Monday, October 20, 2014

Tradition! It's How We keep Our Balance

Honestly, this topic for today is one that I am surprised I haven't mentioned before. It is something that has been a concern of mine for a couple of years that I believe I have probably kept silent about for far too long.

There are certain practices within the church that do not have Biblical support that people will claim as necessary for the church. Now, I will be quick to point out that most of these practices are not denied by Scripture, but that doesn't change the fact that they are ultimately man-made traditions that are not essential for the proper functioning of the church. 

I speak of traditions such as the altar call, a particular form of music, tithing through offering plates, hymnals, having church on Sunday as opposed to another day, celebrating Christmas, or prescribing to only one translation of the Bible at all costs. 

These traditions are great tools (with the exception of the one translation tradition; that's just showing a lack of faith), but they are not essential for the proper functioning of the church. 

I don't feel I need to do much to support the idea that something that man has made within a church structure is not an integral part of the church's worship of the Lord. This is after all one of the many reasons why I would never become part of the Catholic church (the whole sacraments as a means of grace, and works to supply salvation thing would be the major ones of course). 

So to illustrate my point, we shall look at only one passage from the book of Matthew. Matthew 15:1-20 details a tie in which the Pharisees question Jesus on the fact that he doesn't have his disciples not wash their hands before they eat. This was a tradition within the Jewish religion at that time, which of course the Pharisees supported very thoroughly. 

It is important to note that there is absolutely nothing heinous about washing your hands before you eat. It's actually a rather healthy thing to do. But it will in no way harm your relationship with the Lord to do these things. Yet it is a tradition that is not necessary to actually please the Lord. 

To respond, Jesus points out another tradition that is contrary to the law of the Lord to illustrate more generally that the Law is just sort of more important than those man-made doctrines. He finishes by quoting Isaiah in Matthew 15:7-9,
"Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."

So here we have some pretty strong language in relation to teaching as doctrines that which were the creation of men. Or to apply that to our current context to treat as absolute Biblical truth the man-made traditions of a particular denomination.

Just in case there's any doubt that the Lord doesn't ultimately care about the traditions that are mentioned above as long as they don't actually deny the Lord, look to his words in Matthew 15;16-20,
"And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man."

So essentially, I'm making a fairly simple point here. Traditions are man-made tools that do not have divine sanction. Don't teach as doctrines the commandments of men.

Apologies for the lateness of this post. Had a debate tournament, got in at 2, woke up at 11, and it spaced my mind entirely. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Contentment and Sadness: An Unusual Relationship

Ecclesiastes 6, which we discussed forever ago, is all about how we should be content in the position that we find ourselves in. It seems odd that immediately thereafter Solomon begins discussing the merit and value of sorrow.

Yet that is what we see in Ecclesiastes 7:1-4
"A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one's birth. It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth."

Now of course, the rationale for sorrow being beneficial is along the lines of James 1, in that suffering make the countenance of the heart better.

But I believe this illustrates (though doesn't prove) that contentment and joy does not imply that one is happy all the time. It is entirely acceptable to shed some tears now and then. One does not need to be an emotionless robot (or stoic) to find contentment in his circumstances.

Contentment acknowledges that the situation is undesirable but trusts God to give fulfillment in the situation anyway. It does not ignore hardship in the name of contentment.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Amusing Ourselves to Death

According to Neil Postman in his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, with the transition from a print culture to a television culture, American discourse in all of the relevant and important fields have had significant decreases in quality.

The printing press emerged as a primary means of publication within the 18th century. With the printing press, information could be disbursed in an efficient manner. However, this information was not useless or amusing trivia, divorced from any meaningful context.

On the contrary, the information was provided with clarity and enough analysis for the reader to weigh upon and reflect on that which he was learning. Indeed, the medium of the printed word was specifically conducive to critical thinking. When you read, you set the distractions down to meditate upon what you are hearing.

Postman specifically argues that the medium of the printed word provided a basis for a culture “inclined toward rational argument and presentation, and therefore, made up of meaningful content.” It is easy to see how this applies to the medium of the printing press itself; however, Postman argues that the typographical culture had implications beyond that of just the printed word.

To illustrate, the Lincoln-Douglas debates involved spoken words that read much like any printed type of the era, with sentences that rival the length of many modern day paragraphs. Perhaps more surprisingly, these debates were almost always longer in length than most sporting events today. In one instance, on October 16, 1854, Lincoln and Douglas debated in a formal, organized manner for about 7 hours, with Lincoln and Douglas each giving one speech that was a good three hours long. I sincerely doubt that any human being could fill three hours worth of time without addressing arguments from a logical perspective, and the record does indeed show this to be true.

Contrast this style of debate with our televised debates today. Today, the candidates would be lucky if the entire debate lasted anywhere close to the three hour slots allotted to one speech of a Lincoln-Douglas debate. Furthermore, the points we see brought up usually lack in logical analysis, but rather involve clever slogans or carefully designed rhetoric. I will refrain from mentioning how the debates have grown informal, with candidates interrupting their opponents to gain more speaking time, or even laughing at the arguments their opponents are making.

But Postman would argue this is not the full fault of our politicians, but is also at least in part due to the fact that television is not conducive to rational discourse. As aforementioned, when you look to read, you put aside all distractions. But this is not the case with the television.

Rather, the television is something that you listen to while you make dinner, build a TV cabinet, or write a paper. Very few people make it a habit to sit down to meditate upon the discourse offered by television.

But those who do are not much better off as their focus will be diverted as the programming goes to commercial or moves onto a new topic. This “Now...this” phenomena as Postman calls it, creates a tendency to pursue knowledge for its own sake (or for the sake of entertainment), rather than to enrich our lives. In the end, all televised discourse is purely for the sake of entertainment.

But just as other forms of discourse modeled the printing press, so too do other forms of discourse in our day today model themselves after the television. This can be evidenced in the written word. Compared to the zenith of the printing press, our newspapers (both printed and online) and books are not as conducive to logical analysis as they are in the past. Indeed, they are shorter, more conversational in nature, and generally more superficial. Even Amusing Ourselves to Death is written in a way where it could easily be read out loud as a speech live or on television. The watering down of discourse in America is spread across all mediums of the culture.

But there is a solution that we should consider important. Actually spending the time necessary to fulfill adequate non-trivial information from the online news sources that we read. Yes, I did say online news sources that we read. I would agree with Postman that the medium of television is not in any way shape or form conducive for discourse (but it does give us Doctor Who). One you find the information, take the time to something unusual for our culture, analyze the information to determine how it changes the way you are to live your life, whether that be through philanthropy, political activism, or a spiritual walk with God.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Actions Speak Louder than Words? Maybe Not as Much as You Think

Actions speak louder than words. This cliched statement is one that has almost universal appeal. This is great because it is generally correct. How you act does say more about you as a person (and your subsequent beliefs) than what you profess to believe.

But an important part of our actions are the words that we use in communicating to other people. Yes, I know that this semantical argument is a bit weird and maybe a tad confuzzling (love how spell check accepts that as a word). But there is a hint distinction between the words we speak to explain our viewpoints and the words that we use in every moment of our life that ultimately reflect our heart and attitude.

I won't belabor the point further since that is not the focus of this post at all. Nonetheless, I will point out that what I am writing now are words that express my opinions and fall into the "words" part of our magnificent cliche. If I complain about the quality of food here at Cedarville (totally guilty), those are words that more accurately fit into the "actions" part.

Without further ado, I will make the case that as far as our actions are concerned, the relevant words we use are a slightly better indicator of where our heart is. I will start by letting Jesus make my case for me from the context of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Listen to what he says in Matthew 12:33-37, 
"Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned."

 Here's the thought I received as I read these words. The "actions" we make are far more deliberate and planned. It's "easy" to plan to spend time with the Lord, it's "easy" to plan time to serve others, it's "easy" to plan time to do actions that persuade you that you are ultimately pleasing the Lord.

Yet "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." The words you use to describe what you are doing usually are not quite as planned as what you are doing are. In the end, your words are more spontaneous, and thus more closely align with your heart.

And that is part of the discipline of a Christian life - to see how our heart is in relationship to the Lord, so that we can pray and work on bringing ourselves closer to the Lord.

To this end, actions speak louder than words that profess belief. But within the realm of our actions, the words we choose to describe speak volumes more than what we actually do.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Pastor as Scholar: Reflections on the Differing Roles of the Academic and Pastor (Part 2)

Last week, we discussed Carson's take on the Scholar-Pastor. Today we discuss Piper's take on the Pastor-Scholar from the same book. 

Since Piper’s work is primarily an account of his life, it seems fitting to start our discussion with just that. Specifically, we want to examine the path that led him to ministry in the first place. It was in junior high school that John Piper would make an important decision about his future. He would never become a pastor. Piper was nervous at the concept of public speaking and thus ruled out the role that would require him to preach in front of a congregation at least once a week. 

All of his passions and desires that would lead him to ministry were already in place, but he didn’t see himself as qualified for that specific role. So he instead pursued a different passion – writing. Due to his love for poetry and logical reasoning, Piper began considering himself a romantic rationalist. But ultimately, he didn’t pursue his literature even further. 

He changed direction based off of hearing key sermons by Harold John Ockenga and John Stott in 1966-67. He became impassioned with the thoughts of missions and the Bible. Additionally, he was asked to pray for a summer chapel. For some inexplicable reason, he said yes, and somehow he survived the public speaking experience. At this point, he committed to never deny a speaking role because of fear again. Yet when he entered the field of Biblical Studies, his goal was still to be a scholar. 

Thus, Piper’s account past this point is the exact opposite of his fellow writer of The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor Don Carson, who studied to be a pastor, then became a scholar. Piper started his life in Biblical Studies intending to become a scholar in the academic world, but ultimately became a pastor. 

As of now, we have already seen a distinction between the pastor and the scholar. While Carson would later in the book stress that the scholar affects more people more superficially, while the pastor would affect more people deeply. Piper points out that this is inverted when it comes to knowledge about the text. For the scholar, he will have a few topics that he covers extensively, while the Pastor will cover many topics more superficially. 

In relation to the impact among people, Piper would completely agree with Carson. He would understand that the pastor’s reach by terms of scope is limited, but that he has a greater opportunity to develop real relationships with real people. Indeed, he thinks that one of the reasons that the Lord moved him away from scholarly work is because he would never have been satisfied with the detached emotional road of scholarly work (and neither would I). 

In contrast to Carson, Piper stresses the emotional aspects of the pastoral life versus the scholarly one. Simply, to Piper, it is an extension of developing real relationships with real people that he will be required to invest far more emotionally in his congregation than most scholars would even consider doing for their students.

That is as good a place as any to start communicating about what Piper views as the dangers of scholarship. Piper would agree with Carson that a scholar should invest in people and serve in a ministerial capacity. One of Piper’s heroes is a man by the name of Dan Fuller who would take hours to answer student’s questions, researching the answer when he did not know it. Simply, Mr. Fuller cared about his students and took time to pastor them to growth. Piper believes this to be a mold that scholars should follow; however, he fears that many scholars will lose touch of this valuable emotional connection. 

Another danger that Piper specifically highlights has to do with a great desire for peer approval. Piper was beginning to notice how many scholarly articles were written in technical jargon, which greatly impressed other scholars but left it out of touch with the layman reader. Considering the role of the scholar is to reach as many people as possible with a important message, it is counter-intuitive for him to write in language that could only be understood by a select few. Simply, these scholars have fallen into what Carson labeled “The seduction of applause,” rather than actually serving the Lord with the gifts that God has entrusted to them. 

The final danger we shall highlight here is that Piper believes that it is all too possible for the scholar to disconnect the study of the gospel from its power and majesty. Since your job demands that you sit and study the Bible extensively, you can begin to see your goal to merely understand the Bible perfectly - a merely academic exercise. But the Bible is supposed to be seen and read for the purpose of bringing you closer to the Lord. Knowledge about the Bible only exists to give us a greater appreciation and love for the Lord our Savior.

The fact that knowledge is needed for greater appreciation of the Lord is one of the two ways that Piper views scholarship as specifically relating to his role as a pastor. A pastor is supposed to engender love for Christ in the lives of others and naturally have such love himself. However, it is not enough to love the Lord if you have no grounds for loving Him in the first place. 

Piper here uses the analogy of a guy who stops you on the street announcing that he is trusting you with all of his bank account information. If he tells you that he simply saw you on the street, you would not find his appreciation to be honoring. Instead, you would find it to be simply blind and irresponsible. However, if the same event happens, and he tells you that he has been watching your practices at your job and in your life and has found you to be a responsible, honorable man, you will feel honored by his trust in you. (Piper neglects to mention that you will also find this complete stranger to be a creepy stalker.) 

Trust and honor without cause or rather, without knowledge to verify is blind and irresponsible. However, trust and honor, backed by knowledge is very much more pleasing to the Lord. 

The other reason why scholarship is so intrinsically linked to the pastoral life is that a deeper study is needed for communicating to members of the congregation. A simple fact of education is that it requires more understanding to articulate a point than to just have a vague understanding of the doctrine. 

To have learned in the book of Job that there are more reasons for suffering than punishment for sin is easy enough, but to communicate why Job illustrates this fact requires deeper understanding and a deeper knowledge. 

As pastors are called upon to communicate to the people truths they have learned in God’s word, it is necessary for them to actually spend time searching the Scripture for a deeper understanding. Piper describes that as being a scholarly impact upon the pastorate.
Piper thus describes a relationship between the pastorate and the scholar that he believes at times can become too pronounced. At the end of the day, these discussions about the scholar and the pastor are just extremes used to demonstrate the different focus that each has. We must remember that they are not as distinct as our binary mind wants to think.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Answers to Prayer

I figured we'd take a break away from Job for a little while (or at least one week; cannot confirm what next week's post will be). Perhaps it is far too obvious for my readers to know what book I'm reading in my daily devotions. By now, you've probably realized that I am slowly working my way through the whole Bible, currently midway through the book of Job.

But we are going to talk about and from other ways that the Lord impacts and shares in my life. Do you ever have those moments where everything you hear about seems linked to one similar theme?

About a month ago, I had a similar experience to just that. But let's start this story a bit earlier than there. Let's start it several months ago (I'm sorry, I don't have the date written in any of my journals), when I started praying seriously for boldness and instruction on how to witness.

I started praying for that on a daily basis, yet nothing seemed really to happen for the longest time. Until about a month ago. (But then you had already figured that out because of how this narrative was flowing.)

This of course, could just stop right here, and be considered a lesson in patience in the Lord in relationship to the burdens He lays on our hearts, but we're going somewhere different today if I know what my typing fingers are going to say next.

About a month ago, every lesson I heard in a gazillion different places (daily chapel, Spiritual Formations class, the church that I will attend here at college, and special seminars) were geared specifically at the thought process of evangelism and how to tell those around you about Christ.

And so, just like that, the Lord was answering my prayers about the instruction of witnessing in the first place. This instruction should find practical application more specifically this very night, as I head with a group to Central State University to cultivate relationships and share the Gospel. It is the opportunity that I have been waiting and praying with for a long time.

But that's not the only thing the Lord has been able to do in this here walk of my life. At a time in which I feared my prayer life was getting stagnant, the Lord supplied me with an opportunity to hear from Pastor Rohm through the Honors Program here at Cedarville. I almost didn't decide to go because I didn't want to or think I could get a sub for my job here on campus.

But I tried and was able to get said sub. And wouldn't you know it? Pastor Rohm spoke a little bit about prayer and presented some necessary insight into how my prayer life should continue. Additionally, the event gave me the opportunity to meet with him in a group of 8 to get a prayer journal and to hear him describe his own prayer life, and how his prayer journal has improved it.

It was a valuable experience indeed. But why should you care about my life?

What I am simply trying to convey in this post is that God cares about our relationships with Him. If you want to see yourself serving Him greater, the best thing for you to do is to pray about it.

After all, we don't have for nothing the admonition in Matthew 7:7-12,
"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets."

Monday, September 29, 2014

Bureaucracy at Its Best (Worst?)

A door was left unlocked at the White House last week, and a peaceful intruder made his way into the premises. As the intruder was peaceful, no harm was done. But there is now an agenda underway among the Secret Service to better protect the President.

So naturally, they are going through and just making sure everyone crosses their I's and dots their T's, right? (They're a bureaucracy; they'd be a bit backwards.) They could have prevented this intruder by simply keeping all the doors unlocked after all.

That would make a lot of sense as a plan of action; however, the Secret Service is a bureaucracy (I think you may be understanding that now), so they of course want to make wide sweeping changes that have absolutely nothing to do with the problem at hand.

Indeed, the Secret Service (as a bureaucracy) wants to block off more areas around the White House, essentially moving the safe zone perimeter further from the White House, and naturally check the bags of people who happen to be near that new perimeter.

Because all of that would totally be necessary just to keep an intruder from entering through an unlocked door. 

This illustrates the tendency of bureaucracy to overreact to every small event in ways that have nothing to do with the situation, and quite frankly won't even really help the problem of having crossed i's and dotted t's.

You expand the perimeter and still have irresponsible Secret Service, intruders will still be able to find the unlocked door.

As Dr. Marc Clauson writes,
"So it was probably fear of more bad publicity that drove this latest proposal.  But we have seen this mindset before , like every time the Transportation Safety Agency and Homeland Security come up with a  new scheme for supposedly protecting us from terrorists.  All too many of those schemes actually do little or nothing for better security, but they certainly manage to make flying (maybe soon taking the train) more inconvenient.  But again, this is part and parcel of the perverse incentives created within large and/or unaccountable bureaucracies."

Anyway (as I write this Thursday morning), I now need to go listen to Clauson give a lecture on church councils. Peace out!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Oh How the Mighty have Fallen!

Last week, we examined the life of Job and how he had a proper perspective on the suffering that had been placed in his life. By understanding that he is not entitled to the blessings that God has given Him, we see clearly why Job was called, "a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God and escheweth evil."

But Job's excellent perspective doesn't last forever. After his wonderful friends (read in a sarcastic tone) tell him that he is being punished for his iniquity before God, Job's response indicates a troublesome perspective on what God should be doing in his life.

It starts innocently enough. Job is going through so much struggle in his life that he begins to wish that he had never been born in the first place. Everything has been taken away from him, and his health is now deteriorating. He feels miserable, and as everyone knows, men take sickness n wimpier ways than do women, so that's probably happening here too.

It is not in vain that he states in Job 3:3-5,
"Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived. Let that day be darkness; let not God regard it from above, neither let the light shine upon it. Let darkness and the shadow of death stain it; let a cloud dwell upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it."

But of course, his suffering will soon leave him in a little bit more interesting position. Let's just stop with me boringly narrating and get to the point. In Job 7, Job replies to his friends by saying that the Lord brings suffering both to the just and the unjust (the most common theme taken from the book of Job), but then he goes on to say that if God were indeed correcting his actions, he'd rather be left in sin, than go through this discomfort.

But let's not take my word for it. Let's look to Job's exact words in Job 7:17-21,
 "What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? and that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him? And that thou shouldest visit him every morning, and try him every moment? How long wilt thou not depart from me, nor let me alone till I swallow down my spittle? I have sinned; what shall I do unto thee, O thou preserver of men? why hast thou set me as a mark against thee, so that I am a burden to myself? And why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away my iniquity? for now shall I sleep in the dust; and thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I shall not be."

Oh, Lord, you just really shouldn't care about lowly man to convict him of his sin. To convict him of his sin is to put a burden upon that man, and why should you care to make him better?

But it quickly seems to deteriorate to a much worse position. In his next reply, Job mentions how God has sovereignty over all events of man. At which point, he begins to say, it doesn't matter how he interacts with the Lord, as the Lord will do what He will regardless.

Indeed, according to Job here, even prayer is not helpful in any of these situations. Listen in on Job 9:16, 
"If I had called, and he had answered me; yet would I not believe that he had hearkened unto my voice."

Ouchey-ouch. That's really all there is to say, And Job 10:2-3 makes an even more compelling case against God,
 "I will say unto God, Do not condemn me; shew me wherefore thou contendest with me. Is it good unto thee that thou shouldest oppress, that thou shouldest despise the work of thine hands, and shine upon the counsel of the wicked?"

But my goal today was not exclusively to write a hit piece on Job, condemning him to the pits of hell. Job would later repent of much wrongdoing done in the book of Job, and I was reading through the book to see what that wrongdoing specifically looked like over these last few days. This is how far I have gotten,

But to share this particular endeavor of Job's frailties is still more than an intellectual exercise. I believe it can be instructive to us to see how this mighty man - this man who was "perfect and upright, one that feareth God and escheweth evil" - could fall to such a perspective.

No matter who we are, we must be cautious and know that we are not above being tempted and brought down. We must not give into a prideful feeling of how solid our relationship with the Lord is. As soon as we do, we might find ourselves like Job falling into sin.

But we can learn even more specific lessons from the life of Job as presented here. To begin with, one should never desire comfort over conviction of sin. Yes, the Lord's correction can be painful. The Bible does not say for naught (Twice!) that the Lord "Chastens" whom He loves.

It won't be a pleasant experience, but it will be a worthwhile experience that presents true opportunities to rest greater in a relationship with the Lord. It is as the Bible says,
"For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh in us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." 

Second, we must not ever use the sovereignty of God as an excuse for sin in our lives. We don't need to witness to those around us because God is in control and will make them come to know Him as He directs anyway.

While it is true that God will indeed work in this way, our response should be more along the words of Mordecai in Esther 4:14,
"For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"

The Lord's sovereignty is not an excuse for our laziness. He still wants us to support and serve Him.

But if we get too wrapped up in us, we might find ourselves falling into a sinful. We might, like Job, fall into disarray. Let's not be mighty men (and women) of faith who fall. But let's actually be mighty men (and women) of faith. That part sounds pretty snazzy.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on the Differing Roles of the Academic and Pastor

Well-renowned scholar D.A. Carson has spent his life studying the Bible and teaching others how to navigate it in the forms of books, lectures, and conferences. Yet throughout that time, he has not completely walked away from the frontlines, as he expresses it, and continually preaches, witnesses, and invests in those around him. As such, he embodies what has been coined the Scholar-Pastor. Together with John Piper, Carson wrote the book, The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry. In his portion, Carson expresses how a scholar should engage in a similar way as a pastor does.

Before he really begins to unpack the Scholar-Pastor, he talks a little bit of how his life brought him to a focus upon scholarly work as opposed to pastoral ministry. You see, when Carson surrendered his life for vocational ministry, he intended that to be in the means of preaching, pastoring and planting churches. While he was doing just that in Vancouver, he was asked to teach a few classes here and there at a local Baptist college. It was nothing major; Carson was simply a fill-in when the regular professors were unable to teach.

When a full-time spot became available, Carson was offered the position. Although he declined, it made him consider advancing his education further. Since his church was to expand soon, he knew he either had to leave at that moment, or stay at his church for at least five years. Thus, he decided to travel to Cambridge to get his Ph.D.

While pursuing his Ph.D., Carson would preach an average of 2.6 times per week, indicating that Carson was still committed to the ministry side of Biblical studies. Eventually, Carson found himself in a teaching post at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Even now, Carson intended to leave his post and enter pastoral ministry. But two of his friends told him that he would be defying God’s plan for his life if he were to do such a thing. These two men believed that Carson’s published works were meeting some necessary needs of the church society, and entering into pastoral ministry would unnecessarily cripple these works. Thus, Carson ultimately stayed at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he still teaches today.

This decision highlights two important items about the pastor and scholar. First, the pastor is not necessarily a higher calling for every person in life. For Carson, his highest calling was that of scholar because that was where God wanted him. For people like John Piper, the opposite is true – the highest calling is that of pastor and not that of scholar. Ultimately, each individual who has been called into a disciplined study of the Bible will be further called to focus upon one of these two areas based on their gifts and ability, and neither is more important than the other.

Second, the rationale behind this decision indicates that the time of the pastor and the scholar is spent very differently. The scholar will spend most of his time writing books that reach a broad audience on a superficial level, while a pastor’s time is spent impacting a more focused group of people on a deeper level. Ultimately, both the pastor and the scholar can have an impact upon the life of the individual Christian (and the church as a whole), but the structure of the two positions means that these impacts will greatly vary in scope and magnitude.

After describing how he became focused on scholarly work, Carson explains how the focus is not exclusive in its terms. Just because Carson was focusing upon analytically dissecting the Bible while he was at Cambridge, he still preached 2.6 times per week. Carson argues that this is something that all scholars should continue to do.

The words he uses is that one should not be a “mere quartermaster.” A quartermaster supplies materials for the frontlines of defense, but a quartermaster usually does not actually fight on the frontlines. Much like quartermasters, scholars supply Christians on the frontlines with resources about what the Bible says, how to defend it, and how to reach the world through it and for it. However, Carson believes, that unlike quartermasters, scholars ought to fight on the frontlines, utilizing the mechanisms that they teach on a regular basis. In other words, they should practice what they preach.

Carson provides a couple of strong reasons why a scholar ought not to have a monkish separation from the outside world. First, one will never lose admiration and respect for the word of God if he consistently sees it in action. To illustrate this, Carson recounted a time while studying at Cambridge when he was going through a detailed study of John 3 with his mentor. Through the rigorous prospect, Carson just could not help but smile because the previous Tuesday, he watched as the Lord used his preaching on that passage to bring a man to repentance. Carson was unable to think about the verses without an appreciation for what the Lord had done through them.

Second, Carson’s experience indicates that by communicating with different people who may not agree with all of what you say, or especially those who agree with none of what you say, can help you refine your beliefs, find new ways to explain things, or grant a fresh perspective on a common topic. Essentially, your scholarship will be as relevant to the frontlines as you yourself are.

This particular aspect of the scholarly life indicates that one should be wary about drawing too strong a line between the scholar and pastor. While we just indicated above that the pastor tends to be more in contact with people than the scholar, this part of Carson's work argues that the scholar should still be connected with people as a whole.

In essence, the scholar is primarily concerned with mass exposure of problems within Christian society, but he is not exclusively concerned with such mass exposure; he must also be concerned with being and engaging on the frontlines. Similarly, the pastor is primarily concerned with the spiritual lives of his congregation, but he is not exclusively concerned with the spiritual lives of his congregation.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Naked Came I out of the Womb

In the first chapter of the book of Job, much happens that pretty much every Christian is at least partially familiar.

The Devil comes among the "sons of God" to report on what he has been doing with his time. After giving God a vague answer (as if he could hide anything from the all-knowing God), the Lord asks him,
"Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?"

We all know how Magneto would respond to this question. But Satan has an agenda to support. He wants to make Job turn his back on God. Satan is convinced that if Job didn't have so many blessings in his life, he would not be as grateful to the God who provided them.

After all, it is easier to be grateful to the Lord when one is enrolled in an excellent institution, surrounded by tons of loyal family and friends, and generally, everything is going well. But is it as easy to thank the Lord when your friends hurt you, when your circumstances just keep seeming to not go your way?

So Satan is granted permission to be able to go back to Earth, and takes the lives of his sons, servants, and livestock. Ultimately, when that doesn't cause Job to turn his back on God, Satan petitions the Lord for permission to touch Job's health. After the Lord grants His permission, Job is now so overwhelmed by how God turned His back on Job that he cannot help but to curse God and die.

Except that's not what happens at all. Job is asked by his not-so-Proverbs 31 wife to curse God and die, and his response is recorded for us in Job 1:21,
"Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."

You see, Job understood a simple concept that I tend to struggle with. The Lord was under no obligation to give us any blessing in this world. He was under no obligation to even give us life to begin with. Thus, He is under no obligation to maintain and continue to provide those blessings that He has provided. (Caveat: because the Lord promised in the Bible that once saved is always saved, that blessing He is obligated to continue to provide.)

Job illustrates that we can't take for granted what the Lord has given us, and ultimately our thankfulness to Him needs to be less based on the material things He has provided, and more based off of who He is, and what eternal blessings He has promised to those who call upon His name.