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June 2011 Blog Archives

Thursday, June 30

7:54 PM A reader sent along this query: 

I saw on your blog that SEBTS was accused at the SBC annual meeting of having a "Calvinistic Agenda." I also saw you provided a link to Dr. Akin's response. Unfortunately the video won't work for me. I was wondering if a transcript or news story existed of his response. I'd love to know what he said.

In essence, Danny said that Southeastern Seminary has one agenda. It is the Great Commission. If anyone has a different agenda, it is the wrong agenda. At SEBTS, "J.C." does not stand for John Calvin. It stands for Jesus Christ. If, he said, a faculty member should push another agenda at SEBTS, he would gently try to persuade him that his agenda is the wrong one. If he could win his brother, all would be fine and good. If not, that person would need to seek employment elsewhere.

Danny is absolutely correct. His answer leaves no stone unturned. And it does one more thing. It points out precisely what is wrong with anyone who is an apologist for something other than the Great Commission: misplaced priorities. It is just here where I feel some bloggers have made a wrong turn. I should know: I have made many such wrong turns in my own life. At one time I was, for example, an apologist for homeschooling. Ditto for the agrarian lifestyle. And elder-led congregationalism? It's the only way, of course. I am gradually learning to repent of my misplaced priorities. Note: I did not say that I have changed my views in any of these areas. It's just that I am no longer an apologist for any of them.

If we were to adopt this perspective, think of the possible consequences. Rather than publicly criticizing the church across town that is wasting its money on the frivolous (something our church would never do, of course), by putting the Gospel first perhaps we could find a way to work with them to reach our city for Christ. Perhaps we could even serve in the city's food pantry together, or wash cars together for Christ, or support an inner-city evangelist together. Surely this is far better than ignoring the clear teaching of 1 Corinthians 14:

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.

I am deeply humbled to be teaching in an academic institution that has its priorities aligned according to the Gospel. You do not know how rare this is. You do not know how delightful and enjoyable it is to experience deep fellowship around the Gospel with my faculty colleagues. You do not know how great a blessing it is to be around students who are not pushing their Calvinism (or their Arminianism for that matter) down the throats of their peers. I cannot tell you how often I have put my nose on the carpet and thanked the Lord God for the privilege of joining Him in the greatest work on earth. I do not deserve this blessing. I am, indeed, ashamed of wasting so many years of my life pursuing lesser goals. So I would simply ask you: What are you an apologist for? When I go to your blog or your website, what stands out? The question is more than rhetorical.

Let me close this post by saying how much I appreciate all of my readers who seek to live the truth in love. No one has tried harder to do this, with less success, than I. Let us all work harder than ever before to receive the truth of God's Word into our lives submissively -- defiantly, I dare say -- saying to ourselves, I have not yet arrived.

10:46 AM Oh my. I see I've started a "feud." If I did, believe me, it was unintentional. I appreciate Alan's efforts to seek a middle way, a tertium quid, a symbiosis that combines edification and outreach as the twin foci of the church. He is certainly correct in his assessment. At least partly. What he perhaps misses is something that has become critical to me over the years. And that is the Great Commission. For several years now Becky and I have been trying to live out the Great Commission in our marriage. (See my essay, A Great Commission Marriage.) I teach in what is intentionally and unapologetically called a "Great Commission Seminary." I have a seminary president who argues that every professor at Southeastern ought to be a Great Commission professor, and that every student who attends here ought to be a Great Commission student. (Please see his response to the accusation at the recent SBC convention in Phoenix that SEBTS has a "Calvinistic" agenda. His answer hits the ball out of the park.) And what is this commission? What were Jesus' final words? What were His "final marching orders" (Danny Akin)? It was not to gather but to go. I like to put it this way to my students: The gathering exists for the going. And I do not mean "going" in a purely theoretical sense either. For many years I did not go. I was of course doing many things for Christ, such as preaching and publishing and teaching my classes. It was for others to go, not for me. My job was to support missions, not to be a missionary. Recently God has been teaching me that the Great Commission is for every Christian, and that includes me. When we learn to run to it and embrace it, when we can habitually plan our lives and schedules in such a way that we become intentional about sharing Jesus' love with others, then, I think, we've begun to live the life of reasonable service described in Rom. 12:1-2. We must be willing to be more than good Greek teachers, good churchmen and women, good givers and supporters of missions. We must do more than meet together to pump each other up. We must be willing to let our lives be broken and smashed in order for the light of the Gospel to break out. We must be willing to stand alongside our suffering brothers and sisters in the world. There are many practical ways we can enter into this fellowship of suffering without ever leaving the borders of North America. The biblical requirement is that we should voluntarily go out of our way to leave our soft, cushy pews (or, for you home churchers, your sofas) and accept assignments that involve suffering and sacrifice, inconvenience, discomfort, and more. Please don't misunderstand me. I am not promoting agnosticism when it comes to the gathering of the Body. Paul is clear that the purpose of the assembled church is mutual edification. But why assemble if it is not to spur each other on to love and good works, to encourage one another to serve the expansion of the kingdom? No, I'm not saying that if you really mean to obey the Great Commission you will not care about the gathering. Nor am I saying that to be a Great Commission Christian you will needlessly or carelessly expose yourself to danger. I think Paul is a good example of what I'm talking about. He didn't have to experience beatings and imprisonments and afflictions. I don't believe he ever desired suffering for its own sake. Instead, he took a calculated risk. Here's what he said: "I do not count my life dear to myself so that I might finish my course with joy and complete the ministry I have received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the Gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24). Paul is saying that his sufferings as a missionary authenticated or validated his ministry. For Paul, as for Bonhoeffer, suffering for others is the proof of discipleship. All but one of the original twelve apostles were martyred for their faith. They were simply walking in the footsteps of their Savior, who said that a servant is not above his master.

The bottom line for me? Let's get the salt out of the salt shaker! Let's live lives that are a positive sacrifice for the good of others outside of the church. Jesus says to us, in effect, "All I have to offer you is what I have had -- loneliness, rejection, suffering, hardship, pain, sweat, death. I have set before you an example of what it means to be a Christian -- putting others before yourselves. Above all, I came to seek and to save that which was lost. Will you do any less?"

It is the Great Commission that ought to drive everything we do as followers of Jesus. Some people think they can be good Christians by attending the fellowship, singing songs, praying prayers, teaching one another, etc. Nothing could be further from the truth. We must return to Jesus' revolutionary, cross-based ministry. How different is this kind of self-sacrificing Christianity from the comfort-seeking, self-serving, ingrown religion so often practiced in our churches! This Jesus who humbled Himself as a servant and who died as a criminal -- this same Jesus is the One who was always pressing on to preach the Gospel in the next village. His heart's cry was for the dead and the dying, for the lost, the sick, the undone. He was willing to let everything go for the sake of lost souls. When I finally came to understand that this very same Jesus was desiring to live His missional life through me, I felt as if He had shoved a knife into my heart. But finally I knew the work he had for me. The true test of my commitment is not how much I give or even what I believe but how I live. God is not just asking us to give our money to missions but to make missions the core of our lives, the central passion in all we do.

Hence, at the risk of further deepening the "feud," I must insist that Christ meant for His church to be primarily a missionary organism. The church is the living presence of a God whose heart throbs with love for the lost and a passion for dying souls. The church is Christ's Body, but it is a Body He gave for the world. I therefore ask my dear readers to consider: Are you willing, as was Jesus, to let everything go for the sake of lost souls and for the 1.6 billion unreached people in this world, to give your life to recapture just one inch of territory from darkness and bring it into the light? If and when the Great Commission becomes more than just another option for gathered believers, it is there that I believe I will be able to recognize the true church.

9:28 AM This is truly a historic day here at Bradford Hall. Becky completed her very first "Difficult Level" Sudoku puzzle. Here's proof.

I have Liz to blame for getting Becky hooked on this pastime. Actually, I have Liz to thank. It was the perfect distraction during all those chemo sessions.

As for me? I'll take a crossword puzzle any day over a silly numerical brain twister.

9:13 AM The latest addition to our home page is called Living in the Wilderness.

7:15 AM I always enjoy the seasoned wisdom of Aussie John -- especially when he agrees with me LOL.

7:02 AM If the Lord wills, in exactly one month Becky and I will welcome our son Nigusse to America as he begins his studies at SEBTS. He will be in great demand as a speaker, already is, in fact. Traditional Western missionaries will have much to learn from his experience as a pastor-evangelist on the front lines in Alaba. The Global South has much to teach us about missionary work within the context of experiencing the brunt of focused attacks by people who have an anti-Christian agenda. I might add that the Global South has been characterized by a healthy tendency to be cooperative and thus has avoided the dichotomization that characterizes Western denominations. There are encouraging signs that this spirit of cooperation is becoming more and more a characteristic of evangelical churches in the West. After all, the church must battle all the works of the devil, and divisiveness is a very great evil. I am also convinced that Nigusse's generation will carry foreword the difficult task of doing contextualized theology in an Ethiopian setting. Indeed, it is to be hoped that one day soon the textbooks used in theological colleges in Addis Ababa will be those written by nationals rather than ones merely translated from English. I yearn for the day when Ethiopian theologians will advance a rigorous theological basis for their churches in their own language.

Below: Nigusse and Becky giving the thumbs up after Aberesh gave birth to a healthy baby boy in March of 2008. Becky tells the remarkable story in her essay Just a Servant.

6:29 AM A cacophony of sounds -- that's the only way I can describe the experience of sitting on my front porch this morning as dawn broke: the birds chirping, the frogs bellowing, the neighbors' dogs barking -- let's see, was that Pee Wee's hound or John's coon dog? -- the world coming alive and I? -- I am seeking answers in His Word, desiring to move in the same mysterious authority and power that surrounded His earthly ministry. The answer was eloquent, and it stunned me: "All I want is to know Christ and to experience the power of His resurrection by sharing in His sufferings and becoming like Him in His death." Christ's life is mine by faith. But it is mine only to the degree to which my will is surrendered and submitted, only when I refuse to allow circumstances, family, friends, or even Satan himself to lead me into anything less than His reality, only when I realize that the measure to which I will manifest the life of Christ is the same measure to which I am willing to die to self and allow Him to animate my life and use me for His glory. It is all yours by faith, He seemed to say to me. The test of my spiritual life hinges on how I settle this issue of dying, not on my creeds or anything else in this world, including those "pride of life" sins such as class, race, social status, education, and reputation. Jesus died so that I might die, that I might be plugged into His life, just as the branch is part of the vine. Paul considered all of his talents and experiences as manure (skubala -- "unspeakable filth"). He said, "I must start again from zero." And so must I. This very day. How hard it is to accept this. I want to live this day in my own power and strength -- especially with my education. But in God's eyes it is merely educated flesh. I cannot take my eyes off the Giver and focus on the gifts.

Lord, I confess my sin of pride and self-sufficiency. I confess that I adore my own abilities and talents more than You who have given them. Grant me this day a correct vision of who You are. Allow me to discover Your authority, glory, power, and majesty. Like Moses, empower me from on high, so that I may die again to self and share in Your sufferings, becoming more like You in Your death. Amen.

Wednesday, June 29

6:22 PM My academic dean Ken Keathley chimes in on the creation-evolution debate in an excellent essay called The Four Views among Evangelicals concerning Creation.

5:32 PM Good discussion of verbal aspect in Koine Greek here. My own preference for the e-prefix is to call it the "past time morpheme."

5:18 PM New posting at The death sentence of Youcef Nadarkhani has been upheld in an Iranian court. His prisoner profile may be found here. God bless our dear brother. May he remain faithful whatever happens. Please join me in praying for his release.

12:35 PM Plan now to attend the 2012 Wheaton Theology Conference. Next year's theme is "Bonhoeffer, Christ, and Culture." The dates are April 12-13. For information, click here.

12:24 PM Need some leads as to the best E-books for studying New Testament Greek? Here they are.

By the way, students. You are welcome to purchase E-book editions of any of my required textbooks, including those published by yours truly (such as the Kindle version of Learn to Read New Testament Greek).

12:12 PM Missions quote of the day (Samuel Zwemer):

The great Pioneer Missionaries all had "inverted homesickness" --  this passion to call that country their home which was most in need of the Gospel. In this passion all other passions died; before this vision all other visions faded; this call drowned all other voices. They were the pioneers of the Kingdom, the forelopers of God, eager to cross the border-marches and discover new lands or win new-empires.

Which country, other than the U.S., can you call "home" in this sense? There ought to be at least one.

11:23 AM Odds and ends ...

1) For several weeks we've needed a long, soaking, "farmer's" rain. Last night we got one. Thank you, Jesus.

2) My friend Elgin Hushbeck reviews Rite of Passage, for which I wrote a brief foreword.

3) My diagnosis yesterday? A bunch of complicated Latin words. The bottom line is: I get migraines every time the barometer changes. Why? What's the "etiology" (see, I can use fancy words too). Nobody knows. I am just "blessed" with this problem. We'll try Zonisimide as a preventative and see if that works. Yuck. First time in my life I have to take daily meds.

Cheer up: You're gettin' old, Dave.

4) My colleague Nathan Finn just witnessed the Book of Acts.

10:14 AM The discussion continues here.

Thank you, Thomas and Lesly, for always seeking to be scriptural in all you do and think. I'll take a dozen just like you.

9:32 AM Much is being written these days about the purpose of the church. Some (like Eric Carpenter) argue that the purpose of the church is to glorify God through mutual edification. I do not disagree with this perspective. But it seems to me that the emphasis in Reformed circles on the glory of God is rather nebulous. In my opinion, this definition is neither missiologically broad enough nor theologically deep enough. As I understand Scripture, the church is to carry out the Missio Dei of the Triune God at both the micro (individual salvation) and macro (societal) levels, with a view to redemption, reconciliation, and social transformation. I recognize that many Christians today are starving for genuine koinonia and deeper relationships within the Body of Christ. Yet Jesus Christ defines His followers as those whom He has sent forth into the world. Thus, while it is good and proper to unpack the theological and ecclesiological significance of such texts as 1 Cor. 14:26, which speak of mutual edification as a goal whenever the church gathers, I think it is neither scriptural nor helpful to reduce our definition of "church" to the gathering. The ecclesiological challenge must drive us closer and closer to our original mission, not further away from it. An outward focus is critical, not optional.

The Book of Acts consistently emphasizes "missional hermeneutics," and is clear that the Gospel is the Holy Spirit's instrument for the formation of faithful witnessing communities that enjoy corporate life both together and scattered in the world. This same Spirit now works through believers to enable them to be Christ's witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. To be sure, "church" is broader than the missional church. But the focus of God is the world, not the church. Thus, while calls for mutual edification are valid (and sorely needed), it does not help to make the overcorrection of emphasizing corporate discipleship at the expense of Trinitarian mission. The only way Christ is presently incarnated to a lost world is through believers as they carry on His presence, His Word, and His works to a new generation. We are no longer citizens of this world but Christ's ambassadors, sent to this world from another kingdom, operating in His authority and power. If we're rightly connected to the Head in this way, it would be hard to imagine making the focus of the church the gathering rather than the going.

Update: I see that Craig over at Trinitarian Dance agrees. I can certainly resonate with these words:

For whether God calls us to live and work overseas in a strange land, or he calls us to stay, work and live within the confines of the community we know – we are called to live as missionaries within our respective communities…answering the call of our Lord to go into our communities, living and breathing among all who are created in the image of God, treating all with dignity and respect and being living examples of the love of Christ.

Tuesday, June 28

11:55 AM Time for lawn and garden work this morning. Leigh and Thomas Humphries are here to help. I bent the blade in my lawn tractor while mowing. Now just who hid that stone in the grass?

9:18 AM Part of my studies in Basel focused on the ecclesiology of Karl Barth. Barth always emphasized the work of the Holy Spirit in ecclesiology. He viewed the Spirit's work in three phrases:

  • The Holy Spirit and the Gathering of the Christian Community

  • The Holy Spirit and the Upbuilding of the Christian Community

  • The Holy Spirit and the Sending of the Christian Community

I love this balanced approach to ecclesiology. Ecclesiology, properly understood, must focus on the church as called by God to be His witnesses in the world. The gathering and the equipping do not exist as ends in themselves. This is why I am convinced that we need to be careful not to let "doing church right" become so important that we miss the church's missional vocation. In fact, perhaps it's appropriate to question the Body-focused reductionism of many in the home-church movement. Barth's phases might well be the reminder we need to correct our imbalanced approach to biblical ecclesiology.

8:47 AM In John 20:21, John's "Great Commission," there are two different Greek words for "send."

Peace be to you! As the Father has sent [apostello] Me, I also send [pempo] you.

What distinction, if any, can we derive from this fact?

Incidentally, with all mission work, the Sender is Christ, not a mission agency or a denomination. It is His authority that propels, defines, and circumscribes the work. Without a doubt, this truth has sustained me more times than I can count. It is this conviction that compelled men like William Carey and Hudson Taylor to practice missions biblically in their respective countries despite the opposition of colonial authorities. May we be encouraged to do the same.

8:05 AM Duke University announces an opening in the History of Christianity

7:57 AM The Carolina Headache Institute has decided to have a look inside my noggin this afternoon. They will find a built-in barometer.

7:45 AM Students: I am looking for a second "grader" this fall. If you are interested in assisting me with my work, please contact me at

Monday, June 27

7:22 PM Newsflash! Early Church Financial Statement Discovered!

6:06 PM Awaiting processing:

5:51 PM I need to mow but it's too hot and muggy. So I think I'll work on overcoming jet lag. Just where is that book on the Revolutionary War ...?

1:41 PM If you think that New Testament textual criticism is not important for exegesis, think again.

12:50 PM Mercy me! Becky's done it again

12:44 PM In most any shopping mall you'll find "anchor stores" at each end, typically a Macy's or a J. C. Penney. These stores are essential to the success of the mall. They attract shoppers who will not only shop at the anchor stores but will spend their money at Starbucks or the shore store along the way.

Our Greek 3 class that starts next Tuesday is one of two "anchor courses" that I teach in seminary. The first is elementary Greek, which forms the foundation for the study of the language. The second anchor course is Greek 3. In this course you will begin to build a superstructure upon the foundation you laid in first year Greek. Here we go beyond the basics of our subject and begin to discuss in detail the deeper dimensions of what it means to exegete a passage from the New Testament. In my class, we delve into topics that are sometimes overlooked in syntax courses: textual criticism, linguistics, and discourse analysis, to name but three. Sure, each of these topics is controversial, but that is no reason to ignore them. In recent years much of the debate about Greek grammar has swirled around the "new perspective" on verbal aspect. Regardless of what position you take on the subject, it is a topic that cannot be avoided. Ultimately, no topic that can help us better understand the text is out of bounds. It is especially important that we do not view Greek as an end in itself. I want my students to wrestle with the implications of Greek exegesis for ecclesiology, soteriology, and missions. The church in the twenty-first century needs to keep the primacy of Christian missions in the foreground. In 1993 I wrote a little book called Using New Testament Greek in Ministry. I suggested that Greek does no good at all unless we apply it in our lives and ministries. My opinion hasn't changed since then. May the Holy Spirit teach us how to be and become more authentically "mission people" as a result of studying the Greek text together.

12:14 PM Of the local church leaders I had the privilege of teaching last week, I'd say the great majority of them were tentmakers. Most of them were farmers. That is a great encouragement to me. In a real sense, they model for us a New Testament ministry. In New Testament times, leaders were not normally paid. Unfortunately, some churches today do not feel they can have pastors unless they are are able to support them financially. Apparently, pastors in New Testament days were able to meet their own financial needs and even the needs of others by "working with [their] own hands" (see Acts 20:34). In his book The Normal Christian Life (pp. 65-66), Watchman Nee writes:

It is not necessary that elders resign their ordinary professions and devote themselves exclusively to their duties in connection with the church. They are simply local men, following their usual pursuits and at the same time bearing special responsibilities in the church. Should local affairs increase, they may devote themselves entirely to spiritual work, but the characteristic of an elder is not that he is a "full-time Christian worker." It is merely that, as a local brother, he bears responsibility in the local church.

The lesson is obvious: Christian finances should go primarily to support the poor and needy among us. In this connection, I'd like to recommend to you a highly readable and challenging essay I stumbled upon today while surfing the web. It's written by one of my New Testament colleagues at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Pennsylvania. Its title speaks volumes: "Only Remember the Poor..." and Other Texts We Avoid (.pdf).

Now, I'll be the first to admit my own failings in this area, to acknowledge my own proneness to go with the status quo, to give God a little bit of "my" money or time to keep Him happy. I am finding that I have to keep coming back to God and submit this area of my life to Him along with all the other areas that still need His sanctifying touch. That expensive meal that I enjoyed -- did I ask God about it? I am not saying that we can't enjoy eating out. I am saying that God is concerned about the small decisions we make with our pocketbooks.

Do you remember the poor? Do I? Can we do a better job of it?

10:19 AM Pastor Kevin Brown finally admits it. He's got an addiction.

10:08 AM Quote of the day (Thomas Hudgins):

Maybe this is an appropriate place to ask current seminary students... Are you planning on staying in the United States? Have you considered the possibility that God could use you mightily in helping to strengthen His Church throughout the world?

Read The Great Commission and Theological Education. Students, the doors are wide open for your involvement in global biblical education. I hope you will pray about it.

Sunday, June 26

8:13 PM Becky asks How Disconnected Are You?

7:35 PM More odds and ends ...

1) Nice serendipity: Shot this pic of Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock River on my flight up to Dulles. This is one of America's most historic battlefields.

2) And here's "our fair city" -- Clarkesville, VA. This is one of America's least historic towns LOL.

3) Still working on emails. Hang in there -- I WILL respond to your correspondence eventually.

4) While I was abroad I received a request to have my beginning Greek grammar translated into Modern Hebrew for use in Bible colleges in Israel. Permission granted! 

5) Also received this kind note:

I have been enjoying your blog as usual and pray that your remaining teaching years will be viable, vibrant and enjoyable ones that see much more fruit than your previous years have done. I also pray that the Lord will raise up students who catch your passion for mission, Scripture and church - and that your understudy students will be a source of mutual stretching and blessing.  May the Lord bless you and sister Becky during your time apart, keeping you both safe, well and in strength. 

My thanks to all who wrote to me while I was traveling. I deeply appreciate your love and prayers.

1:58 PM Odds and ends ...

1) Home from the assembly and just got myself unpacked. B is cooking me an American dinner. I doth drooleth.

2) My suitcase was a lot lighter coming home than going. I left behind copies of most of my books for their smallish English library.

3) In case you're interested in my trip, I've been asked to give a report at Bethel Hill on Wednesday, July 27, at 6:30 pm. Here's one of the pictures I'll be sharing. Our class exegeted, in depth, the famous warning passage of Heb. 6:4-6, where the participles hold the key to the interpretation of this difficult text. All of us came away from this passage with a renewed appreciation for just how beautifully and wonderfully made God's Word is.

4) This morning at The Hill we welcomed a speaker from the Voice of the Martyrs. Thank you, brother Warren, for coming and sharing with us what God is doing in the persecuted church worldwide. If you'd care to have a Voice of the Martyrs speaker address your assembly, you can contact VOM at

5) Fantastic news! Our son Nigusse has been granted a visa to study at SEBTS! Praise God! Thank you for praying! Lord willing, he will arrive here on July 29th.

6) The SBC convention in Phoenix is now history. You can read the 6 seminary reports here. The passion for the Great Commission is unmistakable in each of them.

7) I was unable to answer any emails for the past two weeks. Please allow me a day or two to get caught up. I may sneak in a nap as well.

9:03 AM Got home early this morning, safe and sound, thanks to the goodness of the Lord and your prayers. Great trip. I taught twelve 3-hour lessons and spoke to congregations 3 times. Lots of relationship building too, with a view toward evangelism. There were challenges. Not everything went according to plan. I was reminded: Events do not change us. It's our response to events that does. Life is a complicated business. God's work in a soul is often a process of blind trust. Toward the end it boiled down to sheer tenacity: Left, right, left, right. Each day dying a little more to self. Deeper and deeper must be the dying, because wider and fuller is the relationship God desires to have with me. This is what the crucified life is all about. Watchman Nee called this the "normal Christian life." We live, not a "changed" life but an "exchanged" life. Christ lives His life through me. As I taught hermeneutics to 26 church leaders, as I took them through historical backgrounds, through textual criticism and lexical analysis and structural analysis, etc., as I gave example after example of how practical Greek can be, I realized just how difficult the task of biblical interpretation really is. God has been faithful to give us His Word. Now we are asked to answer with our fidelity. With terms like that, there will never be a stampede to join the movement. Our only recourse is to our knees.

I do not know what will come of this past week's labors. I have tried my best to be faithful to my assignment. I pray that my students would draw closer to the Savior as a result. May His love shine through them. May His Word become more precious to them than ever before. Even as I type these words I see their faces. I scan their eyes, the eyes of men whose enemies spend a good deal of time crouching and creeping, predatory opponents waiting in the underbrush for an opportunity to pounce. Will my students remember the Unseen? Will they sense His ministers of fire, commissioned to guard them? Will they recall that His love is always aware, always awake, always protecting? George MacDonald once said, "Jesus suffered not that we might not suffer, but that our suffering might be like His." And part of this suffering is sacrifice -- sacrificing our time and effort so that our teaching and our preaching is not slipshod or inadequate.

Proper biblical interpretation is impossible. Impossible, that is, without His help. My trip was overwhelmingly exhausting. But such work is also the most emotionally satisfying of my life. I will soon forget the labors of last week; my summer school class begins in just 9 short days, and life will move on. When a coin is spent it's gone forever. Was the investment worth it? Eternity will tell. Patience. Sacrifice. Service. Responsibility. Weariness. That's what we're here for. The pain, the loneliness, the physical exhaustion are a part of the process He is at work on. All that will one day be exchanged for wholeness.

In the meantime, we press on.

Tuesday, June 14

6:02 AM Off to "regions beyond" (2 Cor. 10:16). Why? I've discovered that upward mobility is a downer. I'm haunted by the idea that God can take average everyday people like me and use them for His purposes. There was nothing special about the 70 whom Jesus sent out two by two. And I imagine they were scared to death to be sent too. But they did what they were told to do, because Jesus was their Boss. So they girded up their loins, tightened up their sandals, took a deep breath, and away they went, elbows swinging with every step, preaching, teaching, healing. And it worked! Miracles happened because He was with them.

Serving Jesus is like making a 60-yard touchdown run. (Yes, God plays football.) And the ball's in our hands. Let's get out of our holy huddles (especially those of you who have the "perfect" church) and run a play or two for Jesus. Yes, you will get scraped up (or beat up -- ask Paul!) along the way. But it's pretty hard to deny the need that is out there.

By the way, there's no sense in playing unless you expect results. Don't limit your playing field to the stained glass aquarium (or to your living room). Jesus is building His church worldwide, and He wants to use you. That's why you're here in the first place. Serve Jesus and there will be pain. Live for yourself and there will be pain. There will be pain either way. So why not get your pain working for you rather than against you? Let's unleash foot soldiers for Jesus. Don't need to go across the world to do this either. Know how to bake a pie and take it to a neighbor? Welcome to the mission field!

We'll, enough preaching for one day. (I have a feeling you're a member of "the choir" anyway.) As I leave for the airport I feel very much alive. The birds are singing, and the donkeys have started munching the grass (donkeys don't "graze"; they "munch"). God has provided all of this and a good deal more -- the stars, the sun, the breeze, wives and husbands and sons and daughters and "infants to sweeten the world" (to use a phrase from an ancient prayer). I am but a tiny speck in the universe, a ripple on the ocean of life, yet God does not overlook me, cannot in fact, because He created me, redeemed me, even promised He would never leave me nor forsake me, taught me to trust Him when I was only 8 years old, a mere child but old enough to realize that we are not doomed to meaninglessness, even in the wilderness of loneliness, even when "God's megaphone" (C. S. Lewis) of pain shouts to us, despite my keen sense of past failures, my blindness, my selfish isolation. It is heartening to think that even when the work seems so daunting, even when I feel so inadequate, I can still be a vessel bearing the life of Jesus -- the way that James Fraser gave himself to the people of China many years ago because God had called him to forsake selfishness and to cease to live for himself, or the way Jim Elliott taught the Aucas what God's love looks like by dying for them. I have been given a small assignment, but no assignment is small when God assigns it, when it helps to complete the quota of Christ's sufferings, when we say YES to what He requires of our journey with Him simply because it's the journey He wants to share with us. And so --

"We follow, now we follow -- Yonder, yes yonder, yonder. Yonder."

-- Gerard Manly Hopkins, The Golden Echo.

Monday, June 13

12:32 PM Just finished hoeing the garden and wondering Where in the world do all the weeds come from? I'm also finishing up packing and trying to decide what to take and what to leave behind, even though it's only a 12-day trip and I won't need that much really. Right now the main thing is to get my mind focused on Christ, what He has done for me (and for the world), and my relationship with Him. My friend, have you noticed? Once you fall in love with Jesus, you will do everything you can to introduce others to Him. He's an awesome, magnificent, glorious, loving Lord, and He's asked you and me to join Him in the great harvest field. I guess that's what keeps motivating me these days to follow hard after Him. As tough as global evangelization can be, it's worth it when you see someone fall in love with Jesus.

By the way, we harvested our very first cucumber today. Which reminds me: A farmer would starve to death if he or she just planted and cultivated and weeded. Ultimately you've got to reap. I think I'm awfully proud of this little cuke.

The "first fruits," if you will, of an abundant harvest? I get jazzed just thinking about that first cucumber sandwich. Now I'm eager to sow the Word into the hearts of people. Will spend the next two weeks doing that over and over again on foreign soil. Of course, good seed does best in good soil. Please pray for me and with me, will you, that the soil will be well-prepared by the Master Gardener, and that, for His glory, there might be an abundant harvest.

7:15 AM Aussie John (who blogs at Caesura) sent along a link to this incredible You Tube video:

Cowabunga, dude. Can't wait to open the Australian campus of SEBTS. I volunteer to teach Surfing 101.

7:12 AM Hope everyone is enjoying the SBC convention in Phoenix this week. I will have to miss it this year. But you can read my post-convention report from last year's Orlando meeting here: The Future of Southern Baptist Missions. My mind hasn't changed.

Sunday, June 12

5:08 PM Bad sinus headache coming on. Yes, another thunderstorm is headed our way. I don't need a weathercast to tell me that.

5:02 PM A thousand thanks to Ed and Dolores Johnson for having pity on this here bachelor and inviting him to dine with them for lunch in South Boston today. We had a good time but missed having Becky along. Enjoyed teaching Sunday School today (I spoke on the two cries of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer: "Jesus is Lord," and "Abba, Father!"), as well as engaged in some theological deep sea diving as brother Joel continued his excellent series in the book of 1 John. To see even a flimsy outline of the great salvation that God provides for those who trust Christ is a blessing. We also laid hands on several in our midst who are in need of special prayer and support. My, what a wonderful, zany, joyful, loving, caring, genuine group of brothers and sister I get to meet with every week. I sense we are on the road to reality, which means that we are moving outside of our comfort zones and into the frying pan of costly discipleship. Seneca, the famous Roman philosopher and advisor to Nero once said, "To live is to be a soldier." For the Christian, to live is to be a soldier of Christ, which means that whatever happens we don't allow ourselves to get our eyes off life's real purpose and on to secondary issues. Only the Christian who is willing to share the burden will share the blessing. God, help us not to evade the burden.

8:20 AM There are "big" missions and there are "little" missions. Have you ever thought about that? For example, all this week my friend Kevin Brown and his family are in Mexico. That's a "big" mission. (You can read about it here.) But let me ask you this question: Who worked behind the scenes to make this mission trip possible? Who enabled and equipped the missionaries? These names are probably known only to God. But these "little" missionaries are equally servants of God.

Let me give you a New Testament example of what I'm talking about. Everyone agrees that the apostle Paul was a key figure -- perhaps the key figure -- in spreading the Gospel in the early church. His ministry was literally "worldwide." Just read the book of Acts. Yet his "big" mission had much to do with the "little" mission that God had entrusted to an obscure figure of the Bible. Had it not been for the ministry of Ananias in Paul's life (Acts 9), Paul's mission would have been short-lived indeed! Yet who remembers Ananias when they think of Paul's ministry?

It is abundantly clear that the term "mission" has become a cliché today for "big" missions. Perhaps the church needs to do more to acknowledge the work of those who are involved behind the scenes in "little" missions. When Jesus walked with the Twelve, little did they know that they were soon to become members of the "second incarnation." When He ascended into heaven He commanded His followers to "make visible" the living God in the same way Jesus did. Jesus has now passed the work on to us. Whether your work is "big" or "little," never forget that you are Jesus' legs and arms and heart. When people look at us, they should see Christ, the hope of glory. And remember: Only God has the real glory. All other glories are derived from His. So wherever He places us, let's display His glory. If you live in Bethel Hill, NC -- display His glory! If you live in Northern Iraq -- display His glory! Serve where you're planted. God probably won't send a missionary from South Korea to reach your web of relationships. That's your job!

7:15 AM Praying about graduate school? Why not consider one that has a Great Commission passion? My colleague Alvin Reid explains. Incidentally, I know of no one more passionate about the Gospel than Alvin. He is the exact opposite of a Canadian River in the winter -- frozen at the mouth! This includes the way he uses social media to share the love of Jesus with others (his Twitter account is probably the best one I know). The man has an overwhelming sense of the love of Christ. I am honored and humbled to be on the same faculty with him and with other colleagues who model what a Great Commission seminary ought to look like.

7:06 AM Jason Kees reviews a very important book, in my estimation: Baptists and the Bible. The book was co-authored by my former dean, Russ Bush, who is now with the Lord. Everyone has some sort of attitude toward the Bible, from inerrancy to fable and folklore. Everything hinges upon this one question, for if the Bible is not God's Word the whole building crumbles. This includes the Gospel itself, for John 3:16 rests on 2 Tim. 3:16. I will say it plainly: I believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. I am not ashamed of such simple faith. I take the book for what it claims to be and rest my weary soul on it. Jason concludes his review with these words: "All Baptists should read this book. It is that important." And not only Baptists.

6:55 AM Yesterday someone sent me an email about Clark Little. He's a photographer in Hawaii whose photos are unbelievable. Here's an example:

I also appreciated this shot. It must be of Sandy Beach, where the waves break right on the sand.

No surprise that this beach has produced numerous broken necks through the years. I used to body surf it as a teenager. We were crazy back then. Of course, for a 16-year old, life is an endless highway. You can check out more of Clark's photography here.

Saturday, June 11

2:24 PM I'm all for Christian unity, but ecumenism at the expense of the Gospel? No thank you. Desmond Tutu's essay today at the Huff Post includes this amazing statement:

Every human being is precious. We are all -- all of us -- part of God's family. We all must be allowed to love each other with honor. Yet all over the world, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are persecuted. We treat them as pariahs and push them outside our communities. We make them doubt that they too are children of God. This must be nearly the ultimate blasphemy. We blame them for what they are.

Questions of sexism aside, the good bishop is wrong. With all due deference to storks, we can state as a categorical fact that new life begins with new birth. Unless a person has experienced this new birth, he or she is not a "part of God's family." Paul tells the Christians at Rome that "all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God" (Rom. 8:14), and he reminds the Christians in Galatia that "in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, though faith" (Gal. 3:26). No one other than the believer in Jesus Christ has the right to claim that astonishing relationship with God.

We should never allow ourselves to be so caught up with issues of justice and equality that we lose sight of the new birth.

1:45 PM "The nail that sticks out is hammered down." Japanese Proverb. Good to remember if you're going to challenge the status quo with the Bible.

1:41 PM I see I'm not the only blogger who enjoys the good old out-of-doors. Way to go Craig. I'm with you, man!

12:53 PM Glad to see Arthur Sido's review of Kevin Brown's new book Rite of Passage for the Home and Church. You can always count on Arthur for fair and balanced writing.

12:45 PM Can I bore you with a brief farm update?

1) This was the week for birthdays. It was two years ago today that our own little Nolan Elijah Black entered the world. Here mom and dad leave UNC with their precious bundle. What a wonderful gift from the Lord. Happy Birthday, Nolan!

2) Doubtless you share my elation over the birth of our first grand-daughter, Mercy Magdalene (don't you just love that name?). Becky just sent me some photos of the newborn, though pictures are hardly a satisfying substitute for the real thing. (I'm trying to be patient, Liz!)

3) Mama B, of course, is always in the middle of the action. She looks quite the grandmother with her beautiful gray hair, wouldn't you say? Liz and Mercy are due home tomorrow -- where there is a surprise waiting for them.

4) Meanwhile, I've been in a frenzy for days trying to get ready for my 12-day trip to Asia next week. I think the worst is over and that now I'll be able to return to more mundane matters. Today I mowed and edged, then picked blackberries. God seems to have blessed us this year with an abundant crop. Here's a bush growing near our farm's entrance. In the background you can just barely make out Nate and Jessie's 1820s farm house.

5) Let's see, what to do now? Oh yeah: "Drain well, put into quart-size zip lock bags and put in outside freezer." (This comes from my "list of things to do" left by my ever-efficient wife!)

6) Soweit die heutige Nachricht. Am loving my days off but can't wait to get back into the classroom. Students, see you on July 5th Lord willing!

Friday, June 10

6:10 PM No new developments here, except that the donks want to know where Mama B is. I'm afraid I'd make a fool of myself trying to tell you what I told them. I'm feeling splendidly, getting lots of exercise and working outdoors when it's not too hot. I have not written in my book Godworld for some time and I think I'll rectify that omission this evening. That is, if I do not spend the time in concentrated loafing. It is certainly interested work and I enjoy it very much.

This pic is for Bec. Tinnish Koi and Tolo Tolo say hello to you. I fed them some carrots in your honor.

3:07 PM Becky just got back from visiting Liz and Mercy. Tonight Matt will keep the boys at home and Becky will spend the night with Liz in the hospital. The last I heard, Liz and her baby should be coming home on Sunday. What a reunion that will be. I'm enjoying everything vicariously, as you can tell. The only thing is missing are some pictures of the wee one!

2:17 PM Awfully proud of recent SEBTS grad Lonnie Bell who is mentioned in this blog post by Larry Hurtado of Edinburgh University:

Lonnie Bell is working on the 2nd/3rd-century manuscripts of the Gospel of John, probling the nature of the transmission of GJohn in this early period.  These are the earliest direct witnesses to the GJohn, and his project promises to enrich our grasp of what forces and practices were at work in the textual transmission of this text (and, by extension, other NT texts).  It’s quite common for scholars to assert that the 2nd century was a time of “wild” textual variation.  Bell’s work may help us to get a firmer picture of things.

This is, of course, very exciting to me as Lonnie is one of my former students. If you are a SEBTS student and are contemplating doctoral studies in the UK, then you should definitely keep Edinburgh in mind. For more on how their program "shakes out," go here.

1:05 PM Apparently Germany has declared war on home schoolers. But why? I know of no better answer to this question than this superb blog post in which the author, after  a lengthy and balanced discussion of the ins-and-outs of the issue, concludes:

The reason the German state wants a monopoly on education is ultimately to control the world view of individuals. It doesn't want people thinking (too) differently from the official state line on a whole range of issues. When it boils down to it this really isn't that different in principle from clearly totalitarian states such as Nazi Germany (1933-45), communist East Germany, the Soviet Union or modern day North Korea. While it may not be as "hard" a form of totalitarianism as those examples, it is still a form of totalitarianism nonetheless.

I am not in any way trying to tell you that you must home educate your children. Christianity does not bring us into the world of slavish obligation but one of freedom. This should be a matter of personal choice and conviction. But what has happened in Germany can easily happen here. There are different forms of totalitarianism and different currents in it. But it is obvious to me that when the state seeks to control the education of our children, then it has overstepped its bounds.

12:16 PM Alan Knox, in an outstanding blog post called There was not a needy person among them, reminds us how important mutual care was in the early church. He writes:

When a new brother or sister was in need, someone took care of that need from their own property. When someone was hungry, that person was fed. When someone needed clothing or housing, that need was met. They considered their relationships with one another as more important than their own physical well-being or their material possessions.

Today, caring for those in need is left to government agencies or parachurch organizations. Christians tend to give a little money and consider the problem shifted to others. The American Dream has replaced the concern for other Christians who are in need.

If I understand Alan correctly, he is arguing that social activity (such as feeding the poor, housing the homeless, etc.) is a fruit of the Spirit. In other words, when a person is regenerated by way of the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20), then he or she will naturally want to implement the horizontal dimensions of the Great Commandment (Matt 22:37-39).

Surely this is a vital dimension of biblical Christianity. And the order, I believe, is significant. In some circles, "missions" is almost completely disassociated from evangelism. According to Weber and Welliver (Missions Handbook, 2007, p. 13), in the U.S. the increase in income from 2001 to 2005 for relief and development was 73.4 percent while for evangelism and discipleship it was only 2.7 percent. I have personally known some "mission" organizations in Ethiopia that engage in service to the community (building hospitals and schools, digging wells, etc.) without any mention of the Gospel. In my opinion, they have failed to keep the main thing the main thing. The supreme need of the nations is the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

But I need to add a careful rider here. Evangelism and social action are not opposed to each other. They are, as John Stott puts it, "two blades of a pair of scissors." Because Becky and I believe this to be true, we have become involved in several efforts in Ethiopia to address the economic and health concerns of the people there. Perhaps the most visible expression of this concern is the Health Clinic we opened in Burji several years ago. (It has since been upgraded to a Health Center.) I need to emphasize, however, that the primary purpose of the Health Center is evangelism because we firmly believe that individual regeneration by the grace of God is, in the final analysis, the best solution to humanity's individual and social problems. As Alan noted in his post, Christian social responsibility presupposes socially responsible Christians, and it is only through evangelism and discipleship that people can become committed to holistic missional work.

I remain deeply concerned about what I perceive to be a growing shift in emphasis today from proclaiming the kingdom of God to a purely economic and social gospel. This is like putting the cart before the horse. The Anabaptist Balthazar Hubmaier answered the charge that he required communal ownership of property by stating:

Concerning community of goods, I have always said that everyone should be concerned about the needs of others, so that the hungry might be fed, the thirsty given to drink, and the naked clothed. For we are not lords of our possessions, but stewards and distributors. There is certainly no one who says that another's goods may be seized and made in common; rather, he would gladly give the coat in addition to the shirt.

The Anabaptists held that the church is a voluntary society comprised of Christians who are bound to each by the reality of the new birth. These "believers" live apart from the world but do not shun it. They do not accumulate wealth but are content with their basic necessities. They help each other faithfully, having everything in common out of sheer love for their neighbor. They live a lifestyle that matches their responsibility to a lost and dying world.

This too was apparently the blessed experience of the early church in Acts. Through their relationship to Jesus Christ, these believers became detached from their worship of earthly things. They experienced freedom from covetousness and greed and seemed to be able to escape the "spend-and-consume" merry-go-round that Satan is now using to hold our American families in bondage. But, thank God, escape is still possible today! When we learn to embrace the Jesus way of life, when we can plan habitually to go without things for Christ's sake, then we have begun to live the life of "reasonable service" (Rom. 12:1-2) that is acceptable to God. Wherever you are, there are needy neighbors. And there is a cross for you to bear. God has a path of self-sacrifice for every one of us if we will but ask Him for the privilege of self-denial.

8:06 AM Grand Rapids Theological Seminary announces a conference on "Text and Culture," to be held Oct. 3, 2011. Speakers include Doug Moo and Scot McKnight. Information here.

8:02 AM Beautiful morning. Garden is watered, doggies fed. Birds are singing. Donkeys are happy. (They've begun bonding with yours truly. They are some sweet animals.) It will be a cool day with a high of "only" 91. Becky reports that Liz and baby are doing great.

Thursday, June 9

9:20 PM My prayer for you tonight, Liz and Mercy: 


9:09 PM Announcing the arrival of Mercy Magdalene Rondeau, who was born at 5 pm this evening. Vitals: 6 pounds, 4 ounces, 20 1/2 inches long. Mother, baby, father all doing fine. Becky's in tenth heaven. So am I -- she was born on my birthday!

I had very good intentions about blogging more this evening but I have been awake since 2:30 this morning and consequently am barely coherent. Till tomorrow, grace and peace. Dave

6:15 PM Shout outs to Thomas Hudgins, my Ed.D. student. Thomas currently lives and works in El Salvador.

And to Heebum Lee, my newest Th.M. student. He hails from, Seoul, South Korea, and is a graduate of Chong Shin University, where I have taught summer classes.

Heebum and his wife invited me to their home today for lunch. Greatly honored. In case you can't tell, I love international students.

4:40 PM The church has not yet freed itself of the strange evil of racism. The ghost of the past still mocks us. Even among Bible-belt fundamentalists. It is discomfiting to receive an email (as I did yesterday) from a former student whose selection as pastor was denied by a few people in the congregation because he was black (and "he might bring black folks to the church"). I find it extremely difficult to understand such an attitude, but it exists. I will stop here as I cannot write dispassionately and without bitterness. I hurt inside, not so much for this dear brother of mine, but for a congregation that is being chased by a bunch of second grade bullies. I try to smile at these simpletons. It keeps me from crying.

Ultimately the church must stand its ground and confront the enemy. The problem is that the enemy is all too often us. Any church that builds walls of race is lost, and sick. Oh, it may sugar-coat its racism with sophistication, with consummate urbanity, but at what cost?

At the cost of the entire Gospel.

4:04 AM Leaving for the airport. Becky flies from RDU to Albany today to meet up with three very special boys (plus their mommy and daddy and puppy doggy). Baby sister is due shortly, and Becky's services (mothering, grandmothering, cleaning, spoiling, etc.) are much in demand right now. Of course, I will be sorely missed up in New York as I, and I alone, am the only person on this planet who knows how to tell Henny, Jenny, and Penny Stories.©

Yall do try and enjoy yourselves without me. I'll be with you in thoughts and prayers, that's for sure.

Wednesday, June 8

7:29 PM I think Becky's quilt deserves an encore, don't you? Here it graces the bed of one of our upstairs guest rooms.

Care to light a natural hardwood fire in the fire place while enjoying the peace and quiet of Bradford Hall?

The room, incidentally, is called the Renn Room, so named because the paneling, wainscoting, etc, you see here all came from a 1790s home in Granville County, NC, called the Renn House. The flooring you see came, of course, from the pine trees on our own farm, which we sawed, planed, dried, and installed with cut nails. That was a fun project -- brings back many happy memories!

6:20 PM Looking forward to lunch tomorrow with current Ed.D. student Thomas Hudgins -- a superb blogger I might add. 

6:14 PM Meeting with a prospective Th.M. student tomorrow. Got room for a couple more in that program. Email me if you're interested:

1:18 PM Quote of the day (from My Blog):

It would seem to me that if we explicitly made the goal of our "church services" to make disciples or to train people to live as the light Jesus said they were, then evangelism and missions would take care of themselves, because each Christian would use their gifts to do the things God wants the whole church to do. There would be no need for expensive programs and costly mail outs because people who intelligently follow Jesus would find creative ways to do good in his name in their towns, over seas, and in their homes.

11:46 AM Becky's love for donkeys? Looks like it's hereditary!

11:43 AM Does your pastor know Greek and Hebrew?

10:40 AM Becky's dad just sent along this photo of Becky riding her donkey named "Honkey" in Ethiopia. She's being led by her mother, Betty Lapsley.

Ain't that sweet? Once a donkey lover, always a donkey lover!

10:04 AM Recently Koreans and Scots celebrated together the publication of the first translation of the Bible into Korean. The translator was a Scot named John Ross.

I wish I could have been there to celebrate with them. I do have one question, though. Does anybody know what Ross's base text was? Was he working from the English or from the original languages? And finally, if he worked from the Greek, which edition of the Greek New Testament did he use? I have made 6 trips to Korea and have yet to get a clear answer to these questions. Help!

9:45 AM Now online at Biola's You Tube Channel: Tenth Annual G. Campbell Morgan Theology Conference. Also, if you missed the Wheaton Theology Conference this year, the conference messages are now online here. My favorite speakers were Andrew Walls and Ruth Padilla DeBorst.

9:30 AM My colleague Maurice Robinson (who does not blog) chimes in on the "What's the correct way to pronounce Koine Greek?" debate in the comments section here. Always good to know what Maurice is thinking.

9:23 AM To all of you students who are studying New Testament Greek on your own: Did you that William Carey, the great missionary to India, borrowed a friend's grammar book and proceeded to teach himself New Testament Greek?

It can be done. Chins up and knees down!

9:15 AM David Stark notes that the latest issue of New Testament Studies has been published. This essay piqued my interest:

Michael Martin and Jason Whitlark, "The Encomiastic Topics of Syncrisis as the Key to the Structure and Argument of Hebrews."

I love it whenever somebody finds THE KEY to anything in New Testament studies. Not that it matters much, but I published my two cents worth in an essay called The Problem of the Literary Structure of Hebrews: An Evaluation and a Proposal. I concluded that

... the detailed literary and stylistic investigation attempted by Vanhoye has resulted in the amassing of a phalanx of objective literary facts which simply cannot be ignored. Even if his study should prove to be factually untenable in the present case, the modern exegete should not shrink from a discreetly handled structural analysis of the text.

8:39 AM I would love to be able to require this book in my New Testament Introduction class this fall: Paul as Missionary: Identity, Activity, Theology, and Practice, edited by Trevor Burke and Brian Rosner. But the price? $130 USD. Would you pay that for a 288 page book? What are the editors/publishers thinking? The price is absolutely, utterly ridiculous.

8:24 AM Ryan Collins has posted an excellent piece called Animal Slaughter & the Gravity of Sin.

One comment, if I may. We in America need to remember that in many parts of the world today the slaughtering of animals is a normal part of daily life. This is certainly true in Ethiopia. Hence, when I first arrived in Alaba and was told that a believer's 8-year old daughter had been "slaughtered" by their Muslim neighbors I understood what was meant. They slit her throat and decapitated her. That's what is done on a daily basis with goats. Death is a normal part of life in Ethiopia. So is bloodshed. I imagine that's the way it was in ancient Israel as well.

In the U.S. we have slaughter houses that protect us from this reality. Not here at Rosewood Farm, where we have slaughtered and butchered our own cattle. But a hundred years ago in America this was commonplace.

8:22 AM Great news! The church meeting hall in Zobechame is under construction, and I've got pictures to prove it, thanks to our son Nigusse.

Becky tells me we have now received gifts covering 25 percent of the construction costs. That means that $10,000 of the total of $40,000 has already come in. What a great God we serve. And thanks to each of you who have participated in this project. For more on the church in Zobechame, you can click here. Once again: Praise the Lord!

8:12 AM Odds and ends ...

1) Only 1 day away from my birthday and 3 days away from Nolan's. I must be older than him.

2) Must-read essay for all language students: Some thoughts about language learning.

3) Chuck Tackett reviews a book I co-edited: Ultimate Allegiance: The Subversive Nature of the Lord's Prayer

4) Becky's flower beds now surround the front porch. I wish you could see the flowers in person. Dainty little things, they add a fabulous touch to our entrance. It's just amazing how much work a house and garden is.

5) Students, I'll be on campus tomorrow (so der Herr will). The door to my office is always open.

Tuesday, June 7

7:50 PM My project du jour was to discontinue two garden beds and prep them for Becky's next crop.

So today we said "Bye Bye" to the cabbage and peas. We sure enjoyed them while they lasted.

4:58 PM The weather has finally cooled down a bit. Time to get back into the garden.

4:43 PM As you know, my next opusculum is my revision of Paul, Apostle of Weakness. When I wrote the first edition of the book I was young and inexperienced. Intellectually I was greatly influenced by Barth (another thing that Mark the gardener and I apparently have in common) and Cullmann. I do not deny that this was due largely to my circumstances as a student in Basel. Moreover, it was in Basel that I came to abhor the Marxism of Europe's elite. My political leanings were such that I felt it impossible to conceive of being both a Christian and a Democrat.

Since then I have experienced a few "severe mercies" (C. S. Lewis) and have, perhaps, grown up a bit. The strange result (I say "strange" because it was so unexpected) was that the more I studied the historical Jesus of the Gospels, the more I came to see not only how impossible it is to support any earthly archy (see my Christian Archy) but also how impossible it is to follow Jesus with one's intellect alone (see my The Jesus Paradigm). The 1984 edition of Paul, Apostle of Weakness was a purely academic work. The 2012 version will, I think, reflect a heart commitment to a certain lifestyle and to a certain service that God requires. I do not blame myself for not having this perspective when I was 30 years old. Nor am I arguing that we should dismiss the academic contributions of younger scholars whose life experience is lacking. I am arguing for what I take to be the biblical message, namely, that thinking can never be wholly divorced from doing, and that the follower of Jesus must therefore scrupulously avoid appearing to be to others what he or she is not. I have very concrete knowledge of this latter failing, and so I am all the more eager that my students do not succumb to the same temptations that I once did. In other words, we cannot truly be on the outside what we are not on the inside. If I try to live otherwise, it is only a bluff. And I think we can all agree that the church doesn't need any more hypocrites.

4:18 PM We have a winner! He is none other than Hebrew/Greek/Latin scholar par excellence Jacob Cerone, who blogs here. In case you were wondering what the answers were:

1) President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

2) General Dwight D. Eisenhower

3) Field Marshall Erwin Rommel

4) Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery

5) Field Marshall Gerd von Rundstet

6) Prime Minister Winston Churchill

Jacob chose the book Christian Archy as his prize. And please do drop by Jacob's site, where you will be treated to such fine blog posts as this one: Has Christian Education Failed Us?

12:55 PM Paul Himes, who is writing his dissertation on 1 Peter, thinks it's time he produced an overview of resources for studying and preaching 1 Peter. I'm glad he did. And just where does he get that zany sense of humor (see his statement about Derek Jeter)? 

12:19 PM Oooo, this is good. Took gobs of courage to write too.

I don't know about you, but I no longer ask a person I've just met, "Say, are you a Christian?" The word "Christian" means nothing in our culture. Instead, here's what I ask: "Say, I'm curious: Are you an obedient follower of Jesus?" The answer reveals everything.  

11:26 AM More on studying Greek: I am probably guilty of a bias toward my own beginning grammar (Learn to Read New Testament Greek), but every grammar has its strengths and weaknesses. As you begin to review for Greek 3 this summer, please take a week or two and thoroughly review whichever beginning grammar you used in first year Greek. If you did not use a grammar in class (but your teacher's notes instead), you might consider acquiring a beginning textbook. Here's a list that will help you to decide which one to get. 

11:15 AM Summer Greek students! To supplement Metzger's vocabulary lists check out this online resource. Outstanding aid.

10:44 AM Finished!

10:26 AM People often ask me: "What are you an apologist for? Home grown elders? Home education? Age-integrated services?" My answer is very simple: "I am an apologist for the Gospel." I'm a Gospel guy who believes that what we need before anything else is to pray, "Lord, break my heart with the things that break yours." I'm convinced that the acid test of Christianity is being motivated by the things that motivate God. And what motivates God? The Great Commission and bringing in His Reign. I believe that every detail of our lives ought to be measured by this yardstick. That's why the risen Christ left us the Great Commission. He knew there is a heaven and a hell. He loves lost souls and wants them to spend eternity with Him.

That's why I am so appreciative of what Matt Emerson had to say on his blog yesterday about unity (Ephesians 4 and the SBC). In the Great Commission, in this great work of reconciliation to which we are all called, there is only one harvest and one Master of the harvest. We therefore need to work together under His direction and support each other in the common task. The Great Commission leaves us no option, If any of my pet doctrines -- elder-led congregationalism, home-churching, etc. -- has its grip on me more than Jesus and the lost world He came to save, then it has become a god. Each of us must settle this point once and for all. (This includes me!) Satan will use our pet doctrines to destroy our walk with God and our unity as Christians. I'm convinced that, if we would adopt a truly Gospel-centered lifestyle, we would turn the world upside-down for Christ.

Note in the margin: I think that blog entries such as this and this are unhelpful in building unity between believers. They tend to breed an us-versus-them mentality that, honestly, we could do without in evangelical Christianity. I would ask those who are home churchers -- is the Gospel paramount in your theology, in your ecclesiology even? Remember, folks: The gathering exists for the going. Pure and simple. I would rather be part of a group of traditionalists who are passionate about the Gospel than part of a group of simple-churchers who give the impression of being ingrown and fellowship-centered.

Again, I'm pointing the finger at yours truly. One of the main reasons B and I are at Bethel Hill is because of its commitment to being the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. Without question, that's our passion. At the same time, we're working toward a more biblical ecclesiology. We love it!

9:50 AM Good morning bloggers! I slept from 10:00 pm to 9:00 am. Musta been tired. As I crank up the old bod, here are a few odds and ends ...

1) No new sightings of Bambi this morning. You're free to hang around the pasture, young lady, but don't you dare come near my garden.

2) Mark Stevens continues his review of Why Four Gospels? over at Near Emmaus. I am deeply grateful and mortified for putting him to all this trouble.

Speaking of Mark, here's a photo of the Mad Gardener himself. I threatened to use it as "Black" mail against him, but he wasn't a-feared. I tell you, the man is shameless.

But he's one DY-NO-MITE gardener. Here's proof:

3) Only two days before Becky leaves for New York and one week before I leave for Asia. I'm already missing her.

4) "She bringeth her food from afar." Well, at least from our driveway.

Becky tells me these are "twice-picked" blackberries. She dropped them when she heard a snake in the grass.

Or was it a bee that frightened her? Whatever the culprit was, these berries are gonna make some awfully good jam.

5) You mean the paragraph titles in our Greek New Testaments may be wrong?

6) Our name-the-face contest will stay open until this evening. So far the best you've been able to do is 5 out of 6. I will also open the game to non-bloggers.

Monday, June 6

8:47 PM Was a long and tiring afternoon. B and I had some business to attend to in Danville, which ate up about 5 hours, then we stopped by Wal-Mart in South Boston, then we tended to the animals. Becky has "the gift" when it comes to those donkeys. They could care less about me but can't get enough of Mama B.

Maybe it's because I'm the guy who applies the fly spray while Becky holds the feed bucket?

12:44 PM Here's what B and I saw a few minutes ago as we sat at our breakfast room table, eating home-made fajitas for lunch.

Isn't she a beaut?

11:28 AM Glad to see I'm not the only surfing freak out there who loves Jesus. Cowabunga, Down Under Dude!

10:10 AM "Master Pastor" (go here) Mark Turner has a good post up about social networking faux pas. I just hope I'm not guilty of #3!

9:55 AM Becky Lynn updates her quilt project:

In our last photo, I was sewing the strips together to form the edges of the quilt. Here I layer the top strips, the polyester batting, and the bottom fabric. Yes, I do this on our kitchen counter. When the house was built, Nathan made the counter to be about 3" higher than the standard counter. It is a wonderful place to work...big and the fabric lies flat and I don't get a backache. In the background you can see the artwork of Caleb, Isaac, and Micah Rondeau, grandsons whom I love very much!

I moved to the formal dining room to machine-quilt the edges. I need space! The full dimensions of each side is about 12 ft X 3.5 ft, so I had to fold it to keep all the bulk in order. Notice the rose in the foreground. Dave brought that in from our garden. "A rose for a Rose," he said as he handed it to me. This is consistent with all his behavior towards me. He rules me with his love, and I praise God that the love gets more rich with each passing month!

After completing the quilting, I trim all layers along the bottom edge, but only the top two layers along the other 3 sides. The untrimmed back edge will form the overlay finishing. This is the first time I've put a quilt together in this it was a learning experience! During major sewing projects, the whole kitchen/dining area looks like it is hit by a tornado! I'm getting eager to finish and get things back to order!

Now comes the hardest part of the whole project...joining the 4 big edges to the center quilt. The long seams were not hard, but getting all that bulk to go smoothly around the inner corners was a matter that involved much pleading with the Lord! In the end, I was lays flat and looks somewhat professional :)  Thank you, Lord!

Now the easiest, quietest work...hand stitching the back overlay to cover the seams. I watched some programs of The Texan (being a 5th-generation Texan myself!), listened to worship songs or the audio Bible (am now in the book of Joshua), or just prayed as I worked.

We're almost finished. Are you ready for the finished project? I am!

9:18 AM On this, the 67th anniversary of D-Day (our invasion of Nazi-occupied France), I can't help but reflect on World War II. My parents' generation has been called "The Greatest Generation" because they fought the Nazis and mobilized for the Cold War. What we forget is the fiscal burden they placed on their posterity, producing an American political system that seems utterly incapable of tackling any big multigenerational problems, including our national debt. America has entered an irreversible downward spiral. We had better understand this new era we're entering. The American spirit -- "We are entitled to whatever we want" -- demands growth and consumption. We want the appetizers, the entrees, and the desserts, all at once. Today each follower of Jesus stands at the crossroads on the question of personal priorities. Will we surrender to the spirit of this age, or will we resist and join the downward movement of Jesus, making a conscious choice to deny the normal comforts and conveniences of life for the sake of others? We honor those who die in military service, we celebrate the accomplishments of our nation's athletes, we honor fire fighters who perish in public service, but the minute a Christian young person refuses to accept the American Dream and voluntarily takes on an assignment that involves suffering we spend hours trying to talk him or her out of "going overboard." I am not saying that every Christian must become a professional missionary. No, I am saying that if you are really sincere about following Christ you will not be at peace until the whole world knows of Him, and you will be intentional about using whatever He has given you -- your wealth, your vocation, your vacations even -- to serve the expansion of His kingdom. "What good is knowledge unapplied?" asked one of my pastors recently. What good is an education unless we place it at the feet of King Jesus? Students, my parents' generation, and my own as well, have failed you because we have catered to the rotten spot in the soul of our nation. We have taught you to expect instant gratification, that the "good life" is the only life there is, that extravagance and waste are the normal patterns of our human existence. We have clenched our fists -- not all of us, but many of us -- and have refused to receive the nail prints of the cross, unwilling to make even small sacrifices to reach the millions of lost souls in our world. How different this is from the self-sacrifice of our spiritual forefathers in the book of Acts! Something is desperately wrong, and it is up to your generation to turn it around. The only way Christ will be incarnated to a lost world is through you. As the Father sent Him, so He is sending you so that others can taste and feel and see His presence. Could it be that He is calling you -- each and every one of you -- to manifest His light and power in a dark world? My answer is yes -- a million times yes!

P.S. If you are interested in changing the world for Christ, I want to hear from you. I'm currently in the mentoring phrase of my career, having approximately 6-10 years left of fulltime teaching. During this time I am looking for 5-10 additional students into which I will pour my life in our Th.M. and Ph.D. programs. My hope is that not only will your faith be strengthened, but that your love for the world will be deepened and the flame of His gift in you rekindled, so that you will be "blessed in your doing" (James 1:15) and not just in knowing the Gospel. I don't want one who preaches, I want the one who practices. I'm looking for men and women who are willing to put the Great Commission over pay and career advancement, who are eager to destroy worldly ambitions and selfish priorities and who are serious about following Christ all the way. If you are interested, send me an email at

6:45 AM Please join me in welcoming Matt Emerson, one of my seminary colleagues, to the blogosphere. His blog is called Intertextual Interpretation. You won't believe his first post.

6:32 AM On taps to watch this evening: The Longest Day. This is a family tradition that goes way back many many years. (On December 7 we watch Tora! Tora! Tora!) Speaking of D-Day (June 6, 1944), a free book to the first blogger to correctly identify these major players on that fateful day in world history. You can choose between Christian Archy, The Jesus Paradigm, or Why Four Gospels? -- all published by our good friends Henry and Jody Neufeld at Energion Publications.







Sunday, June 5

8:44 PM Awesome evening at Cal Berryhill's farm in Person County, working with our Mexican vencinos who are here for the summer, feeding them tons of pizza, each of them receiving a Santa Biblia (Reina Valera, of course) and a simple Gospel tract, and otherwise just hanging with some really hard working guys.

We'll be meeting together every Sunday night for the foreseeable future for food, fellowship, and Bible teaching. You should have seen all of us gringos trying to converse in Spanish. I think I was probably the worst of the lot, but I am determined to improve.

For toppers, Becky and I arrived home tonight only to find that our new magnolia tree has its very first blossom, which means that more are to come (Lord willing) and that one day, when I am dead and long gone, my grandkids will get to enjoy their grandparents' foresight.

A day cannot get any better, I really mean that -- meeting together for mutual edification, going out to reach the community, spending time with my church family and then the neighborhood family, eating, choking on my Spanish, hugging on people, and making some new friends (Nacho -- hola amigo!). I can only call this amazing grace. 

3:14 PM Lots of good takeaways from brother Joel's excellent message from 1 John 2:12-14 today:

"The Christian faith is not a lazy thing. It's a faith in which the Gospel drives me to live a holy life and pursue a kingdom agenda."

"The Gospel message is that God saves, and for the rest of your life God is changing you to use you for His purposes in the world."

"We at Bethel Hill Baptist Church should teach and live sound doctrine that provides a nurturing environment in which young Christians can grow in their faith."

"We need to obey the Word of God even when it conflicts with the culture and when it conflicts with traditions in the church."

"We as mature Christians must mentor and care for those under us. We ought to be seeking out younger believers to mentor and share in their lives."

And my favorite:

"What good is knowledge unapplied?"

2:55 PM Just back from taking Becky to Mexico Viejo, our favorite Mexican restaurant in South Boston. As we entered I told Becky, "From now on it's Spanish only, okay?" You should have heard us trying to speak Spanglish with our servers. At one point I said, "Yo quiero una taza de café por mi esposa." I was gently corrected, "Para mi esposa," said our kind waiter. Another server who looked Hispanic turned out to be from Morocco. She knew no Spanish but spoke good English and even better French. We left, after leaving an extra large tip to cover the service -- and their patience -- thinking, Yes, the world really is flat. The funniest thing was poor Becky couldn't keep her Amharic from sneaking into the conversation. Still, she gets an A+ for effort. We both do.

8:38 AM Quote of the day (Mark Lightman):

ου διαφερει, κατα με. ει εγω καταλαμβανω τινα λεγοντα Ελληνιστι εμοι, ἡ προφορὰ τουτου καλη εστιν. ὁ Sean Connery και ὁ Mel Gibson και ὁ Bill Clinton λαλοῦσι Βρεττανικῃ ου μεν ὁμοιως, αλλα παντες καλως. ὁ μεν λεγει tomayto, ὁ δε tomaaato. εν τῃ συναγωγῃ, ὁ μεν λεγει shabBAT shalom, ὁ δε gut SHABbas. ὁ Αθηναιος μεν ελαλησεν "φιλῶ την γην," ὁ δε Δωρικος ελαλησεν "φιλῶ ταν γαν." αμφοτεροι εφιλησαν και τε ελαλησαν καλως. το κυριωτερον εστιν το λαλεῖν Ελληνιστι.

Mark is absolutely correct: It really does not matter which pronunciation method of Greek you use (Erasmian, Restored, Modern) as long as you read Greek aloud and are consistent in your pronunciation. Incidentally, an occasional visit to B-Greek: The Biblical Greek Forum would be well worth your time!

8:26 AM Students, if you are taking my Greek 3 class that starts on July 5th, you can begin now to prepare your translations from Philippians. Of the many online texts of the Greek New Testament, one of the very best is I  am a huge supporter of this online tool. It will parse each Greek word for you and also show you any major textual variants if you click on the "Manuscript Comparator." Also, here's a list of additional resources you can use to supplement our grammar textbook, It's Still Greek to Me.

Enjoy translating Philippians, which is all about Christian unity for the sake of the Gospel!

Saturday, June 4

9:16 PM Brian Fulthorp adds some solid insights to Becky's essay on cursing, suggesting that cursing (cussing) is often tied to an anger problem. But you can read the whole thing here.

P.S. Did Jesus prohibit all anger or only unrighteous anger? The key is a textual variant in Matt. 5:22. If you'd like my opinion on whether "without a cause" is original or not, I'd be happy to send you a gratis copy of my Novum Testamentum article, "Jesus on Anger: The Text of Matthew 5:22a Revisited" (first page here). Just send me an email.

8:32 PM Saturday night shout out to my doctoral student Alex Stewart, who has agreed to give a special lecture in my New Testament class this fall. The title of his talk will be "Revelation as Prophetic-Apocalyptic Exhortation." (Whatever that means, LOL.) Thanks bunches, Alex!

8:14 PM Have you had your evening stroll yet? We just got back from ours.

And who did we find surveying the grounds? None other than Master Nolan Elijah Black himself and his mommy.

He is quite the kisser, but don't you be tellin' no one.

Jessie says Nolan now has five new chicks, including an oversized one. When I asked Nolan what its name was, he replied, "Nonan Jaja Chickin'" = Nolan Elijah Chicken.

Ain't that boy somethin' else?

5:50 PM Off to cook Chinese again for supper. Am I stuck in a rut or what?

5:45 PM Eric Carpenter's latest post reminds me of something John Havlik once wrote (People-Centered Evangelism, p. 47): "The church is never a place," he said, "but always a people; never a fold but always a flock; never a sacred building but always a believing assembly." Then he added this: "The church is you who pray, not where you pray. A structure of brick or marble can no more be the church than your clothes of serge or satin can be you." There's much wisdom here. Thank you, Eric, for showing us what the church looks like!

5:41 PM Graham Michael (who has not left for Israel yet -- my bad!) pursues a pacifistic line in his essay called Israel: A History. An excellent book on the subject is Guy Hershberger's War, Peace, and Nonresistance, which distinguishes between pacifism in the modern sense on the one hand and nonresistance or "defenseless" Christianity on the other. Another book that has informed my understanding of war and peace (and which I quote in The Jesus Paradigm) is John Howard Yoder's The Christian Witness to the State. I commend both tomes to all who are in interested in the Radical Reformation and especially the Anabaptist vision.

9:43 AM The line between superb confidence and tragic overconfidence is often hidden from even the greatest leaders. Case in point: Just before his ignominious defeat at the hands of an army less than half the size of his own, "Fighting" Joe Hooker raised a glass and shouted to his commanders:

God Almighty will not be able to prevent the destruction of the rebel army!

Students, beware hubris! It was tragic overconfidence that brought disaster to the Federal army at Chancellorsville. Only as we abide in Christ -- and give Him the glory for anything "we" have accomplished -- can we abound in Him. Only what is produced in our hearts by Him is acceptable to Him. Are you doing well in your studies? Are you a successful graduate? Then give Him all the glory.

9:22 AM Did you know that Bryant wrote his magnificent poem Thanatopsis when he was only 17 years of age? Young person, don't be squeamish about writing. You learn by doing. Blog. Tweet. Leave comments on other people's blogs. Let no one despise your youth. Here's an example of what I'm talking about. You go Katy!

8:50 AM Bobby Auner has some good thoughts today about criticism: how to give it, and how to receive it. He concludes:

Without our Spirit led conscience crying out there is no use giving criticism a second thought. I am convinced that the best thing to do is say what you mean and own it until the Spirit tells you otherwise. If our tongue needs some taming, he will let us know. Till then, we shouldn't quench the Spirit within us.

By the way, do you know the difference between constructive criticism and destructive criticism? Constructive criticism is whenever I criticize you. Destructive criticism is whenever you criticize me. (*Smile*)

8:42 AM Aaah, the plants are now refreshed and HAPPY. So am I. I had to smile when I saw this headline over at The Saint Augustine Record: Long-lost church found. I thought maybe somebody had discovered the Book of Acts. (Aren't I being persnickety this morning?)

8:03 AM Off to water the garden.

7:53 AM Since Brian (and others) are recommending good books to read, I'd like to add one to the list if I may: Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison. For anyone desiring to follow Jesus unreservedly in the 21st century this book will be quite convicting. One quote I use in my book The Jesus Paradigm:

The Church is the Church only when it exists for others. To make a start, it would give away all its property to those in need. The clergy must live solely on the free-will offerings of their congregations, or possibly engage in some secular calling. The Church must share in the secular problems of ordinary human life, not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others.

Of course, it is not mere instruction and books that we need. Instead we need men and women who will make costly discipleship a deliberate choice -- which is exactly what Bonhoeffer did and which is why I love him so much.

7:46 AM I had no idea it was so dry in Australia. If it's any consolation, Mark, we've had to begin watering our garden as well. Believe it or not, drought is not uncommon in North America. As for Mark's "Here’s to another bumper harvest!" I would only say this: one must be extremely careful about enumerating one's poultry while the process of incubation is still incomplete.

7:34 AM Yesterday I received an email asking me what I thought of the so-called "Insider Movement." It seems that some people who are affiliated with this movement have come to believe that Lamsa's Aramaic New Testament is greatly to be preferred over Greek-based translations. Inasmuch as all of us who follow Jesus are to be fulltime missionaries, I suppose it is necessary for us to become familiar with what's going on. If asked to choose just one essay on the topic, it would be this one. Like almost every other response, it recognizes Greek as the base text of the New Testament.

Friday, June 3

5:44 PM Wise words from a great Baptist theologian and pastor in Philadelphia:

[The apostles have] taught us by example how to organize and govern churches. We have no right to reject their instruction and ... insist that nothing but positive command shall bind us.

-- J. L. Dagg, Manual of Church Order (Harrisonburg, VA: Gano Books, 1990; first published in 1858) p. 84.

5:22 PM Andrew Bowden responds to Becky's essay on cursing. Excellent insights, Andy. Thank you for sharing them with us. 

5:18 PM I was sitting on the front porch a few minutes ago, enjoying the animals, when I noticed this interesting vapor trail formation. Sure looks like a Greek letter, doesn't it?

I think I'll call it "Pi in the Sky"!

4:14 PM Hans Küng, in his latest book Ist die Kirche Noch zu Retten? (Can the Church Still Be Saved?), says that only by becoming radical can the Catholic Church survive. This according to a report at The Christian Century.

Küng himself is a radical thinker. A case in point is his 1972 book Why Priests? A Proposal for a New Church Ministry, in which he argues that the crisis in the Catholic Church is nothing less than an inadequate biblical foundation. He calls for the rediscovery of the laity and for a return to the New Testament concept of the church, not as a highly organized institution but as a community in which every follower of Jesus is responsible to be a witness to the power of Christ in everyday life.

Point well taken. Protestants, of course, have long cried sola scriptura! But do we really take that claim seriously?

1:58 PM I have benefited greatly from what Guy Muse, a Southern Baptist missionary, wrote on his blog today. In a post called Baptist Identity, Guy quoted the London Baptist Confession of 1644/46 to this effect:

THAT the ministers lawfully called, as aforesaid, ought to continue in their calling and place according to God's ordinance, and carefully to feed the flock of God committed to them, not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind.

Guy infers from this, correctly in my opinion, that pastors are to continue in their professions when assuming pastoral roles within a congregation. Writes Guy:

"...ought to continue in their calling and place..." means to me that if they are a school teacher, they are to continue in that profession and not abandon it for the ministry. Our modern idea of having full-time professional church ministers seems out of tune with this earlier confession of Baptist belief and practice.

Isn't this wonderful stuff? Some, of course, will ask, "How could a man possibly work fulltime and pastor a church effectively? One or the other will have to suffer!" This is a perfectly reasonable objection. It is obvious to every non-professional minister that the average layperson spends most of his or her time weekly providing for their families. Since they spend an enormous amount of time working for a living, their "church time" can only be a fraction of their ministry. Of course, the solution to this problem is obvious. Simply put, Jesus Christ never entrusted leadership in a local church to a single individual. Leadership in the New Testament was shared. Not surprisingly, therefore, when Paul refers to church leaders (e.g., 1 Thess. 5:12-13) the reference is to a plurality of leadership. In order to be an equipping environment, then, the local church must be structured for shared leadership -- what Michael Green wonderfully refers to as a "fellowship of leadership."

It is strange to think now how far away the London Baptist Confession era seems. It may be due to the subtle influence of the Enlightenment. The old traditions are lulled to rest, replaced by new traditions emanating from the "experts" and "church growth gurus" sitting behind their mahogany decks. I confess that even my own profession has not been immune to such thinking. "No one but a blockhead ever wrote except for money," declared Samuel Johnson. In that light, the Bible's "not for filthy lucre" sounds very quaint indeed.

I have taken too many words to say what must be painfully obvious. The Restorationists of 19th century America maintained that no creeds were necessary because the New Testament itself provided a perfect constitution for the church. Are salaries for pastors biblical? Intensive study is leading a new generation of restorationists to conclude that it is not. For them, the Bible is a textbook of revolution.

11:20 AM One thing I so deeply appreciate about Eric Carpenter is that he is rigorously consistent in his primitivism. If it was good enough for the church in Acts, it is good enough for brother Eric! Thus he reckons professional pastors who are parachuted in from the outside of the community to be less than desirable. (He speaketh from personal experience.) We have seen that no fixed ranking of fulltime servants in the church can be established from the New Testament. It is also clear that the elders Paul appointed from town to town were all home grown. The blunt fact is that this is the scriptural pattern. It is striking, then, that so few churches practice it. We are much like Zwingli in this regard, who, despite his biblicism, could not conceive of any other order than holy orders. It should not surprise us that the Zürich City Council banned independent Bible study groups. The Anabaptist approach was essentially a lay movement, even though many of its earliest leaders were ordained clerics. Today there is a refreshing revival of this spirit by new movements in the church. For it is indeed the ministry of the laity that is of paramount importance in the contemporary scene.

11:12 AM SEBTS students! If you are at all interested in our new degree in Bible translation and linguistics, then you must check out this post by Wayne Lehman about the need and importance of translation checking. It's a great way to put your language skills in Greek and Hebrew to good use!

6:40 AM Becky's latest essay is called Is It Wrong for Christians to Curse?

Here's an anecdote that goes along with her essay. In Gods and Generals, Jeff Shaara has Robert E. Lee walking through Fredericksburg just after Federal troops have looted it. Shaara writes:

He turned, walked down a side street, saw more of the same, began to move quicker, to the next main street, saw a huge pile of broken furniture, pieces of porcelain, grand vases and small pitchers, dishes, cups, all shattered into pieces. In front of one house a pile of books lay in the mud of the yard, covers ripped off, bindings split, and finally stopped, felt the hot anger tighten in his chest. He clenched his fists through the soreness, lowered his head.

"God ..." He fought the anger, felt the sharp edge of the curse rising inside him, held it hard, pushed it back, away. "God, forgive them for what they have done."

Thursday, June 2

8:06 PM Just checked the mail with Becky and fed the donkeys apples. It was finally cool enough outdoors to drive the tomato stakes.

I always look forward to my first mater sandwich of the summer. Don't you?

5:30 PM O my, this is good:

Even as Christendom is in the midst of its death throes, the future is brighter than it has been in a long time. Instead of bribing and begging kids to stay in church, it is high time we challenge kids and young adults to step up and be leaders. I am confident that they will respond far better to an expectation to do more than being treated like slackers who can’t handle the truth.

All the more reason to consider acquiring a copy of Kevin Brown's new book, Rite of Passage for the Home and Church.

5:02 PM In his outstanding book Your Other Vocation (p. 52), Elton Trueblood writes:

If we should take lay religion seriously as was done in the early Christian church, the dull picture presented by so many contemporary churches would be radically altered.... pastors would not be performing while others watch, but helping to stir up the ministry of the ordinary members.

Fabulous quote! In recapturing every-member ministry, the pastors in our churches have a tremendous responsibility. Their role in reform is a major one. They must begin where their people are and move them to where they should go. Which is one reason I am so thrilled to be a part of Bethel Hill. Our pastors are eager to model for the congregation what empowering the laity looks like. In the coming months the pulpit will be filled by several non-pastors -- men in the church who have the gift of teaching and from whom the congregation has much to learn. We are rightly proud of our "home-grown" leaders. We will perhaps never be known for the pulpit prowess of one man. This is not important. In your traditional Southern Baptist church, the laity typically act as assistants to the professional clergy. It is my belief that the clergy's expertise should be used  in helping the laity to rediscover their sense of ministry right where they are. This practice of empowering and equipping and releasing the laity for ministry is not unknown in Southern Baptist life. But it is mostly restricted to special Sundays typically known as "Men's Day" or "Youth Sunday." On these occasions the pastoral staff takes a low profile. The entire service, from beginning to end (including the "preaching"), is done by the laity, including the young people. On these special occasions it is clear that people are eager to participate if given the chance. The old saying "Ministry is more caught than taught" comes alive. It is learned by "on the job" training.

What does this imply for pastoral leadership? What is done on one or possibly two Sundays could easily be duplicated each and every Sunday of the year. I am not calling into question the necessity or value of pastoral leadership. Far from it. I am simply raising the question of the most strategic use of pastoral ministry in the deployment of the entire congregation for works of service both in and out of the church.

Elton Trueblood is right. There is little biblical justification for a setting in which pastors perform and people watch. Every "worship service" can become a training center for Christian vocation.

3:02 PM Yard work is officially done. I still need to pound some tomato stakes for Becky, but the heat index is telling me I need to stay indoors until this evening. I think I'll go down for a little rest, but not before calling your attention to an absolutely fantastic comment by brother Art Mealer over at Alan-the-Assembler-Knox's site.


11:22 AM Odds and ends ...

1) Great news! Steve Frary of the seminary's library, whose essay "Who Was Manifested in the Flesh? A Consideration of Internal Evidence in Support of a Variant in 1 Tim 3:16a" appeared in the journal Filologia Neotestamentaria, will be my guest lecturer in New Testament Introduction 2 this fall. He will joined by our resident text-critical expert, Maurice Robinson ("Big Mo"). The date is Nov. 2 at 2:00 pm in Binckley 101. Steve and Maurice will be defending the reading "God." Come on out if you're at all interested in New Testament textual criticism.

2) Glad to see that Mark Stevens has jump-started his fabulous website The Parson's Patch. Any words of a fellow gardener are most appreciated. I wonder if Mark will now revive his Black Tuesday series?

3) Becky has just written a fine essay in response to the question, "Is it wrong for Christians to curse?" I hope to publish it tomorrow.

4) Andy Bowden, who plans on pursuing his doctorate in Germany, is excited about some books he's gotten on that fascinating country. Andy, don't forget Germans by George Bailey. It's a real classic.

5) Speaking of the Germans, did you know that they love to reenact the Civil War? The American Civil War, that is!

6) Time to mow the lawn.

10:16 AM I am blessed to have a father-in-law who loves Ethiopia as much as Becky and I do. In fact, were it not for Brad and Betty Lapsley, Bec and I would probably not be connected to "Utopia" at all. I feel certain, however, that Mr. Lapsley must be harboring some hidden vendetta against me in view of the .pdf he just sent us. It's called A Contextual Study of Guji-Oromo Proverbs: Functions in Focus. This somewhat esoteric sounding work originated as a masters thesis at Addis Ababa University. Undoubtedly dad actually intends for me to read it.

Well, since I am a lover of all things Guji, I have decided to take the plunge -- then pass the work on to Alvin Reid, who is hankering for some good summer reading (only kidding, Al!). Who, you ask, are the Gujis? Only a tribe with a reputation for being the fiercest fighters in all of Southern Ethiopia. This may or not be true, but I tend to believe it. It was among this tribe that brother Jason and I evangelized three years ago, knowing full well that the last two Burji evangelists to work among the Gujis (Guyo and Guba) had been murdered there.

James, our 24-year old translator (shown above), was murdered soon after our own visit to the Gujis. Personally I owe James much -- and not merely because he risked his life to serve with us. He was a man of contagious joy, as devout a Christian as I have ever met, yet unlike so many of us Americans he was rarely the prey of black moods and morbid, overconscienteous fantasies. I was never wholly at ease with him accompanying us, but he was not to be stopped. "The Lord Himself has told me I must go with you," was his quiet reply, and that was that. When Gideon and his 300 mighty men attacked the Midianites, they had to smash their earthen vessels in order to confuse the enemy with the sudden light. This is, I believe, exactly what Paul had in mind when he referred to the Christian as an earthen vessel (2 Cor. 4:7-8). We want people to admire our vessels and we show off how talented and educated and valuable we are. James realized that there is no experience of Christ without the cross, that no power is released unless we risk suffering for His sake.

I hope indeed to learn much about the Gujis by reading this thesis. I have not given up on my hope of returning some day to Gujiland. God has a path for each one of us if we will but ask Him for the privilege of suffering. 

Wednesday, June 1

8:33 PM In this outstanding blog post, Paul Burleson likens the church to a symphony orchestra under the "baton" of the Lord Jesus Christ. This analogy has often occurred to me as well. The other night I mentioned to you that I was watching Brahm's German Requiem on You Tube. The thought of "This is the church!" kept going through my mind.

Individual players. Each exercising his or her own gift. No instrument more important than the next. (Even the "ding ding thing" -- the triangle -- has its place in an orchestra.) Some players more experienced and further along in their craft than others. Perhaps there's even a concert master (usually the first violinist). Certainly there are section leaders. But when the orchestra plays, no one instrumentalist is more important than the next, and ALL are under the direction of the conductor. (And there is only one conductor!)

Why is this so hard to see? This is the church!

7:59 PM Our good friend Arthur Sido is leading a Bible study and seeks suggestions as to which curriculum he should use. Please don't think me obnoxious, but one really need look no further than the Word of God itself. In Ethiopia that's all we teach. We don't use Piper, or MacArthur, or Warren, or even any of my books. Every person who teaches for us agrees to teach the Scriptures, verse by verse. Here's one of them:

Dale taught through the book of 1 John. You know, sola scriptura and all that. Honestly, I don't know of a book other than the Bible that better matches Arthur's criterion:

I want something substantive and challenging, something that will stretch minds.

5:02 PM This fall I have decided to ask my New Testament class to read The Jesus Paradigm. There's a story behind this decision. Care to hear it?

I've had a long and happy teaching career, broken only by graduate study in Basel. I have, of course, taught thousands of students in person, but I fancy myself in thinking that I have also had the privilege of instructing a good number of them through my publications. I was once asked by a budding author, "For whom should I write?" His "target audience" was behind the question. It might amuse you to know how I answered it. "I always write for my students." I may be wrong, but I imagine that my colleagues in the guild are either too busy or too disinterested in anything I have to say to read my books -- but my students! They are an eager bunch indeed; and, I believe, it is their generation that will rewrite the future.

Half the advantage of going away to school is, well, going away to school. You're off on your own, making your own way in the world. For me, arriving at Biola in 1971 meant migrating from the balmy climes of Hawaii to the invigorating intellectual atmosphere of Southern California. I was doing, literally, what no one in my family had done before. I had gone to college. I became captivated in school by the biblical languages, the wisdom of the church fathers, the skepticism of the skeptics and the theology of the theologians. My Greek professor in college, of course, did his best to weed me out, but little did he know that I was destined (divine passive!) to be a lifelong student of New Testament Greek. At any rate, he eventually hired me to teach 11 units of Greek at Biola, which meant that I could indulge in my favorite pastime and even get paid for it.

As a matter of fact, I had never set out to become a professional Greek teacher; I "slid" into my teaching career, no doubt with more than a touch of foible about me. I suppose my public reputation was one of a Greek scholar, as far as the academic public was concerned. But my main interests did not catch the public eye. When I began to teach the New Testament documents I was not mature enough to grasp all of their implications. I have no doubt that, like my Doktorvater in Basel, I was drawn to Gospel studies. To me his lectures on New Testament history were intensely stimulating and made a deep impression on me at the time. I had no doubt that Bo Reicke was on the right side of the synoptic problem. I still think so. It is curious, then, that my dissertation dealt with a problem in Pauline lexicography. It was not until the year 2000 or so that I had the courage to publish my views about the historical origins of the Gospels. I discovered, in reading the Gospels for myself, that a deep and subtle change was taking place in my life. I had the impression of being in the presence of a great man. In school I had been taught about Christianity; the Gospels were teaching me how to be a Christian. It stole my heart to see such a man as Jesus stoop down and wash His disciples' feet, as if it were a matter of supreme importance to Him. It suddenly increased my own sense of hypocrisy. To discover that you are a professor of New Testament and Greek without possessing the self-effacing mind of your Savior -- well, that is life changing.

I fear my published attempt to recount the dramatic shift that took place in my life -- The Jesus Paradigm -- is not my best work. But it is as good as I knew how to make it. To my disappointment, Learn to Read New Testament Greek outsells The Jesus Paradigm by a hundredfold. I do not pretend to be able to explain this. There is certainly less attention in Greek classes to costly service for Christ than the rules and exceptions as set down in the grammars. But who can gaze into the pages of the Gospels and not have his or her life turned upside down? It is as if an old lion has turned in his cage to look at you, only that all the bars have magically disappeared.

Life, for me, was undeniably barren until I encountered Him. Oddly enough, one can be a fulltime seminarian (on either side of the desk) and not realize this.

4:45 PM This will be an exceptionally busy summer for Becky and me. On the 9th of this month Becky will comfortably install herself in the Upstate New York home of our adopted daughter Liz, who is about to have her fourth child (a girl this time). As you know, one of Becky's spiritual gifts is grandmothering, and I will consider myself blessed if I see her before the end of summer. (Actually, she has purchased a round trip ticket and will return home on the 20th.) My own calendar lists a 12-day trip to Asia this month, a summer school course in July, and the SNTS meeting at Bard College in August. Of course, this summer Becky will have the second of two CT scans. My wife, whose instinct in such matters is infinitely truer than mine, has absolutely no anxieties. Why worry when you have each other, and God besides? I have discovered, in these years of fading health, that friendship, and especially a friendship that may one day soon be sealed by death, is a significant blessing. How can I, with such a friendship, ever complain?

4:38 PM I am not a grouser, but I had hoped for better than this -- first, because a mere listing of names accomplishes nothing, and second, because it takes a great deal of mental gymnastics to associate a John Howard Yoder with a Thomas Müntzer. Yoder detested religious militarism. He said so.

Wikipedia is incredible -- I use the term in an intentionally ambiguous manner.

10:42 AM Recently I had a student visit me with a question. "What areas of church polity," he asked, "might make a good topic for a doctoral dissertation?" At the time I despaired of coming up with an answer; there were simply too many thoughts bouncing around in my mind. The church restoration movement is neither a single social organization nor a single intellectual movement. I therefore despair of coming up with any exhaustive list of what I believe a New Testament church ought to look like. The notion of a royal priesthood captures well, I think, my overall perspective of the composition of an authentically New Testament church. I have frequently argued this point on my website and in my more recent print publications. However, there are several strands in this perspective that bear unraveling, if only in a tentative way. The following list is, perhaps, a good place to start.

What, then, can we learn about New Covenant ministry? What convictions might we draw from the New Testament evidence? I offer the following as a humble attempt to move the discussion forward.

I am convinced that the house church rather than the sanctuary church was the New Testament norm.

I am convinced of the normacy of tentmaking leadership.

I am convinced that the church exists in part to equip all of its members for ministry.

I am convinced that the leadership of the church should be shared for the health of the congregation.

I am convinced that top-down structures of leadership are unquestionably more efficient -- efficient in doing almost everything than equipping, which is the primary task of leadership. 

I am convinced that the process of appointing new elders is best done on the basis of recognizing who is already serving as an elder in the church.

I am convinced that any local church that takes seriously Jesus as the Senior Pastor will not permit one man to become the titular head of the church.

I am convinced that the essential qualifications for ministry in the church have little or nothing to do with formal education and everything to do with spiritual maturity.

I am convinced that the church is a multigenerational family, and hence one of the things that makes the church the church is the presence of children, parents, and other adults.

I am convinced that because every local church has all the spiritual gifts it needs to be complete in Christ, believers should be exposed to the full expression of the charisms (grace-gifts) when they gather, in contrast to specialized ministries that center around singularly gifted people.

I am convinced that the local church is the scriptural locus for growing to maturity in Christ, and that no other training agency is absolutely needed.

I am convinced that the local church ought to be the best Bible school going.

I am convinced that Paul's letters were not intended to be studied by ordinands in a theological college but were intended to be read and studied in the midst of the noisy life of the church.

I am convinced that the church is a theocracy directly under its Head (Jesus Christ), and that the will of the Head is not mediated through various levels of church government but comes directly to all His subjects.

I am convinced that the goal of leadership is not to make people dependent upon its leaders but dependent upon the Head.

I am convinced that since all believers are "joints" in the body, ministry is every believer's task.

I am convinced that pastor-teachers, as precious gifts of Christ to His church, are to tend the flock of God by both personal care and biblical instruction, equipping God's people for works of service both in the church and in the world.

I am convinced that the role of pastor-teacher is a settled ministry in a local congregation.

I am convinced that leaders should communicate that every part of the body is interrelated to the other parts and indispensable; every member will be appreciated, every charism will be treasured.

I am convinced that the whole church, the community of all the saints together, is the clergy appointed by God for ministry.

In conclusion, the fundamental premise upon which I operate is that each believer in the church needs to be equipped for his or her own ministry both in the church and in the world. If the church is to become what God intended it to be, it must become a ministerium of all who have placed their faith in Christ. The whole people of God must be transformed into a ministering people. Nothing short of this will restore the church to its proper role in the kingdom of God.

(This blog post has also been published as an essay on our home page under the title What Does a New Testament Church Look Like?)

7:24 AM Have you ever been awakened in the early morning hours, seemingly by the voice of God Himself, a whisper initiating you to Come, spend time with Me? Becky has, and offers her reflections in her latest essay, which has the inviting title A Sunrise on the Front Porch.

7:18 AM My colleague Alvin Reid lists his summer reading. Wish I was as organized and disciplined as he is. I completely agree with this sentiment, however:

I have so much to learn, so many areas where I am not what I should be for my students. I pray reading these books will help to stretch me so that I can in turn stretch those I teach.

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