Friday, June 29, 2007

The Top Coffee Places in Louisville

On most blogs, Friday is a day for lighter fare. No such policy here at consumed. We tackle the tough topics, all week long.

With that stated, then, I bring you my list of the top coffee shops in Louisville.

1) Caffe Classico--Wow. What a Mocha. Hands down, the best mocha in the city. I say "mocha" because I don't actually drink coffee. I drink the sweet drinks, sometimes called the "girly" drinks. Oh well. I play sports, so I guess my masculinity is proven. But anyway, the drinks here are sensational, even if this shop is more a blend of hangout and restaurant than the others on this list. Great for a cheap date.

2) Java--delectable drinks. The pricey Blended Irish Mocha (4something) should come with a dollar in the bottom of the cup. It doesn't, but it does come with all kinds of rich chocolate. Scrumptious. The free Internet works well, and the ambiance is fun, though the chairs hurt your back after hours of reading that assigned systematic theology text.

3) Heine Brothers--on Bardstown Road, a nicely designed, open coffee shop with two nice couches. The music is a bit loud, and the drinks aren't spectacular, but they are good.

4) Starbucks--I know this is ridiculous to have on the list, as it's a chain, but I can't resist ranking Starbucks below three local shops. I used to be a S-bucks aficionado, but then I got hip to the aforementioned Blended Irish Mocha. Since then, Starbucks's drinks lack sweetness and punch. The fact that you have to pay for Internet access does not help. Though the abundant comfy chairs are nice.

That's that. I never really go to Highland Coffee, though they do have chocolate whipped cream, which even as a proposition blows my mind. Louisville is in some ways a fun town, and it's made fun in part by its really good eateries, coffee shops, and nice restaurants. I may miss the ocean, but whenever I leave Louisville, I'm pretty sure I'll miss the mochas.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Duty of Every Preacher to Disclose Christ: It's Not Easy

I think I said yesterday that I was done this series, but I thought of another thing to say about it, and it is this: preaching Christ from all the Bible is not easy.

I say this because I've argued strongly for this type of preaching. Yet as I've reflected on my own argument and my own preaching, I'm aware that I am not the exemplar for this style. By God's grace I hope to preach Christ faithfully from all Scripture, but I am aware that I am young, unpracticed, and in need of seasoning and skill. Just this past week I "preached" in a class on James and walked away from the sermon realizing that I had not exposited Christ adequately. So in encouraging fellow Christians to approach the text from a Christ-centered way, I am speaking to myself.

Furthermore, it takes much effort and energy and care to preach Christ well. It's not the easiest thing in the world. It will take time to transition from a more single-focused mindset--one devoted to exposition of the text--to a double-focused mindset, in which one both exposits the text's original meaning and the meaning of the text for God's people today (which must include relation to Christ). I sometimes think that we are naturally moralists. That is to say, it is easy and natural to preach the Bible moralistically. The Bible instructs us not to do such-and-such, and we tell the people not to do it. I can see in my limited experience that I am naturally good at this style of preaching. I'm a natural moralist. This is a problem. I am now working on moving beyond mere moral restatement. I want to be able to flesh out how Christ relates to the text's point. I have sympathy for my fellow preachers and would-be preachers who are attempting to do the same.

I hope it is clear that in stating ideas on this blog, I am stating them as a young, inexperienced man. I am not an authority on anything. I try to think about things from a Christian perspective and to share those thoughts on this blog. I try to write persuasively and to make my arguments with force and logic. That seems to me to be a good way of beginning and conducting discussion of ideas. However, as I do so, I am quite aware that I am not the voice of reason, the authority, the maestro. I know this all too well. I hope that readers of this blog do too.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Duty of Every Preacher to Disclose Christ: Recommended Books

A couple of days ago, Paul asked for book recommendations on the topic being considered. Here are a few.

These four are a good start. I have included links to 9Marks reviews for those who wish to get a fuller look at these texts before buying them. All four, though, will richly benefit the reader, and will greatly help a young preacher or a preacher wanting to preach Christ faithfully from all Scripture. I would strongly recommend reading at least one or two of these texts; if you're just starting, go with Chapell and Johnson. Those are probably the most accessible works, and will give you a solid foundation for Christ-centered preaching.

Let me conclude this brief series with suggestions on how one might faithfully preach Christ from all Scripture. Remember, the faithful preacher does not allegorize, thus over-finding Christ in the Bible, and yet the faithful preacher does not preach unless he in some way reveals Christ in the text. The following are some suggestions for preaching Christ from selected Scriptures.
  • Song of Songs does not depict first and foremost the love of Christ for His church, but clearly the marriage relationship is a picture of God's love for His people. When preaching this book, then, the preacher should not preach each verse as pointing directly to Christ, but should preach the book as a celebration of marital love. Marital love, of course, points to the love of Christ for the church.
  • The Minor Prophets relate to Christ in that the various rulers of Israel were corrupt, and no lasting Savior could be found for God's people. Christ, then, is the One for whom the prophets ultimately cry out, for He is the only perfect ruler, judge, and king.
  • Christ is the wisdom, the wise son, the righteous man of Proverbs. He is the fulfillment of all these types of person.
  • Where Solomon, David, and all others served as king, all their ministries point to Christ the King.
We could go on. But I'll end here. I hope I've shown some out there who aren't familiar with the Christ-centered model the absolute necessity to preach it. It is, I would contend, the truest, fullest, most faithful model of Christian preaching out there. It is not enough to declare the original point of a passage, though this is right. It is not enough to apply the text searchingly, though this is essential. The faithful preacher of the Word of God must use the hermeneutical key of Luke 24:27 and unlock the Scriptures' fullest meaning for his people. Until he does this, he may have preached, but we cannot in the end say that he has heeded his master's instruction, and shown the people where they may find Christ--and where Christ may find them.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Duty of Every Preacher to Disclose Christ: TV Dinner Preaching

Note: I have a blog up over at Said at Southern that you might find him interesting. It's on one song written by a folkish Christian artist named Derek Webb. You might enjoy it.

I sketched out a basic argument for preaching Christ from all the Scriptures yesterday, and was delighted to read the comments on the post. G. F. was kind, Paul asked a great question, and Jed answered it (though I'll supplement Jed's answer tomorrow). Bryan Chapell's Christ-Centered Preaching is not a perfect book, but it is excellent. Very faithful, thoughtful, thorough treatment of preaching. If you are a young preacher, and you want to preach expositorily, and you want to personally obey Luke 24 (the hermeneutical key), then you need to get this book, and read it all.

There really is no excuse for not preaching Christ from all of Scripture, especially when books like Chapell's are out there. To the preacher wondering exactly how to apply the hermeneutical key, Chapell gives a helpful answer. To summarize it, he notes that the faithful preacher must relate how the given passage relates to Christ. This may seem like an obvious statement, but it's more than this. It steers one away from the erroneous idea that every text directly declares the Christ. Not every text does. For example, not every Proverb is intended to point with extreme directness to Christ. But most Proverbs do in some way relate. On the matter of wisdom, then, the faithful preacher could first exposit what the text would have meant to the original hearer, then talk about how we all need godly, biblical wisdom, and then talk about how Christ is Himself wisdom incarnate. In this style of preaching we avoid the error of putting Christ into a mind who did not know Him even as we apply the hermeneutical key without fanciful allegory.

If you who are reading this are a Christian, you should be hearing preaching on a regular basis that uses this model. If you are hearing sermons on the Old Testament in which Christ is mentioned only cursorily or if He is only pasted on at the end, when the gospel is given (which is, though not ideal, still the right thing to do--we must always preach the gospel), then your preacher needs to grow in his understanding of biblical hermeneutics. Though he does not know it, his preaching lacks an essential characteristic of Christian preaching. He is not starving his people, but neither is he feeding them a full, healthy meal. He is serving up tv dinners, which may taste good and even have some good elements to them, but which on the whole are lacking and insufficiently nutritious. You see, when Christ opened the Word on the dusty road, and when He told His disciples that all Scripture pointed to Him, He was speaking to you, and to me, and to our pastors, and to every pastor (and Christian) that would ever live. He wasn't conducting the world's first hermeneutics class, or initiating the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Theology. He was showing them how to preach the Word, in order that they would not preach it wrongly. Though they may not have realized just how cataclysmic this little show-and-tell exercise was, they were being given the essential tool to understand all of the Bible. It is clear from the Book of Acts that they and their counterparts could not preach the way they always had. Acts is composed of sermons that expound Old Testament passages and reveal Christ in them. These sermons demonstrate for us the way--the only way--we may truly preach Christ faithfully.

You were not standing on the road with Christ the day He unlocked the OT, and indeed all of the Bible. I was not either. But do not think that you are not addressed in Luke 24. Every pastor (every Christian!) that has, is, and will preach stands behind the two disciples. Every one of us stands beside Christ, and learns from Him how to preach. Now, then: are we preaching in this way? Are our churches? Or have we shaken off Christ's words as dust from our feet?

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Duty of Every Preacher to Disclose Christ

"And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself."

I have observed a troubling phenomenon in theological circles. Many people today think that we don't need to preach how all the passages of Scripture point to the Jesus Christ, who is the center of the Bible. In preaching only the original point of a passage, we deprive God of glory and our preaching of the rich fullness it was intended to have.

Luke 24:27 is the key verse here (quoted above). The context is this: the post-resurrection Christ appears to two of His disciples, shocking them, and proceeds to teach them how all the Old Testament relates to Him. We have no record of this conversation, and thus we do not know exactly what Christ said to the two disciples. But we do know this: the Old Testament testified en masse to Jesus Christ. It was not a compilation of orthodox statements about God and God's people. It might have appeared to be this, but it was much more than this. Its various components spoke in various ways to the reality that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the deliverer of God's people, was coming. The Old Testament authors understood little of this; but when Jesus unfolded this truth to His two disciples, He changed the entire Christian hermeneutic (interpretive scheme) in one exhilarating conversation.

This verse is sometimes called the "hermeneutical key." It teaches us an essential--absolutely necessary!--interpretation in interpreting and understanding the Bible. It all points in some way to Christ. This can be overdone, of course. We can allegorize the Scriptures and make them mean things they do not. This is one error that some of the godliest men of church history made time and time again. Yet if over-preaching Christ in the Bible is an error, so is under-preaching Christ in the Bible. It is my belief that every passage, every unit, of Scripture reveals Christ in some way. Now, some passages are closer to a clear and understandable revelation of Christ than others. It is difficult to know how exactly Christ is found in the genealogies. But it is less difficult to know how He relates to David, or Abraham, or the bad kings of Judges, or Solomon, or the testimony of the Minor Prophets, or Job, or tons of other things in the OT. Yet all too often, our preaching veers into moralism. Or, when it's done more faithfully, it reveals the character of God. This is good, but it is not enough.

True biblical preaching that follows Luke 24:27 does something more, something that requires great care and reflection: it reveals Jesus Christ. Unless we do this in our preaching, I do not think that we can say that we have preached truly. Or, to flip it around, if we have not preached Christ, have we truly preached?

Labels: , , ,

Friday, June 22, 2007

One Day I Will Swim That Sea: On Heaven

One of the hallmarks of summer is time in the water. Here in Louisville, there's little water to be found, particularly in the midst of a busy life. As a native of Maine, I often find myself pining for the sea. Walking home from a day of work in simmering heat, I sometimes transport myself back to my state, and imagine myself lying in ocean sun, contented.

Growing up on Maine's coast, I was not far from the ocean--about 10 minutes away, in fact. There were also many lakes to visit and swim in. The opportunity to swim imbues life with a relaxed state. It is as if one's soul is able to exhale. Diving off of a dock, for a second anticipating the plunge about to occur, and then shooting into water is an aesthetic experience. The swimming life is the enhanced life, to be sure. For a few seconds, one enters another world, an alien world, frightening in some respects, yet not foreboding. The ocean simultaneously beckons and challenges. It invites you to enter it, but it makes no promises about what happens once you do. You might encounter rocks, or starfish, or sharks. You're never sure what will ensue when you step into it. Yet from the outside, all is peaceful.

I suppose that our experience of the ocean redounds of our experience of heaven. Heaven, of course, does not frighten. But that is not to say that there is nothing something that sends a chill through us when we think of heaven. Our blood does not cool because of fear, but because of the immensity of God. The majesty of God and His dwelling place, like the ocean, confronts us, confounds us, leaves us bewildered. Like the ocean, we understand something of heaven; we can "see" it in a sense, through the eyes of faith, but as with the sea, we know almost nothing of heaven. No one other than a startled biblical author or two has even glimpsed the glories of heaven, and so, like the ocean, we know so little of it. We can gaze on it, stand before it on this earth, and contemplate it, straining our sight, but we cannot truly see it. It is a mystery, a hidden reality, a presence beyond anything, beyond the ocean, beyond the galaxy, beyond all that we know and can know.

The ocean calls me. Though I don't see it, or smell it, or feel its coarse air, I hear it. It calls me, and this call leaves me longing, frustrated, as I walk to my home. Yet the ocean, powerful as it may be, is drowned out by a greater call, a call to a land of wonder, a place of eye-altering beauty, a home promising complete satisfaction of the soul. This land is heaven. I see it now, but only as the ocean, only as a stretch of majesty that strains my eyes and confounds my mind. I want the Maine water. I miss it terribly. But I want heaven, I want the chill, I want the experience of coming near, impossibly near, to the God I love and worship. It is His immensity and splendor I see just a glimpse of now, though one day I will step into that ocean, and I will swim that sea.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Sweet But Poisonous Message of "The Holiday"

I recently watched the 2006 film "The Holiday," which stars Jude Law (Graham), Kate Winslet (Iris), Cameron Diaz (Amanda), and Jack Black (Miles). The film was well-made, decently written, and satisfactorily acted, but it is most notable for its strenuously post-modern perspective on adult relationship.

The movie draws you in through setting itself in beautiful scenery and incredible opulence. The movie seems to be a celebration of materialism. The two main female characters played by Winslet and Diaz swap homes--Amanda lives in a magnificent L. A. home and Iris in an enchanting English cottage--and proceed to revel in their respective surroundings. The film portrays Winslet as particularly satisfied with her new trappings, and we are invited to marvel as well. The film seems to speak double-mindedly here, because while none of the four wealthy main characters are ultimately happy, they don't seem to realize that their homes and clothes are ultimately unsatisfying. In other words, they have failed to make the connection that they need beauty, truth, and goodness in their lives rather than Burberry, Timberland, and Gucci. Throughout the film, I felt uneasy watching them, as if I were eavesdropping on the lives of the mega-rich. Chick flicks have this feel, I think, because they are so internally focused; we see the lives of these two modern women to their very essence, and we come away feeling guilty because of the success of our voyeurism.

"The Holiday" throws Graham and Amanda immediately into bed. It's thoroughly disgusting. They continue to have a sexual relationship over the course of Amanda's two-week stay. As time goes on, they realize they love one another (or something like that), and so they decide to stay together in some form. We don't actually know how they're going to do this, as the movie ends with the two of them living hapily ever after but without any engagement or marriage. It's really incredible, when you think of it. These two beautiful people come together, commence a sexual relationship, and then stay together in some amorphous form. This is the new paradigm. Who needs rings and ceremonies and lifelong commitments when you can just stare deeply into one another's gorgeous blues and fornicate whenever you want? Certainly not the screenwriters of Hollywood.

Speaking of the screenwriters, they're out--as they usually are--to get men in this movie. While this does grow tiring, I have to say that I do understand it, because many men today are inconsiderate, selfish, irresponsible idiots looking out only for their own carnal instincts. Where such men may enjoy free reign in society, they are regularly excoriated in the strange world of chick flicks, where ice cream never fattens, everyone drives a BMW, and heroines always win. The chick flick world really is a fantasy world. I've certainly never observed so many witty, literate tell-offs and guys getting punched and physically hurt as I have in chick flicks. But that's fine. They are what they are, and they do make some useful points, and they are dead right on the state of modern men. Jude Law almost made me lose my recently digested chips-and-mango-salsa when he almost whispered how hard it was to be a widowed dad and have "hot chocolate spilled all over him" by his two darling little girls. The movie, incredibly enough, actually tried to have the audience sympathize with him and excuse his penchant for going out to bars whenever his children are out of town in order to get sloppily drunk and sleep with whoever he can grab before falling down. The emotional manipulation that occurs in chick flicks is astounding. Here's a guy who actually has a shot of living honorably, of demonstrating male strength and virtue, and he whines to the camera about having hot chocolate spilled on him. It would be awful to be a widower, but what kind of man uses this state to justify lecherous, self-serving behavior that violates women both physically and emotionally? Well, apparently the kind of man that Hollywood and its devotees love. The amazing thing is that Jude Law's character is so morally atrocious and yet the movie still succeeds in making you like him. This truly is manipulation at its worst.

Nowadays, chick flicks don't even end with sappy scenes involving weddings and lots of hasty plot resolution. Everyone just falls in love (whatever that means), throws a party, and jumps into bed. We're left as confused as Jude Law's character's little girls must be. They've lost their mother, their father beds other women on a regular basis, and now Amanda joins their world, but in an undefined way. The viewer of "The Holiday" who is not bewitched by its charms and its manipulative plot devices is not left smiling sweetly to himself over the fact that the Two Beautiful People--Law and Diaz--ended up together, but rather frowning concernedly for the fate and the hearts of those two little girls. They are not real girls, of course, but they represent real girls, countless little girls, who are growing up in a world bereft of manly virtue and feminine appeal, and who will likely grow up to be haunted and angry, unfulfilled and cheated, no matter how softly the closing credits may play.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Gray Is Just Gray

I don't have much time today, but I want to say very quickly that if being Pharisaical is composing rules and guidelines for life that are not explicitly textual, then we all are Pharisees. It's not, of course, and I'll show you why.

We all compose extra-biblical rules for ourselves. When parents draw up rules for the home, they're making extra-biblical codes of conduct for their children, and holding them to it. When you work in an office, you abide by certain codes of conduct that are extra-biblical and binding. If I were to type emails for an hour each day at my workplace, that would go against the ethical code of my office. That would make my action wrong. But wait--there's nothing biblical about that, in an explicit sense. How then can it be wrong? It can be wrong for the fact that we all draw up rules and regulations beyond the Bible. It is right that we do so. We ought not to do so while placing these rules in the position of the Bible, but we all must compose such principles by which to live.

In my series on women and sports, then, I was attempting to do this very thing. I wasn't saying that a certain action was definitively sinful. My point was to suggest what I thought was a better way of living for Christian women over against egalitarian living. I wasn't handing down the eleventh commandment. I was doing what we all must do--take biblical wisdom and apply it to our everyday lives. If people do not agree with my ideas, that is fine. We are free to disagree with one another. But when I'm not presenting my views as inspired but rather as principles that I think one is wise to live by, I'm merely trying to think scripturally, to apply biblical wisdom to all of life. It is thus inappropriate to call my thinking Pharisaical. You may not like it; that's fine. I understand. I sometimes take controversial, unpopular positions, and I don't expect everyone to agree with me. But please, let's be a little more careful with the Pharisee terminology. In reality, we're not seeking to destroy or hurt one another, but rather to think through life together. Let's do so with proper theology, and with love in our hearts toward one another, even as we make arguments for the purpose of edifying one another in the faith.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Gray Is Not Black; Gray Is Not White

I've seen something floating around in the world of blogs, and I want to address it. It's this: when someone advocates a certain moral or social principle that is not explicitly commanded in Scripture, that person is acting legalistically, and is thus filling the role of the Pharisee, the New Testament group known for their ruthless, gospel-squelching legalism. Though Christians certainly can act legalistically, I have observed a number of instances in which the charge has been made on improper grounds.

It is Pharisaical to create an extra-biblical code of righteousness by which men achieve salvation. That, in a clearly biblical sense, is Pharisaism. The Pharisees concocted a list of over 600 regulations outside of the Bible that their followers were to abide by in order to know God and achieve salvation. Right from the start, then, one can see that Christians discussing moral matters simply for the purpose of conformity to Christ are on different grounds than the Pharisees. The Pharisees thought they were earning salvation by their extra-biblical works; true Christians, however much they may disagree on certain ideas, are not doing so, but are rather trying to live well and faithfully in the world. So before we call someone a Pharisee, or suggest that their behavior is indeed Pharisaical, we must make sure that we are making this charge accurately. Most of us, I think, are not.

Of course, one could also say that it is wrong (Pharisaical) for Christians to call things sin that the Bible does not explicitly say are sinful--or, to be clearer, to label sin what the Bible does not say anything about. This is commonly done. It may be right. When we say something is a sin that is not explicitly called a sin in the Bible, it may be that we are being legalistic, and that we are wrong to do so. However, we must also remember that there are many things in the Bible that are not called sin that are in fact wrong. The Bible was written thousands of years ago in ancient societies. It thus does not touch on the modern world. This means that there are a ton of things that are not called sin in the Bible that are in fact sinful. Cheating on your income taxes, looking at Internet pornography, conducting savings-and-loan scams--none of these behaviors are explicitly called sin in the Bible. Yet they are all sinful. We may say that these things are called wrong in principle in the Scripture, but if our standard is to only call sin what the Bible calls sin, well, I think we can quickly see that we have a major problem on our hands. The Bible knows nothing of the modern world and its particular manifestations of sin. I think it is apparent, then, that we back ourselves into a hermeneutic (interpretational) corner if we hold to the view that only what the Bible explicitly calls sin is sin.

I will expand on the following idea tomorrow, but I'll say it quickly today: it is not wrong to construct codes of conduct for ourselves that are not explicit statements of Scripture, it is right. It is a good and wise thing to take biblical wisdom and principles and apply them to our present-day situation. We should be careful about blasting off about what is sin and what is not, and it is best, I think, whenever possible to speak in terms of preference, wisdom, and that sort of thing. My series on women athletes falls in this category. I wasn't saying (and did not say) that women in contact sports were sinning, but rather that it was best in my opinion to not encourage girls to be so involved. It could be that such activity is sinful; I'm not exactly sure. But I do know what I would encourage, and so I stated that. In doing so, I was not speaking Pharisaically. I was doing what we all must do--I was seeking to apply biblical principles to our modern situation. In truth, all of do this, whether we know it or not. We should be careful, then, about labeling others opinions "Pharisaical." Perhaps in doing so, we ourselves fit their role and fill their place.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Weekly Round-Up: Responses to Comments and Questions

I try to incorporate responses to my posts into my blogs and to use thoughtful comments or questions to direct my own writing, when appropriate. But it's good to take a more relaxed day to quickly respond to interesting points that I did not get to in the week.

KC asked about discerning whether one is called to be a professor or pastor--

KC, thanks for your question. I appreciated your humility. I have to respond in a humble spirit of my own because I am young and not an authority on this matter. With that said, though, I can give you a few thoughts.

1. A professor should possess exceptional intellectual gifts. A professor, in my estimation, is not merely a bright man. A good measure of seminarians are bright people. They are, after all, pursuing a master's degree, and so they are likely to have some intellectual ability. But a professor is one who possesses exceptional thinking ability. He is gifted at logical thought, he can think abstractly (coming to conclusions where others are not able to able to synthesize or generalize), he thinks with clarity (so that his thoughts are not intelligent but jumbled), he communicates said thoughts with ease and clarity so that others quickly understand his points, and he writes with depth, insight, and perspicuity. Many seminarians possess some measure of some of these gifts. But precious few possess all of these gifts, and thus precious few seminarians should teach.

2. A professor should possess strong faith and character. We are after all speaking of Christian professors. A Christian instructor should be a man of upstanding character and sound, firm faith. He should not be quick to follow the latest trends and ideas. He should evaluate ideas with wisdom and caution and exercise judiciousness as he considers new developments in his discipline. Seminary professors may well perceive new insights from the biblical text and in their disciplines, but we must remember that theology does not prize ingenuity in the way that secular science does. Professors and pastors are not innovators, fundamentally, but guardians. We guard the truth and pass it on to the next generation, who in turn passes it on to the next generation. A Christian professor should thus be a rock, a man of trustworthy judgment and strong commitment to the local church. Though personalities will vary, the Christian professor should be a leader in the church.

3. A professor should possess a calling to the academic life. Don't be a professor just to be one. One should perceive a strong desire to contribute to a field before becoming a professor. Those who teach as Christians teach to advance the truth. How, then, will you personally advance the truth? What ability do you bring to your desired profession such that you can contribute to the advancement of the truth in your field? Do you simply want the professorial life? Do you simply have a desire to be a professor? I would say that such desires are not enough. You should have something to contribute to a discipline such that the academy will suffer without you. To speak pointedly, most of us need not worry about the fall of a certain discipline without us. Few of us have something really significant to contribute to a field.

4. A professor should have a burden to teach. Of course, professors will not simply contribute to a field. They will teach students. So then, are you especially gifted to teach? Are you going to be able to sift through the competing opinions and ideologies out there and train your students? Most of us cannot do this very well. So we shouldn't teach. But there will be a handful of men who do fit this role, and who will be able to instruct students.

So there are some principles by which to think about this question. With all these stated, and I'm sure there are others one could consider, I would say in general that we need far more pastors than professors. When I was talking about the need for more pastors than Carsons, I wasn't saying that we don't need churchmen-scholars. I was saying that we don't need that many men of exceptional gifting to teach us. We don't need 35 David Wells types. The fundamental need of the flagging American church is not academic--it's ecclesiastical. As much as we need good books to be written, and good teachers to teach, we first and foremost need strong and faithful local churches. We need hundreds and hundreds of men to serve these churches so that the sheep of God, the people, will be fed the bread of God, the Word. That's what we need. We need some Christian academics, to be sure, and I would love for there to be more in the world. But we can tackle that problem once we've established tons of healthy churches. After all, most Christians won't sit under a professor for more than a few years of their life, if that. All Christians, however, will sit under a pastor, and for all of their lives. It will be of great help to the local church to have men who are good teachers--not exceptional, necessarily, but good--to instruct the people of God.

I have said this before, but I think a young, ambitious, intellectually minded guy who loves his electives and wants to teach should assume that he is called to serve a local church with excellence before he assumes that he is called to be a professor. The exceptional among us will rise to the top. Those who are truly gifted intellectually, character-wise, and so on will show themselves by virtue of their work. They will then be tapped to teach. But most of us will not. I would encourage a young man to pursue the pastorate, to pursue a love of theology and the exercise of the mind, and then to apply these traits to the care of a congregation. Do not assume that just because you like your electives and you do pretty well in your classes that you're called to the professorate. If these things are true, assume that you're called to be a pastor, and that you're going to lead a congregation with wisdom and insight, and then if someone taps you and says, "You should think very hard about teaching," well then, think and pray about it. Until then, assume the Lord is calling you to one of the needy local churches that populate our land.

Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful questions and your often very kind comments. I do really appreciate them and derive encouragement from them. Next week, we'll be looking at how to understand gray areas. Should be interesting. Until then, I hope that you feed richly from the Word this weekend.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Strange Lives of Seminarians: Working Fools

One of the challenging aspects of seminary is this: the need most of us have to work. Unlike other graduate students, we are not usually given funding for our program of study. This makes for an interesting and often difficult journey through seminary.

Many seminarians here in Louisville work at the local UPS shipping house. They get good benefits and a decent salary from UPS, and many are grateful to the company for its compensation. Yet one has to ask how ideal this situation is. I have observed several UPS employees falling asleep in class here at Southern. This is a sad situation. It is illustrative of the difficulties many seminarians have in making it through their programs. The need to work and provide costs nearly every seminarian something significant. Maybe it's family time, or study time, or a healthy life. Having observed this situation now for over three years, I've often thought that there must be a better way to train pastors.

It strikes me that it would be better if churches could support seminarians. It would be best if seminarians could get credit for a number of classes while working in a church--classes such as evangelism, preaching, counseling, and so on. Students could then fly in to seminaries to take classes in specific periods of time--say for a week or two weeks or a month. In this way, men who are heading off to the ministry could serve a church, gain the experience and teaching they need, and yet also complete a seminary course without undue hassle or harm. No one would be getting rich off this scheme, but that's not the object. Most of us would love a couple of years to work part-time in a church, live in church housing, and complete a reduced course load limited to the disciplines that only academic experts could teach--the languages, advanced theology, philosophy, and so on.

In my opinion, this option really improves the current seminary model. It requires churches to step up their giving and to view the housing and care of their in-house seminarians as an investment. Churches would not simply send seminarians off to study, but they would actually draw them into the life of the church, love them in very tangible ways, and take responsibility for their training in a way most churches do not currently do. Seminarians would have more time to serve the church--which is what they're training for, after all--spend time with their families, and be mentored as they prepare for a lifetime of ministry. Seminaries might shrink in size a bit, but that's okay. The model would work itself out in time. In general, seminary life as it is currently practiced is quite difficult and it exacts a heavy toll from seminary families. At the very time in their life at which they really need to focus on their studies and their vocational training, many students are worrying more about their schedules, their bills, and their suffering families. This is an unfortunate and needless situation. If churches could commit to financial provision for seminarians, if pastors would commit to mentoring their charges, and if seminarians would commit to a mere (but rich, spiritually speaking) lifestyle, it's my guess that you'd have alot less dozing seminarians--and alot more healthy churches.

(I will answer questions posed on this series tomorrow.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Strange Lives of Seminarians: Wannabe Professors

Professors cast a large shadow over the seminary community. They are often the reason that seminarians come to a certain seminary over others. Professors have the opportunity to hugely shape the thoughts and actions of future pastors.

The relationship between professors and seminarians is an interesting one, because most seminarians are not going to become professors. Yet when coming to seminary, many students begin to look up less to their former mentors, who are usually pastors, and instead begin to prize their academic tutors. Some seminarians observe their favorite professor and over time lose their love for the pastorate. Some are doubtless intended to do so by the sovereign will of God. They are moved by Him to want to be an instructor of pastors or other students. But other seminarians who are not gifted to possess one of the very few academic teaching positions turn away from the pastorate to their folly. I hear too many young men who are not exceptional thinkers, communicators, and writers desiring the professorate. This is an unfortunate byproduct of spending three to five years in seminary. It is ironic that in seeking to prepare oneself for church service, we seminarians distance ourselves from it through our intensive seminary courses. Though this situation need not redirect our passion for the pastorate, I am afraid that it does for too many of my fellow seminarians.

In my experience, a professor is a man who has exceptional intellectual gifts. He communicates with clarity and ease, he writes with insight and elegance, he thinks with depth and range. Most seminarians, simply put, do not fit this bill. Most of us are not gifted in this way. We have not been made by God to teach future pastors their doctrine. This is one of the unfortunate effects of the larger, less personal seminaries. One is able to live according to pipe dreams that never get popped. I meet too many men who delude themselves on this matter. They think that because they get As on their papers and 95s on their finals, they're professorial quality. But most of them are not. They should instead direct their love of learning and teaching to the local church. God's church needs far more pastors than scholars. We don't need many Carsons, frankly. We do need a whole lot of pastors, and we need pastors who are intellectually inclined--not exceptional, mind you, but inclined. And we need professors and pastors of seminarians to get involved in the lives of young men and to say hard things to them. Sometimes feelings need to be hurt, and hopes need to be dashed. In the end, the man who says a hard word to an overly ambitious seminarian may bring great good to his life, for it will cause that seminarian to chart a better course than he would have otherwise. Yet I do not observe this sort of thing going on very much in our local churches.

Seminary professors are wonderful tools of God. They have a unique call and a special privilege. But they are a small group. Most of us will not and should not enter their number. We need courageous pastors and professors to tell seminarians this hard truth and to direct them away from struggle and needless pain. Young man, aspire to the pastorate. Seek it out--it is a high and solemn calling. If you're tapped to be a professor along the way, great. But unless you are especially gifted, and that is especially clear, let someone else do the tapping. Admire your professors, learn from them, and put their teaching to good use in the local churches that together comprise the earthly Kingdom of God.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Strange Lives of Seminarians: Competition

One of the primary problems seminarians have to fight is that of competition. It may surprise you that this is so, but I have observed many examples of competitiveness among the future pastors of God's flock.

It makes sense that seminarians would be competitive. Take 3000 of us and cram us together and there are bound to be rivalries, jealousies, and disputes that pop up. Most of this stuff is under the surface. Competition is not expressed through shouting matches. It's expressed in quiet comments and edgy questions, proud statements and needless information. Though one might think that a campus full of future pastors would be characterized by humility, I sometimes think that we are marked more by pride, and that we are in fact a pretty proud group of young men. We're quick to speak of who we grade for or research for or interned under. We're often slower to speak of the transforming, humbling work God is doing within us as we journey through our seminary course.

Southern Seminary isn't alone in this respect. I'm sure anywhere there are a bunch of young men training together you'll find competitiveness. Men are by nature competitive, and in a small community, it's easy to become jealous and envious of one another. I suppose we seminarians have some exalted company in this respect. Wasn't it James and John who asked Christ for preferred seating, and their fellow disciples who then battled with them over this matter? Even the holiest of men get jealous and competitive. Such sin is almost to be expected when men are young, but we must all take stock of ourselves, for if we do not fight our natural desire to compete with one another and out-credential or out-internship one another, we will find ourselves bitter and angry twenty years from now when our name is forgotten and our church passed over by Christian media. What an awful thought.

When you think of seminarians, pray that they will above all be humble, that we will not care what men think of us, that we will not seek to outdo one another, that we will not compete, but that we will love one another and urge one another on to godliness and humility. A man can be incredibly gifted, but if he is not humble, he is really only a hollow man, and it will not take long for his lack of character to show itself. Pray that we seminarians will not be hollow. Pray that we will be humble, and thus full of the living Spirit of God.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Strange Lives of Seminarians

I'm still not used to the graduate school calendar, or, for that matter, the post-primary education school calendar. Eight years after graduating from Machias Memorial High School in Machias, Me, it still feels odd to be out of school in early June. So it's not personally weird to me to write a brief retrospective on the past school year, even if I've been out of school for almost a month.

Three years completed at Southern Seminary, one semester to go. My first two years were markedly different than this year. Life as a single seminarian is vastly different than life as a married seminarian. Bethany and I weathered alot this first year. I took difficult classes in Hebrew and Church History, she worked full-time for the first time, and we coped with small amounts of time together. Seminary is a bruising experience, on the whole. The MDiv is by no means a short-distance race. It is, to invoke the old cliche, a marathon. It is a tiring degree, a worthwhile degree, an enriching degree, but by all accounts a wearying degree. Take mandatory reading, for example. It's both helpful and harmful. It's helpful because you actually read the assigned material. It's harmful because you often read it quickly instead of meditatively. It's an imperfect system. In the end, though, one does learn a good bit, even if one is also learning so many other things (or trying to) that one tends to lose sight of all the learned material, even as one loses one's mind. It is at that point that one turns to blogging--you can see the fruit.

Seminary is difficult, but it is a blessing. I learned a great deal of Hebrew vocab this year, turned over the past century of American church history in my mind, pondered the insights of Aquinas, considered Bonhoeffer's views on works and faith, and wrote papers on exegetical disagreements regarding 2 Corinthians. All of these studies were overwhelmingly profitable. Yet seminary is a strange and warped world, one devoted to theology yet everywhere related to grades, one encouraging deep meditation while at the same time creating great pressure, one enabling the creation of friendships yet regularly preventing their cultivation. We are in a strange place, we seminarians; we are bursting with passion yet stalled in our hopes, desirous of completion yet unsure of the future, dedicated to personal edification but often struggling with the impulse to compete. We are young but old, old but young, mature but immature, over-confident but afraid.

In all, the life of the seminarian is a strange one, a rich one, a memorable one, yes, but always a strange one. We're all in something of a halfway house, and we all want to be out of it, but yet we sometimes want to stay in it. If the Christian is between two worlds, then the seminarian is between yet two more--the world of the church and the world of everything else, and so life is both exciting and daunting, promising and foreboding, comforting and frustrating. Such is the life of the seminarian--blessed, difficult, exciting.

Friday, June 08, 2007

New England Theological Seminary

I want to encourage you to check out the website of New England Theological Seminary, a church-planting operation based in Vermont's Christ Memorial Church. Located just outside of Burlington, Vermont, the program is led by Pastor Wes Pastor, a Westminster grad. It represents an aggressive effort to sprinkle the barren spiritual soil of New England with gospel-preaching churches. I highly commend the program to you and encourage you to look around at the website.

NETS is an exciting program. Rev. Pastor possesses energy and vision, and he aggressively recruits candidates for the two-year training program here at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY. The program at this point is small, but I know personally that he has several very well-qulified men in the pipeline to plant churches in New England. I would encourage seminarians and prospective pastors in particular to browse the website and to perhaps consider whether they might be called to join in the difficult but rewarding work of pastoring in a dry and thirsty land. Even if you're not interested in church planting, I would encourage you to visit the church's website and observe via the net the dynamic church that is CMC. I hear from friends that people regularly come to Christ there, and that is quite a feat in my native land.

Have a blessed weekend, everyone. May you eat richly from the Word.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Final Thoughts on Women and Sports

I wasn't intending to revisit my series from last week, but I've received some feedback that I want to address.

1) I am not saying that all women who play contact sports become brutish or unmanly. I don't think you'll find that assertion anywhere in my writing. I have made the point that sports can have that effect. There is a key distinction there. It is happily true that there are Christian women out there who have played high-contact sports and who have retained femininity and cultivated it. I see that as a sign of grace.

2) When I spoke of the Detroit team being "big," I was meaning in a muscular sense. I was not meaning "tall" or even what some might call "big-boned." We can't help our natural build. For example, I'm short and thin. The typical masculine ideal is tall and strong. I can't help that I don't naturally fit in that category. Of course, I am responsible for how I steward my body. But there is nothing inherently wrong with a girl being tall--nothing at all. With that clarification stated, I stand by what I wrote.

3) In response to Jed's question from last week about the Supreme Court regarding separated parties being inherently unequal, I would have to say that that has little bearing on the matter at hand. We're not talking about enforced segregation. We're talking about gender roles, and what we train our daughters for. In addition, men and women play sports separately, and I don't hear anyone complaining about that. So I find the question interesting but not that tangential.

4) The Bible does not say very much about sports. Paul uses sports as a metaphor, and we're told that physical exercise is of little profit. There's not a great deal said about sports, then. With that said, we are responsible for applying biblical principles and ideas to our present situation. The Bible says little about lots of things, but that doesn't mean that we don't attempt to fashion an approach to them. One of the primary things I'm trying to do on this blog is to think through areas that I don't see other Christians considering--sports, gender, etc. As I do so, I'm trying to speak humbly and to avoid presenting my conclusions as explicitly scriptural. However, I am trying to apply biblical ideas to all of life. I also attempt to speak directly. Academic-speak with its endless nuances and qualifications frustrates me. Noone says anything with such speech. Spinelessness reigns. I attempt to challenge readers of this blog to think through stuff with me, and I try to do so by taking definitive stances on issues after thinking them through. People are welcome to disagree, and state that disagreement--I want that, in fact. But folks should never think that because the Bible doesn't mention something there is nothing to say about it. That's a very common mistake, and I'm trying to avoid it, even as I'm trying to avoid presenting my statements as divine. They certainly are not.

5) It's not all sports I was talking about, but contact sports. Women are weaker than men and are not made for contact like men are. I thus would encourage women not to play high-contact sports but to play other sports that allow them to have fun, exercise, glorify God, develop teamwork, and other things, but that do not place them at risk of injury and pain. There are lots of sports that accomplish such aims--in fact, there are far more lower-contact sports than there are higher-contact. I'll push my daughters (if I have any) toward those, and discourage them from rugby, hockey, football, and others I've already mentioned.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Confirmation of Women Becoming Brutish: a WNBA Story

A few quick hits today:

1) I hope the teaching-as-ministry blogs were encouraging to some of you out there. My own mother is a teacher in a public school, and it warms my heart to think of all the quiet ministry she's done for students. Mrs. Strachan is an exceptional librarian, and I'm proud to know my sweet, kind mother has long been a witness to the countless hurting souls found in our public schools. For her, and for the many others of you out there who are striving to be a witness in a dark place, I give my prayers, and I encourage readers of this blog to do the same. Don't just pray for evangelical ministries or churches. Pray for Christians in specific vocations, that they'll honor Christ by their work and witness. I would also encourage you to pray for many more Christians to join believers already ministering in schools. May many more Christians who are not called to pastoral ministry see teaching as an incredible ministry opportunity, and invest and spend themselves accordingly.

2) I did a series last week on women becoming brutish through athletic competition. I hope the series at least made you think a bit. A story in yesterday's New York Times on the way Bill Laimbeer coaches his Detroit WNBA team affirmed my general point, I think. Here are a few quotations from the article that support my argument:

Quotation 1: "The Bad Boys now coach the Bad Girls, who are aggressive in a way that Pistons fans of the late 1980s would find familiar — scuffling and relentless on defense, voracious on the boards."

Quotation 2 (especially enlightening):
As Cash did a day earlier, Reeve mentioned “the dark side.”
“It’s the edge, a place a lot of women don’t have,” Reeve said of Laimbeer. “We have competitive sides, but he brings you to that edge, competing with a sense of urgency, all out.”
Washington was winless and vulnerable but desperate, Laimbeer said during the videotape session. If the Mystics kept resorting to moving screens, he offered a suggestion from the Bad Boy playbook: “Hit them in the biceps with an elbow. That’ll stop it.”
On the court for the morning shootaround, the mood lightened. Latta had taken a hit in the face at a recent practice, and the coaches joked about her nose. “Y’all better leave her alone,” Ford said. “Y’all already made her cry four or five times.”

Egalitarianism shows it ugliness with very little assistance from outside voices. It is clear as you read the above quotations that Laimbeer is doing with his team what most coaches do with their girls' teams: he's trying to make them manly. He seeks to make them tough and hard-nosed and vicious. It's funny to see gender, however, intrude on the transforming process--in no NBA practice would a player even think to restrain coaches from making a player cry. Women aren't made like men are, not physically, not socially, and not emotionally. They weren't made to "go to war," "hit women in the biceps," and be "voracious" in any sense. This is a revision of femininity. Sadly, many Christians have bought into it, and actually encourage--no, push--their daughters to discard aspects of their gender and adopt masculine traits. This is gross, wrong, and will bear unfortunate results.

The accompanying photos of the team show the realization of this vision. The Detroit players are big, strong, and unfeminine. Articles like this really enforce my point that contact sports rob women of their femininity and encourage them to adopt behaviors and bodies that are decidedly masculine. Christians should avoid such blurring of the gender lines and mold their boys to be strong, courageous, and aggressively assertive and their women to be gentle, beautiful, and sweet-spirited. Egalitarianism is never pretty, whether manifesting itself socially, psychologically, or physically. The Bible's picture of femininity, on the other hand, is altogether lovely and worthy of our pursuit and attention. That, not a WNBA championship, is what we should seek for our girls.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Become a Teacher to Become a Witness

I want in this blog to encourage students who are not called to the pastorate but who want to do ministry to consider teaching in a public school. The work will be hard, costly, and spiritually challenging, but it will all be worth it. You will be a witness in a dark place.

Many of us get stuck regarding ministry and vocation. We'd love to be a witness in our work, but we're not sure where to go. To any students or young people considering how best to be a vocational witness, I encourage you to think strongly about teaching in a public school. Very few other disciplines will place you in such a direct and important position in an unbelievers' life. You will spend hour upon hour with lost students and have countless opportunities to show how a Christian lives and to do what a Christian does. You will leave an impression on your students that will not quickly fade. You can coach them, instruct them, discipline them, and play a formative role superceded only by that of their parents. Any appraisal of this idea shows that it is a powerful one indeed.

I would encourage gospel-minded Christians to go to the hard places of the world. Go to the inner city and become a teacher. Live cheaply, love lavishly, and minister faithfully. Become a good teacher, master your curriculum, and find lots of ways to connect with students. Make yourself a very meaningful presence in their lives. Go to their games, their concerts, their art shows. Invite them to functions outside of school. Tutor those who are academically needy. In these ways and many others, invest in the hordes of lost children that populate our nation's schools. Most importantly, whenever you can, discreetly and clearly share the gospel. Be shrewd about your gospel-sharing. You'll need to be careful, but carefulness does not cancel out shrewdness. Be courageous, and share the gospel when students ask questions or seek to get to know you. You can do so discreetly and wisely. An incredible missions opportunity beckons the Christian desirous of gospel service and hungry for a challenge. Don't throw away your twenties working in an unchallenging, unfulfilling job. Sign up to teach, and invest in the only thing that will last for eternity: people. Seek not simply to train minds, but to save souls. Become a teacher for no other reason than to become a witness.

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Noble Profession & Ministry

I am not sure who exactly first regarded teaching as a noble profession, but the phrase has stuck. On its own merits, teaching is an important vocation, one not easily surpassed by other callings. Yet teaching presents the Christian with yet another advantage: it is an excellent way to witness to the world.

How is this so? Well, in the last 150 years, Americans turned the responsibility of schooling their children to "public" schools, shifting the entire enterprise of education from one controlled and managed by private hands to one directed by massive bureaucracies and personalities. Men like Horace Mann have changed the very character of the American experience as children who many years ago would have been instructed in private, small classrooms now pool with hundreds and even thousands of fellow students to receive instruction from a curriculum forged largely by secular minds and taught by the same. The American educational system is a strange beast, indeed. It is massive, filled with many deficiencies and weaknesses, and yet it generally accomplishes the aim set before it: to teach our young minds. For those of us in the Christian church who grew up in public school, we remember it with a sense of wonderment. School was so many things--our place of education, a hostile social scene, a haven featuring occasionally exquisite persons and instruction, a sports battleground, a place of music and drama, and so much else. The one thing sorely lacking in many schools nowadays, though, is the one thing that is needed far more than any program, and that is the Christian presence.

Christians need to see teaching as a missions field ripe for witness. This is not to say at all that teachers may simply sign up to teach and then start witnessing. Far from it. Most public schools and many private schools put the clamp down on Christians, and many discriminate against them, though they do so under the sparkling banner of tolerance. But that's no matter. Christians will find ample opportunities to be salt and light in the school. Many children in the public school system have bad home lives and suffer greatly from poor parenting. Christians can be a light to such children simply by showing them kindness and paying attention to them. Teachers can be a profound witness to their students simply by the way they live. Years after my public schooling, I can readily tick off teachers who made a profound--life-long, actually--impression on me as a child by their kindness, character, and goodness. When teachers behave in such a way, they allow deep bonds to form with children, and this in turn will present opportunities for gospel witness.

I would encourage Christians who want to witness to the world but who are unsure of how to do this--single young women, single men, or men who are unsure what to do with themselves--to consider teaching. Few other vocations so encourage one to invest in other people. Few other jobs bring us into such direct contact with the lost. It is my hope that many of us will follow in the footsteps of past Christian teachers and bring the blessed gospel to the noble profession.

Friday, June 01, 2007

A Great New Website: Said at Southern

I want to alert you to a new website called Said at Southern. It brings together the blogging community that has coalesced at Southern Seminary here in Louisville, KY, though a number of the bloggers you'll find at the site are alumni who live elsewhere. I'm one of three editors of Said at Southern, so I'm pretty involved in the direction of the site. I am also going to be writing some editorials there, so if you find my writing at least mildly interesting, you may want to bookmark the page and check it often.

The site is a great resource for those who want to look in on a seminary community and see the diversity that results when lots of people blog about their experiences as a Christian seminarian. I would encourage you to click on the "Students Said" tag and read through some blogs sometime. You'll gain a greater understanding of the unique fabric of Southern Seminary, and I think you'll see that there is a good deal of thoughtful output from my fellow seminarians. It's encouraging to me to see fellow students thinking about culture, engaging media, and pondering theology. I think you'll be encouraged as well. So with that said, check out the site, and let me know your thoughts. Have a great weekend.