The Value of the Reformation Anabaptists

One man’s noise is another man’s symphony.

Indeed, the Anabaptists are more often thought of as clanging nuisances of history many have sought to mute or dismiss—sounds of history that are more noise than melody, more cacophony than symphony. In the years following Martin Luther’s first strides toward reformation, the sirens of the Anabaptists concussed in strident discord to Ulrich Zwingli and the Swiss Reformer’s idea of a Magisterial Reformation.

Often these and later Baptists were thus stamped with the label of Münster revolutionaries, a mischievous sect, who many solemnly swore were up to no good. Yet, as William Estep argued, “Anabaptism might well be, outside the Reformation itself, the most influential movement the sixteenth century spawned” for religious liberty and the separation of church and state.

G. H. Williams identified three groups of Anabaptists: revolutionary, contemplative, and evangelical—with the latter most theologically close to the Magisterial Reformers in terms of their doctrines of the sole authority of Scripture and justification by faith alone.

Herein, then, lies the value of the Reformation Anabaptists for contemporary Baptists. The Reformation Anabaptists show how one can hold gospel unity with the rest of the Protestants while pushing for further reformation in local church doctrine and practice.

>>Read the rest of “What do Reformation Anabaptists have to do with Contemporary Baptists?” published October 2, 2017 in the Texan.

Is this a dream? No, it’s worse … and better

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this (and all is mended)
That you have but slumbered here,
While these visions did appear.

–Puck’s Epilogue, A Midsummer’s Night Dream

It was only a dream.

This is how Shakespeare decided to reconcile the chaos he created in the wonderfully entertaining tale of a different kind of star-crossed lovers in A Midsummer’s Night Dream.

In his play, devious fairies deceive and manipulate a cast of would-be spouses causing confusion and mayhem—and the tumult is what makes this a comedy. Just when you think it cannot get any worse, it does. With so much upheaval, the reader wonders how, of if ever, restoration of order will occur.

In the end, order does come, but not through careful exposition or reconciliation, but rather through Shakespeare pressing a literary reset button—it was all just a dream.

In our day, as we watch as our culture disintegrates into what David Brooks calls, in Shakespearean fashion, weaponized buffoonery, we know that this tumult doesn’t come with any reset button. We may hope and wish that it is all just a dream, but it isn’t and that kind of hope is always misplaced.

Believers in Christ Jesus, however, need not ever wring our hands and wish to dream away reality. Instead of escaping, we are to engage, and not with louder rhetoric or weaponized trivialities, but rather with hope rooted in truth.

In the midst of the physical destruction of Jerusalem, centuries ago, the author of Lamentations rightly lamented with sorrow the turning upside down the city of the people of God.  Yet, at the core of his somber despair, he remembers what is true, and that ray of sunshine in the darkness makes all the difference.

Just before Lamentations gives us the hymn-worthy and life-giving words of the greatness of God’s faithfulness and the constancy of daily grace and mercy from Him (Lam 3:22-24), the author explains that his hope amid destruction exists because he remembers these things that are true about God:

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.” (Lam 3:21)

God, then, as now, is and was the same (Heb 13:8). He does not change (Jam 1:17).

Yet, the same is true of humanity and the culture we inhabit. Without the intersection and intervention of God’s new mercies, both redemptive and restraining, we are desperately sick (Jer 17:9) and prone to wander and to war. The nations will always rage and plot (Ps 2). Yet, God still laughs—and we should too.

Into these days, Christians should speak truth. These are times for crafting and signing statements. These are days for determining what it means to stand first with brothers and sisters in Christ (Gal 6:10) and our culture of comforts second. As heirs of Carl F. H. Henry, our consciences should remain uneasy, and not content, as we carry out this confronting work.

Yet, even Henry, seventy years ago now, as he called evangelicals to lament the downgrade of society, he thought they should do so with a smile:

“The message for a decadent modern civilization must ring with the present tense. We must confront the world now with an ethics to make it tremble, and with a dynamic to give it hope.[i]

We live In dark and uncertain days, where Mr. Shakespeare’s literary reset button does not exist. Yes, the world is wrong-side up and our hearts naturally along with it. But, as we lament these things, we should also call this to mind: God has not changed and his mercies are still new every morning even as we await our Blessed Hope, the Lord Jesus, who gave himself to redeem us (Titus 2:13-14). Believer’s in Christ uniquely and always have this message to share.

So as we find ourselves asking, “Is all this a dream?” We need to smile more as we say “No, it is far worse … and better.”

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

[i] Carl F. H. Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (Wheaton: Crossway, [1947], 2003), 53-55.

 

 

 

 

Rich Mullins and the Gospel Preached to Abraham

September 19, 2017 marks the twentieth anniversary of the untimely death of one of the 20th century’s finest poets, Rich Mullins. As a college student, and new believer in Christ, the words to his songs helped personalize my faith and provide a guide for how to express my gratitude to God in worship, both corporate and private.

One example of how this poet helped me was where, in his song “Sometimes by Step,” he said,

Sometimes I think of Abraham
How one star he saw had been lit for me
[1]

I can remember thinking about those 15 words for an extended time and asking, “Is there a connection from Abraham to me?” And, even more, had God known about me long before I knew about Him and my need of Him? Following that, then, what about those throughout the earth who have not yet heard of Him?

As I would come to discover, these questions have glorious answers for, as in just one verse, the Bible declares,

And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” (Galatians 3:8 ESV)

Here, Paul explains that God has always had our salvation and the salvation of the nations in mind. From the beginning, he conveyed to Abraham his plan. In what is often called the centerpiece of the first five books of the Bible, God says to Abraham,

Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12:1-3 ESV)

At the age of 75, Abraham obeyed God, and he and his wife left their country. After a period of travel and time, God met with Abraham, took him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And [Abraham] believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:5-6 ESV)

After Abraham believed, God made a covenant with him promising that he would be “the father of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:3). Now, Paul tells us in Galatians 3:8 that in this event—Abraham looking to the stars—the gospel was preached to Abraham. Yet, we are still right to wrestle with this as we might think, “How is this possible, as the name of Jesus Christ is not mentioned?”

What, then, was the gospel preached to Abraham? In short, the gospel preached to Abraham was God’s promise to him that through Abraham and his offspring, all the nations would be blessed. Or, simply that Gentiles, non-Israelites, will be justified by faith.

In Romans 4, Paul explains that “the purpose was to make him the father of all who believe” and that “the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:11, 23-25).

The gospel has always had the doctrine of justification at its center. Reconciliation of sinful humanity to a holy God, and the removal of his just condemnation, is the core of gospel truth. Yet, to be gospel-centered is to recognize that the gospel was intended for Abraham in the Old Testament-past all the way to you and me in post-New Testament future.

Again, Paul explains that the gospel was “promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son” (Romans 1:2-3). Or, as Rich Mullins put it in that way that helped me,

Sometimes I think of Abraham
How one star he saw had been lit for me

Yet, Mullins’s words should drive us to see the larger point of Galatians 3:8 as well. Not only are we connected to Abraham by faith, we should remember that, as with Abraham, the gospel has always contained an intrinsic element of blessing the nations.[3]

Rich Mullins came to perform at our campus in Rudder Auditorium at Texas A&M University in 1996. and I am glad I saw him then, for he would die just a year later. More that that, though, I am grateful that his words remain and still prove helpful for pointing us to the Bible and then to God in worship. As we think about Mullins’ legacy and influence, may his words propel many to the nations, so those who have not heard the good news about Jesus Christ can join in praising God and worshiping him in thought and song too (Ps 67).

—–

 

This article is an adaptation of a portion of my chapter, “Pastor as Missionary,” that was my assignment in the new book edited by Jason K. Allen, Portraits of a Pastor (Moody Press, 2017). My hope in my chapter is to make one thing clear: The pastor as missionary is the pastor centered on the gospel. The pastor as missionary is not another garment or tool or lens he wears or uses, but rather is the natural, healthy outworking of what it means to have a gospel-centered focus. To explain further what I mean by this, in the chapter I seek to answer these three questions:

  1. What does a pastor need to know about missions?
  2. Why should the pastor be a missionary?
  3. How can the pastor most faithfully be a missionary?

Here is more information about this new book:

Portraits of a Pastor: The 9 Essential Roles of a Church Leader

Jason K. Allen, General Editor
Moody Press, 2017.

 

 

Foreword – Thom S. Rainer
Introduction – Jason K. Allen
Pastor as Shepherd – Jared C. Wilson
Pastor as Husband and Father – Daniel L. Akin
Pastor as Preacher – Jason K. Allen
Pastor as Theologian – Owen D. Strachan
Pastor as Church Historian – Christian T. George
Pastor as Evangelist – John Mark Yeats
Pastor as Missionary – Jason G. Duesing
Pastor as Leader – Ronnie W. Floyd
Pastor as Man of God – Donald S. Whitney
Conclusion – Jason K. Allen

Thanks to Moody Press, you can read a complimentary copy of Jared C. Wilson’s chapter, “Pastor as Shepherd,” here.

[1] Rich Mullins and Beaker, “Sometimes By Step” (Edward Grant, Inc., 1991).

[3] Because of this, we can say that Muslims and Jews are not the true successors to Abraham. Salvation only comes through the One, namely Jesus, in whom this faith is placed and through whom we are justified. John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad!, 3rd ed. (Baker, 2010), 191-192, explains, “What we may conclude from the wording of Genesis 12:3 and its use in the New Testament is that God’s purpose for the world is that the blessing of Abraham, namely, the salvation achieved through Jesus Christ, the seed of Abraham, would reach to all ethnic groups of the world. This would happen as people in each group put their faith in Christ and thus become ‘sons of Abraham’ (Gal 3:7) and heirs of the promise (Gal 3:29). This even of individual salvation as persons trust Christ will happen among ‘all the nations.’”

 

 

 

The Pastor as Missionary

In recent years our family survived our “Angry Birds” season of life. For a period of time our kids could not get enough of this game, to the extent that we even had an Angry Birds birthday party along the way. If you have played this game, you know that the key to advancing is trajectory. How you aim the angry bird makes all the difference for achieving maximum effect. While hopefully not angry, the key for the pastor as missionary also is trajectory. In what direction the pastor points, the church follows.

That said, it isn’t enough for a pastor to herald the importance of missions. He must underscore its importance biblically and encourage his people to be world Christians just like him. So, more than merely pointing to the ends of the earth, the pastor should also go there and take others with him.

In short, the pastor as missionary is an exemplar of one who champions the end goal of the gospel and those called to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Yet, this is not another hat he must wear but is the natural outgrowth of his dedication to the gospel and his desire to see the nations reached.

Inevitably, when the pastor is leading in the trajectory of missions, well-meaning church members will ask why it is that we need to emphasize and fund long-range global mission efforts when there are so many lost people right here at home. This is a question of stewardship and deserves a good answer, and the pastor as missionary should readily give it. Here is just a start:

1. First, we should seek the unreached because the Great Commission expects disciples to be made of all people groups—large or small, easy or hard to find, with or without printed languages—all groups. The clear heart of the Bible is for God’s people to desire “all the peoples” to praise God and for him to “let the nations be glad and sing for joy” (Ps 67:3-4).

2. Second, the earliest Christians were themselves compelled to take the gospel to where Christ had not yet been named so that, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand” (Romans 15:20-21).The churches that formed first after Pentecost clearly saw the need to plan to send those carrying the good news beyond their local communities. Even though those local areas were in gospel need, they organized their ministry with a view to supporting those who were sent to all who had yet to hear and understand.

3. Third, is the simple issue of effective use of manpower. When Nehemiah set out to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem, he stationed people in the lowest parts and in the open spaces (Neh 4:13). He did not stack them all in one part or in one place. When looking to reach the nations with the gospel, yes, sufficient workers should stay and labor in the fields at home for there is much work to be done, and those traveling to the unreached cannot do so without their support. But more and more workers should also be sent and equipped to reach areas where no work has ever been done.

This analogy bears striking resemblance to worldwide realities today. The Joshua Project documents that among the 60 percent of the world that is reached or within reach, more than 90 percent of the global evangelical missionary effort serves.[1] This means that only 10 percent of our missionary force is working among the remaining 40 percent who have never heard the gospel or have little access to the gospel.

Further, each year Open Doors International generates their World Watch List to determine the top 50 countries where persecution of Christians for religious reasons is worst. For 2017, the top five countries include: North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Sudan.[2] When you look at that list in light of where the current evangelical missionary force is deployed, we can draw the following conclusion.

In all of those are places where persecution of Christians is the greatest, most people are unreached, and the fewest evangelical missionaries are working. That is an easy-to-see mismatch, and pastors serving in reached areas are in the best position to do something about it.[3] The areas of greatest neglect are the areas of greatest need.

Often, we think that only missionaries are the ones who need to give thought, time, and vision to missions. Our view of the world beyond where we live is often uniformed—truly foreign. We are much like the Narnian Prince, Caspian, who asks the boy, Edmund, from England, “It must be exciting to live on a thing like a ball. Have you ever been to the parts where people walk about upside-down?”[4]

Yet, the call to serve and reach those who have not heard requires qualified messengers but does not require any further command or calling. Our Lord Jesus has already said to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19), and there are many nations who have not heard His name.

As model missionaries, pastors should lead their churches to go and to support the ongoing work of missionaries all over the globe—especially in the parts most in need of the gospel.

To put it another way, as shepherds of churches seeking to fulfill the Great Commission, pastors should lead in seeking and finding people from all the nations that seemingly “walk about upside-down” and help make the task of missions not so foreign.

Thinking through this idea of “Pastor as Missionary” was my assignment for a chapter in the new book edited by Jason K. Allen, Portraits of a Pastor (Moody Press, 2017). My hope in my chapter is to make one thing clear: The pastor as missionary is the pastor centered on the gospel. The pastor as missionary is not another garment or tool or lens he wears or uses, but rather is the natural, healthy outworking of what it means to have a gospel-centered focus. To explain further what I mean by this, in the chapter I seek to answer these three questions:

  1. What does a pastor need to know about missions?
  2. Why should the pastor be a missionary?
  3. How can the pastor most faithfully be a missionary?

Here is more information about this new book:

Portraits of a Pastor: The 9 Essential Roles of a Church Leader

Jason K. Allen, General Editor
Moody Press, 2017.

 

 

Foreword – Thom S. Rainer
Introduction – Jason K. Allen
Pastor as Shepherd – Jared C. Wilson
Pastor as Husband and Father – Daniel L. Akin
Pastor as Preacher – Jason K. Allen
Pastor as Theologian – Owen D. Strachan
Pastor as Church Historian – Christian T. George
Pastor as Evangelist – John Mark Yeats
Pastor as Missionary – Jason G. Duesing
Pastor as Leader – Ronnie W. Floyd
Pastor as Man of God – Donald S. Whitney
Conclusion – Jason K. Allen

Thanks to Moody Press, you can read a complimentary copy of Jared C. Wilson’s chapter, “Pastor as Shepherd,” here.

——–

[1] “Status of World Evangelization 2017,” Joshua Project.

[2] “World Watch List,” Open Doors.

[3] In addition to a mismatch of sent personnel, there is also the mismatch of resources. In my own missions focused denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, for example, in 2014-2015 the 46,793 churches reported total resources of $11.5 billion. Of that number a total of $227 million was reported as money designated to fund global missions. What that is an astounding number and reflective of a heart for the peoples of the world, it remains only 2% of our total resources.

[4] C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, (Harper Collins, 1952; 1998), 225.

 

 

 

 

Why I Stopped Worrying About In Class Media Use

The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts.

⁃C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

In the 1980s, one of my television heroes was the debonair Alex P. Keaton. My admiration for APK centered not just for his quick wit and conservative politics, but mostly because he had a watch that was also a calculator. I don’t recall at what age I first acquired the same watch, but when I did I remember some anxiety about whether my teachers would allow me to wear it to school or in class–lest they think I was covertly doing pre-calculus on my wrist.

How to handle media use in the classroom has been a topic of discussion among educators at all levels for the better part of the last two decades, or more. And, when our culture entered an era of annual technological upgrades and the condensing of multiple devices into fewer things to carry, the collective academic fretting only increased.

When I first started teaching and was not much older than the students, I resisted the trend of allowing more and more devices and sought to control and limit all use of non-class-related technology by professorial fiat. However, some time ago, I changed my thinking and chose instead to embrace this brave new world and try my best to redeem it for constructive (or at least entertaining) purposes.

Usually a few times a year, in academic journals or other outlets, the discussion resumes with various studies drawing conclusions related to the effects of media use in the classroom. In 2013, the Journal of Media Educationreported the findings of the survey, “Digital Distractions in the Classroom: Student Classroom Use of Digital Devices for Non-Class Related Purposes.” The conclusion: almost 92% of the 777 student respondents indicate that they have or do use a digital device during class for non-classroom related activities.

Since then, there have been thoughtful arguments for how to address these diversions, some that even go so far as making a case for banning laptops from the classroom. Depending the grade level and maturity of the students taught and the institutional mission and setting, I think there is some merit to these ideas, but in the end, I still think it comes down to the professor leading the class and what he or she does with the time and students before them.

The students I teach are adults in a seminary setting. Over the years, I have found it far more enjoyable and productive to treat them like adults and then expect them to act in like manner. Plus, given the fact that I have a propensity to serve as a cause, though unintentional, for campus-wide chatter (i.e. ask about the time I fainted in class and started quoting Ronald Reagan jokes), I find it easier to go along and enjoy whatever social media attention may come rather than build the reputation of “The Gloomy Professor.”

What I have found is that appropriate balance has settled to serve as the norm. Yes, there are always some students who sit in the back of a large class that are hard to reach and seek distraction whether paper or digital. But, overall, my current approach has led to more student engagement and even outside of class interaction. In some cases it has led to the recruitment of students who are considering my school as their virtual observation of in class banter or actual content has helped them see what life is really like on campus. Overall, I would say in my classes we have more fun and less actual distraction than one would think possible in the current technological climate.

Here is how I address the matter in my statement from my syllabus on “In Class Media Use”:

Computing devices are permitted during the lecture hour for the purpose of taking notes. Use of these devices to access the Internet, make telephone or video calls, text messaging, updating social network statuses, etc. is discouraged unless something really funny, historic, life changing, or unusual happens in class. If there is an emergency requiring the use of a cell phone, the student may take the call and leave the class, but out of respect for fellow classmates, not return until the break.

In short, as long as a living, breathing student with a mind ready to learn is present, laptops are welcome. Alex P. Keaton and his calculator watch, of course, are welcome too.

 

Why a National Denomination?

In my Baptist History classes, I am often asked whether denominations really are necessary.

Students, averse to what they perceive as staid institutionalism or red-tape bureaucracy, want to categorize denominations as a generational matter and thus look for something new for the present. These motives are not entirely uninformed or born from ignorance as there are plenty of generational traditions that every new generation discards. We’ve done it and so did our parents and grandparents.

However, in this case it is always a delight to inform students of the primary reason Baptists in this country ever saw the need to form a national denomination.

For at least a century, Baptist churches had cooperated locally and even regionally, but it took a truly unifying purpose to organize at the national level.

Baptists in the nineteenth century were burdened by something they called their “one sacred effort,” that is churches of all sizes cooperating together for the purpose of global missions.

And, I quickly argue, that is the number one reason why we should have, support, build and be proud of a national denomination today.

This question especially comes to mind at this time of year when the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention prepare to gather for their annual meeting. But, it is also relevant because this time of year marks  that start of the first Baptist denomination in America, the Triennial Convention, over 200 years ago.

Formed in May 1814, the Triennial Convention would serve as the forerunner to the Southern Baptist Convention that would originate, sadly, in 1845 over a disagreement among Baptists in the North and South over the tragic and evil practice of slavery–the ramifications of which the SBC is still feeling, but thankfully working though.

The early Baptists officially called their denomination “The General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States of America, for Foreign Missions” clearly not yet arriving at the penchant future denominations have for simple and repeatable acronyms. In fact, as this new Convention set out to meet once every three years, the more natural “Triennial Convention” rose as the agreed nomenclature instead of GMCBDUSAFM.

So, why did Baptists first form a national denomination? Here is the actual wording from the Triennial Convention’s first Constitution:

We the delegates from Missionary Societies, and other religious Bodies of the Baptist denomination, in various parts of the United States, met in Convention, in the City of Philadelphia, for the purpose of carrying into effect the benevolent Intentions of our Constituents, by organizing a plan for eliciting, combining, and directing the Energies of the whole Denomination in one sacred effort, for sending the glad tidings of Salvation to the Heathen, and to nations destitute of pure Gospel-light.

Simply put, this shared idea of marshaling the energies of churches “in one sacred effort” to take the Gospel of Christ to “nations destitute of pure Gospel-light” served as the primary motive for early American Baptists to organize and gather on a national level.

As Southern Baptists prepare to meet, some are sure to ask again, “Why a national denomination?” May this cooperative example of early Baptists in America remind that the Great Commission remains a good, right, and needed reason around which churches should still gather to do more together for the glory of God than we could ever do apart.

Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention

Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention
by Jarvis J. Williams and Kevin M. Jones

“The Southern Baptist Convention has a big, dark, historical stain on it: racism. Evident by the SBC’s affirmation of slavery, its failure to repudiate this sin until 1995, and the numerous segregated Southern Baptist churches, this stain continues to hinder Southern Baptist churches from embracing the one new man in Christ outlined in Ephesians 2:11-12 and from participating in the new song of those saints from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation referenced in Revelation 5:9.

The gospel of Jesus Christ requires and demands all Southern Baptists to do their parts to erase this stain from the SBC–or at least to make the stain less apparent. This act requires a relentless commitment to Christian unity. An Christian unity requires us as a denomination to make the necessary sacrifices and to take the necessary steps to experience this unity in every aspect of Southern Baptist life sooner rather than later.

This book, edited by and written primarily by African-American voices in the SBC, is one small effort to help erase the stain of racism from the SBC in pursuit of unity in our beloved denomination ….

The editors inclusion of white Southern Baptists alongside a majority of African-American contributors symbolizes the kind of partnership we as African-American editors believe must take place within the SBC if the stain of racism is to be removed once and for all. The historical stain of racism in the SBC exists in part because of the participation of many white Southern Baptists in the marginalization, oppression, and exploitation of black and brown people.

As editors, we do not believe racism necessarily will be removed if more black and brown Southern Baptists are in leadership over the white majority in the SBC. Neither do we believe racial discrimination is a sin committed only by the white majority. Black and brown people discriminate too! We mean the ethnic status quo in the SBC, which has historically privileged the white majority over black and brown people, can no longer remain the status quo if the stain of racism is to be removed from the SBC.”

Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention: Diverse African American and White Perspectives

Jarvis J. Williams and Kevin M. Jones
B&H Academic, 2017.

 

 

 

 

The Wittenberg Door of American Evangelical Missions

In the summer of 1806, several dedicated young men attending the Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, began to gather regularly to pray and read reports of the burgeoning work of Andrew Fuller, William Carey, and the new Baptist Missionary Society in England.

On one occasion, while meeting in a field adjacent to the college campus, the students, trapped by a thunderstorm, took shelter in a haystack. Haystacks in 1806 were not the manicured and tightly bound variety that are arranged neatly as viewed from the 21st century roadside.

Rather, these were the versions piled as high as a human could assemble with only a pitchfork and a sundown deadline. Thus, like a quickly assembled snow fort, the young men of Williams dove into and carved out a hay-lined shelter to continue their meeting. What they found, though, was far more rewarding than had they discovered a missing needle.

The “Haystack Prayer Meeting” resulted in the dedication of these young men to personal participation in the global missions task, and the ensuing years led to the entry of a formal American participation with the sending of Adoniram and Ann Judson along with several others to the East.

Herein, we can see a dotted line from 1806 to the present, for the Haystack Prayer event is, in many ways, the Wittenberg Door of American evangelicalism’s awakening to the need and universal call for all believers to support, organize, and send many for global gospel proclamation.

Famously, the Judsons would change from Congregationalists to Baptists en route to Burma, and through them and the aid of Luther Rice, the Baptist Board for Foreign Missions was formed. Now mobilized toward sending and supporting world evangelism, Baptists in America saw and had a need to form a national denomination, and did so in 1814, in what would become known as the Triennial Convention.

This is no small point for our denominationally averse age to miss: the reason why Baptist churches sought to cooperate at a national level, with all of its necessary machinery, politics, stresses and strains, was for the purpose of uniting to send the gospel to those who have never heard (Rom 15:21).

Three decades later, due to the tragedy of many Baptists in the South defending the practice of slavery, this national denomination divided in two, and the Southern Baptist Convention began and, eventually, also the Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board). But, even through tragedy, the connection to the Haystack remained.

Likewise, many other evangelical denominations can trace their entree into global mission advocacy back to that meeting in the fields behind Williams College, and that is what makes that location and that moment in 1806 so meaningful. For, in that sense, it is right to connect the sending today of any American evangelical missionary to those college students praying during a thunderstorm 211 years ago.

Recognizing the significance of that 1806 prayer meeting, later missions supporters dedicated in 1867 The Haystack Prayer Monument on the grounds of Williams College, where it still resides in the College’s Mission Park. [1]

And this week, the Midwestern New England Study Tour convened in Williamstown to see the monument and to reflect on the 1806 event and to consider the idea of the Haystack Prayer Meeting as the Wittenberg Door for Amercian Great Commission engagement.

This year we are rightly remembering the 500th anniversary of the actual Reformation events the door in Wittenberg helped to launch, events that would encourage the later formation of Williams College and many Protestant churches in New England.

Therefore, in the spirit of the Reformation’s gospel recovery, it is good and right also to consider the impact of a group of praying students, heirs of Wittenberg themselves, on the modern missions movement of global gospel proclamation.

Here we stand (and pray) with them.

Photo: Dr. Owen Strachan, Midwestern Seminary, speaks to Midwestern students at Williams College, May 22, 2017.

[1] The monument reads, “The Field is the World. The Birthplace of American Foreign Missions.” The selection of the phrase, “The Field is the World,” is an intriguing one, but not unique given the time and missionary context. Taken from Matthew 13:38 and the Lord Jesus’ explanation of the Parable of the Weeds, the correlation of the harvest field to the world appears first as merely background information, a description of the stage on which the parable would take place. However, as many would rightly note, the acknowledgement that the boundaries for the proclamation of the gospel are global is good and significant news for all dwellers in time and space distant from the land of Israel in the era of the New Testament. An example of how a missionary minded preacher interpreted and applied Matthew 13 in the mid-nineteenth century is Gardiner Spring (1785-1873), and his sermon “The Extent of the Missionary Enterprise” (1840).

 

A Diversity of Baptist Revival Theologies

Theologies of the American Revivalists
by Robert W. Caldwell III

“From the 1780s to the 1850s Baptists emerged as one of the largest denominational groupings within American evangelicalism. Like the Methodists, their growth was due in part to their zealous participation in evangelism and revivals. Unlike the Methodists, however, Baptists did not espouse a unified revival theology.

The reason for this is simple: their identity as Baptists did not arise primarily from their soteriology but rather from their ecclesiology.

In other words, ecclesiological issues–the church as a covenanting body of rightly baptized believers (according to believer’s baptism), the autonomy of the local congregation, and religious liberty–defined them more fundamentally than matters related to their revival theology.

Because of this, we find the full spectrum of revival theologies reflected in early American Baptists. Some were Arminian, some embraced Edwardsean revival theology, while others were traditional Calvinists of varying degrees. Thus this section will not explore the revival theology of early American Baptists for the plain reason that only one did not exist.

Instead we will sample selections from among multiple revival theologies advocated by different Baptist leaders of the period. In many ways, Baptists mirrored the diversity found among early American evangelicalism at large.

In what follows, we will sample, chronologically, the spectrum of revival theologies among early American Baptists. This topic is complex and largely unexamined.

Our first stop will be to examine the Baptists who welcomed the popular revivalism of the period and fanned its flames with zeal. The so-called Separate Baptists, who evangelized the Carolinas and rural South, as well as the Freewill Baptists, who articulated a Baptist version of Wesleyan soteriology throughout New England, will be treated.

Second, we will turn our attention to the long-forgotten proponents of Edwardsean revival theology among Baptists, such as Jonathan Maxcy and the first president of the Southern Baptist Convention, William B. Johnson.

Last, we will examine the more traditional Calvinist views of Jesse Mercer, editor of the influential Christian Index, a Georgia Baptist periodical.

The goal here is not so much to show the unique Baptist revival theology but to demonstrate the diversity of revival theologies harbored historically in the Baptist tradition in the early decades of the United States.”

Theologies of the American Revivalists: From Whitefield to Finney

Robert W. Caldwell III
IVP Academic, 2017.

The History of Theological Education: A Review

Justo L. Gonzalez, The History of Theological Education. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. Pp. xi, 155. $39.99. Paperback.

Justo L. Gonzalez has provided a helpful review of the development of theological education while at the same time providing a prognosis for its future. Originating as lectures Gonzalez delivered on two occasions, the esteemed and prolific church historian refined his presentations into a short volume for any interested in this topic.

Rather than provide a mere historical overview, which Gonzalez does well, The History of Theological Education is organized around several premises. In addition to showing that theological education has always been a part of the church, Gonzalez explores how contemporary traditional theological education is in crisis, though wider non-traditional theological education is not. Exploring these themes over sixteen brief chapters, Gonzalez attempts to show how the study of the history of theological education can help provide guidance for the future.

The Early Church

In the early church, Gonzalez shows how there were Christian schools, like Justin Martyr’s in Rome and the Alexandrian catechetical school, but these were not formal environs for the training of pastors but rather the simple study to the Christian faith (5-6). This informal catechetical study was the only requirement for pastors, yet it was also required for every believer.  However, alumni from these schools would go on to form more formal projects in the second and third centuries following the conversion of Constantine. From this point until the Middle Ages, universal training declined and the training of individual teachers increased along with the introduction of monastic schools (22). With the arrival of the Germans into Roman territory, one of the few educated class of leaders that remained were in the church. Yet, even their training was limited and thus by the sixth and seventh centuries, Cassiodorus wrote his Institutions to train clergy first in what would become known as the quadrivium (logic, arithmetic, geometry, and music) before studying Scripture (25). This was followed by the more significant Pastoral Rule of Gregory the Great, which focused predominately on the task of the clergy (27).

The Middle Ages

In the early Middle Ages, clergy were trained by the monastic schools as well as schools attached to cathedrals wherein bishops would prepare candidates for ordination. However, most clergy remained untrained and even though under Charlemagne there was a revived interest in education, “general chaos and ignorance seemed to reign until the end of the eleventh century” (35). That, and during this period, most who did study were directed toward the application of tasks for ministry in administration, which Gonzalez notes, is why they employed the term clerks or clerics, for they saw their work as “clerical” (35).

With the dawn of the twelfth century an “economic and intellectual awakening” overtook Western Europe and with it came growth to the cathedral schools (41). This growth paved the way first for scholasticism and then the birth of the university. Schools in Paris, Bologna, and Oxford were noted for their study of theology and, in particular, the practice of ‘lecture,’ wherein a professor “commented on a text” (44). From Peter Lombard’s Sentences to Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica (which Gonzalez notes was in part “a handbook for those undertaking missionary work among Muslims” (52), a new form of theological education emerged.  Yet, as Gonzalez relates, most of the clergy still did not receive training due to cost and lack of basic education (53). By the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, scholasticism saw a separation between faith and reason, and the academy and the church. This led to greater educational darkness even for parish clergy and, even more, a lack of desire or need seen for education to aid or help in the task of ministry (61). In reaction to this trend arose the humanists and Desiderius Erasmus with new proposals “for pastors and church leaders for whom it was impossible to separate study from devotion and the practice of charity” (68).

The Reformation

The Protestant Reformation launched via the work of a university professor, Martin Luther, and theological education saw reformation and formalization. Philip Melanchthon led the creation of public schools and the revamping of the theological curriculum at the University of Wittenberg, which would influence many other universities and future theological educators (71-74).  In 1556, Andreas Hyperius proposed a three part curriculum still followed by many Protestant seminaries: (1) the study of the Bible, (2) doctrinal theology, and (3) practical studies (74). In Geneva, John Calvin shaped significantly the development of theological education among the Reformed with his writings and in the Academy of Geneva (75). In his 1541 Ecclesiastical Ordinances, Calvin established the church office of “doctor” to “teach the faithful the correct doctrine” and saw the need for this to take place in schools (76). Gonzalez notes that “the early leaders of the Radical Reformation were highly educated,” yet due to persecution this tradition would wait until much later to establish schools for theological education (77).

The Roman Catholic Church responded in the Council of Trent with a renewed emphasis on the education of priests (79). In 1563, the Council instructed each diocese to establish “seminaries,” a term first used seven years earlier by the Archbishop of Canterbury (80-81). These “seedbeds” Gonzalez explains were schools who were “to plant a large number of candidates, care for them in their growth process, and finally transplant them to the places where their ministry was to take place” (81). The next generation of Protestants engaged in the task of systematizing the doctrines of the Reformation for organization and teaching, which naturally led them to focus on theological education (89). While still opposed to Roman Catholicism, the Protestants would follow the same educational methods, especially in the establishment of seminaries (94).

Yet, as is often the fracturing nature of Protestantism, Gonzalez relates that “in protest against the intellectualism of Protestant orthodoxy” appeared the Pietists and their approach to smaller churches within the church, or schools of piety (95, 98). Also connected to the University of Halle, a school that would shape Zinzendorf and the Moravians, thus connecting theological education to Protestant missionary advance.

The Modern Era

In the Modern Era, theological education was shaped by Schleiermacher, one who rejected Pietism in favor of defining theological education in light of the Enlightenment (107). This leftward plunge into the scientific and historical critical method of studying both history and Bible brought many changes to theological education. Gonzalez recognizes a further divide between the academy and the church, liberalism and fundamentalism that resulted in change in many of the early American universities, such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton and their approaches to theological education (110).

In this section Gonzalez explains that the fundamentalists “tended to reject many of the discoveries and theories that seemed to contradict the teaching of scripture” and calls this a “canonization of ignorance,” explaining that these “theologians and religious leaders insisted on their traditional positions, ignoring the challenges of modernity” (110). Focusing on the Presbyterians, he lists as examples Charles Hodge and J. Gresham Machen. Gonzalez then expounds further explaining that this canonization of ignorance often results in “biblical imperialism” where in “the pastor, on no other grounds than being a supposed specialist on divine matters, attempts to tell scientists how to follow their disciplines …. [w]hich isolates them from those who do not accept the pastor’s imperialism but do see the pastor’s ignorance” (112).

Contemporary Theological Education

In his final two chapters, Gonzalez uses his historical groundwork to speak to contemporary theological education administration calling for a transformation beyond curriculum to a return to theological education for every believer (119). He provides sevens directives aimed at reconnecting the academy to the local church that center on concepts like “community,” “relating,” “contemplation,” “responding to evolving circumstances,” “redefine the relationship to ordained ministry,” “train mentors,” and in light of these, “redefining faculty publication expectations” (127-129). He further assesses that “seminaries are not doing their job properly” as “the denominations that traditionally have been most insistent on the need for seminary education in order to practice the pastorate are also the denominations whose membership is most rapidly declining” (132).

While these assessments are ripe for debate, Gonzalez rightly notes one area for needed change is in understanding demographics as these denominations are seeing growth “among people belonging to ethnic minority backgrounds other than those traditionally associated with a particular denomination” (134). He states, “It will no longer be enough for a denomination to have an office or a department of racial-ethnic minority ministries. It will not be enough to recruit a few ethnic minority students and faculty. It will be necessary to reexamine the very structure, ethos, and form of government of a denomination, in order to see how these promote or impede its witness in the presently shifting circumstances” (135).

Critical Evaluation

Gonzalez’s work will no doubt be seen as the primary source to cite for the history of theological education, and while for the most part this is helpful, it is regrettable for his dim assessment of the twentieth century and the future. For one example of those following Gonzalez’s lead, Christian Scharen and Sharon Miller cite Gonzalez in their Auburn Studies report, “Bright Spots in Theological Education” (Sept 2016). In this influential periodical, they note that the future of theological education is either dim or bright based on whether schools follow Gonzalez’s call for total reorientation and redefinition.[1] In particular they use Gonzalez’s work to see a dim future for schools “committed to the Master of Divinity as the gold standard for leadership preparation in declining mainstream churches” (Sharen and Miller, 5).

Gonzalez’s work further lacks an assessment of how a doctrinal or confessional core shaped and sustained many Protestant seminaries, and led to guiding the future of many denominations and missionary expanse. In his sections on the modern era, there is barely a mention of Andover seminary, the first non-university divinity school started by the Congregationalists (not the Baptists as Gonzalez states) that trained many leaders after the Great Awakenings and contributed to the start of formal participation by American Protestants in foreign missions (132). Further, there is no treatment of the founding and reclamation of Southern Seminary, it’s founder James P. Boyce and his formative “Three Changes” address. The growth and expansion of the modern Evangelical movement, the founding of Fuller Seminary, the influence of Dallas Seminary and many others, do not appear in this volume. Further, there is no discussion of the pivotal role of accreditation and the historical development of the Association of Theological Schools.

With these oversights, Gonzalez’s concluding reflections and prescriptions ring hollow and uniformed. With that said, this is a volume worth reading, but reading critically, as the earlier historical chapters are quite helpful for assembling a basic understanding of the history of theological education.

This review originally appeared in the Midwestern Journal of Theology (Spring 2017): 112-117.

[1] Christian Sharen and Sharon Miller, “Bright Spots in Theological Education,” Auburn Studies No. 22 (September 2016).