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Posts Tagged ‘seminary’


Tom Petty was more right than he ever knew- the waiting is the hardest part. By the time we got to our second adoption process you’d think CavWife and I would have had Ph.D.s in waiting. After all, both of us had spent most of our adult lives, then over 20 years, waiting for one thing or another.

We both waited vocationally. CavWife wanted to be a teacher, in a Christian school: a particular Christian school (mine is not to wonder why). After graduating with her degree in Elementary Education, she waited. No, she didn’t sit in a room by the phone waiting for them to call until she was covered in dust and cobwebs. She ended up working at the Bible Institute she had attended for 2 years. But her eye was always on that Christian school. For 8 years she waited, hoping, enduring long Adirondack winters.

She’d given up- the demanding anyway.  She still had the desire, but she was no longer demanding God do this for her.  She was amazed when they called. Oddly, it was difficult for her to leave upstate NY and her dearest friends that she met during that period of life.

I left the small city I grew up in just before I turned 25. I was going to seminary: over 1,000 miles away. I was escaping the cold, and a series of relational disappointments. Seminary wasn’t my plan even though it was The Plan. I thought God was crazy, but one day He turned the light bulb on and The Plan was suddenly sweet. So I wasn’t just running from things, I was also running to something. But my plan was to return to New England when I was done. Little did I know that I’d be stuck in Florida for the next 19 years. Sometimes the wait is how we move from our plan to His plan; it is a slow course correction. Our hearts need time to transition from our plan to His.

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Books are written for a variety of reasons- some good, some bad and some neutral. They can be written because of a great love for something. They can be written to sound a warning.

Paul Tripp wrote Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry to sound a warning. As he has traveled the world and visited with many churches and their staff, he has seen some disturbing trends.

Joshua Harris compared this book to heart surgery. The main point is the gospel, which challenges the sinful status quo in our lives. God is more concerned with our holiness (and His glory) than we are. So God’s grace is often disruptive. This, reflecting that, is a disruptive book.

The initial premise is that pastoral  ministry presents some unique challenges. These challenges are destructive to ministry and ministers. The only solution is the gospel rigorously understood and applied on a consistent basis.

“You are constantly preaching to yourself some kind of gospel.”

As Tripp lays out some of the most common traps and snares, you will not recognize yourself in them all (I hope). But you should see some tendencies toward some of them. You should be able to identify with some of them (I’m always preparing, for instance). And when he ruthlessly goes after you, so to speak, it will be difficult to continue. Unless you keep sight of the gospel and recognize the goal is sanctification, and not condemnation.

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Only one set of sins has its own chapter in The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung. He does not address that set of sins because it is popular to do so (in some circles it is easy to do so).

He addresses them for two reasons. The first is their connection to union in Christ, which Paul draws out in 1 Corinthians 6. The second is that they seem to be the blind spot for the contemporary American Christian. That might not seem obvious to us. Each generation and culture has its blind spots. Earlier generations had a blind spot on issues of race. That is one reason the practice was able to flourish in largely Christian nations. That was why Jim Crow laws and other manifestations of systematic racism were common in this nation in which most people would classify themselves as a Christian.

Sexual sins surround us. Part of Kevin’s point is that while we still call the most grievous manifestations sin (few Christians refuse to call adultery and pornography use sinful) but we have seen an erosion of our sexual mores that represents a significant departure from the biblical standard. Things like fornication, nudity in movies, songs encouraging non-marital sex etc. have become so common place that we are not shocked anymore, and don’t seem to mind them.

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Don't let the picture fool you

The Gospel Coalition asked some prominent leaders how they would change the seminary process.  Here is one of my professors’ response:

What’s the one thing I would change about seminary education? If I were king and could wave my magical scepter, I would radically change the basic agenda of seminary.
After 22 years of teaching in a seminary, I slowly began to realize something. We were not preparing the kinds of leaders that evangelical churches in North America need. Let’s face it; evangelicalism has seen better days. God is at work in many places and in many ways, but on the whole, the news is not good. Our numbers are dwindling; our theology is unraveling; our zeal for Christ is dissipating. Now more than ever, we need seminaries to give the church leaders who are empowered by the Spirit for radical, sacrificial devotion to Christ and his Kingdom. And they’d better do it quickly.
I was recently in China, talking with the president of a house church network of over one million people. He asked me for advice on preparing the next generation of pastors. I looked at him and said, “The only thing I know is what you should not do.” He smiled and asked, “What’s that?” My reply surprised him. “You should not do what we have done in the West. The results of that approach have become clear.”
The agenda of evangelical seminaries are set primarily by scholars. Professors decide how students will spend their time; they determine students’ priorities; they set the pace. And guess what. Scholars’ agenda seldom match the needs of the church.
Can you imagine what kind of soldiers our nation would have if basic training amounted to reading books, listening to lectures, writing papers and taking exams? We’d have dead soldiers. The first time a bullet wizzed past their heads on the battlefield, they’d panic. The first explosion they saw would send them running. So, what is basic training for the military? Recruits learn the information they need to know, but this is a relatively small part of their preparation. Most of basic training is devoted to supervised battle simulation. Recruits are put through harrowing emotional and physical stress. They crawl under live bullet fire. They practice hand to hand combat.
If I could wave a magic scepter and change seminary today, I’d turn it into a grueling physical and spiritual experience. I’d find ways to reach academic goals more quickly and effectively and then devote most of the curriculum to supervised battle simulation. I’d put students through endless hours of hands-on service to the sick and dying, physically dangerous evangelism, frequent preaching and teaching the Scriptures, and days on end of fasting and prayer. Seminary would either make them or break them.
Do you know what would happen? Very few young men would want to attend. Only those who had been called by God would subject themselves to this kind of seminary. Yet, they would be recruits for Kingdom service, not mere students. They would be ready for the battle of gospel ministry.
Dr. Richard Pratt President, Third Millennium Ministries

I would agree that we spent far too much time in classrooms, and not enough doing field work.  I remember reading Iain Murray’s biography on Jonathan Edwards.  At times he actually lived with a pastor who was his tutor in theology/languages.  He would also follow the pastor.  There was much learning “on the job” under the wing of a more experienced man.

In seminary I had an internship.  Since I was still in transition from Calvinistic baptist to Presbyterian I didn’t really fit anywhere.  I did my internship at the Rescue Mission where I worked.  I got to preach far more than most seminary students (apparently I needed the practice more than they did), often with no notice.  I did plenty of counseling.  I had to go make sure someone was dead and call the police.  I held the arms of a man who attempted suicide with a broken light bulb until the EMTs arrived.  I had to help people after seizures.

Thankfully I was also able to teach SS.  I was worshiping at a church that didn’t seem to want to use me.  One of the Associates would offer me opportunities, but the Sr. pastor largely shut me out.  I’m grateful for my time at the Rescue Mission.  I guess it didn’t prepare me to deal with widows, power brokers and the well-dressed.  But I dealt with many things my peers did not.

But churches didn’t see it that way.  They thought I had “no experience”.

I think we need to do plenty of reading- but Pratt is right.  We need to spend far more time sweating, serving, praying and evangelizing.  I think we could even do away with degrees.  The point is competency: in knowledge and ability.  Both can be gained without a formal education.  Perhaps we should shift back to the old days- an experienced pastor assigning work in theology and languages, and overseeing their development of skills “on the job”.

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On the right, where he doesnt want to be!

On the right, where he doesn't want to be!

Feeling quite behind the times, I borrowed a friend’s copy of A New Kind of Christian.  I have been unable to get to it the last few weeks.  It was as if I just didn’t have the mental energy.  Oddly, I was able to make some significant headway today on the plane and relaxing in the backyard.

I am sympathetic to the concerns often raised by members of the emergent church movement.  I don’t often like their answers to the problems.  As I read Brian McLaren’s book, I experienced that same strange conflux of thoughts.

As I read the book I would be considered one of the modernist Christians McLaren is trying to ‘convert’.  I guess I feel like a non-Christian would feel when reading one of those poorly written novels intending to convert you to Christianity.  Not completely- I’m not angry with McLaren though I take exception with some of his conclusions.  Thus far anyway.

McLaren does point out that the extremes in popular American Christianity are problematic.  He comes off a bit reductionistic to me.  He does this by neglecting the good things that those modernistic American Christians have contributed to society.  He thinks we should do more than we preach- showing the gospel with our actions.  Yes, and many do this.  Many American evangelicals reach out to the poor and oppressed.  They are often very generous.  And it seems less than generous to ignore this in his gentle diatribe against enculturated modern Christians a.k.a. organized religion or the institutional church.

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