A Sincere and Pure Devotion to Christ: The First Anniversary of The Spurgeon Library

When thinking how best to assess and categorize the life of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), a phrase used by the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:3 comes to mind. For the totality of his life as a Christian, Spurgeon had “a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” There are scores of examples of this and, indeed, even dissertations yet to be written on the topic, but as one, consider his first and last words shared at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.

Spurgeon preached his first sermon at the Tabernacle on March 25, 1861. On that occasion he used Acts 5:42 “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ” to remind his listeners that “the one subject upon which men preached in the apostolic age was Jesus Christ.”

That sermon inaugurated a three decade ministry that would reach every corner of the world. From London went forth the Christ-centered preaching of this Baptist lion with such reverberation that his words are still read and shared.

Upon Spurgeon’s death in 1892, to acknowledge and rightly capture the essence of the preacher’s preaching, memorial cards were printed containing this portion of his first sermon in 1861:

Spurgeon MC

From his first words spoken to the Metropolitan Tabernacle to the last words read on the occasion of his passing, Spurgeon maintained a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

To this day, Spurgeon remains a regular subject of conversation in homes, churches, and classrooms as his life and legacy have traveled through generations like treasured heirlooms. This is true at Midwestern Seminary & College in more ways than one as both the life of Spurgeon and his heirlooms are a part of his extended legacy in Kansas City, Missouri.

One year ago, Midwestern dedicated The Spurgeon Center that houses Spurgeon’s own library—6,000 volumes first sold to Baptists in Missouri in the early 20th century and acquired by Midwestern in 2006.

Open for research and study, The Spurgeon Library is designed to allow pastors and scholars to look through Spurgeon’s library to find and illuminate Spurgeon’s Christ.

In addition to the physical collection of the books once owned by Spurgeon, curator Christian T. George is in the process of publishing, for the first time, the previously lost sermons of Spurgeon’s early days of preaching. Dr. George also has recorded several introductory videos related to the Lost Sermons project and regularly writes on Spurgeon’s life and ministry at the Spurgeon Center blog.

Photo: C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Vol. III (London, 1899), A3

Happy 40th Birthday Jason K. Allen

This week at Midwestern Seminary, the Board of Trustees, seminary supporters, and members of the Midwestern community gathered to celebrate the upcoming 40th birthday of President Jason K. Allen. At that event, I had the honor of joining several who brought greetings for this enjoyable occasion. Here are the remarks I made on behalf of the seminary community and the President’s Cabinet:

In the introduction to his new collection of William F. Buckley, Jr.’s eulogies of Great Lives of the Twentieth Century, James Rosen recalls a time when he interviewed the influential conservative commentator on the occasion of his 75th birthday:

“I was startled how disaffected the great man seemed. ‘You’re celebrating a milestone birthday soon,’ I began the interview, ‘How do you feel?’

‘Who said I was celebrating it?’ he shot back with a chuckle. ‘You’re celebrating it.'”

So, in the spirit of Buckley, whether he likes it or not, we are here to celebrate Dr. Allen’s 40th birthday.

Yet for the rest of us in this room, his milestone birthday gives us an occasion to celebrate specifically what Dr. Allen has meant to us at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary & College.

I’ve been asked to say a few words on behalf of the Midwestern community and the President’s Cabinet, the senior administrative officers that meet with him regularly and help him carry out his vision for the seminary.

I know I speak for all of us when I say that we are genuinely thankful for Dr. Allen. When the Board of Trustees were seeking to hire Midwestern’s fifth president just over 4 years ago, it was a time in the life of this institution when the seminary needed, more than anything, a visionary president.

Midwestern did not need a coach or cheerleader for a president. Not a CEO or a mentor. Not a maintainer or a consensus builder–even though Dr. Allen does model the best sense of all those attributes. No, what Midwestern needed was a visionary president and we are thankful the Board of Trustees selected Jason K. Allen.

Thus, on this special occasion and in the short time I have to speak for of all of us who work for and serve with Dr. Allen, and who get to learn from him up close, we want to celebrate these four things about him:

First, we celebrate Dr. Allen’s transformative leadership. He has led the seminary both through change and to change. More than that, all those who serve with him have changed as well, and all that for the better.

Second, we celebrate Dr. Allen’s goal driven priorities and how he is relentlessly focused on those goals. In a day where many people are driven by what distracts or the pursuit of leisure, Dr. Allen brings those he leads along to something better and more noble by setting goals. Indeed, if you want to know why Midwestern has accomplished all it has in the last 4 years, you can trace it back to our President’s goal setting.

Third, we celebrate Dr. Allen’s keen pursuit of excellence. Another way of saying this is that nothing slips past him as he is one of the most astute observers of people and events I have known. By raising the standard of expectations for excellence even in the smallest of matters, he has seen Midwestern grow to pursue a culture of excellence in all areas small and large.

Fourth, we celebrate Dr. Allen’s singular vision. His determination to root and establish this era at Midwestern seminary as being “for the church” has been, humanly speaking, the key underlying factor for the seminary’s success. But it would not have happened without his leading and championing this vision on a regular basis.

Dr. Allen,

Four years ago, more than anything else, this school needed a visionary president–and you were that president then and you have been that president every day since. On behalf of the President’s Cabinet and the Midwestern community as we celebrate your 40th birthday, we simply want to express our gratefulness to God for you and for your leadership.

Happy Birthday.

Fall 2016 Courses at Midwestern

The Fall Term is well underway at Midwestern Seminary and I am enjoying getting to know new and returning students again on campus and especially those students taking my classes.

Here are the courses I am teaching this fall in addition to my ongoing academic administrative responsibilities:

Baptist History

This is our required historical theology course for masters students that I enjoy a great deal. While some folks cannot imagine having to teach the same material over and over again, I prefer it.

Since 2005, each semester has given me the opportunity to refine and update my lectures and have another go at appealing to students that ecclesial tradition matters and that, in most cases, it is not what they think it is.

In fact, the history of the Baptist tradition is far more doctrinal, relevant to day to day church life, and helpful for the task of world evangelization than they’ve ever imagined. I have fourteen weeks to convince them of this and I love that challenge.

Here is my syllabus for Baptist History (HT 3110), Mondays at 2:45 p.m. in C157.

Biblical Ecclesiology

This is a core seminar for the theology, missiology, ministry and historical theology emphases in the MBTS PhD program. I co-taught this seminar with Dr. John Mark Yeats, undergraduate dean and church historian, and we have the students read 10 major ecclesiology texts from different traditions and prepare reading outlines for discussion, write and present a major research paper, and complete a 12 page statement of their own biblical ecclesiology.

Here is the syllabus for Biblical Ecclesiology (DR 37337), that met on campus in Kansas City September 12-16.

The Baptist Tradition

This is a required seminar for the Historical Theology PhD emphasis in the MBTS PhD program. I also am co-teaching this seminar with Dr. John Mark Yeats, and we have the students read 12 major primary and secondary source texts related to the Baptist Tradition and prepare a critical review of one of the works and reading outlines for all the volumes for discussion. They also write and present a major research paper.

This is a seminar we developed after the Baptist Theologians seminar offered for decades at Southwestern Seminary and reflects the influence of many historical theologians who mentored me and have served as dialogue partners over the years including Malcolm Yarnell, Greg Wills, Michael Haykin, Paige Patterson, Thomas White, John Hammett and Nathan Finn.

Here is the syllabus for The Baptist Tradition (DR37370), that is meeting on the campus in Kansas City this week.

The MBTS PhD program was one of my favorite discoveries upon my arrival last year at Midwestern as I think it is uniquely and well-designed to serve the pastor-theologian. By offering the program entirely in a modular format, this degree follows the best of the British system combined with the strengths of a cohort USA model. Each semester-equivalent seminar consists of 8 weeks of pre-work, 5 days on campus in Kansas City, and 4 weeks of post-work. Students complete 10 seminars and need to attend 2 per year to maintain full-time status.

My observation has been that students are able to meet the same standards held by traditional residential programs with the added benefit of building stronger relationships with students and faculty due to their week-long immersion experience on campus several times a year. I am thrilled with and delighted to recommend PhD studies at Midwestern Seminary.  

Preview Conference

Are you interested in taking a class at Midwestern or seeing what degree program might be the best fit for you? Find more information here or make plans to attend our Fall Preview Conference, October 28, 2016. I would love to meet you and welcome you to Kansas City.

—————

The Fall semester marks the return of regular articles and other resources here at JGDuesing.com or what I have re-titled as Footnotes: the collection of ancillary quotes, remarks and imagery of Jason G. Duesing. I am grateful to have the assistance of Jason Kees joining me again this semester as a Provost Fellow. Kees serves as pastor of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Florien, Louisiana, current MBTS PhD student and regular contributor to For the Church (FTC.co). You can follow him on twitter at @jpkees.

Where are the Gentlemen Theologians?

The first time I attended the national meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, I was an aspiring-but-not-yet PhD student. A classmate and I made the journey to Colorado Springs to hear scholars we had only read but never seen or met. In those days, scholastic luminaries were debating the nature of God in the ornate ballrooms of The Broadmoor Hotel. Due to the financial limits of seminary students, we spent our evenings in more modest accommodations, and yet, in our three-star hotel we encountered another kind of scholar. There we met two of what church historian E. Brooks Holifield called “Gentlemen Theologians.”

Holifield documented how a segment of clergy in antebellum America were “proponents of clerical gentility.” Spread throughout all denominations, and though often disagreeing among themselves over major and minor issues, these Gentlemen Theologians were the ones who made the decisions that shaped churches. In short, these were the ministers who gave a voice to “orthodox religious thought” (24).

Staying with us in that hotel were the now late Roger Nicole (1915-2010) and a colleague of his from Reformed Theological Seminary. While not chronologically of the class of Holifield’s gentlemen, they carried their same spirit. To come to this assessment, my classmate and I did not spend the evening asking them questions or embarking on a formal mentoring relationship. Rather, we simply observed them at breakfast and that made all the difference.

One morning, as is universal with the hotel complimentary breakfast scene, chaos was in full force as families and other guests were nosily consuming eggs and pastries while waiting in line at the waffle station. In their midst, I noticed Dr. Nicole holding a table while his colleague patiently waited his turn at the toaster, though with a puzzled look on his face.

Someone had left their toast unattended and the professor was at a loss how to maneuver so he could have his turn. Rather than shuffle aside the abandoned and browned slices, he lifted them to a clean plate and proceeded among the grazing throng asking all if this toast might be theirs. Given that most were talking past him and his own aged meekness, not all could hear him, but some did, and soon he was relieved and carried on with his own meal.

While this might not appear that remarkable, how he went about that simple matter with unpretentious care and concern for a stranger’s food, made a lasting impression on a young seminarian. For here were two academics, in town for a meeting at which they were well-known and highly regarded, lodging at a basic hotel and taking the time amid the tumult of the free breakfast to honor and care for those with whom they were eating. It was gentlemanly and spoke volumes.

Polemic Theology and the Trinity Debate

When a pastor friend of mine would later give me a copy of Roger Nicole’s essay, “Polemic Theology: How to Deal with Those Who Differ from Us,” I took notice, recalling that breakfast experience. How fitting it was for a scholar of his stature to write a piece like this, for I had seen a glimpse of how he might model care for another’s words and thoughts in the same gentlemanly fashion his colleague cared for a stranger’s abandoned breakfast. This, I suspected, was a Gentlemen Theologian, and as I have read and learned more, the testimony of Roger Nicole is that he was representative of a generation of such scholars.

Observing evangelicals debate the doctrine of the Trinity over the last few months, I’ve thought about that breakfast room and the essay on polemic theology and wondered what would Roger Nicole think?

Certainly there has been substantive discussion over vital issues of non-negotiable importance. Yet, there has also been a great deal of unhelpful polemics as we have seen a blurring of the distinction between healthy intra-evangelical debate and the attribution of heterodoxy. As I’ve watched and read, I have been hoping for more Gentlemen Theologians to help us know how to proceed. For one can contend in public as a gentleman without having also to condemn.

Contending as Gentlemen without Public Condemnation

Gentlemen Theologians need not hide from controversy or gloss over such with thin platitudes. No, as Nicole made clear:

“We are called upon by the Lord to contend earnestly for the faith (Jude 3). That does not necessarily involve being contentious; but it involves avoiding compromise, standing forth for what we believe, standing forth for the truth of God–without welching at any particular moment. Thus we are bound to meet, at various points and on various levels, people with whom we disagree.”

However, care should also be given to how one engages. Another observation Holifield made about his nineteenth century Gentlemen Theologians related not just to what they believed, but how they wielded their theology and how their actions were received in their culture. He explained,

“The theology was used, among other purposes, to attract and reassure men and women … that ‘reasonable’ behavior—restraint, order, refinement, self-control, self-improvement, and similar virtues that sometimes seemed alien in [their] culture—was congruent with the deepest nature of things” (206).

Holifield described men who exercised self-control with their thoughts and words in service of others. This restraint sometimes seemed alien to the watching world, but it was consistent, not inconsistent, with what they say they believed.

Along these lines, Nicole also offered,

“One method that I have found helpful in making sure that I have dealt fairly with a position that I could not espouse was to assume that a person endorsing that view was present in my audience (or was reading what I had written). Then my aim is to represent the view faithfully and fully without mingling the criticism with factual statements. In fact, I try to represent them so faithfully and fully that an adherent to that position might comment, “This man certainly does understand our view!” It would be a special boon if one could say, “I never heard it stated better!” Thus I have earned the right to criticize. But before I proceed to do this, it is only proper that I should have demonstrated that I have a correct understanding of the position I desire to contest.”

Earning the right to criticize seems like it should be a vital mark of a Gentlemen Theologian and is one that many in the current Trinity debate have labored to honor. However, some have gone further than criticism to question publicly a brother’s orthodoxy without significant care or personal interaction.

Civil Kindness as a Virtue

If one truly feels that their brother or sister in Christ has moved beyond substantive difference of opinion to a place of heterodoxy, then I question the wisdom of addressing that first in an instantaneous, public, and non-peer reviewed environment.

The issue for me is not necessarily one of accuracy or need, for heterodoxy should always be addressed. The issue for me in this debate is one of public civility and kindness.

Richard Mouw, in his 1992 book, Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in and Uncivil World, affirmed that God has a concern for public righteousness, necessitating that Christians are to be agents of God’s righteousness. Yet, he argued that “our efforts at public righteousness must be modest ones” for the “world has already been visited by one overwhelmingly adequate Messiah” (37-38).

While it is helpful to frame what I am thinking through in terms of Mouw’s modest civility—for we know we do need more of this—I think that Russell Moore’s term “convictional kindness” put forward in his recent book Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel is a more helpful descriptor. Moore says, “Civility is passive; kindness is active and strategic” (194). Moore points us to the example of Christ, referring to Jesus as a “gentle steamroller” who not only “rebukes and exposes” but also “seeks to save, not condemn” (196).

If we consider someone a brother in Christ, and come to think what they’ve written or said denies a major standard of Christian orthodoxy, then, in the spirit of civil kindness, I think first a face-to-face meeting or phone call is advisable instead of a citation of condemnation in one’s public musings. Here are two reasons why:

First, to post online such a weighty conclusion about a brother seems to under-dignify the seriousness of the claim. I have to think that the Gentlemen Theologians of Nicole’s generation would have a hard time watching such take place as it has in our public venues.

How much better would it be for such weighty claims first to be expressed in private and in person. There are more biblical and churchly ways of handling such matters rather than laying them before a watching world (1 Cor 6:4).

Second, I think Nicole’s “earning the right to criticize” is a most appropriate point of slowness in this recent debate that has seemed to rush to draw up Axis and Allies of digital articles in this crowded theological theater.

Personally, I agree with Albert Mohler that much of the citations against Wayne Grudem, Bruce Ware, and also Denny Burk and Owen Strachan are nonsense, not just for what those concerned claim, but especially for how they claim it. I can’t help but wonder that if those convinced of their brother’s heterodoxy were slow to speak and sought to earn the right to criticize in private, much of the negative impact of this debate could have been avoided.

As I mentioned, I am not implying that essence of these discussions are not extremely important or not worth addressing at length. Yet, I am questioning some of the chosen polemical paths with regard to how one brother attributes heresy to another.

Hoping for More Gentlemen Theologians

When it comes to ongoing theological discussion and the right assessment of orthodoxy, whether in this debate or the next one, the present generation has an opportunity to see Gentlemen Theologians arise from their ranks and lead with kindness and civility—to show us what careful scholarship looks like and to model slowness of speech (James 1:19). To be sure, there are many who model this way of evangelical scholarship and care for fellow brothers and sisters. I am merely hoping their tribe will increase.

In the meantime, the present Trinity debate feels a lot like that crowded breakfast room in a three-star hotel with family members and strangers talking past one another or at one another—but worse when we consider the public claims of heresy. Where are the Gentlemen Theologians who will lead us with care, civility, and kindness amid the chaos?

—–

E. Brooks Holifield, The Gentlemen Theologians: American Theology in Southern Culture, 1795-1860 (Duke University Press, 1978).

Russell D. Moore, Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel (B&H, 2015).

Richard J. Mouw, Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World (IVP, 1992).

Roger R. Nicole, “Polemical Theology: How to Deal with Those Who Differ from Us,” Founders Journal 33 (Summer 1998), 24-35.

A Health Issue: Why I (Still) Think a 90+hr MDiv is Too Long

A year ago this week I wrote the following article on the history and future of the Master of Divinity degree in theological education. One year later, I stand by these words and remain convinced that we serve churches best when students can aim to complete a rigorous professional masters degree that focuses on the high quality biblical and theological core of what a student needs to prepare for pastoral ministry in three years. Since avenues for further specialized study beyond this foundational degree exist in the form of MDiv concentrations, the ThM degree, and doctoral degrees, a three year MDiv is ideally designed as the healthiest MDiv for the church.

A Century’s Oak

In an effort to ensure the health of the types of trees that outlive most humans, often the best course of action an arborist has is counterintuitive. Instead of leaving a century old oak tree alone to weather the elements as it has for decades or attempt to survive encroaching modernity, the life of the tree is best prolonged after careful pruning or even replanting.[1] Yet, such preventative maintenance is sometime misunderstood even by those who want to see the life of the tree prolonged. In communities where a tree of such age exists, the oak represents memories and experiences worth preserving, almost at any cost, but even then replanting might seem like a threat to the integrity of the tree and thus the viability is questioned.[2]

In the last 50 years of the world of theological education, the Master of Divinity degree has served as the oak of a seminary’s curriculum—and with good reason. As Jason Allen notes, “In it one finds the complete toolkit for ministry service: Greek and Hebrew, New Testament and Old Testament, theology, church history, preaching, pastoral care and counseling, evangelism, missions, and much, much more.”[3] Yet, as Allen shares, as the MDiv crossed the millennium, it fell on hard times. What was once the universally agreed upon standard, now has it’s challengers in the form of “shorter and less rigorous Master of Arts degrees.”[4] Thus, for this mainstay degree that has trained thousands, to reach the century mark of further effective training and formation, the time has come for it to be carefully pruned and replanted. For the MDiv to have new life extended for the 21st century and function as the century’s oak, revitalization must occur.

The MDiv: A History of Strength

For the first half of the 20th century, the standard theological degree offered by the seminaries was the Bachelor of Divinity. The term “divinity” was chosen as it reflected for centuries the formal study of theology in the Western tradition. By design, this theological degree was conceived and offered as a second undergraduate degree for those called to ministry and in many traditions served as the basic degree required for ordination.[5] There were graduate degrees available, such as the ThM, but such were designed for academic preparation in research and scholarship. However, by the middle of the century, many pastors and faculty members realized that what was taught and required had migrated toward graduate level education with a professional, rather than research, focus and, further, many pastors were starting to inquire about the creation of professional educational options provided at the doctoral level.

Thus, in 1964, a committee of the American Association of Theological Schools embarked on a two year study to recommend an appropriate name for the basic theological degree offered by the seminaries. After several listening sessions and surveys, the committee drafted an 80 page study document reviewed by 5 consultants, which led to a formal recommendation at the 1966 biennial meeting of the AATS [now ATS]. The committee gave member schools the option of either retaining the Bachelor of Divinity degree or adopting what they termed the Master of Divinity degree for programs that “have genuinely raised the quality of their work to the level appropriate to a master’s degree in a reputable university.” They recognized that study at the graduate level should have a “curriculum flexible enough to allow for adequate education for the diverse ministries emerging in our time, while at the same time providing required discipline in the basic fields of theological study, such as biblical study, church history, theology, and arts of ministry.”

In their explanation for the selection of this nomenclature, the committee explained that (1) they did not think they should use or co-opt an established masters degree, as the ThM already indicated advanced research study and Master of Arts degrees typically focused their work in one department and were more specialized. (2) They desired that the terminology function as both useful and clear, thus adequately connecting with the contemporary trends in theological education. (3) Finally, they sought to retain the use of the term “divinity” as they wanted to maintain a connection with the long-standing tradition of the study of theology for ministry. In short, following 1966 the new Master of Divinity arose as the agreed upon term for the basic professional degree offered by seminaries.[6]

Many schools immediately adopted the MDiv nomenclature and among them were the seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention.[7] These schools offered conversion plans whereby pastors with the BDiv could change their degree to the MDiv and, in addition to the change in name, the seminaries changed the content seeking to make the MDiv a more flexible three-year degree that “recognizes the importance of the individual student’s own choices.”[8] What this meant was a reduction in the required core courses in favor of a sizable number of elective courses while maintaining roughly the same number of total hours (95-100 credit hours).

Throughout the decades that followed, schools would amend this ratio of core courses to elective courses as well as experiment by adding several MDiv concentrations that increased the total number of required courses. By the turn of the century, there settled a common understanding that while, in theory, the MDiv is a three-year degree, rarely does one or is one able to complete it in less than four years or longer. The advent and expansion of distance education through technology that culminated in what is now online education, has aided in making a three-year completion more realistic in terms of course offerings, but the 95+ required hours continue to make a three-year graduate an exception rather than the rule.

Replanting the MDiv for Future Strength

In recent years, professionals in the field of church revitalization and church planting have started to use the term “replanting” to recognize the unique work required among legacy congregations to ensure their days of ministry effectiveness continue for future decades.[9] These churches once were highly effective for a season, but due to various factors, whether neighborhood transition, leadership dysfunction, or simple effects of longevity, these churches are no longer looking toward a future of renewed effectiveness without some kind of revitalization. However, they are not yet in danger of closing their doors, but rather need a renewed look at their core function and purpose, perhaps some operational pruning, and a net overall replanting for a future season of ministry.[10]

When it comes to the theological degree with long standing proven effectiveness, the Master of Divinity has and should retain its place as the oak among the more specialized curriculum willows. However, for ensured effectiveness in the 21st century, a pruning and replanting of this degree is required. Rather than minimize the theological and biblical studies core, which comprise the essence, or tip of the spear, of what students training for pastoral ministry need, the replanted MDiv should prune the number of free elective courses. While elective selection is important to students wanting to gain further language study or explore areas of interest for future doctoral study, the requirement of a dozen or more elective hours can actually serve to distract and prolong the student’s preparation. Less hours does not have to mean less quality.

With the growing pressures for today’s ministry student that include incumbent educational debt, the need to work while pursuing a seminary degree, and the urgency of the ministry task, the MDiv degree needs to come with an achievable and regular three-year completion rate. The replanted MDiv should provide the aspiring pastor with the core of theological training in the form of a professional graduate degree attainable in a window of time that keeps them from ever feeling like a professional student.

Further, with the increased desire and feasibility of pastors pursuing professional or research doctorates, a three-year MDiv can both prepare them well for advanced study and help them begin that study sooner. While this pruning and replanting might appear risky or even counterintuitive to even the most ardent supporter of high quality theological education, the future viability of the MDiv planted in a world of shortened Master of Arts degrees, requires at least steps of preventative maintenance, if not more holistic revitalization.

An Oak for a Century

These are wonderful days to pursue theological education as a tool to aid in the preparation of a call to gospel ministry. These are also days of great need and urgency for a generation of pastors equipped with the best possible academic training available. The Master of Divinity degree has served for the last 50 years as the very best degree available to aid and equip the one called to serve churches as pastor. To ensure that it remains so for another 50 years, the degree needs careful pruning and replanting. When that work is done well, this oak of a degree can stand strong and see the day when churches see it as their own healthy and thriving Century Oak.[11]

Midwestern Seminary engaged in an extensive curriculum revision during 2013-2014 that resulted in the pruning and replanting of the MDiv degree. The new 81 hour Midwestern MDiv retains a 72 hour core curriculum, but has reduced the number of electives to 9 hours, thus allowing students to complete the degree in 3 years while providing them with the solid theological foundation needed to engage in pastoral ministry.[12] If students desire they can still pursue more specialized MDivs by adding an additional 9 hour concentration.[13] The Midwestern MDiv is truly a professional masters degree replanted for the church.    

[1] “Pruning trees and shrubs,” University of Minnesota Extension. http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/trees-shrubs/pruning-trees-shrubs/

[2] “Ghirardi Compton Oak,” League City Parks and Recreation. http://leaguecity.com/index.aspx?nid=1806

[3] ‘Why We Must Recover the Master of Divinity Degree,” Jason K. Allen. http://jasonkallen.com/2015/09/why-we-must-recover-the-master-of-divinity-degree/

[4] ‘Why We Must Recover the Master of Divinity Degree,” Jason K. Allen. http://jasonkallen.com/2015/09/why-we-must-recover-the-master-of-divinity-degree/

[5] “3 Seminary, 4 College Years Before Ordaining,” Baptist Press, December 10, 1960. http://media.sbhla.org.s3.amazonaws.com/1440,10-Dec-1960.pdf

[6] “Report on Degree Nomenclature,” AATS Bulletin 27.

[7] “Golden Gate Seminary Changes Degree Name,” Baptist Press, February 7, 1967. http://media.sbhla.org.s3.amazonaws.com/2334,07-Feb-1967.pdf; “Midwestern Seminary Changes Degree Name,” Baptist Press, January 5, 1967. http://media.sbhla.org.s3.amazonaws.com/2320,05-Jan-1967.pdf; “New Orleans Seminary Announces New Degree,” Baptist Press, March 15, 1967. http://media.sbhla.org.s3.amazonaws.com/2354,15-Mar-1967.pdf

[8] “Minutes of the Fall Faculty Retreat, August 24-25, 1970,” Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. See also “Southern Seminary Will Exchange Bachelor’s Degree for Master’s,” Baptist Press, June 12, 1967. http://media.sbhla.org.s3.amazonaws.com/2407,12-Jun-1967.pdf

[9] “Legacy Church Planting,” North American Mission Board. http://www.namb.net/legacy/

[10] Mark DeVine and Darrin Patrick, Replant: How a Dying Church can Grow Again (David C. Cook, 2014). http://www.amazon.com/Replant-Dying-Church-Grow-Again/dp/0781410320

[11] Many thanks to Robert J. Matz, Assistant Director of Online Studies and Institutional Effectiveness and Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at Midwestern, for his valuable research help for this article.

[12] “Midwestern reviews first year of 81-credit-hour MDiv,” Baptists Press. September 14, 2015. http://www.bpnews.net/45481/from-the-seminaries-midwestern-affirms-81credithour-mdiv-convocations-at-new-orleans-and-golden-gate-seminaries

[13] http://www.mbts.edu/academics/masters/

Why Attend Chapel Services in Seminary?

Since the first seminary was founded in this country in 1808, seminaries have held chapel services. By the twentieth century, virtually all denominations had their own seminary or seminaries—and while all of them had chapel services, not all were effective or meaningful.

One 1934 study revealed, for example, that what a seminary president chooses to do with a chapel service proves to make a world of difference in the spiritual life and formation of its students. For the seminaries that presented dry, formal services full of perfunctory rituals and “brief talks” from faculty, many students resisted and chose not to attend. One student commented, “Most of the chapel talks by professors are hardly worth hearing. They sound like random comments made on the spur of the moment, or worse, like condensations of old sermons.”[1]

However, for schools that have sought to use the chapel service as a central part of their spiritual life, the chapel service has been used of God demonstrably and effectively for great things.

Southern Baptist seminaries have historically prioritized the chapel hour for good. Almost one hundred years ago, one SBC seminary president gave five “spiritual marks” that a seminary should place on the character and life of its students. Under the second mark, spirituality, he said:

A theological seminary should not be a cold-storage for the preserving of theological eggs, but rather a warm incubator for the hatching of live, burning, shining preachers of the Gospel with souls hot with zeal and full of power. A seminary should not be a florist’s glass-covered hot-house, in which to grow delicate ministerial plants for perfumery purposes, but rather a training camp and naval station …. Our men should find God as well as his truth in their seminary studies …. Their hearts as well as their heads should grow. We need great souls with spiritual power in our pulpits and pastorates far more than we need great scholars with profound learning but innocent of the power of God.[2]

Fast forward a few decades to the year that I first enrolled at a seminary. Though I never heard of any vision for a seminary like just described, I found exactly that in the late 1990s at Southeastern Seminary in North Carolina. Aside from my local church, the place where I often found God at work in my heart as a student was in the seminary chapel. In fact, I found it of equal importance to all of the enriching education I was receiving from the classroom.

It was there I learned theologically rich hymns and songs that were both singable and memorable—and I learned what real congregational singing sounds like. To me, there still is nothing quite like hearing hundreds of students singing with all their hearts to the One to Whom they’ve surrendered their lives.

It was there I heard preaching from men who loved the inerrant Bible and believed in its truth and showed how God uses His Word to change your life.

In seminary chapel, I regularly was pushed to consider my role in taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth while making sure I was also taking it across the street. In short, rarely was I comfortable in chapel, but my life was changed.

Like the psalmist, in Psalm 73, who was troubled and wrestling with sin until, he said, he “went into the sanctuary of God,” gathering with God’s people under God’s Word always did remarkable things to my soul and life while in seminary.

For students preparing for the ministry, the seminary chapel can never replace the value of local church service, nor does it try to do so. Yet, for those who are serving on Sundays during their days of theological preparation, the seminary chapel provides another venue for spiritual sharpening. While in training, these soon to be preachers, missionaries, counselors, and educators need more of the Word, not less.

And the same applies for those of us who are doing the teaching and training. In fact, to this day, it is the regular discipline of gathering in chapel services, in addition to the services of my local church, that continue to refine, redirect, and refocus my life and ministry.

This is why I am very much enjoying this fall semester here at Midwestern Seminary & College. Students and faculty have the opportunity to come together on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to hear from some incredible preachers among whom God is mightily at work.

As we meet together, may God be pleased to visit us and see fit to stir up many more “living, burning, shining preachers of the Gospel” to go forth from this chapel to the churches and from there to the ends of the earth.

________________________________________

[1] William Adams Brown, The Education of American Ministers, Vol. 1. (New York: Institute of Social and Religious Research, 1934), 157-158.

[2] L. R. Scarborough, “The Primal Test of Theological Education: The Inaugural Address of President Scarborough, May, 1915,” in A Modern School of the Prophets (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1939), 175-176.

 

Why Study the Doctrine of the Church?

In the nineteenth century, leading Southern Baptist theologian J. L. Dagg wrote this with regard to the relationship of ecclesiology to other doctrines:

Church order and the ceremonials of religion, are less important than a new heart; and in the view of some, any laborious investigation of questions respecting them may appear to be needless and unprofitable. But we know, from the Holy Scriptures, that Christ gave commands on these subjects, and we cannot refuse to obey. Love prompts our obedience; and love prompts also the search which may be necessary to ascertain his will. Let us, therefore, prosecute the investigation which are before us, with a fervent prayer, that the Holy Spirit, who guides into all truth, may assist us to learn the will of him whom we supremely love and adore.[1]

As evangelical Protestants, we are rightly often first in line to affirm that the doctrine of the church is less important than a heart twice-born. Our Reformation heritage hands us five solas and to think of an additional sola ecclesia is like adding a sixth Istar to the Third Age of Middle Earth, i.e. unthinkable. As such, evangelicals are not as often quick to affirm that wrestling with and arriving at sure ecclesiological convictions, as Dagg suggests, is a worthwhile exercise.

Why should we, then, study the doctrine of the church? To answer that, we need to clarify ecclesiology’s rightful place among and functional posture toward other doctrines.

ECCLESIOLOGY’S RIGHTFUL PLACE

As one reads and studies the Bible, there is a growing realization that some doctrines are more significant than others—not in terms of truthfulness or ultimate value but in terms of priority. In 2005, R. Albert Mohler Jr. provided a word of great clarity to his reading audience with his article, “A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity.” In this article, he explains,

A trip to the local hospital Emergency Room some years ago alerted me to an intellectual tool that is most helpful in fulfilling our theological responsibility. In recent years, emergency medical personnel have practiced a discipline known as triage–a process that allows trained personnel to make a quick evaluation of relative medical urgency. Given the chaos of an Emergency Room reception area, someone must be armed with the medical expertise to make an immediate determination of medical priority. Which patients should be rushed into surgery? Which patients can wait for a less urgent examination? Medical personnel cannot flinch from asking these questions, and from taking responsibility to give the patients with the most critical needs top priority in terms of treatment. …

A discipline of theological triage would require Christians to determine a scale of theological urgency that would correspond to the medical world’s framework for medical priority. With this in mind, I would suggest three different levels of theological urgency, each corresponding to a set of issues and theological priorities found in current doctrinal debates.

Mohler then unveils a method for organizing doctrines in three levels: first-order (fundamental truths of the Christian faith), second-order (areas where believing Christians may disagree, but with division, i.e. ecclesiology), and third-order doctrines (areas where believing Christians may disagree yet remain in fellowship, i.e. eschatology).[2] This idea of theological triage has proven helpful for navigating seasons of theological foment and fellowship.

To consider this further as it relates to ecclesiology, I find it helpful to look to another earlier president of Southern Seminary. John Broadus, in the late nineteenth century, focused on the Great Commission (Mt 28:16-20) in his sermon, entitled “The Duty of Baptists to Teach their Distinctive Views,” to explain that the commands of Christ given to the disciples consisted of what he termed both “the internal and the external elements of Christian piety.”

The internal elements, Broadus explains, are more crucial to the Christian faith as they relate to individuals and their relationship to their Creator. However, Broadus clarifies that any primacy given to the internal elements does not mean that the external elements have little value or lack importance. Broadus reasons that if Christ and his apostles gave commands relating to external elements such as the “constitution and government” of churches, then it “cannot be healthy if they are disregarded.”

ECCLESIOLOGY’S FUNCTIONAL POSTURE

Therefore, as one reads and studies the Bible, there is also the growing realization that the local church functions as a repository not only to receive and transmit the internal or first-order message of the gospel to the current generation, but also to preserve that message for future generations. The external or second-order commands given for the purposes of ordering and governing the church are essential for this task, even though they are not as important as the internal or first-order message.

When Paul writes to Timothy to instruct him in “how one ought to behave in the household of God,” Paul describes the local church as the “pillar and buttress of truth” (1 Tim 3:15). The idea of the local church functioning as a pillar (Gk. stulos­) and a buttress (Gk. hedraiōma) creates a picture of an intentionally designed (i.e. ordered) structure that, through its strength, has been prepared both to uphold (i.e. present or proclaim) an object as well as protect (i.e. preserve) an object. Jesus’ promise in Matthew 16:18 that “the gates of hell will not prevail against” the church, reinforces the idea that the local church has been given as an indestructible fortress of strength held together by Jesus Christ himself (Col.1:17).

As a result, Jesus and his apostles have given commands of an external or second-order nature that must be taught and implemented. But for what purpose?

The object given to the local church to uphold and protect is the “truth.” The “truth” is the message of eternal life – the substance of the internal or first-order commands of Christ (1 Tim 2:4; 2 Tim 2:25). The New Testament teaches that this “truth” was, and is, to be handed over or delivered from one generation to the next through the local church:

  • Luke speaks of this at the beginning of his Gospel when writing to assure Theophilus of the certainty of the things he had been taught. Luke states that he has written an “orderly account” of the things that “those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” had “delivered” (Gk. paredosan) to Luke and the other apostles (Lk. 1:1-4).
  • Likewise, Paul instructs Timothy and the Ephesian Church to “guard the good deposit” (Gk. parathēkēn), a reference to the entire message of the gospel he had taught and given to them. In a broad sense, the purpose of all of Paul’s letters is to deliver the “truth” not only to his immediate recipients, but also to all who will read his letters and implement the commands in local churches (Col. 4:16).
  • Jude reinforces the notion that the “truth” is the object the local church exists to proclaim and protect. In Jude 3, he explains that “the faith,” or the gospel message of eternal life, has been delivered (Gk. paradotheisē) to the saints. That is to say, the internal or first-order command of salvation through Jesus Christ has been handed down to Christians who live out the Christian life in local churches. Jude states that this delivering was done “once for all” (Gk. hapax), referencing the complete and final nature of the message rather than communicating that the message had no further need of transmission.

In sum, these New Testament commands that speak of the “truth” are primary or, in Mohler’s triage analogy, are first-order and essential. However, the external commands that speak clearly to the order, practice, and health of the local church, while secondary, should not receive treatment as unessential.

As Dagg said, they are “less important than a new heart,” yet, the local church also has a duty to carry forth and teach disciples to observe these second-order commands in obedience to Matthew 28:20. For, though second-order, they are nonetheless given by the Lord Jesus and, as Dagg reminds, our love for Christ and for his disciples, present and future, prompts our joyful obedience.

WHY STUDY ECCLESIOLOGY?

How does ecclesiology relate to other doctrines? The answer is found in the heart and practice of the mission of the local church herself. In a sentence, the local church, the “pillar and buttress of truth,” exists to “guard the good deposit” and “deliver” it to future generations.

Understanding ecclesiology’s rightful place among other doctrines and then grasping how the Gospel-centered nature of the church positions that doctrine in service of the Great Commission is just the grand beginning of the treasures to be found in the worthwhile pursuit of the study of the doctrine of the church.

—–

This week at Midwestern Seminary, Dr. John Mark Yeats and I have been teaching a PhD Seminar on Ecclesiology and have been revisiting these themes. If you’d like to join us or learn more about our doctoral programs or the pursuit of theological studies for the church, please contact us or learn more here.

This essay was shaped by a chapter I recently published in Jason K. Allen, ed. The SBC and the 21st Century (B&H Academic, 2016).

[1] J. L. Dagg, Manual of Church Order (Charleston, SC: Southern Baptist Publication Society, 1858), 12.

[2] For a similar discussion of “Major” and “Minor” doctrines, see Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Bible Doctrine (Zondervan, 1994), 29-30.

 

A Portrait of the End of Religious Liberty

Given the state of religious liberty in this country and around the world in 2016, one might be tempted to despair, for the future is difficult to predict and the rise of restrictive trends is discouraging.

Yet, as Owen Strachan has recently said, “We are all activists now.” By this he meant simply that the virtue of Christians living out a biblical understanding of marriage and sexuality with love and godliness in these days is activism. Evangelicals are often prone to retreat, but what is clear is that now more advocacy and action is needed with regard to engaging and defending our first freedom.

In a recent chapel address at Midwestern Seminary, I aimed to to come alongside this clear need to remind of and prepare believers in Christ Jesus for the ultimate reality of the removal of religious liberty from the earth, and why we should trust God concerning when it occurs. My sermon attempted to provide “A Portrait of the End of Religious Liberty.”

Paintings and painters have been a part of my family and upbringing for as long as I can remember as I had grandparents who painted and freely shared their love for their art. One distinct painting memory I have is the regular experience of watching some of the most relaxing 25 minutes of public television programming one could in the 1980s–The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross. (If you have not had this viewing pleasure, the late Mr. Ross has returned via that time-turner of nostalgia, Netflix.)

What is so captivating about the Bob Ross show is how quickly he transforms a blank canvas into a remarkable portrait of a mountain range or lakeside cottage. To do so, he spends a good deal of time preparing his background, then zeros in on a specific focal point in the foreground, and concludes by adding a series of final touches to the entire work–all with a calming certainty that the end result will be just as he intended all along.

To address the end of religious liberty, I set out to examine this doctrine in a similar pattern through painting with words a theological portrait focusing on two biblical texts, Acts 16:11-34 and Philippians 2:9-11. This idea of using painting as a metaphor for doctrinal explanation is not an original idea. I commend heartily Malcolm B. Yarnell III’s recent God the Trinity as a great example of how to do this well and on a much more masterful scale–though without any help from Bob Ross.

My chapel address was an adaptation of the new conclusion I wrote for the forthcoming second edition of First Freedom. A brief outline of my message follows:

  1. Painting the Background — A Culture in Conflict with Christianity (Acts 16:11-25)
  2. Painting the Foreground — Religious Liberty’s True End (Phil 2:9-11)
  3. Painting the Final Touches — Religious Liberty’s End Goal (Acts 16:26-34)

The entire chapel message can be viewed via video below and look for First Freedom: The Beginning and End of Religious Liberty in mid October from B&H Academic.

Footnotes from Spring 2016

This spring semester continued the return of regular articles and other resources here at JGDuesing.com or what I re-titled as Footnotes: the collection of ancillary quotes, remarks and imagery of Jason G. Duesing.

Here is a list of the articles from my Thursday “remarks” column for the spring term listed in order of most read to date.

1. Seven Summits in Church History

2. Courage to Act Like Men in a Culture that Says Otherwise

3. To Cities of Refuge

4. Replanting an Oak: Seeing the MDiv to the Century Mark

5. Spring 2016 Courses at Midwestern

6. Friends and Friendship in God’s Grand Plan

7. From Students to Scholars For the Church

8. Talking Adoniram Judson with Akin, Finn, Patterson, and Wills

9. Hiding in a Corner Trying not to be Swept: The Japanese of Japan

10. Take Heart, Edwards Did Not Rush Into Ministry

11. Hope Lives Till We Have Faces

12. Making the History of the Future

Thank you for reading and sharing. Lord willing, I plan to return to writing in this space in mid-August for the Fall 2016 term.

For the Church as a Means to the End at the End

“I am glad that you are here with me,” said Frodo. ‘Here at the end of all things, Sam.”[1]

I never expected to get an ecclesiology and eschatology lesson from the concluding chapters of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, but I did. The hero and his faithful companion, comprising the remnant of a fellowship that set out on a journey to destroy evil and see the return of their king, lay exhausted and helpless surrounded by an erupting mountain of volcanic proportions with no cause for hope of rescue. Yet in that moment they had the peace and security that only victorious soldiers must know when they, though dying, have saved countrymen or even countries.

What was their source of hope? Knowledge that evil was ultimately defeated though the world self-destructed around them and hope in the truth for which they persevered. That and remaining fellowship led them to express gladness and joy there “at the end of all things.” Of course, as the story goes they fell asleep before they were swept up on eagles’ wings and awake to find restored fellowship and the return of the king. I never expected to see the connection between the joy found in fellowship giving hope at the end of the world—I never saw the right connection between ecclesiology and eschatology—but there it was even in The Lord of the Rings.

In Tolkien’s story, there is great hope and joy for those of us laboring as Christians in a self-destructing world—and thankfully that is a mere reflection of the shining light of truth of these themes found in the Bible. In 1 Peter 4:7, the Apostle Peter explains that “the end of all things is at hand,” and by that he means that he and his readers were living in the last days before the return of Jesus. Since that time until our very own, humanity has been living at the verge of the end of the world, but that is not a cause for despair or hand-wringing. Peter’s point was focused rather on how one is to live at the end of all things and he spends the next few verses underscoring this for believers.

Peter explains that while a Christian should have his eyes fixed and his hope set on the soon and certain return of Jesus, he should be using his spiritual gifts, whether they be serving or speaking, all for the glory of God. What, then is the source of our hope and on what task are we to have our minds and hearts set? Until the end, whether one eats, drinks, preaches, trains, waters, reaps, types, writes, shares or disciples, he should be doing these things as the biblically prescribed means for carrying out the Great Commission to the glory of God. Such it is, too, with the work of cooperating churches—until the end churches are to cooperate not as the end, but the biblical means to the end.

The focus of the Southern Baptist Convention in the twenty-first century should always be for the church. The local churches comprise the headquarters of this denomination and thus the Convention and its entities should serve the churches. The ecclesiological distinctives of the SBC serve as the basis for Baptist churches to cooperate, yet this focus is merely a means to the end. So for a convention of cooperating churches striving and seeking to fulfill the Great Commission, the prescribed plan for the accomplishing of that task is for that denomination to remain always for the church.

In short, our desire to be “for the church” is a desire for increased cooperative ministry for the sake of global evangelism and to see the knowledge of the glory of God among all peoples as the waters cover the sea (Hab 2:14).

Therefore, given that the days are few and the light of the present culture is dimming, I hope to argue in this chapter for the need for “ecclesiological distinctives as a basis for confessional cooperation.” That is, for cooperating Southern Baptist churches seeking to strengthen and start other churches as the means to the end of fulfilling the Great Commission and glorifying God, what is the ecclesiological baseline for them to do so? To accomplish this, I will (1) introduce what I call ecclesiological triage as a term to help clarify how we should think about ecclesiological distinctives, (2) seek to answer the question “What is a true church?”, and (3) discuss how confessions of faith help accomplish this task.

[1] J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings – 50th Anniversary Edition (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004), 994.

—–

The above excerpt is adapted from my forthcoming chapter, “A Denomination Always for the Church: Ecclesiological Distinctives as a Basis for Confessional Cooperation” in The SBC and the 21st Century a new volume from B&H Academic. Edited by Jason K. Allen, my chapter joins chapters by Allen, Frank Page, Thom Rainer, Collin Hansen & Justin Taylor, Paul Chitwood & John Yeats, Albert Mohler, David Dockery, John Mark Yeats, Christian George, Owen Strachan, Ronnie Floyd, David Platt, Kevin Ezell, Daniel Akin & Walter Strickland, Tony Merida, Paige Patterson, and a foreword by Russell Moore.  The SBC and the 21st Century released on June 1, 2016.

The SBC and the 21st Century
Jason K. Allen, ed.
B&H Academic, 2016