCare Guide for Pastors, Ministers and other Caregivers by Michael Todd Wilson and Brad Hoffmann is a great book. About a month and a half into my full-time ministry at Risen Life Church (rather than the part-time I was previously doing), I’ve come to see the real value of this book.

In this first couple of months of this full-time ministry, I noticed my working hours steadily increasing. Between all of the various activities I was engage in, I had pushed my work week to an unhealthy 55-60 hours. I say unhealthy because some (but not all) of this work was outside the the areas where I’m called and gifted. By not maintaining strong boundaries, my days lost focus. Where I once had a solid hour of prayer and Bible study built into my day, everyday, I now saw that time steadily drop to a rapidly passing few minutes. Sadly, my prayer and reading time with my wife and kids did the same. My seminary schooling has took a back seat. Rest was nonexistent. And all of this I’ve did in the name of ministry that was not as healthy or effective as it should have been. Yikes, how backwards that is; but also how common!

When Paul discusses the ministry gifts and how they function in the Church, it’s important to see that not only should the eye not tell the hand, “I have no need of you” (1Cor 12:21), but also that the eye can’t tell the hand that the hand needs to do the work of the eye. And the eye can’t tell the hand that the hand needs to work in the same way as the eye. We have different strengths for a reason, and when we work too far outside these strengths, we aren’t doing the Church any favors.

But this is not to say that the eye and hand work completely separate of one another. How hard is it to tie your shoes when you can’t see? How about cooking a grilled cheese sandwich? Typing a paper? And how easy are these tasks without hands? In the Body, we work as teams. Team ministry means we work in unison but we don’t necessarily do the same job in the same way. Instead, we work together to accomplish the mission to which God has called us.

As a hand, I think I may have gotten off task when I first started. I was trying to be a foot or an eye, or a belly button. During a couple days of rest and reflection (after achieving temporary burnout), I realize that I am best suited as a hand and should do my best to function as one. I think it’s best we all remember this because if we do, the Body will function better.

To help myself, I wrote a personal ministry purpose statement. I believe this will help me better remain on my course, and remaining on the right course will be better for me, my family, and my church. If you're curious, here’s my purpose statement:

God created me and has called me to know him better and love him more. Nothing is more important. As I make this life-long journey, I am also called to teach and encourage others to do the same—that is, to know God better so they can love him more. It starts with my family then extends to others. God determines how I am to do this and I will always prayerfully seek from him the most effective means to reach his desired results. I am his servant; an instrument in God’s hand. I will not allow pride to hinder my relationship with God and his mission for me. Daily, weekly, monthly, and annually, I will take appropriate time to study, pray, and rest. As I engage in ministry, I will continually ask, “Are my actions at this very moment the best way available to teach others about God so they can love him more?” If the answer is “no,” I will return to prayer. If the answer is yes, “I will thank God.” And in all things, the Glory is always God’s alone.

Soli Deo gloria!

*The photo used in this post is in the public domain.

The Variety of Gifts

The spiritual gifts can often be a source of controversy in the Church.  The topic is one of those that is treaded upon lightly.   How do we handle the lists?  Are all of the gifts still operative or did some cease? Do believers only get one gift or many?  Are they only for a time?  How do we know what are gifts are?  What are they for?

These questions make for very good conversation and they should drive us to the Bible for answers.  That being said, it is very important to understand that the diversity of the spiritual gifts should be celebrated.

 As you survey the people among the body of believers you attend (if you are attending church), take joy in the way God brings these people together and uniquely gifts us all.  We are a tapestry by design and it is in this diversity that the beauty of God and his Church is seen.

This video and others like it are available in the Resources section of this website. Please check it out regularly as more content will be added often.

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* While there may be some overlap, the content of the Video and Audio Podcasts are not the same. 

Love Wins by Rob Bell (Chapter 6)

[This review is a review in parts.  If you are just joining this review, start with "Love Wins by Rob Bell (Prolegomena)."] 

Bell opens his chapter, "There are Rocks Everywhere," with some seemingly strange stories of people encountering Jesus in supernatural ways.  Rooms filled with peaceful feelings and white light kind of stuff.  He admits that these sound bizarre, but while he often hears accounts the that seem so unexplainable, he recognizes that many are very real.  In an effort to understand what these strange stories have to do with Jesus, Bells shifts gears and discusses a rock that Moses strikes to get water for his people.  In the provisions of that rock, Paul claims we can see Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4, although Bell only gives the chapter).

In this discussion, an interesting thing has happened in Bells' presentation.  It seems he is shifting away from the radical and shocking approach and slipping into a soft teaching style about Jesus.  It starts on page 144, just past the line that marks the coming of a new section.  There are almost no question marks for four pages!  Bell is starting to make a claim, a proclamation.  He's telling, not asking.  And it is not far from what most Christian preachers and teachers would preach and teach on any given Sunday.  And then on page 150 there's another line, a clear indicator of the end of the section.  What could possibly follow what Bell calls the "Jesus story" (150)?

Within only a two sentences, Bell moves back to what many may see as universalism.  Bell writes, "Within this proper, larger understanding of just what the Jesus story even is, we see that Jesus himself, again and again, demonstrates how seriously he takes his role in saving and rescuing and redeeming not just everything, but everybody" (150-151).  He uses a verse from John 12 that states that all people will be drawn to Jesus and then makes a point to say, "All people, to himself" (151).

But there is, mixed in, some good in this first part of the chapter.  Jesus is for everybody, every culture, every people, as Bell argues.  Clearly Bell wants people to see that they need Jesus.  He has a strong desire for all to find him, now.  But there's also some mixed indications that Rob Bell is not pleased with some of the Church's behavior.  He writes,
"When people use the word 'Jesus,' then, it's important for us to ask who they're talking about.  Are they referring to a token of tribal membership, a tamed, domesticated Jesus who waves the flag and promotes whatever values they have decided their nation needs to return to?  Are they referring to the supposed source of the imperial impulse of their group, which wants to conquer other groups 'in the name of Jesus'? Are they referring to the logo or slogan of their political, economic, or military system through which they sanctify their greed and lust for power?" (156).  
He challenges the 'them' Christians about which he passive-aggressively writes.  And the challenge is not off based, it's just that there are strong hints that Bell is angry at any within Christianity that don't look like him and his flavor.  In this chapter (and others) we can see that Bell loves the lost and wants to see people turn to Jesus, but for those tribes, cultures, families, and individuals that have turned to Christ but still maintain was might be considered an immature understanding of the gospel, Bell offers very little love or compassion.  Instead, throughout the book, these people seem to be on his hit list. He appears unwilling to extent any grace to this group of Christians.  So he draws a contrast, showing this reader how he defines what a church that follows Jesus looks like.  He continues,
"Jesus is both near and intimate and personal, and big and wide and transcendent.  One of the many things people in a church do, then, is name, honor, and orient themselves round this mystery.  A church is a community of people who enact specific rituals and create specific experiences to keep this word alive in their own hearts, a gathering of believers who help provide language and symbols and experiences for this mystery" (156).
With the argument he is presenting, Bell discusses these rituals and continually states that nobody is excluded from the need of Jesus.  The extent of that need however, is unclear considering his chapter on hell (Chapter 3).  Does everybody need Jesus to avoid a longer time in a purgatory-style hell, or is there some other reason?  The question about why everybody needs Jesus goes unanswered in favor of the idea that Jesus is for everybody and he will eventually get them all. 

And then, on page 158, there's another section dividing line.  Following the line, 158 pages into the book, is a question that most the readers are likely asking.  After a 157 pages, Bell has asked how the premise that's printed on the cover of his book relates to Jesus.  He asks, "So how does any of this explanation of who Jesus is and what he's doing connect with heaven, hell, and the fate of every single person who has ever lived?" (158).  But before I continue, I have to wonder what Bell means by "this explanation"? Is he referring to the previous page, section, chapter, or even the previous 157 pages?  And about "what he is doing"? Does this refer to saving everybody or something else?

With the exception of Bell's hint that worship in names other than Jesus could still be worshiping Jesus, Bell provides a pretty explanation of Jesus.  Unfortunately, he doesn't answer the question.  He says nothing about how 'who Jesus is' and 'what he is doing' relates to heaven or hell.  He only focuses on the idea that Jesus is for everybody.   And that's where the chapter ends.

I had very little notes written in the margins and between the sentences. This chapter is one that a Christian can read and say, "Ah, that's nice," without really seeing any glaring differences about what they know and love about Jesus.  Bell seems to be cooling off after the previous few chapters. However, for those who only spend 2 hours a week in Church and nothing more (that's only 4 and a half days communing with God), and maybe for those that spend no time in church, no time reading the Bible, and no time praying but claim to be 'spiritual,' one might feel differently.  And maybe it is this person that Bell had in mind while writing Chapter 6.   

Up next, "Love Wins by Rob Bell (Chapter 7)."

* I have no material connection to Rob Bell or his book, Love Wins.

Love Wins by Rob Bell (Chapter 2)

[This review is a review in parts.  If you are just joining this review, start with "Love Wins by Rob Bell (Prolegomena)."] 

Rob Bell opens Chapter Two, his chapter on heaven, with a discussion of some artwork that hung (or still hangs) in his grandmother's home for as long as Bell can remember.  There is a picture of the painting in the book on page 20.  (HarperOne has made every effort to obtain permission to use the creepy picture, but seems to be unable to find its creator).  On the right side of the picture is a smoky, dirty, polluted world.  Running through the picture is a huge chasm and spanning that chasm like a bridge is an enormous cross.  People are walking on the cross to the other side where a very sunny, large, clean city is located.  It gave Bell and his sister the creeps, although it's difficult to know what exactly caused the feeling in Ruth.  She doesn't say (22).   Bell however, seems to be disturbed that the picture suggests that people leave one place to go to another.  Somewhere else.  He writes, "From what we can see, the people in the painting are going somewhere, somewhere they've chosen to go, and they're leaving something behind so that they can go there" (23).  This idea is Bell's launching point into his discussion about heaven. 

Before reading Chapter Two, I got the sense that the picture is symbolic of the cross making a way for one world to be bridged to another, so people can go from a life destined for hell to a life in and among the Kingdom of Heaven.  A chasm between a world of death and yuckiness was now bridged by Jesus' work on the cross to a world of life and beauty, free from such yuckiness.  It would seem that people (who were originally on the yucky side) are able to go to the other side but the things of death's side will remain where they are, separated from the amazing city.  These things might be "war, rape, greed, injustice, violence, pride, division, exploitation, and disgrace"-- things Bells says, "will not be able to survive in the world to come" (36).  But I quickly learned that Bell did not see the same symbolism that I observed.  He saw people escaping to someplace else. And he didn't like what he saw.

On the one hand, Bell attacks an immature, non-biblical view of heaven, one of winged people playing harps and bouncing from cloud to cloud.  He takes some time to demonstrate that the new heaven and earth will be much like the physical world in which we live, only without rape, corporate greed, and oil spills. (It might be worth noting that he doesn't express his thoughts with words and idea such as sin or the temptation of sin.)  It will be an earth like the one prior to Genesis 3.  It's here, on earth, not somewhere else.  (Regarding the new heaven and earth, I agree with Bell on this topic.)  But for Bell, when we die, we don't go anywhere else, not at all, because heaven is right here--this seems to be the argument, at least the idea he's promoting.  But I think he takes this a little too far.  He seems to neglect passages of the Bible that suggest that Jesus was going somewhere to prepare a place for his people.  (Bell discussed this somewhat in Chapter One so I discussed it and some Scriptures related to this idea in the post that looked at that chapter.)  Even Bell himself can't get away from the idea of people going somewhere (maybe before they come back here).  In making a later argument about the physical, earthy idea of heaven, Bell writes,
"Paul writes to the Corinthians about two kinds of bodies.  The first is the kind we each inhabit now, the kind that gets old and weary and eventually gives out on us.  The second kind is one he calls "imperishable" (1 Cor. 15), one immune to the ravages of time, one we'll receive when heaven and earth are one.  Prior to that, then, after death we are without a body.  In heaven, but without a body. A body is of the earth. Made of dust. Part of this creation, not that one.  Those currently 'in heaven' are not, obviously, here.  And so they are with God, but without a body" (56, italics added for emphases). 
But while he is making an argument about the present incompleteness of heaven and earth, Bell alludes to somewhere else.   So is it possible that when people die, they go to this temporary place--where they have no body--to wait for a time when the yucky side of the world will be remade as it was before the fall in Genesis 3?  Intentionally or not, Bell himself makes a good argument for this; and, this idea does seem to suggest that people do in fact go somewhere that's not here with all the bad things Bell lists, at least for a time.  I think he's being too hard on that picture at his grandmother's house.  And he's being hard on other Christians.

Bell also points out that some people think of heaven like a mansion, but he says that the word "mansion" appears nowhere in the Bible's descriptions of heaven (43).  I found this statement rather interesting because I've always thought a mansion was a big house with lots of rooms.  John 14:2 doesn't say the specific word, "mansion"; but Jesus says, "In my father's house there are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?" (ESV).  It seems that place, someplace, where Jesus is going, has lots of rooms.  Maybe like a mansion?

From here, Bell shifts to an attack on matters of when one enters the Kingdom of Heaven, and what one must do in order to be granted admittance.   He looks at passages that deal with the Kingdom of Heaven now and argues against Christians that primarily see the Kingdom of Heaven as a future event. He also attacks the various ideas of how one is accepted or inaugurated into the Kingdom of Heaven.  He's rather critical of a sinner's prayer, and he discusses the sinner on the cross.  Although to me, the non-verbal story being told in that narrative seems to suggest a recognition of sin and a submission to King Jesus.  Is scriptural approach seems selective.  For a discussion of what the Bible has to say about the Kingdom of God, please visit this post

Bell also paints a picture of a hardworking single mom trying her best to do good.  He says she's faithful with what she as been given.  "She's a woman of character and substance" (53). Then Bell asks, "Is she the last who Jesus says will be first?" (53).  In contrast to this, Bell discusses the people on magazine covers who are "often beautiful, rich famous, talented people embroiled in endless variations of scandal and controversy" (54).  Of these people, Bell asks, "Are we seeing the first who will be last that Jesus spoke of?" (54).  But never is there a conversation about what these people think of Jesus.  No discussion of the necessity of Christ or his atonement.  (I'm not sure the words "atonement" or "resurrection" have appeared anywhere in the book thus far, and "repentance" and "surrender" appear nowhere in a positive light if they appear at all.)  And I wonder, how is it okay to speculate about the status of these people but not the status of Mahatma Gandhi (1).  Does this seem like a double-standard?

I feel that Bell's picture of a physical heaven is a biblical representation of the heaven in which believers will live out eternity, with dirt and plants and work, free of sin and temptation and the effects of the fall.  But I also feel that Bell doesn't represent the Kingdom of God well.  It has aspects of now and future but those aspects are not the same.  It's complex.  However, there is an indication in the Bible that not everybody is automatically a citizen of this Kingdom.  And it's citizens are among the Kingdom now and after death.  (For more on the Kingdom of Heaven, with lots of Scripture references worth further study, please look over this post on the topic.) Bell, however, seems to be on the far side, arguing the now against people on the far other side arguing the future. He really wants to make the Kingdom of God simple, so he can then take that simple thing that he's created, call it the standard Christian believe and then argue that it's actually more complex than we think.

And there is one glaring problem found on pages 57 and 58. Bell writes, "Let me be clear: heaven is not forever in the way that we think of forever, as a uniform measurement of time like days and years, marching endlessly in to the future.  That's not a category or concept we find in the Bible" (58, emphasis added for effect).  To make his point Bell shares a word study that seems almost like an intentional misrepresentation.  He examines the Greek word aion, which generally means age, a period of time, forever, or a world without end.  It also appears as a form of negation which is often translated "never." But Bell says it's better to think of it only as a time, or rather as an "intense experience" (58).  He then states, "This is why a lot of translators choose to translate aion as 'eternal.' By this they don't mean the literal passing of time; they mean transcending time, belong to another realm altogether" (58).  There are some serious problems here.  First, there is no concept of an eternal time in the Bible?  And the translators don't think this has anything to do with time?  Really?  And what about the Greek word aionios? This different word has the same root but it is an altogether different word.  In its simplest form it means past, present, and future, eternal, everlasting, without end.  Has Bell forgot this word in his word study?  It's rather important as we examine this topic.

Here are the New Testament passages where the word aion appears (some are in the negated form often translated as 'never'): Matthew 12:32; 13:22, 39–40, 49; 24:3; 28:20; Mark 3:29; 4:19; 10:30; Luke 1:33, 55, 70; 16:8; 18:30; 20:34–35; John 4:14; 6:51, 58; 8:35, 51–52; 9:32; 10:28; 11:26; 12:34; 13:8; 14:16; Acts 3:21; 15:18; Rom 1:25; 9:5; 11:36; 12:2; 16:27; 1 Corinthians 1:20; 2:6–8; 3:18; 8:13; 10:11; 2 Corinthians 4:4; 9:9; 11:31; Gal 1:4–5; Ephesians 1:21; 2:2, 7; 3:9, 11, 21; Philippians 4:20; Colossians 1:26; 1 Timothy 1:17; 6:17; 2 Timothy 4:10, 18; Titus 2:12; Hebrews 1:2, 8; 5:6; 6:5, 20; 7:17, 21, 24, 28; 9:26; 11:3; 13:8, 21; 1 Peter 1:25; 4:11; 5:11; 2 Peter 3:18; 1 John 2:17; 2 John 1:2; Jude 1:13, 25; Revelation 1:6, 18; 4:9–10; 5:13; 7:12; 10:6; 11:15; 14:11; 15:7; 19:3; 20:10; and 22:5.  Look at these passages and note the context and translational use.

But wait, there's that other word that Bell completely neglects--aionios that has the eternal, forever, time marching on without end aspect.  Look at where this word appears in the New Testament, and notice its context, usage, and English translation: Matthew 18:8; 19:16, 29; 25:41, 46; Mark 3:29; 10:17, 30; Luke 10:25; 16:9; 18:18, 30; John 3:15–16, 36; 4:14, 36; 5:24, 39; 6:27, 40, 47, 54, 68; 10:28; 12:25, 50; 17:2–3; Acts 13:46, 48; Romans 2:7; 5:21; 6:22–23; 16:25–26; 2 Corinthians 4:17–5:1; Galatians 6:8; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; 2:16; 1 Timothy 1:16; 6:12, 16; 2 Timothy 1:9; 2:10; Titus 1:2; 3:7; Philemon 1:15; Hebrews 5:9; 6:2; 9:12, 14–15; 13:20; 1 Peter 5:10; 2 Peter 1:11; 1 John 1:2; 2:25; 3:15; 5:11, 13, 20; Jude 1:7, 21; and Revelation 14:6.  These are not the same word and they each carry their own meaning.  Notice that these two different words appear in the same books by the same authors.  Sometimes they appear in the same paragraphs, and in a couple cases, even in the same sentence! (See Mark 10:30 and Luke 18:30 for example).  Has Rob Bell intentionally neglected the word aionios in order to try to make his point?  

Despite the word study problem, at the conclusion of the second chapter, I feel better about the book than I did at the conclusion of Chapter One.  Bell is at least making an attempt to answer some (although not many) of his proposed questions.  He is trying to describe what happens when we die and he's punching holes in a misguided, non-Christian view of heaven.  However, an occasional swing is aimed at the wrong target.  And sometimes, it's a little below the belt or misses the mark completely.  There are discussions of Scripture that seem a little twisted in order to serve his purpose, especially in some of his word studies.  I still get the feeling Bell is angry at some fringe Christian ideas that were popular in the 1980s; and rather than trying to tell a story of Christ's Good News as he suggested he was going to do, he's still reacting to ideas and practices of Christianity that he doesn't care much for.

Next up, "Love Wins by Rob Bell (Chapter 3)."

*I have no material connection to Rob Bell or his book.  
** The photo of Rob Bell is the copyright of Mars Hill Bible Church and a color version appears on the back cover of Love Wins. 

What is the Kingdom of God?

I once taught a class where the kingdom of God was of chief interest.  For the sake of time, we didn't read all of the Scriptures listed below, but I did print this material as a handout to the class and I felt it would be worth posting here.  The question at hand is, what is the Bible referring to when it mentions the kingdom of God? 

A Systematic View

The kingdom of God (nearly interchangeable with kingdom of heaven, kingdom of Christ, kingdom of our Lord, and sometimes just the kingdom) is discussed often throughout the Bible. It can seem complex, because it is inside creation, outside creation, and above creation. Like the Trinity of God, there is no earthy analogy to adequately describe it. Presently, we only see it in bits and pieces but our understanding of it comes through faith.

“[The kingdom of God] is simply the reign of God in human hearts wherever obedience to God is found.”1

The Kingdom of God is not the Church. “The Kingdom is primarily the dynamic reign or kingly rule of God, and, derivatively, the sphere in which the rule is experienced. In the biblical idiom, the Kingdom is not identified with its subjects. They are the people of God’s rule who enter it, live under it, and are governed by it. The church is the community of the Kingdom but never the Kingdom itself. Jesus’ disciples belong to the Kingdom as the Kingdom belongs to them; but they are not the Kingdom. The Kingdom is the rule of God; the church is a society of men.”2

The kingdom of God (or kingdom of heaven) is not strictly speaking of the afterlife or future place or future existence. It has an “already/not yet” aspect about it present in many of the discussions about it throughout the Bible.

The kingdom of God should not be mistaken with the sovereignty or rule of God. God is sovereign over all of creation. However, presently, one can be inside or outside of the kingdom of God. And we do not truly, positively experience it until we are within the kingdom of God.

There are 66 uses of “kingdom of God” in the New Testament. There is no Hebrew use of this term that translates into English as “kingdom of God.” (Matt 6:33; 12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43; Mark 1:15; 4:11, 26, 30; 9:1, 47; 10:14–15, 23–25; 12:34; 14:25; 15:43; Luke 4:43; 6:20; 7:28; 8:1, 10; 9:2, 11, 27, 60, 62; 10:9, 11; 11:20; 13:18, 20, 28–29; 14:15; 16:16; 17:20–21; 18:16–17, 24–25, 29; 19:11; 21:31; 22:16, 18; 23:51; John 3:3, 5; Acts 1:3; 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 28:23, 31; Rom 14:17; 1 Cor 4:20; 6:9–10; 15:50; Gal 5:21; Col 4:11; 2 Th 1:5.)

There are 32 uses of “kingdom of heaven” in the New Testament. There is no Hebrew use of this term that translates into English as “kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 3:2; 4:17; 5:3, 10, 19–20; 7:21; 8:11; 10:7; 11:11–12; 13:11, 24, 31, 33, 44–45, 47, 52; 16:19; 18:1, 3–4, 23; 19:12, 14, 23; 20:1; 22:2; 23:13; 25:1.)

There are 2 uses of “kingdom of our Lord” in the New Testament. (2 Pet 1:11; Rev 11:15.) There is no Hebrew use of this term that translates into English as “kingdom of our Lord.”

There are 3 uses of “gospel of the kingdom” in the New Testament, and all of which are found in Matthew. (Matt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14). There is no Hebrew use of this term that translates into English as “gospel of the kingdom.” Matthew also uses the “word of the kingdom” in Matt 13:19.

There is 1 use of “The kingdom of Christ and God” and it’s found in Eph 5:5.

Not every use for kingdom without the various above qualifiers in the New Testament is referring to the kingdom of God, but many do. (There are 55 uses of kingdom not followed by either "of God" or "of heaven.") Significant examples include Matt 4:23; 6:10; 8:12; 9:35; 13:19, 38, 41, 43; 16:28; 20:21; 24:14; 25:34; 26:29; Mark 11:10; Luke 1:33; 11:2; 12:31–32; 22:29–30; 23:42; John 18:36; Acts 20:25; 1 Cor 15:24; Col 1:13; 2 Tim 4:18; Heb 1:8; 12:28; James 2:5; 2 Pet 1:11; Rev 1:6; 5:10; and 12:10.

The Hebrew word for kingdom is used though the Old Testament mostly for earthly kingdoms but there are references to the Kingdom of God. Examples include: Ex 19:6 (Kingdom of Priests), 2 Sam 7:10–16 & 1 Chr 17:9–14 (near/far picture of Kingdom), Psa 45:6; 103:19; 145:11–13 (Blurred lines between Sovereign rule and the Kingdom of God), Dan 4:3 (everlasting Kingdom), and Dan 7:18, 22 (future view of the Kingdom).

1 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 1998), 1163.
2 George Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament; quoted by Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1994), 863.

* Photo by Niall McAuley is registered under a creative commons license.

Love Wins by Rob Bell (Chapter 1)

[This review is a review in parts.  If you are just joining this review, start with "Love Wins by Rob Bell (Prolegomena)."] 

Bell ends Chapter One by stating, "But this isn't just a book of questions.  It's a book of responses to these questions" (19).  I wish I would have read this statement before reading the first chapter because Chapter One is loaded with question marks--those printed on the page and many of my own.  Maybe the biggest question is how Bell is going to address all of these claims, questions, and puzzles in the remaining 177 pages.  That, in-and-of-itself, may take a divine miracle.  I'm somewhat concerned that Bell won't actually address many of these questions, leaving them hanging in the poor light in which he has presented them.  And if this turns out to be the case, the most fitting genre for Love Wins will be tragedy.  However, if Bell can manage to address each of the question marks that he's blasted into this first chapter, this book may be the greatest thing written in the past ten years.  But he's laid out a tough road ahead, and he has left an after taste with the manner in which he has asked the questions.

The chapter opens with a discussion about an art show that included a piece that quoted Mahatma Gandhi.  Evidently, someone had posted a handwritten note on the art piece that said Gandhi's in hell.  For whatever reason, Bell didn't feel the need to include what the Gandhi quote said and I wonder if it would have shed any different light on this story?  (If anybody knows what the quote was, please contact me and share.)  Following this brief narrative comes the first question marks.  Bell calls into question if Gandhi is really in hell and how anybody can possibly know this.  And again, Bell asks subtly attacking questions against the traditional Christian view of some going to hell and some spending an eternity in anguish (2).  He doesn't come out and make any claims here; he only asks questions.  But these questions were worded in a way that many of them could appear rather comfortably in a work by Christopher Hitchens.

Bell asks, "Does God punish people for thousands of yeas with infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few finite years of life?" (2).  To this, I as the reader ask, "What does the Bible say about that?" Expecting some kind of support or biblical answer for any of the questions presented in Chapter One will only leave the reader wanting.  Bell doesn't get into the Bible for answers here, not yet anyway.  Instead he states, "This doesn't just raise disturbing questions about God, it raises questions about the beliefs themselves" (2).  Then comes many, many more questions.  Sixteen, in fact, before a sentence is written without a question mark.  And another five after that.

The questions sound like those coming from someone who really doesn't care for Christianity or God.  They are serious and legitimate questions, but I wonder if Bell has presented them in a way that is building the arguments for his book?  Maybe.  But through the specific questions, it becomes clear that Bell is using these questions to attack Christian ideas such is the biblical teaching that God chooses his creation, or the judgment aspects that the Bible teaches about God, and the reality of hell.  "What kind of God is that?" he asks (3).  Yes.  Indeed.  Bell seems to be asking just the right questions to pitch his argument upon.  And as he is asking, I keep thinking, what does the Bible say?  It doesn't matter what we want the answers to be if the answers about God do not line up with what God has told us about himself in his revelation to us, the Bible. That is, unless God is an evil liar, but Bell hasn't yet asked that question yet.

I realize that the Bellites, Bellinists, and Bell supporters will likely say, "He's just asking questions!" but it is the way Bell is doing so that I find so concerning.  It's the tone.  And it's how he's stacked the questions together.  There is an implication behind the way he's posed these questions.  Would the same defense apply if I asked, "Does Bell ever read his Bible?  Does Bell hate Christianity, and if so, is he wanting to create a new theological faith system?  What kind of pastor is this? And how could this possibly be biblical teaching that anyone would want to sit under?"  Just a few questions, but they come loaded with magnum charges.  Many of Bell's questions in Chapter One have the same tone, as if at any moment Bell is going to pull the trigger and sent a fiery volley at traditional Christianity.   

As the chapter advances, Bell begins to attack the Christian Church (although at times he's actually attacking his created caricature of the Church.)  Occasionally he draws from specific examples that are sad and unfortunate, but picking one or two cases like these is as unfair as treating Mars Hill Bible Church and the Westboro Baptist Church as one in the same.  At other times, he questions the general practices of the typical local church body, causing me to wonder why he is so troubled by the way his brothers and sisters teach and preach the Gospel.  I might be okay if he'd open up more rather than just asking the questions and moving on.  For example, Bell seems disturbed by the practice of an alter call, or at least a pastor (or anyone or that matter) leading someone in a specific prayer.  Why? What about it is troubling?  Maybe I'd agree if Bell expanded a little.  He's also seems troubled with any communication with God about the matter of salvation. Again, why?  And he also questions how God could elect some and not others.  Details might help me understand the problem.  So at this point, I'm left thinking it doesn't seem going to heaven has anything to do with God (at least the God Bell has presented) or the individual.  Is this where the book is headed or will this be an unresolved question?  But realize that he's only asking questions and it is my mind that is attempting to determine where he's trying to take me and how he's trying to get me there.

I'm not yet convinced I want to hop in the Bell-wagon.  From his questions thus far, I'm disturbed with Rob Bell as much as he seems to be with Christianity.

One area I found rather troubling is Bell's concern that Christians would teach people that when they die they will go somewhere.  I'm not yet sure why he's disturbed by this considering that on more than one occasion Jesus discussed going somewhere. (Luke 23:43, 24:51, John 8:14, 8:21-22, 13:33, 13:36, 14:2-4, for example).  He also asks about all of those people that don't claim to be Christian but live more Christlike than some Christians.  I hope if he answers this question, he will look at biblical passages like Romans 10:9, 1Corinthians 12:3, 1John 1:9, and 1John 4:3. Of course Bell masks this attack by ending every statement with question mark.

Then Bell takes a break, and when the roulette ball of questions has finally landed, it's on the topic of a personal relationship with our Lord and Creator.  He argues (not questions) that someone might interrupt his line of questioning to say that no matter how it happens, salvation comes through a personal relationship with Jesus (10).   "The problem, however," writes Bell, "is that the phrase 'personal relationship' is found nowhere in the Bible" (10).  Bell then goes back to asking his questions again.  But under this Bellonian logic/theology, neither is the Holy Trinity mentioned by name in the Bible--does this mean it doesn't exist?  As for personal relationship, I wonder how Bell reads John 15:12-15?  Or what about the passages that call believers brothers and sisters, or the comparison of a wedding feast? And what about Psalm 139? These all sound rather personal, even if they exclude the exact phrase, "personal relationship."

By the end of Chapter One, I found myself wondering if Rob Bell considers himself Christian.  Would he fellowship with the believers at my church?  He seems rather upset by Christianity, or at least how he understands Christianity.  Now, as I continue to read, maybe I'll start to see a different Rob Bell, maybe his answers will leave me feeling differently; I fully admit that.  But after the prologue and this chapter, I can see why some have had trouble with this book.  I'm having trouble with this book.  I sincerely hope that Bell starts to address these questions, specifically with biblical support, otherwise, he's merely on the bandwagon with the vocal critics of Christianity, and those that reject the teachings of the Bible.

If you haven't figured it out by now, Chapter One has left a foul taste in my mouth.

Next up, "Love Wins by Rob Bell (Chapter 2)."

*I have no material connection to Rob Bell or his book. 

75 Years of Southern Baptist Faith

In a letter written to Timothy, Paul encourages his friend to, “Take hold of the eternal life which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presences of many witnesses.”[1] The exact nature of this confession is a mystery, but hints throughout the New Testament suggest that Timothy was certainly not alone in making a public confession of faith.[2]  In the early Church, simple statements may have served to publicly demonstrate belief or doctrinal positions. Norman and Brand suggest that the phrase, “Jesus is Lord” was a confessional expression used to determine those who were generally saved and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.[3] These statements are often called confessions of faith or creeds. “These proclamations,” state Norman and Brand, “are intended to declare the doctrinal perspective of the group on the matters addressed in the document.”[4] In addition, statements of doctrine by their nature, create theological guidelines or boundaries of belief used to communicate to others, but also to address heretical ideas. John includes the delectation that “Jesus came in the flesh” in two of his letters, potentially to deal with a heresy at the time.[5] And even included in the New Testament canon are longer statements of doctrine that include greater detail.[6]

Examining confessions of faith and creeds offer insight into what was most important to the authors of the statement. Through their confessions, one can also glean clues about what doctrinal battles were being waged at the time. For example, a review the Waldensian Confession of Faith (1120) shows a strong argument against specific Roman Catholic beliefs such as papal intersession, the veneration of Mary, the existence of purgatory, and the status of sacraments. As a group of people change or rewrite their doctrinal statement of faith, one can see either shifts in the most important matters of doctrine or a need to address changing heresies, or both. By comparing and contrasting the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) 1925 Baptist Faith and Message with the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, this post will attempt to identify shifts in doctrinal focus and changing heresies over 75 years of Southern Baptist history. While the SBC revised their 1925 statement in 1963 and 2000, this post will only focus on the change between the first and the most recent statements.

The most obvious addition to the 1925 statement was the presence of more biblical references. At the end of each section, lists of biblical passages that support and guide the ideas of the section are provided. Each section has nearly twice as many references listed in the 2000 statement compared to the earlier statement. There are various reasons for this—possibly due to greater time and reference material, or to stress the importance of Scripture—but most likely, they are included to biblically address challenges to the statement with even more scriptural material.

Moving to the content itself, it is easiest to handle the additions in a linear fashion. There are many minor additions—a word here or there—but for the sake of brevity, this post will only address those that may offer changes to orthodoxy or orthopraxy, address heresies, or serve as points of interest. Starting in the first section, titled “Scripture” in both statements, the phrase, “All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation” was added.[7] A declaration such as this appears to be addressing Old Testament Scripture where the physical appearance of Christ is not present in the narrative; however, this inclusion argues that the meta-narrative is wholly centered on Jesus Christ, placing a significant and equal importance on both the Old Testament and the New.

“God,” the title of the next section, is where the majority of added material appears. In 1925, the SBC felt that 65 words were sufficient in expressing their position and doctrinal beliefs about God. The word count jumped to 264 in 2000. What was a simple statement about God in 1925 has been expanded to specifically cover and describe correct belief about the three members of the Holy Trinity. Nothing changed theologically, however. And when the 1925 statement cited 14 Bible verses for support, the 2000 statement appeals to approximately 187 scriptural references. Why the need for the addition (which primarily occurred in the 1963 revision) is open for debate, but it appears as if this addition was specifically made in an effort to deal with heresies. For example, a modified version of second century modalism—associated with individuals such as Noetus of Smyrna, Praxeas, and most notably Sabellius[8]—found popularity again in the twentieth century among Oneness Pentecostalism, also know as the Jesus Only movement.[9] Mormonism, although birthed in the nineteenth century, was also gaining popularity in the twentieth century. These additions found in the 2000 statement address ideas such as modalism or the wickedly-mutated idea of Christ’s deity by sects and cults.

The next notable addition to the 2000 statement is found in the section called “The Church,” (titled “The Gospel Church” in the 1925 statement). The twentieth century witnessed many social changes in race relations as well as a shift in the understanding of the roles of the sexes. This shift is likely the reason behind the addition of the sentence, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”[10] While this statement is not addressing heretical ideas and practices infiltrating the Church, it does attempt to answer the changing social question of the role of women in the office of pastor. Addressing this matter, Grudem asks,
Most systematic theologies have not included a section on the question of whether women can be church officers, because it has been assumed through the history of the church, with very few exceptions, that only men could be pastors or function as elders within a church. But in recent years a major controversy has arisen within the evangelical world: may women as well as men be pastors? May they share in all the offices of the church?[11]
Grudem’s questions are just as relevant today as they were the day he originally penned them; so it seems that the SBC has included this statement and additional scriptural references to clearly answer these questions.

Another two additions worth noting are found in the section titled, “Baptism and the Lord’s Supper” and “Education.” The first addresses a theological issue while the latter deals with issues practical arising in a changing society. Over the 75 years between the two Baptist Faith and Message statements being reviewed in this post, people have grown more aware of differences among religious practices. In some circumstances, churches have attempted to syncretize differing areas of faith and practice. One such practice is that of the Lord’s Supper and the result is often a practice that is decidedly not Baptist in theology. Therefore, a line has been added to clearly identify what the Lord’s Supper is and how it should be understood. At stake is the departure of churches not adhering to this understanding of the Lord’s Supper; although many would argue that right practice and belief is more important than stout membership rolls. In similar fashion, additions were made to the “Education” section of the 2000 statement in order to guide and shelter the Christian educator but also allow the school or institution to remove the educator for teaching outside the “pre-eminence of Jesus Christ, by the authoritative nature of the Scriptures, and by the distinct purpose for which the school exists.”[12]

The final addition discussed for the purposes of this post is the section titled, “Family.” This section does not appear in the 1925 version in any form. In 270 words, the 2000 statement attempts to define the role and purpose of the family unit within society. In reading the section on family, it is clear that this addition is offered to not only to identify the worldview of the SBC and the understanding of the differing roles within the family unit, but also as a defense of the family within society. On the family, the committee charged with drafting the 2000 statement state in the preamble, “The Convention added an article on "The Family" in 1998, thus answering cultural confusion with the clear teachings of Scripture.”[13]

Unless items addressed in a previous statement of faith are no longer issues among society or heresies no longer in practice, theoretically, there should be little reason to remove any material from faith statement. Deeply held beliefs should not be so fluid that they change every 75 years or it would seem that they were not doctrines worth holding so deeply. An organization entrenched in the social aspects of society, such as a political party might be expected to exhibit statements of purpose and ideology that change from year to year, decade to decade. And if a church organization is likewise entrenched in the politic of the social and moral aspects of society, one should expect to see this same pattern of change. If on the other hand, the Bible simultaneously speaks to humanity today and remains timeless, one should see little to no change among those who allow the Bible to dictate their beliefs. Therefore, one might ask what the SBC held deeply in 1925 that they are so quickly willing to drop. As it turns out, very little, if anything was removed from the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message in the drafting of the 2000 version. Instead, items were redacted, which will be addressed in the following section. It should be noted that not a single redaction changes any theological doctrine contained in the 1925 and 2000 statements.

As previously stated, nothing was outright removed from the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message. Neither was any doctrinal position reversed. There are a number of redactions or rewrites present, however. Some redactions expanded a section to allow for more explanation. Other modifications shortened sections because either the material has become commonly accepted knowledge or a less lengthy paragraph, sentence, or word choice presents a thought more precisely. At times, word choices are made in order to combat a heresy that uses the same words with different meanings. While many specific examples can be provided, only a small selection is necessary to examine to understand the reason for nearly every change.

Section III, “Man” for example, changed the title from “The Fall of Man” and explains the fall of man through an explanation of creation, transgression, a sin nature, and the likeness of man and woman in the image of God. The original paragraph placed more focus on the fall of man; whereas, the new sections looks at a holistic view of man as a creation of God. Another redaction took the 1925 sections IV-X, “The Way of Salvation,” “Justification,” “The Freeness of Salvation,” “Regeneration,” “Repentance and Faith,” and “Sanctification,” and consolidated them into one section titled “Salvation.” The new section not only includes each of the areas previously addressed, it also presents them as a connection chain of the bigger picture and progression of salvation.

In what might look like an addition to the 2000 statement, the single 1925 word “unchangeable” in the ninth section sentence, “It is a most glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable,” is turned into a full paragraph in the 2000 version.[14] This paragraph, while not changing anything theologically, attempts to greatly expand on the idea of unchangeable. Essentially the argument it makes is that one cannot lose salvation after genuine election and regeneration. From time to time, this issue is debated within the Church; and therefore, by offering more detail, the SBC has staked out their position in the debate. Should one attempt to argue that this redaction adds theological material to the statement, it is important to realize that in actuality, the paragraph is simply trying to remove the ambiguity that could be present in the single word “unchangeable.”

Another redaction, while seemingly short, addresses church offices in the 1925 section titled, “The Gospel Church.” In 1925, the offices were called “bishops or elders and deacons.”[15] In the newer version, the titles are changed to “pastors and deacons.”16 In our present day, one might see a Roman Catholic bishop or a Presbyterian elder and feel these positions are not comparable to a Baptist pastor. However, this is not a matter of duty, but rather, a change in the generally understood meaning of the words. For example, the Greek word episkopos, which the King James Version of the Bible often translated as “bishop” is translated overseer or pastor by recent translations. With the change in words, confusion was more likely without the redaction. Therefore, to remain true to the meaning of the 1925 statement, the 2000 statement made these changes, changing nothing theologically.

As one examines the SBS’s Baptist Faith Messages from 1925 until 2000, additions  and redactions are present, but the theological under girding remains intact over the 75-year history. The 2000 statement demonstrates the doctrinal confession and beliefs of the Southern Baptist Convention just as the 1925 original did. Not only is this significant in showing consistency of belief over this period of time, it also continues to announce to the world the major ideas as demonstrated by the Bible and held by those who adopt the statement. However, neither the 1925 nor the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message statements were provided here, so it is the hope of this author that the reader will find these statements and examine them for oneself.

Brand,  Chad, Charles Draper, and Archie England. Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary.
Nashville, Tenn: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003. Under “Confessions and Credos.” Prepared
by OakTree Software Incorporated, Accordance Bible Software 9. (Accessed October 2, 2010).
Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Book House, 1998.
Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.
Hindson, Edward E., and Ergun Mehmet Caner. The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics. Eugene, Or: Harvest House Publishers, 2008. “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.” Southern Baptist Convention. (accessed October 2, 2010).

1. 1 Timothy 6:12b, ESV.
2. See Romans 10:9-10, 2 Corinthians 9:13, Hebrews 3:1, 4:14, 10:23.
3. Chad Brand, Charles Draper, and Archie England, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, Tenn: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), under “Confessions and Credos,” prepared by OakTree Software Incorporated, Accordance Bible Software 9 (accessed October 2, 2010).
4. Brand, 2003.
5. See 1 John 4:2 and 2 John 7.
6. See Colossians 1:15-20, 1 Timothy 3:16, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Hebrews 1:1-3, Philippians 2:5-11.
7., “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Southern Baptist Convention, (accessed October 2, 2010), I.
8. Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Book House, 1998), 360.
9. Edward Hindson and Ergun Mehmet Caner,  The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics (Eugene, Or: Harvest House Publishers, 2008), 371-376.
10., “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Southern Baptist Convention, (accessed October 2, 2010), 2000, section VI.
11. Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 937.
12., “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Southern Baptist Convention, (accessed October 2, 2010), 2000, section XII.
13., “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Southern Baptist Convention, (accessed October 2, 2010), 2000, Preamble.
14., “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Southern Baptist Convention, (accessed October 2, 2010), 1925, IX.
15., “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Southern Baptist Convention, (accessed October 2, 2010), 1925, XII.
16., “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Southern Baptist Convention, (accessed October 2, 2010), 2000, VI.

*SBC logo is listed as released to the public domain.  

** This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.

Purgatory and the Cross

I'm struggling to understand the idea behind purgatory.  No, that's not exactly right.  Purgatory, as I understand it, is something of a refining furnace that extracts the impurities from the soul prior to entering heaven.  Those impurities are the results of sin committed by the Christian. The idea then is that Christians, upon death, go to purgatory (or potentially straight to heaven), while non-Christians go to hell.  In the pre-Reformation church, the Roman Catholic pope could authorize indulgences, a transferable certificate that bought or earned less time in purgatory. However, there was really now way to know how long one would be refined in purgatory.  (These same indulgences were one of the fueling fires behind Martin Luther's swing toward reformation.)

So more accurately, what I don't understand is how purgatory lines up biblically with the cross.  The idea of purgatory is a mockery of the cross.

To the issue of purgatory and daily blasphemies needed to prop it up, John Calvin says,
"We are bound, therefore, to raise our voice to its highest pitch, and cry aloud that purgatory is a deadly device of Satan; that it makes void the cross of Christ; that if offers intolerable insult to the divine mercy; that is undermines and overthrows our faith.  For what is this purgatory but the satisfaction for sin paid after death by the souls of the dead? Hence when this idea of satisfaction is refuted, purgatory itself is forthwith completely overturned.  But if it is perfectly clear, from what was lately said, that the blood of Christ is the only satisfaction, expiation, and cleansing for the sins of believers, what remains but to hold that purgatory is mere blasphemy horrid blasphemy against Christ?  I say nothing of the sacrilege by which it is daily defended, the offenses which it begets in religion, and the other innumerable evils which we see teeming froth from that fountain of impiety" (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 3, Ch 5, Sec 6.) 
I realize my statements here may be offensive to my Roman Catholic friends.  I am open to conversation on this topic, but I make no apology.  I hope that there is a mutual realization that purgatory is offensive to the Protestant understanding of passages such as Romans 5:8, Romans 8:1, Hebrews 9:25-28, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Isaiah 53:6, and Philippians 1:23.

*Painting by Ludovico Carracci is in the public domain.