Monthly Archives: March 2012

Run a Rescue Shop within a Yard of Hell

C. T. Studd, famous cricketeer and outspoken evangelical missionary, once said this:

“Some wish to live within the sound of Church or Chapel bell; I want to run a Rescue Shop within a yard of hell.”

If only we had more Christians who had more of this kind of mindset and less of a world-loving, comfort-driven, risk-averse kind of faith.  Fear God, not man; serve God, not your own interests.  Step out in faith and do something big, really big, with your life.

You can read a bit more about Studd in this book.  If you’re a PhD student in religious history in need of a fun topic, think about Studd.  He was an unpredictable guy, but he lived life in view of a big God and attempted big things for him.

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Do Academic Papers Matter, or Are They Pointless?

I just submitted a paper proposal for the 2012 meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society.  In the course of doing so, and after seeing a Tweet from a friend indicating a stronger desire to preach than give a paper, I thought I would say something brief about this.

In short, academic papers matter.  Too often in evangelical circles we act as if the real action is in pastoring.  I actually do believe that the church is at the center of God’s kingdom work, and the role of the pastor is therefore incredibly important.  But does theology matter?  Does scholarship count?  Do academic papers do anything meaningful?

Yes.  Yes, they do.  If you are personally tempted to think that preaching matters a great deal and Christian scholarship doesn’t, I’d ask a counter-question: the last time you preached, what did you use?  Did you crack open a commentary?  Did you consult a biblical theology that impinged on your topic?  Did you perhaps pick up a monograph from an academic series that touched on your topic and skim it for some context?  If you did, then I think you might have acted better than you speak.

Hear me carefully: I think pastors lead the charge in the work of Christ’s cosmic dominion-taking.  The local church is set up by the Lord to be a lab for discipleship.  The Christian school is not (though it can make very meaningful contributions).  We should dial down our rhetoric, though, when it comes to Christian scholarship.  The textual commentary that unearths countless precious insights from Scripture is inestimably valuable.  The monograph (single-topic academic book) that delves into new material in a field can reorient our whole theological paradigm.  The academic paper that drops into an important doctrinal and philosophical conversation can change the way people think and teach and even live.

There’s nothing in the Bible about establishing “academies.”  There’s no scriptural bifurcation between “church” and “academy” in the way that we know today (though 2 Kings 2 may indicate something of a nascent seminary in Ancient Israel).  Modern Christian scholars who aim to bless God’s people are “teachers” in the sense that Ephesians 4:11 intends. If you’re in the “academy,” don’t think of yourself as isolated from the life of the church.  Think of yourself as a vital part of it, one who is essentially set aside to delve deeply into various disciplines to create scholarship that, whether immediately or down the line, brings spiritual transformation.

Don’t speak badly or condescendingly about “academic scholarship” or “solitary research” or “teaching.”  Reconceive it; remix it; reinterpret what professors and teachers do.  The good ones make incredibly helpful contributions to the life and faith and thought of God’s people.  Remove the work of say, textual commentators from preaching and you are looking at a wasteland.  Are Don Carson’s commentary on Matthew or Alec Motyer’s on Isaiah pointlessly speculative?  Or are these and many other resources nothing less than crucial to the formation of textured preaching?

So, my friends, academic papers matter, as far as I can see.  Yes, you can do them such that they benefit absolutely no one; but even the high-level ones can reap significant rewards for God’s local churches.  Anything that offers sound thinking and builds up the minds and hearts of truth-lovers is welcome and, it seems, pleasing to God (Luke 10:27).

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New Book on Jeremy Lin by Ted Kluck

Got an email informing me of this new eBook from one of evangelicalism’s wittiest spiritual writers, Ted Kluck.  It’s on the meteoric rise of Jeremy Lin (who’s doing quite well, thank you).

Here is the table of contents:

Introduction: An Open Letter to the Reader: What Does All of This Say About Us?

Chapter 1: A Cultural Oddity: Lin and Shifting Racial Paradigms (or What Kind of NBA Superstar will Jeremy Lin Be?)

Chapter 2: New York Knicks vs. Dallas Mavericks – Sunday, February 19, 2012

Chapter 3: Jeremy Lin in the Context of Tim Tebow

Chapter 4: New York Knicks vs. New Jersey Nets: Saturday, February 4, 2012

Chapter 5: I Did It My Way: No Fear of Man

Chapter 6: New York Knicks at Miami Heat, February 23, 2012

Chapter 7: Basketball and Gospel: God and the Christian Athlete, God and the Christian Fan

Chapter 8: Jeremy Lin vs. John Wall, NBA Summer League; Jeremy Lin vs. Kobe Bryant, February 10, 2012

Chapter 9: The NBA All-Star Weekend is an Overproduced Gong Show

Chapter 10: New York Knicks at Boston Celtics, March 4, 2012

Epilogue: On Making All Things New and Our Responsibility to Jeremy Lin

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Credo Magazine Interviews Bruce Ware on the New Perspective

This from Credo magazine:

Last fall I (Matthew Barrett) had the pleasure of sitting down with Dr. Bruce Ware, Professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, to talk about evangelicalism–past, present, and future. Ware is a former president of the Evangelical Theological Society and he provides much insight on the current state of evangelicalism. In this interview Ware talks about some of his evangelical heroes, doctrines that evangelicals are compromising on, how we should define the gospel (particularly in relation to social justice), John Stott, justification and the New Perspective on Paul, the Reformation and Reformed theology, and much, much more.

Make sure you watch all three videos–they are packed with insight and rich theology.

(By the by, I’m looking forward to starting a twice-monthly column for Credo in a few short weeks.)

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Shaka Smart & How Athletic Coaching Is Like Pastoring

Shaka Smart is the basketball coach of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond.  For two years in a row, his teams have made it to the national tournament and overachieved.  He’s coveted now by many larger schools who can pay him a great deal more money than VCU.

But he just surprised the college basketball world by declining a $2.5 million/year offer from Illinois to stay at VCU for half that.  Here’s the rationale:

“My family is really, really happy in the city of Richmond,” Smart said, repeating something he has said often. “We have a great group of guys. We have some of the best fans in the country. It’s just a great situation.

“A coach told me a long time ago, don’t run away from happiness, and that’s what we have at VCU.”

Mark Few, head basketball coach of Gonzaga University, has had similar opportunities to jump for a bigger school and has likewise stayed at Gonzaga.  An ESPN story said this about his decision:

“The biggest mistake is that everybody tries to project their own feelings and own thoughts and own values into what you think a guy should do,” said Few. “It comes down to what that individual person wants in life.

“The only people that matter is the coach and the family and what they want and value and where they’re at in life,” said Few. “Do you want to pack up and move young kids, kids in junior high, high school? That’s where it becomes an individual choice and situation.”

The whole piece is worth reading.

I really like Shaka Smart.  He seems like an excellent coach in every way.  He builds his players up and doesn’t tear them down.  I’m impressed by his decision to stay–for now–at VCU.  He may well leave in the future, but even staying this long at a small school is unusual in the college basketball world when one has the kind of chances that Smart does.  Smart stayed because he genuinely likes VCU, and his family likes Richmond.  It’s refreshing to see a talented young coach do this.

It reminded me of a piece on pastoral ministry that Mark Dever wrote a little while back.  Dever suggested that his models for pastoral ministry are three Anglican bachelors who each stayed in a pastorate for decades:

When I’m asked about my models for pastoral ministry I’ve often said, “Three Cambridge Anglican bachelor S’s—Sibbes, Simeon, and Stott.” Each of these men found a strategic location, began expounding God’s Word, and stayed. Expositional preaching is foundational to a Christian ministry, and it’s worth thinking about finding a strategic location and even remaining single. But for this article I want us to consider that other matter of longevity.

First, the facts about these three. Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) began preaching in Cambridge in the early 1600s, and had a continuous ministry in London at Gray’s Inn from 1617 until his death in 1635. Charles Simeon (1759-1836) preached at Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge from 1782 until his death in 1836, a remarkable 54-year ministry! And John Stott (b. 1921) began preaching at All Souls’ Church, Langham Place, in London from his appointment as curate (1945) and rector (1950), and he preached there regularly until just a few years ago—a ministry that, remarkably, even exceeds Simeon’s in length!

Here’s the whole piece.

Not every pastor needs to stay in one place for their entire career to be faithful to Christ.  But this is an inspiring model.  Those that do stay in one church for decades will know a level of influence that pastors with shorter tenures simply will not.  There will be many good things that come from such a situation–knowing generations of your people, becoming known in the community as a substantive and durable leader, and observing the gospel change hundreds and perhaps thousands of lives.

In the same way that we could commend Smart for his wise decision, we can commend the pastor who labors to love a certain people for much longer than he could.  There is a beauty in that, a humility, and a reward to be had on the last day.

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How to Learn from a Demon: Panel on Screwtape Letters

This from Theolatte, the blog of Dan DeWitt, the dean of Boyce College:

Today at Boyce College we hosted a panel discussion on the impact of Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters in light of the seventy year anniversary of its publication. The participants included: myself; Dr. Jim Orrick, Professor of Literature and Culture; Dr. Owen Strachan, Assistant Professor of Christian Theology and Church History; and Dr. Travis Kerns, Assistant Professor of Christian Worldview and Apologetics. The audio is available here.

I enjoyed being on this panel.  C. S. Lewis brings many insights about Christian spirituality and piety to the table.  In this discussion, my Boyce College colleagues and I engaged his literary styling, his theology, and his depiction of temptation in the believer’s life.  This is the kind of conversation that illustrates what Boyce is about–working from a strong biblical-theological foundation to engage the world and take every thought captive for Christ.

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Rapper Lecrae interviewed at South by Southwest

One of the world’s biggest music festivals, South by Southwest (SXSW), just wrapped.  Gospel rapper Lecrae was there and performed with Trip Lee.  While he was in Austin, allhiphop.com, one of the best-read rap websites, did a brief interview with him.  Lecrae has had a pretty wild year, which included recent praise from legendary southern rapper Bun B.

If you missed it, Lecrae did a rap at the BET awards a few months back.  He participated in a “cipher,” a kind of freestyle session, with a bunch of other up-and-coming rappers.  Watch the video; it’s hard to deny his talent, and the way he boldly witnesses for Christ is inspiring.

By the way, I just did a couple breakout sessions with Flame, a very popular and gifted Christian rapper, at Southern Seminary’s REKNOWN conference.  We talked all about Christian rap with standing-room-only groups of teenagers, and the sessions were really fun.  Flame’s new album is out, and it sounds great.  I also met Young Noah, a new artist on Flame’s label, Clear Sight Music.  You can hear tracks from Flame’s new record and download Noah’s free mixtape here.  Flame and Young Noah are each locked in on Christ, and they’re a lot of fun to boot.

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A Blog Is a “Massive Open Online Seminar”

From a compelling article in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Mr. DeMillo: The blog is essentially an expression of a master teacher’s understanding of a field to people that want to learn about it. We think that there are some very simple layers that can be built under the existing blogging format that can essentially turn it into a massive open online seminar. It’s also a way of conducting scientific research. When you think about what happens in this blog, it celebrates the process of scientific discovery. I’ll just give you one example. Last year about this time some industrial scientist claimed that he had solved one of the outstanding problems in this area. In the normal course of events, the scientist would have written up the paper, would have sent it to a conference. It would have been refereed. Nine months later the paper would have been presented at the conference. People would have talked about it. It would have been written up to submit to a journal. Refereeing would have taken a couple of years for that. Well, the paper got submitted to Lipton’s blog. It just caused a flurry of activity. So thousands and thousands of scientists flocked to this paper, and essentially speeded up the refereeing of the paper, shortening the time from five years to a couple of weeks. It turns out that people came to believe that the claim was not valid, and the paper was incorrect. But what an education for future research students. You get to see the process of scientific discovery in action.

If you want to think through some of the changes happening currently in American higher education, go no further than this piece (with thanks to SBTS librarian Bruce Keisling).

There are strengths and weaknesses to the academic model described above, in which far less refereeing happens with content.  Strength: ideas can spread quicker.  Weakness: ideas are less vetted.

That point aside, there’s something to think about here in regard to blogging.  If all blogs are “online seminars,” then bloggers must exercise stewardship in their writing.  That’s a sobering reminder, and an exciting one.  Knowledge, so to speak, is out of the bottle.  Who knows what the future will bring in terms of educational trends?

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The “Excessively Grandiose” & Narcissistic World of Facebook

From The Guardian:

Researchers at Western Illinois University studied the Facebook habits of 294 students, aged between 18 and 65, and measured two “socially disruptive” elements of narcissism – grandiose exhibitionism (GE) and entitlement/exploitativeness (EE).

GE includes ”self-absorption, vanity, superiority, and exhibitionistic tendencies” and people who score high on this aspect of narcissism need to be constantly at the centre of attention. They often say shocking things and inappropriately self-disclose because they cannot stand to be ignored or waste a chance of self-promotion.

The EE aspect includes “a sense of deserving respect and a willingness to manipulate and take advantage of others”.

Read the whole piece.

Want to know something interesting?  I’ve posted 1,401 blogs as of this one.  I think the most highly trafficked piece I’ve written was on “narcissistic personality disorder.”  It’s two years old and gets traffic like I posted it yesterday.  Whatever you think of this “disorder” (I continue to contend that this is primarily a spiritual problem, not a psychological one), it’s very clear from the Internet searches that occasionally lead the odd straggler to this blog that many, many people are dealing with a level of narcissism they do not understand.

Is Facebook to singlehandedly blame for all this?  No.  You can use social media well or poorly.  There are some inherent temptations on Facebook, though, and those do relate to the desire to draw attention to oneself.  Social media more broadly puts us all in an interesting position when it comes to self-promotion.  There is a need for continual spiritual temperature-taking as we use these media.  Why am I posting this?  Is this calling attention to God and big things of him, or is it merely a shout in a crowded room for people to look at me?  Am I writing this to edify people and point up the gospel, or do I simply want more traffic my way?

And it’s worth noting that whether we use Facebook or not, we could all use less personal grandiosity and more divine grandeur.  There is no limit, no satiation point, for our study of God, for our meditation on his perfections.  However we use or don’t use social media, we all need less immersion in our narcissistic, self-driven world and more immersion in the “world of love” that is communion with God through union with Christ.

A good rule of spiritual thumb: less of us, more of him (John 3:30).

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C. S. Lewis on Submitting with Patience

From The Screwtape Letters, number VI:

Your patient will, of course, have picked up the notion that he must submit with patience to the Enemy’s will. What the Enemy means by this is primarily that he should accept with patience the tribulation which has actually been dealt out to him—the present anxiety and suspense. It is about this that he is to say “Thy will be done”, and for the daily task of bearing this that the daily bread will be provided. It is your business to see that the patient never thinks of the present fear as his appointed cross but only of the things he is afraid of.

Here’s the whole book.

This is a profound point, if a simple one.  If you’re not familiar with the book, Lewis wrote it from the perspective of a demon instructing a younger charge in how to lead people to hell.  Where the text mentions “the Enemy,” it’s referring to God, not Satan.  In this passage, Lewis is calling our attention to the need to “submit with patience” to God, which in his understanding means living faithfully in the midst of our “present anxiety and suspense.”

I deeply appreciate this point, and I’m guessing many others will as well.  Every last one of us has “anxiety and suspense” over matters we want to resolve.  We think, “If I could just know who to marry, or where to serve the Lord, or what my career will be, then I would be happy, and all the other anxieties of life would be easy to handle.”  Lewis shows us, I think, that in point of fact we will always have to wait on God’s will.

The task for you and me as followers of Christ is to rest in him today, to lift up our concerns now, and then to live in patient submission to God’s will.  Don’t seek the release of tension; seek faithfulness as you wait on God.  That honors God even as it subverts Satan and his minions.

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