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Posts Tagged ‘RTS Orlando’


It started with an ad in Discipleship Magazine. I was a relatively young Christian and noticed the ad from Ligonier Ministries for a free copy of R.C. Sproul’s Holiness of God series on VHS. Yes, this was the late 80’s.

I really didn’t know what to expect. My only experience with “Reformed Theology” was “Reformed” or Liberal Judaism. I was still a bit frightened of that word ‘holiness’. As many discovered, it was a great series. I began to buy books and tape series for my cassette player in the car. R.C. taught me a whole lot of theology before I went to seminary. He didn’t just introduce me to Reformed Theology but also (along with John Piper) to the Puritans and Jonathan Edwards.

When I was looking at seminaries the ad for RTS caught my eye. Jackson, MS? Me? Perhaps it was too many viewings of Mississippi Burning on the Movie Channel, but I didn’t see this Yankee doing well in Jackson, MS.

Later there was a new ad for a new campus with R.C. as one of the professors. I could handle Orlando. I was looking to get away from the snow. When I got information from RTS they offered a prospective student offer that included free admission to the 1991 National Conference in Orlando. So I made a call, booked a flight and discovered Orlando was the place for me. Somehow at one session I ended up in the front row talking to Vesta.

While I was there I had R.C. for Systematic Theology III (Christology, Soteriology and Eschatology) and a seminar on The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards. For one class, John Gerster was in town and led our discussion for his former pupil. Most of the time, there was Vesta sitting in the back with his soda while R.C. taught.

It was not all bliss. There were some conflicts on campus. It was a little like Corinth at times. It was mostly the students, but it was apparently there was some friction in the faculty. Somehow I didn’t get very caught up in that (I’m often loyal to a fault).

After seminary I ended up working for Ligonier Ministries. I was in the phone room during the era when they wanted seminary trained people answering the phone to answer theological questions as well as take orders. In many ways it was a great time. I worked with some people I knew from seminary, and some other great folks. I got to travel to Memphis, Atlanta, Anaheim, St. Louis and Detroit to work conferences. I have fond memories of frisbee golf, a rotating restaurant in St. Louis, meeting John Piper, sharing an elevator with R.C. and going to the occasional taping. R.C. would warm up the crowd with baseball trivia. Before they built the studio on site, they recorded at Greg Rike Studios where I discovered the signatures of Deep Purple’s members since they recorded Slaves and Masters there.

I had the privilege of writing some articles and reviews for Tabletalk Magazine while I was there. I also had the privilege of preaching at the chapel for the 25th anniversary of Ligonier Ministries.

Nothing lasts forever. I wanted to be in pastoral ministry. I decided to go to seminary for a Masters in Counseling to increase my skill set. Having recently joined a PCA church, I came under care of the Central FL Presbytery. This was the meeting when R.C. requested to “labor outside of bounds” for the new church called St. Andrews. It was a politically charged meeting due to some controversial statements and the fact that he wasn’t physically present.

Shortly thereafter there was a change in philosophy regarding my job description. I had reservations but didn’t get to find out how it would go as I was laid off that afternoon. I’d made the wrong guy angry (not R.C.).

R.C. was very personable, but not very accessible. Keep in mind, I was nobody. Still am. He was a very busy man and I think he still worked at the golf club at the time. It can be hard to meet your heroes. He was a man who needed Jesus, just like me. The sanctifying grace of God was at work in R.C.. Years later I discovered that he and the other professor had reconciled and did some work together. The last time I saw him I wondered if he would recognize me. There was no “hey, Steve” but that’s okay. I was not an important person in his life. He was already on oxygen and likely distracted with his own limitations.

If you listen to his sermons and audio series you’ll learn a lot of theology, and a lot about his life. Perhaps that is one reason I use personal illustrations. There are some issues I disagree with R.C. on, like apologetics. But on the main issues we are in sync.

The church owes him a great debt. He was one of the main figures in the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy. He made theology accessible to ordinary people. He was one of the key figures in the revival of Calvinism and Reformed Theology in the American church. He was greatly used by God.

I owe R.C. a great debt. I’m trying to pay it forward like I should.

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I had never read a biography of anyone I knew before. That changed with Speaking the Truth in Love: The Life and Legacy of Roger Nicole by David Bailey. This is an apt title for a book about our “dear brother” for this phrase from Ephesians really seems to sum up the late Dr. Nicole as a person and Christian.

All who knew Dr. Nicole knew him to be wise and gracious. He knew what he believed, taught what he believed but did it in such a way that was kind. I never heard anyone say anything negative about Dr. Nicole, rather he was beloved by students and colleagues alike. In areas of disagreement, he was gracious and endeavored to understand the opposing position, teaching us to read our “opponent’s” work as a result.

In his preface to this book, Dr. Nicole noted:

“But this is a biography, not a eulogy. I am a Christian, which means that more than eighty years ago and ever since, I have confessed with tears that I am a miserable sinner”born in iniquity, inclined unto evil, inecapable by myself of any good thing, and who transgresses every day in several ways God’s holy commandments.” This is what I was saying every Sunday and a very realistic summary of the biblical doctrine of sin. I know myself as a disobedient sinner, proud, selfish, unbelieving, deceptive, lustful, lazy, insensitive, a ‘lover of pleasure rather than a lover of God’. I have even now not yet begun to plumb the abyss of wickedness from which I desperately needed salvation- how it is that none of these things is very apparent in this biography?”

Most of these sins were not as apparent to us as they were to him (and Annette). He was a godly man. This means that he was outwardly very much like Christ, but that, like Paul, knew the sin no one else could see. We don’t need to know the particular sins of this brother unless they directly impact his story.

David Bailey focuses on his work. That is good in my eyes. I don’t need to know his sins. Many of us wish (selfishly?) that Dr. Nicole wrote more since he was such a wealth of wisdom and knowledge for the church he loved and spent his life edifying.

As I read this book I wished I knew him better than I did, but in reading this book I understand why I didn’t. I met him during his ‘semi-retirement’ when he was a professor at RTS Orlando. He was my first academic adviser and I was fortunate to take 4 courses with him. I didn’t just learn theology from Dr. Nicole but also lessons about how to do theology (which I am still struggling to apply due to my own sinfulness) and live in community.

Our beloved professor didn’t arise in a vacuum. He was very much a product of his family. He inherited a legacy of godly, brilliant people who lived long lives. I see God keeping his multi-generational covenant in the Nicole family.

I was also encouraged to read how God provided for him in unexpected ways. In the early days of Gordon-Conwell professors were not paid well, but due to the gift of land from the seminary he was able to retire comfortably and continue his life of ministry in theological education.

Theological education was not just a job to him. In his “off time” he would teach at other seminaries, particularly in Canada. Dr. Nicole’s students fill the world enriching the church. He also served God’s people as a pastor and interim pastor to a number of churches. In God’s providence, he and Annette had no children and this freed him up to spend more time engaged in these various duties.

His story is one of God’s grace and faithfulness. Therefore this was a very encouraging read. Here we read of the formation of Gordon-Conwell, its struggles and the formation of other seminaries, like Fuller. He was instrumental in the formation of the Evangelical Theology Society. He was also one of the main contributors to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. His was a rich legacy on behalf of the church.

Of note to me was he words regarding the church that nursed me in my early years as a Christian. He had been an interim pastor in that church years earlier. As a result we knew some of the same people. He left them a legacy of covenantal and Calvinistic theology that unfortunately was ebbing away while I was there. Without nurture a church can easily begin to fall into step with more common (and less vibrant) theologies.

There were some subjects that I wish were addressed in greater depth. One that comes to mind was his friendship with Jim Packer (J.I. to you and me). I suspect that is more a function of Dr. Nicole than Mr. Bailey. He struck me as a man of his age, more private than people today. As a result he may have seen that friendship as more for each of them than one for our instruction (I don’t think McGrath touched on it much in his biography of Packer). Due to his involvement in so many organizations Dr. Nicole had friendships and associations with many of the leading figures in the American church in the 20th century. I suspect there would be much for us to learn from those friendships.

There is still much here of interest for those who were his students, or are students of 20th century evangelicalism in America. I would recommend this for all who love Dr. Nicole, and the church.

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One of my friends is dying. We’ve known this since shortly after he was diagnosed with cancer more than 5 years ago. He has lived beyond the average life span for a person whose cancer had spread so far. I started thinking about David’s impact in my life. Sometimes we don’t realize the impact of one person on our lives.

I met David Wayne after he transferred to RTS Orlando to finish his MDiv. I had graduated but was still working in the bookstore until the end of the summer. David would come in to browse and buy. He would talk with me and the other guys like Keith Mathison when he was in the store.

I wouldn’t see David for another 6 years. I was living in Winter Haven and serving a small ARP church as their pastor. One of the PCA churches in town was without a pastor. Spring was difficult for me. My girlfriend had unceremoniously dumped me and one of my good friends was leaving the area to serve as the pastor of an ARP church in the Carolinas (the heart of the ARP). I felt lost and lonely. But God would provide.

I heard the PCA church called a new pastor, and his name was David Wayne. I was excited they called a man I knew, although only casually. I was going to be out of town for his installation so I called the office to leave a message congratulating him and that I hoped to see him soon.

When we finally talked it took some time for him to remember who I was. But we were two men called to serve as solo pastors in a place we were still figuring out. So we began to spend more time together. It was a time of healing for me that none of us realized.

(more…)

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One of the series I’ve discovered and enjoyed over the years is P&R’s Gospel in the Old Testament series.  WTS Books is currently running a sale on them of 50% off the 11 volume set.  They would make a great Christmas gift (sorry Desert Springs people, I have most of them).

I first learned about the series when the late Ray Dillard visited RTS Orlando for Spiritual Emphasis Week.  He preached on Elijah and Elisha and their connection with Jesus and the gospel.  This was turned into Faith in the Face of Apostasy.   Unfortunately Dr. Dillard would not live much longer.

I am currently re-reading Living in the Gap between Promise and Reality: The Gospel According to Abraham for my sermon series on the life of faith in the life of Abraham.  Iain Duguid, formerly of Westminster West and now at Grove City College and planting an ARP church, is the author.  He also wrote Living in the Grip of Relentless Grace: The Gospel According to Isaac and Jacob.  These are 2 of my favorites in the series, offering hope to guys like me for whom life is a series of struggles- some self-made.

There are also volumes on Jonah, David, Hosea, Daniel (by a professor at Erskine though not my favorite volume), Job and Israel’s Worship.  I guess I’m missing the volumes on Ruth and Zechariah (which I may not get).

They take the position that all of Scripture (not each and every verse) points us to the fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption- Jesus.  So the show how the text points us to and prepares us for the ministry of Jesus for us.  Great stuff.  This series was also helpful for me to learn how to see and make those connections for my people so I was actually preaching the gospel each week.  I find them valuable.

 

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Here is the first part of my internet dialogue with Dr. Keith Mathison about his book Postmillennialism: An Eschatatology of Hope.  Keith and I worked together at the RTS Orlando Bookstore, and then at Ligonier Ministries.  After graduating from RTS, he received his Ph.D. from Whitefield Seminary.  He is the author of numerous books, including Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the People of God? which he wrote while in seminary.  I did such a great job proofing the book that I haven’t worked on one since.

KM:  Thanks for reviewing the book.  I saw it yesterday.  You didn’t say anything about the most persuasive part of the book – the yellow cover.  What’s up with that?!?

Cavman: It is a fine cover.  Kudos to the art department.  I only bought the book for the cover.  Okay …. At times the amillennialism you describe doesn’t seem to be the amillenialism I hold to.  Part of that may be because you were interchangeable arguing against both forms of premillennialism and amillennialism.  I put your book down thinking our differences are more about a matter of degree: how much the gospel will prosper as it covers the earth and converts the nations.  What would you say is the main distinction between these sibling eschatologies?

KM: I think you are correct to observe that at least some of the differences are a matter of degree.  I see the various expositions of amillennialism and postmillennialism lying along a spectrum.  There are extremely spiritualized and pessimistic forms of amillennialism that would be at one end and very this-worldly, perhaps naively optimistic forms of postmillennialism at the other end.  Closer to the middle would be more balanced (i.e. biblical) forms of amillennialism and postmillennialism.  I think, for example, that Cornelis Venema’s expression of amillennialism is closer to some forms of postmillennialism than the amillennialism of someone like David Engelsma.  And my expression of postmillennialism is closer to some forms of amillennialism than the postmillennialism of someone like Loraine Boettner.  I think things get a bit fuzzier the closer you get to the middle of the spectrum.

Unlike some older postmillennialists, who believed that the millennium would be the last 1000 or so years of the present age, I believe the millennium represents the entire present age between the first and second coming of Jesus.  So there’s no disagreement there.  Both amillennialists and postmillennialists say they believe that Christ’s kingdom is growing during this present age.  I think the main difference between the views boils down to how confident we are that the growth of Christ’s kingdom will manifest itself in some visible, tangible ways during this age and what it might look like.  In short, is this kingdom growth more or less behind the scenes?  I’m slightly more optimistic than most amillennialists I’ve read that the growth of Christ’s kingdom will have visible manifestations.  Unlike some theonomic postmillennialists, however, I am less confident about saying exactly what they might look like.

I also believe that the growth/advance of Christ’s kingdom will involve a bloody, difficult battle for the people of God.  Going back to the old D-Day/V-Day analogy, the decisive battle has been won, but the progress will not be easy.  It will involve awful, street to street fighting all the way to the final day.  But the victory is assured.

Cavman: As I read the book, a few things came to mind for me.  On a continuum (Pratt would be proud) I see premillennialism and postmillennial as the 2 extremes.  One pessimistic and under-realized, and the other overly optimistic and over-realized.  The dispensational premillennial position was born in persecution and pessimism, and puts some of the “already” into the “not yet”.  The posmillennial position, I think, sticks too much of the “not yet” into the already.  Obviously I’m biased toward amillennialism as having the best balance.  I have a point here, really.  “Visible manifestations” is a phrase that you used.  I think I see such things now.  Please, spell out what you mean a little bit.  What “visible manifestations” do you have in mind?

KM: I see postmillennialism and amillennialism existing on a continuum because they share similar features.  Premillennialism seems to me to be in a separate category altogether.  Regarding “visible manifestations,” like I said, I’m hesitant to offer specifics.  When Scripture speaks of the growth of the kingdom it tends to use figurative language.  What specifically in the real world corresponds to the permeation of a lump of dough by leaven?  Or to the growth of a mustard seed?  The first type of growth is not particularly visible.  The second is.  In short, it isn’t as simple or as cut-and-dried as some would say.  We can’t, for example, measure the growth of the kingdom of Christ by watching the fortunes of our favorite political party or our own nation.  The kingdom of Christ is bigger than that.

What I object to is the idea that the growth of Christ’s kingdom is entirely invisible and confined to the spiritual dimension of existence and will have no visible manifestations in history.  That idea implies that there was nothing noticeably different about the world after the Fall.  Satan’s kingdom, however, has had clearly visible manifestations in the world throughout history beginning with the Fall.  Why would the redemptive kingdom of Christ not have any visible manifestations?  It involves the same world that was cursed as a result of our sin.  Sin did not affect merely the spiritual realm.  It affected the visible and physical as well.  Redemption also affects both.  What might it look like?  I think we have a fairly good idea of what the visible manifestations of Satan’s kingdom look like.  I expect that the growth of Christ’s kingdom will look a lot like the opposite of that.

more to come….

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1915-2010

I had the privilege of studying under Dr. Roger Nicole.  He was also my advisor for much of my seminary experience.  While he was teaching at Gordon-Conwell, he was an interim pastor at the church I would later join as a young Christian.  He still remembered many of the people even though it had been some time ago.

“A good wife will double your ministry, a bad wife will cut it in half.”

He told us this during our Introduction to Pastoral Ministry class.  It was the last year they had this course.  It, and a few others, got put together into the Introduction to Theological Studies (ITS) course taught by Dr. Pratt.

How right Dr. Nicole was.  I have seen it happen.  I am fortunate to have a wife who furthers rather than hinders my ministry.  But there are also uber-wives.  This last week in SS we talked about Martin Luther (we’re studying the Reformation).  He would not have been able to do all he did w/out his little ‘ball and chain’- Katy.  Last night I listened to Mark Driscoll’s recent sermon on Divorce and Remarriage.  Sounds like his wife is one of those uber-wives who quadruples a man’s ministry.  I’ve also seen wives completely sink a man’s ministry.

“Faith and repentance are not flowers that grow on the dunghill of human depravity.”

Another course that got incorporated into ITS was a 1-week tour de force on the Reformed Doctrine of Predestination taught by Dr. Nicole.  That was an incredible week, and this quote always stood out to me.

Sounds a little Puritan, dunghills and all.  Yet, this is so important to remember when you are in ministry.  Apart from the grace of God you can do nothing.  It isn’t about changing people’s minds, evangelism is raising the dead.

“Read your opponents.”

He probably said this in most of his classes (I also had him for Roman Catholicism).  I’ve referred to this concept in other posts.  You want to know firsthand what the person believes, or at least puts in writing.  It is wearisome to read strawman arguments.  I often hear arguments against some of the things I believe: Calvinism, amillenialism, presuppositionalism etc.  You wonder if they actually read anything by an actual proponent of a position, because it has little or no resemblence to what you believe.

Story #1: One day I had an oral exam with Dr. Nicole in his office (for the Roman Catholicism course).  He pointed to a drawing on his desk.  In his strong accent he told me, “My students from Gordon-Conwell made this for me when I retired.  I want you to feel like this rabbit.”  He was pointing to a cartoon of himself in the Swiss Alps next to a smiling little bunny.

His gentleness was amazing.  Here was the most brilliant man I would ever meet but there was no hint of pride.  While teaching he’d sometimes stare into space while reading a page from a book in his head.  But with you he was fully present.

Story #2: In the mid-90’s I gave him part of my manuscript of a book I was writing on the priestly ministry of Jesus.  Dr. Nicole’s specialty was the atonement, so I wanted him to read it for me to make sure I wasn’t off the deep end.  Still waiting……….

His office was always a disaster.  He had numerous books and papers scattered on his desk.  He had so many projects going on at the same time.  Many of us lamented that he didn’t write more books (those available were taken from articles he’d written, like Standing Forth).  But Dr. Nicole could tell you pretty much where any book in his own 25,000+ library was.

Story #3: A few years ago I was visiting the RTS Orlando campus and ran into him in, of all places, the library.  Not much of a shocker if you knew Dr. Nicole.  At this point he was near 90.  The exchange went something like this.  “Dr. Nicole, how are you?”

“I am good dear brother.”  (he was always saying this)

“It’s me, Steve Cavallaro.”

“I know Steve Cavallaro, but you are not Steve Cavallaro.”

“Well, I’ve gotten older,  married and put on weight.”  (I also added facial hair)

“You are not Steve Cavallaro.”

“Yes I am.  Look, here’s my driver’s license.”  He wasn’t convinced.  But the aforementioned Driscoll sermon reminded me of the good doctor, and his great wisdom.  I think the next time we meet, he might recognize me (and say that manuscript was pretty darn good).

Update: Dr. Nicole passed away on 12/11/10 and now beholds the Savior he served so well.  He consistently represented Jesus in his manner

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