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.

Paul Helm on the Benedict Option

Helm critiques Dreher’s Benedict Option here. Worth a read.


The presence of two kingdoms is a fundamental teaching of Jesus, not a political re-positioning for tactical advantage. The Benedict Option does not recognize it as mandatory. In Christianity there is always the kingdom of God and of his Christ, and the kingdom of this world. In not recognizing this the BO was making a serious error.

On Not Remembering Sermons

I used to fret that I could remember very few of the sermons I had heard. Now I fret that I can remember very few of the sermons I preach. Still, I remember none of the details from the Latin lessons I took in school, and yet I can still pick up a book of Latin prose or verse and read it. We may have forgotten the details of individual classes we’ve taken, but our minds are rewired by what we learned. In studying Latin I was changed from someone who saw Latin as an impenetrable code to someone who now delights in the cadences and periods of Cicero.

I believe preaching is like that. The point is not that we remember all the details and can perfectly recall them. Rather, it is the slow, incremental impact of sitting under the word week by week, year by year that makes the difference. That is how we mature as Christians. God uses this means of grace to make us into vessels of his grace. And that is why a Protestant theology of grace must place the clear, powerful, unequivocal proclamation of God’s word right at the center.

Trueman, Carl R. Grace Alone—Salvation as a Gift of God: What the Reformers Taught…and Why It Still Matters (The Five Solas Series) (p. 193). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Evangelicals and Catholics Together…on Textual Criticism

Peter Gurry elaborates on Pius XII’s Divino Afflante Spiritu and shows similarities between Evangelical and Roman views of textual criticism and inerrancy.

In the present day indeed this art, which is called textual criticism and which is used with great and praiseworthy results in the editions of profane writings, is also quite rightly employed in the case of the Sacred Books, because of that very reverence which is due to the Divine Oracles. For its very purpose is to insure that the sacred text be restored, as perfectly as possible, be purified from the corruptions due to the carelessness of the copyists and be freed, as far as may be done, from glosses and omissions, from the interchange and repetition of words and from all other kinds of mistakes, which are wont to make their way gradually into writings handed down through many centuries.

Why Preachers Need to Be Trained

Preachers need to be well trained and able to speak clearly. They need to be able to rightly divide and apply the word of truth. They need to be able to study. There will always be the occasional Charles Spurgeon or Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who, with little or no formal training were yet outstanding preachers, but they are the exceptions, not the rule, and even they might have been better had they been taught the biblical languages. There is a reason why the Reformers required rigorous study as a prerequisite for pastoral ministry: most aspiring ministers urgently need that if they are to preach the word with any degree of competence.

—Trueman, Carl R. Grace Alone—Salvation as a Gift of God: What the Reformers Taught…and Why It Still Matters (The Five Solas Series) (p. 192). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Why Preachers Need to Be Trained

Preachers need to be well trained and able to speak clearly. They need to be able to rightly divide and apply the word of truth. They need to be able to study. There will always be the occasional Charles Spurgeon or Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who, with little or no formal training were yet outstanding preachers, but they are the exceptions, not the rule, and even they might have been better had they been taught the biblical languages. There is a reason why the Reformers required rigorous study as a prerequisite for pastoral ministry: most aspiring ministers urgently need that if they are to preach the word with any degree of competence.

Trueman, Carl R. Grace Alone—Salvation as a Gift of God: What the Reformers Taught…and Why It Still Matters (The Five Solas Series) (p. 192). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Central Seminary Begins Distance Ed

A degree online that’s not an online degree

Many pastors and missionaries desire to further their theological training and attend a seminary but cannot take time to leave their churches or mission fields. Because of this, some feel like they must settle for an online degree that is less than desirable. Central Seminary believes that pastors, missionaries, and students should not have to settle. We believe there are no shortcuts in ministry. Effective ministry often comes from effective preparation.

Central Seminary has designed a distance education program that is different from most. It puts the distance student in the classroom during the class. Through multiple high definition cameras and monitors, advanced sound equipment, and the best conference software available, distance students will be able to interact live with each class.

Central Seminary’s distance education program is not a separate program – it’s only a medium. None of our academic programs have been lessened and every requirement is the same. The only difference between resident students and distance students is just that…distance. All of our graduate programs (MAT in either Biblical Studies or Biblical Counseling and MDiv) are offered in their entirety through this medium.

  • Learn theology from theologians.
  • Learn history from historians.
  • Learn Greek and Hebrew from people that know it.
  • Learn ministry from pastors, not programs.
  • Be a student, not a consumer.

How does it work?

Each classroom has:

  • 2 high definition cameras (one facing the professor and one facing the students)
  • Large, high definition monitors
  • Microphones
  • Dedicated computers
  • Advanced conferencing software

By using Zoom software, distance students will have the ability to see and hear both resident students and other distance students, professors, and any and all presented media (which includes PowerPoint, writing on the board, etc.). In addition, the resident students and professor can fully interact with the distance students enabling complete and simultaneous interaction.

Be in the class without being in the classroom.

For more information or if you’d like to see a demonstration of how it works, contact Dan Johnson in our recruitment office:


Why God Can’t Overlook Sin

The reason why an atonement was necessary, was the inflexible nature of divine justice. This attribute leads the Ruler of the universe to render to every one his due; to treat every one according to his character. The justice of God was manifested in giving to man a righteous law, and annexing a penalty exactly proportioned to the demerit of every transgression. Such a penalty being annexed to the law, it is evident that to execute it is a righteous thing; and when this penalty is incurred by transgression, the Judge of all the earth, acting justly, must inflict it. He cannot deny himself. “He is not a man that he should lie, or the son of man that he should repent.” If the penalty of the law might be set aside in one instance, it might in all, and then government would be at an end. Indeed, no reason can be assigned for a difference; if one sinner is exempted from punishment, the same treatment should be extended to all; for, in the administration of law and justice, there should be uniformity….

Archibald Alexander, A Brief Compend of Bible Truth, 109.

Russell Kirk: A Kindly Introduction

Three thinkers shaped American conservatism in the wake of World War Two. Of the three, Russell Kirk was the most comprehensive. His writings are both voluminous and formidable. For those who have never met Kirk in print, Dermot Quinn provides and introduction to the man and his commitments at The Imaginative Conservative. His essay is “Religion and the Conservative Mind.”

He was an old-fashioned man—courtly, retiring, serene, formal in dress and manner—whose view of the world, proclaimed by every photograph, was traditional, anti-modern, even obscure. Captured in his study, his library, his home, surrounded by pens, books, family, and friends, he looks every bit the paternalist man of letters, a figure unmistakably of the past. To critics, he was a sort of mid-western Evelyn Waugh, tweedy, fustian, fond of a dram, a contramundum crank. To friends, he was a man who knew the good life and lived it to the full, preaching domestic joys and practicing them with panache. To the unpersuaded, Kirk’s social poise was social pose. By dress and manner, by truculent toryism, he mocked a world he did not understand. To the persuaded, he understood the world too well and wanted nothing to do with it. Certainly, his conservatism seemed at times compounded of complaint and cussedness. Mass production and mass consumption, history forgotten, the old ways of faith at a loss: If this was modernity, it was not for him. His home at Piety Hill, with its simpler commerce of family life, seasonal change, sacramental connection to the land, was more to his taste. In one sense, critics who dismiss him as a right-wing type, a persona, get the point yet miss it entirely. He played a role he wrote himself, actor and lines in perfect harmony. As for the part, he was proud to call himself Catholic, gentleman, husband, father, a man of letters, friend. These were badges of honor, not (as the psychologizers would have it) social masks concealing some more authentic self. “Manners maketh man” said William of Wykeham in the fourteenth century. The style is the thing itself. Kirk embodied the dictum. Of all men, he was mannerly, courteous, self-consciously gallant. At the heart of that manner, at the core of his private being, was religion. When the pen was laid down and the last letter written, he remained a man of God.

Don We Now our Ge Apparel…

Don We Now our Ge Apparel…

Christmas came early for me this year. After several years of desire, my parents bought me prints of two of my favorite paintings: “Quid veritas est?” and ” Last Supper,” both painted by my Russian realist, Nikolai Ge (1831-1894). Ge is well-known for his friendship with Tolstoy and dissenting views of the Russian Orthodox Church. His religious works garnered first fame, then revile, even producing an governmental charge of blasphemy. He attacked the Christo-Iconography of the Russian Church and painted the God/Man as a man; ugly, abused, forlorn, and often in darkness. For Ge, Jesus’s humanity reflected his primary purpose; to be the propitiation of the world.

Carolyn Pirtle, of Notre Dame, brilliantly explained Ge’s “Last Support here.

Jefferson Gatrall wrote a good piece on Tolstoy and Ge’s vision of Christ here.

Sadly, the Eutychianism of 18th century Russian Iconism is alive and well today. Mainly in terrible art, poor worship, and proper Evangelicalism. Images of the Messiah have become so ubiquitous that he has, ironically, become unrecognizable. Remember the child born of the young Theotokos. Remember the homeless vagabond, remember the suffering Saviour, true God and true Man.

Paul Helm on the Imago and Trinity

In the latest Helm’s Deep – Modern Trinitarian fads vs. Augustine, Calvin

The Trinity is used in another way as a ‘model’ of being human. Moderns have postulated what have always seemed to me to be extravagant ideas about the imago as relations between Individuals in union, mirroring the mutual indwelling of the three persons of the Godhead. A trinity-like community with others, being as the Lord of creation is tri-personal. It seems to have been forgotten that the three trinitarian persons are one substance, God himself.

To avoid this then maybe they veer towards another modern fad, understanding the Trinity as social, as three persons sharing one divine nature, three individuals of one unique kind. But (again) the trinitarian persons are persons of the numerically one God, not members of a trio of divine persons each in some sense generically divine. In any case there is a distinction between thinking of human nature as having a Trinitarian structure, which was Augustine’s view; and it consisting in one human being as having a perichoretic relationship with others.



ACCC Expresses Appreciation for John McKnight

Dr. John McKnight served as president of the American Council of Christian Churches for many years. He is a remarkable individual who falsifies the common perception that to be a fundamentalist is to be a Baptist. The church that Dr. McKnight pastors was known until recently as Evangelical Methodist Church. It has renamed itself the Reformation Bible Church, perhaps because, as Dr. McKnight once explained to me, “We are Whitefieldian Methodists, not Wesleyan Methodists.”

During both his pastorate and his tenure with the ACCC, Dr. McKnight has proven himself to be a genuine Christian statesman. It is no surprise, therefore, that the American Council has chosen to honor him with a declaration of appreciation.

American Council of Christian Churches
75th Annual Convention, October 18-20, 2016
Faith Baptist Church, Kittery, Maine
An Open Letter of Thanks to Dr. John and Diane McKnight

Dear Brother and Sister in Christ,

Our Savior admonished his disciples to understand their calling to leadership as servanthood. “Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant. Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:26-28).

John and Diane, you both have been examples of that kind of leadership during John’s tenure in the office of President of the Council for over a decade. You brought enthusiasm, excellence, and energy to this important work. In this endeavor to lead is to serve, to work, to plan, to prepare, to encourage, to protect, to sacrifice, to battle, to console, and at times to suffer silently and patiently. Our “God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (Heb. 6:10).

Thank you for that labor of love. Thank you for loving our Savior. Thank you for loving His truth. Thank you for loving Dr. Colas and Alice. They always esteemed you both very highly in love for your work’s sake. Thank you for your love shown to the current Executive Secretary and other officers who were privileged to work closely with you and learn from your vision, insight, and example. Thank you for your love for the Council, its stand, and its work. Thank you for your love for Christ’s Church.

The ministry you have fulfilled in our behalf required selfless dedication and dependence on the Lord’s sufficient grace. Together you found that grace and demonstrated that dedication. The Spirit-blessed power of your life and preaching, John, and the pleasantness of your supportive spirit and kind hospitality, Diane, especially have encouraged and furthered this work of the Lord in a needy hour. You are a man and a woman among us, who help to make up the hedge and who stand in the gap (Ezek. 22:30).

“The Lord bless you, and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Num. 6:24-26). And should He still tarry, may He grant us many more years of continued service together according to His will and by His grace.

With Sincerest Appreciation,
Your Fellow-Soldiers in Christ of the American Council of Christian Churches

Reflections from the Evangelical Theological Society, Part II

Reflections from the Evangelical Theological Society, Part II

John Witvliet, a scholar from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, presented an excellent paper entitled, “Protestant Suspicion of Liturgical Form: The Curious Case of Abraham Kuyper.” In his presentation, Witvliet explored Kuyper’s oft-changing and ever-evolving views on liturgical worship as a microcosm for evangelical angst between form and sincerity. A brief survey of Kuyper’s works and lectures revealed his back and forth views on the values and fears of formal liturgies in worship. Notice John H. Wood’s periodization of Kuyper’s views (from Witvliet’s presentation):

– 1864, Early Ministry – Liturgy /Forms as disposable “Husk”

– 1865-67, Incarnational Ecclesiology – L/F as indispensable

– 1870, Sacramental Ecclesiology – L/T as indispensable “bank of river,” “body to the soul”

– 1886, Believer’s Church Ecclesiology – L/T as “clothes” which dress the “body”

Kuyper states:

“Where form rules over spirit, spirituality must object and demand that spirit rule over form. Spirituality will walk in the right path when it allows the spirit to govern form, so that it is true to the spirit, accommodates the spirit, and serves the spirit as an instrument. But spirituality goes astray when it declares that form does not matter and thereby either destroys it or allows it to degenerate.” – Our Worship from Implications of Public Confession

Witvliet effectively showed that Kuyper’s own view alternated between two tropes; sincerity and ritual. For example, Kuyper followed earlier non-conformist’s reaction against the Anglican primers but allowed examples and prayer patterns to be implemented (especially for pedagogical purposes), though insisting that set prayers be spoken “imploringly and movingly.” He saw dangers in both insincere form and sincere formlessness.

Notice Kuyper’s thoughts on the prayer of confession to begin a service:

“Our Reformation fathers were wise in demanding that at least once a week, this matter [confession of sin], so important to the soul, would not be left to subjective feelings, but rather would be taken hold of by a power outside ourselves, that is, by God himself, who through the word of his servant would proclaim God’s holy Word of absolution to the congregation.”  – Our Worship from Implications of Public Confession

Witvliet concluded with 4 reflections:

  • A simplistic “ritual/sincerity” binary is not sufficient for a healthy theology of liturgical participation or healthy pastoral ministry.
  • Evangelical suspicion of set of prayer is often set aside when those prayers are sung in the form of hymns or worship songs. This irony or complementarity is worthy of more reflection.
  • Evangelical historians could benefit not only by studying responses to Anglicans but also to Quakers.
  • The rejection of liturgical form has often been viewed as the ultimate outworking on potent individualism.

He calls us to a “life in the middle.”

In my opinion, Kuyper’s “life in the middle” teaches four valuable lessons.

  • Worship is never isolated; it is never vacuous. Worship must always take a form. Like theology, it can never be completely removed from its own history. Liturgy in worship is simply ecclesiology recognizing history. It is revolting against the tyranny of the now and emancipating the soul from the slavery of self.
  • Form does not mean rejection of freedom. It is freedom within reason. Even jazz musicians warm up with scales. To say that liturgy and sincerity are opposites is to misunderstand them both.
  • Unfortunately, evangelicalism’s reaction to form has taken its own strange and twisted shape. It’s somewhat like a meeting of anarchists: after a while, someone takes control. Worship has become reactionary, the pendulum swinging from one side to the other, culture to culture, shape to shape. As Kuyper ironically adapted Hegelian dialectics in his political philosophy of The Anti Revolutionary Party, evangelicalism has come to a full synthesis with culture. Liturgy and form help to prevent that. It is the democracy of the dead; the collection of time.
  • Life in the middle is only reflective of one’s methodology. The Regulative Principle of Scripture walks this line perfectly. One sees the Psalms and prayer as not only beautiful examples, but beautiful form.
Reflections from the Evangelical Theological Society Part I

Reflections from the Evangelical Theological Society Part I

Epistemologist Kegan Shaw, from the University of Edinburgh (, presented a paper challenging the Ability Constraint on Knowledge Syllogism. The syllogism is as follows:

  • If you know that p then you truly believe that p on account of your cognitive abilities. (Ability Constraint)
  • Cases of faith-based belief are not cases in which you form true beliefs on accounts of your cognitive abilities. (No Ability)

Modus Tollens You don’t know anything you believe on the basis of faith. (Agnosticism)

Shaw’s critique centered around premise two. His paper desired to show that religious epistemologists “needn’t accept No Ability, so long as they conceive of religious faith as a [sic] form of extended knowledge, that is, as a product of an extended cognitive ability.”

His rejection of the No Ability premise is two-fold. First, cognition is not simply an isolated, individual, and neurological exercise. Group cognition is possible in the sense that processing can be extended and distributed among persons. Since the Holy Spirit is a person of the Godhead, the Spirit, upon residency within a human person, can be an agent of cognitive change. Thinking is not simply synapsual. “There is nothing sacred about skull and skin.”  (Clark and Chalmers, 1998, pg. 14) Cognitive processes can be distributed among, between, and as a result of plural interaction. Daniel Wegner calls this “Transactive Memory Systems.” (

Second, Shaw examined the “Glue and Trust” and Reciprocal Interaction processes. Scripture has proven its veracity, reliability and accessibility and should therefore be considered a “reliable-belief” process. This seems too linear though, for what is required of group cognition is dual contribution: what is known as “feedback loops.” Shaw used the example of the centrifugal or Watt governor-engine system; “When the two of them are mutually interconnected – some of the governor’s ongoing behavior both determines and is – simultaneously – determined by the behavior of the engine (and vice versa).” The Holy Spirit and believer share a non-linear interconnectedness. Though this means that the Spirit can directly or indirectly influence the cognition of the believer, it doesn’t imply that the believer can somehow influence the Spirit. Shaw gives the example of religious affections and religious discipline; “It’s one’s faith that naturally spurs one on in her religious activity – in her habitual reading of the Scriptures, communication with God through prayer, sharing about Jesus’ story with others, and in general participating in the activities of the Church. And by engaging in these religious activities one naturally increases in their affections for the things of God – affections which the Holy Spirit draws on in turn for sustaining or increasing one’s religious faith.” Love produces action which, in turn, produces love. The same can be said of Christian faith as cognition.

Shaw’s critique of the No Ability premise is sound. There is no reason to think that faith cannot be an extension of knowledge through the interaction with and influence from the Holy Spirit. Belief can be an extension of knowledge. While Shaw’s conclusion is interesting, I think it is incomplete.

Augustine, when discussing memisis, inferred that memory is the distention of the soul, striving for an understanding of reality outside of time. Cognition, at least in memory, is a product of a temporal creature wrestling as the image of an atemporal Creator. Reciprocity works both ways. What if faith is not only extended knowledge, but knowledge is an extension of faith? Modernity said cogito ergo sum; premodernity said fides quaerens intellectum.





Herbert’s “Prayer (I)”

Prayer (I)
George Herbert

Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices; something understood.

George Herbert wrote this sonnet in 1633, and the historical context must be remembered while unpacking some of its meaning. The poem provides a wonderful example of the analogical nature of art. It consists of a series of metaphors, each of which is meant to provide an image of prayer.

  1. List the metaphors, then ask yourself exactly how prayer is like the thing in each image.
  2. More specifically, what sorts of prayers would correspond to each image? Does Herbert see prayer as a single exercise, or as a variety of exercises?
  3. If Herbert is right about prayer, then how should it be practiced? What place should it occupy in a believer’s life?

LGBTQI Organization Aims to Organize Christian Students

Soulforce, an activitst LGBTQI organization, has launched a new publication called Kudzu. Here is the description.

Kudzu is a monthly publication of Soulforce geared towards student activists at Christian schools.

Through this newsletter, we aim to create a network of youth activists sprouting from ground of Christian higher education and establish sustainable solidarity through the shared goals of unearthing heteropatriarchy and white supremacy on their campuses.

Coming to a Christian campus near you.