Monday, February 23, 2015

Bible College Declassified (Guest Post by Tylor)

Bible College Declassified: Things They Don’t Teach You in the Classroom 
The sun set wonderfully smooth over the flat Arizona landscape; it was like I could see for miles and the light still uncovered the base of South Mountain, but just barely. My stomach felt sick and I felt uneasy, almost nervous as I painfully grabbed my phone out of my right pocket to check the time. I quickly grabbed my bag and started briskly walking through the humid weather across the church parking lot. The air conditioning was like a rude slap in my face when I walked in the foyer of the church building. Moving quickly I made my way to the classroom, and for the next three hours I stayed there scribbling notes and transcribing the lessons from our theology professor.

Fast forward several months. Sitting on a desk were a stack of final exams… Finally I thought to myself, now I know about the church angels and demons and the end times. 

In reality, I knew nothing. I equated Bible college facts with how the world actually operates which at times seems like they contradict each other. There are things that I learned from the trenches of a fledgling church plant that I wish I was taught in class, but nothing can prepare you adequately for what you will encounter in people’s lives. Hopefully this brief exposé sheds some light on things they don’t teach you in Bible college.

People aren’t textbooks, not every sin issue has an easy Sunday school type of answer.
This one I learned the hard way with how people dealt with issues I was going through. It is super easy to diagnose the symptoms from a list of “Counseling Verses” and not actually listen to the person talking and deal with the heart. Everyone is different so sin is different. While there might be patterns that are similar between a group of people, just giving them a quick seventh grade answer won’t suffice. When I was deep in sin the last thing I wanted to hear was phrases like “read your Bible and pray” as profoundly simple as that is, it doesn’t give me anywhere to start. So what am I supposed to read in my Bible? What am I supposed to be praying for? So what exactly do I do practically to stop easily accessing my sin? These are questions that are hard and require some praxis (your theology and your life interacting practically). You can’t pawn off hard questions, sometimes you have to tell them things like “I really don’t know man, but here is what I know about God and how He feels on this…” Sometimes the hardest things is admitting you actually don’t know everything and coming back and setting up an appointment over coffee and discussing what you found after researching.


People have much messier lives than you think; don’t be surprised by who sins and to the level to which they sin.
Just because you grew up in a Christian home doesn’t mean that you are perfect, pretty obvious right? Not so much when it comes to how we view the church; we tend to view the church as this affluent country club comprised of the best of the best, the white collared religious elite made up of people that the worst thing they did was miss a choir practice. Don’t be surprised at the level that some people are in, when it comes to their sin. Sometimes the people that look to have everything together could be hiding a broken, weak relationship with God and His people; a facade of a stable life can be easy to imitate around the church at times; but open transparent talks with people breaks down an individualistic mindset and opens doors for change. So a practical point here, I used to verbally say “wow” after someone told me all of the struggles they went through; which can make it look like I am on this mountain of perfection and they are in the valley of the shadow of their sin; when getting down in the trenches with them and allowing them to see your human and sin as well and your imperfect and the only perfect man is the God-Man Jesus then you can actually connect with people on their level without being a condescending jerk (of which I am the chief of condescending jerks). Saying things like “I have gone through something similar to that” or “I’m no saint in that regard as well, brother” really does help when you’re talking with people where they are.


An awkward but true example of this in my life:
When I was younger I went to a pastor to try to get help with my lustful  addiction. I literally walked in the office and said that this is what I was watching and can you help me. Instead of practical advice and a helpful friend, I got a referral to someone else. It was awkward and from then on out, it seemed like I was viewed differently and I felt like I needed to get my life cleaned up before I went to the pastor again.


Now the example of the man who was the non-awkward and helpful example of Jesus in my life:
Words cannot contrast the difference of this man’s approach with my sin; compared to the last guy I spoke with. This man actually wasn’t surprised and didn’t verbalize the “wow” but got down in the trenches and helped me where I was, dirt and all; because that’s what Jesus did with all of us, He was a friend of sinners who were sick and in desperate need of a Physician.

Don’t be a stuck up jerk just because things didn’t go exactly the way you planned it would go.
I know what is like to have plans of grandeur and glory. I know what is like to have masterfully detailed games and ideas for youth and my game lasts all of 5 minutes and then the youth goes back to playing soccer. Many times when you are fresh off the Bible college boat, it becomes easy to want to bring a lot of the things that worked in college to the church you're helping out at. As much as that’s a noble thing, sometimes it’s not always what the church wants. Sometimes it ok to let your plan fall to the ground while another completely different one is put in place by the youth. I was a stuck up jerk coming out of Bible college, not because that’s the Bible college’s fault but my own doing. I took myself way too seriously and my methods as the only way to operate a ministry.

Finally, I believe it is fitting to note that no matter what your education and experience is in the classroom; leave it in the classroom. Rather, we should depend on the Holy Spirit to be our strength, help, comforter and wisdom. Only when I realized that I really didn’t arrive when it came to my knowledge and ministry experience; then God started to re-teach me that this is much more than a career, it’s a calling for Kingdom work for a lifetime. 


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About Tylor

Pastor Tylor has been serving at Phoenix Arabic Bible Church for close to 5 years. He graduated from International Baptist College in 2013 with a BA in Bible and Christian Service with a Pastoral Studies Emphasis. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona where he serves his Church and works on the side as a Loan Consultant with Wells Fargo Bank. You can read his blog at http://www.tylorm.org/ .

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Observing the Liturgical Year

The Church Year
Growing up Baptist  the liturgical calendar, also called the Church Year, meant nothing to me. I didn't even know such a thing existed. In my understanding, advent was a cool word to describe Christmas time. Lent was a time to eat fish and give up caffeine or sugar. And most people I knew who practiced Lent lived immoral lives anyway, which made wonder, "why even bother?"

Though I no longer claim any denomination, I am still relatively "baptistic" in my ecclesiology--favoring independence in polity and immersion as public testimony of conversion. Still, I've always been enchanted by High Churches and by Anglicanism, specifically--maybe because of its the gorgeous churches, my fascination with Tudor England, my appreciation for Thomas Cranmer or John Wesley, or C.S. Lewis, or J.I. Packer or N.T. Wright.  At any rate, I don't plan on ever entering into an Anglican or liturgical fold. So why write about benefits of some observance of the liturgical calendar? I think the Church Year provides some benefits for all Christians, even Baptists, or baptist like non denominational Christians like me.   


Making Much of the Important Things
Most obviously and most importantly, liturgical calendars aid in our being intentional in our remembrance and celebration of significant events in Christianity.
Usually when people have parties, its a way of celebration. We celebrate academic achievement, personal accomplishments, marriages, holidays or even the Dallas Cowboys--especially the Dallas Cowboys. In America, we celebrate days that are key to our history and our identity. In the same way the Church Year provides a way for making much of key teachings and events that form our identity as Christians.



Connection with the Church Universal
Christianity has a rich history. It is also has wide, diverse expression that infuses across  cultural and time barriers. With Jesus death, resurrection, ascension and the ensuring persecution of believers, Christianity exploded around the globe. When Christians collectively observe and celebrate seasons they are united together in ways that transcend cultures and time. Observation of the Church Year connects us with the thousands of Christians who have observed it in past generations.  


Christianity is global and timeless. We should not feel the Old Testament narratives of Israel as  foreign. Because we are God's people, Israel's story is our story. The same is true with the Church. What has happened historically be it the great Ecumenical Councils, the Reformation or the Great Awakening,  is our legacy, our story. When we participate in the Church Year we in a small way continue our identification with this grand narrative.

Doctrinal Celebration
The Liturgical Calendar provides twofold doctrinal celebration. Not only are essential doctrines taught in word, they are fleshed out in real life by meditation and celebration.The physical and spiritual are not divorced. Organic reinforced elements aid our spiritual development.  That’s why quiet reflection of our Lord’s death while holding bread and the cup so powerfully affects us. Services of remembrance and seasons of practice allow us to celebrate our doctrine through handling elements.


Emotional Enrichment
It wasn't until I entered seminary that I attended a Good Friday Service. It impacted me deeply. After spending a significant season meditating on His saving work, there was extraordinary enrichment to my emotional life while eating and drinking the Lord's Supper. Last year, in particular, as I held the cup I was overwhelmed with Christ's taking the cup of the Father's wrath so I could drink this cup of grace. My affections were deeply stirred, my eyes were filled with tears, my heart erupted in praise. I was driven to deep worship. 


Often conservative Christians  diminish the significance of human feeling as being more base than the higher plane of spiritually. Its a grave mistake to drive a wedge between the physical and spiritual. So much of the Psalter is concerned with right feeling. True Christian spirituality includes the physical. 



Soul Pacing
Our busy Western culture desperately needs to slow down. Daily feeding in Scripture should be the normative pattern for believers. But in addition to daily reflection, Christians need seasons of purposeful reflection, rest and meditation. Advent provides a quiet, purposeful celebration of Christ's birth and incarnation. It is especially relevant in countering our culture's frantic consumerism during the Christmas season. Lent prepares our hearts with soul searching and repentance in anticipation of our Lord's Work. Easter celebrates the magnificent, victorious resurrection of our Lord. Kingdomtide allows for a recovery of the Kingdom which dominated Jesus' teachings, and allows for purposeful missional living. 


So many of us are living in utter exhaustion. We're weary because we have not been intentional in resting in God. Relationship with God is the nourishment we crave. One good tool in intentional rest are the seasons of contemplation the Church Year provides.

Conclusion 

Informal, Protestant Christianity desperately needs to recover the quiet, serious, inner reflection that can be gained in observing church holidays. We're prone to ignore heritage in favor of innovation. The Church Year provides participation in our own heritage, doctrinal celebration, emotional enrichment and soul pacing. I have not fully participated in the Church Year, but what I have participated in--Lent, Holy Week, Easter, and Kingdomtide and Advent, has been very helpful to me. During these seasons I have made it a point to intentionally prepare my heart over several weeks which climaxes in celebratory services. Mainly I have redirected my Bible reading and other reading to help me in prolonged focus. Such extended reading and meditation has deeply enriched my faith. And that, if not for anything else, makes the Church Year a worthy endeavor.

Monday, February 16, 2015

A Change Of Heart: A Recommendation

Thomas C. Oden, A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir. InterVarsity Press, 2014. 384 pages.

Theologian and Guide
Thomas C. Oden is a leading Methodist and Patristic theologian. His 3 volume Systematic Theology continues to be published by Hendrickson and has received refinement into a one volume edition as Classic Christianity published by HarperOne. Oden’s systematic theology is unique in its focus. Oden takes seriously early Christian consensus and his systematic is filled with ancient Christianity’s contribution. Oden has served the church not only as gifted theologian, but as a guide in rediscovery of ancient Christianity. He initiated and edited the massive undertaking of the Ancient Christian Commentary, 29 volumes, Ancient Christian Doctrine, 5 volumes, and Ancient Christian Texts, 15 volumes. Theology is a journey, and Oden traveled across the entire theological spectrum in his lifetime. Growing up Methodist, Oden immersed himself fully in contemporary liberal ideology both politically and theologically. What's amazing about his story, though, is after firmly establishing himself as a theological liberal, he made a shocking and dramatic theological shift.  A Change of Heart tells this intriguing story. 


The book is arranged around the decades of Oden’s life:

Part One: The Early Years
    1. The 1930’s: Prairie Dawn
    2. The 1940’s: A World at War
    3. The 1950’s: Love and Learning
    4. The 1960’s: The Church of What’s Happening Now
Part Two: Change of Heart
    5. The 1970’s: The U-Turn
    6. The 1980’s: Charting the Course
Part Three: Homeward Bound
    7. The 1990’s: An Outpouring of Grace
    8. The 2000’s: A Time for Harvest
    9: The 2010’s: After Eight Decades


Below are some brief highlights of the book that I enjoyed most. They are only snippets of an extraordinary story. I hope it wets your appetite enough that you devour for yourself the rich meal A Change of Heart offers.

Oden’s Journey
One of the things that makes A Change of Heart such a worthwhile read is its valuable insights into the mind of a theological liberal. Oden is candid about his thought processes in his liberal days and his fascination with what was novel in theology. Innovation was key in his theological training and subsequent scholarship. As a theological conservative, I found Oden’s theological pursuits bleak, lacking the amazing power of the Gospel. The bleakness made his turnaround all the more amazing. Oden's turn to genuine Christianity began, ironically, in conversation with a Jew. Will Herberg, a colleague of his at Drew University,  exposed his superficial theology. "You will remain theologically uneducated until you study carefully Athanasius, Augustine and Aquinas," he told Oden. "If you are ever going to become a credible theologian instead of a know-it-all pundit, you had best rest your life on firmer ground. You are not a theologian except in name only, even if you are paid to be one." Ouch! Following this life changing conversation, Oden was reborn and immersed himself in the early writings of Christianity and Christian consensus.

Recovery: Ancient, Wesleyan and African Christianity
Oden's friendship with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (who would later become Pope Benedict XVI) laid the seeds of the Ancient Christian Commentary. His discovery of ancient Christianity has led to the recovering of texts long forgotten. Part of the research process of the Ancient Christian Commentary involved hunting down and translating material into English that had remained in the shadows. Oden's work spanning from 1998-2010 gave birth to the Ancient Christian Doctrine, Ancient Christian Texts, Ancient Christian Devotionals. Oden's efforts as editor of these series have gifted the church in rediscovery and preservation of valuable voiced from the past.

While exposing the world to the church fathers, Oden also found himself thrown into the fight for the identity of the United Methodist Church. "Why was I diverted from patristic studies to Methodist doctrine?" Oden wonders, "The answer lies with Mr. Wesley himself, who was a beneficiary of the Oxford revival of patristic studies. He became deeply grounded in the ancient Christian writers and the consensual tradition of ecumenical teaching. He longed for the Societies under his care not to further divide the unity of the church but to maintin her classic ecumenical teachings" (195). His findings led to the publication of his John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity. Undoubtedly, this led to foundation for his more thorough, four volume systematic presentation of John Wesley’s theology, John Wesley’s Teachings.

Another rich contribution Oden has made is his work is in early African Christianity. As Oden worked in early Christianity he noticed northern biblical interpreters were dependent upon southern, primarily African interpreters. Before Islamic domination over Africa, Christianity was moving northward into Europe from there. "Athanasius and Augustine both demonstrated great maturity in conveying this method of reading Scripture to a worldwide recieved tradition. The earliest layers of Latin Christology and ethics passed through the hands of Tertullian and Cyprian before Augustine passed them on to the West. The Bible was first translated into Latin not in Europe but in North Africa," writes Oden (301). Oden's journey into Africa gave birth to three books, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind (2007), The African Memory of Mark (2011), Early Libyan Christianity (2011), as well as the Center for Early African Christianity (CEAC). Through the work of CEAC and ICCS Press the work done in discovery in translation has made resources available cheaply to African Christians. ICCs has produced a series of children books highlighting African theologians so that way generations of children can grow up reading about theological giants from their own history. Oden's desire is that the Christians of Africa see their rich history and contribution to worldwide Christianity. That a white guy from Oklahoma played an integral part in the the rediscovery and spread of ancient African Christianity is a testament to the infusing grace of God across cultural, racial, and time barriers.

Personal Gratitude
In full disclosure, I must admit that Thomas C. Oden is one of my favorite theologians. I admire his passion and I’ve gleaned much from his writings. He, along with C.S. Lewis, has been most formative in my journey out of separatistic fundamentalism. His unrelenting focus on early Christian consensus coupled with evangelical theology in a postmodern world has given me an optimistic perspective for the future growth of evangelicalism. In A Change of Heart I enjoyed reading about his exciting life.
His sweeping life took him in and out of liberalism, led him to have conversation with some of the most influential theologians in the modern era, allowed him to be present at Vatican II, and play a role in rediscovery and preservation of Ancient, Wesleyan and African Christianity. Oden is a giant in contemporary theology and much can be gleaned from his life and theological journey. Let him guide you through his gripping theological change in his fascinating memoir, A Change of Heart.  

Rating: Five scorching hot Hatch Green Chiles out of Five



Tuesday, February 10, 2015

An Overview of Theology

St. John the Theologian
What is Theology?
Theology can be an intimidating, confusing field. What do we mean when we speak of theology? Sometimes, it is not always clear what is being spoken when theology is discussed. When we speak of theology we are always talking about things pertaining to the knowledge of God. Theology is a broad term that encompasses large connected fields of study. Frankly, theology can be used to describe the study of anything pertaining to God or the Bible or religion in general. Christian theologians usually operate within four branches of theological study: exegetical theology, biblical theology, systematic theology, and practical theology.

Exegetical Theology
Exegesis refers to drawing out the meaning of a biblical text. Exegetical theology is the drawing out of meaning in a passage using lexical, grammatical, historical, and literary analysis. Studying exegetical theology includes examination of hermeneutics (theory of interpretation), the original languages, introductions, backgrounds, and exegetical commentaries. The Old Testament was written mostly in Hebrew with the New Testament in Greek, study of the original languages assist greatly in extracting meaning of a word or text. Bible introductions and backgrounds provide helpful material in historical and cultural analysis. Exegetical commentaries are invaluable tools in extracting meaning from the text.

Biblical Theology
Biblical theology is notoriously difficult to define, mainly because there is no standardized format for practicing it. In its essence, Biblical theology is the study of a specific book’s themes and message. This understanding can be broadened to studying a particular bible writer’s themes and emphasis throughout the books he authored. Another expansion of biblical theology is tracing the progressive development of a topic through the entirety of Scripture. What’s becoming increasingly more popular in biblical theology is the study of the overall story of Scripture as an apologetic metanarrative (place self in a larger, grand story).

Systematic Theology
Systematic theology is the study of the major teachings of Christianity logically synthesized. Sometimes it is called dogmatic theology. Unlike Biblical Theology, systematic theology is not confined to a particular book or author. It is the logical organization of broad teachings by category from the entirety of Scripture. The major teachings covered in systematic theologies are fairly uniform. Every systematic will include these major categories: 

  • Bibliology: The Study of Scripture 
  • Theology Proper: The Study of God
  • Christology: The Study of Jesus Christ
  • Pneumatology: The Study of the Holy Spirit
  • Anthropology: The Study of Mankind
  • Soteriology: The Study of Salvation
  • Ecclesiology: The Study of the Church
  • Eschatology: The Study of Last Things

Historical Theology
Historical Theology is the study of how Christians throughout time have articulated Christian belief.   There are three main approaches to doing historical theology:  

  • Systematic: Adopts the major categories of systematic theology and traces Christian thought in each category. The flow of history is not nicely preserved in this format.
  • Personality: Recollects the theology of major Christian thinkers such as Augustine or John Calvin.
  • Narrative: Traces the development of doctrine in chronological format while focusing on significant thinkers along the way.

Practical Theology
Practical Theology is meditation and application of Christian belief in the life of the Church.  Studies in pastoral theology (Christian ministry), missiology (missions) and Christian living are subcategories of practical theology. Practical theology often employs one or all of the previous branches of theology in its argumentation and application.

The Relationships of Theology
What should be apparent in our survey is that these branches of theology are all tied together. In fact, they progressively build upon each other. Theology begins in exegesis, getting at the meaning of a text. Biblical theology then builds upon the foundation a  meaning of a passage and aims at discovering the message of a whole book or emphasis of a particular writer. Systematic theology does to the entire Bible what biblical theology does to a particular book: extracting broad themes and organizing them logically. Historical theology examines how the church has understood these teachings throughout its history. Practical theology is broad Christian reflection and application to current life.  A seminary education, sometimes called theological studies, operates around these four branches of theology. 



Resources:
Modern Christians are rich with the astounding availability of theological resources. Navigating through the mass of available literature can be confusing. One of the benefits of sustained theological study on both the undergraduate and graduate levels is exposure to many helpful resources. Having access to thousands of volumes within walking distance is an opportunity that will pass upon my gradation from seminary. The following are books that I have found especially helpful in my theological studies. I own most of them with the exception of the commentaries which are multi-volumed and expensive. Those are long term acquisitions. Among the volumes below are both individual books and series. The works in series, commentaries specially, vary in quality. All are worthy of purchasing and study.

Exegetical Theology
Original Languages1:

  • A Handbook for New Testament Greek by BJU Faculty 
  • Hebrew Handbook by Michael Barrett and Robert D. Bell and Michael P.V. Barrett
  • New International Dictionary Old Testament Theology and Exegesis,5 vol., ed. by Willem A. VanGemeren 
  • New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis,5 vol., ed. by Moisés Silva
Hermeneutics:
  • The Hermeneutical Spiral by Grant Osborne 
  • Invitation to Biblical Interpretation by Andreas Köstenberger and Richard Patterson
Introduction/Background: 
  • A Survey of Old Testament Introduction by Gleason Archer 
  • An Introduction to the Old Testament by Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard 
  • An Introduction to the New Testament by D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo 
  • The Cradle, The Cross, and the Crown by Andreas Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarels 
Exegetical Commentaries:
  • Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms (BCOTWP) 
  • New International Commentary on the Old Testament (NICOT)
  • New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT)
  • Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (BECNT)
  • Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (ZECNT)

Biblical Theology

  • An Old Testament Theology by Bruce Waltke 
  • Theology of the New Testament by Frank Thielman 
  • New Testament Theology by I. Howard Marshall 
  • The Drama of Scripture by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen
  • New Studies in Biblical Theology Series, ed. D.A. Carson
  • Biblical Theology of the New Testament Series, ed. Andreas Köstenberger
Systematic Theology
  • Christian Theology by Millard Erickson 
  • Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem 
  • Systematic Theology by John M. Frame 
  • Classic Christianity by Thomas C. Oden
Historical Theology
  • Historical Theology by Greg Allison 
  • The Story of Christian Theology by Roger E. Olson
  • The Christian Tradition, 5 vol., by Jarislov Pelikan
  • Ancient Christian Doctrine Series, ed. Thomas C. Oden
  • Christian Origins and the Question of God Series by N.T. Wright
Practical Theology
  • Theologians on the Christian Life Series, ed. Justin Taylor 
  • Pastoral Theology by Thomas C. Oden
  • The John MacArthur Pastor’s Library, ed. John MacArthur 
  • The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper 
  • Early Christian Mission, 2 vol., by Eckhardt J. Schnaebel 
  • Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis 



Of all theological study, studies in the original languages is my weakest field. I have not surveyed the literature available for learning the original languages. My only exposure is what I was taught from the ancient languages program at Bob Jones University. BJU's ancient language's program is well respected.
Zondervan's A Reader's Hebrew Bible was edited by two BJU grads. Seminary faculty authored Bible Work's Greek diagrams for the  New Testament.  Preeminent expositor John MacArthur has expressed his gratitude for the Greek he took at BJU which prepared him for his focus on New Testament exposition (http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/80-33/john-macarthurs-life-testimony).