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“What is Sanctification Anyway?” Craig Keener Responds

I had the great honor of asking renown scholar and prolific author Craig S. Keener (PhD, Duke University, and F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies, Asbury Theological Seminary) a few questions regarding the nature of sanctification.

Enjoy!

What does the Bible mean when it uses the term “sanctify” or “sanctification?” Does the English translation do the original Greek word justice, or should we find a different word?

Craig: I might prefer the translation “consecrate,” since there is less theological-historical baggage attached. The term means “set apart” for ritual purposes; in biblical usage this especially means set apart from what is profane for exclusively holy use (in the Greek translation of the OT, see e.g., Gen 2:3; Exod 19:14, 22; 28:41; 29:1). By Christ’s sacrificial death for us, God has consecrated us, or set us apart, as “saints” (literally, “the consecrated ones”) for his exclusive use. We belong to him. Now, what are the implications of this? If we are “saints” in Christ—i.e., those consecrated to Christ—we ought to live wholly for his purposes, not for our own or others.

We don’t act holy to get holy (“holy” being the usual translation of the adjective cognate of the term translated “sanctify”). We are holy to God because he has set us apart in Christ. Thus Paul calls the Corinthians “called saints, sanctified in Christ” (1 Cor 1:2; cf. 3:17; 6:1-2; 14:33; 2 Cor 1:1). The Corinthians!!! That is because of what Christ has done (1 Cor 6:11; cf. Heb 2:11; 9:13-14; 10:10, 14, 29; 13:12). Christ is our sanctification, or consecration to God (1 Cor 1:30), for we are set apart in him. (The expression “saints” or “consecrated/holy ones” and other descriptions of holiness are frequent in the NT: see e.g., Acts 9:13, 32, 41; 20:32; 26:10, 18; Eph 1:1, 15, 18; 2:19, 21; 3:18; 4:12; 5:3; 6:18; Phil 1:1; 4:21; Col 1:2, 4, 12, 26; 2 Thess 1:10; 1 Tim 5:10; Phlm 5, 7; Heb 3:1; 6:10; 13:24; Jude 3; Rev 5:8; 8:3-4; 11:18; 13:7, 10; 14:12; 16:6; 17:6; 18:20, 24; 19:8; 20:9.)

But the terminology is used more than one way in Scripture, and of course Paul often exhorts us to live in light of our new identity in Christ (many scholars speak of the tension between the indicative and the imperative: be what you are). We are to recognize our identity in Christ (Rom 6:11), and accordingly use our bodies for righteous, divinely-consecrated purposes (Rom 6:19, 22). We must be consecrated in practice, set apart from false values (2 Tim 2:21); this includes maintaining sexual purity (1 Thess 4:3-4, 7). We must present ourselves holy (consecrated) to God (Rom 12:1), consecrate Christ in our hearts as holy (1 Pet 3:15), and the holy must yet consecrate ourselves to God (Rev 22:11). Believers must continue to embrace this consecration for God (Heb 12:14), which may include welcoming tests that keep our attention on him (12:10). As 1 Peter puts it succinctly, because God is holy, we should be holy in all our behavior, because Scripture says, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet 1:15-16). Clearly this evokes the status of God’s redeemed people in the Old Testament, as “a holy nation” (1 Pet 2:9; see Exod 19:6). God set Israel apart for himself by redeeming them at great cost; God has set the church apart for himself the same way, with an even greater price (1 Pet 1:18-19).

When Jesus prayed for the Father to consecrate his followers in the truth of his message (John 17:17, 19), that means that we no longer belong to the world (John 17:14, 16). Nevertheless, we are sent into the world (17:18), so the world through our unity in Christ may believe that Jesus was sent (17:21). Being consecrated does not mean we are not in the world, but that we are kept from the evil one’s values in this world (17:15). Do we engage the culture? Absolutely, when such avenues are available. But we are here to promote God’s perfect values, not to absorb the world’s values.

In short, God has set us apart for himself in Christ. That means we should recognize this consecration and live accordingly.

I think that this understanding of devotion to Christ motivated many of the Christians a few generations ago who opposed playing cards, going to movies, fashionable dressing, and the like. Unfortunately one generation’s devotion too easily becomes the next generation’s tradition and the next generation’s legalism. We need to remember what we are consecrated for: the honor of our Lord.

I do watch films like Selma, Hacksaw Ridge, or A Case for Christ. I normally don’t watch television, but not because I think that everything there indoctrinates me in unhealthy values (though much of it probably would). I don’t normally watch television because time, like money, is a limited commodity, and I need that time for the work of the kingdom. Sometimes I imagine what would happen if just 40 million North American Christians gave up three hours of entertainment each day and devoted it to meeting the needs of their neighbors, caring for poor, prayer, sharing their faith, and so forth. That would be 43 billion, 800 million more hours per year invested in God’s kingdom. Imagine the impact that would have!

Why do you think it is that so many Christians have no idea what this word means? On a similar track, why are there so many disagreements among denominations on “sanctification?”

Craig: The English word “sanctification” is not one with which people are normally familiar unless it is used a particular way in their church tradition. (It doesn’t even appear in my older Word program’s dictionary, though the verb “sanctify” does.)

I suspect that a lot of Christians yearning for lives of full devotion to God in practice encountered that in different ways in their own lives and tried to communicate that to others as best as they knew. That was a good thing, but sometimes it hardened into particular expressions that did not really encompass or even correspond to the use of this and related terms in their Bible translations.

Some divisions are semantic; we use the same terms in different ways. The idea behind what some Christians call “progressive sanctification” is not wrong; it might be better termed, however, “growing in grace” (2 Pet 3:18). We may have a new identity in Christ, but our very adaptive brains (through what scientists call neuroplasticity) have been shaped by our past choices; they need to be reshaped through the renewing of our minds with Christ’s values (Rom 12:2; thus my book The Mind of the Spirit).

The idea behind a special, single encounter with the Holy Spirit through which we dedicate our lives to serve God wholly is also not wrong; but it is not a model that fits every person’s encounter. Some people recognize by faith their new identity in Christ, commit themselves to undivided devotion to the Lord, and stay on that course all their lives, by the Spirit’s power in their lives. (This doesn’t mean that they never sin, but that they have embraced the understanding that Christ is Lord and they continue consistently on that path.) Some people might need a few more encounters. If we want to talk about the ideal, in principle this should follow immediately from conversion. In practice, though, the Spirit often keeps working on us to get our attention. And even those walking normally on the right path need to walk by the Spirit’s power regularly and grow in grace as the Spirit brings more matters to their attention.

When we get past semantics, though, the Bible is clear that Christians should live lives consecrated to God. It’s clear that only God’s Spirit empowers us to do that, so God gets the credit for it in our lives. And it’s also clear that this can happen only because God has already consecrated us for himself in Christ, an act that defines the identity in Christ of all those who trust him for salvation.

Some view sanctification as something difficult to attain while others make it out to be something that is only God’s doing. Are Christians passive (acted upon by God) or active in this process?

Craig: The Bible terms traditionally translated this way refer especially to what God has done for us in Christ and to summon us to live accordingly. We don’t set ourselves apart to God by our own efforts apart from God’s action; God saves us through our faith in Christ. But now that we trust in Christ, we should be consistent enough with the trust that he has saved and consecrated us that we should live that way. This is God’s act and invitation, and we embrace the invitation the same way we embrace the act: by faith in Christ. We live it because we believe God’s finished work in Christ.

Far from being difficult to obtain, it’s God’s gift. To live it out, we embrace that gift in faith and choose to consistently be what we are in Christ. Is that “difficult”? Only in the sense that we find faith difficult. But since trusting Christ for our salvation is the beginning of our Christian life, we may as well keep on trusting more and live like he really has saved us from sin! There’s no need to wonder whether I have enough strength in myself to resist all temptation; I don’t. But when I remember that Christ died and rose again to save me from sin, there’s no temptation or habit or demon more powerful than that. At the same time, until we form new patterns of thinking and behavior, it is difficult because our faith has to face off against all the feelings, thought patterns and neurochemistry that we previously developed.

Some treat sanctification as if it is a particular experience that makes sin impossible; that’s not really biblical. We are sanctified in Christ, and living as such is not a state to be attained but a life to be lived. At the same time, for many, living that life consistently begins with a conscious decision and dedication (and for others, for a series of such choices). Such a dedication certainly does not make one incapable of sinning or lapsing, but again, the choices we make and build on do shape our new thinking and transformation. Some refer to their Spirit-empowered dedication not as making them incapable of sinning, but rather as making them incapable of sinning and enjoying it. It’s hard to enjoy sinning once you know better.

We need to be careful not to fight over nomenclature (1 Tim 6:4; 2 Tim 2:14). Dedicating our lives wholly to God is consistent with what God has done for us in Christ. A few Christians make the mistake of supposing that everyone should attain a wholly and permanently dedicated state in a moment. I think more Christians make the mistake of ignoring the matter of consecration altogether. Too many Christians live as if Christ came to guarantee us heaven while we basically live like the world around us in other respects, excepting some “big” sins. Even though I don’t agree at all with the exegesis of those who insist on a second Christian experience of sanctification, I think we have something important to learn from their valuing of holiness.

If we strip away the legalism, I think we have something to learn even from some older Christian traditions about separation. I used to dislike the term “holiness” because in my mind it was associated with people saying, “Don’t wear earrings,” “Don’t dance,” or, “Don’t wear a beard.” (I don’t wear earrings, and I am not coordinated enough to try to dance in front of anyone, even liturgically. But I do have a beard.) But one day when I was praying I felt in my heart a consuming passion for holiness, like a burning fire. I felt that God was showing me that, in practice, holiness means loving God so much that nothing else matters compared to him. That passion for God consumed me.

I want to love the Lord with all my heart and soul and strength. I want to pursue God. I can pursue God’s ways passionately because God has already set me apart for himself and made me new in Christ. He has welcomed me in his presence and promised that he is always near. And that is true for each of us who have called upon Christ as Lord.

What’s the difference between justification and sanctification? Does one come before the other, or do they both spontaneously occur?

Craig: Again, if we’re referring to the terms translated that way in most of our Bible translations, they happen together. “Justification” translates the same Greek term also translated as “righteousness”; in Christ, God puts us right with him, acquitting us of all guilt. Moreover, when God says, “Let there be light,” there is light; when God says, “put right in Christ,” he makes a new creation. You can’t have justification without regeneration. And when God puts us right with him, he consecrates us to himself. The terms do not mean the same things, but they are all different aspects of what God does for us in Christ when we become believers in him. In terms of living accordingly, living by Christ’s righteousness is also living as one made new and consecrated in him. God gets all the credit for his fruit in our lives. Such righteousness and sanctification can never belong to those who want to take the credit for it themselves. God forbid!

For those who want to delve further in the study of sanctification and the topic of the Holy Spirit in general, where should they start? Do you have any recommended resources? 

Craig: For those who want to study different Christian traditions’ approach to what is commonly called “sanctification,” helpful places to start are Zondervan’s Five Views on Sanctification, and Broadman & Holman’s (B&H) Perspectives of Spirit Baptism: Five Views. Those wanting to study the usage in Paul will find very helpful Ayodeji Adewuya, Holiness in the Letters of Paul (Cascade). I also treat the topic of transformation, though not the particular language of “sanctification,” in two books for Baker: Gift & Giver, and (more recently and academically) The Mind of the Spirit. There are surely many other helpful works, but because my research has been more on particular passages than on the general topic, others would be able to provide more resources on this topic than I am.

Thank you for your time! 

 

Craig S. Keener is author of twenty-two books, which have received six major national or international awards. He has also authored more than seventy academic articles; several booklets; and more than one hundred fifty popular-level articles. One of his books, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, now in a second edition, has sold more than half a million copies. Dr. Craig Keener is the New Testament editor for the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible and is editor of the Bulletin for Biblical Research and is married to Dr. Médine Moussounga Keener, who was a refugee in her home country of Congo for eighteen months; her experience and their romance appears in Impossible Love: The True Story of of an African Civil War, Miracles and Hope against All Odds (Chosen, 2016). See here for his blog site.

 

“If God is Sovereign, Why Pray?” Craig Blomberg Responds

I had the great honor of asking Craig Blomberg  (distinguished Professor of New Testament, Denver Seminary) five questions concerning God’s sovereignty in relation to prayer.  Blomberg has given extensive answers to questions many Christians have great difficulty with. Below is the interview.

 

What does it mean that God is “all sovereign?” In your experience, does the Bible’s view of God’s sovereignty line up with what Christians mean when they use such terminology?

Craig: Most of the places English translations of the Bible use the word it is in contexts that are talking about God as an all-powerful master, one who is in charge of everything in the universe.  In my experience, Christians typically use the word fairly similarly.  Where there can be interesting conversations is when people try to determine how God’s being in charge of everything plays out.  Are certain things unconditionally determined by God?  Are all things so determined?  How does God’s sovereignty fit in with human freedom?  At this point answers can differ.

 

Do we “partner” with God when we pray? Is his activity in the world dependent on our prayers? Some use the language of God bound or limited by our prayers?

Craig: It depends on the prayer.  James 4:2b-3a explains that there are some things God wants to give us that he has determined to do so contingent on our asking for them and asking with right motives:  “You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives. . .”  The plural “you” and the plural verbs combine with the ongoing aspect of the Greek present tense to suggest that multiple people praying and praying repeatedly might have an effect as well.  But there are other things God determines to do whether we ask him or not.  And there are other things God determines not to do even if we ask him.  Theologians distinguish these last examples from the James 4 kind by speaking of God’s unconditional and conditional will, respectively.

If God knows all things then why should we pray? Isn’t the future already pre-scripted by God? Doesn’t the fact that God is sovereign undermine the urgency of prayer? 

Craig: It depends on who you ask this time. Not all Christians believe every detail of the future is pre-scripted by God, only the main or most important events.  But most would say that he does know everything that is going to happen but knowing something is going to happen is different from pre-scripting it.  I may decide that I will give my daughter a certain present on her birthday if and only if she asks for it.  If I don’tknow whether she will ask for it, I certainly haven’t pre-scripted the future.  But if she is very predictable and I have a strong sense of what she will do, I may actually know the future.  But I still haven’t pre-scripted it.  If God is so wise that he recognizes how his creatures will act in every situation they find themselves in, that still is not the same as actually arranging thing.

Of course, some Christians take a stronger view of God’s sovereignty and say that he has arranged every last detail.  But then it’s important to distinguish the means from the ends.  Some people harmonize their belief in “eternal security” with the passages in Hebrews that warn against total apostasy by saying the warnings are God’s means to ensure that true Christians never completely chuck it all.  Whether or not that’s the case, it’s a helpful analogy for the question about prayer.  God may have “decreed” that you receive something desirable that you would like in response to your prayer.  Here’s where one’s view of free will comes into play also.  Some people believe that true freedom is only if one has the power to choose “to the contrary”—the opposite of what one desires.  Others believe that true freedom is simply the power to choose what one most truly desires.  It’s a philosophical debate that goes far beyond anything you can quote chapter and verse on from the Bible.  But even those who hold the latter position would say that if I really want something and pray for it and God has already decreed that he will give it to me contingent on my asking that doesn’t violate my freedom.

Can we change God’s mind through prayer? Isn’t this what the Ninevites did? Didn’t Moses do this? Do our prayers have the potential to affect God?

Craig: This flows directly from where we left off on the last question.  If by “change God’s mind” we mean “be the means by which God does or does not act a certain way, given that he has already decreed both the means and the end,” then even the staunchest seeming determinist should be able to affirm that we change God’s mind.  But if by “change God’s mind” we mean “present God with information that he never knew, couldn’t have anticipated and doesn’t know how to respond to, other than to capitulate to our request,” then even the staunchest defender of human freedom should say that we can’t change God’s mind.  In the case of the Ninevites, it’s pretty clear that God wanted them to repent (cf. Matt. 12:41/Luke 11:32).  So when Jonah preached that Nineveh would be overthrown in forty days (Jon. 3:4), the implicit condition in the threat was “if you don’t repent.” Most all ancient near Eastern cultures had prophets and one of their common tasks was to warn their societies of judgment from God or the gods when people were being too disobedient.  So it’s hardly a stretch to envision the Ninevites making this assumptions too.

As for Moses, I’m not sure which of several possible episodes in his life you might be thinking of.  But if “affect God” means that God will act differently after we pray than he would have if we hand’t, the answer is surely yes, our prayers affect God.  The question that is harder to answer and that divides some Christians from some others is whether or not humans can do things that surprise God—that he genuinely had no idea would happen.  Traditionally, most Christians have answered that question no; in recent years, some have made a strong case for answering it “yes,” but not strong enough to have convinced the majority.

If God knows the evil of the future, then why doesn’t he stop it? How are we to respond from a biblical perspective to those who are hurting and pose this very question to us? Why wasn’t their prayer answered? 

Craig: It’s interesting to try to envision the universe if God stopped every or even most evil.  Billions of people commit evil acts, however small or large, multiple times daily.  What would it take for God to intervene in every single one of those situations to ensure that no evil was ever committed in the first place and that no consequences of our actions ever turned out to be evil? It shouldn’t take a lot of thought to realize that it would be a universe radically different from the one we know.  If there were never any evil, it could only be because he created a scenario in which people had no freedom to do evil acts and that the consequences of any good or neutral acts that might turn out to be evil would always be prevented.  This, beyond the shadow of any doubt, would be a universe without human freedom as we know it.

The most common Jewish and Christian answer to this cluster of questions down through history also addresses the question of why God created any creatures made in his image with the possibility of knowing good and evil and choosing good or evil:  he wanted a freely offered love relationship that automatons could not provide him with (or plants or animals either).  If we succeed in programming robots in so sophisticated a fashion one day that they can simulate human beings and their actions the way they do in some science fiction but we still know that they are doing only what we have programmed them to do, we will not appreciate relationships with them the way we do with other human beings.  But once there is the freedom to choose evil, what the Bible calls sin, then there is the likelihood that some will choose evil and that the consequences will spread until all of God’s creation is infected, so to speak.

An interesting question I have sometimes been asked is why then do we so look forward to new heavens and new earth where the opportunities to rebel against God and everything good apparently no longer exist, and we are transformed into the perfect, glorious beings we were originally intended to be, if not even something better?  Here the answer has to do with the difference between moral innocence and moral transformation.  Again, different thinkers, novelists and philosophers have not all agreed on all the details, but there is profound agreement among them over the centuries that humans are profoundly different for having experienced evil—both in bad and good ways.  We can now appreciate why evil is so bad in ways that can make us never again want to choose it, even though in this life we never do overcome it—we only take some strides in that direction.

Thank you for your time!

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*Craig Blomberg (PhD, Aberdeen University, Scotland) is the author of numerous books including The Historical Reliability of the New Testament (2016) and Christians in an Age of Wealth (2013) and has contributed to numerous academic journals and articles. A main interest of his is the historical reliability of the Bible. He has been a part of the Denver Seminary faculty since 1986.

 

‘Do All Lives Matter?’ Wayne Gordon and John M. Perkins (book review)

do allAuthored by pastor Wayne Gordon and civil rights activist John M. Perkins, Do All Lives Matter? The Issues We Can No Longer Ignore and the Solutions We All Long For (Baker, 2017) delves into the raging topic of racism towards black Americans as well as police brutality. A very short read, the authors note the need for action to be taken in communities in order to improve police-civilian relations, in order for officers and individuals in their community to understand one another better.

The authors throughout note that not all police-shootings of black men are race-related, and at a few points in the book police are honored, especially those killed as a reaction to police shootings of black men, making it clear that the authors do not stand for violence done to police. While the authors are outraged towards racism of today they remain resilient that though action is needed, it is to always be nonviolent.

A high point of the book for me was when the authors spoke against homogeneity, speaking into the need for us to emerge from our bubbles, cultural or otherwise, to experience life in different perspectives. I was overjoyed at them speaking into the need for democrat and republican individuals to seek out relationships with those in the other party so as to avoid only hearing one perspective. To cultivate friendships and regularly discuss their differences as well as accept each other, unrealistic (unfortunately for many) as this may seem.

A critique I have would be that the “solutions” offered towards the end of the book feel to inadequately respond to a complex issue. A big issue for me was also the size of the book; it’s so small that it really felt more like a pamphlet in my hands than an actual book. I just checked Amazon where the book is listed at $7.64. As cheap as that is for a new book, the word and page count is extremely low. I don’t think that’s the best idea for a subject as controversial and multi-faceted as this one.

If I were to recommend a book on this topic I would recommend John M. Perkin’s Dream With Me (Baker, 2017; see here for my review) which I feel bests ‘Do All Lives Matter’ in quality of style as well as in solutions proposed.

*I received my copy from Baker in exchange for an honest assessment.

Does Seminary “Work?” Mark Strauss Responds

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Below you’ll find a brief interaction with Bible scholar Mark Strauss (Professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary, San Diego) who answers some of my questions concerning the pros and cons of Seminary. Enjoy!

What is your response to those who feel that Seminary is in fact the “cemetery” of Christian faith? Do you find there to be merit to such concerns? Is this simply a caricature?

Mark: It is certainly true that seminary can become an ivory tower disconnected from Christian ministry. But good seminary training provides the skills to read Scripture well and apply it appropriately, to engage contemporary issues from the perspective of sound biblical theology, and to interact in the world with a truly Christian worldview. These are essential and invaluable skills for ministry, and for the most part are not achieved in leadership development in our churches. I teach hermeneutics each semester and the comment I hear every year is, “I’ve been going to church my whole life and I’ve never learned this stuff.”

When someone tells you that they feel called to Seminary what words of advice do you offer? Or are there questions you might proceed to ask them?

Mark: I would certainly ask them to describe their call. Hearing the stories of my students helps me to understand them better and so to teach them better. As far as words of advice, I would ask whether their spouse is affirming of their call and supportive of it. I would ask about support from their church and their financial resources.

Realizing there are different types of Seminaries that respond to different needs, do you feel there still remain certain “non-negotiables” when it comes to the vision or commitment of a Seminary, or how a Seminary is run?

Mark: Every seminary’s essential purpose should be to equip the next generation of leaders to shepherd the church. This, I believe, means affirming the priority of love for God and for others, the authority of Scripture, and the necessity of the Holy Spirit’s empowerment and guidance. Every seminary, I believe, should be focused first and foremost on these goals.

What advice do you have for that student in Seminary who is feeling that his or her faith is under assault or is being threatened? 

Mark: I know each year that some of the things I’m going to teach will challenge certain students’ faith, particularly with issues like the imperfect process through which the biblical text has come down to us, the ambiguity of Scripture’s interpretation, and the limitations of our apprehension of truth (epistemology). The absolutist language related to Scripture used in many evangelical churches does not necessarily jive with the phenomenon of Scripture itself. My goal is to establish a safe environment where students can explore these issues without feeling their faith is threatened. I frequently say that my faith is stronger now than before I had engaged these issues. In certain circumstances, where their faith is truly under attack, I would question their choice of seminary and would encourage them to consider one that is more in line with their theology and their view of Scripture.

Have you been able to find a balance between dry academic rigor and a more Spirit-ual Christianity? If so, do you have any tips for those who find themselves falling into one extreme or the other?

Mark: I think the key is to stay in ministry and engaged with the church. Seminary must always view itself as the servant of the church.

Thanks for your time!

 

*Mark Strauss is the co-author of the well-known How to Choose a Translation for All it’s Worth (2007, coauthored with Gordon Fee) as well as Jesus Behaving Badly: the puzzling parables of the man from Galilee (2015).

Does Seminary “Work?” Craig Blomberg Responds

blombergBelow is an interview I conducted with respected Bible scholar Craig Blomberg (distinguished Professor of New Testament, Denver Seminary) concerning any pros and cons of Seminary. My questions are in bold followed by Blomberg’s responses. Enjoy!

What is your response to those who feel that Seminary is in fact the “cemetery” of Christian faith? Do you find there to be merit to such concerns? Is this simply a caricature?

Craig: A lot depends on the seminary.  If it gives an unrelenting dose of liberal theology, it could be a cemetery.  Even if it is evangelical, if it is all intellectual without focusing on ministry skills and spiritual formation, it could be a cemetery.  A good theological training requires focus on head, hands and heart.  Then it can be an amazing experience that helps prepare people for ministry and mature Christian living in outstanding ways.

 

When someone tells you that they feel called to Seminary what words of advice do you offer? Or are there questions you might proceed to ask them?

Craig: I would ask “what are your expectations?”  I would want them to be clear that a seminary is a graduate school.  If it is worth it’s salt it will be academically rigorous.  It will be harder than undergraduate education, or at least involve more time and work per credit hour.  I would want to be sure that people understand that seminary is not a two-, three- or four-year “high,” as if it were an almost unending Christmas conference or spiritual retreat for Cru, InterVarsity, FCA or Navigators.  Expect to work harder than you have for any other level of education you have experienced, but if you choose a good school, expect it to be worth it and yield rich dividends.

 

Realizing there are different types of Seminaries that respond to different needs, do you feel there still remain certain “non-negotiables” when it comes to the vision or commitment of a Seminary, or how a Seminary is run?

Craig: Biblical foundations to every discipline should be a non-negotiable, though they aren’t always.  Seminary should help you learn further how to reflect biblically and theologically on every area of ministry and life.  Of course, there must be practical skills and practical applications, but most of these can be learned on the job if need be.  What are almost never taught well in local churches or parachurch organizations are the necessary foundational, critical, philosophical, presuppositional and theoretical questions that must be asked before one moves to pure pragmatism.

 

What advice do you have for that student in Seminary who is feeling that his or her faith is under assault or is being threatened? 

Craig: I would ask why they feel it is under assault.  Is it because ideas are being promoted as non-negotiables that are outside the bounds of historic Christian orthodoxy?  If so, their perception is accurate!  Is it because ideas are being presented for discussion that are outside the bounds of historic Christian orthodoxy?  This need not be an assault; it may be an important challenge to help them assess why they believe what they believe, if they can respond to quite different perspectives in intellectually responsible ways, and if there are certain elements of those ideas which are consistent with genuine Christianity that they can incorporate into their existing belief systems.  Or thirdly, is it because ideas are being either presented or promoted that are consistent with historic orthodoxy but just happen to be new to that particular student.  In this last case, they should keep a very open mind, never feeling forced to abandon their current beliefs without good reason but always alert to the possibility that there might be better options that they just haven’t previously learned about.

Thank you! We look forward to more of your works and rigorous scholarship!

*Craig Blomberg is the author of numerous books including The Historical Reliability of the New Testament (2016) and Christians in an Age of Wealth (2013) and has contributed to numerous academic journals and articles. A main interest of his is the historical reliability of the Bible.

Guardrails, by Alan Briggs (book review)

guardrails

Director of Frontline Church Planting (located in Colorado) as well as a pastor at Vanguard Church (Colorado Springs), Alan Briggs offers an interesting read on church planting and discipleship. Guardrails: Six Principles for a Multiplying Church (NavPress, 2016) proves to be highly readable as well as simple.

The author starts off with noting how churches look at (more) numbers “as solutions to our problems” when “most churches have no idea what they would or should do with the people God brings them” (p. 4). He hits the importance of contextualizing the gospel, not simply making a model of how to plant a church and sticking with it forever, making it Torah; the importance to evolve and not stagnate (p. 12). At the same time he hits on the need for balance, as while “overstructured organizations need to free up room for new ideas that will allow expansion and new movement, understructured leaders need to prepare themselves to keep their momentum from degenerating into chaos” (p. 13).

…understructured leaders need to prepare themselves to keep their momentum from degenerating into chaos.

alan

Early on Briggs speaks of the importance of the kingdom of God and “kingdom theology,” drawing from the late Karl Barth. Brigg writes that “the family of God…must live a different narrative in this consumer-driven, me-first, get-ahead…world we live in” (p. 20) and that “Kingdom theology has often been overlooked. Perhaps it doesn’t offer accelerated solutions in a world of quick fixes. Perhaps acknowledging God’s centrality…renders us helpless in a self-help culture” (p. 21). The book shines with many such statements, staying true to simplicity as well as practicality.

Some critiques.

I didn’t feel that Briggs added anything fresh to this topic. At the same time, it’s hard to add anything to something so greatly exhumed and excavated. Though Guardrails is not bad per say, it tends to be a generic read on discipleship. (This is just my two cents.)

The second issue I have is that though Briggs holds interesting perspectives, at times I find myself wondering what he’s trying to say, many sentences seeming like words awkwardly jumbled together. Many parts in the book could probably use a tad more editing.

 

*I received a free copy of this book from Tyndale in exchange for an honest assessment.

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