So you are a king?

26 09 2012

Pontius Pilatus, or as we know him better Pontius Pilate, is famed not only for being the Procurator of the 3rd decade AD who delivered Jesus Christ over to be crucified, but also for his questions which punctuate the historical narrative recorded in the Bible.  ‘What charges are you bringing against this man?’ ‘What crime has he committed?’ he asked the accusers while turning to Jesus himself he said ‘Where are you from?’Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?‘Do you not realise that I have power over you?’ These questions are filled with irony in light of the facts of the resurrection which vindicated our Lord.  Addressing the crowd, Pilate asked, ‘What shall I do then with Jesus, who is called the Christ?’ This was the question that finally sealed the fate of Jesus.

Perhaps his most famous question in the interaction with Jesus was ‘What is truth?’ but the question that caught my attention recently was this one: ‘So you are a king?’ (John 18:37, ESV)

How do you read that last question that caught my attention: ‘So you are a king?’ How did Pilate ask this question – where did the emphasis lie?  Perhaps, ‘So you are a king?’  Or, ‘So you are a king?’  Maybe even, ‘So you are a king?’

Devotionally, it struck me that this is a question we too should mull over and answer regarding Jesus – is Jesus or is he not a king? More importantly, in light of other Bible teaching: Is he, or is he not, THE King? And if we can answer in the affirmative, how does that truth impinge upon our daily lives?

The last chapter of the Bible is yet to be written in once sense – yet to be written on the pages of history.  But it is a period which is written about in the Bible in plain and certain terms – the true King will return! “We eagerly await a Saviour from heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ” Phil 3:20

In Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (CS Lewis) – Aslan the great lion was slain in Edmund’s place but he returns from death to rule in Narnia again.  As the rightful ruler in Narnia, Aslan ensures that the winter of the wicked White Witch will be rolled back and the self-proclaimed Queen Jadis, now defeated, will finally be removed.

But it is well known that Lewis was not merely entertaining children with a spectacular story!  Lewis was clearly telling the Bible’s story – a story that people of faith have believed for many centuries concerning a greater King.

Earliest confessions of faith in Jesus as Saviour were often expressed in the simple words “Jesus is Lord” – an affirmation of Jesus’ kingship and deity over against the rule and false claims of the Roman emperor who claimed to be a god.  The final chapter of the history of the world sees this same Jesus proclaimed as “King of kings and Lord of Lords” (Revelation 19:16). The rightful King will return to reign forever.

Of course this is only one of many of the King’s great and precious promises, and just as they have consistently been fulfilled – we await with certain hope the King’s return; for surely this promise too he will fulfil!

John 14:2, 3 “I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

This is the story of the Last Great King of History.  It is not a story invented by a few simple men from early Palestine who became “apostles”. No, the Old Testament Scriptures have recounted for us the whole story with this clear assumption: “The LORD reigns… the great King above all gods.” (Ps 93:1)

God’s reign has been resisted and opposed throughout human history; from Adam to an exiled Israel, the rebellion has been notoriously comprehensive. It reaches from that ancient people Israel all the way to us in the 21st C.  But through this sorry tale of woe “His Story” can be traced: the vindication of God’s true reign is the anticipated climax which will finally come to pass.

On that final day, Pilate’s question before a glorified Lord will be absurd.  Every mouth will be silenced.  That day will be a day of role reversal – perhaps we will be found out! The ironic edge of our asking Pilate’s question may reveal the truth that in fact we have acted like kings when we’re not and verily, verily, Jesus is the only true King!  We have been the impostors. Maybe the true king will ask us that question asked of him so impertinently, ‘So you are a king?’

Persecution: An essential mark of the people of God

2 11 2010

I’ve never been to Morocco.  The country featured recently on a TV ad and before the destination had been announced I said aloud, ‘I know where that is, it’s Morocco!‘  Sure enough.  The incident was not some supernatural revelation or special call to Christian service, no.  I had been researching the Kingdom of Morocco for a Christian mission presentation at my local church.  The beauty of this north African country and the attraction of the mysterious lurking in the strongly Arabic culture commonly associated with the romantic holiday destinations of Marrakech and Casablanca are clear.  But the TV advertisement sits less comfortably now after my research for my thinking about Morocco has been marred by a darker side to this nations attitude to Christian faith.  Morocco has expelled 128 Christians from its land since March 2010 and those who remain are under constant surveillance; harrassed by police and media and sometimes imprisoned. 

“…a Moroccan Christian who fled the country five years ago said Morocco has never been as moderate as it has tried to portrayed itself. “The fact is religious freedom in Morocco simply does not exist. The West is presented with a façade that is now exposed,” he said.“

The situation in Morocco brings a wake-up call not only to Moroccan Christians but also to we Christians who presently know little or nothing of persecution while living in Britian today.  This caused me to go back to the New Testament to examine the relationship between persecution and the Christian life.  The answer we get may be a surpising one…

Persecution: An early feature of the Christian Church

  • My survey began with Stephen who comes immediately to mind as the first Christian martyr, called to give his life for the defence of the faith.  The persecution from the religious leaders of Judaism in Jerusalem was unrelenting and the early Christian Church was forced to flee the city (Acts 6-8).
  • Even with their flight from the crisis of persecution in Jerusalem the anatagonism against the people of the Way continues to be recorded as we read on through Acts 9 where Saul of Tarsus vehemently opposes the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth and brings them back to Jerusalem for trial and imprisonment.
  • Further afield the New Testament record shows clearly that the consistent pattern in the Christian Church through those early years is one marked out by persecution, harrassment, stoning, false accusation, imprisonment and even death.  The letter to the Hebrews (including those of the Diaspora) makes it abundantly clear that the Christian Church experienced persecution as a matter of course rather than an occasional incident in their history (Heb 10; 1 Pet 5:10).
  • Paul’s letter to the Church of Thessalonica intersperses the themes of persecution and opposition to the faith and those who embrace it with the hope of God’s work of sanctification and the promised appearing of Christ at his second coming (1Thess 2:1ff; 14-15)
  • Paul himself suffers for the gospel; indeed, it was to be a feature of his ministry since the time of his calling (Acts 9:16).  But his theology of suffering extends beyond his own unique calling and he calls Christians to share in the sufferings of Christ (Phil. 3:10)  Paul instructs his young lieutenant not only to expect suffering as part and parcel of his remit as a soldier of Jesus Christ (2 Tim 2:3) but that this will be ‘normative’ for all who want to follow Jesus Christ:
    • “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…” (2 Tim 3:12)

Persecution: An Essential Mark of the People of God

Has Paul overstated the case here?  Is this a case of hyperbole? Is it true that all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus WILL be persecuted?  Where did Paul get that idea from – was it just a little personal subjectivity creeping in to his theological perspective on suffering? I think not. He sees what the writer to Hebrews had also seen: persecution is a determining mark or characteristic in the life of the people of God.

  • Hebrews ch 11 gives us a convenient summary of many of the saints of old who suffered for their faith.
  • Abel heads up the list as the man killed for the offering he made to God (11:4)
  • Abraham’s own journey of faith is couched in language that may be construed as the suffering of a man who lives as a stranger in a foreign land all the days of his life (11:9)
  • Along the way Joseph too is mentioned – a man who suffered much at the hands of his brothers but who’s faith remained firm in the providence of God to keep him in the midst of that suffering and to work out his greater purposes (Gen 50:20; Heb 11:22)
  • Moses himself is singled out in Hebrews 11:25 in his preference ‘to be ill-treated along with the people of God rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time’.
  • The Hebrew writer summarises the matter in his own way in verses 32-38. That summary include these references:
      • being thrown to the lions
      • being burned at the stake or in the furnace
      • being put to the sword
      • being tortured
      • being imprisoned
      • being jeered
      • being flogged
      • being chained
      • being stoned
      • being sawn in two
      • being beheaded
      • being in poverty
      • being destitute
      • being persecuted
      • being ill-treated
  • The Prophets of old which would include many others not listed in Hebrews 11 were subjected to similar treatment and persecution. Jesus himself makes this clear in the Sermon on the Mount as he completes the ‘Beatitudes’ with the surprising remark:
    • “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Mat 5:11,12)
  • James affirms such truth in his own letter as he holds up the prophets as an example to us for patience and perseverance in the face of suffering and persecution (James 5:10)
  • As though such a profile was not sufficient to persuade us of the reality of the assertion that ‘persecution is a distinguishing mark of the people of God’, we finally turn again to Jesus himself.  He holds out no comfort blanket to his disciples or followers. He makes it as plain as the nose on your face that followers of the Way will follow in his own footsteps, quite literally.  His call to ‘take up the cross daily and follow him’ may just about have been misunderstood as a symbolic kind of language for a close identification with the Savour in some kind of spiritualised way in which we die a death with him.  But there is no mistaking the teaching of Jesus when he explains in detail the nature of the relationship into which followers of Christ move when they embrace him by faith as their Lord and Master.  In John 15:18ff Jesus says it plainly:
    • “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”
    • “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also…”
    • “They will treat you this way because of  my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.”
    • “They hated me without reason…”
    • “They will put you out of the synagogue…”
    • “They will do such things to you…”
    • “…when the time comes you will remember that I warned you…”

Persecution: An Example to Challenge our faith and testimony

Such a body of evidence surely brings a challenge to our own situation as those who claim to be followers of Christ.  If we are not experiencing persecution then we must ask ourselves, why not?  When was the last time you had to ‘suffer’ for being a Christian?  When were you last jeered or laughed at, let alone beaten, imprisoned or lashed for your faith?  Is it that we are so indistingushable from the world around us that there is no offence of the gospel, no aroma of death as Paul put it to the Corinthians?

The Seven churches of Revelation while clearly factual centres of Christian witness in a geographical location may well represent the church of the ages down through history.  It is noteworthy that in almost every letter to each of the churches the question of suffering and persecution is broached in one way or another:

  • Ephesus – endured hardship for my name
  • Smyrna – Be faithful…
  • Pergamum – You did not renounce the faith…
  • Philadelphia – you have been kept from the hour of trial coming on the whole earth
  • Others called to ‘persevere’ and to ‘overcome’

Preparedness for the prospect of persecution is a matter that can only fit us better for the day when it will come.  At times that doesn’t appear to be too far away!  Our present flabbiness in Christian culture and our general ease in Christian faith in the West continues to lull us into a place where we have become ineffective in our engagement with the world.  Tertullian of North Africa reminded the church of the early years facing opposition and persecution that ‘the blood of the martyrs is seed’.  He saw in the trail of death and destruction wrought by persecution the conviction of belief and courage of faith that sparked revival in the church and an attractiveness for unbelievers about the truth of the gospel that was worth dying for.   Views of this nature are today branded as fanatical and fundamentalist but we do need to take a long hard look at our present western European context as Christians who are more obsessed with self, with comfort & with leisure than with spiritual discipline, endurance and pleasing our Commanding Officer (2 Tim 3:3-4).  Perhaps if some of the other marks of the true people of God were more evident in our lives then persecution would be more evident too.  Certainly, the biblical testimony expects that even if we don’t.

Models of Theological Education

24 09 2010


Public Warning: The following article is an excerpt from an academic paper written in 2008 on theological education in the Tanzanian context.  It may not be of direct interest to all readers and is an extended paper (approx 7000 words).


What is theological education? The question is not as easy to answer as it may first appear. During the past century this particular discipline of Christian higher education has debated, wrestled with and pondered much in order to attempt to provide a definitive answer.  More than sixty years ago Professor H. Hartshorne (1946) struggled with the dilemma himself highlighting not only the difficulty of tying down various terms associated with the subject area like graduate, professional, training, education, and even theological but finally concluding:

“Obviously, one cannot find out what theological education is by looking in the dictionary. It is what it has become in institutions organized by churches and church people to prepare men, and more recently women, for church leadership. Each such institution reflects the specific theological bias of some group and exists in order to perpetuate this bias.” (1946:235)

Post-Hartshorne the 20th century has been crowded with discussion on the topic. Classic texts have been written in the general subject area like those of H. Richard Niebuhr (1956) and Edward Farley (1983) however Professor Hartshorne’s frank assertion serves the writer well by allowing him to set out his own ‘bias’ or particular ‘predisposition’ in approaching the subject matter.

Setting the scene for the literature review

The following literature review was the backdrop for a study of theological education ‘in the field’ and not ‘in the dictionary’ offering a historical perspective in the debate which the academic literature is highlighting. The research has been framed to discover what theological education is achieving in Tanzania, East Africa. What are the intended purposes? What are the actual outcomes? Do students and faculty feel content with these matters in current practice? Are church needs being met by those who graduate from the institutions?

Although a large body of literature is available in the areas with which the research is concerned it should be noted that it is written largely from a European or North American perspective; comparatively little is written concerning the particular areas of interest located geographically in East Africa, theologically in evangelical Protestant tradition and educationally in church leadership training associated more directly with the Bible College movement.  Getz (1986) traces the origin of that movement (from 1873) to Moody Bible Institute of Chicago which grew out of the ministry of the famous evangelist D.L. Moody. Their objective since 1916 was:

“… in general terms, …to train men and women in the knowledge of the English Bible, gospel music, personal evangelism and practical methods of Christian work, emphasis being laid upon the developing and deepening of the spiritual life.” (Getz, 1986:48) (emphasis mine)

The research will begin by drawing from that wider body of literature in order to understand the broad field of theological education but will quickly draw its focus towards the current debate located in matters related to spiritual and character formation. This subject area sets the forum in which this study’s field inquiry has been made regarding the purposes and outcomes of theological education in specific colleges in northern Tanzania. It addresses the matter of the needs of the students as they embark on their theological education experience and raises questions about what the expectations and needs are in the target communities.

While heeding the warning of Professor Hartshorne and drawing upon the researcher’s current experience of theological education both in UK and East Africa the working definition of Christian theological education in the Bible college tradition offered for the purpose of this research will be as follows:

“The discipline of enabling students to learn what they can about God through the Bible and the Spirit in order that their lives might be shaped in such as way as to increase devotion to God and service to others.”

The literature review will now set this peculiar movement in the context of the historical development and purposes of theological education; it will be seen to be relevant to the current debate on the relation of education to theology, of academia to spiritual formation; and thus the scene will be set for the inquiry into current practice in the theological education milieu of the East African context.

Theological Education as Theologia

Theological education is arguably as old as the Bible itself – Elisha and his group of prophets[1] may be seen as an early Old Testament example or Paul at the feet of Gamaliel[2] a New Testament tradition of learning theology – but this brief historical review will be limited to the post-medieval period when the rise of scholasticism and university traditions began in the 13th century.[3]  It is during this period that the formalisation of the discipline began and institutions increasingly took responsibility for theological education.

Farley (1983) in his magisterial work “Theologia” traces education in regard to theology (sometimes called ‘divinity’) through its appearance in the earliest university traditions as part of the three-fold pattern, vis a vis, canon law, medicine and theology, on into the seventeenth century when a host of adjectives were used to qualify the term theology within academia.[4] A significant development during this period was that theology moved from being a means of acquiring ‘wisdom’ believed to be revealed from God as a way of living life (habitus) to a discipline increasingly isolated from life in an assortment of areas of pedagogy. As early as 1556, Hyperius had anticipated the fourfold pattern (hermeneutics, polemics, catechetics and homiletics – ‘four sciences’) which emerged prominently through the late eighteenth century in the theological encyclopedia of many German scholars.[5] These new categories provided a framework in which to develop ‘the science’ of Christian theology which was not inherently religious per se but ‘a scholarly enterprise directed at religion’ (Farley 1983:103).  During the eighteenth century there arose a paradigm which divided the disciplines into theory and practice: hermeneutics as the understanding of the Scriptures and polemics as the defence of the truths of Scripture were taken as theoretical subject areas, whereas catechetics and homiletics, being the teaching and preaching elements of the discipline were the practical use and application of the knowledge gained.

But the transition to the modern approaches to theological education was not yet complete.  There arose in the nineteenth century a trend that took the discipline into professionalism and clerical training.  Farley explains:

“In this period the two genres of theology continue but undergo such radical transformation that the original senses of theology as knowledge (wisdom) and as discipline virtually disappear from theological schools. Theology as a personal quality continues (though not usually under the term theology), not as a salvation-disposed wisdom, but as the practical know-how necessary to ministerial work. Theology as discipline continues, not as the unitary enterprise of theological study, but as one technical and specialized scholarly undertaking among others; in other words, as systematic theology. These developments are the outcome of theology’s long career. They are peculiarly modern and, to some degree, even distinctively North American.” (Farley 1983:39)

“The third period, therefore, is united not by one single type of institution but rather by two types, related to each other by somewhat contradictory agendas and goals: the ideal of theological scholarship (the post-Enlightenment continental university) and the ideal of the practically trained minister (the twentieth-century Protestant seminary).” (Farley 1983:40)

Farley contends this fragmentation of the discipline of “theologia” was inherent to its ruin in the modern era. “Theologia” as a subject unified in its attempts to be an understanding of God and the habitus of life to be lived before Him (divinity) no longer exists. There has been a shift of emphasis towards preparing clergy for ministry (the clerical paradigm) and requiring appropriate training for those who will enter this professional ministry.[6]

A Search for Authentic Theological Education

In the last two decades of the twentieth century the debate concentrates on attempts to reconstitute what was considered by some to be authentic theological education.  This debate is complicated by the changing status and current meaning of both words: theology as a science can still be conducted without any necessary love for God or experience of Him; education can be described by scholarship and objective study with little emphasis on shaping or maturing a person’s character. However, the main polarisation exists around the mainstream fourfold pattern (nowadays characterised by Bible, dogmatics, church history and practical theology) which still determines the structure of theological education in universities and many seminaries around the world. There are those who accept and defend the existing model. There is however a growing body of discontent with the mainstream model who believe it fails to deliver the desiderata and maturing influence expected within the traditions of theological education. They assert the need for reform of existing institutions and their fundamental philosophical approaches to theological education.  This debate is epitomized by discussion centred on matters of “formation”; particularly moral, spiritual and character formation.[7]

Theological Education as Formation

Before we examine this debate within the Protestant sphere it is note-worthy that Dr. Graham Cheesman (Survey, nd[8]) demonstrates Roman Catholic training for priests as having been built around the concept of moral and spiritual formation for many centuries. Since the days of the Franciscan (14th C) and Jesuit (16th C) Orders particular programmes were formulated and disciplines of the soul taught for the consecrated life and the imitation of Christ which typically lasted as long as thirteen years. Church clergy also benefited from similar training which became particularly prominent after the abuses of the late Middle Ages and Reformation (Cheesman, nd:9). These programmes were increasingly incorporated into seminaries[9] and featured a spiritual director, mental prayer, confession, weekly exhortation and regular periods of retreat (Cheesman, nd:10).

Two documents – “Optatum Totius”[10] (1965) and “Pastores Dabo Vobis”[11] (1992) – dominated the work of training the priesthood during the latter half of the 20th century within Catholicism.  Both these documents have a strong focus on ‘spiritual training’. The 1965 document contains a section committed to giving ‘Greater attention to Spiritual Training’ (Section 4) and the 1992 document contains a section entitled ‘The Development of a Relationship and Communion with God’.  The latter document takes time to tease out the details of formation of the priest with headings that speak for themselves: 1. The Vision; 2. Human Formation; 3. Spiritual Formation; 4. Intellectual Formation; and 5. Pastoral Formation.  It is such programmes long established within the Catholic traditions that are increasingly being sought out in Protestant traditions today, an area to which attention will now turn.

Since the 1970s there was a growing voice of discontent concerning the apparent lack of ability of Protestant seminaries and theological colleges’ graduates to do ministry effectually within their churches.  The fundamental question centred on the measure to which spiritual formation had or had not taken place in the lives of the students training for ministry. The academic standards of many of these training institutions were higher than ever before but the ‘product’ was still found to be lacking.

Theological Education as Spiritual Development

In reaction to the harsh realities of these claims the American Association of Theological Schools (later ‘American’ was dropped to be ATS) commissioned a ‘task force’ in 1972 to investigate.  Their remit was ‘to shape a set of concepts and principles that can guide a programme of spiritual development.’ (Cheesman, Survey, nd:20).  The investigation was largely parochial in its outlook and firmly North American in its focus. The ensuing report reflects the temptations of the day in the aftermath of the swinging sixties and concludes that too many students are looking to please man rather than God.  Nevertheless an important message that came from the task force under the title, Voyage-Vision-Venture was: “Spiritual formation and development begins with and is dependent on the spiritual formation and development of the faculty” (Babin, et al, 1972:179). This damning and challenging conclusion became the springboard from which subsequent desire for reform was launched.  By 1980, another conference was held at Shalem Institute in Denver, Colorado and Tilden Edwards published his resultant report under the heading “Spiritual Formation in Theological Schools”.  A key summary of the findings says, “A number of participants note the serious problem of attending spiritual development amidst the great academic pressures put on students by most curricula, which tend to choke out or remove to the periphery serious concern for an integral faith life (p. 15)” (quoted in Steubing, 1999:49).  Cheesman highlights a significant turn in the debate stating that the conclusions were clearly not just for a re-emphasis upon spirituality in the academic-spirituality divide but it became apparent that debate was required concerning the relationship of the two polarized ends of a continuum. By now the nub of the problem was being more clearly seen but not all thought it was a problem – at least not all saw the problem as being of one kind.

The ATS seminar in 1987 was clearly directed to the heart of the matter with the given title: “Theological Education as the Formation of Character”. Meye opened the seminar by referring to the ‘very strong, essentially universal interest on the part of the member schools of ATS in spiritual formation which has developed into a major movement in our midst within the past two decades” (Cheesman, Survey, nd:26). This seminar spent much time defining terms but more importantly became the platform for three keynote speakers: Lindbeck, Hall and Tracy. Time will be taken to examine the three addresses in some detail.

Lindbeck’s address (1988) set out the problem that theological students of the day were lacking biblical knowledge, spiritual foundations and prayer; indeed, meditation for them might not even be Christian (Steubing, 1999:49).  More importantly he tried to set out some guidelines for the relation of spiritual formation to ministry and to theology.  Lindbeck did not see spirituality to be like human and emotional maturity but rather the increasing appropriation of a particular worldview based on biblical criteria leaving scope for considerable diversity of expression in culture.  Lindbeck saw the essential problem as one of the culture of the day which had failed in ‘growing’ the candidates for theological education in their churches and denominations.  In regard to theology, Lindbeck was of the opinion that those who were most fully mature spiritually would make the best theologians.  Reluctantly Lindbeck conceded that programmes for spiritual formation were required in the seminaries because of the contextual difficulties in the culture but qualified their practice in a number of areas,[12] not least as a means to cement spirituality and theology in the way it once was and should be.

David Tracy (1988) did his own ‘cementing’ by a memorable phrase that was forged in the crucible of some extensive discussion of Plato and Socrates: ‘Enquiry and action like education and the soul, rise and fall together.’  He also used this philosophical approach to demonstrate that mankind has always recognized the need for faith: ‘the life of the mind cannot live without the life of faith and the life of faith cannot live without the life of the mind’ (Cheesman, Survey, nd:28).

Douglas John Hall’s contribution (1988) was less sympathetic however and challenged the listeners to question whether Christian faith was really about a focus on one’s own character formation at all. He drew attention to the Christian tradition of “grace, not works” (as Lindbeck too had noted) and suspected there may be some corruption of grace if this ‘peculiarly 19th and 20th century preoccupation’ with spiritual formation is to be taken forward (Hall 1988:54).  Hall agreed there was a problem but it was not the seminary’s problem.  The seminar can only teach: content, content, content; and the rest is down to God’s grace in the life of the student. Hall’s essential argument was:

“If we belong to a faith-tradition which assumes that spiritual authenticity is a by-product of the loss of self in the contemplation, love and service of ‘the other’ – and I think that we do! – then it will not remedy the lack of such spirituality to focus everyone’s attention all the more on the self and its ‘formation’.” (Hall 1988:58) 

Theological Education as Discipleship

Hall goes on to make two important observations however in regard to the nature of spiritual formation (he actually prefers the term ‘character formation’) which he sees potentially developing in the context of corporate discipleship because the perspective is decidedly outward looking and not just inward.[13]  Hall makes spiritual formation conditional on personal experience – what he calls covenantal commitment – and he likens this to being essentially the same as Lindbeck’s internalization of the faith. That established, Hall sees the need for ‘formation’ in the matter of discerning discipline where the ‘training of the mind’, prayer and brokenness are characteristics to be nurtured.  Finally, he sets the discipleship agenda in its original context of apostolic responsibility, a theme to be taken up later by other writers who see ‘mission’ as the appropriate context for spiritual formation. It is in this regard that he believes formation to be at its most practical:

“If faithful Christian discipleship is the concrete spiritual matrix for theological education, then it will be imperative that this education reflects at every point the ecclesiastical ‘mark’ of responsible apostolicity. Such theological pedagogy will be far removed from the ideal of learning for the sake of learning. It will be in the exact sense of the term practical, because its goal is not encompassed within the educational process itself but is found in the service (leitourgos) for which it equips one.” (Hall 1988:70) (emphasis his)

There appears to be a growing optimism in the literature that the matter of spiritual formation was the key to recovering the theologia which Farley had indicated was lost.  New terminology begins to appear after the 1987 ATS seminar which speaks of the unifying nature of spiritual formation in bringing theory and practice, the academy and the ministry together again.  The seeds of this important concept of an integration factor were recognized by Cheesman in proceedings of the 1972 ATS-Shalem Institute seminar on spirituality: ‘It is becoming increasingly recognized that spiritual formation has the power to integrate the disparate elements of theological education’ (Cheesman, Survey, nd:24).

Theological Education as Vocational Discipline

Steubing (1999:49) draws attention to Terry Hulbert’s (1988) (of Columbia International University) note that there had been lengthy discussions among leading evangelical seminaries at the time about ‘the quality of the spiritual life of our students and ways in which we could help them grow.’  As far afield as the African continent John Ochola (1989) was of the opinion that ‘Theological education by its very nature must be spiritual, internal, practical and vocational.’ (quoted in Steubing, 1999:52)  But he goes on to express some concern over the impact of extreme intellectualism in the area of spirituality:

“Theological education must give spiritual connotation to knowledge and its application. The extremes of intellectualism dangerously influencing the development of spiritual life as an ideal must be curbed. Thinking in terms of traditional academic patterns and standards of cognitive knowledge is not enough. Knowledge must be approached in terms of virile service to God.” (Steubing, 1999:53)

This disquiet with the influence of ‘the academy’ on spirituality was no doubt in Clark Gilpin’s mind when he stated that ‘Formation will occur, if not by design then by the influence of implicit, unobserved, or unacknowledged norms.” (Gilpin, 1988:7)  Gilpin was of the opinion then that spiritual formation must be planned and not just left to chance and Buechlein (1987) made the point that the planning and execution must be carried out in the ‘inevitable and reciprocal (whether intentional or not)’ relationships of faculty, staff and students (Steubing 1999:52).

Dr. Edgar Lee writing in Theological Education Today (1987) made an impassioned defence of the spiritual dimensions being employed within the Bible College model commending them to his readers as a paradigm suited to the prevailing discontent.  He reminds them:

“The original intention of the Bible college movement was to train men and women for Christian service in a warm spiritual environment which would nurture, and deepen, the faith of every student” (Lee, 1987:4).

That environment was created by the faculty:

“The Bible College theology professor must be a man or woman of faith whose goal is to lead students to discover the greatness and grandeur of God and to love Him with all their beings” (Lee, 1987:8).

The antipathy towards the academy was increasingly evident in the wider circles of theological education on the international scene. Dan Hoffman observed Zambian church leaders were less then enthusiastic about establishing a department of religion at the University of Zambia in the early 1980s, indicative of the broadening interests in spiritual formation. A reason given in Hoffman’s book is that leaders felt ‘the churches’ priority… should be pastoral formation rather than classical academic theology” (quoted in Steubing, 1999:53).

A.D. Solanky from the Asian continent reflects a similar spirit of discontent with the standard formulations of theological education. While driving towards more experientialist and ministry related learning it may be that he is as much influenced by Friere in his desire for revamping the concepts of theological education as by the need for spiritual formation when he says:

“What we need is not just innovations or better methods but a radical change in our concept of education: learning as experience, versus gathering content, a body of information. We must treat our students as persons, not as boxes to be filled little by little, with little, logically arranged, packets of information. We must expect them to develop abilities, to grow in the experience of the Lord (II Peter 3:18)” (quoted in Steubing, 1999:53).

At the turn of the decade Robert C. Kallgren (1991) in the magazine Christianity Today attempted to redress this negativity towards the academy from the Bible college stable.  With statistical evidence to demonstrate that Bible colleges, seminaries and Christian liberal arts colleges were all enjoying a boom in student enrolment he goes on to assert that ‘The Bible college movement was less a reaction against the seminaries than a mobilization of lay people to reach the lost’ (Kallgren, 1991:27, 28) – in short, a vocation.

The integration of the disparate elements of theological education was not as forthright in coming as some had hoped.

Theological Education as Practical Wisdom

By the 1990s Sarpong’s attempts (1989) to “contextualize” spiritual formation for the African context had been forgotten[14] and the emphasis on developing models for doing spiritual formation held centre stage.  Robert Ferris (1990) proposed a useful representation of the preparations for pastoral ministry by building on Harvey Conn (1980) who had noted a shift in the relationship between teacher and student from being fraternal to paternalistic.  Ferris suggested the pastor-knower model as being representative of traditional methodologies in theological education. In this case seminary faculty identify what pastors need to know, impart the knowledge and when students can demonstrate that they in turn know, then they are qualified to enter ministry.  The alternate model Ferris calls pastor-doer model which reflects the importance of practice.  In a similar way seminary faculty determine what a pastor needs to be able to do, and when a student can show ability to do that, they enter ministry.  Ferris finally offers the pastor-helper model, ‘in which he integrates an emphasis on spiritual gifts and “helpfulness” into the training programme itself’ (Steubing, 1999:51).

The Canadian Theological Seminary’s Gordon T. Smith wrote an article (1996) described as ‘a much less theoretical and more practical explication of spiritual formation as a unifying model for theological education’ (Cheesman, Survey, nd:32).  While the practicalities of Smith’s writing were apparent the theological aspects of his work require further attention to collect an insight which may have been overlooked.

“In defining the objective of the theological school, we need a defining principle, a point of integration between the classroom itself and the co-curricular activities” (Smith, 1996:88).

The unifying factor is that ‘defining principle’ which will allow theological education to have a clear objective, which will tie together in a meaningful way the various components of theological education as it has been variously described in the literature, and which has a soundly theological foundation as Delamarter et al (2007) suggest.

“…our reflection is not merely pedagogical and technological; much of it is theological in character. One would expect this given who we are, the nature of our students, the content of our curricula and the contexts in which we work” (2007:65) (emphasis theirs).

Smith (1996) is of the opinion that the missing theological theory, the hub which will bind the spokes of the wheel of theological education together giving it drive, direction and increased potential, is wisdom. ‘Wisdom could serve us well as a unifying principle’ (1996:88).

“The objective of the academy, then, would be to enable men and women to become wise. Wisdom is a helpful point of reference because it incorporates the development of knowledge and understanding as well as the formation of character. Wise people are mature in both their understanding and their behaviour. Further, wisdom assumes the integration and appropriation of truth – we both understand and live the truth” (Smith, 1996:88).

A Tale of Two Cities: Modelling Theological Education

Around this time David H. Kelsey (1993) of Yale Divinity School had penned his important work Between Athens and Berlin: The Theological Education Debate. Playing on Tertullian’s well known question ‘What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?’[15] Kelsey likened the two schools of thought that characterized North American theological education as being likened to the cities of Athens and Berlin.  Athens was ‘the classical model’.  Edgar (2005) summarizes:

“By ‘Athens’ [Kelsey] means that the goals and methods of theological education are derived from classical Greek philosophical educational methodology. He argues that the early church adopted and adapted this model. The primary goal of this form of classical education is the transformation of the individual. It is all about character formation, the cultivation of excellence and knowing the supreme good, which, when applied to theological education means knowing God. Theological education is thus not so much knowing about God as it is about knowing God” (2005:209).

The other ‘pole’ of the theological education continuum as far as Kelsey was concerned was ‘Berlin’.  The ‘Berlin’ model is derived from the Enlightenment epistemologies which were first applied in the University of Berlin under Prussian educational reforms.  Again Edgar (2005) explains its nature:

“The goal is no longer personal formation based on the study of authoritative, classic texts. The research university seeks to train people in rigorous enquiry, to find theory and to apply it to solve practical problems. It broadened out from the narrower classic approach in which the sources were limited to the ancient texts and now the whole panorama of human endeavour, including the natural sciences, physics, chemistry, the social sciences, arts and humanities, became the legitimate focus of study” (2005:210).

It appears the dichotomy was here to stay. Nevertheless Dearborn (1995) in an important study emerging in the middle of the decade returned the focus upon faculty responsibility within the training programme for spiritual formation. He was dismayed by the low priority given by faculty to spirituality[16] and urged that faculty need to be ministers in their own right because ‘training for ministry should occur in ministry, rather than before ministry’ (1995:9). He lists ten qualities of a ‘transformed’ faculty member in theological education who can teach from this position: spirituality (passion for Jesus, personal godliness); vision (ability to inspire, instil vision in others); pastoral gifts and ministry experience; communication ability; scholarship (research, analysis, reflection, publication); servant mentality; personal transparency; love for the church; love of culture; love of diversity among people (Dearborn 1995:10).  Clearly ‘scholarship’ was not to be discarded despite the strong devotional and service related qualities in the list.

Multi-modelling: A Tale of at least Four Cities

So the decade of the 90s was largely a search for a model that would bring that elusive unifying principle to theological education making it once again more like Farley’s theologia.  Spiritual formation was not the solution in and of itself however for debate raged on about the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of this concept: what is spiritual formation and how can it be achieved?[17]  Kelsey writing at the beginning of the following decade (2002) was able with hindsight to distil the discussion as a reaction to two problems: i) the fragmentation of theological schooling which weakened its effectiveness ‘leaving it a mere clutch of courses rather than a genuine course of study’ and ii) what he called ‘Christian pluralism’ being defined as the array of ‘deep and legitimate differences among the ways in which persons of Christian faith experience God’s grace’ (2002:3).  The discussion which had produced considerable literature not only ‘generates a weariness’ (Kelsey, 2002:4) but, he asserted, had been premised on two fundamentally flawed assumptions. Essentially, the theological discussion centred on two questions according to Kelsey (2002:3): “What makes theological education excellent education?” and the follow up question, “What makes theological education theological?”  But the assumptions behind the two questions were a problem: assumption one is that theological education is theological because its goal is preparing pastors (clergy) for the church; assumption two is that theological education is like a process of ‘R & D’ (research and development) taken from a manufacturing model – it will produce certain goods with certain inputs. Kelsey pointed out that both assumptions have problems: the first “defines the goal as the cultivation of a set of skills in doing inherently unrelated activities. Ironically, the goal it offers to make theological education properly theological systematically fragments it” (2002:4); the second, “assumes that theology in the broadest sense of the term is a body of theory analogous, say, to physics, and that its relation to ministry is analogous to physics’ relation to electrical engineering” (2002:4). This he believed put the discussion back into ‘a new and genuinely theological level’:

“The more basic issue is not how to make theological schooling more excellent… but rather a logically prior question about what concepts to use to frame in a properly theological way the problems we face in seeking excellence in theological education” (Kelsey, 2002:5).

Cheesman spoke of the need for the unifying principle (Survey, nd), but it still appeared at that stage to be spiritual formation in itself.  Even so, perhaps with some underlying dissatisfaction, he further suggests that Henri Nouwen may have a key to the puzzle in his analogy of hospitality – a more ‘theological’ solution. This more theological concept provides the space where students and faculty can interact as guests and hosts in “a free and fearless space where mental, emotional and spiritual development can take place” (Cheesman, Survey, nd:34).  Kelsey reminds his readers of Charles Woods (1985) who saw the unifying goal of theological education as being “the mastery of core Christian concepts like reconciliation, grace, sin, forgiveness, love, hope, faith.” “Learning it shapes one’s identity” (Kelsey, 2002:5). This idea is also theologically grounded in the dogmatics of Christian faith.

Another important theological theme at the turn of the century was the focus given to mission as a unifying factor for the theological diversity of the academy.  Robert Banks (1999) offered his views in the book ‘Re-envisioning Theological Education: Exploring a Missional Alternative to Current Models’. Banks set his work in the discussion after what he saw as a trend moving from ‘operational to theological concerns’. This work focused on the missional aspects of theological education based largely on an examination of ‘ministry formation in biblical times’ (1999:12). Banks effectively established his views as being ‘the Jerusalem model’ following on from Kelsey’s Athens-Berlin continuum and taking Tertullian’s question more literally.  This book makes an important contribution to the models of theological education particularly for the African context because of the emphasis it places not only on the personal themes of formation but also the communal which are so important for African culture.

Edgar (2005) sets these ‘theological’ notions of theological education in a matrix of the city names already cited and promptly adds Geneva as his own definition of seminary education.  The typology he proposes is helpful for outlining the themes of the discussion so far but he makes it clear that there are considerable weaknesses in such representation also.











Four Persisting Factors in Theological Education

Drawing our literature review to a close as an examination in connection with the purpose and outcomes of theological education in the African context it is appropriate to note the range of issues still facing theological education today as highlighted by Linda Cannell (2005).  Cannell lists them as ‘persisting factors’ in terms of the future of theological education (one assumes in a North American and European context, since this is where most discussion has been hosted[18]).  These factors are not irrelevant to the particular context in which the interests of this research lie: the developing world and in particular, East Africa. Some of them impact directly upon the needs and aspirations of the students and their communities which will be examined in the course of this research. She lists four factors: the rise of institutions; the rise of academic theology and academic rationalism; the rise of professionalism; and the disposition of the soul toward God.  Because of their particular significance to the research a brief examination of each one will be offered.

Cannell concedes that institutions are a necessary part of a complex society but she believes there may be a danger in society being defined by its institutions. In the context of theological education this means the ‘college’ could determine the church rather than be an instrument of service to the church.  The traditional concept of the academy (= university) was the place for the creation of new knowledge while simultaneously guarding the traditions of old knowledge. These institutions have a tendency towards self-perpetuation “taking on a life of their own” which in time may “become more important than learning and human development” (2005:1).  For those involved in theological education in the developing world, this is the first challenge to be met: do we need to build a school?  Cannell suggests, “The assumption that the way to do theological education is to build a school is a seriously limiting assumption. The notion that education equals school is not necessary” (2005:1).

The rise of academic theology Cannell suggests has resulted in ‘scholars’ getting a bad press, particularly from the contemporary church that seems “to have lost interest in theology” (2005:2).  The fragmentation of theologia she insists has resulted in considerable fallout in the area of applied theology and the outcomes have been “theological specialists… increasingly ill-equipped to relate theology to the pressing concerns of congregations” (2005:2).  On two counts she reiterates ‘the literature attests that’ there must be an intimate relation between spirituality and theology in order for theology to be meaningful “to the practices of the church and human experience.”  This remains a challenge for the development of theological education in the African continent where ‘the academy’ can be too easily glorified at the expense of integrity of character and spiritual maturity.

Cannell’s third ‘persisting factor’ is professionalism which she labels as “one of the most persistent criticisms of contemporary theological education”.  Cannell is re-visiting the ‘clerical paradigm’ and outing the dangers of this model.  The proper balancing of the curriculum is essential however Western trends have been that the curriculum is increasingly shaped by the demands of the ‘consumer’ – the increased complexity of churches in the 20th century has meant the development of curricula which equip pastors to be a ‘CEO-style leader’ in a corporation.  The danger for the African continent in this area is two-fold.  The pastor as the ‘professional’ in the community analogous with the status accorded the same role in Victorian England is not an insignificant concern.  Furthermore, the road which the Western church has previously trod may not be so easily avoided as imitated in years to come.

The disposition of the soul toward God is a factor which has been the ‘bind’ (to use Kelsey’s words) for theological educators in recent history within the Western hemisphere as they try to teach and model spiritual formation for their students.  Cannell (2005:5) comments, “The peril that confronts us today is that an impoverished theology will exacerbate the sense of the loss of God’s presence that already exists at the heart of this culture and in the church.” However there is yet hope in this regard on the African scene. Many who work in Africa will acknowledge the difference in worldview which its people embrace; a worldview fundamentally disposed to the spiritual.  Spirituality pervades all of life on the African continent; perhaps this ‘persistent factor’ augurs well for the development of theologia in African soil.

Cannell’s (2005) observations have focused attention on practical matters relating to theological education’s purposes and outcomes many of which have been encountered in the field, if not in the dictionary.


This paper has traced in the literature some historical themes which have been suggested as the main focus of theological education. The paper was written as part of a postgraduate study of theological education in Tanzania, East Africa. Thinking about what theological education is achieving in Tanzania, one must try to assess where their current practice is located in the debate. Is Tanzania doing theologia in the terms that Farley set out? Where does Tanzanian theological education’s purposes and outcomes locate it in the ‘cities paradigm’ which Edgar (2005) proposes? Does theological education in Tanzania set a higher priority on academia or spiritual formation? Is it achieving either or both?  Are there priorities elsewhere? Are particular characteristics more prevalent in certain types of colleges? Is the dichotomous nature of theological education in the West being replicated in the South?  Does it need to be? Is that how theological educators want it to be? What role does the faculty play in theological education and what are the expectations of their students in this regard? zx     How are the needs and aspirations of the students and their communities shaping current practice? Is there an overall model that is emerging?

The main body of the dissertation addressed some of these issues which have been raised by the literature review. By exploring the areas highlighted within the literature review of the historical development of western models of theological education we were able to evaluate and make proposals for better theological education practice as applied to the Tanzanian context.

[1] 2 Kings 6:1, 2

[2] Acts 22:3

[3] The apprenticeship scheme for training priests was popular prior to this time.

[4] These ran to more than 60 in number, but he lists a few as: acroamatica, christiana, didactica, speculative, and thetica.

[5] Farley notes more than 30 encyclopaedic volumes published in Germany alone around this time. Schleiermacher’s own contribution was in 1811, a monograph entitled Brief Outline.

[6] The professionalism emphasis was an attempt to retain the status of divinity alongside the other earliest professions of law and medicine.

[7] Moral formation is not to be confused with moral development (L. Kohlberg’s theory elucidated in six stages) but is more closely akin to moral education which endeavours to teach appropriate values as a foundation for action in life. Moral formation was once favoured in Catholic terminology but has been replaced with a stronger emphasis upon spiritual formation. Character formation is the broadest of terms which tends to fit in many locations depending on the definition of what constitutes character.  Spiritual formation is increasingly favoured in the discussion. May (1992:6) defines it as, “… a rather general term referring to all attempts, means, instruction, and disciplines intended towards deepening of faith and furtherance of spiritual growth. It includes educational endeavors as well as the more intimate and in-depth process of spiritual direction.”

[8] nd = no date

[9] “Seminaries” (from Latin seminarium ‘seed plot, seminary’) were places where the work of growing spiritual seedlings into mature fruit bearing plants was to be conducted.

[10] A decree originating in Vatican II on Priestly Training (Optatum Totius) proclaimed by Pope Paul VI on October 28, 1965

[11] An Apostolic Exhortation On the Formation of Priests (Pastores Dabo Vobis – ‘I will give you Shepherds’) in the Circumstances of the Present Day given by Pope John Paul II (promulgated on March 25, 1992).

[12] They must 1. be aimed at internalising faith and not merely alignment with social or political practice; 2. be addressed by scholarly spirituality; 3. governed by grace since God uses people despite themselves; 4. focus upon the means of grace available to all Christians and thus avoid clerical elitism; 5. used to cement afresh the historical gap which has occurred between theology and spirituality.

[13] This approach addresses Lindbeck’s concern for inherent elitism in spiritual formation programmes and builds a bridge with the church which the student will serve, since all should be in the way of discipleship.

[14] Peter Sarpong (1989), chairman of the Roman Catholic Bishop’s conference in Ghana, offered a parallel to spiritual formation in the spirit-possession experience of the priests in African Traditional Religion, suggesting that similar possession by the Holy Spirit would result in lives that show the character of God. (Steubing, 1999:67)

[15] The quotation comes from the early church father Tertullian’s ‘Prescription Against Heretics’, Chapter 7, Pagan Philosophy the Parent of Heresies: The Connection between Deflections from Christian Faith and the Old Systems of Pagan Philosophy. ( accessed 21.7.2008)

[16] As desired and prioritised characteristics for a pastor, Dearborn found in the top five priorities that ‘lay people’ rated spirituality first and good character third; pastors themselves rated spirituality fourth but did not rate character; and professors rated character second but did not rate spirituality.

[17] A question still being asked today. See Hess (2008).

[18] Cannell’s (2005:5) remarks regarding the ‘loss of God’s presence that already exists at the heart of this culture and the church’ must surely point to Western trends characterised by falling church attendance, etc.

Get to the Prayer Meeting for Boldness in Speaking God’s Word

5 03 2010

The Prayer meeting modelled in Acts 4:23-31 is a gathering marked by characteristics we must learn to long for and incorporate into our own church prayer meetings.  We need the vitality, the unity and the perspective these Christians had in meeting for prayer as the people of God.  We need the Word-based, cross-centred, and service-oriented prayer focus which they had that results in the will of the Sovereign Lord increasingly being seen and done among his people.  As Sovereign LORD, God is maker of heaven and earth and the sea and everything in them – no wonder then their expectations are so high as they come to him in adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication.

Notice four things that marked their prayer time:

1. They recognised and praised God because He is Sovereign LORD (adoration) (v24)
2. They acknowlegded God had revealed to them by his Word the sinful condition of men’s hearts (confession) (v25, 26)
3. They understood that God had provided redemption for his people in Christ Jesus through the cross (thanksgiving) (v28)
4. They were expectant of God because he alone empowers his people for service (supplication) (v29, 30)

The outcome of their prayer is also remarkable:

1. The place where they were was shaken…

Perhaps this in one thing we need from God: that we would be shaken at the place where we are now.  Shaken out of our meetings and church buildings; shaken out of our complacency and dereliction of duty; shaken to our core as we bow in awe and reverent fear before the Sovereign LORD, creator of heaven and earth; shaken out of our slumber to be witnessing, watchful and waiting for a coming Saviour.  Perhaps Isaiah’s commissioning to service was set in such a context of prayer when he saw the LORD high and lifted up, ruling in power and sovereign control, for the doorposts and the thresholds of the temple shook (Isaiah 6:1-11).  It was time to go out from the place where he had been.  Here am I, send me.

2. They were filled with the Holy Spirit…

Holy Spirit filling is a direct answer to the prayer of their hearts – specific prayer, specific answer.  In Acts 2:4 the ‘enabling’ of the Holy Spirit is clear and here again their cry for enabling (v29) is met in Holy Spirit empowerment (v31).  The disciples were under threat and facing severe opposition so this supernatural endowment of divine power was very much needed and sought.  Gladly, the Holy Spirit had previously been promised by their Lord and Master for just such an occasion as this – not for a gift of tongues as at Pentecost, but for a special enabling to speak (Lk 1:15, 41-45, 67; 21:12-15).  How quickly we forget or are perhaps afraid to ask specifically for the Holy Spirit’s filling that is available to those whose heart’s desires are consistent with God’s purposes (Lk 11:13).

3. They spoke the word of God boldly…

The reason for their boldness is not to be attributed to training, education, eloquence or religious tradition but rather it was as a result of their dependence upon God by His Spirit.  The spread of God’s word proclaimed in the power of God’s Spirit marks the subsequent growth of the church throughout the pages of Acts (Acts 4:31; 6:7; 8:4, 25; 12:24; 13:49; 15:35; 19:20).  Their confidence in God and his word is such that they are prepared to take God at his word. They recognise that it is just that – the word of God.  Not their word, not their message – God’s message.  They speak it out boldly in the sure conviction that his word will not return to him without accomplishing the purpose for which he sent it (Isaiah 55:10, 11).  God demonstrates that his word is true by the stretching out of his hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of his holy servant, Jesus.

May the Lord teach us to pray with this commitment and train us to preach and minister in this confidence.

Sabbath: an OT law now past or a 21st C principle to embrace?

26 02 2010

The matter of ‘the Sabbath Day’ has been part of my general knowledge base since I was a child.  My parents made some endeavour to ensure that the Lord’s Day had some characteristic that set it apart from the rest of the week.  Key markers of course would be church attendance but even in the afternoon or evening, TV or playing football were frowned upon because they tended to make the day look and feel like any other day.  It was always a little beyond me as a child understanding where they were coming from…  In the years of youthful rebellion we tried to be smart by quoting Jesus’ words, The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath, as a justification to do what we needed to do on the Sabbath and especially if we could get away with categorising it as ‘rest’!

The fallout from a lack of commitment to the distinctiveness of the Sabbath day was highlighted for me in Tanzania, where Christians were moving for an early morning service on a Sunday, around 8am so that they could get it over and get on with the rest of the day in dealing with their own business matters.  Britain has long since abandoned any restraint on ‘business as usual’, even on a Sunday – a matter that at the time I didn’t see as being such a big deal.  The resultant shift in the cultural perspective of our society today now makes it decidedly ‘old-fashioned’ and even ‘legalistic’ to mention the subject, I fear, but a recent house group event with some of the guys from Greenview brought home the reality that a Sabbath rest lost in the workaholic culture of today is taking its toll on individuals, families, churches and society at large.

God’s design for us has always been that we should rest.  Our house group were indebted to Tim Keller for his teaching on the matter from Luke 6:1-11.  This was an excellent message – an exemplary expositional sermon that taught Christ in all the Scriptures as well as making the main point of the passage abundantly clear.  Our need for rest, where we find rest, and how do we do it were Keller’s main headings.  Make time to listen to this sermon – it’s a message we need to re-learn in the 21st Century hubbub of activity.

The Trellis and the Vine

22 02 2010

Finally got my hands on a copy of this book from Matthias Press courtesy of GLO Bookshop, Motherwell.  A highly rated review of Christian ministry with a back cover full of positive reviews.  Mark Dever says it is the BEST book he has read on the nature of Christian ministry!  That’s not hyperbole he says!  Here’s a great quote from the opening chapter/pages of the book:

“And that’s the thing about trellis work: it tends to take over from vine work. Perhaps its because trellis work is easier and less personally threatening.  Vine work is personal and requires much prayer.  It requires us to depend on God, and to open our mouths and speak God’s word in some way to another person.  By nature (by sinful nature, that is) we shy away from this.  What would you rather do: go to a church working bee and sweep up some leaves, or share the gospel with your neighbour over the back fence?  Which is easier: to have a business meeting about the state of the carpet, or to have a difficult personal meeting where you need to rebuke a friend about his sinful behavior?” p. 9.

The Trellis and the Vine, by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, Matthias Media, 2009.

The Word of Faith

18 02 2010

The title of my blog is drawn from Romans 10:8. 

“‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ – that is the word of faith that we proclaim”.

The Apostle Paul is quoting from Deuteronomy 30:14 where Moses recorded his bringing of the commandments of God to the attention of the people Israel for (at least) a second time (that’s the idead behind the title of the book, deutero – second, nomy – law).  The commandment of God required of them one of two possible responses – ‘to obey his voice’ or ‘to turn your heart away’ – and Moses was urging them to obedience.  Moses anticipated a day when the people of God will be scattered throughout the nations of the world and He addressed their likely excuses concerning the Lord’s commandment to them one by one.  Don’t say it’s too hard; don’t suggest it’s too far away or somehow removed from you; don’t say it’s too heavenly to be of any earthly use; and don’t be lazy by your demands that someone bring it to you.  He was stressing the value of God’s purposes for those who will accept them.

Moses strongly urges them to accept God’s Word to them in willing obedience. They are being called to open their mouths and pledge allegiance to God (to renew the covenant) as an outward expression of a heartfelt desire to follow God’s ways.

The consequences of their obedience or turning away were also clearly laid out for them by Moses as the servant of God. “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before your life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them” (Deuteronomy 30:19, 20).

Paul, in the first century world of the Roman empire, like us, has the advantage of looking back over history and recognising that although these people did renew the covenant with their mouths, their hearts were flawed and their actions showed it. They could not keep that covenant to save themselves!  Paul, enabled by the Spirit of God, saw that the commandments drive us to the need for a Saviour, they point us to Christ.  They continually remind us of our own sinfulness and failure and the need for righteousness in order to please God; something we cannot attain to alone.

This is Paul’s point in Romans 10: Moses wrote about the righteousness that is based on the law, but the righteousness that is based on faith is even nearer to us yet.  God, who revealed himself in the law of Moses, has now spoken a final word to us in the person of his Son, Jesus, the eternal Word of God.  He requires our pledge of allegiance and a commitment of faith in our hearts to him as the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour.  The Word of the Gospel is the word that Paul proclaimed and which I believe and want to proclaim too…”because if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified (counted righteous) and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:9, 10). 

This Word is our foundation and guiding principle for this life and the life to come.  The Word is certain, clear, unambiguous. It offers forgiveness, grace and peace.  It enlightens our minds, arrests us in our wilful disobedience and moves our hearts to respond to God’s great mercy by loving him and living to please him.

Keep the word near you… in your heart and in your mouth.

I hope that some of the posts here will help you do that…