Throw them Overboard: Why & How I Help Students Improve in Writing

The waters were all about me even to my throat,

the abyss encompassed me.

The seaweed was wrapped about my head

at the roots of the mountains.

I went down into the countries beneath the earth,

unto the peoples of the past.

But you raised up my life from the pit,

Yahweh, my God.

— J. R. R. Tolkien’s translation of Jonah 2:6-7[1]

At some points in the semester, I am sure my students feel like Jonah.

Thrown overboard and weighed down by multiple writing assignments, they find themselves unsure how they are progressing at the graduate level and eager to find rescue from the end of the term lifeboat, though that, too, seems out of reach.

Yet, I am okay for them to feel this way–at points. The key, though, is that they not end there for there is a purpose to the time spent sinking in the depths of academic research and writing. Indeed, I aim to be the one to throw them overboard.

For my Baptist History course, students first write a 1,200 word critical book review on their choice of two volumes I presented to them at the start of the semester. The second writing assignment is a 10 page (minimum) theological biography research paper due at the end of the semester.[2]

While not connected in any way in terms of content or parameters, I have linked these two writing assignments in one specific way, namely, that the first serves the second in helping the student to gain skill in writing.

While the process may feel like “seaweed wrapped around their heads” the end result, if I do my job right, will be a overall improvement (and hopefully enjoyment, though not required) in the writing task for each student.

Why do I do this?

As I explain on the first day of class, one of the side effects of a journey with me as professor is that, whether one hopes for it or not, I use my courses to help improve writing skills. In the ministry assignments to which most of the students in my classes will go, the ability to communicate clearly their thoughts will prove crucial for their own efforts of building trust, strengthening relationships, resolving conflicts, organizing and casting visionary leadership, and, most importantly, communicating the gospel message well (Col 4:4). For those who find themselves set apart for the ministry of the Word in preaching, the ability to convey their message in written word only helps insure they will do even better verbally.

Further, as was the case with me, many seminary students come not having a strong liberal arts undergraduate experience. Many were called to the ministry while they were pursuing medicine, or engineering, or business, and the like. They have not written a paper or a book review since high school, if even then.

However, rather than lower expectations, I aim to raise the bar high and then design my course in such a way as to help the students reach that bar, if not exceed it, by the end of the semester. In order for this plan to work, the high expectations set for the multiple writing assignments play a key part.

Like I said, this approach is not at all what many students signed up for or even expect from a church history course, and truthfully, along the way, many may wonder why they did. But, as with all things worthwhile, this is a part of rigid preparation required for a marathon of ministry service.

Regularly, I try to remind students that the semester is 15 weeks long, and everything we do in the course serves an intentional and specific purpose, and that there are no wasted assignments or lectures. Thus, some things will not make sense and likely appreciation for the challenge will not come until the semester is over. And for, some, it will not come until years after.

While I seek to teach and shepherd students in a gracious and edifying way, I am not concerned with my current or week-to-week approval rating. Indeed, I hope that for some, they will not think about or appreciate some of what I am doing until six or seven years from now when they are serving with their young family on the streets of Moscow or in the wilderness of Africa–for that is when they will need it the most. [3]

I confess that while I do not want to be known as the hardest professor who teaches the toughest classes, I do want to be in that conversation simply because I want students, especially at the start of the semester, to feel like they cannot take any shortcuts when it comes to my class.

I intentionally start with these high expectations and then as the semester progresses and students are feeling stretched, regularly offer opportunities for grace (as well as a generous but intensive opportunity for extra credit). If I start with low demands that are too laid back, I can never ratchet up the demands to provide correction that will have any lasting effect. Now hopefully, I balance all of this with worthwhile lectures and interpersonal time and attention so that the students know I see my role as an investment in their life and ministry and one that I take equally as serious, if not more so, that what I am asking of them.

The truth is, I have had very few students fail my classes and if someone has done poorly usually it is because they simply failed to do the work or prepare for their quizzes and exams. So while many students, at times during the term, might feel their semester is over and hope for a high grade is lost, the reality is that is the furthest thing from the truth.

For them, in many ways, the semester is just beginning and as they persevere they find they are on their way to dry ground, raised from the pit, and seeing and learning anew the faithfulness of God.

Here are the specifics of how I use the two writing assignments in tandem to affect the class learning experience as a whole:

(1) A directed Book Review with clear expectations.

  • I select books I have read and know well and believe will substantially support and supplement the aims and goals of my lectures. Also, I assign books for which I want to read reviews. If the professor enjoys reading the assignment, the professor wins, and the students win as well. No one likes receiving a paper back from an unhappy professor.
  • I schedule the due date for the book review assignment during the first half of the semester to get the students writing early before their assignments are due for their other classes. Also, in order for the feedback from this assignment to be of any benefit to aid them in their final writing assignment, they need to get it back sooner rather than later.
  • The first assignment gets graded twice. In my larger classes, I use a graduate assistant to grade first all the reviews for style and grammar issues. Then I grade them for content and assign the final grades. This is a significant investment of time, but it is an investment that pays off immediately with regard to in-semester improvement in what the student produces in their final research paper.

(2) As a part of their final research paper, I require a preliminary Prospectus and Bibliography assignment.

  • This is a short assignment where the student, well in advance of the due date for the final paper, submits a paragraph summary of what they intend to write, including a draft thesis statement, along with a snapshot bibliography of their research at that point.
  • I tell the students that I require this assignment because I needed it required of me. Essentially, this forces the student to engage their paper at an early point in the semester and not at the last minute when resources are scarce and clear thinking is hard to find. Further, it allows me to provide immediate feedback and guide their research to ensure they get on the right track and read the right sources.

(3) A doable and hopefully intriguing research paper.

  • Much like the book reviews, I assign the type of research paper that I enjoy writing and reading. In my history classes, this typically is a “theological biography” paper of fixed length and prescribed structure.

By the time I am grading the final paper (like I am finishing this week), I begin to see enjoyable results. Regularly do students rise to the challenge and attempt to write the very best paper they have ever attempted in all their schooling, and it shows. Students who despised history are now spending time in deep research and reading.

Sound too good to be true? Well, this does not happen with every student, but it does regularly happen with many students. This transformation process alone is why the teaching the same courses semester after semester never grows old. The semester long journey with students overboard in the water and back to dry ground makes it new and rewarding, to the glory and praise of God.

[1] J. R. R. Tolkien, “The Book of Jonah” in The Journal of Inkling Studies 4:2 (Oct 2014), 5-10.

[2] In addition, they read and are quizzed over 1,300 pages of reading and have a cumulative final exam, among other assignments.

[3] Certainly, there remains much room for improvement in my approach and planning. In the 12 years I have been teaching at this level, I have learned something new each semester and have made many adjustments along the way. Also, I am the product of hopefully the best of my professors. Much of what I do that is profitable can be traced directly or indirectly to Malcolm B. Yarnell, III, David Alan Black, David Puckett, Gregory A. Wills, Keith Harper, Paige Patterson, David P. Nelson, Jason K. Lee, John Hammett, L. Russ Bush, Russell D. Moore, and many more. That said, all shortcomings and inconsistencies in my approach are alone certainly mine.

5 Crucial Terms to Know for the Task of Global Evangelism

Baseball has long been my sport of choice. In my school age years, I played other sports with friends in their yards or driveways, but only pursued baseball at a competitive level. As a result, it was not until college that I learned the rules of how to play basketball and football.

I can remember several weeks where my roommates and I were playing basketball and aside from knowing I needed to hustle and “get open,” I had no clue what was happening. My teammates would tell me to “run the court” or “block out” or “set a pick,” and I stumbled and faked my way along until I could learn how to play the game. I was eager to play hard and help my team to win, but I lacked an understanding of the terms for playing.

When it comes to considering the work and needs of missions, many of us would be helped to acknowledge that we need a greater understanding of the terms. We know the Great Commission, support and practice evangelism, and even advocate for the missionary task. Yet, often “missions” to us is like a game we enjoy watching but don’t know how to play.

So, during this time when many churches are focusing on their annual Global Missions giving, I present here some basic definitions of 5 crucial missiological terms. Some of these are elementary and well-known, but for the exercise of building a team where everyone knows the terms and how to play together, I hope you will find this review helpful.

1. Missionary. John Piper provides a helpful classification of two types of missionaries found in the Bible: the Timothy-type missionary and the Paul-type missionary. He explains, “We call Timothy a missionary because he left home (Lystra, Acts 16:1), joined a traveling team of missionaries, crossed cultures, and ended up overseeing the younger church in Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3) far from his homeland.”[1]

The Timothy-type missionary, however, stays on the mission field in the same location even after churches are started and established.

The Paul-type missionary “was driven by a passion to make God’s name known among all the unreached peoples of the world. He never stayed in a place long, once the church was established.”[2] The pursuit of traveling to places where there is no or little knowledge of Jesus Christ (Rom 15:20) distinguishes this type of missionary.

Whether they stay in one place or continue onward to other frontier areas, a missionary is one who crosses cultures to share the gospel.

2. Nations. The Bible records that nations were first created by God in response to the construction of the Tower of Babel (Gen 11). Previously having one language, the people were dispersed throughout the earth with distinct languages. The nations, both the Jewish nation and all Gentile nations, continue as central entities in the plan of God to display His glory and work out salvation and judgment.

It was to the nation of Israel that God sent his son, Jesus Christ, as Messiah to “suffer and rise from the dead the third day, that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations” (Lk 24:47, emphasis mine). It is the commission of Christian churches (Mt 16:18) to continue the task of taking the message of God’s plan of salvation (Rom 10:14-15) to those nations who have not heard (Rom 15:21).

This message will be proclaimed by God’s children to the nations until the end of the world (Mt 24:14). At that time, the Messiah will return to the earth and all nations will submit to his rule and reign (Phil 2:10-11). People from every nation will worship him (Rev 7:9).[3]

Piper helps us again here by reminding that the task of missions is “not just reaching more and more people but more and more peoples—tribes, tongues, peoples, nations.”[4] When we understand this biblical definition of the nations (and the prescribed task to reach them) we are encouraged to know that the task of reaching all nations is finishable, for  “the task is finishable because while the number of individual people keeps growing and changing, the number of people groups (by and large) does not.”[5]

3. Reached and Unreached. In Romans 15:19, Paul says, “From Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ.” In 15:23, he explains that he no longer has “any room for work in these regions.” What Paul is essentially saying is, “The furthest east I have ever been is Jerusalem, and the furthest west I have ever been is Illyricum. And everywhere in between—in all the places I have been—the ministry has been fulfilled.” He has fully preached the gospel of Christ.

The idea here is not that every person in that region, as big as it is, is now a Christian. We know that is not the case. But he is saying that all the people in this region now have access to the gospel. He has sown seeds, and churches have sprouted up, and there are preachers there who will continue the work so that everyone in this huge region now has access to the gospel. The gospel has been preached here, the ministry has been fulfilled, and it’s now self-sustaining. In our language today we would call this region “reached” and “no longer unreached.”[6]

In missions, most define a people group as reached when “there is an indigenous church able to evangelize the group.”[7] However, there is ongoing discussion about at what point an indigenous church is “able.” That is, what percentage of the population of the people group is needed eventually to achieve the status of reached? Missiologists Zane Pratt, David Sills, and Jeff Walters, in Introduction to Global Missions, follow the common classification of a people group being reached when evangelicals consists of more than 2% of the population.[8]

However, former missionary and fellow missiologist Robin Hadaway recently argued that setting the reached line at 2% is too low and hinders the healthy establishment of churches in a newly-reached area. He recommends raising the threshold back to 10-20%, and along with that, sending more missionaries to these areas previously thought of as reached.[9] While that is a fruitful and important discussion, there is agreement at least that people groups with less than 2% evangelicals are clearly “unreached.”[10]

4. The 10/40 Window. Unreached people groups exist in just about every country of the world, but they are most concentrated in what’s been called the 10/40 Window. Here’s a brief explanation of that term:

The 10/40 Window is an imaginary box that encloses an area of the globe from 10 degrees north of the equator to 40 degrees north of the equator, and from Northwest Africa to East Asia. Not only does this rectangle contain the majority of the world’s unreached lost; it is also home to three major religious blocs: Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism; as well as areas of greatest poverty. [11]

The 10/40 Window[12]

As this region represents such a high concentration of unreached peoples, churches and missionaries rightly focus on the 10/40 Window for preaching the gospel to “those who have never been told” of Jesus (Romans 15:21).

5. The Global South. In the later part of the 20th century, the largest populations of evangelicals around the world started from the historic West to shift South. The church is growing rapidly in Latin America, Africa, and Parts of Asia. “More Christians live there than in the United States, and they send out more missionaries than the United States and Western Europe.”[13] As a result, churches and missionaries in the 21st century are having to increasingly adjust their thinking of the West as “reached.”

Certainly, there are more evangelicals still in the West compared to the 10/40 Window, but the rise of nominal Christianity and the uncertain commitments of the children and grandchildren of evangelicals mean that one day soon, if not already, the churches of the Global South will have need to send missionaries to the West.

As we gather in our churches and families to pray for the ongoing global work of the Great Commission, I hope this refesher of these basic and crucial terms will aid you in this biblically designed team task of seeing the earth filled with “the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab 2:14).

At this time of year, the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention are focusing on their annual Global Missions Offering called the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. [14] All gifts given toward this goal of $160 million go directly to missionaries serving on the field. Here is a helpful video and invitation from Jason K. Allen, president of Midwestern Seminary, about this offering.

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). 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.




[1] John Piper, Brothers. We Are Not Professionals (B&H, 2013), 223.

[2] Ibid.

[3] This paragraph is adapted from my forthcoming entry in the Worldview Study Bible (B&H, 2018).

[4] Piper, Brothers, 223.

[5] Ibid.

[6] This paragraph is adapted from Jason G. Duesing’s, “A Plea for Ambitious Evangelicals,” in Union University Pulpit, (2013): 43-51.

[7] Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad! 3rd ed. (Baker, 2010), 217.

[8] Zane Pratt, M. David Sills, and Jeff K. Walters, Introduction to Global Missions (B&H, 2014), 27-30.

[9] Robin D. Hadaway, “A Course Correction in Missions: Rethinking the Two-Percent Threshold,” in SWJT 57:1 (Fall 2014).

[10] In fact, Pratt, Sills, and Walters, Introduction, 27-30, argue that for greatest accuracy, the term “unreached” needs further refinement into “unengaged unreached people groups” (UUPG) and “uncontacted unreached people groups” (UUUPG). The UUPGs are those groups with populations with less than 2% evangelicals and where no church planting has taken place among them for the last two years, and the UUUPGs are those groups hidden, hostile, or isolated with whom no contact has ever been made for gospel advance.

[11] Pratt, Sills, and Walters, Introduction, 30.

[12] The 10/40 Window, By Danthemankhan at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

[13] Pratt, Sills, and Walters, Introduction,, 32.

[14] See also David Brady’s helpful article on the history of the LCMO.

Prayer, Missions, and The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia

During his final years in Northampton, Massachusetts, Jonathan Edwards received an invitation from Scotland to participate in a Concert of Prayer as a “means” of rejuvenating the revivals.

As Chris Chun deftly explains, Edwards had already come to think of prayer as an appropriate conduit for advancing the awakenings and in response he published in 1748, sermons on Zechariah 8:20-22 entitled An Humble Attempt.

In the 1740s and 1750s, Edwards’s work encouraged many both in America and Scotland, “by united and extraordinary prayer, seek to God that he would come and manifest himself, and grant the tokens and fruits of his gracious presence.”

For, he argued,

The greatest effusion of the Spirit that ever yet has been, even that which was in the primitive times of the Christian church, which began in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, was in answer to extraordinary prayer.

This optimistic treatise, while not evident in Edwards’s lifetime, helped to launch the modern missions movement. In 1784, William Carey and Andrew Fuller received An Humble Attempt and read it with eyes primed for the task of taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. In this sense, Jonathan Edwards served as a “grandfather” of modern missions.

Edwards’s An Humble Attempt is the subject of my entry in the newly released The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia. Edited by Harry S. Stout, Kenneth P. Minkema, and Adriaan C. Neele, this volume contains over 400 entries from over 200 hundred scholars including Midwestern Seminary’s Christian George, Michael McMullen, and Owen Strachan.

Over five years in the making, the The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia is a joint project of the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University and William Eerdmans Publishing Company.


The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia

Harry S. Stout, General Editor
Kenneth P. Minkema and Adriaan C. Neele, Associate Editors

Eerdmans, 2017.


See also Owen Strachan on “The Ongoing Jonathan Edwards Renaissance” about other new Edwards publications out or to appear soon.


Introducing “A Treasury of Baptist Theology”

New this month from B&H Academic is the start of a new series: A Treasury of Baptist Theology. With plans for over two dozen volumes, this series will feature the work of Baptist theologians and church leaders on a wide range of topics written from a Baptist perspective.

The vision for the series comes from Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and I count it an honor to join him as the TBT series editors. Patterson shares:

Baptists have always been grateful for the contributions of great Christians from every era. Where would we be without Athanasius’s The Incarnation of the Son of God, Augustine’s Confessions, or the multiplied books of the Reformers who laid the foundation for the Reformation? And as much as we look forward to the return of Christ and a true ecumenism, adjudicated by none other than the Lord from heaven, we must until then be faithful in the expression of the truth as we know it. The Treasury of Baptist Theology represents an effort to do exactly that.

As you begin to read these volumes, our prayer to God is that He will use them to encourage faithfulness from all in delivering the New Testament witness to our own era. The concept of a believer’s church–that is, a church made up of only twice-born men and women who have witnessed their faith through the covenant of believer’s baptism and who have committed themselves wholly to the fulfillment of the Great Commission as given by our Lord in Matthew 28:18-20–will hopefully incline the hearts of all to the Savior and to His program of witness to the nations.

Along the way, the plea for religious liberty will also be made apparent, together with the teachings on those doctrines where there is agreement across denominational lines, such as Christology, the Trinity, and other significant foundational doctrines. Volumes on evangelism, apologetics, and God’s purpose for the home will also be among those coming from the series.

So being your journey with us, and hear the significant witness of today’s Baptist theologians. And may God help us to embrace these doctrines with the same thoroughness and commitment as those in the generations who have gone before.

The first volume in the series appears this month. Deron J. Biles, professor of pastoral ministries and preaching at Southwestern Seminary is the editor and contributing author of Pastoral Ministry: The Ministry of a Shepherd. Joining Biles in writing chapters are several of his colleagues as well as former Southern Baptist Convention president, Fred Luther, and current chairman of the SBC Executive Committee, Stephen Rummage.

Together, the authors of Pastoral Ministry examine Ezekiel 34 and explore facets of the life of a shepherd and pastoral ministry. Biles explains:

The New Testament applies the image of the shepherd to the role of the pastor. In contrast to the faithless shepherds of the Old Testament, shepherds in the New Testament are never pictured as unfaithful …. One can preach to the sheep, but one can only pastor among the sheep. Being a pastor requires proximity to the sheep. “Preacher” is a titled earned by excellence in education and eloquence, but “Pastor” is a title earned by hands-on ministry ….

Pastor, God has told you in His Word what He expects from you. The responsibilities of your calling are clear. He expects His shepherds to feed the flock, strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the broken, protect the flock, bring back those driven away, seek those lost, and lead the flock …. This is what God said you are to do. If God honors you with the care of His sheep, follow the ministry of the true Shepherd.

Here is more information about Pastoral Ministry:

Pastoral Ministry: The Ministry of a Shepherd

Deron J. Biles, Editor
B&H Academic, 2017.



  1. Introduction: The Ministry of a Shepherd, Deron J. Biles
  2. Feed the Flock, David Allen
  3. Strengthen the Weak, Deron J. Biles
  4. Healing: The Forgotten Art of the Church, Paige Patterson
  5. Shepherds Must Bind up the Broken, Dale Johnson
  6. The Shepherd Who Protects the Sheep, Malcolm Yarnell
  7. Bring Back Those Driven Away, Tommy Kiker
  8. Seeking the Lost and Perishing, Matt Queen
  9. Leading the Flock, Fred Luter
  10. Trusting the True Shepherd, Stephen Rummage

What others are saying about Pastoral Ministry:

“After pastoring a church for fifteen years, Pastoral Ministry was refreshing and encouraging to read. It reminded me of exactly what the Lord has called his shepherds to do.” — Matt Carter, pastor of preaching and vision, Austin Stone Community Church

“Nothing is more important to the church today than to have a clear view of the role of the pastor …. The pattern for the shepherd is the Great Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ.” — Jimmy Draper, president emeritus, LifeWay Christian Resources

Pastoral Ministry … is more than a ‘how to’ book; it’s a ‘who am I’ book …. You will be challenged to look within your own heart to consider how God is pastoring you.” — Mark A. Howell, senior pastor, Hunters Glen Baptist Church

“The high calling of a pastor is to shepherd the people of God with the Word of God for the glory of God …. I pray that the Lord will bless this book to encourage and equip pastors to be the shepherds God has called them to be.” — David Platt, president, International Mission Board



30 Years Ago, A Southern Baptist Atonement Debate

At the height of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Inerrancy Controversy (1979-2000), SBC theologians Paige Patterson and Fisher Humphreys consented to a debate over the nature of the atonement at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary on October 19, 1987.

Often overlooked by those who examine the doctrinal skirmishes within evangelicalism in late twentieth century, the Humphreys/Patterson debate reveals some of the depth of what was in play in SBC theological life. While somewhat an intramural contest among Southern Baptists, the arguments volleyed were well known to the watching evangelical world. Indeed, the essence of the discussion remains and therefore a worthwhile exercise exists in the examination of this dispute.

Therefore, to mark the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Humphreys/Patterson debate, the Midwestern Journal of Theology is making available today a special preview of an article I wrote for the forthcoming Fall 2017 issue, due out later this year.

The article, “Humphreys/Patterson—1987: A Southern Baptist Debate on the Atonement,” seeks to provide the historical setting of the events that led to the debate, the content of the debaters’ arguments on the atonement, and an analysis of the significance of the debate both for the SBC in 1987 and for evangelicals inside and outside the SBC in the present day.

You can find the special preview of my article here:

Content with Carrying the Pegs

And the appointed guard duty of the sons of Merari involved the frames of the tabernacle, the bars, the pillars, the bases, and all their accessories; all the service connected with these; also the pillars around the court, with their bases and pegs [pins] and cords. (Numbers 3:36-37 ESV)

Focusing on the detailed description of this Levite clan, Andrew Bonar (1810-1892), pastor in Scotland, mentor of Robert Murray McCheyne, crafted a sermon titled, “The Pins of the Tabernacle.”

Therein, Bonar reflects on God’s design and plan for the designation of someone specific to carry the pins (or pegs) during the days of the Israelites wanderings. A potential source of discontent, Bonar sees where the sons of Merari might say, “Why do our brethren the Kohathites carry the Ark while we carry the pins?” Bonar’s response:

Because God said it; that is all. He that serves most is the greatest in the kingdom. He who carries the pins may get the greatest reward …. Do not say, ‘I want to get out of the rut into another place.’ If you get out of the rut of carrying pins when God put you there, you will not be blessed. Are we in the camp with God? That is the great thing.[1]

Decades earlier, another Scot, Claudius Buchanan (1766-1815), faithfully lived out the kind of service Bonar would describe. Though largely forgotten today, Buchanan was a friend of William Carey who carried the “Tabernacle pins” of missions advocacy among his contemporaries to the degree that historian Wilbert Shenk noted Buchanan’s influence in “playing the decisive role in opening India to Christian missions in the early years of the nineteenth century.”[2]

Through his memoirs, field reports, and sermon collections, Buchanan labored persistently to inspire others to the task of global evangelization. Yet, while he made a number of significant contributions in his own lifetime toward the expansion of the missionary task, it was a single sermon, an ordinary “Tabernacle pin,” if you will, that God used to direct the heart and mind of the pioneer American missionary, Adoniram Judson at a time when he needed a word from God the most.

After Judson’s dramatic conversion culminated in 1808 while at Andover Theological Seminary, Judson began to “reflect on the personal duty of devoting his life to the cause of missions.”[3] The idea of consecrating his life to go to the ends of the earth, though perhaps an abrupt concept for his family, was not a novel development in 1809 New England.

Jonathan Edwards’ Diary and Journal of David Brainerd appeared on the reading list for all students, and, in New England, especially among evangelicals, there existed a wide following of William Carey. Judson’s reading of Brainerd and awareness of Carey prepared him to respond to a sermon he read in September 1809 by Claudius Buchanan.

On February 26, 1809, Claudius Buchanan, preached the sermon The Star in the East, in Bristol, England on Matthew 2:2, “For we have seen His Star in the East, and are come to worship Him.”[4] In his biographical essay, Shenk relates that Buchanan, an Anglican priest and a chaplain in the East India Company, was first discipled by John Newton and later Charles Simeon while a student a Cambridge. Following Cambridge he served in India in the chaplaincy. There Buchanan met William Carey and soon his passion became missions and missionary strategy.[5]

While Buchanan and Carey’s tedious labor of Scripture translation could be compared to the carrying of “Tabernacle pins,” so also could Buchanan’s service as a publicist. Shenk tells of Buchanan’s persistence, often during times of ill health, of writing and finding ways of “stimulating others to write in support of the cause of missions.”[6] This started in journeys throughout India to gather research on the state of Christianity in various regions and concluded in the publication of his sermons upon his return to England. Buchanan would die at age 49 in 1815. One of his most widely read sermons was The Star in the East.

In The Star in the East, Buchanan took the account of Jesus’ birth and emphasized the uniqueness of the Gentile visitors, the wise men following a star, as “representatives of the whole heathen world.”[7] The star’s eastern location, Buchanan noted, is significant because “millions of the human race inhabit that portion of the globe.” Therefore, just as in the day of the arrival of God’s Son, the East once again was bearing witness to the Messiah, “not indeed by the shining of a Star, but by affording luminous evidence of the divine origin of the Christian Faith.”[8] Buchanan then proceeded to give evidence for the spread of Christianity in the East and the need for men to take the gospel to that region of the world.

A copy of The Star in the East appeared in the Massachusetts Baptist Missionary Magazine in September 1809 just at the time of Judson’s missionary reflections. [9] The result of Buchanan’s influential sermon was a decision finally by Judson to break with home and country and set out with the gospel for Burma. Since that day, Judson has been held in memory for two centuries and Buchanan has been forgotten. Yet, Buchanan’s faithfulness to carry his Tabernacle pin served Judson and thousands more.

For most of us, our life and calling will be that of the Merari and Buchanan—contentedly carrying the pegs of the Tabernacle in historical obscurity while others carefully and prominently carry the “Ark of God.” For the shared task of world evangelization both are vital, and only in eternity will we see how God used us or even just one of our sermons. That we get to serve Him and walk with Him as we do is the greatest reward. For as Bonar reminds and teaches us the secret of contentment (Phil 4:11-12),

“Are we in the camp with God? That is the great thing.”


[1] Andrew Bonar, “The Pins of the Tabernacle,” in Marjory Bonar, ed., Reminisces of Andrew A. Bonar, D. D. (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1895), 287-88.

[2] Wilbert R. Shenk, “The Legacy of Claudius Buchanan,” in IBMR (April 1994): 78.

[3] Francis Wayland, A Memoir of the Life and Labors of the Rev. Adoniram Judson, D.D. (Boston: Phillips, Sampson, and Company, 1853), 1:29.

[4] Claudius Buchanan, The Star in the East (New York, NY: Williams & Whiting, 1809). For further context for this and other of Buchanan’s sermons see Karen Chancey, “The Star in the East: The Controversy Over Christian Missions to India, 1805-1813,” in Historian (Spring 1998).

[5] Shenk, “The Legacy,” 78-79.

[6] Shenk, “The Legacy,” 80.

[7] Buchanan, The Star in the East, 4.

[8] Ibid., 5-6.

[9] See Massachusetts Baptist Missionary Magazine (Sept 1809): 202-206.

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

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.