Saturday, March 18, 2006

Reform the Seminaries!

An article in the St. Patrick's Day New York Times says that enrollment in Protestant seminaries is increasing, even as the number of graduates entering pastoral work is shrinking. This is no surprise.
I have watched with dismay as all the major "theological schools" in Canada have shifted from training preachers and missionaries, to graduating "Christian professionals." Here it comes - hoogly!
Seminaries on the whole have completely lost focus. What is the purpose of the seminary if not to help train men how to perfom pastoral ministry both locally and "to the ends of the earth?" I fear what motivates decisions more than anything else in this realm is money. As post-moderns grow increasingly bored with genuine Biblical thinking, school enrollments nose-dive. As numbers decrease, the powers-that-be decide to "broaden our course offerings" in order to get more students. It happens all the time.
Of course, when a school does this, it must shift resources to fill in all the new course addtitions. Professors end up teaching things they are not as skilled at. New professors have to be brought on staff in order to offer key courses. Course schedules get stretched into wonkiness and students end up spending too much of their week on campus instead of in their local church. I could go on.
In my opinion, the bottom line is that true "theological education" suffers. Not a sudden death, but a slow blood-letting that fools those in the middle of it that nothing is really that wrong. Then one day everyone wakes up and they are the new Liberal School of The Day.
My solution is this. Let the seminary be a seminary!

I think it would look something like this:
1. Courses are taught by elders of local churches.
2. Courses are geared toward "the grammar subjects" - like languages, theology (Biblical and systematic), Bible surveys, in-depth book studies (like a semester in Philippians!), historical theology, and even grammar (English, Greek, Hebrew) itself.
3. Courses are restricted to men (at the very least in the M.Div. program).
4. All the other good things that seminaries could teach are sent to some other school or local church to teach.
5. Personal spirituality is the greatest emphasis with regular accountability in Bible reading, prayer, evangelism, purity, and personal character.
6. No man gets a degree who cannot have a board of elders affirm him as an elder in their own church.

That's at least a start .

Friday, March 17, 2006

Your Weekend Hymn Special...

Don't tell Bob Kauflin, but we sing this to the tune of "A Debtor to Mercy Alone" as it was released on Bob's Hymn Project CD.

What You Think of Christ is the Test
What you think of Christ is the test,
To try both your state and your scheme;
You cannot be right in the rest,
Unless you think rightly of Him.
As Jesus appears in your view,
As He is beloved or not;
So God is dispos├Ęd to you,
And mercy, or wrath are… your lot.

Some take him a creature to be,
A man, or an angel at most;
Sure these have not feelings like me,
Nor know themselves wretched and lost:
So guilty, so helpless, am I,
I dare not confide in his blood,
Nor on his protection rely,
Unless I was sure He… is God.

Some call him a Saviour, in word,
But mix their own works with his plan;
And hope He his help will afford,
When they have done all that they can:
If doings prove rather too light
(A little, they own, they may fail)
They purpose to make up full weight,
By casting His name in… the scale.

Some style Him the pearl of great price,
And say He's the fountain of joys;
Yet feed upon folly and vice,
And cleave to the world and its toys:
Like Judas, the Savior they kiss,
And, then while they greet Him, betray;
Ah! What will profession like this,
Avail in the judgment… that day?

If asked what of Jesus I think?
Though still my best thoughts are but poor;
I say, He's my meat and my drink,
My life, and my strength, and my store,
My Shepherd, my Husband, my Friend,
My Savior from sin and from thrall;[1]
My hope from beginning to end,
My Portion, my LORD, and… my All.

Original lyrics by John Newton. Altered by Paul W. Martin. Music by Bob Kauflin. © 1998 PDI Praise (BMI). Sovereign Grace Music, a division of Sovereign Grace Ministries. CCLI Song #2943095 CCLI License #2048851

[1]Thrall” means “slavery”

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

New Blog: Fearfully & Wonderfully Made

Fearfully & Wonderfully Made:

Ryan enters "the blogosphere" (sorry Tom) in a new way!

Nice to see he can talk about more in creation than flowers! :-)


(Hey, maybe he could coach JLF81 on design and get that hideous, disgusting, eye-drilling white font on black blackground blog improved!!!!)

P.S. I look nothing like Aki Berg, although I do play defense better than him!!

Why Men Don't Preach Sovereign Grace

You won’t find this piece in your average church hymnal! As far as I can remember, we have never sung this hymn, but it speaks to an issue with some uncomfortable clarity. Some might read the words and sense an attacking spirit, but knowing something of Joseph Hart, I rather think it was written sorrowfully and with the hope it might provoke a brother to think through his theology more carefully.
I am not suggesting you sing it this Sunday, but it might be worth reading one day – when the occasion merits it.

Why Men Don't Preach Sovereign Grace
What makes mistaken men afraid
Of sovereign grace to preach!
The reason is, if truth be said,
Because they are so rich.

Why so offensive in their eyes
Does God's election seem?
Because they think themselves so wise
That they have chosen him.

Of perseverance why so loath
Are some to speak or hear?
Because, as masters over sloth,
They vow to persevere.

Whence is imputed righteousness
A point so little known?
Because men think they all possess
Some righteousness their own.

Not so the needy, helpless soul,
Prefers his humble prayer;
He looks to him that works the whole,
And seeks his treasure there.

His language is, "Let me, my God,
On sovereign grace rely;
And own 'tis free, because bestowed
On one so vile as I.

Election ! tis a word divine;
For, Lord, I plainly see,
Had not thy choice preceded mine,
I ne'er had chosen thee.

For perseverance strength I've none,
But would on this depend...
That Jesus, having loved his own,
Will love them to the end.

Empty and bare, I come to thee
For righteousness divine:
O may thy matchless merits be,
By imputation, mine."

Thus differ these; yet hoping each
To make salvation Sure.
Now most men will approve the rich,
But Christ has blessed the poor.

First titled: "Because thou sayest, I am rich." Rev 3:17. By Joseph Hart. A Selection of Hymns for Public Worship. by William Gadsby. The Gospel Standard Societies, 1977. 8 Roundwood Gardens, Harpenden, Herts. AL5 3AJ, England. Hymn 222. Pages 183-4.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Sheepish Excuses

Tim Challies had a colorful post the other day about sheep plunging off an embankment as their shepherds busied themselves with breakfast. The point was to consider how stupid sheep are and how easily they are herded to their doom – they are natural followers. More than that, look what sheep do when not properly shepherded!

I commented on, but thought I might pose a similar problem here. When do the sheep bear responsibility for their own misstep? In other words, isn’t there a time when the sheep ought to say to themselves, “Hey, everybody is plunging to their doom off that cliff up there. Maybe I should stop and go the other direction?”

I have met more than 11 people who kept grazing away in some silly church which they knew was rushing headlong to destruction. They gave reasons for staying, but I have yet to be very convinced by any of them...

1. My whole family goes there. It has been our church for generations.
Well, God doesn’t bless walls, He saves souls. If the church you are in is not preaching the gospel, then get your whole family out!

2. Things will fall apart if we leave there.
Well, I hate to tell you this, but things have already fallen apart if the Word is not preached and the Lord not delighted in! Besides it may shock you to find out that things will continue along on the same path without you. You are never as indispensable as you think. I suggest you quickly inform the leadership of your coming departure and get yourself to an authentic church.

3. We’ve been there so long!
Well, Lot’s wife lived in Sodom for a long time, too. Long enough to stop seeing what was wrong with that debauched city. Have you been there so long you cannot see how bad things really are?

4. We don’t like changing churches and starting all over again at relationships.
Well, neither do I. Neither do many people I know. But, in serious matters, serious steps need to be taken. Sometimes change is the only option.

5. We are so comfortable there.
Well, Peter and James and John were comfortable sleeping on the ground in Gethsemane. Just because you can nap on a rock doesn’t mean there isn’t something better for your spiritual posture. If the Word is not preached – go out and find it and there will be comforts for your soul you never imagined.

6. We like to go to church close to home.
Well, so do I – and hopefully there is a church close to your home that preaches the Word and delights in its Author... but if there isn’t, I think it is worth driving as far as you have to in order to be with God’s people and grow in His grace.

But do you know what would be better than all these options? If you stopped in your tracks, called out to all the other sheep around you and said, “Hey, we are dying down here! Let’s go talk to the shepherds!” Then you all meander over to the misguided shepherds and say, “Attention, Shepherds. We want the green pastures and still waters! Baaaa.”

If they get up from their distractions and take you there – you have won your shepherd (and you can stay in your church!) But if they refuse to listen, you kick the dust off your hooves (do sheep have hooves) and find yourself shepherds that are following the Chief Shepherd.

I am never for leaving churches if we can avoid it... but life is short, and if your church is committed to ways that oppose the Gospel and the glory of God, I say, get out and find a place where God is delighted in. Only, don’t come to my church – that would be sheep-stealing.

Monday, March 13, 2006

I Will Save Some of Them!

“Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.”

Paul “glorifies” his gospel ministry to the Gentiles so that his fellow Jews will be provoked to jealousy and “I will save some out of them.”

One cannot help but hear echoes of Whitefield’s “the whole world is my parish!” in that last statement of Paul. He uses the Future Indicative, as if to say, "this is exactly what is going to happen."

When I used to sell Lada’s (worst job ever!), my manager subjected me to various sales Gurus and their secrets to success. The common denominator to all of them was getting yourself to believe that you were going to sell a car today to whomever walked in the door. The Amway scammers tried (not so successfully) to inculcate the same principle. Of course, what was disgusting about this was the way it elevated self above the good of the client! With the “Dress for Success” coaching and “I’m # 1” lapel pins, the whole thing reeked of pride. But there was something to be said in terms of results.

The guys (and gals) who bought into this idea could pretty much sell a car to a dead oak tree. They were relentless and nothing short of miraculous in their ability to make their target believe they really needed this car... and the extra-fluffy floor mats. They believed they were going to sell – and sell they did.

I have seen the same kind of proud and self-centered philosophy creep into many evangelism programs... but perhaps just as evil is the belief “God will never use me to save anybody!”

I think we all need to learn from Paul. “I will save some out of them!” Here is a perfect example of humble gospel zeal rooted in a firm grasp of divine sovereignty.

I don’t know who they are and I am not trusting in me (my motives, my learning, my speech, my technique, my learning, my abilities, my friendliness, etc) but I am living this life believing that what God says in His book is true. He is going to save people. He is going to save some hardened Jews (now and especially at some imminent, future point). He is going to save some moral neighbours dead in their sins. He is going to save some immoral scoundrels lost in their debauchery. He is going to save them and He is going to use people like me to preach the gospel to them!

“I will save some of them!” That ought to be our firm expectation. It is not that we try to pump ourselves up and self-talk our way into conversions. Far from it! We just take Almighty God at His Word... and live like what He says is what is really going to happen. God is going to save sinners – and He is going to use saved sinners like you to do it.

“I will save some of them!” Can you say it? Pray it? Genuinely expect it? I believe you can. I believe we must!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Long-winded Preaching Usurps a Good Hymn

The long-winded preacher (me) went on for so long this morning that the worship leader (me) had to cut out the last hymn so that people could eat lunch in time to get back to church tonight!

But it was a great hymn, written by none other than Don Carson (not me). I (me) thought it would be good to post here:

To the Praise of His Glorious Grace
What astonishing mercy and power:
In accord with his pleasure and will
He created each planet, each flower,
Every galaxy, microbe, and hill.
He suspended the planet in space

To the praise of his glorious grace.
To the praise of his glorious grace.
To the praise of his glorious grace.

With despicable self-love and rage,
We rebelled and fell under the curse.
Yet God did not rip out the page
And destroy all who love the perverse.
No, he chose us to make a new race,

Providentially ruling all things
To conform to the end he designed,
He mysteriously governs, and brings
His eternal wise plans into time.
He works out every step, every trace,

Long before the creation began,
He foreknew those he’d ransom in Christ;
Long before time’s cold hour-glass ran,
He ordained the supreme sacrifice.
In the cross he removed our disgrace,

We were blessed in the heavenly realms
Long before being included in Christ.
Since we heard the good news, overwhelmed,
We reach forward to seize Paradise.
We shall see him ourselves, face to face,

Lyrics by D.A. Carson. Music by Paul Boling & Gerald Edmonds. Copyright 1999 Christway Media, Inc.