Theology Central

Theology Central exists as a place of conversation and information for faculty and friends of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Posts include seminary news, information, and opinion pieces about ministry, theology, and scholarship.

The Importance of Memory, Liturgy, and Illustrations

Leigh Ann Thompson, of CSNT (Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts) reminds us of the importance of memory and visualization in our liturgy. 

Memory, Liturgy, and Illustrations in Lectionaries

Both the physical worship space, the reading, and the accompanying illustration drew a worshiper’s attention to the same account. Liturgical imagery created a web of reference, bringing together thought and practice. Through these associations, a worshiper built their thoughts towards the worship of God and knowing Scripture.

Tried with Fire: The Things On the Earth

Tried with Fire: The Things On the Earth

Our greatest temptation is not to treat evil things as if they were good. Our greatest temptation is to treat good things as if they were God.

We were created to worship. We can’t help ourselves. The most earthbound among us are compelled to look upwards toward something outside ourselves, to give ourselves to it, to delight in it, and to find our satisfaction in it. Seeking satisfaction in anything less than the true and living God, however, is the essence of idolatry.

The miser who seeks satisfaction in money is an idolater. The lecher who seeks satisfaction in promiscuous sex is an idolater. The stoner or drunkard who seeks satisfaction in drugs or alcohol is an idolater. But so is the patriot who seeks satisfaction in service to country, the mother who seeks satisfaction in children, and the executive who seeks satisfaction in upward mobility. Every one of these people places some created thing in the place of God.

Not that these things are wrong. Money? God gives the power to get wealth (Deut 8:18). Sex? Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled (Heb 13:4). Alcohol? Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts (Prov 31:6). The problem is not the things. They are all good gifts of God. The problem is with their use. Anything can be used wrongly, and the most serious misuse of any created thing is to make it a substitute for God.

We were not created to worship just anything. We were created to worship the true and living God. Our souls contain an emptiness that only He can fill, but as sinful creatures we try to stuff that void full of things that are not God. We give ourselves to non-Gods, delight in them, and seek satisfaction in them.

It will not work. All created things together are too small to fill the cavity left in our souls by the absence of the one true God. They cannot take His place; they cannot bear the weight of the human soul.

Finite things are good in their place. God gives them to us as gifts. He wants us to use them. In some cases, He delights us with them (for what is the use of a sunset if not to delight?). But we must keep them in their place, and their place is not His place.

In short, we must learn to set our affections—our minds, that is—on things above, and not on things on the earth (Col 3:2). We must pursue God as the telos, the goal, the purpose, the one great good, the absolute value of our lives. We must discern the value of all other things by their relationship to Him, rather than judging His worth or worthiness by His distribution of them.

Sadly, we are inveterate idolaters. Almost habitually we take created things that are good but finite, contingent, and transient; we set them apart in our hearts, and then look to them for what can only be found in the true and living God. All of the gods we manufacture, however, will betray us and we will be hurt.

Arguably, much of progressive sanctification involves learning to love created things only as much as they deserve to be loved, and with a love that is suited to their nature. When we love them inordinately, that wrong love must be challenged, broken, and reshaped into a right love. In other words, the idols must be toppled, shattered, and put back together in their proper place under God.

We may even be aware that we are loving things wrongly. We may realize that we are trying to treat them as gods, but we do not know how to stop. We cry out to God, and in His great mercy He sends us help to break down our idols.

God’s help arrives in many forms. One of the most common is pain. God allows us to experience the hurt, emptiness, and despair that envelop us when our idols betray us (as every idol eventually does). He puts us in positions in which we must lean either on our idols or on Him. If we choose to lean on the idols, they fracture. We lose what we thought we loved. Worse, when the idols shatter, their shards and splinters damage us in other ways.

We always knew in principle that our idol was fleeting and temporal. Now we know it by touch and feel. The more we experience the hurt and pain of broken idols, the better equipped we become to move them out of the position that only God can fill and into the position that God intended them to occupy. More and more we set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth.

We should use what God has given us to use, as God intends it to be used. We should enjoy what God has given us to enjoy, as He intends it to be enjoyed. But we can only ever find satisfaction in Him. He alone is to be worshipped.

One reason God permits trauma in our lives is so that we may learn to love things as they ought to be loved. He turns our hearts away from the temporal and toward the eternal, away from the finite and toward the infinite, away from the earthly and toward the heavenly. When an idol breaks, the result is pain—but that pain is God’s mercy to us.

This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.

Leave Thee! No, My Dearest Savior

The Christian’s Spiritual Song Book (1845), John Stamp

Leave Thee! No, my dearest Savior,
Thee whose blood my pardon bought;
Slight Thy mercy, scorn Thy favor!
Perish such an impious thought:
Leave Thee—never!
Where for peace could I resort?

Be offended at Thee—never!
Thee to whom my all I owe;
Rather shall my heart endeavor
With unceasing love to glow:
Leave Thee—never!
Where for safety could I go?

Thou alone art my salvation;
There is none can save but Thee:
Thou through Thy divine oblation,
From my guilt hast set me free:
Leave Thee—never!
Thou who deign’st to die for me.

But, O Lord, Thou know’st my weakness,
Know’st how prone I am to stray;
God of love, of truth, of meekness,
Guide and keep me in Thy way;
Blest Redeemer!
Let me never from Thee stray!

Tried with Fire: The Things On the Earth

Growing Up Fundamentalist, Part Nine: Reflections

Over the past several years I have read a number of books and articles about “growing up fundamentalist.” Almost without exception these works have been written by people who are trying to justify their life choices by pointing to the oppressiveness of their fundamentalist upbringing. In some cases they claim to have been abused. In other cases they dwell on the restrictiveness of the fundamentalist environment. These narratives leave the impression that growing up fundamentalist must be a horrible experience. From these stories one might infer that every fundamentalist must be corrupt and every fundamentalist authority structure—homes, churches, schools, and missions—must be abusive.

I have no doubt that some people have endured abuse by fundamentalist parents or churchmen. Indeed, I would not expect it to be otherwise. Whatever else fundamentalists are, they are first of all humans. To be human is to be a sinner, and we should plan for the effects of sin to be evident within all human populations. That is why some entertainers are abusers. Some politicians are abusers. Some journalists are abusers. Some Catholics are abusers. Some ecumenical liberals are abusers. Some evangelicals are abusers. And some fundamentalists are going to be abusers, too.

Some fundamentalists have also been guilty of covering up abuses. I have no wish to underrate the suffering of those who have been subjected to the abuse. Such things should never have happened, and they should not be tolerated when they do happen. Having said all of that, however, I can find little or nothing in my own experience that reflects those narratives—and I, too, grew up fundamentalist. My goal in this series has been to give you some sense of what that was like.

My parents came to Christ as adults. Their conversion was genuine. Their new Christianity did not make them perfect people or perfect parents, but their lives were visibly transformed. I observed their growth in grace, their maturing in the faith, and their willingness to subordinate their personal ambitions for the sake of their savior. Their faith was real, so at a time when my peers regularly accused their parents of hypocrisy, I knew that mine were genuine. Furthermore, having now borne the responsibility of rearing my own children, I find that I am little disposed to criticize whatever mistakes they may have made. They did as good a job as any, and considerably better than most.

As for ministers, every pastor whom I knew was a model of dignity, propriety, and charity. Few of them were highly learned men, but they were grave, sober, and pious. They were also patient and gentle leaders, shepherds in the truest sense of that term, men who took seriously the care of souls. They cared about truth, committed themselves to expounding the whole counsel of God, and invested personally in those whom they pastored.

The professors by whom I was instructed in college and seminary encouraged the life of the mind. At least a few of them were among the best-read and most thoughtful people I’ve encountered. To this day I can honestly state that the smartest people I’ve ever known were fundamentalists. By the time I completed education in a fundamentalist college and seminary, my intellectual direction was set. This direction was tested in a variety of non-fundamentalist academic and social environments, but I discovered that the commitments I’d absorbed from fundamentalists were able to withstand the rough-and-tumble of intellectual exchange.

During my youth, fundamentalism was passing through a period of choice and definition. Like corrosive bacteria, the neoevangelical philosophy was beginning to eat away at the spiritual and ecclesiastical core of American Christianity. However vaguely, many fundamentalists perceived that something was wrong. They tried to put a barrier between themselves and the infection. In consequence, they were often blamed for manipulative tactics and uncharitable attitudes. Even if they were wrong in some of their decisions and expressions, however, they were right about the peril that they perceived. Their supposed lack of charity was often exaggerated by their opponents, who in fact manifested the same attitudes. Granted, I heard fundamentalists rail against the cooperative evangelism of Billy Graham. I also heard fundamentalists pray for Billy, sometimes even to the point of tears.

Over time I became aware that the fundamentalism in which I was reared was not the only version. I was introduced to branches of fundamentalism that demanded unquestioning loyalty, despised careful doctrinal formulation, recoiled from biblical teaching and exposition, and effectively turned Christianity into a form of entertainment. I heard preachers who did not proclaim the whole counsel of God. Some did not even really preach the gospel, but just preached an invitation for forty-five minutes. Others introduced new and unusual doctrines and practices. I discovered leaders who would stretch the truth until their pants nearly caught fire. These leaders were also willing to engage in backstabbing, vituperation, and character assassination—indeed, they seemed to think that conduct of this sort somehow made them manlier. In retrospect, I believe that those are the versions of fundamentalism in which the worst abuses occurred. At the time, however, I was surprised at how little I held in common with these so-called fundamentalists. I’ve never been able to get over that surprise.

In short, I am quite prepared to concede that not every form of fundamentalism is worth perpetuating. That concession, however, does not imply that no form of fundamentalism is worth perpetuating. To be sure, no form of fundamentalism will be perfect, for the simple reason that all humanly-constructed movements and organizations are constructed by sinners. Nevertheless, I have lived in a version of fundamentalism that was certainly no worse than any other variety of American Christianity, and that was actually far better than most. I would very much like to preserve—for at least another generation—a fundamentalism worth growing up in.

This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.

Thou, Who a Tender Parent Art

Rowland Hill (1744–1833)

Thou, who a tender Parent art,
Regard a parent’s plea;
Our offspring, with an anxious heart
We now commend to Thee.

Our children are our greatest care,
A charge which Thou hast given; 
In all Thy graces let them share,
And all the joys of heaven.

If a centurion could succeed,
Who for his servant cried,
Wilt Thou refuse to hear us plead
For those so near allied?

On us Thou has bestowed Thy grace,
Be to our children kind;
Among Thy saints give them a place,
And leave not one behind.

Happy we then shall live below,
The remnant of our days,
And when to brighter worlds we go,
Shall long resound Thy praise.

Seminaries: A New Dimension for a Three-Dimensional World

In recent blog posts, Ben Edwards from Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary weighed in on a post by Dan Wallace decrying the contemporary push towards online seminary training. Both Edwards and Wallace correctly warn prospective ministerial students away from the siren calls of convenience and ease. If ministry requires focus, dedication, and sacrifice, should ministry training require less? Degree mills are not new, but the internet age has produced degree superstores – institutions where the consumer is king and the products are quick and customizable. The current craze, a 5-year undergrad + MDiv, is but a recent example. In some of these programs, languages are either lessened or eliminated, credits condensed, and the intellectual gap between undergrad and graduate all but erased. Challenging this new norm is akin to opening a family furniture store next to an IKEA. What’s a seminary to do?

Several years ago, when Central Seminary was cautiously considering online education, I wrote two pieces on the future of seminary education, published by the Baptist Bulletin (volumes 1 2). In these articles I wrote of both the pedagogical dangers and opportunities of the internet. In the end, my institution decided to attempt a tedious tension – embrace a new medium while maintaining face-to-face teaching.

Most online programs employ some sort of self-paced teaching, having students interact via posted videos and comments. Others use conferencing software, allowing students to interact with professors and other students in real-time. This is the difference between asynchronous and synchronous programs. Central’s program employs both residential and synchronous, placing residential and distance students in the same class, interacting with the professor and each other. Course requirements, from attendance to presentations, are the exact same. Of course, distance students don’t get to enjoy hallway conversations and breakroom banter, but they do, however, benefit from live participation. Hence, Central has both residential and distance in one academic program. Nothing has been lessened, no bars have been lowered.

While there were many reasons for this addition, one is more pertinent to this discussion – shifting seminary demographics. While fewer students are matriculating directly from undergraduate programs, we are seeing pastors already in ministry seeking further education. Students are often encouraged to find a ministry opportunity immediately after college (the reason for this is a topic for another time). In some cases, after a decade or so of serving a congregation, pastors realize the need for further and deeper education. This is particularly true with the MDiv degree.

Seminaries, by literal definition, are institutions in which young ministerial seedlings can grow and mature into ministers. A strong residential program is the necessary fertile ground, carefully tended by experienced pastors and learned professors. The goal of course, is to plant the young minister into the field of pastoring, exposed to the elements and firmly rooted in the truth of God’s word. Interestingly, the internet and technology has brought a new dimension to a three-dimensional world. Some pastors, who have already weathered years of ministry, need to be rooted, or in these cases re-rooted, into deeper theology. Seminaries must now do both.

 Don’t take shortcuts. Value the things that should be valued. Seek a seminary that educates you. Demand nothing less than excellence. Take the path less traveled. Learn theology from a theologian and history from a historian. Learn Greek and Hebrew from someone who knows them and not from a computer. Study ministry from pastors, not just self-paced programs. Be a student, not a consumer. Be a pastor, not a practitioner.

Whether planting novices or re-rooting the experienced, one thing remains; seminaries must always work for the church. Not necessarily the universal church, though this is a secondary effect. Seminaries must always work for the local church. It is my belief that church-based, high quality schools like Central Seminary and Detroit Seminary, among others, have a unique opportunity in this new education age. Superstores may offer convenience, customization, and quickness, but the small local church offers something much, much more – the fertile soil in which pastors can be rooted, standing firm and weathering the winds of change.

“Consumerism, though convenient, has a nasty side effect: you get what you want. While I do not know what seminary education will look like in the future, I know it will depend almost entirely upon people sitting in pews. If churches demand confident leaders, carefully trained exegetes, and Christ-enamored theologians, there will always be room for good seminaries, no matter which educational medium is employed. If churches seek something other, that is exactly what they will get.” Williams, “The Future of Seminary Education, Part 1,” Baptist Bulletin (2017).

Two-Dimensional Preparation for a Three-Dimensional World

Dan Wallace discusses the pros and cons of online ministerial training.

Online Divinity Degrees: Two-Dimensional Preparation for a Three-Dimensional World

The bottom-line question that the prospective student needs to ask is not, “What’s the easiest route to take to earn that degree?” but, “What is the best preparation I can get for a lifetime of ministry?”

The most impactful ministries are:

intensely personal

Why is Central’s distance program different? Find out.


WELCOME: Matt Shrader called as the new Director of Recruitment

CBTS has called Matt Shrader as the new Director of Recruitment.  Matt has an MDiv from FBBC&S in Ankey, IA, a ThM from CBTS, and is nearing the completion of a PhD in church history from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. He brings his love for students and seminary education as well as a passion for theology. Matt and his wife Tarah are both from Colorado and have 3 children.

Central is widely known for their quality and content of ministry preparation, and I have greatly benefited from this preparation not only by way of several former pastors but also in my own education. I am thrilled to be the one who now gets to explain these benefits to our friends and future students.






The Battle Cry of the Reformation and the Surrender of Greek and Hebrew

Dan Wallace explains the need for a renewed focus on linguistics in seminaries.

In a role reversal from the 16th century, Roman Catholic graduate schools are doing incredible work in the biblical languages. I applaud this endeavor at these institutes, but grieve for what is happening in the conservative Protestant tradition. MDiv and ThM programs are shrinking at an alarming rate. And those that are remaining strong have often sacrificed the biblical languages on the altar of student enrollment.

I Thy Dream – C.S. Lewis on Prayer

“Master, they say that when I seem

To be in speech with you,

Since you make no replies, it’s all a dream

– One talker aping two.

They are half right, but not as they

Imagine; rather, I

Seek in myself the things I meant to say,

And lo! the wells are dry.

Then, seeing me empty, you forsake

The Listener’s role, and through

My dead lips breathe and into utterance wake

The thoughts I never knew.

And thus you neither need reply

Nor can; thus, while we seem

Two talking, thou art One forever, and I

No dreamer, but thy dream.

– C.S. Lewis, 1964

2018 Fall Central Seminary Update

Increased Student Enrollment– Due to a variety of issues, many seminaries (across the denominational spectrum) are facing declining enrollment. This fall, our graduate student body increased by 30%compared to last year and the number of course hours attempted increased byover 20%. We praise the Lord for this growth and recognize our sober responsibility of training Christian leaders to minister in local churches.

Distance Education– A big part of our increase in student enrollment is our distance education platform. This technology allows students from not only around the country but also around the world to interact with professors and other students in real time. Many of our new distance students are pastors who desire to further their theological training but cannot leave their current ministries.

Fall Conference– We are honored to have Dr. Jim Tillotson as our featured speaker for this year’s Fall Conference. Jim is the president of Faith Baptist Bible College and Seminary in Ankeny, IA, and will be speaking on burnout and perseverance in the ministry and Christian walk. This is a timely message and all are invited to attend. The conference is Tuesday, October 2, 8:00am–2:30pm. Find out more and register at


2018 Golf Scramble– 100 golfers showed up for the annual Golf Scramble on August 20. It was a great time of fun and fellowship as players won prizes and raised money for Central. We thank all who sponsored, volunteered, and golfed with us.

Thank you for your continued prayer and support as we enter a new academic year.

CBTS faculty and staff

Central Seminary Granted ATS Accreditation

On June 4–5, 2018, the Board of Commissioners of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) voted to grant Central Seminary full accreditation. ATS is the premier accrediting body for seminaries in North America and will help Central Seminary to continue its vital mission of assisting New Testament churches in equipping spiritual leaders for Christ-exalting biblical ministry.

ATS membership provides a tested and proven standard which ensures that Central Seminary degrees and curricula remain academically rigorous and practically focused. Additionally, ATS approved Central’s synchronous, online distance education programs for graduate degrees which means that students can earn recognized, quality degrees without moving or changing ministries.

Find out more about our degrees and distance education program.

Memories of a Colleague

I met Doug Reiner in Brazil perhaps a decade ago. He was a second-generation missionary whose great desire was to see a truly indigenous Baptist movement in the country to which he ministered. In many ways I came to view him as the ideal of what an American missionary ought to be.

About year ago Doug died suddenly from cancer. One of the people most affected was his close friend and co-laborer, Mark Swedberg (Mark’s son, John, is a graduate of Central Seminary). I’m appending Mark’s reflections on ministry with Doug Reiner.

Doug Reiner — A Tribute
by Mark A. Swedberg

I’ve known Doug for most of our lives. We met for the first time in late 1972 or early 1973 at the Iguatu Camp. We were 8, going on 9, and that camp was the bee’s knees for junior-aged boys. I remember that Doug took my brother and me into a room where we saw bats sleeping upside down, hanging from the rafters. A day or two later, he took us on jegue ride. It was great fun and we quickly made friends.

Of course, that was not unusual for Doug. He was friends with everyone, and if he had an enemy, or even an adversary, I never heard tell of it.

We didn’t see a lot of each other growing up, what with him way up in the northeast and me down south, but when we did, I always enjoyed it and thought of him as one of my buddies. And then we were off to college, he to Pennsylvania, I to Colorado.

Doug and Renate made it back to Brazil before Anita and I, but when we finally reconnected, our friendship picked up right where it left off.

We saw each other more often than before because we both enjoyed going to the Mid-Brazil Field Council Meetings, and we would run into each other on other occasions, as well. And then something happened: what had been merely a good friendship became a close friendship, and I began to realize that, in Doug, I had soul-mate.

I first became aware of this when Doug invited me to fill in for him while he was on furlough. I wanted to do it so badly, but I just couldn’t see my way clear to going. A few years later, I invited him to come work close to me when another colleague was on furlough, but he couldn’t come either.

The Lord never allowed us to work in the same area, but He did the next best thing: He allowed us to work on several projects together. We served on two or three Executive Committees, and near the end of his ministry in Brazil, he helped me out at EBR, our publishing house in Brazil.

Doug was many things. Perhaps the thing that first attracted me to him was his sense of humor. He was hilariously funny, and boy did he have stories to tell. Once, when he was at the bank, he lay his cell phone down to fill out some paperwork. When he looked up, it was gone. He asked all around, but nobody had seen it. Right then it started ringing and he recognized it by its unique ringtone. So he turned to the guy that had it and said, “My phone is ringing in your pocket, and I need to answer it.” Uncle Rick McClain had saved the day.

One night, a few years ago, he was in rare form. He told my mom and me of the time that Tim finally dragged him onto an ultralight. Doug had been resistant because an ultralight had none of the things that he liked about flying. But Tim finally got him to go up with him in a two-seater. They were flying along when they had some sort of trouble and Tim landed it on the water. After fixing the problem they were ready to fly again, but the plane couldn’t take off from the water with two people in it, so Tim made Doug swim to shore. That ended any nascent love of the ultralight right then and there.

Doug was a hard and tireless worker. When he invited me up to work with him, he gave me a rundown of a typical week. I was exhausted before I got done reading it.

And he was the most logical problem-solver and astute observer of people I have known. As I mentioned, he and I served on several Executive Committees together. What most people didn’t realize is that he was the brains of the operation, although he never would accept the presidency.

The first time I was president was an executive committee for the ages: Doug was treasurer, I was president and Jim Leonard was secretary. Three MKs. The torch had been passed. Doug was in the States at the time, and Jim and I decided to pull a prank on him. We called him up and told him that all three of us had been elected, but that the body made a switch and elected him president. “No,” he said. “Nooo.”

That year was supposed to be a light one — at least that’s what Dad told me when he convinced me to stand for president. But before the month was out, we were slapped with an audit by the INSS, and that was only the first situation we faced in the most difficult year I’ve ever had as president. I soon learned to listen to Doug. God got us through, but Doug was one of His principal agents.

Doug was one of my favorite speakers. His biblical insights and ability to communicate them were so very edifying. He was our most sought-out workshop leader at the EBR Conferences.

But of all his qualities, the one that most stood out was his servant’s heart. I saw it in concern he constantly showed toward Renate. He was willing to let her study and take a backseat. I saw it in the fact that he never wanted to be president, but was willing to do a lot of the heavy lifting.

I saw it in a conversation we had with Kevin Bauder over lunch at an EBR conference. He was telling Kevin how missions in Brazil has changed. Before, we Americans were in the driver’s seat. We set the agenda. Now we needed to help Brazilians fulfill their vision of ministry. In fact, he asked his Brazilian coworker what his coworker’s dreams were because he was willing to do anything in his power to help him achieve them — to the point of driving him several hours each way to a preaching point every week. That put me under conviction more than any sermon I had ever heard preached.

He and Renate left a huge hole in Brazil when they were called to serve in the Home Office. And now that he’s gone, he leaves a huge hole in the Home Office. But the one that we are feeling most is the hole he leaves in our hearts.

Cancer is a ravenous evil. And it’s comforting to know that his struggle is over and he is in the glorious presence of our Lord. But I want to remind you and me that that’s not our blessed hope. Our blessed hope includes the resurrection of our bodies at the return of our Lord. The cancer that has taken Doug doesn’t get the last word. One day the puny little box he’s in will burst and Doug will come forth, radiant and whole, to be with our Lord, and us, forever and ever.

Jota, my friend, I’ll see you again in the flesh. And when I do, I want to hear more of your wonderful stories and, especially, of your wonderful Savior. Um abraço.

And the Dominoes Fell

Sadly, the Executive Board of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary was forced to terminate Paige Patterson yesterday, stripping his “President Emeritus” title and denying him his promised housing and continued salary. This is further fallout for action which Paige took or failed to take when a student at Southeastern was raped in 2003 during his presidency there. Allegations have arisen that presidential files from his administration were taken from the archives by unauthorized individuals in the dead of night after Patterson left Southeastern. Paige was one of the principle architects of the Conservative Resurgence within the Southern Baptist Convention. We have friends that are on faculty and staff there. We grieve with them over the whole sad affair.

The beheading of Paige Patterson and the humiliation of the SBC

I need to choose my words carefully. In five or ten years, or even tomorrow, I and they might be the subject of public scrutiny. As a Baptist historian, I have been watching the unhappy affair at Southwestern unfold over the past month with great sadness. I am grieved that Paige said some things that could have been said better or that shouldn’t have been said at all. I am sad that Paige, for reasons beyond my comprehension, hasn’t as yet seen fit to sincerely recognize his wrong words. I cannot impugn his motives. That belongs to God. But I can consider his public words. He certainly appeared to say to a woman who was being physically abused to simply pray. He said that if she did, the abuse might get worse. She did and it did. I can understand why many find his “counsel” very bad.

I grant that this advice is twenty years old. However, could it not have been said better? Who of us hasn’t said things in the past that could have been said better? I for one am glad that not all of my past sermons were recorded (thought they were in heaven, but that is another matter). I wish that Paige had said simply and early on “what I said SOUNDS bad and should have been said better.” Would a simple admission such as this not nipped this whole controversy in the bud?

Then there was the comment about the teenager. He used, by his own words, comments about the girl that I wonder why a preacher of the gospel would need to use. Again, if he had simply said “I could have said this better.” Or better yet “this sounds bad and I am sorry for WHAT I SAID.” I wonder if the storm would have subsided. His failure to clearly acknowledge any wrong has fueled further investigation. Then this week there was the allegation that a rape on campus at SEBTS that was not reported to the proper authorities and that the woman was punished for her poor judgement in allowing the man into her apartment despite campus rules. The rape should have been reported.

Because of the public controversy and other matters, Paige was retired, apparently against his will, from the presidency of Southwestern. Sadly, Paige’s most recent comments to the students there really have not helped. “We are hurt, but we haven’t compromised.” Really, he seems to be saying, “I am being unjustly judged.” Really?

Sadly, some supporters of Paige have made things worse, but Paige seems to be his own worst enemy. He is not being persecuted. Some clear acknowledgment of wrong doing would go a long way to ending this controversy. I have not heard whether he will preach in June at Dallas. I wonder if he should. Others are more pronounced in their opinion. Will this create further criticism of the SBC? Many fear that if he preaches it will. As I am not a Southern Baptist, I don’t get to vote on this. If I did, whether I loved Paige or not and even if I thought him unjustly treated, I would still encourage him for the greater good to immediately withdraw his planned sermon.

But then there are the foes of Patterson. They want him decimated. This whole thing has become really pretty ugly. I do not take comfort in the fact that I am not a Southern Baptist. This is not happening to my group to be sure, but these men and women are brothers and sisters in Christ. For the record, I have a PhD from Southern, but I am not sitting back smugly saying, “well too bad for them.” In my opinion, we Baptists, all of us, look pretty bad. What is to be gained by Paige’s head on a pike?

Thankfully some in the SBC have seen that this is a watershed moment. Al Mohler, whom I greatly respect, wrote a very thoughtful piece. But then there was this response from Alan Rudnick. Wow!?!

Surely, this whole situation could have been handled better, at many levels. Paige, part of leadership is accepting the fallout from bad decisions. Is there nothing to say publicly? Still, some of what appears on the net is really unbecoming of a Christian. There seems to be a determined effort to destroy Paige Patterson. Can we not do better? God deliver us before we plunge into utter irrelevance!

There is a lost world watching our every move. Consider the case of David . . . Nathan suggested that David had given an occasion for the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme (2 Sam 12:14). [N.B. I know the specific sin was adultery on the king’s part. I am not suggesting that Paige has this kind of guilt.] Yet how did those enemies come to find out about David’s sin? From the prophet Nathan when he rebuked the king (2 Sam 12:7) at God’s instruction. God, through Nathan, exposed the very sin that would cause God’s enemies to blaspheme (2 Sam 12:1). Seems like God was more concerned with truth than appearances.

Lessons on Preaching from the Internet

This may seem like an odd title for a blog essay, but I hope you will agree that the topic is worth pondering. In the last couple of weeks, a prominent preacher had been challenged to step down from his current leadership position for things that he said decades ago. This seems really odd that a fragment of a sermon delivered nearly twenty years hence should resurface now and be causing turmoil. But it is and it has precipitated a discussion that threatens a rather glorious career.

The sermon itself included comments on a situation of domestic abuse in which the preacher was involved as a counselor. A woman sought out our brother for help on how to deal with an abusive husband. It seems that the abuse was physical. Like many believers today, the preacher held strongly to a “no-divorce-under-any-circumstances” position. Whether or not that is a biblical view is beside the point for this essay. The counsel the preacher says he gave to the woman was to submit to her husband, to stay in the marriage, and to pray for God to intervene. She did stay and the result was two black eyes, courtesy of her husband. The woman came to the preacher with her injuries. When she asked rhetorically whether he was happy, the preacher said yes, . . . ostensibly because the abusive husband had sought him out shortly before she came, repented of his sins, and received Christ. According to our preacher, the marriage was restored.

Frankly, even if the story is true—that the husband became a believer—(and I am not doubting it), the counsel seems bad, at best. No woman should be encouraged to stay in a physically abusive situation in an attempt to win her husband to Christ. It was bad advice when it was given. It sounded bad in the sermon. And it surely sounds bad today in a culture more attuned to domestic abuse than previous generations. Perhaps he did not wish to counsel divorce, but to return to the home and become a punching bag for the husband was simply bad counsel.

What will happen with this brother and his ministry has yet to be determined. His organization will have a board meeting soon to discuss the public outcry that has arisen with the calls for his resignation. Whether the brother will be able to continue in his current position is beyond my ability to predict. The whole situation is tragic.

This brings me to the purpose of this essay. There are a number of important lessons to be learned as we watch this story unfold. We in ministry need to pay attention and be warned. This, theoretically, could happen to us if we do not walk circumspectly with regard to our pulpit ministry. I see at least four lessons.

First, we as preachers, are accountable for our words—the words we say today, the words we will say tomorrow, and the words we said yesterday. Any of us who have ministered in the pulpit for more than fifteen minutes knows that not everything comes out the way we intended. Sometimes what people hear is not what we intended to be heard. Occasionally a preacher will transpose a couple of choice words and the congregation will laugh. I once heard an older man ask God to forgive us of our “falling shorts.” I smile as I remember the gaff. At other times, we say things without measuring the effect or the weight of the words. We actually mean to say things a certain way, but upon reflection we come to realize that what we said could have a meaning beyond what we meant. Or worse, what we said was what we meant, but we did not measure the full impact of the words we would speak from the pulpit. We speak and cause hurt. If and when this happens, and sadly it does, we had better be quick to retract or correct a bad statement. If it was wrong, say so. Do not try to defend it. This will only make matters worse.

Second, we need to think long and hard before we say things from the pulpit. We are not called to be comedians but proclaimers of the life-giving Word of God. How sad it is when our pulpit speech detracts from the message we bear. I am not a fan of writing out sermons, though I have a friend who does this regularly. The great virtue of this sermon preparation technique is that it allows the preacher to carefully measure what is said and how. There is less occasion for a spontaneous, off-the-cuff remark that may go wide of the target. Whether one writes out his sermon or not, care needs to be exercised when addressing delicate matters. This is especially true when we use our own congregation as a sermon illustration. “I had a couple come into my office . . . “ and then we proceed to vaguely sketch the story. This is a dangerous thing to do. We may betray someone’s confidence in an effort to be helpful to others.

Third, never say anything in print or that is being recorded that you do not want to be published from the house-tops. I remember years ago a Canadian pastor who was teaching on child discipline. He used rhetoric that just sounded bad—something like “just beat them if they need it.” The sermon was recorded. A disgruntled attender passed the tape around and he had his children taken away by the province. Now Christians shouldn’t “beat” their children under any circumstances and pastors shouldn’t tell their people to do this, even if they think they are speaking rhetorically. When we get to sensitive topics, we need to choose our words very carefully. Our current brother is also being challenged for another sermon comment he made about a young lady and her aesthetic qualities. Some things just should not be said from the pulpit even if we are quoting someone else. There may be a need to address something obliquely. If so, caution must be used lest our words, however helpful they may be intended, become an unnecessary offense to some.

Fourth, I wonder if our brother could not have kept the debate from starting by simply showing a bit of recognition for the other people’s point of view. Maybe, just maybe, his gainsayers have a legitimate point. I wonder if a simple acknowledgement of “maybe I could have said this better” would not have kept the situation from becoming a conflagration. Or better yet, saying “I gave bad advice” or “I shouldn’t have said that.”

I am sad for the current situation of our brother. I am sad that the woman so long ago was given very bad counsel. I am sad that a teenager was spoken of in a way that suggests a less than respectful attitude on the part of a man of God. I hold our brother in high esteem for how has God used him. I hope that this situation will be used for the glory of God. I have no doubt that it will if we ponder the lessons to be learned. God can use this in our lives to make us better ministers now and in the future.

Descartes(’) Remains

I just finished a great book – Descartes Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict Between Faith and Reason. In it, NY Times best-selling author Russell Shorto retells the fascinating tale of Descartes’ remains and compares their history to the philosophical journey of modernity.

On a cold night, in the middle of the Swedish winter in 1650, the French humanist René Descartes died. Descartes was in Stockholm at the invitation of his friend and protégé, Pierre Chanut, to personally tutor the young queen Christina. Since Descartes was a staunch Catholic in a Protestant nation, his remains were quickly and quietly laid to rest in the frozen ground just outside of the capital. 16 years later, after entropy and modernity had begun, his decomposing remains were exhumed and taken to France on the authority of Louis XIV. Upon arrival in France, the skull and the right index finger were missing; the finger being a personal souvenir of the French ambassador to Sweden and the skull inexplicably gone, a literal dualism. In June of the following year, Descartes, sans head, was laid to rest for the second time after much ceremony in the churchyard of St. Geneviève in the center of Paris.

For more than a century, Descartes’ ideas evolved as his bones decayed. The philosophy of doubt lead to the politics of revolution. In 1793, after anti-Catholic and anti-royal mobs prevailed, the story of Descartes’ remains took another twist. By decree of the newly formed De La Convention Nationale, the patron saint of modernity was scheduled to be moved to lay in state in the new, hastily-conceived Pantheon. This decree, like the revolution, the idea of a French Pantheon, and the unfortunate lives of the French la noblesse, was short-lived. Alexandre Lenoir, a purveyor of French art, claimed that he transferred Descartes’ remains from a wooden box to an Egyptian-like sarcophagus. By this time the remains had become mere dust and shards. Lenoir’s collection was on display in the Museum of French Monuments. Many doubted (pun intended) Lenoir’s story and believed that Descartes’ bones were lost to either a desecrating revolutionary mob, the 1807 excavation of the church grounds for a new road, or the cold apathy of natural processes. In 1817, under Louis the XVIII’s authority, Descartes’ (supposed) remains were unearthed once more and ceremoniously reinterred, under the careful watch and honor of the French Academy of Science, just outside the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

The tale takes another turn. In 1821, a Swedish chemist named Berzelius, produced a skull (without the jaw) that was had an ink-filled inscription that read, “The skull of Descartes, taken by J. Fr. Planström, the year 1666, at the time when the body was being returned to France.” The front of the skull also had an inscribed poem:

“This small skull once belonged to the great Cartesius,
The rest of his remains are hidden far away in the
land of France;
But all around the circle of the globe his genius
is praised,
And his spirit still rejoices in the sphere of heaven.”

When this skull arrived in France, the famous scientist/zoologist/creationist/devout Christian, Georges Cuvier, one of the premier member of the Academy of Science, embarked on a multi-year examination of the skull. The skull of the man that wrote Discourse on Method was thoroughly examined using quintessentially modern techniques. Interestingly, Cuvier’s method mostly employed the 19th cent. popular science of cranial phrenology and visual/dimensional comparisons and measurements based upon a (possibly fake) portrait by Dutch master Frans Hals. Cuvier was finally convinced and declared the skull authentic. Others, however, were unconvinced. The skull was exhibited in the Academy of Sciences for nearly another century. During that time, Descartes’ skull was repeatedly examined and deductions were repeatedly made. Ideas were inferred and propositions declared. In the end, in another twist of irony, the clarity of some and the skepticism of others boiled down to belief. The cranial examination of the father of modernity become a not-so-living embodiment of the tensions within modernity.

On the morning of January 21 1910, the city of Paris flooded. As the Seine swept into central Paris, the city, a beautiful temple to the accomplishments of man, was overtaken by the sheer power of nature. Much like the Great War a few years later, this event signaled the inevitable collapse of modernity. The philosophy of doubt began to be doubted as Descartes’ skull was nearly lost, once again, as relics and remains were haphazardly stacked and hastily evacuated.

Shorto appropriately ends with this:

“The Cartesian tendency of favoring mind over matter – mind over body- thus has a metaphorical cap. The skull – the representation of mind – having been subjected to repeated and increasingly sophisticated scientific study and judged to be authentic, sits enshrined in a science museum, le Musée de l’Homme . . . . Indeed, as I write, it is a part of a special exhibition at the Musée de l’Homme entitled Man Exposed, sitting beside a Cro-Magnum skull to demonstrate the breadth of human thought and accomplishment over the millennia, once again, serving as the very representation of ‘modern.’ As for the body, the trail ends abruptly, veering sharply into oblivion. And that perhaps as it should be. Dust to dust. In secular seculorum” (pg. 231). 

Modernity, like Descartes’ remains, remains enshrined yet decomposing. Its head, like Descartes’ ideas, is both certain and doubtful. Mankind tragically defines itself through itself. To doubt is to know and knowledge is undoubted. This cannot last. Modernity is veering sharply into oblivion. All men and their ideas come from dust and to the dust return . . . To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever.

I highly recommend this book.

Lux in Tenebris

“The light shines in darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Tonight, many liturgical and reformed churches will celebrate the medieval Tenebrae service, or service of darkness. Throughout this solemn event, candles are extinguished until only one is left. Darkness and shadows evoke sobriety, resembling the period of darkness during the crucifixion. Gospel readings, prayers, and meditations punctuate the service until the final candle is extinguished and the congregation erupts in a strepitus, a loud noise that represents the final cry of Jesus, ensuing earthquake, and tearing of the temple veil. After this cacophonous sound the congregation leaves in silence, reflecting on the terrible price of sin.

“The Crucifixion,” as painted by nineteenth-century Russian artist Nikolai Ge, depicts a graphic, non-stereotypical  version of the death of our Lord. Ge is one of my favorite realist precisely for that reason. This painting was banned from public display by imperial authorities on the grounds of blasphemy because Christ was shown as too human, too wretched. Ge was masterful with shadows and light and this painting represents a clear juxtaposition of the two. The ghostly Roman soldier, resembling the emptiness of rejecting Christ, disappears into the darkness, darkness that engulfs the painting, darkness that engulfed the entire land. A sign lies on the ground, perhaps falling as the earth shook. Against the black, however is a brilliant light. Its source is unclear and position confusing but its presence unmistakable. How can there be light in such darkness? The light covers the face of the penitent thief and illuminates Jesus. Human agony is on display as the God-Man cries his final cry. Jesus is the only bright figure. He is the man of light and the Light of men. Though the darkness weighs down the painting, light is undeniable.

My own tenebrae is quite similar. Tonight I will solemnly remember the darkness of that terrible day. The weight of darkness is the weight of my sin, crushing the spotless One. My strepitus is loud and dissonant. The crescendo of the climax of rebellion, the murder of the most innocent among us. I hated the light and loved the darkness. Yet, light remained. The dark cries of “crucify” only further illuminated the Light.

If only the soldier would turn away from the enveloping darkness and look at the Light.

“Truly, this man was the Son of God.”

“But while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

God is light, in whom there is no darkness at all.
Jesus Christ is the light of the world.

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world,
and we loved darkness rather than light.